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CHAPTER II.
 It is needless to say that those first called to partake of the mess, as the master of the house, who had been a soldier, called it, were the strange woman and her son.
 
"And what part of the country are you from?" said John Joseph to his guest, as he offered her a slice of a magnificent watermelon, which sparkled like a garnet in the light.
 
"From Treveles, in the Alpujarras," she answered.
 
"I was there when I served the king," responded John Joseph. "Those are poor villages. Treveles is a village overhanging the ravine of Poqueira."
 
"That is true," replied the poor woman, whose sorrowful face brightened a little at the recollection, so dear to the heart, of the place where she was born and where her home was.
 
"And by the same token," continued John Joseph, "you can see from there the peaks of Mulha Hasem and Veleta, that don't reach the sky because the Almighty wouldn't let them, and not because they didn't try."
 
"And why do they call that peak the Veleta, [a weather-vane.] John Joseph?
Is it because it has one on it?"
 
"If it has, I never saw it."
 
"It has none now," said the stranger, "but it had one in former times, when Moors and Christians went fighting one another through the mountains. It was guarded by an angel who kept it pointed toward Spain, and then the Christians conquered; but if he neglected his task, the devil came and made it point toward Barbary, and then the Moors conquered."
 
"But, in spite of all the devil could do, we drove them out; yes, and we would have done it if there had been ten times as many of them!" said the ex-soldier.
 
"And were you ever on those peaks?" said the mistress of the house to her guest.
 
"I was never there myself," answered the latter; "but my Manuel has been there a hundred times. Once he went there with an Englishman who wanted to see them. Between the two peaks there is a ravine that is full of water; and that is a cauldron that the demons made. From the middle of it come strange sounds that are caused by the hammering of the demons mending the cauldron. The whole place is a desert, full of naked rocks, and so awesome and solitary that the Englishman said it was like the Dead Sea—a sea that it seems there is in some of those far-off countries."
 
"Oh, mother! and why did it die?" asked the girl.
 
"How should I know?" answered the mother.
 
"Father," said the girl, repeating her question: "why did that sea die?
Did the Moors kill it?"
 
"What a question!" returned the father, who did not wish to confess his ignorance of the matter, as his wife had done: "it died because everything in the world dies, even the seas."
 
"And is the whole mountain like that?" asked Maria.
 
"No, for lower down there are trees,—chestnuts, oaks and shrubs, and some fine apple trees planted by the Moors, whose fruit is sent to Granada to be sold."
 
"And I was told," continued John Joseph, "that there are wild goats there that run faster than water down a hill, that leap like grasshoppers, and that are so sagacious that they always station one of their number on a height to keep watch, and when danger is approaching he strikes the rock with his foot, and then the others scamper off and disappear like a flight of partridges."
 
"That is all true," responded the guest; "and there are owls there, too, a kind of birds with wings and a human face."
 
"What is that you are saying, Senora?" cried John Joseph, "who ever saw such birds as those?"
 
"My Manuel has seen them, and every one who has ever climbed up those heights; and you must know that the owls and the mountain-goats have been there ever since the time when Jesus was in the world. He came to those solitudes, that were then shady meadows in which tame and handsome goats browsed, watched by their shepherds. The Lord, who was tired, entered a goat-herd's hut, and asked the goat-herds to prepare a kid for supper for Himself and St. John and St. Peter, who were with Him. The goat-herds, who were wicked Moors, said that they had none; but the Lord insisted, and then what did those heartless wretches do? They killed a cat, cooked it, and set it on the table. But the Lord, as you may suppose, who sees into all hearts and knows everything that is going on, however secret it may be thought, knew perfectly well what the goat-herds had done, and sitting down at the table He said:
 
    'If you are a kid,
    Remain fried.
    But if you are a cat,
    Jump from the plate.'
 
"Instantly the animal straightened itself up and ran off. The Lord, to punish the goat-herds, turned them into owls and their flocks into wild goats."
 
At this moment a moan was heard; they all hurried to the sick man's bedside. His improvement had been only momentary; the fever, caused by a cerebral attack, had reached its height, and in a few hours terminated his life, without his having returned to consciousness for a single instant.
 
It is an easy matter to describe a violent and noisy grief which rebels against misfortune; but it is not easy to describe a profound, silent, humble, and resigned grief. The poor widow who had lost everything, even the strength to work, raised her eyes to heaven, clasped her hands and bowed her head, while her life, which her chilled heart was unable to maintain, slowly ebbed away.
 
She was not sent away by the kind and charitable people who had sheltered her; but she knew that she would be a heavy burden upon them; and although she was submissive to the will of the Lord, she prayed to Him to grant her a speedy and contrite end, as a release from all her sufferings; and the Lord granted her prayer.
 
One night she saw with ineffable joy the bed on which she lay surrounded by kind, devout, and compassionate souls; the house was lighted up; an altar stood in front of her humble cot, on which she saw the image of our Lord, to whom she had prayed, with arms opened to those who call upon Him. Every one brought flowers, those universal interpreters of human feeling, which enhance the splendor of the most august solemnities and lend poetry and beauty to the gayest festival; and which, as if they were angels' gifts, are found, like these, in the hut and in the palace, in royal gardens and in the fields.
 
A bell sounded in the distance that with its silvery voice seemed to say:
"Here cometh the Lord, who giveth a peaceful death."
 
And thus it was; for when the solemn act of receiving the Last Sacrament was ended, the sick woman raised her eyes, in which a gleam of her lost happiness shone.
 
"I am leaving this valley of tears," she said, in a faint voice, "and through the mercy of God I am going to His presence to ask Him to watch over this poor boy, this poor orphan—"
 
"Orphan, did you say?" cried John Joseph. "Don't you know, then, that he is our son?"
 
The dying woman leaned her pale face against her son's forehead, on which a tear fell, and said to him, "Child of my heart, pay to our benefactors your own debt and that of your parents; as for me, I can only pray to God that He will bless them as I bless them."
 
"John Joseph," said the priest, "the blessing of the dying is the most precious legacy they can leave to those who survive them."


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