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chapter 12
 Three or four weeks after the death of Manos-gordas, somewhere about the 20th of February, 1821, it was snowing, if it ever were to snow, in the town of Aldeire, and throughout the beautiful Andalusian sierra to which the snow gives existence, as it were, and a name.
 
It was Carnival Sunday, and the church bell was for the fourth time summoning to mass with its thin, clear tones, like those of a child, the shivering Christians of this parish (too near to heaven for their comfort), who found it difficult, on so raw and inclement a day, to bring themselves to leave their beds or to move away from the fire, saying, perhaps, in excuse for their not doing so, that on the three days before Ash-Wednesday worship should be rendered not to God, but to the devil.
 
Some such excuse as this, at least, was given by Uncle Juan Gomez in answer to the arguments with which his pious wife, our friend, Dame Torcuata, tried to persuade him to give up drinking brandy and eating biscuits, and accompany her, instead, to mass, like a good Christian, regardless of the criticisms of the schoolmaster or the other electors of the liberal party. And the dispute was beginning to grow warm, when suddenly Genaro, his honor's head shepherd, entered the kitchen, and taking off his hat, and scratching his head with the same movement, said:
 
"God give us good-day, Senor Juan and Senora Torcuata! You must have guessed already that something has happened up above to bring me down here on a day like this, it not being my Sunday for going to hear mass. I hope you are both well!"
 
"There! there! I'll wait no longer!" cried the Alcalde's wife, impatiently, folding her mantilla over her breast. "It was decreed that you were not to hear mass to-day. You have drink enough there, and conversation enough for the whole day, discussing the question as to whether the goats are with kid or whether the young rams are beginning to get their horns. You will go to perdition, Juan, you will go to perdition, if you don't soon make your peace with the church and give up the accursed alcaldeship!"
 
When Dame Torcuata had departed, the Alcalde handed a biscuit and a glass of brandy to the head shepherd, saying:
 
"Women's nonsense, Uncle Genaro! Draw your chair up to the fire and tell me what you have to say. What is going on up above there?"
 
"Oh, a mere nothing! Yesterday, Francisco, the goat-keeper, saw a man dressed like a native of Malaga, with long trousers and a linen jacket, and wrapped in a blanket, go into the cattle-yard you are making, from the open side, and walk around the Moor's Tower, examining it and measuring it, as if he were a master-builder. Francisco asked him what he was doing, to which the stranger answered by asking in his turn who was the owner of the tower, and Francisco saying that he was no less a person than the Alcalde of the town, the stranger replied that he would speak with his honor and explain his plans to him. Night soon fell, and as the man pretended to be going away, the goat-herd went to his hut, which, as you know, is but a short distance from the tower. Some two hours later the same Francisco noticed that strange noises proceeded from the tower, in which he also observed a light burning, all which terrified him so greatly, that he did not even venture to go to my hut to tell me of what he had seen and heard. This he did as soon as it was daylight, saying in addition that the noises he had heard in the tower were kept up all night. As I am an old man and have served my king and am not easily frightened, I went at once to the Moor's Tower, accompanied by Francisco, who trembled at every step he took, and we discovered the stranger, wrapped up in his blanket, asleep in a little room on the ground floor where the plaster still remains on the ceiling. I wakened the mysterious stranger and reproved him for spending the night in a strange house without its owner's permission, to which he answered that the building was not a house, but a heap of ruins, where a poor wayfarer might very well take shelter on a snowy night, and that he was ready to present himself before you and tell you who he was and what his business and his plans were. I have brought him with me, therefore, and he is now out in the yard with the goatherd, waiting for your permission to enter."
 
"Let him come in," answered Uncle Hormiga, rising to his feet, greatly disturbed, for the thought had presented itself to his mind at the head shepherd's first words, that all this was closely connected with the celebrated treasure, the hope of discovering which, by his own unaided exertions, he had abandoned, a week before, after he had removed, without result, several of the heaviest of the foundation stones.


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