A GREAT war was proclaimed between Spain and Portugal, and the king called all his knights to arms to follow him into the field.
"Tell me, Conde," said the wife of Conde Sol, "how many years will you be absent in this campaign?"
"If I am not back, Condesa, in six years, reckon me dead, and forget me, and take another husband."
Six years pass, and eight, and ten, and one more yet, and the Conde Sol is not come back, nor has any news been heard of him. Men say he has fallen in the wars; but the Countess believes them not; her heart tells her that her husband lives, and she will take no rest and no diversion. Her father comes to see her, and he finds her always in tears.
"What ails thee, daughter dear? Why are thy eyes ever filled with tears?"
"Father, let me go to seek the Count; for my heart tells me he lives, and that I shall find him."
"Do all thou wilt, daughter, and my blessing go with thee!"
The next morning the Countess sets out and goes to seek the Count, bowed down with sadness, by land and by sea, through all Spain and Italy and France. One day she comes to a vast plain shaded by pine-trees, and in the shade a herd of kine grazing.
"Tell me, I pray you, vaquerita , and tell me now in truth, whose are the kine grazing in these pastures?"
"They belong to the Conde Sol, lady, who commands all this country."
"And all these wheat crops that they are just garnering in, vaquerita; tell me in truth, whose are they?"
"The Conde Sol's, lady; for it is he sows these fields."
"And whose are all those sheep, vaquerita, all with their little lambs gathered round them so tenderly?"
"The Conde Sol's, lady; for it is he who has them bred."
"And whose these gardens and this royal-seeming palace, vaquerita? Tell me the truth, I pray."
"Also the Conde Sol's, lady; for it is there he has his abode."
"And whose are those horses, vaquerita, which I hear neighing in the stall?"
"They belong to the Conde Sol, lady; for he goes with them to the hunt."
"And whose is that fair dame, vaquerita, who stands so near that knight?"
"That is the affianced of the Conde Sol, lady, whom he is just going to make his bride."
"Now, vaquerita, vaquerita, by the love of our Lord's sufferings, give me here thy poor dress, and take my robe of silk, and let me go, for I have found him I seek!"
Then she put on the poor dress, and went and stood where the Count must pass, begging charity. When the Count came by, he bent down over his saddle-bow, and gave her an alms, and asked her,--
"Good stranger woman, whence are you?"
"In Spain was I born," answered the Countess, with a faltering voice.
"And why do you come hither?"
"I go over all countries seeking my long lost husband, and so by chance I came here too. I have gone through perils on the sea, and hardships on the land; my feet are cut by the stony rocks; and--will you believe me, Conde?--when at last I find him I learn that he is about to be married, Conde; that he had so forgotten his fond and lawful spouse who had come so far for love of him!"
"Romerica, romerica ! Hush now, say not so. Confess that the evil one has sent you to tempt me with a false story."
"Neither has the evil one sent me, Conde, neither do I seek to tempt thee; but nevertheless I am thy true wife, Conde, who has come so far to seek thee."
Then the Conde Sol, when he heard that, sent to fetch a light-footed palfrey wearing a breast-band covered with silver bells, and with stirrups and spurs of gold; and on to this he sprang, and rode back to the castle bearing his good wife in his arms, and presenting her to all his people, bade them honour her as their lawful mistress.