THE SPIRITS' MOUNTAIN[edit | edit source]
By Gustavo Adolfo Becquer[edit | edit source]
Translated from the Spanish, by Mary Springer for Short Stories.1892
In this thrilling tale we are transported to Spain in the days of romance and superstitious beliefs. The spirits of monkish knights and nobles, slain in battle, throng round us on the haunted mountain; and, while the midnight bells are solemnly tolling, we watch with bated breath the punishment that overtakes the haughty and cruel damsel who has driven her lover to a terrible death. "
Fasten the dogs, blow the horns to call the huntsmen together, and let us take a turn around the city.
"Night is approaching; it is All Souls' Day, and we are on the Spirits' Mountain. "
" So soon ! "
" If it were any other day but this, I would not give up hunting that pack of wolves, which the snows of Moncayo have driven from their dens; but it is impossible to-day. They will soon call to prayers at the monastery of the Knights Templar, and the bells will commence to toll for the dead in the chapel on the mountain."
" In that ruined chapel ! Bah, you wish to frighten me ! "
" No, my lovely cousin, but you are not aware of all that has occurred in this country, for it is only a year since you came back. Slacken your horse's pace, and I will tell you a story."
The pages were gathered in merry groups; the counts of Borges and Alardiel were mounted on magnificent steeds, and they rode behind their son and daughter, Alonso and Beatriz, who kept on at some distance ahead of the cavalcade. Alonso went on as follows :
" This mountain, which is now called the Spirits* Mountain, formerly belonged to the Knights Templar who were warlike monks. After Soria had been conquered from the Moors, the king sent for the Templars to come from a distant land to defend the city on the side next to the bridge ; thus wounding the feelings of the nobility of Castile, who, as they had conquered the city, were capable of defending it without any outside help.
" Therefore the knights of that new and powerful religious order and the noblemen of the city were on bad terms for several years, and finally this feeling deepened to a profound hatred
" The Templars had this part of the mountain set aside as a preserve for game to satisfy their wants and contribute to their pleasure; while the nobles determined to organize a grand hunt in the enclosure, in spite of the severe prohibitions of the monks with spurs — as they styled their enemies.
" The news spread fast ; but the noblemen determined to carry out their purpose, though they knew that the Knights Templar intended, if possible, to put a stop to their sport.
“ The expedition was carried out, and they did not once think of the game, for they fought with one another, and many a poor mother had to mourn the loss of her son. Instead of a hunt, there was a frightful battle ; the mountain was strewn with corpses, and the wolves they had desired to exterminate enjoyed a bloody feast.
"Finally, the king interfered and commanded that the mountain, the cause of so much misfortune, should be abandoned. So the monks' chapel situated on the mountain, and wherein friends and enemies were buried together, gradually fell into ruins.
" But ever since, on All Souls' Eve, the chapel bell tolls for the dead ; and the ghosts, enveloped in their shrouds, roam around through the woods and bushes, as though engaged in a fantastic hunting expedition. The deer fly before them, bleating with fear, the serpents hiss fearfully, and on the following day the footprints of the fleshless ghosts are seen on the snow. Therefore in Soria we call it the Spirits* Mountain, and for that reason I have thought best to leave it before night sets in. "
Alonso finished his story just as the two young people reached the end of the bridge which extends to the city on the other side. They waited for the rest of the cavalcade to join them, and all entered together the warm, dark streets of Soria.
The servants had just cleared the table, and a bright fire was playing in the Gothic fire-place, shedding its glow on several groups of ladies and gentlemen, who were talking around the hearth, while the wind beat against the windows.
Only two persons did not take part in the general conversation, Beatriz and Alonso.
Beatriz was watching the flickering flames, absorbed in her own thoughts, while Alonso was gazing admiringly at her blue eyes.
Both had been silent for some time.
The old women were telling blood-curdling stories about ghosts and spirits, while the church bells of Soria were tolling for the dead with a sad and doleful sound.
"My lovely cousin," finally exclaimed Alonso, breaking the deep silence, " we are soon to separate, perhaps forever. You do not like the arid plains of Castile, its severe and warlike customs, its simple, patriarchal habits, I know full well. I have heard you sigh several times, and perhaps it is for some lover you have left in your far-off home. "
Beatriz made a gesture of indifference, and her disposition
I was revealed in the scornful curl of her lip.
"Perhaps you are sighing for the pomps of the French court, where you have lived up to the present time," the young man hastened to say. " Anyway, I foresee that I shall soon lose you; and when we separate, I would like to have you carry away a remembrance of me. Do you remember when we went to church to give thanks to God for having restored your health, which you came to seek here ? The jewel that fastened the plume in my cap attracted your attention. How well it would look in your dark hair, confining your veil. It has already been used for that purpose by a bride; for my father gave it to my mother, and she wore it to the altar. Would you like to have it ? "
" I do not know how it is in your country ; but in mine, if one receives a present, it is binding. Only on a holiday can one accept a present from a relative — who can even go to Rome without coming back with empty hands."
The scornful tone in which Beatriz pronounced these words disturbed the young man a little, but finally recovering himself, he said in a sad tone:
" I am aware of it, cousin, but to-day is All Saints' Day, and your nameday as well as that of others; so it is a fitting time to receive gifts, I assure you. Will you accept this from me?"
Beatriz slightly bit her lip, and extended her hand to take the jewel, without saying a word.
The two young people again remained silent, though the old women's voices could be heard as they went on talking about witches and ghosts, while the howling of the wind as it shook the casements, and the tolling of the bells, still continued*
After a few moments, Alonso proceeded.
" Before the end of All Saints* Day, which is my nameday as well as yours, you may give me a souvenir without compromising yourself. Will you not do so ? " urged Alonso, fixing his eyes on his cousin's, which gleamed brightly as a diabolical thought flashed through her mind.
“ Why not ? " she exclaimed, carrying her hand to her right shoulder, as though seeking for something amid the folds of her wide velvet sleeve embroidered with gold. Then with a childish air of disappointment, she added:
" Do you recollect the blue ribbon I wore to-day on the hunting expedition, and which you said was the emblem of your soul on account of its color ? "
"Yes, I do."
" Well, I have lost it. I have lost it, and I wanted to give it to you as a souvenir."
" Where was it lost ? " inquired Alonso, raising himself in his seat, with an indescribable expression of mingled fear and hope.
" I do not know, perhaps on the mountain."
" On the Spirits' Mountain ? " he murmured, turning pale, and throwing himself back in his chair, "on the Spirits' Mountain!" Then he went on in a harsh, trembling tone: " You know, for you have heard everybody say so times without number, that I am called the king of huntsmen throughout Castile. As I have not yet been able to try my strength in battle, as my ancestors have done, I have exerted, in that pastime of warlike sport, all the hereditary ardor of my race and all the strength of which I am possessed. The mat under your feet is the skin of a wild animal I slew with my own hands. I know its haunts and its habits; I have fought against them day and night, on foot and on horseback, alone and together with other huntsmen, and nobody can say that I ever shrank from danger at any time. On any other night I would fly to bring you that ribbon, and would do so joyfully; but to-night, yes, to-night — why should I hide it from you? — I am afraid. Do you not hear the bells tolling ? The hour for evening prayer has struck at San Juan del Duero; the ghosts begin to emerge from their graves, curdling the blood of any one who beholds them, turning his hair gray, or dragging him off in the whirl of their fantastic dance, as a leaf is swept along by the breeze." An almost imperceptible smile curled Beatriz's lips while the young man was talking, and she exclaimed in an indifferent tone after he ceased, meanwhile stirring the fire so that the bright sparks flew out :
"Oh, no, indeed! How silly! Don't think of going to the mountain now after such a trifle! On such a dark night, too, when the ghosts are abroad and the road is full of wolves!" As she spoke these last words, she emphasized them so that Alonso could not fail to understand her bitter irony.
As though mechanically, he arose, passed his hand over his forehead as though to dispel the fear he felt mentally, but not in his heart, and in a firm tone he said, addressing the beautiful girl, who was still amusing herself by stirring the fire on the hearth :
"Farewell, Beatriz, farewell! If I return, it will be soon."
" Alonso, Alonso, " she said, turning around rapidly ; but when she desired to detain him, or appeared to do so, the young man had already disappeared.
Soon after, the sound of his horse's hoofs was heard as he galloped off. The proud beauty, with a radiant look of gratified vanity lighting up her face, listened attentively to the sound until it died away, though the church bells kept on their lugubrious tolling.
An hour, two, and three, elapsed, and midnight struck as Beatriz retired to her oratory ; but Alonso had not returned yet, though he had had plenty of time to go and come back.
" Perhaps he was afraid ! " the young girl exclaimed, closing her prayer-book, after vainly endeavoring to murmur some of the prayers the church dedicates to All Souls' Day, for the spirits of those that have passed away.
After putting out the lamp, and drawing the silk curtains around her bed, she fell asleep. But her sleep was restless and uneasy.
The postern clock struck twelve, and Beatriz could hear its slow, sad strokes, and half opened her eyes. She thought that she had heard some one call her at the same time, in a faint, suffering accent. The wind still moaned and shook the casement.
"It must be the wind," she said, putting her hand to her heart and trying to calm herself. But her heart kept on beating wildly. The doors of the oratory creaked noisily on their hinges. First one, and then all the doors that opened into her apartment, were opened and closed with a harsh, sad sound, like a deep groan, setting her nerves on edge.
Then a silence ensued, a silence full of strange sounds, the silence of midnight. There was a dull murmur of distant water, the barking of dogs in the distance, confused tones, unintelligible words, and echoes of footsteps coming and going. Then followed the rustling of trailing garments, halfsuppressed sighs, and the labored breathing which one feels, with involuntary shudders, announces the presence of something that cannot be seen, though its approach is felt in the darkness.
Beatriz tremblingly thrust her head out from the curtains, and listened for a moment. She could hear many strange sounds, but, passing her hand over her brow, she listened again, but all was now still and quiet.
Her pupils were dilated and she seemed to see shapes moving around all over the room ; but as she fixed her eyes more closely, she perceived that the darkness was impenetrable and it was due to her imagination.
"Bah," she said, resting her lovely head again on the pillow, "-can I be as timid as those poor souls, whose hearts beat with terror under their armor on hearing some ghost story ? "
So, closing her eyes, she tried to go to sleep, but in vain did she endeavor to calm herself. She again started up, pale, uneasy, and more terrified than ever.
This time it was no illusion, the brocade portieres over the door had rustled as they were pushed aside, and she could hear heavy footsteps on the carpet. The sound they made was dull and almost imperceptible, but continuous, and as they moved along she could hear something creaking, like dry wood or bones. The footfalls drew nearer and nearer, and the prayer desk near her bed moved. Beatriz uttered a sharp cry, and, burying herself under the clothes, hid her head and held her breath.
The wind beat against the casement; while the monotonous flow of the fountain could be heard from afar, and the barking of dogs, as well as the church bells of Soria, some near, some farther off, while they sadly tolled for the dead.
Thus the night passed on, and to Beatriz it seemed as though it would never come to an end. Finally, the first faint rays of dawn lighted up the sky, and she opened her eyes and recovered her self-possession.
After a sleepless night of terror, how beautiful seems the bright, clear morning light !
She drew back the curtains of her bed, and was about to laugh at her terror of the previous night, when suddenly a cold perspiration broke out on her forehead, her eyes seemed starting from their sockets, and a deadly pallor overspread her cheeks ; for on her prayer desk she beheld the blue ribbon stained with bloody the blue ribbon Alonso had gone in quest of.
When the frightened attendants rushed in to inform her of the death of Alonso — ^the first-bom of the count of Alardiel — whose body, partly devoured by the wolves, had been found on the Spirits' Mountain, ftiey found Beatriz motionless and rigid, clinging with both hands to the ebony bed-posts, her eyes starting from their sockets, her mouth half opened, her lips white, and her body cold and stifif, for she was dead!
Beatriz had died of fright!
They say that, some time after this event took place, a huntsman, who had lost his way, and been obliged to pass All Souls Eve on the Spirits Mountain, told, on the day before he died, of some of the horrible sights he had seen there. Among other things he said that he had seen the fleshless bodies of the ancient Knights Templar, and the Soria noblemen, that were buried in the chapel, on the stroke of twelve, arise from their graves with a terrible clamor; and, mounted on their skeleton steeds, wildly pursue a beautiful woman, who pale, with dishevelled locks, and her feet bare and bleeding — was roaming around the unfortunate Alonso's tomb with wild and fearful cries.