Translated by: Cornelia Frances Bates, Katharine Lee Bates
I DO not know whether this is history which seems like a tale, or a tale which seems like history; what I can affirm is that in its core it contains a truth, a truth supremely sad, which in all likelihood I, with my imaginative tendencies, will be one of the last to take to heart.
Another with this idea would perhaps have made a book of melancholy philosophy. I have written this legend that those who see nothing of its deep meaning may at least derive from it a moment of entertainment.
He was noble, he had been born amid the clash of arms, and yet the sudden blare of a war trumpet would not have caused him to lift his head an instant or turn his eyes an inch away from the dim parchment in which he was reading the last song of a troubadour.
Those who desired to see him had no need to look for him in the spacious court of his castle, where the grooms were breaking in the colts, the pages teaching the falcons to fly, and the soldiers employing their leisure days in sharpening on stones the iron points of their lances.
“Where is Manrico? Where is your lord?” his mother would sometimes ask.
“We do not know,” the servants would reply. “Perchance he is in the cloister of the monastery of the Peña, seated on the edge of a tomb, listening to see if he may surprise some word of the conversation of the dead; or on the bridge watching the river-waves chasing one another under its arches, or curled up in the fissure of some rock counting the stars in the sky, following with his eyes a cloud, or contemplating the will-o’-the-wisps that flit like exhalations over the surface of the marshes. Wherever he is, it is where he has least company.”
In truth, Manrico was a lover of solitude, and so extreme a lover that sometimes he would have wished to be a body without a shadow, because then his shadow would not follow him everywhere he went.
He loved solitude, because in its bosom he would invent, giving free rein to his imagination, a phantasmal world, inhabited by wonderful beings, daughters of his weird fancies and his poetic dreams; for Manrico was a poet,—so true a poet that never had he found adequate forms in which to utter his thoughts nor had he ever imprisoned them in words.
He believed that among the red coals of the hearth there dwelt fire-spirits of a thousand hues which ran like golden insects along the enkindled logs or danced in a luminous whirl of sparks on the pointed flames, and he passed long hours of inaction seated on a low stool by the high Gothic chimney-place, motionless, his eyes fixed on the fire.
He believed that in the depths of the waves of the river, among the mosses of the fountain and above the mists of the lake there lived mysterious women, sibyls, nymphs, undines, who breathed forth laments and sighs, or sang and laughed in the monotonous murmur of the water, a murmur to which he listened in silence, striving to translate it.
In the clouds, in the air, in the depths of the groves, in the clefts of the rocks, he imagined that he perceived forms, or heard mysterious sounds, forms of supernatural beings, indistinct words which he could not comprehend.
Love! He had been born to dream love, not to feel it. He loved all women an instant, this one because she was golden-haired, that one because she had red lips, another because in walking she swayed as a river-reed.
Sometimes his delirium reached the point of his spending an entire night gazing at the moon, which floated in heaven in a silvery mist, or at the stars, which twinkled afar off like the changing lights of precious stones. In those long nights of poetic wakefulness, he would exclaim: “If it is true, as the Prior of the Peña has told me, that it is possible those points of light may be worlds, if it is true that people live on that pearly orb which rides above the clouds, how beautiful must the women of those luminous regions be! and I shall not be able to see them, and I shall not be able to love them! What must their beauty be! And what their love!”
Manrico was not yet so demented that the boys would run after him, but he was sufficiently so to talk and gesticulate to himself, which is where madness begins.
Over the Douro, which ran lapping the weatherworn and darkened stones of the walls of Soria, there is a bridge leading from the city to the old convent of the Templars, whose estates extended along the opposite bank of the river.
At the time to which we refer, the knights of the Order had already abandoned their historic fortresses, but there still remained standing the ruins of the large round towers of their walls,—there still might be seen, as in part may be seen to-day, covered with ivy and white morning-glories the massive arches of their cloister and the long ogive galleries of their courts of arms through which the wind would breathe soft sighs, stirring the deep foliage.
In the orchards and in the gardens, whose paths the feet of the monks had not trodden for many years, vegetation, left to itself, made holiday, without fear that the hand of man should mutilate it in the effort to embellish. Climbing plants crept upward twining about the aged trunks of the trees; the shady paths through aisles of poplars, whose leafy tops met and mingled, were overgrown with turf; spear-plumed thistles and nettles had shot up in the sandy roads, and in the parts of the building which were bulging out, ready to fall; the yellow crucifera, floating in the wind like the crested feathers of a helmet, and bell-flowers, white and blue, balancing themselves, as in a swing, on their long and flexible stems, proclaimed the conquest of decay and ruin.
It was night, a summer night, mild, full of perfumes and peaceful sounds, and with a moon, white and serene, high in the blue, luminous, transparent heavens.
Manrico, his imagination seized by a poetic frenzy, after crossing the bridge from which he contemplated for a moment the dark silhouette of the city outlined against the background of some pale, soft clouds massed on the horizon, plunged into the deserted ruins of the Templars.
It was midnight. The moon, which had been slowly rising, was now at the zenith, when, on entering a dusky avenue that led from the demolished cloister to the bank of the Douro, Manrico uttered a low, stifled cry, strangely compounded of surprise, fear and joy.
In the depths of the dusky avenue he had seen moving something white, which shimmered a moment and then vanished in the darkness, the trailing robe of a woman, of a woman who had crossed the path and disappeared amid the foliage at the very instant when the mad dreamer of absurd, impossible dreams penetrated into the gardens.
An unknown woman!—In this place!—At this hour! “This, this is the woman of my quest,” exclaimed Manrico, and he darted forward in pursuit, swift as an arrow.
He reached the spot where he had seen the mysterious woman disappear in the thick tangle of the branches. She had gone. Whither? Afar, very far, he thought he descried, among the crowding trunks of the trees, something like a shining, or a white, moving form. “It is she, it is she, who has wings on her feet and flees like a shadow!” he said, and rushed on in his search, parting with his hands the network of ivy which was spread like a tapestry from poplar to poplar. By breaking through brambles and parasitical growths, he made his way to a sort of platform on which the moonlight dazzled.—Nobody!—“Ah, but by this path, but by this she slips away!” he then exclaimed. “I hear her footsteps on the dry leaves, and the rustle of her dress as it sweeps over the ground and brushes against the shrubs.” And he ran,—ran like a madman, hither and thither, and did not find her. “But still comes the sound of her footfalls,” he murmured again. “I think she spoke; beyond a doubt, she spoke. The wind which sighs among the branches, the leaves which seem to be praying in low voices, prevented my hearing what she said, but beyond a doubt she fleets by yonder path; she spoke, she spoke. In what language? I know not, but it is a foreign speech.” And again he ran onward in pursuit, sometimes thinking he saw her, sometimes that he heard her; now noticing that the branches, among which she had disappeared, were still in motion; now imagining that he distinguished in the sand the prints of her little feet; again firmly persuaded that a special fragrance which crossed the air from time to time was an aroma belonging to that woman who was making sport of him, taking pleasure in eluding him among these intricate growths of briers and brambles. Vain attempt!
He wandered some hours from one spot to another, beside himself, now pausing to listen, now gliding with the utmost precaution over the herbage, now in frantic and desperate race.
Pushing on, pushing on through the immense gardens which bordered the river, he came at last to the foot of the cliff on which rises the hermitage of San Saturio. “Perhaps from this height I can get my bearings for pursuing my search across this confused labyrinth,” he exclaimed, climbing from rock to rock with the aid of his dagger.
He reached the summit whence may be seen the city in the distance and, curving at his feet, a great part of the Douro, compelling its dark, impetuous stream onward through the winding banks that imprison it.
Manrico, once on the top of the cliff, turned his gaze in every direction, till, bending and fixing it at last on a certain point, he could not restrain an oath.
The sparkling moonlight glistened on the wake left behind by a boat, which, rowed at full speed, was making for the opposite shore.
In that boat he thought he had distinguished a white and slender figure, a woman without doubt, the woman whom he had seen in the grounds of the Templars, the woman of his dreams, the realization of his wildest hopes. He sped down the cliff with the agility of a deer, threw his cap, whose tall, full plume might hinder him in running, to the ground, and freeing himself from his heavy velvet cloak, shot like a meteor toward the bridge.
He believed he could cross it and reach the city before the boat would touch the further bank. Folly! When Manrico, panting and covered with sweat, reached the city gate, already they who had crossed the Douro over against San Saturio were entering Soria by one of the posterns in the wall, which, at that time, extended to the bank of the river whose waters mirrored its gray battlements.
Although his hope of overtaking those who had entered by the postern gate of San Saturio was dissipated, that of tracing out the house which sheltered them in the city was not therefore abandoned by our hero. With his mind fixed upon this idea, he entered the town and, taking his way toward the ward of San Juan, began roaming its streets at hazard.
The streets of Soria were then, and they are to-day, narrow, dark and crooked. A profound silence reigned in them, a silence broken only by the distant barking of a dog, the barring of a gate or the neighing of a charger, whose pawing made the chain which fastened him to the manger rattle in the subterranean stables.
Manrico, with ear attent to these vague noises of the night, which at times seemed to be the footsteps of some person who had just turned the last corner of a deserted street, at others, the confused voices of people who were talking behind him and whom every moment he expected to see at his side, spent several hours running at random from one place to another.
At last he stopped beneath a great stone mansion, dark and very old, and, standing there, his eyes shone with an indescribable expression of joy. In one of the high ogive windows of what we might call a palace, he saw a ray of soft and mellow light which, passing through some thin draperies of rose-colored silk, was reflected on the time-blackened, weather-cracked wall of the house across the way.
“There is no doubt about it; here dwells my unknown lady,” murmured the youth in a low voice, without removing his eyes for a second from the Gothic window. “Here she dwells! She entered by the postern gate of San Saturio,—by the postern gate of San Saturio is the way to this ward—in this ward there is a house where, after midnight, there is some one awake—awake? Who can it be at this hour if not she, just returned from her nocturnal excursions? There is no more room for doubt; this is her home.”
In this firm persuasion and revolving in his head the maddest and most capricious fantasies, he awaited dawn opposite the Gothic window where there was a light all night and from which he did not withdraw his gaze a moment.
When daybreak came, the massive gates of the arched entrance to the mansion, on whose keystone was sculptured the owner’s coat of arms, turned ponderously on their hinges with a sharp and prolonged creaking. A servitor appeared on the threshold with a bunch of keys in his hand, rubbing his eyes, and showing as he yawned a set of great teeth which might well rouse envy in a crocodile.
For Manrico to see him and to rush to the gate was the work of an instant.
“Who lives in this house? What is her name? Her country? Why has she come to Soria? Has she a husband? Answer, answer, animal!” This was the salutation which, shaking him violently by the shoulder, Manrico hurled at the poor servitor, who, after staring at him a long while with frightened, stupefied eyes, replied in a voice broken with amazement:
“In this house lives the right honorable Señor don Alonso de Valdecuellos, Master of the Horse to our lord, the King. He has been wounded in the war with the Moors and is now in this city recovering from his injuries.”
“Well! well! His daughter?” broke in the impatient youth. “His daughter, or his sister, or his wife, or whoever she may be?”
“He has no woman in his family.”
“No woman! Then who sleeps in that chamber there, where all night long I have seen a light burning?”
“There? There sleeps my lord Don Alonso, who, as he is ill, keeps his lamp burning till dawn.”
A thunderbolt, suddenly falling at his feet, would not have given Manrico a greater shock than these words.
“I must find her, I must find her; and if I find her, I am almost certain I shall recognize her. How?—I cannot tell—but recognize her I must. The echo of her footstep, or a single word of hers which I may hear again; the hem of her robe, only the hem which I may see again would be enough to make me sure of her. Night and day I see floating before my eyes those folds of a fabric diaphanous and whiter than snow, night and day there is sounding here within, within my head, the soft rustle of her raiment, the vague murmur of her unintelligible words.—What said she?—What said she? Ah, if I might only know what she said, perchance—but yet without knowing it, I shall find her—I shall find her—my heart tells me so, and my heart deceives me never.—It is true that I have unavailingly traversed all the streets of Soria, that I have passed nights upon nights in the open air, a corner-post; that I have spent more than twenty golden coins in persuading duennas and servants to gossip; that I gave holy water in St. Nicholas to an old crone muffled up so artfully in her woollen mantle that she seemed to me a goddess; and on coming out, after matins, from the collegiate church, in the dusk before the dawn, I followed like a fool the litter of the archdeacon, believing that the hem of his vestment was that of the robe of my unknown lady—but it matters not—I must find her, and the rapture of possessing her will assuredly surpass the labors of the quest.
“What will her eyes be? They should be azure, azure and liquid as the sky of night. How I delight in eyes of that color! They are so expressive, so dreamy, so—yes, —no doubt of it; azure her eyes should be, azure they are, assuredly;—and her tresses black, jet black and so long that they wave upon the air—it seems to me I saw them waving that night, like her robe, and they were black—I do not deceive myself, no; they were black.
“And how well azure eyes, very large and slumbrous, and loose tresses, waving and dark, become a tall woman—for—she is tall, tall and slender, like those angels above the portals of our basilicas, angels whose oval faces the shadows of their granite canopies veil in mystic twilight.
“Her voice!—her voice I have heard—her voice is soft as the breathing of the wind in the leaves of the poplars, and her walk measured and stately like the cadences of a musical instrument.
“And this woman, who is lovely as the loveliest of my youthful dreams, who thinks as I think, who enjoys what I enjoy, who hates what I hate, who is a twin spirit of my spirit, who is the complement of my being, must she not feel moved on meeting me? Must she not love me as I shall love her, as I love her already, with all the strength of my life, with every faculty of my soul?
“Back, back to the place where I saw her for the first and only time that I have seen her. Who knows but that, capricious as myself, a lover of solitude and mystery like all dreamy souls, she may take pleasure in wandering among the ruins in the silence of the night?”
Two months had passed since the servitor of Don Alonso de Valdecuellos had disillusionized the infatuated Manrico, two months in every hour of which he had built a castle in the air only for reality to shatter with a breath; two months during which he had sought in vain that unknown woman for whom an absurd love had been growing in his soul, thanks to his still more absurd imaginations; two months had flown since his first adventure when now, after crossing, absorbed in these ideas, the bridge which leads to the convent of the Templars, the enamored youth plunged again into the intricate pathways of the gardens.
The night was calm and beautiful, the full moon shone high in the heavens, and the wind sighed with the sweetest of murmurs among the leaves of the trees.
Manrico arrived at the cloister, swept his glance over the enclosed green and peered through the massive arches of the arcades. It was deserted.
He went forth, turned his steps toward the dim avenue that leads to the Douro, and had not yet entered it when there escaped from his lips a cry of joy.
He had seen floating for an instant, and then disappearing, the hem of the white robe, of the white robe of the woman of his dreams, of the woman whom now he loved like a madman.
He runs, he runs in his pursuit, he reaches the spot where he had seen her vanish; but there he stops, fixes his terrified eyes upon the ground, remains a moment motionless, a slight nervous tremor agitates his limbs, a tremor which increases, which increases, and shows symptoms of an actual convulsion—and he breaks out at last into a peal of laughter, laughter loud, strident, horrible.
That white object, light, floating, had again shone before his eyes, it had even glittered at his feet for an instant, only for an instant.
It was a moonbeam, a moonbeam which pierced from time to time the green vaulted roof of trees when the wind moved their boughs.
Several years had passed. Manrico, crouched on a settle by the deep Gothic chimney of his castle, almost motionless and with a vague, uneasy gaze like that of an idiot, would scarcely take notice either of the endearments of his mother or of the attentions of his servants.
“You are young, you are comely,” she would say to him, “why do you languish in solitude? Why do you not seek a woman whom you may love, and whose love may make you happy?”
“Love! Love is a ray of moonshine,” murmured the youth.
“Why do you not throw off this lethargy?” one of his squires would ask. “Arm yourself in iron from head to foot, bid us unfurl to the winds your illustrious banner, and let us march to the war. In war is glory.”
“Glory!—Glory is a ray of moonshine.”
“Would you like to have me recite you a ballad, the latest that Sir Arnaldo, the Provençal troubadour, has composed?”
“No! no!” exclaimed the youth, straightening himself angrily on his seat, “I want nothing—that is—yes, I want—I want you should leave me alone. Ballads—women—glory—happiness—lies are they all—vain fantasies which we shape in our imagination and clothe according to our whim, and we love them and run after them—for what? for what? To find a ray of moonshine.”
Manrico was mad; at least, all the world thought so. For myself, on the contrary, I think what he had done was to regain his senses.
Publication source: Project Gutenberg: www.gutenberg.org.
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