It is a point of faith accepted by all devout Portuguese that thirty-three baths in the sea must be taken on or before the 24th of August of every year. Although the motive may not seem to be very reasonable, still the result is of great advantage to those believers who occupy thirty-three days in taking the thirty-three baths, for otherwise the majority of them would never undergo any form of ablution.
That the demon is loose on the 24th of August is an established fact among the credulous; and were it not for the compact entered into between St. Bartholomew and the said demon, that all who have taken thirty-three baths during the year should be free from his talons, the list of the condemned would be much increased.
Now, there was a very powerful baron, whose castle was erected on the eastern slope of the Gaviarra, overlooking the neighbouring provinces of Spain, and he had always refused to take these thirty-three baths, for he maintained that it was cowardly on the part of a man to show any fear of the demon. His castle was fully manned; the drawbridge was never left lowered; the turrets were never left unguarded; and a wide and deep ditch surrounded the whole of his estates, which had been given him by Affonso Henriques, after the complete overthrow of the Saracens at Ourique, in which famous and decisive battle the baron had wrought wondrous deeds of bravery.
All round the castle were planted numerous vines, which had been brought from Burgundy by order of Count Henry, father of the first Portuguese king; and in the month of August the grapes are already well formed, but the hand of Nature has not yet painted them. Among the vines quantities of yellow melons and green water-melons were strewn over the ground, while the mottled pumpkins hung gracefully from the branches of the orange-trees.
In front of the castle was an arbour, formed of box-trees, under which a lovely fountain had been constructed; and here, in the hot summer months, would wander the baron’s only daughter, Alina. She was possessed of all the qualities, mental and physical, which went towards making the daughter of a feudal lord desired in marriage by all the gallants of the day; and as she was heiress to large estates, these would have been considered a sufficient prize without the said qualities. But Alina, for all this, was not happy, for she was enamoured of a handsome chief, who, unfortunately, wore the distinctive almexia, which proved him to be a Moor, and, consequently, not a fit suitor for the daughter of a Christian baron.
“My father,” she would often soliloquize, “is kind to me, and professes to be a Christian. My lover, as a follower of the Prophet, hates my father, but, as a man, he loves me. For me he says he will do anything; yet, when I ask him to become a Christian, he answers me that he will do so if I can prevail on my father to so far conform with the Christian law as to take the thirty-three baths; and this my father will not do. What am I to do? He would rather fight the demon than obey the saint.”
One day, however, she resolved on telling her father about her courtship with the young chief, Al-Muli, and of the only condition he made, on which depended his becoming a convert to Christianity, which so infuriated the baron that, in his anger, he declared himself willing to meet the demon in mortal combat, hoping thus to free the world of him and of the necessity of taking the thirty-three baths.
This so much distressed Alina, that when, during the afternoon of the same day, Al-Muli met her in the arbour, she disclosed to him her firm resolution of entering a convent, and spending the rest of her days there.
“This shall not be!” cried Al-Muli; and, seizing her round the waist, he lifted her on to his shoulder, sped through the baronial grounds, and, having waded through the ditch, placed her on the albarda of his horse and galloped away.
Alina was so frightened that she could not scream, and she silently resigned herself to her fate, trusting in the honour of her lover.
The alcazar, or palace, of Al-Muli was situated on the Spanish side of the frontier; and, as they approached the principal gate, the almocadem, or captain of the guard, hurried to receive his master, who instructed him to send word to his mother that he desired of her to receive and look after Alina. This done, he assisted his bride elect to dismount, and, with a veil hiding her lovely features, she was ushered by Al-Muli’s mother into a magnificently furnished room, and took a seat on a richly embroidered cushion, called an almofada.
To her future mother-in-law she related all that referred to her conversation with her father, and how she had been brought away from his castle; and she further said that she very much feared the baron would summon all his numerous followers to rescue her.
Al-Muli’s mother was a descendant of the Moors who first landed at Algeziras, and from them had descended to her that knowledge of the black art which has been peculiar to that race. She, therefore, replied that although she could count on the resistance her almogavares, or garrison soldiers, would offer to the forces of the baron, still she would do her utmost to avoid a conflict. She then proceeded to another room, in which she kept her magic mirror, and having closed the door, we must leave her consulting the oracle.
The baron was not long in discovering the absence of his daughter, and he so stormed about the place that his servants were afraid to come near him.
In a short time, however, his reason seemed to return to him, and he sat down on his old chair and gave way to grief when he saw that his Alina’s cushion was vacant.
“My child—my only child and love,” sobbed the old man, “thou hast left thy father’s castle, and gone with the accursed Moor into the hostile land of Spain. Oh, that I had been a good Christian, and looked after my daughter better! I have braved the orders of good St. Bartholomew; I would not take the thirty-three baths in the sea, and now I am wretched!”
The baron suddenly became aware of the presence of a distinguished and patriarchal looking stranger, who addressed him thus—
“You mortals only think of St. Barbara when it thunders. Now that the storm of sorrow has burst on you, you reproach yourself for not having thought of me and of my instructions. But I see that you are penitent, and if you will do as I tell you, you will regain your daughter.”
It was St. Bartholomew himself who was speaking, and the baron, for the first time in his life, shook in his shoes with fear and shame.
“Reverend saint,” at last ejaculated the baron, “help me in this my hour of need, and I will promise you anything—and, what is more, I will keep my promises.”
“And you had better do so,” continued the saint; “for not even Satan has dared to break his compact with me. You don’t know how terrible I can be!”—here the saint raised his voice to such a pitch that the castle shook. “Only let me catch you playing false with me, and I’ll—I’ll—I don’t know what I’ll do!”
“Most reverend saint and father, you have only to command me and I will obey,” murmured the affrighted baron—“I will indeed. Good venerable St. Bartholomew, only give me back my daughter—that is all I ask.”
“Your daughter is now in the hands of Al-Muli, her lover, who dwells in a stronger castle than yours, and who, moreover, has a mother versed in the black art. It is no good your trying to regain her by the force at your disposal; you must rely on me—only on me. Do you understand?” asked the saint.
“Yes, dear, good, noble, and venerable saint, I do understand you; but what am I to do?”
“Simply follow me, and say not a word as you go,” commanded the patriarch.
The baron did as he was told; and out from the castle the two went unseen by any one. The baron soon perceived that he was hurrying through the air, and he was so afraid of falling that he closed his eyes. All at once he felt that his feet were touching the ground; and, looking around him, what was his delight to find himself close to his dear daughter Alina.
“Father—dear father!” exclaimed Alina; “how did you come here so quickly, for I have only just arrived? And how did you pass by the guards?”
The baron was going to tell her, but the saint, in a whisper, enjoined silence on this point; and the baron now noticed that the saint was invisible.
“Never mind, dear child, how I came here; it is enough that I am here,” replied her father. “And I intend taking you home with me, dear Alina. The castle is so lonely without you;” and the old man sobbed.
At this moment Al-muli entered the chamber, and, seeing Alina’s father there, he thought there had been treachery among his guards; so striking a gong that was near him, a number of armed men rushed in.
“How now, traitors!” said he. “How have you been careful of your duties when you have allowed this stranger to enter unobserved?”
The soldiers protested their innocence, until at last Al-muli commenced to think that there must be some secret entrance into his castle.
“Search everywhere!” screamed the infuriated Moor. “Have the guard doubled at all the entrances, and send me up the captain!”
Al-muli’s instructions were carried out, and the captain reported that all was safe.
“Old man,” said the Moor, addressing the baron, “I have thee now in my power. Thou wert the enemy of my noble race. To thy blind rage my predecessors owed their downfall in Portugal. Thy bitter hatred carried thee to acts of vengeance. Thou art now in my power, but I will not harm one of thy grey hairs.”
“Moor,” replied the baron, with a proud look, “can the waters of the Manzanares and of the Guadalquivir join? No! And so cannot and may not thy accursed race join with ours! Thy race conquered our people, and in rising against thine we did but despoil the despoiler.”
“Thy logic is as baseless as thy fury was wont to be,” answered the Moor. “Though hundreds of miles separate the Manzanares from the Guadalquivir, yet do they meet in the mightier waters of the ocean. Hadst thou said that ignorance cannot join hands with learning, thou wouldst have been nearer the mark, or that the Cross can never dim the light of the Crescent.”
These words were spoken in a haughty manner; and as Al-muli turned round and looked upon his splendidly arrayed soldiers, who surrounded the chamber, his pride seemed justified.
“Thou canst not crush me more than thou hast done, vile Moor,” said the baron. “Thou hast robbed me of my daughter, not by force of arms, but stealthily, as a thief at midnight. If any spark of chivalry warmed thy infidel blood thou wouldst blush for the act thou hast wrought. But I fear thee not, proud Moor; thy warriors are no braver than thy women. Dare them to move, and I will lay thee at my feet.”
“Oh, my father, and thou, dear Al-Muli, abandon these threats, even if you cannot be friends.”
“No, maiden,” exclaimed Al-Muli; “I will not be bearded in my own den. Advance, guards, and take this old man to a place of safety below!”
But not a soldier moved; and when Al-Muli was about to approach them to see what was the matter with them, his scimitar dropped from his hand, and he fell on the ground.
“What charm hast thou brought to bear on me, bold baron,” screamed the Moor, “that I am thus rendered powerless? Alina, if thou lovest me, give me but that goblet full of water, for I am faint.”
Alina would have done as her lover bade her, but just then the figure of the venerable St. Bartholomew was seen with the cross in his right hand.
“Moor and infidel,” said the saint, “thou hast mocked at this symbol of Christianity, and thou hast done grievous injury to this Christian baron; but thou hast been conscientious in thy infidelity. Nor am I slow to recognize in thy race a knowledge of the arts and sciences not yet extended to the Christian. Yet, for all this, thou art but an infidel. Let me but baptize thee with the water thou wouldst have drunk, and all will yet be well.”
“No, sir saint,” answered the Moor. “When in my castle strangers thus treat me rudely, I can die, but not bend to their orders. If yonder baron is a true Christian, why has he not taken the thirty-three baths enjoined by thee?”
“And if my father do take them, wilt thou, as thou didst promise me,” said Alina, “be converted to the true faith?”
“The Moor breaks not his promise. As the golondrina returns to its nest in due season, so the man of honour returns to his promise.” Then, turning to the baron, he demanded to know if he would comply with the saint’s instructions.
“Yes,” answered the baron; “I have promised the good saint everything, and I will fulfil my promises. Al-Muli, if you love my daughter, love her faith also, and I will then have regained not only a daughter, but a son in my old age.”
“The promise of the Moor is sacred,” said Al-Muli. “Baptize me and my household; and do thou, good baron, intercede for me with the venerable saint, for I like not this lowly posture.”
“My dear Al-Muli,” sobbed Alina for joy, “the Cross and the Crescent are thus united in the mightier ocean of love and goodwill. May the two races whom one God has made be reconciled! And to-morrow’s sun must not set before we all comply with the condition imposed by St. Bartholomew.”
The saint was rejoiced with the work he had that day done, and declared that the churches he liked men to construct are those built within them, where the incense offered is prayer, and the work done, love. “As for the baths, they are but desirable auxiliaries,” said he.
Notes: The book contains 21 folktales from Spain and Portugal.
Author: Charles Sellers
Publisher: Field & Tuer, The Leadenhall Press, E.C.
Simpkin, Marshall & Co.; Hamilton, Adams & Co., London