When Ronald found himself
helplessly, and, as he thought irrecoverably immured in the Torre de los
Frayles, and surrounded by a band of the most merciless and desperate
ruffians conceivable,—defenceless, in their power, and secluded among the
wildest fastnesses of the Spanish Pyrenees, his heart sickened at the
hopelessness of his prospects. His life depended entirely on the will and
pleasure of his captors, and he felt all that acute agony of spirit of
which a brave man is susceptible when reflecting that he might perish like
a child in their hands, helpless and unrevenged. He was conducted to a
desolate apartment, to which light was admitted by a couple of loopholes,
which, being destitute of glass, gave free admittance to the cold air of
Excepting an antique table
and chair, the room was destitute of furniture, and Ronald was compelled
to repose on the stone-flagged floor, with no other couch than a large
ragged mantle, which a renegade priest, one of thousands whom the war had
unfrocked, lent him, offering, at the same time, indulgently to hear his
confession. Ronald glanced at the long dagger and brass-barrelled pistols
which garnished the belt of the ci-devant padre, and smiling sourly,
begged to be excused, saying that he had nothing to confess, saving his
disgust for his captors, and the sense he felt of Spanish ingratitude.
'Morte de Dios!' swore the
incensed priest as he departed, 'you are an incorrigible heretic. Feeding
you is feeding what ought to be burned; and I would roast you like a kid,
but for that meddling ape, Caspar!'
By order of the last-named
worthy, who appeared to be the acknowledged leader, a sentinel was placed
at the door of the apartment, which was well secured on the outside to
prevent Ronald's escape. At the same time Alosegui, who said he wished to
be friendly to a brother capitan, gave him a screw of a peculiar
construction, with which he could strongly secure his door on the inside—a
necessary precaution when so formidable an enemy as Narvaez Cifuentes was
within a few feet of him. Having secured the entrance as directed, he
rolled himself up in the cloak of the pious father,—but not to sleep, for
dawn of day found him yet awake, cursing his untoward fortune, and
revolving, forming, and rejecting a thousand desperate plans to escape.
Even when, at last, he did drop into an uneasy sleep or dreamy doze, he
was quickly aroused by the twanging of guitars and uproar of a drunken
chorus in the next apartment, where the padre was trolling forth a ditty,
which, a few years before, would have procured him a lodging for life in
the dungeons of the terrible Inquisition.
To Stuart, his present situation appeared now
almost insupportable. He sprang to the narrow loopholes, and made a long
and acute reconnaissance of the country round about, especially in the
neighbourhood of the robbers' den, and he became aware that escape,
without the concurrence of Alosegui or some of his followers, was utterly
impracticable. The tower was perched, like an eagle's nest, on the very
verge of a perpendicular cliff, some hundred yards in height, and a chasm,
dark and apparently bottomless, separated the tower from the other parts
of the mountain, or, I may say, the land, as it hung almost in the air. At
every pass of the hills leading to the narrow varle where it was situated,
a well-armed and keen-eyed scout kept watchful guard, for the double
purpose of giving an alarm in case of danger, or warning when any booty
appeared in sight. The bottom of the valley which the tower overlooked was
covered with rich copse-wood, among which wound, like a narrow strip of
crystal, a mountain stream, a tributary of the Bidassoa,—the way to the
About noon he
was visited by Gaspar Alosegui, with whom he was ceremoniously invited to
take breakfast; and yielding to the cravings of appetite, he
unhesitatingly accepted the proposal, and sat down at the same table with
four fellows, who, Gaspar told him, were the greatest cutthroats and most
expert bravoes in Spain. The apartment in which they sat was a dilapidated
hall, which bore no distant resemblance to the one at Lochisla, save that
its roof was covered with carved stone pendants and grim Gothic faces,
among which hung branches of grapes or raisins, nets of Portugal onions,
bags of Indian corn, and other provender; and the floor was strewed with
mule-pannels, saddles, arms of all sorts, towards which Ronald glanced
furtively from time to time, and countless bales, barrels, wine-skins,
etc., like a merchant's storehouse.
Ronald got through his repast without
offending any of the dagger-grasping rogues ; but he was so much disgusted
with their language and brutality of manner, that in future he resolved to
eat by himself, at all risks. Narvaez, with a strong party under his
command, was absent, to watch for a train of mules, in the neighbourhood
of Roncesvalles, and Ronald was therefore relieved from his hateful
presence. Gaspar assembled the remainder of the band in solemn conclave,
to consult about the ransom of Stuart. When the latter, who stood near
Alosegui's chair, looked around him upon the ruffian assemblage, and
beheld so many dark, ferocious, and black-bearded faces, he felt that,
among such men, his life was not worth a quarto.
The amount of the ransom had been fixed on the
preceding evening. When Alosegui inquired where the Condé de Villa Franca
then resided, no one could say anything with certainty about it, but all
supposed him to be at Madrid. In support of this supposition, the soi
disant padre produced, from the crown of his sugarloaf hat, a ragged
number of 'El Espanol,' at least three months old, well worn and frayed,
and which he carried about him for gun-wadding. In one of the columns, the
arrival of Don Alvaro and his countess appeared among the fashionable
intelligence. To Madrid, therefore, it was resolved that Ronald should
despatch a letter, the bearer of which should be Juan de la Roca, who, for
cunning and knavery, was equal, if not infinitely superior, to Lazarillo
de Tormes, of happy memory. His travelling expenses were also to be
defrayed, fully and amply, before the captive would be released. To save
time, for it was a long way to Madrid, Ronald proposed to communicate with
the British consuls at Passages or Bayonne; but the proposition was at
once negatived by a storm of curses and a yell of dissatisfaction from the
banditti, while, waving his hand, Alosegui acquainted him sternly that it
was inconsistent with their safety or intentions to permit his
corresponding with the consul at either of those places, as some strenuous
and unpleasant means might be taken to release him unransomed. And before
they would proceed farther in the business, the wily bandidos compelled
him to pledge his solemn word of honour as a cavalier and soldier, that he
would not attempt to escape,—a pledge which, it may be imagined, he gave
with the utmost reluctance. While his bosom was swelling with rage and
regret, Ronald seated himself at the table and wrote to Alvaro, praying
that he would lend him the sum the thieves required, and setting forth
that his life was forfeited in case of refusal. Seldom has a letter been
indited under such circumstances. While he wrote, a Babel of tongues
resounded in his ear,—all swearing and quarrelling about the delay, and
proposing that cold steel or a swing over the rocks should cut the matter
short, as it was very doubtful whether the Count de Villa Franca would
ever send so large a sum of money. But Gaspar's voice of thunder silenced
will drink the heart's blood of any man who opposes or disobeys my
orders!' cried he, striking the rude table with his mighty fist. 'I am a
man of honour, and must keep my word, par Dzez! Hark you, my comrades;
again I tell you, that for three months the life of the prisoner is as
sacred as if he were an abbot.'
'Three months!' thought Ronald bitterly. 'In
three months, but for this cursed misfortune, I might have been the
husband of Alice Lisle.'
The letter to Don Alvaro was sealed by
Ronald's own seal (which one of the band was so obliging as to lend him
for the occasion), and placed in the hand of Juan de la Roca.
'Adios, senor! adios, vaga!' said the young
thief with an impudent leer, and presenting his hand to Ronald at his
departure. 'Remember, senor, that for your sake, I lose the chance of
winning one of the sweetest prizes in Spain.'
'How, Senor Juan?' replied Stuart, bestowing
on him a keen glance of contempt.
'A girl, to be sure, a fair girl we captured
near Maya,' said Juan sulkily; 'and I am half tempted to cast your
despatch to the winds.'
'Come, Juan, we must part friends at least,'
said Ronald, willing to dissemble, when he remembered how much his fate
lay in the power of this young rascal. He gave him his hand, and they
parted with a show of urbanity, which was probably affected on both sides.
In a few minutes he beheld him quit the
Friars' Tower, and depart on his journey mounted on a stout mule, and so
much disguised that he scarcely knew him. His ragged apparel had been
replaced by the smart attire of a student, and was all of becoming black
velvet. A large portfolio was slung on his back, to disguise him the more,
and support the character which he resolved to bear as a travelling
artista. He was a very handsome young fellow, and his features were set
off by his broad sombrero and the black feathers which vanity had prompted
him to don. A black silk mantle dangled for ornament from his shoulders,
while one more coarse and ample was strapped to the bow of his mule's
pannel. He had a pair of holsters before him, and wore a long poniard in
his sash ; altogether, he had very much the air of a smart student of
Salamanca or Alcala. From a window Ronald anxiously watched the lessening
form of this messenger of his fate, as he urged his mule down the steep
windings of the pathway to the valley; and a thousand anxieties and
alternate hopes and doubts distracted him, as he thought of the dangers
that beset the path of his ambassador, of the lengthened duration and
possible result of his expedition.
In no country save Spain could the dreadful
atrocities perpetrated by the wretches into whose hands Ronald had fallen
have been permitted in the nineteenth century. A day never passed without
the occurrence of some new outrage, and many were acted under his own
observation. On one occasion, the band captured an aged syndic of Maya,
who had made himself particularly obnoxious by executing some of the gang.
His captors, to refine on cruelty, tore out his eyes and turned him away
on the mountains in a tempestuous night, desiring him to return to his
magistracy, and be more merciful to cavaliers of fortune in future.
An unfortunate medico of Huarte, who was
journeying on a mule across the mountains from St. Juan de Luz, where he
had been purchasing a store of medicines, fell into their clutches
somewhere near the rock of Maya. He could procure no ransom : many who
owed him long bills, and whom he rescued from the jaws of death by the
exercise of his art, and to whom his messenger applied, would send him no
answer, being very well pleased, probably, to be rid of a troublesome
creditor. One of the band being seriously ill, the life of the medico was
to be spared if he cured him. The bandit unluckily died, and the doom of
his physician was sealed. It was abruptly announced to him that he must
die, and by his own weapons, as Caspar informed him. The unhappy son of
Escu-lapius prayed hard that his life might be spared, and promised that
he would dwell for the remainder of his days in the Torre de los Frayles,
- to spare him, for he was a very old man, and had many things to repent
of. But his tyrants were inexorable. After being confessed with mock
religious solemnity by Gorgoza de la Puente, he was compelled to swallow
every one of his own drugs, which he did with hideous grimaces and
trembling limbs, amidst the uproarious laughter and cruel jests of his
destroyers, who beheld him expire almost immediately after finishing the
nauseous dose they had compounded, and then consigned his body to that
charnel-house, the chasm before the doorway of their pandemonium. Several
months elapsed—months which to Ronald appeared like so many centuries, for
he had awaited in almost hourly expectation the arrival of some
intelligence from Madrid; but the dreary days lagged on, and his heart
began to lose hope. Juan de la Roca appeared to have travelled slowly.
Letters were received from him by Alosegui, at different times, by the
hands of certain muleteers and contrabandistas, who, on passing the
mountains, always paid a regular sum as toll to the banditti, whom, for
their own sakes, they were glad to conciliate so easily. These despatches
informed the thieves of Juan's progress ; but they often cursed the young
rascal, and threatened vengeance for his tardiness and delay. But Juan, by
exercising his ingenuity as a cut-purse, pickpocket, cloak-snatcher, and
gambler, contrived to keep himself in a constant supply of cash ; and he
seemed determined to enjoy to the utmost the short term of liberty allowed
him. At last he disappeared. His companions in crime heard of him no more
; but whether he had been poniarded in some brawl, sent to the galleys, or
made off with Stuart's ransom money, remained a mystery. The last appeared
to the banditti to be the most probable cause for his non-appearance, and
their curses were loud and deep.
Stuart now found that his life was in greater
jeopardy than before. Alosegui proposed to him to take the vows, and join
the banditti as a volunteer in their next marauding expedition; and added,
that if he would take pains to conciliate the good-will of the lieutenant,
the Senor Narvaez, and distinguish himself, he might be promoted in the
band. Alosegui made this proposal with his usual dry sarcastic manner; and
although Ronald, who was in no humour to be trifled with, rejected the
strange offer of service with as much scorn and contempt as he could
muster, he saw, on second thoughts, that for his own safety a little
duplicity was absolutely necessary. He affected to have doubts, and craved
time to think of the matter, intending, if once well armed, free of the
tower, and with his feet on the free mountain-side, to fight his way off,
or to die sword in hand.
But he was saved from the dishonour of even
pretending to be their comrade for a single hour, because, in a very short
space of time, a most unlooked-for change of politics took place at Torre
de los Frayles.
train of muleteers about to depart from Elizondo for France or the lower
part of the Pyrenees, sent forward one of their number to the robbers' den
to pay the toll. The mule-driver was made right welcome. The banditti
found it necessary to cultivate to the utmost the friendship of these
travelling merchants, with whom they trafficked and bartered, ex- changing
goods and valuables for money, clothing, arms, and ammunition, supplies of
which were regularly brought them, and accounts were balanced in the most
exact and business-like manner.
The envoy from Elizondo had transacted his
business, and been furnished with Alosegui's receipt and pass, formally
signed and marked with a cross; but he seemed in no hurry to depart, and
remaining, drank, and played at chess and dominoes for some hours with the
thieves, who were, scouts excepted, generally all within their garrison in
knew that a messenger from a train of mules was in his place of
confinement, but as visits of this kind in no way concerned him, he had
ascended to the summit of the tower, and there paced to and fro, watching
anxiously as usual the long dim vista of the valley, with the expectation
of seeing Juan de la Roca, on his gray mule, wending his way towards the
Tower of the Friars. He would have hailed with joy the return of this
young rogue as a delivering angel ; but such a length of time had now
elapsed since his disappearance, that, in Ronald's breast, hope began
gradually to give way to despair ; and when he remembered Alice, his home,
and his forfeited commission, his brain almost reeled with madness.
Shading his eyes from the hot glare of the noonday sun, he was looking
intently down the long misty vale which stretched away to the westward,
when he was roused by some one touching him on the shoulder.
He turned about, and beheld the round and
good-humoured face of Lazaro Gomez, fringed, as of old, with its matted
whiskers and thick scrub beard.
'Lazaro Gomez, my trusty muleteer of Merida!
how sorry I am to see you in this devil's den.'
'Senor, indeed you have much reason to be very
happy if you knew all.'
'Hush, senor! Speak softly! you will know all
in good time. I came here to pay the toll for my comrades, who at present
keep themselves close in Elizondo, for fear of our friends in this
damnable tower, and there they must remain till I return. By our Lady of
Majorga, but I am glad to see you, senor! As I say now to my brother
Pedro, senor caballero, allow me to have the honour of shaking hands with
the huge horny hand of the honest muleteer and shook it heartily, feeling
a sensation so closely akin to rapture and delight, that he could almost
have shed tears. It was long since he had shaken the hand of an honest
man, or looked on other visages than those of dogged, sullen, and scowling
ruffians. At that moment Stuart felt happy; it was so agreeable to have
kind intercourse, even with so humble a friend, after the five months he
had passed in the dreary abode of brutality and crime.
'And why, Lazaro, do you address your brother,
the sergeant, so formally?'
'Ah, senor! Pedro is a great man now! He is no
longer a humble trooper, to pipe-clay his belts and hold his captain's
bridle. By his sword he has carved out a fair name for himself, and a fair
fortune likewise. He led three assaults against Pampeluna, like a very
valiant fool as he is, and was three times shot through the body for his
trouble. Don Carlos de Espana, a right noble cavalier, embraced him before
the whole line of the Spanish army, and appointed him a cornet in Don
Alvaro's troop of lancers. The next skirmish with the enemy made him a
lieutenant, knight of Santiago, and of the most valiant order of 'the
Band.' Don Alvaro has also procured him a patent of nobility, which he
always carries in his sash, lest anyone should unpleasantly remind his
nobleness that he is the eldest son of old Sancho Gomez, the alguazil, who
dwelt by the bridge of Merida.'
'I rejoice at his good fortune.'
'But I have not told you all, senor,'
continued the gossiping muleteer. 'A rich young widow of Aranjuez, the
Condesa de Estramera, fell in love with him, when one day he commanded a
guard at the palace of Madrid. An old duenna was employed,—letters were
carried to and fro,—meetings held in solitary places; and the upshot was,
that the condesa bestowed her fair hand, with a fortune of—-of—the holy
Virgin knows how many thousand ducats, upon my most happy rogue of a
brother, Lieutenant Don Pedro Gomez, of the lancers of Merida, and now
they live like a prince and princess.'
'Happy Pedro! The condesa is beautiful; I have
seen her, Lazaro.'
'Plump Ignesa, the chambermaid at the posada of Majorga, is more to my
mind. I never could relish your stately donnas, with their high combs and
long trains. This condesa is niece of that prince of rogues, the Duke of
Alba de T-----, who was killed in the service of Buonaparte; but Pedro
cares not for that.'
'In the history of his good fortune, you see the advantage of being a
'With all due respect to your honourable uniform, which I am sorry to see
so tattered, senor, I can perceive no advantage in being a soldier, —none
at all, par Diez! I envy Pedro not the value of a maravedi. He has served
and toiled, and starved and bled, in the war of independence, like any
slave, rather than a soldier.'
'So have I, Lazaro,' said Stuart; 'and these
rags and confinement here for five months have been my reward.'
The muleteer snapped his fingers, then gave a
very knowing wink, and was about to whisper something; but, observing one
of the banditti watching, he continued talking about his brother.
'Ay, like any poor slave, senor; and has more
shot-holes in his skin than I have bell-buttons on my jacket. And now,
when the war is over, he has still a troublesome game to play in striving
to please his hotheaded commanding officer and lady wife, whom it would be
considered a mortal sin to baste with a buff strap, as I may do Ignesa,
when she becomes my helpmate and better half. Pedro's honours weigh
heavily upon him, and he has many folks to please ; whereas I have none to
humour save myself, and perhaps that stubborn jade Capitana, my leading
mule, or Ignesa of Majorga, who gets restive, too, sometimes, and refuses
to obey either spur or bridle. But my long whip, and a smart rap from my
cajado, soothe the mule, and my sweet guitar and merry madrigal, the
maiden. I am a thousand times happier than Pedro! I never could endure
either domestic or military control; and would rather be Lazaro Gomez,
with his whip and his mules, than the stately king of the Spanish nation.
I have the bright sun, the purple wine, my cigar, and the red-cheeked
peasant-girls to kiss and dance with,—and what would mortal man have more?
by throwing himself into an attitude, and flourishing his sombrero round
his head with a theatrical air. Ronald smiled ; but he thought that,
notwithstanding all this display, and Lazaro's frequent assertions that he
was happier than Pedro, a little envy continued to lurk in a corner of his
merry and honest heart.
'But has Pedro never done aught for you,
Lazaro, in all his good fortune?' asked Ronald.
'Oh, senor! his lady wife, disliking that her
brother-in-law should be treading afoot over sierra and plain at a mule's
tale, gave me the post of Escrivano del Numero at Truxillo, which I kept
for somewhere about eight weeks. But I always grew sad when I heard the
merry jangle of mules' bells; and one morning, unable to restrain myself
longer, I tossed my escrivano's cope and rod to Satanas, seized my whip
and sombrero, and once more took to the road as a merry-hearted muleteer
of Merida, and neither Pedro nor the condessa have been able to catch me
'I am happy
to find you are such a philosopher,' said Ronald, with a sigh, which was
not unnoticed by the muleteer.
'I could say that, senor caballero, which
would make you far happier,' said he, with a glance of deep meaning.
'But,' he added, pointing to the armed bandit, who kept a look-out on the
bartizan near them, 'but there are unfriendly ears near us.'
'Speak fearlessly, Lazaro!' said Ronald
eagerly, while his heart bounded with expectation. I know that rascal to
be a Guipuscoan, who understands as little of pure Castilian as of Greek.
In Heaven's name, Lazaro, what have you to tell me? I implore you to
the muleteer, lowering his voice to a whisper, ' you have thrice asked me
about Don Alvaro, and I have thrice delayed to tell you what I know : good
news should be divulged cautiously. Well, senor, the famous cavalier of
Estremadura has encamped three hundred horse and foot among the mountains
near Elizondo. He comes armed with a commission from the king, and his
minister Don Diego de Avallo, to root out and utterly destroy this nest of
wasps, or cientipedoros. The place is to be assailed about midnight; so
look well to yourself, senor, that the villains do not poniard you in the
fray ; and if you have any opportunity to aid us, I need not ask you to do
so. I am to be Don Alvaro's guide, as I know every foot of ground
hereabout as well as I do at Merida, having paid toll here twenty times.
But this will be my last visit of the kind ; and I came hither only to
reconnoitre and learn their password, in case it should be needed. Keep a
brave spirit in your breast for a few hours longer, senor, and perhaps,
when the morning sun shines down the long valley yonder, Alosegui and his
comrades will be hanging round the battlement, like beads on a chaplet. I
pray to the Santa Gadea of Burgos that the night be dark, that we may the
more easily take the rogues by surprise.'
Ronald's astonishment and joy at the sudden
prospect of liberation revealed to him by Lazaro Gomez deprived him of the
power of utterance for a time. He was about to display some extravagant
signs of pleasure, and to embrace the muleteer, when the keen cold glance
of the Guipuscoan bandit, who was watching them narrowly, recalled him to
a sense of his danger. He almost doubted the reality of the story, and
narrowly examined the broad countenance of the burly muleteer ; but truth
and honesty were stamped on every line of it. The horizon of Ronald's
fortune was about to clear up again. He felt giddy—almost stunned with the
suddenness of the intelligence, and his heart bounded with the wildest
exultation at the prospect of speedy liberty, and of vengeance for the
thousands of insults to which he had been subjected while a prisoner in
the Torre de los Frayles.
When Lazaro departed, Stuart gave him the only
token he could send to Don Alvaro,—a button of his coat, bearing a thistle
and the number '92.' He desired him to acquaint the cavalier that it would
be requisite to provide planks to cross the chasm before the tower,
otherwise the troops would fail to take its inmates by surprise.
This advice was the means of saving Stuart's
life at a very critical juncture.