Saragossa by Benito Pérez Galdós

Saragossa by Benito Pérez Galdós.jpg

SARAGOSSA

A STORY OF SPANISH VALOR

CHAPTER I

It was, I believe, the evening of the eighteenth when we saw Saragossa in the distance. As we entered by the Puerta de Sancho we heard the clock in the Torre Nueva strike ten. We were in an extremely pitiful condition as to food and clothing. The long journey we had made from Lerma through Salas de los Infantes, Cervera, Agreda, Tarazona, and Borja, climbing mountains, fording rivers, making short cuts until we arrived at the high road of Gallur and Alagon, had left us quite used up, worn out, and ill with fatigue. In spite of all, the joy of being free sweetened our pain.

We were four who had succeeded in escaping between Lerma and Cogollos by freeing our innocent hands from the rope that bound together so many patriots. On the day of the escape, we could count among the four of us a total capital of eleven reales; but after three days of marching, when we entered the metropolis of Aragon and balanced our mutual cash, our common wealth was found to be a sum total of thirty-one cuartos. We bought some bread at a little place next the Orphanage, and divided it among us.

Don Roque, who was one of the members of our expedition, had good connections in Saragossa, but this was not an hour to present ourselves to any one. We postponed until the next day this matter of looking up friends; and as we could not go to an inn, we wandered about the city, looking for a shelter where we could pass the night. The market scarcely seemed to offer exactly the comfort and quiet which our tired bodies needed. We visited the leaning tower, and although one of my companions suggested that we should take refuge in the plaza, I thought that we should be quite the same as if altogether in the open country. The place served us, none the less, for temporary refuge and rest, and also as a refectory, where we despatched happily our supper of dry bread, glancing now and then at the great upright mass of the tower, whose inclination made it seem like a giant leaning to see who was running about his feet. By the light of the moon that brick sentinel projected against the sky its huddled and shapeless form, unable to hold itself erect. The clouds were drifting across its top, and the spectator looking from below trembled with dread, imagining that the clouds were quiet and that the tower was moving down upon him. This grotesque structure, under whose feet the overburdened soil has settled, seems to be forever falling, yet never falls.

We passed through the avenue of the Coso again from this house of giants as far as the Seminary. We went through two streets, the Calle Quemada and the Calle del Rincon, both in ruins, as far as the little plaza of San Miguel. From here, passing from alley to alley, and blindly crossing narrow and irregular streets, we found ourselves beside the ruins of the monastery of Santa Engracia, which was blown up by the French at the raising of the first siege. The four of us exclaimed at once in a way to show that we all thought the same thing. Here we had found a shelter, and in some cosy corner under this roof we would pass the night!

The front wall was still standing with its arch of marble, decorated with innumerable figures of saints which seemed undisturbed and tranquil as if they knew nothing of the catastrophe. In the interior we saw broken arches and enormous columns struggling erect from the debris, presenting themselves, darkling and deformed, against the clear light flooding the enclosure, looking like fantastic creatures generated by a delirious imagination. We could see decorations, cornices, spaces, labyrinths, caverns, and a thousand other fanciful architectural designs produced by the ruins in their falling. There were even small rooms opened in the spaces of the walls with an art like that of Nature in forming grottos. The fragments of the altar-piece that had rotted because of the humidity showed through the remains of the vaulting where still hung the chains which had suspended the lamps. Early grasses grew between the cracks of the wood and stone. Among all this destruction there were certain things wholly intact, as some of the pipes of the organ and the grating of the confessional. The roof was one with the floor, and the tower mingled its fragments with those of the tombs below. When we looked upon such a conglomeration of tombs, such a myriad of fragments that had fallen without losing entirely their original form, and such masses of bricks and plaster[Pg 5] crumbled like things made of sugar, we could almost believe that the ruins of the building had not yet settled into their final position. The shapeless structure appeared to be palpitating yet from the shock of the explosion.

Don Roque told us that beneath this church there was another one where they worshipped the relics of the holy martyrs of Saragossa; but the entrance to this subterranean sanctuary was closed up. Profound silence reigned, but, penetrating further, we heard human voices proceeding from those mysterious deeps. The first impression produced upon us by hearing these voices was as if the spirits of the famous chroniclers who wrote of the Christian martyrs, and of the patriots sleeping in dust below, were crying out upon us for disturbing their slumbers.

On the instant, in the glare of a flame which illuminated part of the scene, we distinguished a group of persons sheltering themselves, huddling together in a space between two of the fallen columns. They were Saragossa beggars, who had made a palatial shelter for themselves in that place, seeking protection from the rain with beams of wood and with their rags. We also made ourselves as comfortable as might be in another place, and covering our selves with a blanket and a half, prepared to go to sleep.

Don Roque said to me, “I know Don José de Montoria, one of the richest citizens of Saragossa. We were both born in Mequinenza. We went to school together, and we played our games together on the hills of Corregidor. It is thirty years since I have seen him, but I believe that he will receive us well. Like every good Aragonese, he is all heart. We will find him, fellows; we will see Don José de Montoria. I am of his blood on the maternal side. We will present ourselves to him. We will say—”

But Don Roque was asleep, and I also slept.

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Categories: Spanish Literature

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