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A TALE OF THE PENINSULA.
CHAPTER THE SECOND.
BY COLONEL NAPIER, AUTHOR OF THE HISTORY OF
THE PENINSULAR WAR.” The lady stopped : she held down her head as if distressed by some secret feeling,—the last words of her song seemed to be faintly repeated by unearthly voices from the gulf below, and a momentary gloom pervaded the company, yet it soon passed away, and the conversation again became gay and general.
The cousins were very pretty women, and very agreeable; but the young mistress of the house, for her rights were acknowledged by all the guests, was more than pretty ; she was graceful, refined, and pi. quant ; all the movements of her slight but well-rounded figure were indicative of a voluptuous temperament, which her delicate flexible features, her gently-swelling lips, her sudden changes of colour, also betrayed, in despite of her innate modesty and pride, and of the latter she had a very large share. Her mouth was expressive of talent and sensibility, and her eyes were of such a changeable nature, that those who had not considered them attentively, under all their varie. ties, would have been at a loss to describe either their colour or predominant character. But Guillelmo, who watched every glance, and notwithstanding his apparent indifference, felt all their power, knew that they were blue, and more often tender in their expression than gay. Nevertheless her general deportment was lively, eager, animated, often brusque and disdainful, sometimes even a little fierce. She indeed made it be felt by all who approached her, that if she could love, she could also scorn: she might yield to a bold lover, she would never suffer a tyrant. There was also at times a laughing malice in her looks, which, by contrast, rendered the melting tenderness of her gentler expression infinitely touching and attractive. In fine, she resembled in many points of beauty, of accomplishment, and of man
yet with this difference, that in all things she was in. ferior to that exquisitely created but capricious person. For the me. mory which has preserved the Portuguese lady's charms was young and fresh when it received the impression, and the ardour of the officer's imagination was excited by the romantic circumstances of the moment; in truth they were all necessary to sustain the comparison. The adventure, the supper, the delicious temperature, the moonlight scenery, were powerful auxiliaries to the beauty of the girl of the valley, whereas
would give a charm to the most hideous desert. And yet the Portuguese lady was very beautiful and very delight.
ful, but many degrees may be attained after passing the line of beauty without reaching the perfection of
Yes! the stars of heaven are lovely,
Their radiance none disown,
beauty moves alone.
Now, to return from this digression, it must be observed, that whatever was the degree of the Portuguese lady's attractions, long before the festivity was over Don Guillelmo's manner became more thoughtful and restrained than it was at the beginning; and it is certain that he repented more than once of having refused the pressing solicitations of the morning to remain in the house. The invitation was not repeated, and when at a late hour the party separated, the lady, with rather a laughing malicious expression in her eyes, made her obeisance to him, hoping that his new quarters would prove more agreeable than his old. He already hated the former, and execrating his own stupidity and caution, in the bitterness of the moment resolved that where a woman was in question he would never be prudent again. Perhaps he was right, for it is certain that the caution of men may mar, but can never mend, the sudden emanations of woman's quick wit in what concerns the heart, and the attempt always causes some despite, some disappointing of their will, some curdling of the creamy flow of their affections, without checking their desires.
That night Guillelmo slept little. His wound pained him, his mind was occupied with the strange events of the day, and tormented by the reflection that he had stupidly abandoned his former quarters at the moment when they were most agreeable to him; and when, towards morning, he fell into a slumber, he only exchanged the distinct dreams of too much wakefulness, for the indistinct visions of disturbed sleep. Wild, fearful scenes, flitted before him ; all his waking thoughts, all the adventures and traditions of the valley of Das Iras, confused together, resolved themselves into forms and actions in which the awful and the ridiculous were mingled in a wonderful manner.
First, he thought he stood with his regiment on the long, narrow, dark bridge, over the rapid stream of the Coa. The sound of cannon shook the ground like an earthquake; the rocks, loosened on the mountain's side by the concussion, rolled down with frightful violence, and dashed into the swollen river below; the flashes from the ten thousand muskets darted around, and from the midst of the smoke the French grenadiers, uttering wild and terrible cries, rushed, with their bayonets in advance, upon the bridge. But, when the combatants should have closed with clashing steel, their deathful shouts dwindled into sharp, voluble mutterings, shrill imprecations, and their fierce, daring countenances changed to the likenesses of the wicked padres.
Suddenly the bridge and the multitude disappeared, the officer stood alone upon one of the highest and bleakest rocks of the Estrella; dark, heavy clouds were revolving and careering with tortuous convolutions around its snowy summit, the rain poured down, and the crashing thunder of heaven had replaced that of man. The waters leaped, the lightning played, a thousand vultures screamed around, and a huge serpent, lifting its head, hissed close in his ear. Fear seized him ; with a desperate spring, he launched himself into the gulf below, but the air seemed to bear him naturally and easily along towards the lovely valley of Das Iras, until he finally found himself standing in safety at the foot of a tower that he had never before seen.
The tempest was now hushed, and much the officer wondered at the loftiness of the building, which seemed to reach the clouds ; but, while he gazed upon the sightly edifice, the solid wall opened, a lurid flame shot out from the fissure, and a gigantic figure, wrapped in a black cloak of an ancient fashion, coming forth with a stately motion, confronted him. The face was pale and haggard, but awful, for the features were rigid and majestic, and there was a fierce, wrathful look in the eyes that made the blood stagnate, and the marrow chill and harden within the bones. And by the side of this spectre stood a fe. male form of great beauty, though somewhat indistinct; her looks were bent with frenzied earnestness upon a child of surpassing loveliness which she carried in her arms, deep sighs heaved her bosom, and ever and anon she bent down her head to kiss the babe, speaking to it in low, piteous tones, but it regarded her not, its looks were upon vacancy, it neither spoke nor moved.
The dark, stately phantom, kept its eyes fixed upon Guillelmo, its lips did not appear to vibrate, but a deep-toned, unearthly voice, uttered these words.
“Stranger, what doest thou here in my valley? Art thou come with thy light heart and lighter thoughts, and thy joyous anticipations, to mock the desolation of my house? Thou shalt remember the hour. Is the valley delightful to thy sight? Is the lady beautiful ? Dost thou love? Dost thou hope to be loved in return? Be it so. Yet this is still the valley of wrath and disaster, and ever shall be so. Vain man! It is not I, but fate that speaks. The lady shall love thee, but too late for thy repose wilt thou discover it; and the remembrance shall sting thee, aye! with as sharp a pang as that which torments me when I recall the folly of building this hope-deceiving tower, instead of slaying that ill-boding, cursed wizard, on the spot, when he spoke the prophecy which he was resolved to fulfil.
“ Thou followest war; it shall disappoint thy hopes. Pains and discontent, wounds and neglect, it shall bring thee, and many others; for those upon whom the honours and rewards shall fall are marked
out beforehand. Thou seekest the love of woman, and, lo! it will lead only to enmity. Nor thou, nor the lady of the valley shall be happy. Neither shall the valley itself keep its delights; the invader comes, and its beauty is effaced.”
The voice ceased, and instantly the female spectre, without taking her eyes from the child, commenced chanting in a low tone the Portuguese lady's song.
" This is the vale of wrath and sorrow,
And grief still follows his mournful cry," &c. &c. When her chant was ended, a strain of wild, melancholy music, which seemed to rise from the top of the tower, prolonged her notes for a while, and then floating upwards in airy circles, grew fainter and fainter, until the sound was lost in the regions above. Meanwhile the female phantom, slowly turning her countenance from the child, fixed her regard, as her dark baron still continued to do, upon Guillelmo. Her face seemed to be the face of the Portuguese lady, and her large blue eyes bore a reproachful expression, but they were motionless and so chilling! Vainly, Guillelmo thought, he strove to deprecate her displeasure ; words were denied him; he could not speak, he could not move; the spell worked fearfully, his heart was hardening into stone, when suddenly the child, hitherto so lifeless, gave a shrill waking cry. The female phantom shrieked, the hiss of a mighty serpent was heard, and another spectre stood confronting the stately lord. As tall and dark, but of sterner appearance and gesture, it stood before him. Something like hair streamed from the head, fierce gleaming eyeballs shot fire from beneath brows which seemed to be black, living snakes; the garment which wrapped the body dilated, contracted, coiled, and undulated around a figure which was in continual movement, and ever. varying in form.
“ Ha! dost thou then feel me now, mine enemy ?” it hissed in the face of the baron, and the next instant the two spectres were engaged in a terrible combat, but their original shapes they kept not. The baron was a monstrous griffin ; a bright gold collar encircled his neck, his beak and talons were like shining bronze, his broad dark wings spread and rustled like a coming tempest; he seized the wizard, who was become an immense serpent, in his claws, and majestically rose, cuffing and buffeting the reptile with his beak and mighty pinions, and uttering loud and dreadful cries. High and swiftly he soared, until a dark cloud received them, the thunder again bellowing with deafening clamour; but deep within the black cloud the angry shrieks of the bird, and the malignant hissing of the serpent, were still frightfully distinct. Suddenly the child clapped its tiny hands, the mother-spectre vanished with it on the instant, the clamour ceased in the cloud, and
only the sounding stroke of the griffin's wing was heard as he seemed to pass away on the last howling blast of the tempest.
Large drops of blood now came plashing heavily on the ground, followed by a shower of pieces of the snake, each piece still writhing and contorted, instinct with life. But lo! the power of dreaming ! In a moment the tower was converted into the sandstone archways and grottos of Das Iras, the drops of blood swelled and bubbled up into gurgling streams and spouting fountains of water, the goblets of the snake's flesh, enlarging, were turned into a hundred wicked padres, with fiery serpent's eyes and hissing tongues. They immediately fell upon Guillelmo. Astonished at these wonderful changes, he attempted to fly from the scene, but his limbs refused to move rapidly, his dire. ful enemies gained ground, he gave himself up for lost, when a loud burst of laughter made him turn his head, and, behold! the wicked padres were converted into the Portuguese girls of the grottos; again they gathered about him, again their warm rounded arms supported him, again their musical voices called him “Coitadinho! cabocino !" &c. Again they laughed, but so loudly that he awoke with the start. Yet still the laughter rung in his ears, the voices of the girls resounded quite distinctly. It was broad daylight; they were all assembled in the next room, on a visit to the lady at whose home he was now quartered.
She was an old shrewd Portuguese woman, very good-natured and very jocular. The young ladies, it appeared, were scions of different Fidalgo families, and had been sent for refuge to this sequestered village, to avoid the annoyance and evils which the continual passage of troops on the great routes rendered but too certain. They were all youthful, thoughtless, uneducated, and unconscious of the peril which menaced both themselves and their country. ? Reckless of everything but the present moment, and in the actual enjoyment of a free. dom they had been before unused to, they were as innocent, as joyous, as full of mirth and mad-cap frolic, as young ladies suddenly released from the sombre, austere restrictions of a Portuguese Fidalgo's house, might be supposed to be. They danced, they sung, they played a thousand tricks to one another; they eagerly questioned Don Guillelmo about England, and the beauty of English women, about his uniform, about his religion, about his wound, about the state of his heart, with a thousand other idle things, and this time they called him Senhor Capitao; then they would break out with such bursts of glee, jumping and clapping their hands at every answer, whether grave or gay, that the noise could be heard all over the village, and the echoes rattled along the mountain side.
Don Guillelmo was at first delighted with their riotous gaiety; he was in hopes that it would attract the attention of the lady of his old