As nearly as Ronald could
judge by the position of the sun,—being without a watch,—it was about the
hour of three in the afternoon when Lazaro departed.
It was yet nine hours to midnight, and
although that time seemed an age to look forward to, yet so full was his
mind of joy, and crowding thoughts of gladness, hopes and fears, that
evening surprised him long before he imagined it to be near; and he had
much ado in preserving his usual cold and serene look, and concealing the
tumult of new ideas which excited him from the insolent bravoes, who were
continually swaggering about, and, according to their usual wont, jostling
him rudely at every corner and place where he encountered them. To
remonstrate would have been folly, and to these petty annoyances he always
this last eventful evening he submitted to the penance of dining at the
same table with the banditti, and even condescended to 'trouble' his
friend the padre for a piece of broiled kid; but, as soon as the repast
was ended, he withdrew to the tower-head. He preferred to be alone, almost
dreading that his important secret might be read by Alosegui, Cifuentes,
or any other who bent his scowling and lack-lustre eyes upon him.
At times, too, there came into his mind a
doubt of the truth of Lazaro's story; but that idea was too sickening to
bear, and he dismissed it immediately.
The sun had set. Masses of dun clouds covered
the whole sky, which gradually became streaked with crimson and gold to
the westward, where the rays of the sun yet illumined and coloured the
huge mountains of vapour, although his light was fast leaving the earth.
The appearance of the sky and aspect of the
scenery were wonderful and glorious. The whole landscape was covered with
a red hue, as if it had been deluged by a red shower. The mountain
streamlet wound through the valley of the Torre de los Frayles, like a
long gilded snake, towards the base of a dark mountain, where appeared
part of the Bidassoa, gleaming under the warm sky like a river of liquid
fire. Beautiful as the scene was, Ronald seemed too much occupied with his
own stirring thoughts to admire it, or to survey any part with curiosity,
save that which, by gradually assuming a more sombre hue, announced the
approach of night. It was not easy for him to observe a landscape with an
artist's eye, while placed in the predicament in which he then found
remembered, with peculiar bitterness, the countless mortifications and
insults which he had received from Alosegui, the padre, and many others,
and he contemplated with gloomy pleasure the display which these
master-rogues would make when receiving, by the cord or the bullet, the
just reward of all their enormities. He remembered with pleasure that he
had never broken the parole of honour he had pledged to these
miscreants—and truly he had been sorely tempted. Owing to their irregular
and dissipated course of life, more than one opportunity of escape and
flight had presented itself.
'I expect a storm to-night, senor,' said
Gaspar, breaking in abrur on his meditations.
The other swore a mighty oath, which I choose
not to repeat. 'San Stephano el Martir! si, senor,—and no ordinary storm
either. We shall miss our prize of a rich hidalgo of Alava, who, with an
escort of twenty armed men, would have departed to-night from a posada a
few miles from this, and meant to bivouac at a place on the hillside, of
which the innkeeper, who is an old friend of mine, sent us all due notice.
Look you; hombre! the sky grows dark almost while we look upon it, and the
clouds, in masses of black and red, descend on every side, like gloomy
curtains, to shut out the sun from our view; and the wind, which blows
against our faces, seems like the very breath of hell Pooh! this is just
such a night as one might expect to see our very good friend the devil
'He is no
friend of mine, Senor Alosegui, although he may be a particular one of
yours,' said Ronald with a smile.
'By the holy house of Nazareth!' swore the
bandit, 'you may come to a close acquaintance with him after you have
served for a time, as I expect you shall, in our honourable company.'
'Well; but what of the storm? asked Ronald,
more interested about that, and unwilling to quarrel with his captor when
there was so near a prospect of release. 'What leads you to suppose there
will be one tonight?'
'These few raindrops now falling are large and
round; hark, how they splash on the battlement! The valley, the sierra,
the tower, the river, and everything bear a deep saffron tint, partaking
of the hue of the troubled sky. Santos! we shall have a storm roaring
among the mountains and leaping along the valleys to-night, which will
cause the old droning monks at Maya to grow pale as they look upon each
other's fat faces, and while they mumble their aves, count their beads,
and bring forth the morsel of the true cross to scare away Satanas and his
imps of evil. By-the-bye, speaking of Maya reminds me of your case, senor.
A train of mules, which crossed the Pyrenees without paying us our
customary toll, are on their return homeward from Bayonne to Maya, laden
with the very best of all good things this world affords, for the use of
the pious and abstaining fathers of the convent of Saint Francis. Forty
men, commanded by Narvaez Cifuentes, will set out to-morrow to meet our
friends in the Pass of Maya, and a sharp engagement will probably take
place. A priest is with them ; on his shoulder he bears the banner of
Saint Francis of Assisi, but if they imagine that we hidalgos of fortune
will respect it, the holy fathers are woefully mistaken. The mules are
escorted by a party of armed peasants, commanded by an old acquaintance of
Gorgorza, the padre Porke, who is as brave as the Cid, and has served with
honour in the guerilla bands during the war of independence. The muleteers
are all stout fellows, too, and being well armed with cajados, trabucas,
and long knives, will likely show fight,—and, truly, Narvaez will see some
sharp work. Now, hark you, senor; if you are willing to join him and his
brave companions, you will have an opportunity of making your first essay
as a cavalier of fortune under a very distinguished commander.
Do this, senor, and you will live among us
honoured and respected, as an equal, a friend, and a brave comrade. If you
fall in conflict, all is at an end ; but if taken by the authorities, to
suffer martyrdom by the law on the gallows, the garrote, or the wheel,
then you will have the glory of dying amid a vast multitude, upon whose
sympathy the fame of your exploits will draw largely. You like not my
proposition? Well, senor caballero, I have to acquaint you that I shall
not be able to resist the fierce importunities of Narvaez Cifcuentes, and
those who are his particular friends. Their poniards are ready to leap
from their scabbards against you now,—now that all chance of your being
ransomed has failed. I have a sort of friendship for you, senor, because,
instead of supplicating for life, you have rather seemed to defy
fearlessly the terrors of death; the which stubbornness of soul, if it
wins not the pity, certainly excites the admiration of the jovial picaros,
my comrades. You are a fine fellow over the chess-board or wine-cup, and
your bearing would be complete if you would follow the example of
Cifuentes, and swear and swagger a little at times. But you will
acknowledge that the flowing ease of action and expression which
distinguishes that accomplished cavalier is difficult of imitation.'
'I must confess they are, Senor Gaspar,'
replied Ronald, who could scarcely help smiling at the other's manner,
which had in it a strange mixture of impudence, and part serious, part
banter. 'But I have really no desire to become the pupil of your friend.'
'As you please, amigo mio; as you please,'
replied Alosegui, speaking slowly as he puffed at his cigar ; for, like a
true Spaniard, he smoked from the time he opened his eyes in the morning
till he closed them again at night. ' I once saw you perform the bandit to
the very life in the Posada de los Representes at Aranjuez, when the
British officers acted La Gitana, and some of Lope de Vega's pieces, for
the amusement of themselves and the ladies of the city. You are a superb
imitator, and, under the tuition of Narvaez, would, I doubt not, fulfil my
'The devil take Narvaez!' muttered Ronald, who
was getting impatient of Caspar's style of speech.
'All in good time,' said the other quietly.
'You have been enemies of old, I believe; some affair of rivalry, in which
Cifuentes was successful. I understand perfectly; but in our community,
among the Pyrenees here, we have no such petty feelings of dislike.
However senor,' continued the robber, suddenly changing his satirical tone
for a stern and bullying one; 'however, I would have you to think well of
all I have said, as I should be sorry to see your bones cast into the vast
depth of the chasm, to swell the grisly company there. So give me a
definite answer to-morrow, senor, before Narvaez departs for Maya, or
fatal results may ensue.'
He flourished the paper cigar which he held
between two fingers, and withdrew, nodding significantly as his tall and
bulky figure descended the narrow staircase leading down from the paved
roof of the tower.
Ronald, who was glad of his strange friend's departure, turned again to
watch the long vista of the valley, which was now involved in darkness. He
would probably have remained there till midnight, but he was soon
compelled to follow Alosegui, as the storm-, which had long been
threatening, now descended in all its fury.
The atmosphere became dense
and close, while the sky grew rapidly darker and darker, till it assumed
the dreary blackness of a winter night, and an ocean of rain descended on
the earth with such violence, that it was a wonder the little tower was
not levelled beneath it like a house of cards. The thunder-peals were
grand and sublime: louder and louder than a thousand broadsides, they
roared as if heaven and earth were coming together.
The banditti grew pale as they viewed each
other's grim visages in the blue glare of the lightning. They grew pale as
death, and their 'felon souls' quaked within them, for there is a terrible
something in the sound of thunder, which appals most men. It seems like
God's own voice speaking in the firmament.
But Alosegui called for lights and for liquor,
and pigskins and jars were speedily set abroach; the half-ruined hall was
soon illuminated by candles of all sorts and sizes, which streamed and
guttered, untrimmed and unheeded, in the currents of air that passed
freely through the place, although the crazy windows were covered up with
boards, and stuffed with cloaks, bags of straw, etc., to keep out the wind
in the dilapidated hall, if it deserved such a name, the banditti withdrew
their guards and scouts, and forgot the storm without amid the laughter
and brutal uproar of their carousal. Wine and the strong heady aguadiente—a
liquor not unlike Scottish whisky,—were flowing like water, and the noise
within the Torre de los Frayles almost equalled the uproar of the elements
spirits fell, and he grew sad; he expected that there would be no attack
that night, and he pitied the unfortunate soldiers who were exposed on a
night march to such a storm. From old experience he well knew the misery
of such a duty. He withdrew from the scene of bandit merriment, and
seeking a solitary place, watched the elemental war without, and gazed
with mingled awe and pleasure on the bright streaks of forked lightning as
they darted through the sky, lighting up the shattered cliffs, the
mountain-tops, the deep valley, and the swollen river,—displaying them
vividly, tinging them all over with a pale sulphurous blue, and causing
the whole scene to assume a wild and ghastly appearance. Again the thunder
roared, then died away, and naught could be heard but the howling wind,
and the rain rushing fiercely down from the parted clouds.
After continuing for about two hours, the
storm at last began to abate and Stuart's hopes of freedom revived. It yet
wanted some hours of midnight, but he greatly feared that the fury of such
a tempest would scatter Don Alvaro's command of horse and foot, drench
them to the skin, and destroy their arms and ammunition. Yet he still
continued at the loophole, watching the dispersion of the clouds, the
appearance of the stars, and the increasing light of the moon as the
successive, shrouds of gauze-like vapour withdrew from her shining face.
While thus engaged, he was aroused by the
sound of some one standing behind him. He turned sharply round, and beheld
Cifuentes, flushed with his potations, and ripe for brawl and uproar,
reeling about with a horn of liquor in one hand and a drawn stiletto in
the other. In his drunken insolence he dashed the cup, which was full of
the rich wine of Ciudad Real, in Ronald's face, and he was for the moment
blinded by the liquor. Full of fury at the insult, he rushed upon the
robber, and grasping him by his strong and bull-like neck, tripped up his
heels and hurled him to the floor in a twinkling. He dashed the head of
the aggressor twice on the pavement to stun him, and wresting the poniard
from his grasp, would inevitably have slain him with it, had he not been
prevented by the interference of the cidevant padre Gorgorza and others.
He was grasped from behind and drawn away from his antagonist, who had
very little breath left in his body after such a knock-down. Drawn daggers
were gleaming on every side; but the ruffians stood so much in awe of
Alosegui's formidable strength and vengeance, that they longed yet feared
to strike Stuart with their weapons. In the grasp of so many, his arms
were pinioned fast, so that his rage could only be indicated by the
heaving of his breast, by the fire which glared in his eyes, and by the
swollen veins of his forehead.
A short pause ensued, until Narvaez staggered
up from the floor, completely sobered, but at the same time completely
infuriated by the assault which he had sustained. He at first howled like
a wild beast and sprang upon his helpless prisoner with the intention of
poniarding him on the spot; but suddenly changing his mind, he laughed
wildly, and swore and muttered while pointing to a rope which, unhappily,
was at that time dangling from the stone mullion of a window, about twelve
feet from the floor, and he proposed to hang Stuart here. The idea was
greeted with a perfect storm of yells and applause.
A cold perspiration burst over the form of the
captive, and he struggled with a strength and determination of which
hitherto he had believed himself incapable; but his efforts were as those
of a child, in the hands of so many. He had to contend with forty devils
incarnate, well armed, and flushed with rage and wine.
How eagerly at that moment Stuart longed for
the appearance of Alvaro, and how deeply he deplored his having given
loose to passion, when, by restraining it, another hour perhaps had seen
him free! But he longed in vain, for Alvaro came not, and his regrets were
fruitless. He was to die now, and by the ignominious cord!
As they dragged him across the apartment, he
called frantically on Alosegui; but that worthy lay on the floor in a
corner insensible,—or perhaps, pretending to be so,—from the quantity of
liquor he had imbibed. In this dreadful extremity, when hovering on the
very verge of death, Ronald condescended to remind Cifuentes that he saved
his life at Merida, when Don Alvaro was about to hang him like a cur, in
the chapter-house of a convent there.
But Narvaez only grinned, as, with the
assistance of his great row of teeth, he knotted a loop on the cord, and
said that it was by the rope, the bullet, or the dagger, he always paid
his debts, and that he had permitted Stuart to live too long to satisfy
his scruples as an honourable Spaniard.
'Up with him, amigos mios!' cried he,
flourishing the hateful noose. 'Carajo! pull, and with a strong hand!'
At that moment Ronald uttered a cry of
triumphant joy: Narvaez dropped the cord, and the banditti started back,
cowering with alarm. The stairs and the doorway of the apartment were
filled with soldiers, the sight of whose bristling bayonets, with the
shout of 'Death to the bandidos! Viva el Rey!' struck terror on the
recreant garrison of the Torre de los Frayles. Several officers rushed
forward with their swords drawn: and in the tall cavalier with the steel
helmet, corselet, and cavalry uniform, Ronald recognised his old friend,
Alvaro de Villa Franca.
'Dogs and villains!' he exclaimed, 'surrender!
But expect no mercy; for I swear to you, by the head of the king, that ye
shall all die, and before another day dawns,—ay, every man of you!'
By this time the hall was crowded by about
fifty infantry, while a number of dismounted dragoons, armed with their
swords and carbines, occupied the stair and adjacent passages. The
cowards, whose den had been so suddenly surprised, forgetting to use the
weapons with which they were so well equipped, fell upon their
knees,—every man except Narvaez. They cried for mercy in the most abject
terms ; but the cavalier turned a deaf ear to their entreaties, as they
had done to hundreds before.
'Senor Don Ronald!' said he, embracing Stuart,
'our Lady has been singularly favourable to us to-night. We toiled our way
over these rocky mountains, notwithstanding the storm, and have truly
arrived at a most critical moment. Our friends of the Friars', or rather
of the Thieves' Tower, shall find that I have not made a fruitless journey
from Madrid. But first allow me to introduce an old friend, Don Pedro
A number of
ceremonious Castilian bows were exchanged, after which the cavalier
'Immediately on receiving your letter and obtaining all the information
requisite about this den of the devil, I ordered the bearer, Juan— Juan—I
forget his name, to be hanged; and, waiting on Diego de Avallo, our
secretary for home affairs, I procured a commission under the great seal
to proceed as I chose in the duty of rooting out this nest of ruffians,
who have so long been the terror of the country here about; and by the
sacred shrine of the Virgin del Pilar! I will avenge your captivity and
their crimes most signally. Guard well the staircase and doorway with our
own troopers, Don Pedro.'
The cidevant sergeant was garbed and equipped
like Alvaro, and had evidently acquired very much the air of a well-bred
Alosegui, who stared about him with an air of drunken stupidity, the
robbers were completely sobered, and remained on their knees, crying for
mercy,—mercy in the name of the Holy Virgin, of her son, of the saints,
and in the name of* Heaven ; but stern looks and charged bayonets were the
only, and certainly fitting reply; and one by one they were stripped of
their poniards and pistols, which were broken and destroyed by the
soldiers. Narvaez alone scorned to kneel, but he stood scowling around him
with a dogged, sullen, and pale visage, while his knees quaked and
'Alvaro,' said Stuart, 'look upon this sulky ruffian, who is too proud, or
perhaps too frightened to kneel.'
'Cifuentes of Albuquerque!' cried the stern
cavalier, in a tone almost rising into a shriek. 'Dios mio! the destroyer
of Catalina, of my poor sister! Ah, master fiend! most daring of villains!
Heaven has at last delivered you to me, that you may receive the reward of
your long life of crime. At last you shall die by my hand!' He was about
to run him through the heart, but checked the half-given thrust.
'No!' he continued, 'you shall not die thus.
To fall by my sword is a death fit for a hidalgo or cavalier. Thou shalt
pass otherwise from this earth to hell, and die like a dog as thou art!'
Taking his heavy Toledo sabre by the blade, he
aimed a blow at Narvaez, which demolished his lower jaw, and laid him on
the floor. Upon the throat of the writhing robber he placed the heel of
his heavy jack-boot, and watched, without the slightest feeling of
compunction or remorse, the horrible distortions and death agonies
exhibited in his visage, and from his compressed throat withdrewnot his
foot till he had completely strangled him, and he lay a blackened,
bloated, and disfigured corse on the floor.
'At length Catalina is avenged!' exclaimed the
cavalier, turning with fierce exultation to Stuart, who had witnessed
without regret or interference the retribution which had so suddenly
hurled the once-formidable Narvaez to the shades.
The fears of the banditti were renewed on
beholding this terrible scene, and again they implored piteously to be
spared, offering to become Alvaro's slaves, imploring that they might be
sent to dig in his mines in Estremadura, or sent to the galleys, or
anywhere—but, oh ! to spare their wretched lives, and they would offend
against God and man no more. The stern cavalier listened as if he heard
them not. He ordered them to be pinioned; and Lazaro Gomez appearing with
a huge bundle of the cords with which he bound his mules' packages, tied
the ladrones in pairs, binding them hard and fast back to back.
Meanwhile some of the soldiers were ransacking
the tower 'from turret to foundation-stone,' expecting to find vaults and
strong rooms piled with vast heaps of treasure. But the soldados were
woefully disappointed; not a cross or, coin fell into their hands, save
what they obtained in the pouches of the thieves, whom they pricked
remorselessly with their bayonets and otherwise maltreated, to force them
to reveal where their plunder was deposited.
Whether the wretches were obstinate, or had
nothing to conceal, I know not; but the exasperation of the soldiers was
greatly increased when they discovered that they should return without the
gold, the jewellery, and the consecrated images, with which they hoped to
have stuffed their haversacks.
'This is well,' said Alvaro, watching with
grim satisfaction the adroit manner in which Lazaro linked the rogues
together. 'On my honour, Lazaro, you should have been a general instead of
a mule-driver. But what is wisdom in the former, the world stigmatizes as
mere cunning in the latter. Believe me, Senor Stuart, the entire success
of this expedition is principally owing to this sturdy rogue of Merida, on
whom I would bestow a cherry-cheeked bride and a thousand hard ducats, if
he would only quit mule-driving, and settle quietly down within the sound
of the bells of San Juan. He was our guide to-night during the whole of
the tempest, and notwithstanding its fury and the darkness, which was so
intense that I could scarcely see my horse's ears, he conducted us up the
mountains, by some chasm or gorge, safely and surely, horse and foot, as
only the devil—'
a muleteer of Merida, senor.'
'Ay, Lazaro, or a muleteer of Merida, could
have done. He provided planks for us to cross the chasm here, which
otherwise must have brought us to a dead halt; and it was entirely owing
to his tact and observation that we were enabled to surprise the villains
at so critical a time. A sore penance you must have endured, my friend, in
spending so many months in such company; but it might be the less
regretted, as it will probably go to your account of time in purgatory.
You shall have most ample satisfaction, however, before the night is much
older, for all the injuries you have suffered from them.'
Ronald was so much overjoyed at his
deliverance, that he could scarcely find words to express his feelings,
and the obligations which he owed to Don Alvaro; but, with a spirit of
forgiveness highly honourable, he began to intercede for the lives of some
of the banditti, who had not made themselves quite so obnoxious as the
rest while he was kept in durance among them; but Alvaro replied that the
commands of Don Diego de Avallo, the Spanish minister, expressly enjoined
that no quarter should be given, as it was the intention of government to
strike a general terror into the banditti which infested every part of the
country, and that they must be cut off, root and branch. Ronald then
proposed that they should be marched down the mountains to Vittoria, or
any other town, and there delivered over to the civil authorities ; but
Villa Franca said that he had no time to spare, and the horde of the Torre
de los Frayles must be instantly disposed of.
'We settle these matters quicker in Spain than
you do in Britain, where the military are so simple as to permit
themselves to be ruled by alcaldes and lawyers,' said the cavalier,
smiling and waving his hand with a decided air. 'So we will leave these
humbled bravoes to the tender care of Don Pedro Gomez, and then take our
departure for the town of Maya, to which our horses will convey us in a
few hours. Thank Heaven, the storm has completely passed away, and the
appearance of the moon gives promise of a glorious night. Without her
assistance we should assuredly break our necks in descending from this
cursed eagle's nest.'
The soldiers fell back respectfully, as Ronald
and Alvaro left the crowded hall. Ronald's heart was dancing with delight
as they descended the worn and dilapidated stair, upon the steps of which
he had not trodden for five months since the unhappy night on which he
first entered this Pyrenean prison-house. Pausing a moment, to direct that
the head of Cifuentes should be struck off, according to the Spanish
custom, and placed upon a pole in the Pass of Maya, the cavalier descended
after Stuart. But the despairing cries and fervent supplications of the
prisoners followed them; and some, on finding that their last moment was
come, began to shriek for a priest in the most heartrending accents of
superstitious terror and despair; but no priest was there to hear their
A padre, a padre, O noble senores! A padre,
por amor de Santa Maria, el Madre de Dios/' howled the despairing Gorgorza
de la Puente, as the soldiers dragged him forth. 'Noble cavalier, valiant
soldiers! destroy me not, body and soul! I am a holy priest, senores! Oh!
I was one once. Hear me, for the love of Heaven! I have much to repent of,
and terrible things to confess. I poniarded a monk in San Sebastian, and
stole the holy vessels from his altar. I—I------'
'Quick with the rope!' cried Pedro. 'Twist it
about his neck, and stop his mouth before he raises his master, the devil,
by speaking thus.'
'Mercy! mercy!' shrieked the other, struggling furiously, as three stout
soldiers dragged him to the summit of the tower. 'Mercy yet a little
while! I carried off a lady of Subijana de Alava, and robbed her of life
and honour among the mountains. I robbed—holy saints! good soldiers! will
no one hear my confession? Can no one hear me!—can no man forgive me ?
Accursed may ye be! bloody wolves and pitiless —O miserico? dia, mio Dios!
O Santissima Maria!' and he was launched into eternity.
Nearly twenty men were pouring forth
rhapsodies like the above, and the tower became filled with sounds of
lamentations, shrieks, and cries, —groans, prayers, and the wildest
blasphemy mingled with the most pious ejaculations; but it was a just
retribution which had fallen upon these wicked men.
Ronald's heart beat lightly as he crossed the
terrible chasm, where so many unfortunates had found a tomb. He had been a
captive—on the very verge of death, and now he was free, 'himself again.'
The bright moon was shining aloft like a globe
of silver, and the dewy sides of the hills, the rivulets which trickled
from the rocks, the sleepy stream at the bottom of the valley, and every
violet-cup and blade of grass were gleaming in its radiant light.
At a little distance from the chasm were a
party of Alvaro's cavalry, escorting the horses of those who were engaged
in the tower, and their tall lance-heads, bright helmets, and cuirasses
were flashing and glittering in the moonlight. Their caparisoned
war-horses were sleek-skinned and long-tailed Andalusians, and were
cropping the grass with their bridles loose.
'Pedro is a rough dog,' said the cavalier,
looking complacently back. 'He is stringing a fair chaplet for the devil
in the merry moonlight. In ten minutes he will have the ladrones all
dangling over the battlement. Santos! 'tis not work for soldiers' hands:
but the dogs deserve not to die by military weapons, for they are as
arrant cowards as ever blanched before the eye of a brave man. Look back,
just now, Don Ronald!'
Ronald turned round, and beheld with disgust
the Spanish soldiers forcing the pinioned banditti over the walls, where
they hung by the neck, dangling and writhing in couples. Although he was
at some distance from the tower, he could distinctly perceive their
convulsions, and heard their heels rattling against the walls, from the
ruinous battlement of which the stones were tumbling every instant into
the chasm with a thundering sound which caused the horses of the lancers
to snort and rear. It was a ghastly sight.
'Now, then, ho for Maya! I believe we shall
find our way across the mountains without the aid of Lazaro, now the
bright moon is shining with such splendour,' was the exclamation of Alvaro
as they mounted and set forth. Stuart rode beside him on the horse of an
orderly, and four Spanish lancers followed as an escort. They descended
towards the valley by the steep and perilous pathway, which was so narrow
as to admit but one horseman at a time, and often overhung the abyss,
passing so close to the edge of the beetling crags, that the eye scarcely
dared to scan the depth below. It was well for the riders that the horses
they rode had been accustomed to stand fire, otherwise some lives might
have been lost as they descended the rocks. Before they were half-way
down, a sudden glare shot across the sky from the mountains above them. A
terrific shock and explosion followed, and the rock of the Torre de los
Frayles was seen enveloped in a cloud of black smoke, which, after curling
upwards, floated away through the clear blue sky.
'Keep your horses tight by the head!' cried
Alvaro, as his mettlesome steed kicked and plunged in the narrow path,
whilst Ronald expected to see him vanish over the rocks every second 'Draw
well on the curb, senors; or, diavolo! some of us will be in the other
Their cattle, however, were soon quieted, and Stuart again looked towards
the place where the Torres de los Fuayles had stood, but no trace of the
tower was visible. The smoke had dispersed, and the rock was bare. The
sound of a cavalry trumpet, calling 'to mount,' was heard soon afterwards,
and the roll of an infantry drum echoed away among the mountains.
'Pedro has put powder in the vaults and blown
up the place, that it may never again become a nest of such birds of
prey,' said Alvaro. ''Tis a tower of friars or thieves no longer, but in
one moment has been dashed into fifty thousand fragments of stone. Here
comes Pedro on our rear; the troops are descending the hill.'
As he spoke, a long line of glittering casques
and spears, moving in single file, appeared descending the rocks, and
vanishing in succession under the shadow of the impending cliff, behind
which the moon was shining, and casting long gigantic shadows across the
valley below. The soldiers brought with them the now crestfallen and
dejected Alosegui, who, as Ronald's former preserver and defender, was, at
his earnest intercession, alone permitted to escape the terrible
retribution so successfully wrought on his guilty confrères.
On inquiring about Carlos de Avallo, to whose
evil influence Ronald believed his captivity to have been mainly owing,
Villa Franca informed him that a duel had taken place between that violent
young cavalier and Don Alvarado. It had been fought on the Puerta del Sol
of Elizondo, about midday, four months previously, and ended by Carlos
being run through the body by Alvarado, who, to escape the vengeange of
his victim's uncle, Don Diego, had absconded to South America, and had not
been since heard of.