THERE lived once in very ancient times in Spain a young prince, the Infante Turian. He was a very beautiful youth, and the only child of his parents, King Canamor and his consort Leonela: they were thus tempted to indulge him very much, and, as we should say, to spoil him; in fact, he was allowed to have every thing he asked for, and when any present or novel article of merchandise was brought to the palace, if it happened to take his fancy, he got into a way of expecting to have it for his own, and no one thought of thwarting him.
One day there came a foreign merchant to the court, who, instead of having a train of mules heavily laden with varieties of his wares to suit all tastes and fancies, was quite alone and unattended, and himself bore his whole stock. It consisted, indeed, of but one little parcel easily stowed away in the folds of his cloak. The servants were scandalized at such a mean apparatus, and would have driven him away without letting him have a chance of addressing himself to their masters, telling him if he had nothing more to show than the contents of one little case, it was not worth while to trouble them. It was in vain the merchant urged that what he had to show was of priceless value, and in itself alone was worth all the mule-loads of other merchants put together: they held it for idle raving, and bid him begone.
It happened, however, that the Infante Turian was coming home at the moment, and hearing the altercation, his curiosity was piqued to know what it could be that could be counted so precious. He had horses, and arms, and trappings, and gay clothes, and games, and baubles of every sort, and he had wearied of them all. He had acquired them without labour, and he consequently held them without esteem. Now there appeared a chance of some quite fresh sensation; moreover, the merchant himself had a strange air which fascinated him; again, his accent was different from any he had heard before, and suggested that he brought the productions of some climate which had not yet laid its stores at his feet. Proud, too, to show his power in setting the man free from the importunate scorn of the servants, he ordered them to stand back, and then gave the strange merchant permission to open his store.
Assuming an air of mystery, which excited the young prince still more, the merchant, however, now told him he must take him to some private recess apart, as what he had to show must be seen only by royal eyes. The prince accepted all conditions in his eagerness, and was indeed rather flattered by this one. As soon as they were quite alone, the strange merchant placed before him a portrait. Yes, nothing but a portrait in a very simple frame! But it was such a portrait that it quite turned poor Turian's head. He had never before dreamt of any thing so beautiful; he went into ecstasies at first sight, kissed it, gazed at it, paced up and down the hall with it, raved about it, and grew almost frantic, when the strange merchant at last went up to him and said it was time for him to go home, and he must have the portrait to pack up again.
"Pack up again!" cried the prince: "why, I buy it of you at triple, tenfold, an hundredfold its weight in gold."
The merchant assured him it could not be sold; he required, indeed, a considerable price for suffering it to be seen, but part with it he could not, on any conditions whatever.
The prince threw his purse to him, and ordered him in no measured terms to depart while the way was clear, otherwise he would set on him the myrmidons from whom he had but now released him.
The strange merchant quietly picked up the purse, counted out conscientiously the sum he had named as the price for the sight of the picture, and laid down the rest; deliberately stowed away his fee in his belt, and at the same time took from it, unperceived by the prince, a little box of powder; then suddenly turning round, he scattered its contents over his face, producing instant insensibility. Prepared for the effect, he caught him in his arms, and laid him gently on a bench, and then, possessing himself of his picture, he stealthily left the castle, unperceived by all.
When the Infante Turian came to himself, some hours afterwards, of course pursuit was vain; nor could any trace be learnt of the way the stranger had taken.
The prince was furious that, at least, he had not learnt some clue as to the original of the portrait, but there had not been time for a word of inquiry. And when he set himself to recall every detail, all that would come back to his mind was, that on the blue embroidery of the white drapery which veiled the matchless form, he had made out in curious characters the name Floreta. Armed with this only guide, he determined to roam the world till he discovered the real beauty whose ideal had so absorbed him.
King Canamor and Queen Leonela were inconsolable at the idea of their only son leaving them on so wild an errand; but they had never taught him obedience and self-control, and they could not move him now. All their persuasions could obtain was his consent to be accompanied by the Conde Dirlos, an ancient counsellor of great wisdom and authority in the kingdom, who would know how to procure him assistance by land and sea, in whatever enterprise he might be minded to take in hand. But it was stipulated that he was to control him in nothing: simply watch over him, and further his designs, so as to save him from fatigue and danger.
On they wandered for a year and a day, meeting many adventures and incurring many perils; but no one knew the name of Floreta. Wherever they went it was still a foreign name. At last--it was just the day year that the strange merchant had brought the portrait--their travels brought them to a steep mountain-path, which led down to the sea. At a turn of the winding road, just below them, a tall figure appeared, wrapped in a long cloak, and wearing a high-peaked cap. The prince gave a bound of joy, and shouted to the figure to halt. It paid no heed, however. "Stop! or you are dead!" shouted the prince, at the same time pointing an arrow with unerring aim at a spot a little in advance of the moving figure. As if conscious of what was going on, though he never moved his head, the strange merchant--for it was he, and the prince had instantly recognized him--stood still for an instant, as the bolt rattled in the ground on which he would have stood had he pursued his way three steps further, and then passed on unheeding. The prince shouted more madly than before; but to no purpose; and in another moment the wind of the road had taken him out of sight.
Madly the prince spurred his horse in pursuit, and reached the turn; but no living form was to be seen. The rocks now resounded with the cries and imprecations with which he adjured the magician--for such he now rightly deemed him--to stand forth. At last, when he was silent from sheer exhaustion, a low but commanding voice from the depths of a neighbouring cave bade him listen, but, as he valued his life, advance not.
"Speak!" cried the prince; "nor torture me with longer suspense. What must I do to find Floreta? I am prepared to go to the end of the world, to undergo any hardship, any torture, to find her; but find her I am determined: if you refuse your help, then by help of some other; so you see it is idle to turn a deaf ear."
"By none other help but mine," answered the magician, "can you find Floreta; so your threats are vain. But if I had not meant you to see her, I should not have shown you the portrait at first, for I knew its influence could not be other than that it has exercised. I am going to instruct you how to reach her; but first you must give me my guerdon."
"Name it; ask what you will," interposed the impetuous prince; "ask my kingdom if you like; but keep me not in suspense."
"I only ask what is reasonable," answered the magician; "the real is worth a thousandfold the representation;" and he named a price equivalent to a thousand times the sum he had originally received.
Without so much as waiting to reply, Turian turned to Conde Dirlos and told him now was the time to fulfil his father's behest by accomplishing this requirement, and begged him to raise the money without an instant's loss of time.
The count remonstrated in vain, and in vain represented the miseries he would be inflicting on the people by requiring, in so sudden a manner, the levy of so large a sum. Turian, blinded by his passion, bid him save his words, as nothing could change his purpose; and the king's orders to obey him having been unconditional, Conde Dirlos set out with a heavy heart to comply.
Ten days of anxious suspense during his absence were spent by the prince in wandering over the rugged declivities of the coast: the ardour of his excitement demanded to be fed with deeds of daring and danger. When he was not so occupied, he was seated panting on the topmost crags, scouring the whole country with his eager glance to descry the first impression of the return of the count, with the means of pursuing his desperate resolve.
The day came at last. And afar off, first only like so many black specks, but gradually revealing themselves as Conde Dirlos on his faithful steed, and a long file of heavily-laden mules, came the anxiously expected train. And now he never left his point of observation; but cursed the sluggish hours, as he watched the team now steering over the sandy plain, which seemed interminable in expanse, unmeasured by landmarks; now toiling backwards and forwards up the zig-zagged steep, with provoking seeming of being further off one hour than the last, as at each wind they turned upon their steps; now detached-liked spectres against the sky, as they crossed from one reach of the lofty sierra to the next.
All things have an end, even Turian's anxious suspense; and as the count at last neared the magician's cave, he descended at break-neck pace to meet him.
"There is the price," said the count, in sad and solemn accents; "but before rendering it out of your hands, stop and consider it;" and as he spoke he removed from the treasure the brilliant red and yellow cloths, the royal colours of Spain, with which it was covered. "Here, from each province of your father's dominions, is the due proportion of the tribute you have demanded. See--will you spend it so?"
The prince darted forward to glance at the goodly sight of so much gold, but drew back with horror.
What could he have seen to turn his flushed cheeks so deadly pale?
"Count!" he cried, choking with fury, "what have you brought to mock me? This is not coin. You have brought me tears, burning tears, instead of gold."
"It is all the same," replied the count; "I saw you were infatuated, and I brought the money in this form, that the sight might warn you of what you are doing, and by its sad horror arrest you. There is time to return it back into the bosom of those from whom it has been wrung, and no harm will have been done. But if you persist, you will find the magician will take them for current coin."
"Quite so!" chimed in the voice from the cave; "it is the money I like best. But I cannot stand dallying thus: if the treasure be not handed over at once, the bargain is at an end, and you never hear of me again."
It only wanted this to quench any little spark of pity and misgiving which the old count's judicious stratagem might have awakened. So without further loss of time the prince called to the magician to come forth and take the spoil.
He was not slow to comply, and taking a handful of the weird currency out of each mule-load, rang it on the rock, where it sounded like the clanking of a captive's chains.
"That is good," he said in a satisfied tone, when he had concluded his scrutiny. "Now for my part of the bargain. I am not of those who fail because I am paid beforehand: you will find me as good as my word, and even better; for I will supply an item of the bargain which you, impetuous youth, never thought to stipulate for, though the most important of all. I will not only instruct you how to see Floreta, I will give you moreover the means whereby, if she pleases you, you can take her captive and bear her away."
"Nay, interrupt me not," he continued, as Turian, nettled at the exposure of his want of diplomacy, was about to declare that he had never thought of any other means to captivate her being required but his own smile and his own strong arm; "I must begin, and have but time to complete my directions. You see yon castle on a rock out at sea;" and as his long bony finger pointed westward, there seemed to be traced against the sky the form of a royal castle at about three days' journey, which Turian, who had for ten days been beating about the coast, could have sworn was not to be seen there before. Nevertheless, fascinated by the magician's commanding manner, he durst say nothing but a murmur of assent.
"Then that is your haven; take ship and steer for it. When you reach the land throw down this token," and he gave into his hand a fine coil of silken chains; "follow its leadings till it take you to Floreta, and if she please you, cast it round her, and she is yours."
As he spoke he disappeared from sight, with the mules and their burden.
Turian now once more reminded Conde Dirlos of his father's command, and bid him provide him with the swiftest galley on all the coasts of the kingdom, manned with the stoutest rowers, and that with the utmost speed.
If the wise old count shrunk from the former mission, his horror was but the greater at this one. He reminded the prince that when the king had given his consent to the adventure, he had not contemplated any other than a loyal undertaking, such as a noble prince might entertain: he would never have trusted him on one of this nature.
Turian felt the force of the reproach, but lacked the strength of character to command himself. Hurried on by his uncontrolled desire, he bid the old man remember that the command to fulfil his orders was quite unconditional, and there was no limit whatever named.
The count owned this was unfortunately true, and as he could prevail nothing by argument, set himself to remedy the Infante's headstrong wilfulness by making the journey as safe as possible. He not only insisted on having the galley examined as to its seaworthiness by the most experienced shipwrights, and selected the steadiest oarsmen to man the banks, but appointed a consultation of all the astronomers of the kingdom to name the day when they might be sure of safe passage, free from winds. It was pronounced that a storm was just then impending which would last ten days, and after that there would be ten days of fair weather, so that if they allowed ten days for their preparations, they would have time to make the journey and return in all security.
The delay seemed another age to the Infante; nevertheless he was now so near the accomplishment of his object that it passed swiftly enough in the enjoyment of the pleasure of anticipation. The count, too, found some relief to his anxieties in the fact that the storm came on at the predicted moment, giving him great confidence that the halcyon days predicted to succeed might be surely counted on.
They came duly; and a shout of admiration rose from the people on the shore as the gallant vessel moved out over the face of the blue, sunlit waters, which glittered as if showered over with every precious stone at each stroke of the countless oars. And those on board were equally entranced with the gorgeous sight as they seemed to soar along over the soft bosom of the crystal deep; and the noble outline of their native mountains, peak above peak, from the verdant slopes where the cattle browsed lazily, to the wild steeps where even the mountain goats ceased to find a footing, receded with ever-varying forms of beauty from their sight.
It was not on these that Turian's eye rested. His glance was bent on the castle for which they were making, and his thoughts were bound up in the beauteous treasure within. Such confidence had he in the magician's word, that he had laid his arms aside and held only the silken chain that was to be his guiding line to happiness; and toyed with it, thinking how he would throw it round the prized form of the portrait's original, and how he would gaze on her when she was his.
While he was still wrapt in these thoughts they drew near to the mysterious shore, and every one was occupied in admiring the strength and noble proportions of the castle. But Turian had no thought but for the treasure it contained. Springing lightly on to the land, he lost no time in fulfilling the magician's injunctions; and sure enough the chain uncoiled itself, and, wriggling with a serpent's motion, went straight before him to a gate in the castle wall. It was unlocked, and Turian, pushing it aside, gained entrance to a sumptuous garden, at one end of which was a shady arbour, and in a bank of perfumed roses Floreta herself lay asleep. How his heart beat at the sight! Just as she had seemed in the portrait; just as he had pictured her in his sleeping and waking dreams. Riveted to the spot, he stood contemplating her, as well he might, for her complexion was white as snow, or rather as pure crystal, and tinted as the fresh rose yet on the rose-tree .
The cautious count, fearful of some ambush, had marshalled the crew of the galley into a guard to track his steps noiselessly and be ready in case of sudden attack. The play of light upon their arms passing in sudden reflection over the scene woke the Infante from his reverie, and roused him to action. The coiling silken links readily embraced Floreta's limbs, and such was their hidden power that, though she woke at the Infante's approach, she was powerless to resist or cry.
Thus he bore her to the galley, and the men having resumed their places on the rowers' banks, in silent order they pushed off unperceived by any one on the island, for it was the hour of the noontide rest.
But soon Floreta's maidens, coming to attend her rising, discovered her loss. The king her father and all the people quickly gathered their arms and ran wildly in every direction, till at last they saw the strange vessel making fast away, and they doubted not it was carrying off their princess, but they could only stand on the shore throwing up their arms and crying in powerless despair.
Turian had in the mean time removed the chain from his prize; and thus freed from the spell, Floreta, too, held out her arms towards her parents and countrymen, and cried unavailingly on them for help. Turian, incapable of contradicting her, yet incapable also of giving her up, contented himself with admiring her at a distance, and let her spend herself in lamentations at first; but when the good galleon had put sufficient distance between itself and the castle to destroy the freshness of the impression of parting, the Infante commanded his people to cast anchor that he might try his power of consoling her more at ease. And indeed, it was not long before his sweet words of admiration and his protestations of affection and devotion seemed to succeed in reconciling her to her situation; before long they were very good friends and very happy, and the sun shone and the sea sparkled, and nature smiled, and all seemed fair and bright.
Nevertheless the prudent old count had his misgivings. True, there were yet several more days of the promised calm before them, but he felt he should never be easy till he had his charge safe at home again; so he urged the Infante to give orders to put under way once more, and right glad was he to feel the bark moving towards the port and in good time to reach home before the next storm.
Quando Dios quiere
En sereno lluve ,
says the proverb, and while they were singing and making merry, and dancing to amuse Floreta, suddenly the sky became overcast and the wind sprang up, and the waves dashed against the bulwarks, and instead of being able to row the vessel into port the oarsmen could hardly keep their seats. Then in the midst of their fright and horror and piteous cries for help, an ancient seaman stood up, and having commanded silence, harangued the crew, and told them that they might be sure the tempest was sent them because they had the strange damsel on board; that if they would save their lives they must bid defiance to the Infante's wishes, and take him from her and cast her into the sea. The danger to all was manifest and terrible; any way out of it was preferable to succumbing, so the old man found a willing audience. The dismayed count had but time to rush in to the Infante and tell him of the mutiny before the angry mariners had already burst into his presence. If they were for a moment staggered by pity at sight of the exceeding beauty of Floreta, and by Turian's agonized assurances that the fearful sacrifice would have no effect upon the storm, the old mariner's voice overruled their hesitation and rendered them pitiless as the blast.
Then at his command they tore the Infante from off Floreta, to whom he clung declaring that they should not destroy her without him, but that he would go down into the deep with her, and they bound him fast hand and foot and took Floreta, too full of terror to resist or cry, to throw her into the raging sea. But before they had completed the sacrifice, the cries of the prince, seconded as he was by the prudent old count, ever ready to second a middle course, prevailed, and instead of committing her to the deep, they set her on an island past which the bark was drifting, Turian thinking in his own mind that as soon as the fury of the storm was spent he should be able to induce them to put back and fetch her off.
The old seaman knew what was in his mind, and he knew that the work was but half done. He inveighed that the half-measure was useless; he predicted that the storm would not thereby be quenched. But it was too late to listen to him now: they were carried past the land where Floreta was; and it was beyond their efforts to go back to fulfil his purpose now. Meanwhile, as he had predicted, the tempest raged higher and higher; the oarsmen were powerless: but the bark drifted nearer and nearer home; and at last, just as a great wave dashed against it and broke it up, they were brought just so near to land that they could swim to shore. One young and vigorous oarsman took charge of the old count, who was rendered more unfit for the feat by dismay at the ill-success of his mission even than by the weakness of his age. But none looked after the Infante, for he was known to be the expertest swimmer of all the country round.
It was not till the hull had heeled over and gone down that they remembered they had bound him hand and foot, and he could not escape. And so he, who was the cause of all, alone was lost.