|Links in my life on land and sea |
THE SPANISH COURT
Atlantic seaboard of Morocco - Departed glory - Moorish marriage - A second Alhambra - A lonely daughter of Erin - Hyænas and Mahommedan burial - Dead man walks home again - Moor life in tents - Gibraltar - Cork woods - Spanish bloodhounds - Cadiz - Isabella II. - O'Donnel, Duke of Tetuan - Seville and Salambo - Justa and Rufina - Queen should have been a bumboat woman - Her áme damnèe, Patronicio the Nun - Pedro the Cruel and the great Ruby in the British regalia.
ONCE more on the coast of Morocco, or, to call it by its more ancient name, Barbary.
Embarking certain Moorish personages who had been on a Diplomatic Mission and wished to return to various places on the Atlantic seaboard - we first visited El-Araish, a picturesque place situated on a promontory with bold rocks below over which the Atlantic rollers ceaselessly dash. Large forests stretch behind, the home of boar and hyæna, and of a race of man not less savage.
We roamed about the streets of El-Araish without risk of molestation, the Moors very friendly, as they sat, in the Bazaar - cross-legged and apathetic. A great many Jews are settled here, a striking people - with much personal beauty - keeping shops in which gaudy printed calicoes, with Hebrew characters stamped on them, made brilliant spots of colour where the sun streamed down
through the round holes overhead. From El-Araish we went to Rabat, the second capital of Morocco, a large town on the bank of the river, with Salee, celebrated for its Rovers, on the opposite side, but as both these places were intensely fanatical it was unsafe for us to move about without a guard. Rabat, with eighty or ninety thousand inhabitants, surrounded by immensely thick walls, is an extremely ancient city, the foundations of the walls ascribed to Ham, the Progenitor of the Berbers. I went to see the Prison - still in use - in which, in old days, hundreds of Spanish prisoners have breathed their last, and certainly more pestilent dens can hardly be imagined. "Yes, they are not comfortable," said our guide ; " but then the people never live long in them, so what does it matter?"
In the fifteenth century, under Portuguese dominion, crowds of churches sprang up here, and all over the coast, now all ruined or turned to secular use. Unfortunately, too, the splendid reservoirs which the Portuguese constructed have also suffered.
Dar-el-Beida (The White House) was our next halt, a small, uninteresting place in a sandy, rocky plain, and from thence to Mazaghan. Here were four or five European families, living in old Spanish-Moorish houses, delightfully comfortable, with courtyards full of orange-trees. But the town was desolate, dirty, and unsavoury, chiefly consisting of mud-walled hovels with, perhaps, marble columns, from some ruin, at each corner, their decorated capitals standing high above the flat roof. The ruins of the old Inquisition with Moors living in the cells which had once harboured condemned men gave food for thought. A wealthy Moor had taken possession of the best part of the building and had walled off the refectory for himself, and the council chamber for his harem, whilst in the church, where stood the high
A GREAT RESERVOIR
altar, several barbs were stalled. A pleasant walk can be got on the broad top of the sea wall, wide enough for two bullock carts to pass each other. Powerful flanking towers stand out into the sea, dashing harmlessly against them, whilst on the patches of sand, flocks of sandpipers, plovers, dotterel, and other waders are to be seen busy at work, or, on being alarmed, rising in clouds, with shrill pipings, to flit away to some other part of the desolate coast.
I made the acquaintance of Mr. Stokes, the British Consul, a very agreeable man, whose house, I believe, had once been a Portuguese church. He took me to see a subterranean reservoir of Portuguese construction which looked like the flooded crypt of some vast cathedral, the long row of pillars and the exquisitely proportioned groined roof, still in perfect preservation. The light coming down through circular holes in the floor above, and shining on the dead, flat water had a singularly beautiful effect. The water was from ten to twelve feet deep and a curious boat, probably of great age, lay water-logged at the foot of the steps, fastened by a chain that had nearly rusted through its links. The place was weirdly fascinating, and, after dinner, as it was a brilliant night, I returned to see the effect of the moon shining through the roof. It is difficult to imagine a more ghostly place, its ghostliness further heightened as some venerable rat, of which there were scores crossing and recrossing, plunged into the water off the cornice.
Next day we witnessed a Moorish marriage. Crowds of people were assembled outside the house of the bride, who was brought out in a kind of large gilded box, followed by women in chairs, and, others, walking, all disappearing into another house close by. Some twenty or thirty horsemen were drawn up at the head of a long sandy road with temporary huts and shanties erected on
both sides crammed with spectators. In twos or threes the horsemen would advance towards each other at a furious gallop, firing their long-barrelled guns and flourishing them over their heads, and then returning to the top of the lists again. Every one seemed to be in the highest pitch of excitement, in which the horses shared, in spite of their bleeding sides and jaws, the latter twisted by the cruel Moorish bit. It was a wild scene : the men with their dark faces aglow with a ferocity that was not simulated, their long flowing robes a-flutter. One man, in his gallop, went full charge into a laden camel that had got in his way sending the animal completely over on its side, with the horse kicking and sprawling on the top of the pack. But in less than half a minute man and horse were up and on again, apparently none the worse for the collision, though the camel lay slobbering and swearing on the ground, until his load was removed, when he got up and looked extremely savage, as if not in the least relishing the joke.
Our next halt was at Saffi, or Asapha in Moorish. It also stands on a rocky promontory, but is walled in by a high granite cliff, with huge rocks to seaward over which a grand sea perpetually roars. Our man-of-war boats could not land through the surf, so we disembarked in native surf boats, when, on approaching the beach, we were seized in the unsavoury arms of half-naked Moors and deposited safely on the shore. We called on the Governor, a dignified, patriarchal Moor, his mother a lineal descendant of the Prophet, and thence to call on Mr. Carstensen, the English Consul, and his wife, who treated us most hospitably. Mules being provided, and with Miss Turnbull, sister of Mrs. Carstensen, as an addition to the party, we started off to visit the remains of an ancient Moorish Palace, a miniature of the Alhambra, and hardly inferior to that wondrous structure
A DAUGHTER OF ERIN
in the beauty and variety of its decoration. It is a vast quadrangular building flanked by handsome turrets, the interior divided in courts, halls, terraces, and galleries, with a seraglio - for the accommodation of two hundred ladies - where the decoration of the ceilings, elaborate beyond anything imaginable, still retained their brilliant colouring : with courtyards - in which were waterless fountains surrounded by thirsty-looking, marble lions, with their mouths open - the pavements tesselated with red and green tiles of a glaze now lost. The Mosque, a gem of Oriental architecture, was in a state of complete ruin, the dome fallen in, long green creepers swaying about with every breath of wind, and in the Mirabh, where pious Moslems once prostrated themselves, bats flitted and birds had built their nests. Approaching this spot we disturbed a large white owl, who, drowsily opening his eyes, spread his wings and floated noiselessly away. Could we have caught that sage old bird what strange tales he might have told us ; perhaps about that unhappy Irish girl, who, captured by Sali Rovers, was brought to the harem of this very palace, rose to become the Sultana of Morocco, and whose great-grandson was Sultan of Morocco at the time I describe. Hers was a strange, sad story, too long for these pages, but one could not but picture to one's self this lonely daughter of Erin climbing the stairs of the Seraglio Tower which looked towards the sea, and praying for rescue that never came, or casting her eyes in despair over the great sandy desert inland ridge after ridge, ridge after ridge, until closed in by the cruel-looking Atlas mountains.
In a cool corner of the palace the Carstensens had prepared an excellent lunch ; and after another ramble through the seraglio, we mounted our mules to return to Saffi. Our road lay partly across an extensive Mahommedan cemetery, whose prostrate columns of stone and
wood and freshly turned mounds of earth betrayed the hideous work of hyænas, who dig up the dead and devour them : an added horror being that, as the Moors get rid of their relatives as rapidly as possible, people are frequently buried alive and awake to find themselves in the jaws of these animals. Some of these semi-moribund, however, have had the luck to escape this terrible fate, and have been known to walk home again after their own funeral. A case in point of this premature burial, told me by Mrs. Carstensen, concerned the very man who was leading her mule. His little girl had died, and they had carried her, on a open bier, to the graveyard, but the child sat up and began to cry just as the shallow hole was ready to receive her. So they took her home again, and in the evening she was eating figs and playing with a puppy.
As in China, female infants are frequently destroyed in Moorish countries. The parents dig a pit ready, into which, if a daughter is born to them, they immediately throw the child and bury it. This question in ethics has been variously dealt with in all history. By the laws of Lycurgus no parent was allowed to preserve the life of his child without permission of the State, and before condemning the Moor for this practice we must especially remember that the submergence of a daughter left an indelible stain on the family honour in that country, and that to save them from such a fate was the prime reason for female infanticide, where the family was too poor to bring them up in moral security.
We next visited Mogador, a thriving, well-built town with streets intersecting at right angles, and fine stone gates leading into the country, with shops containing all manner of fascinating things - carpets, arms, Morocco leather pouches, yellow and red slippers, baskets of gum arabic, and of beeswax, ostrich feathers, and ivory, and,
in the market, abundance of figs, raisins, dates, olives, young lambs, and other eatables. But it is a poor anchorage, and very little sheltered for vessels of any draught.
I went an expedition into the interior, and saw the Moor in his native state, living, like the patriarchs of old, in camel-hair tents, large semi-circular affairs, like a boat on its side. The costume of both men and women was scanty in the extreme, often a mere shift. The men seemed to do little or no work, whilst the women milked the cows and made butter by whisking the milk about in a goat-skin bag with the hair inside. One saw them ploughing, yoked alongside a donkey or mule, and, in addition to these labours, they spin and weave, tend the children, and, when they shift camp, carry most of the luggage. The better-to-do women were often strikingly classical in their appearance, with the folds of their haick (a long narrow linen sheet) draped gracefully about them and fastened at the shoulders with a large silver brooch, like a fibia. Almost all alike wore silver bracelets and anklets, and many of them strings of coloured beads. The children of both sexes up to the age of eight or ten were entirely naked. The Sheik of the camp we visited was very courteous, and, through our interpreter, narrated hair-breadth adventures with lions, hyænas, and serpents fathoms long, these last, however, living too far away for us to go and see them.
* * * * *
We returned to Gibraltar, where Spanish dislike of the English was very marked, and many men still lived who had seen Nelson's battered fleet coming into the roadstead after the Battle of Trafalgar. On a certain occasion, riding in the cork woods - on the mainland - my messmate Heane and I had an unpleasant adventure. We had pulled up to eat our lunch near a rough forest inn frequented by lawless, predatory bands of charcoal
THE CORK WOODS
burners. I cannot remember how a quarrel began, but we had to assert ourselves, and with difficulty got to our horses, for knives were out, and, but for Heane's small pocket revolver, it is doubtful if we should have got off without injury. However, we did get away, and were congratulating ourselves on the fact, when looking back we saw we were being pursued by three large dogs, part bloodhound part mastiff, which, with heads down, were coming after us like the wind. We put our horses into a gallop, for well we knew the character of these dogs and that people had often been pulled down by them and then robbed or murdered by their masters. We were both well mounted, but the dogs easily overtook us, snarling and showing their terrible teeth in anything but an amusing manner. At last one of them, getting his teeth into Heane's boot, pulled the foot out of the stirrup, and he, being a poor rider, nearly lost his seat. But, sailor-like, he managed to cling on to the pommel, and on we went, whilst I, with a heavy stick I was carrying, by great good luck managed to land a blow on the dog's nose, causing him to relax his grip when Heane struggled back into his saddle. But the dog again attacked him, and once more Heane was nearly unhorsed. Then I thought of Heane's pistol, got it from him, and leaning down, fired it into the middle of the dog's back, when he rolled over with a terrific howl. I pulled up dead short and waited for the other two dogs, larger and heavier animals, for I knew my horse could not gallop another mile. But some instinct or, perhaps, the sight of their wounded comrade, warned them of danger, for they both turned tail and went off back. We then looked at the wounded dog, now, poor beast, sitting on his haunches, growling and foaming at the mouth, but as we could not ascertain what injury he had really sustained, and thinking he might recover, we decided not to shoot
CADIZ AND ISABELLA II.
him and rode on, reaching Gibraltar without further adventure.
But the trouble that followed on this affair was serious, for the Spanish authorities made a long and absolutely false complaint about it, demanding indemnity, and even that the officers who had killed the dog - in wanton brutality, according to them - should be delivered up to Spanish justice. A pleasant prospect for Heane and myself, for we should certainly have spent some months with the convicts at Ceuta or Melilla. However, the Governor of Gibraltar refused point-blank to listen to such a preposterous request, and beyond being warned that we must expect retaliation if we ventured into the cork woods again, we heard no more about it.
* * * * *
Her Most Catholic Majesty Isabella II. of Spain was at this time making a royal progress through her dominions, and my Ship was ordered to Cadiz to do her honour. From the sea Cadiz somewhat resembles Venice as seen from the Adriatic, the Cathedral and higher buildings seeming to stand in the sea itself, the land on which the town is built being very little above sea level. It was a lovely evening, with a soft west wind coming in from the Atlantic, and as we neared the anchorage a charming scene presented itself ; the tall masts of many foreign men-of-war, the bay covered with hundreds of feluccas and other sailing boats, with the white domes and handsome public buildings of the city for a background. Cadiz itself is, however, an uninteresting place, the streets narrow and badly paved, with no "side walk," so that you are in constant peril of being disembowelled by the long projecting axles of the country carts, or of having your feet crushed under the wheels of passing carriages. But if the town was disappointing the inhabitants were not, for many were strikingly good
looking. Of course, there was to be a great ceremony in the Cathedral, and the whole of Cadiz seemed to be crammed into the streets leading to it. I was nearly crushed to death in a narrow archway, and following the crowd I succeeded in time in getting into the holy fane. The atmosphere in the place was stifling, the fumes of incense rising thick : the perspiring mob struggling to get up to the altar, for a large and very handsome man, in a purple dress and wearing a gigantic green hat, surrounded by a crowd of ascetic priests, was performing a great prodigy, namely, absolving Her Catholic Majesty of all her sins and starting her off pardoned with a clean bill of health to begin again. It struck me as genuinely funny; and does still. Next day there was a levée, at which Captain Napier, Prowse, our First Lieutenant, a Marine Officer, and myself were present. Through the good offices of Sir John Crampton, the British Minister, who was very popular with the Queen, we were given the entrée and were presented in the private audience chamber personally and separately. We then followed the Court into the throne-room, and remained at the dais during the presentation, giving us an excellent opportunity of seeing all the rank, wealth, and beauty of Spain. After the presentation we again went into the Queen's rooms, and here I had a long conversation with Her Majesty, in French, which she spoke well ; the King Consort - a poor-looking, little creature with a high, squeaky voice - endeavouring to help her out, but speaking it very badly. She struck me as an affable, kindly woman, extremely plain with a lumpy, sensual face, but very pretty hands and feet. We were also presented to Marshal O'Donnel, Duke of Tetuan, a noble-looking Irishman and a great friend of the Queen's. In the evening there was a State ball, differing in no way from any other such function, where the Queen, waddling about
ISABELLA AND SALAMBO
the room, recognising me, stopped to converse in a most friendly manner. Her jewellery was superb; a magnificent diamond tiara, and eight or ten rows of immense pearls hanging round her neck to below her waist. The Queen lumbered through four sets of quadrilles, in one of which the Captain of the Tuscarora, an American man-of-war, and myself were the only "white men," all the others being foreigners.
When the Court moved up to Seville, Captain Napier and I were invited to follow it. There were two train-loads of officials and grandees, all in blazing uniforms, and as we passed the wretched little stations crowds of peasants looking like dried specimens of humanity out of which all the vital juices had been expressed - feebly cheered. Arrived in Seville the reception was the same as in Cadiz, differing only in degree, for the demonstrations of loyalty seemed here to be more personal to the Queen as woman. For she typified Sevillian instincts and illustrated its morals ; this abode of Hedonism and of beautiful women - collectively the handsomest in the world. It is a city which not for nothing has Salambo, the Phoenician Venus, as its tutelary goddess. The Queen's arrival in Seville seemed to set loose all ordinary restraint : wine flowed in rivers, and its kindred spirit, Love, seemed to intoxicate old and young alike. No surprise was shown at anything ; the mobs conducting themselves in the street in a most frolicsome manner, families, by mutual consent, scattering in all directions, a wife here, a husband there, daughters everywhere. Through these crowds, in gala carriages, rolled the Court, the people barely escaping being crushed to death ; every balcony hung with coloured mats, every window crammed with men and women, the housetops a mass of faces. But there was no spontaneity or true loyalty in the
whole thing, nothing but an irrepressible love of pleasure. For the old Moor blood, more than half of all the blood of Seville, was at boiling point.
One of the first official ceremonies was the very apotheosis of fraud and humbug, the pious Isabella, surrounded by everything exalted in the hierarchy, prostrating herself at the shrine of Justa and Rufina, the protecting Saints of the gay city. Their story is typical of the ways of priests, and deserves a passing notice.
In præ-Christian days it was the custom of Seville - at a festival called The Adonice held in remembrance of the death of Adonis and of the inconsolable grief of Venus, to carry a statue of the Goddess Salambo through the streets. The two aforesaid Saints refused to do the required reverence, for they had recently been converted to Christianity, so the infuriated mob put them to death. Many centuries later, the priests determined to revive the festival of Salambo, as it brought in large sums of money, but the statue of the Virgin Mary was substituted for that of the pagan, and was carried round, headed by great ladies of Spain with all the signs of mourning which it had been wont to display for Venus. But now, of course, it is to commemorate Mary's grief for the loss of her Son.
It is not generally known that the Virgin Mary is practically a living personality in Spain ; holds real estate and can be sued in the courts. She has a large staff of ladies, Maids of Honour, of whom the Queen of Spain is ex-officio the Principal. Estates and property belonging to the Virgin are administered by trustees for her divine benefit. It is not necessary to say where the money goes : accounts are audited by the priests.
Captain Napier and I were lodged in the principal hotel in the town, situated in the Plaza de la Encarnacion, crammed from the ground floor to the roof with the
A LIVELY MAID OF HONOUR
nobility of Spain. My room opened on to a flat roof commanding a beautiful view, and the apartments next to mine were occupied by a Spanish grandee and his family; the daughter, one of the Maids of Honour, a very pretty, lively girl, speaking French fluently. As I met her at every turn at all these functions we became very friendly, and many an hour we spent walking about the flat roof, whilst she told me tales of the Court and of Spain. But this came to an end ; for one night, after a ball at San Telmo, where I had danced principally with her, her mother came out of her room and found us still perambulating the roof, and suggested it was time she was in bed. As the first flush of dawn was gilding the waters of the Guadalquivir, it would have been difficult to argue otherwise, so my little friend departed. But she told me the next day that she had had a terrible scolding about it ; that her mother had asked the Queen to allow her to withdraw her daughter temporarily from the Court, but that Isabella had refused ; and further, that she was not to dance with me any more ; an instruction which she, however, entirely ignored. A succession of banquets, gala bull-fights, and receptions now took place, and we lived in a whirl of braying bands of music, of street processions, military reviews, with religious ceremonies squeezed in when there were a few minutes to spare for things spiritual.
The stout Queen, with her broad face, her two or three chins, her small eyes, and large slack lips, surrounded by her ministers and favourites, did nothing to secure respect, and it was easier to believe that like a co-temporary King - son of a cowherd - she was also a supposititious child of a cook. All her tastes were plebeian : loving a good dinner, a bottle of wine, and a bull-fight, almost as much as a new favourite. It was
THE SPANISH COURT
not her fault ; she was made like that. She loved flattery : she got it wholesale as a matter of course, for though she did not really believe that she had the figure of a sylph, the witchery of Cleopatra and the morals of a saint, still she loved to be told she had. Her redeeming quality was a bon diablerie which seemed never to desert her, and would have made her a very popular bumboat-woman on the lower deck of a man-of-war, or her fortune as a landlady of a "pub" in Wapping. She bore many children, some dying young to the delight of France, who wanted the reversion of the Spanish Crown, others living on to the despair of that country. I saw two of these children ; the elder a dark, earnest little girl of about eleven, the other a still darker little boy of six or seven with a diminutive face like a marmoset's who lived to ascend the throne as Alphonso XII. On one occasion I had a long conversation with the Queen, who was accompanied by the Royal children and also by a very celebrated person a nun, whose family name was Patronicio, a woman exerting an almost hypnotic influence over Her Majesty and always for bad as events proved later. For the Queen - like many other sinners - was persecuted by superstitious fears, dreading religious censure, though doing everything she could think of to merit it. I remember that the little Prince did not return my salutation with courtesy, so the Queen put her hand on his black, close-cropped poll and ducked it towards me. The Infanta had very pretty little ways, with much dignity and self-possession. The Queen spoke familiarly to me, so that all ideas of Royalty or of her extraordinary life, its perils, its magnificence, its importance in the world's history vanished, and she seemed merely an agreeable person. She asked me if I would like to be attached to her Court, but, as politely as I could, I said no, which seemed to surprise
DUCHESS OF MONTPENSIER
her. I also saw a good deal of the Montpensiers, and it was difficult to believe, if it were necessary to do so, that the Duchess and the Queen had had the same father. The Duchess of Montpensier was exactly the reverse of her sister, cold, austere, dignified and virtuous, a grande dame in every acceptation of the term, with a sad, disappointed expression as if the world had gone wrong. The Duke himself was a man of remarkable appearance - looking every inch a king - with the charm of manner of a high-bred Frenchman. There was a stiff decorum about the Palace of San Telmo entirely wanting in the Queen's Court, where, though etiquette was rigidly observed with puerile survivals of an age when, by a king's command, the courtiers drank the water in which his mistress had bathed 1 - but underlying it all, dishonesty, frivolity, and licentiousness.
I had little opportunity of seeing all the marvels of Seville beyond a morning spent in the Caridad and a scamper up the Giralda. But I went all over the Alcazar and San Telmo with the Duchess of Montpensier, who was most gracious, and very instructive as to the merits of its wonderful art collection. I here imbibed my first appreciation of Spanish art. There are things worth seeing and stories worth remembering in these old palaces. I saw the room where Don Pedro the Cruel received in audience a man, under promise of personal safety, who had usurped the kingship of Granada. This unhappy fool, whose vanity was overweening, presented himself before Don Pedro in a gorgeous costume ablaze with priceless jewels, which so excited the cupidity of his treacherous host, that he was made prisoner, was stuck up for a target for the lances of the King and his knights, and he and all his attendants
1 Pedro the Cruel and Maria Padilla.
THE SPANISH COURT
slain. A jewel worn by this miserable man on the occasion was a magnificent ruby, and it is now one of the principal jewels in England's Crown. For to requite the Black Prince for his services, Don Pedro gave him this gem, and from him it passed to John of Gaunt, and then to Edmund of York, the Prince's two brothers, who, strangely enough, had married respectively Constance and Isabella, the two daughters borne to the Spanish King by his mistress, Maria Padilla. And thus the ruby came into the British Regalia. I was also shown a small courtyard of the palace, where Dona Uracca Osorio, a beautiful young woman who had refused Don Pedro's addresses, was burnt alive, together with the maid who had refused to carry on the infamous negotiations. Again, in a small closet, is plainly to be seen the blood-stain where Don Fadrique was murdered by this same Don Pedro. But Pedro himself met a deserving fate. After murdering his wife, Blanche of Bourbon, and strangling with his own hands the mother of his illegitimate sons, with countless other assassinations and crimes, he was himself murdered by Don Enrique, an illegitimate brother. It is curious that the blood of this most unconscionable villain, Pedro, permeates that of almost every Royal Family in Europe.
After the Court left Seville we proceeded to several places on the east coast, Malaga, Cartagena, Valencia, and so forth where loyal displays awaited Her Majesty : all precisely the same.
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