The Last of the Abencerrajes
(Les Aventures du dernier Abencérage)
Translated by A. S. Kline © 2011 All Rights Reserved.
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
When Boabdil, the last king of
The Moors of
Spain, who shared the fate of their king, dispersed throughout
families carried with them to their new country the memory of their former
homeland. The Paradise of Granada lived
forever in their memories, mothers repeating its name to their infants while they
were still suckled at the breast. They rocked them to sleep with tales of the Zegris
and the Abencerrajes. Five times a day they prayed in the mosque, turning towards
The Abencerrajes, especially, retained the most tender and faithful memory of their homeland. They had quitted with mortal regret the scene of their glory, and the shores which had so often sounded to their cry to arms: ‘Love and Honour.’ No longer able to raise a lance in the desert, nor don the helmet among a colony of farmers, they had devoted themselves to the study of medicine, a calling as esteemed among the Arabs as the profession of arms. Thus, this race of warriors, who had once inflicted wounds, now occupied themselves with the art of healing. In that they had retained something of their primary inspiration, since the knights often themselves tended the wounds of the enemy they had conquered.
The home of
this tribe, which once possessed palaces, was not situated in the village colonised
by the other exiles, at the foot of the
On tables, at
the foot of these trophies of glory, were placed the trophies of a life of
peace: herbs gathered on the summits of the
Some of these were best suited to relieve the ills of the body; others had the power to ease the sorrows of the soul. The Abencerrajes especially valued those that served to calm vain regrets, to dispel those foolish illusions and hopes of happiness forever nascent, forever disappointed. Unfortunately these medicines had opposing virtues, and often the scent of a flower from their homeland acted as a species of poison on those illustrious exiles.
years had passed since the taking of
from the jetty at
Flocks of sheep driven by their shepherds like armies over the yellow uncultivated plains, and a few lone travellers, far from bringing life to the road only served to make it appear sadder and lonelier. These travellers all carried a sword at their side: they were wrapped in cloaks, and wide-brimmed hats, pulled well down, covered half their faces. They hailed Aben-Hamet in passing, who of their noble salutes could only comprehend the words God, Lord or Knight. That evening at a country inn (venta) the Abencerraje took his place among the strangers there, without being disturbed by their indiscreet curiosity. No one spoke to him, no one questioned him; his turban, robe, weapons, excited no astonishment. Since Allah had willed that the Moors of Spain should lose their beautiful homeland, Aben-Hamet could not help but esteem its sombre conquerors.
Emotions yet more vivid awaited the Abencerraje at the
end of his journey.
When Aben-Hamet saw the roofs of the first buildings in
‘Guide,’ he cried, ‘be happy! Do not hide the truth from me, since calm reigned over the waves at the hour of thy birth, and the moon was entering on its crescent. What are those towers that shine like stars above a green forest?’
‘That is the
‘And that other castle, on the second hill?’ asked Aben-Hamet.
‘That is the Generalife,’ said the Spaniard. In that
castle there is a garden, planted with myrtles, where they claim the Abencerraje
was surprised with the Sultana Alfaima. Further off, you can see the Albaicin,
and closer to us the
Every word the
guide spoke pierced Aben-Hamet’s heart. How
cruel it was to him that he must have recourse to strangers to identify the
monuments of his ancestors, and be told by those indifferent to them the history
of his family and friends! The guide, putting an end to Aben-Hamet’s reflections,
exclaimed: ‘Continue, Sir Moor, continue, God willing! Have courage! Is not Francis
this very day a prisoner in our
They passed close
to the great ash tree, made famous by the battle between Muca
(a prince of the Abencerrajes) and
the Grand Master of the Order of Calatrava, serving under the last king of
was too agitated to enjoy even a brief repose in his new dwelling; his presence
in his homeland so tormented him. Unable to
resist the feelings that troubled his heart, he went out at to wander the streets of
But, alas! Instead of the sound of the anafil (an Arabic straight trumpet), the music of flutes, and the songs of love, a profound silence reigned around Aben-Hamet. The inhabitants of that mute city were no longer those of before, and the victors rested on the bed of the vanquished. ‘They sleep, then, these proud Spaniards’ exclaimed the young Moor indignantly, ‘beneath those roofs from which they banished my ancestors! And I, an Abencerraje, I watch unknown, solitary, desolate, at the gate of my forefathers’ palace!’
Aben-Hamet, reflected thus on human destiny, on the vicissitudes of fortune, on the fall of empires, on that Granada, finally surprised by its enemies in the midst of pleasures, and suddenly exchanging its garlands of flowers for chains; he seemed to see its citizens abandoning their homes in their festive clothes, like guests who, in the chaos of their finery, are suddenly driven from the banqueting hall by a fire.
All these images, all these thoughts thronged
Aben-Hamet’s soul; full of pain and regret, he dreamed above all of executing
the plan that had brought him to
After wandering long, without being able to find his way, Aben-Hamet heard a door open. He saw a young woman emerge, dressed much as those queens carved on the Gothic monuments of our ancient abbeys. A black corset, trimmed with jet, shaped her elegant figure, her short skirt, tight and without folds, revealed a shapely leg and charming foot; an equally black mantilla was thrown over her head: with her left hand she held this mantilla closed tight like a veil beneath her chin, so that all one could see of her face were her eyes and rosy lips. A duenna accompanied her; a page in front carried a prayer book; two servants, dressed in her livery, followed the beautiful stranger at a distance: she was on her way to morning prayers, which the ringing of a bell announced from a nearby monastery.
Aben-Hamet thought he had seen the angel Israfil, or perhaps
the youngest of the Houris. The
Spanish girl, no less surprised, gazed at the Abencerraje, whose turban, clothing
and weapons further adorned his noble figure. Recovering
from her initial astonishment, she beckoned to the stranger to approach with the
grace and freedom peculiar to the women of that country. ‘Sir Moor,’ she
said, ‘you seem newly-arrived in
‘Sultana of the flowers,’ replied Aben-Hamet, ‘delight
to the eyes of man, O Christian slave, more beautiful than the virgins of the
‘The Moors are renowned for their gallantry,’ said the Spanish girl, with the sweetest of smiles, ‘but I am neither a Sultana of the flowers, nor a slave, nor pleased to be commended to Mohammed. Follow me, Sir Knight: I will guide you to the caravanserai of the Moors.’
She walked lightly, ahead of the Abencerraje, led him to the door of the caravanserai, pointed to it with her hand, passed behind a palace, and vanished.
Where then went
life’s repose? His homeland no longer occupied
the mind of Aben-Hamet solely and entirely.
In vain did he wish to occupy himself solely with his
pilgrimage to the land of his fathers; in vain he traversed the banks of the Darro
and Genil, to collect plants at the break of dawn: the flower he now sought
was the beautiful Christian. What vain efforts too he made to find his
enchantress’s palace once more! How many times he tried to find again those streets
that had led him to his divine guide! How many
times he thought he recognized the sound of the bell, the cry of the cockerel,
he had heard near the residence of the Spaniard! Deceived by such echoes,
he hastened immediately towards them, yet no magic palace offered itself to his
gaze! Often even the dresses of the women of
One day he was
collecting herbs in the
Aben-Hamet was neither wretched enough, nor happy enough, to enjoy the charm of solitude in all its fullness: he traversed the enchanted riverside distractedly and with indifference. Walking at random, he followed an avenue of trees which encircled the slopes of the Albaicin. A country house, surrounded by an orange grove, soon presented itself to his eyes: approaching the trees, he heard the sound of a voice and a guitar. Between the voice, features, and glances of a woman, there is a correspondence that never deceives a man possessed by love. ‘It is my houri!’ said Aben-Hamet; and he listened, with beating heart: at the name of the Abencerrajes several times repeated, his heart beat still faster. The unknown girl sang a Castilian song which traced the history of the Abencerrajes and the Zegris. Aben-Hamet could not restrain his emotion; he clambered through a hedge of myrtle and tumbled into the midst of a crowd of frightened young women who fled screaming. The Spanish girl, who had just been singing and who still held the guitar, cried: ‘It is Sir Moor!’ And she recalled her companions. ‘Favoured of the Spirits,’ said the Abencerraje, ‘I have sought for thee as the Arab seeks a spring in the heat of noon; I heard the sound of thy guitar; thou wast celebrating the heroes of my country; I divined it was thee from the beauty of thy accents, and I cast at thy feet the heart of Aben-Hamet.’
‘And I,’ said Dona Blanca, ‘was thinking of you as I repeated the ballad of the Abencerrajes. Ever since I saw you, I have thought that you resemble one of those Moorish knights.’
A slight blush rose to Blanca’s brow as she uttered
these words. Aben-Hamet felt ready to fall at the feet of the young
Christian, and tell her that he was the last of the Abencerrajes; but a vestige
of prudence restrained him; he feared that his name, infamous in
Dona Blanca was descended from a family that traced
its origin to El Cid, Rodrigo of Bivar, and Ximena, daughter of Gomez, Count of
Gormas. The descendants of the conqueror of
Dona Theresa of Xérès, the wife of Don Rodrigo, bore
a son who received at his birth the name of Rodrigo as had all his ancestors,
but was called Don Carlos, to distinguish him from his father. The great events that Don Carlos witnessed from his
earliest youth, the dangers to which he was exposed throughout almost the whole
of his childhood, only served to render more severe and rigid a character
naturally inclined to austerity. Don Carlos was barely fourteen when he followed
Blanca of Bivar, Don Carlos’s only sister, and much
younger than he, was the idol of her father; she had lost her mother, and was
entering on her eighteenth year, when Aben-Hamet appeared in
Don Rodrigo had rushed to the scene at the cries of the young Spanish girls when Aben-Hamet had dashed into the grove. ‘Father,’ said Blanca, ‘this is the Moorish lord I told you of. He heard me sing, he recognized me; he entered the garden to thank me for having shown him the way.’
The Duke of Santa Fé received the Abencerraje with the grave and yet simple politeness of the Spaniards. There is nothing of a servile manner to be seen in that nation, none of those turns of phrase that denote abjection of thought or degradation of spirit. The language of the great lord and of the peasant is one, greetings, compliments, habits, customs, all are at one. Both their trust in, and the generosity of that people towards, foreigners are boundless, just as their vengeance is terrible when betrayed. Heroic in their courage, unfailing in their patience, incapable of yielding to evil fortune, they must overcome it or be crushed. They have little of what we call wit, but the exalted passions take the place of that enlightenment that comes from subtlety and abundance of ideas. A Spaniard who spends the day without speaking, who has seen nothing, who cares to see nothing, who has read nothing; studied nothing; compared nothing, still finds in the grandeur of his resolutions the resources required to face the hour of adversity.
It was Don Rodrigo’s birthday, and Blanca held a reception (tertulia) for her father, a little gathering, in charming seclusion. The Duke of Santa Fé invited Aben-Hamet to sit among the young women, who were charmed by the stranger’s turban and robe. Velvet cushions were brought, and the Abencerraje reclined on the cushions in Moorish style. He was questioned regarding his country and his adventures: he replied with wit and gaiety. He spoke the purest Castilian; he could have been mistaken for a Spaniard, had he not almost always said thee instead of you. This word seemed so sweet in his mouth, that Blanca could not but be secretly vexed, when he employed it in addressing one of her companions.
Numerous servants appeared: they brought chocolate, baked
fruits, and pastries covered with sugar, from
One of the young women began playing the foreign air on her guitar. Don Rodrigo’s daughter removed her veil, and clasped the castanets of ebony in her white hands. Her black hair fell in curls to her alabaster neck; her mouth and eyes smiled in concert; her complexion was animated by the beating of her heart. Suddenly she clicked the castanets loudly, sounded the measure three times, struck up the rhythm of the Zambra, and mingling her voice with the notes of the guitar, whirled like lightning.
What variety in her steps! What elegance in her poses! Now she raised her arms eagerly; now she let them fall gently. Sometimes she leapt forward as if intoxicated with delight then drew back as if grief-stricken. She turned her head, seeming to call to someone unseen, modestly offered a rosy cheek to the kiss of a new husband, fled in shame, returned bright and consoled, strutted with a noble almost warlike step, then leapt once more over the grass. The harmony of her footsteps, her singing, and the sounds of the guitar was perfection. Blanca’s voice, slightly husky, held that kind of tone that stirs the passions to the depths of the soul. Spanish music, composed of sighs, lively transitions, sad refrains singing that is suddenly arrested, offers a singular mixture of gaiety and melancholy. That music and dance settled the fate of the last Abencerraje irrevocably: they would have sufficed to disrupt a heart less afflicted than his.
In the evening, they returned to
Blanca soon found herself drawn into a profound
passion, by the very impossibility, as she had thought, of any human being ever
experiencing it. To love an Infidel, a Moor, a
foreigner, seemed so strange a thing to her that she took no precaution against
the malaise that was beginning to creep into her veins; but soon as she recognised
its effects, she accepted that malaise like a true woman of
felt on his side all the power of an irresistible passion: he lived only for
Blanca. He no longer occupied himself with the
aims that had brought him to
and Blanca, fixed thus in their resolution, only awaited the moment to reveal
their feelings to one another. On one of the finest days of the year, the daughter of the Duke of Santa Fé, said to the Abencerraje:
‘You have not yet seen the
Aben-Hamet swore by the Prophet that no visit could be more agreeable.
The hour fixed on for their pilgrimage to the
At first, they followed a long street which still
bore the name of an illustrious Moorish family (Calle de los Gomeles);
this street led to the outer wall of the
All the charms of his homeland, all his regrets, mingled with the glamour of love, seized the heart of the last Abencerraje. Motionless and silent, he gazed with astonished eyes into this dwelling-place of Genies; he thought himself transported to the entrance of one of these palaces whose description we read of in the Arabian Nights. Floating galleries, canals of white marble lined with lemon and orange trees in flower, fountains, and solitary courtyards, were revealed on every side to Aben-Hamet’s eyes, and through the elongated arches of the porticoes, he perceived fresh labyrinths and new enchantments. The azure of a most beautiful sky showed between the columns that supported a string of Gothic arches. The walls, decorated with arabesques, imitated to the eye those Oriental fabrics that the caprice of some slave girl weaves amidst the boredom of the harem. Something sensual, religious, and yet warlike, seemed to breathe through this magical edifice; a kind of cloister of love, a mysterious retreat in which the Moorish kings tasted all the delights, and forgot all the duties, of life.
After a few moments of mute astonishment, the two lovers entered this dwelling of vanished power and past happiness. They first made the round of the Mexuar palace, amid the perfume of flowers and freshness of water. Then they penetrated the Court of the Lions. Aben-Hamet’s emotion increased at every step. ‘If thou didst not fill my soul with delight, he said to Blanca, ‘with what grief I would be obliged to ask thee, thee a Spaniard, the history of these rooms. Ah, this place was created as a sanctuary for happiness, and I...!’
Aben-Hamet recognised the name of Boabdil inscribed in
the mosaics. ‘O my king,’ he cried, ‘what has become of thee? Where shall
I find thee in thy deserted
As he spoke these words, Blanca led him into a room (La Sala de los Abencerrajes) that seemed the very
sanctuary of the
Aben-Hamet no longer heard Blanca; he prostrated himself and kissed the bloodstain left by his ancestors, with respect. Rising, he exclaimed: ‘O Blanca, I swear by the blood of those knights, to love thee with the constancy, fidelity and ardour of an Abencerraje!’
‘You love me then?’ Blanca replied, clasping her two beautiful hands together, and raising her eyes to heaven. ‘But have you forgotten that you are an Infidel, a Moor, an enemy, and I am a Christian and Spanish?’
‘O Sacred Prophet,’ said Aben-Hamet, bear witness to my oath...!’ Blanca interrupted him: ‘What faith can I place in the oaths of one who persecutes my God? How do you know whether I love you?’ What gives you the assurance to credit me with like language?’
Aben-Hamet replied in consternation: ‘It is true, I am no more than thy servant; thou hast not chosen me as your knight.’
‘Moor,’ said Blanca, ‘forgo such ruses; thou hast seen in my eyes that I love thee; my madness for thee passes all measure; become a Christian, and nothing can stop me from being thine. But if the daughter of the Duke of Santa Fé dare speak to thee plainly, thou mayest judge from that very statement that she knows how to command herself and that an enemy of the Christians can have no right to her.’
Aben-Hamet in a transport of passion, seized Blanca’s hands, and placed them upon his turban and then his heart. ‘Allah is powerful,’ he cried, ‘and Aben-Hamet is happy! O Mohammed! Let this Christian understand your law, and nothing can...’ – ‘Thou blasphemest,’ said Blanca: ‘let us leave this place.’
She leant on the arm of the Moor, and approached the Fountain of the Twelve Lions, which gives its name to one of the courts of the Alhambra: ‘Stranger,’ said the innocent Spanish girl, ‘when I look at thy clothes, thy turban, thy weapons, and I think of our love, I think I see the ghost of that handsome Abencerraje, walking in this secluded retreat, with the unfortunate Alfaima. Translate the Arabic inscription for me, engraved on the marble of the fountain.’
read these words (of Ibn Zamrak,
secretary to Mohammed V of
‘…In this garden are there not wonders
God has made peerless in their beauty,
Sculptures of pearl, translucent with light,
Whose borders are edged with seeds of pearl?
…A lover whose eyelids brim with tears’
…the rest of the inscription was barely legible.
inscription was made for thee,’ said Aben-Hamet. Beloved Sultana, these palaces
were never as beautiful in their youth as they are now in their ruin. Listen to
the sound of the fountains whose foam deflects the water; look at these
gardens revealed through half-fallen archways, contemplate the sun setting
among these porticoes: how sweet it is to wander with thee through this place! Thy words embalm these retreats, like roses of
Blanca listened with delight to this language new to her, and whose Oriental flavour seemed so well suited to this home of the Fays, she traversed with her lover. Love penetrated her heart on all sides; she felt weak; and was forced to lean more heavily on the arm of her guide. Aben-Hamet supported the sweet burden, and as they walked said: ‘Ah, would I not make a brilliant Abencerraje!’
‘Thou wouldst please me less,’ replied Blanca, ‘because I would be more tormented; remain obscure and live for me. Often a famous knight neglects love for fame.’
‘Thou wouldst not have that danger to fear’ Aben-Hamet replied ardently.
‘And how then wouldst thou love me, if thou wast an Abencerraje?’ said the descendant of Ximena.
‘I would love thee,’ replied the Moor, ‘more than glory and less than honour.’
The sun had set below the horizon, during the two lovers’
walk. They had traversed the whole
The moon, rising, poured her wavering light over the
abandoned retreats, and deserted courts of the
‘Moor, these pastimes are cruel,’ said Blanca, ‘let us leave this place. My life’s destiny is fixed forever. Retain these words deep in thine heart: “While thou art a Muslim, I am thy lover, yet one without hope; if thou wert a Christian, I would gladly be thy wife.”’
Aben-Hamet replied: ‘While thou art a Christian, I am your sad slave, if thou wert a Muslim girl, I would be proud to be thy husband.’
And thus these noble lovers emerged from that palace of danger.
Blanca’s passion grew day by day, and that of
Aben-Hamet increased with the same violence. He was so delighted to be
loved for himself alone, of owning to no alien reason for the feelings he
inspired, that he avoided revealing the secret of his birth to the daughter of
the Duke of Santa Fé: he would take delicate
pleasure in informing her that he was of an illustrious family, on the very day
that she agreed to give him her hand. But he was suddenly recalled to
‘Thou art forsaking me,’ said Blanca growing pale. ‘Shall I ever see thee again?’
‘Come,’ said Aben-Hamet. ‘I require an oath of thee, and one that death alone can break. Follow me.’
They walked together; they arrived at a cemetery which was once that of the Moors. Here and there, could still be seen small funeral columns on which the sculptor had once carved a turban; but the Christians had since replaced the turbans with crosses. Aben-Hamet led Blanca to the foot of one of these columns.
said, ‘my ancestors lie here; I swear by their ashes to love thee until the day
on which the Angel of Judgement calls me to the tribunal of Allah. I promise thee
never to commit my heart to another woman, and to
take thee as my wife as soon as thou knowest the Prophet’s holy light. Each
year, at this time, I will return to
‘And I,’ said Blanca, in tears, ‘I will wait for all time; I will keep till my last breath the vow that I have sworn to thee, and I will receive thee as my husband when the Christian God, more powerful than thy lover, has touched thy infidel heart.’
Aben-Hamet departed; the wind carried him to African
shores: his mother had just then expired. He cried; he embraced her coffin. The
months passed: now wandering among the ruins of
The daughter of the Duke of Santa Fé was not
unfaithful to her vow. She asked her father to take her to
One day, as she wandered on the shore, she caught
sight of a long vessel with an elevated prow, the sloping mast and lateen sail proclaiming
the elegant genius of the Moors. Blanca ran to the harbour, and was soon
gazing as the
Blanca recognized Aben-Hamet: she dared not betray herself to the eyes of the crowd; she withdrew and sent Dorothea, one of her ladies, to tell the Abencerraje that she would wait for him at the palace of the Moors. Aben-Hamet was at that moment presenting to the governor his firman (credentials) written in azure letters on a rich vellum and enclosed in a silken sheathe. Dorothea approached and led the happy Abencerraje to Blanca’s feet. What delight, on each finding that the other had remained faithful! What happiness to meet again after being separated for so long! What endless fresh vows of eternal love!
The two black
slaves led the Numidian horse, who, instead of a saddle, had a lion-skin on his
back, attached by a purple strap. Then they brought forward the gazelle. ‘Sultana,’
said Aben-Hamet, ‘this is a deer from my country, almost as light-footed as thou.’
Blanca freed the delightful creature herself, which seemed to thank her, with
the gentlest of glances. During the absence of the Abencerraje, the daughter of
the Duke of Santa Fé had studied Arabic: she read with tender gaze her own name
on the collar of the gazelle. The latter,
restored to liberty, could hardly stand; its feet had been bound for so long; it
lay down on the ground, and leaned its head on its mistress’s lap. Blanca
offered it fresh dates, and stroked this offspring of the desert, whose soft
skin retained the perfumes of aloe wood and the roses of
the Duke of Santa Fé, and his daughter, left together for
Aben-Hamet reappeared for a third year, like one of
those birds of passage that love brings back to us when it is spring in our
climate. He found no Blanca on the shore, but a letter from his beloved informed
the faithful Arab of the departure of the Duke of Santa Fé for
Blanca, during her father’s absence, could not leave the
brother she loved, a brother who wished to relinquish all his wealth in her
favour, and whom she saw again after an absence of seven years. Don
Carlos possessed all the courage and pride of his nation: fierce as the
conquerors of the
Thomas de Lautrec, of the illustrious house of Foix, in
which the beauty of their women and the valour of their men seemed a hereditary
gift, was the younger brother of the Countess of Foix, and of the brave and
unfortunate Odet de Foix, Lord of Lautrec. At
the age of eighteen years, Thomas had been knighted by Bayard, during the
retreat which cost the life of that knight ‘sans
peur et sans reproche’ (without fear and without reproach). Some time later, Thomas was badly
wounded and taken prisoner at
Don Carlos of Bivar, who witnessed Lautrec’s bravery,
had cared for the young Frenchman’s wounds, and between them one of those
heroic friendships was quickly established, to which esteem and virtue form the
foundation. Francis I had been returned to France, but Charles V retained
the other prisoners. Lautrec had the honour to share his king’s captivity, and to
sleep at his feet in prison. Remaining in
When Aben-Hamet presented himself at the
At some distance, another knight stood leaning on the iron cross-guard of his sword: dressed as was the former knight, but apparently much older. His austere air, though ardent and passionate, inspired respect and fear. The red cross of Calatrava was embroidered on his doublet, with this motto: ‘For her and for my king.’
An involuntary cry escaped Blanca when she saw Aben-Hamet. ‘Knights,’ she said immediately, ‘this is the infidel of whom I have spoken so extensively, be fearful lest he erases your victory. The Abencerrajes were made as he is, and no one surpassed them in loyalty, courage and gallantry.’
Don Carlos faced Aben-Hamet. ‘Sir Moor,’ said he, ‘my
father and my sister informed me of your name; you are considered of noble race
and brave; you yourself are distinguished by your courtesy. Charles V, my
master, must shortly wage war against
Aben-Hamet put his hand to his breast, seated himself on the ground without answering, and fixed his gaze on Blanca and Lautrec. The latter, with the curiosity of his countrymen, admired the superb robe, brilliant weapons, and handsome visage of the Moor; Blanca seemed in no way embarrassed; her whole soul was in her eyes: the sincere Spanish girl made no attempt to hide the secret of her heart. After a few moments of silence, Aben-Hamet rose, bowed to the daughter of Don Rodrigo, and withdrew. Surprised by the Moor’s manner and Blanca’s gaze, Lautrec left with a suspicion which was soon converted to a certainty.
Don Carlos remained alone with his sister. ‘Blanca,’ he said, ‘explain yourself. From whence does this disturbance arise that the sight of this stranger causes you?’
‘My brother,’ Blanca replied, ‘I love Aben-Hamet, and if he desires to become a Christian, my hand is his.’
Don Carlos: ‘You are in love with Aben-Hamet! A daughter of the Bivars loves a
Moor; an Infidel; an enemy we have driven from this palace!’
‘Don Carlos,’ Blanca replied, ‘I love Aben-Hamet; Aben-Hamet loves me; for three years he has renounced my company rather than renounce the religion of his fathers. Nobility, honour, chivalry, are his; I will worship him till my last breath.’
Don Carlos was capable of appreciating the generosity of Aben-Hamet’s resolution, though he deplored that Infidel’s blindness. ‘Wretched Blanca,’ he said, ‘where will this love lead thee? I had hopes that Lautrec, my friend, would become my brother.’
‘You were wrong,’ said Blanca: ‘I cannot love that stranger. As for my feelings for Aben-Hamet, I do not have to account to anyone for them. Keep thy vows of knighthood as I will keep my vows of love. Know only, as a solace to thee, that Blanca will never be the wife of an Infidel.’
Our family will vanish from the earth.’ cried Don Carlos.
‘It is for thou to revive it,’ said Blanca. ‘Besides what use are descendants thou wilt never see, and who will lapse from thy virtue? Don Carlos, I feel that we are the last of our race; we are too far out of the common order for our race to flourish after us: the Cid was our ancestor, he will be our posterity.’ Blanca left.
Don Carlos flew to the Abencerraje. ‘Moor,’ he said, ‘renounce my sister or accept my challenge.’
‘Wert thou charged with this message by thy sister,’ replied Aben-Hamet, ‘to ask me to revoke the vows she made me?’
‘No,’ replied Don Carlos, she loves thee more than ever.’
‘Ah: a brother worthy of Blanca!’ cried Aben-Hamet, interrupting him, ‘I owe all my good fortune to thy race! ‘O happy Aben-Hamet! O blessed hour! I thought Blanca disloyal to me out of regard for this French knight...’
‘And in that lies thy misfortune,’ said Don Carlos, in turn, beside himself: ‘Lautrec is my friend; without thee he would be my brother. Render me satisfaction for the tears though forcest my family to shed.’
‘Indeed, I am willing,’ replied Aben-Hamet, ‘but though born of a race that may have fought thine, I am not yet a knight. I see none here that might confer upon me the order that would enablest thee to measure thyself against me without betraying thy rank.’
Don Carlos, being struck with this reflection of the Moor’s, gazed at him with a mixture of admiration and fury. Then suddenly, he said: ‘I myself will grant thee knighthood. Thou art worthy.’
Aben-Hamet knelt before Don Carlos, who gave him the accolade, striking him three times on the shoulder with the flat of his sword; then Don Carlos girded him with the very sword that the Abencerraje might well be about to plunge into his chest: such was the former idea of chivalry.
to their horses, left the walls of
‘Death, it may be,’ said Aben-Hamet, ‘but long live Allah and the Prophet!’
They immediately took the field, and rushed
furiously at one another. They had only their
swords: Aben-Hamet was less skilful in battle then Don Carlos, but the superiority
of his blade, tempered at
‘Thou wert free to kill me,’ replied the Abencerraje, ‘but I have never thought to do thee the least injury: I wished only to prove to thee that I was worthy of being thy brother, and to prevent thee from despising me.’
At this moment a cloud of dust was visible: Lautrec
and Blanca galloping on two mares from
‘I am vanquished,’ said Don Carlos, ‘this knight has granted me my life. Lautrec, perhaps you may be more successful than I.’
‘My wounds, said Lautrec in a noble and gracious voice, ‘permit me to refuse combat with this courteous knight. I prefer,’ he added, blushing, ‘not to know the subject of your quarrel, or penetrate a secret that would perhaps bring death to my heart. Soon my absence will restore peace among you, unless Blanca orders me to remain at her feet.’
‘Knight,’ said Blanca, ‘you shall stay beside my brother; you shall regard me as a sister. All the hearts that are here are experiencing pain; you will learn from us how to endure life’s ills.’
Blanca would have wished the three knights to clasp hands; all three refused to do so: ‘I loathe Aben-Hamet!’ cried Don Carlos. – ‘I envy him,’ said Lautrec. – ‘And I,’ said the Abencerraje, ‘I esteem Don Carlos, and I pity Lautrec, but I cannot love them.’
‘Let us be endlessly
patient,’ said Blanca, ‘and sooner or later friendship will succeed esteem. Let
the fatal event that brought us here be forever unknown to
From that moment, Aben-Hamet was a thousand times dearer to the daughter of the Duke of Santa Fé: love adores valour; he lacked nothing of the virtues of the Abencerrajes, since he was brave, and Don Carlos owed him his life. Aben-Hamet, on Blanca’s advice, abstained for a few days from appearing at the palace, to allow Don Carlos’s anger to abate. A mixture of sweet and bitter feelings filled the Abencerraje’s soul: if on the one hand the assurance of being loved with such fidelity and zeal was to him an inexhaustible source of delight, on the other the certainty of never attaining happiness unless he renounced the religion of his fathers, quelled Aben-Hamet’s courage. Several years had passed without bringing a remedy for his ills; was he to see the rest of his life pass in this way?
He was lost in the depths of the most serious and most
tender reflection one evening, when he heard the sound of that Christian prayer
that announces the end of day. It came to his mind to enter the
He soon came to the door of an ancient mosque converted into a church by the faithful. His heart seized by sorrow and religion, he penetrated the temple that was once that of his God and his homeland. The prayer had just ended: there was no one in the church. A sacred gloom reigned throughout the host of pillars which resembled the serried ranks of trees planted in some forest. The airy architecture of the Arabs was married to the Gothic, and without losing its elegance had acquired the gravity appropriate to meditation. A few lamps barely lit the recesses of the vaults; but by the light of several burning candles, the altar within the sanctuary still shone: it glittered with gold and jewels. The Spaniards consider it glorious to despoil themselves of their wealth in order to adorn the objects of their worship; and the image of the living God set amidst veils of lace, crowns of pearls and sprays of rubies, is worshipped by a half naked people.
No seats were to be seen in the midst of the vast enclosure: a marble pavement that covered the tombs, served for both great and small to prostrate themselves before the Lord. Aben-Hamet advanced slowly through the deserted aisles which echoed to the solitary sound of his footsteps. His spirit was torn between the memories that this ancient edifice, once dedicated to the religion of the Moors, traced in his mind, and the feelings that the Christian religion gave birth to in his heart. He saw, at the foot of a column, a motionless figure, which he at first took for a statue over a tomb. He approached; he saw that it was a young knight, kneeling, his head bowed in respect and his arms folded across his chest. The knight did not move at the sound of Aben-Hamet’s footsteps; no distraction, no outward sign of life could disturb his profound state of prayer. His sword lay on the ground before him, and his hat, decked with plumes, was placed on the marble at his side: he seemed as if fixed in that attitude by the agency of some enchantment. It was Lautrec: ‘Ah,’ said the Abencerraje to himself, ‘this young and handsome Frenchman asks some signal favour of the heavens; this warrior, already celebrated for his courage, pours out his heart before the Lord of Heaven, like the humblest and most obscure of men. Let me also pray thus to the God of knighthood and glory.’
Aben-Hamet was about to throw himself headlong onto the marble floor, when he saw, in the lamplight, an Arabic verse from the Koran, which appeared beneath the half-ruined plaster of the wall. Remorse awoke in his heart, and he hastened to leave the building where he had considered renouncing his loyalty to his religion and country.
The cemetery which surrounded the ancient mosque was a species of garden planted with orange-trees, cypress and palm-trees, and watered by two fountains; a cloister enclosed it. Aben-Hamet, passing beneath one of it colonnades, saw a woman about to enter the church. Though she was enveloped by a veil, the Abencerraje recognised the daughter of the Duke of Santa Fé; he stopped her, saying: ‘Dost thou seek Lautrec in this temple?’
‘Forsake these common jealousies,’ Blanca replied; ‘if I no longer loved thee, I would tell thee; I would scorn to deceive thee. I come here to pray for thee, thou alone art now the object of my prayers: I neglect my soul for thine. Thou should’st not have intoxicated me with the poison of thy love, or thou should’st have consented to serve the God I serve. Thou troublest all my family; my brother hates thee, my father is overwhelmed with sorrow, because I refuse to choose a husband. Dost thou not see that my health is suffering? Look on this sanctuary of death; it is enchanted! I will soon be at rest here, if thou dost not hasten to adopt my faith before the Christian altar. The struggles I undergo are slowly undermining my existence; the passion that thou inspirest in me will not support my frail existence forever: consider, O Moor, to speak to thee in thine own language, that the fire which lights the torch is also the fire that consumes it.’
Blanca entered the church, leaving Aben-Hamet overwhelmed by these last words.
It was done: the Abencerraje was vanquished; he would renounce the error of his religion; he had struggled long enough. The fear of seeing Blanca’s death outweighed all other feelings in the heart of Aben-Hamet. After all, he told himself, the God of Christians may well be the true God. That God is still a God of noble souls, since he is worshipped by Blanca, Don Carlos and Lautrec.
Reflecting thus, Aben-Hamet waited impatiently for the following day to make his resolution known to Blanca, and change a life of sadness and tears for a life of joy and happiness. He could not go to the palace of the Duke of Santa Fé until the evening. He learned that Blanca had gone with her brother to the Generalife, where Lautrec was holding a celebration. Aben-Hamet, stirred by fresh suspicions, flew in Blanca’s footsteps. Lautrec blushed on seeing the Abencerraje appear; as for Don Carlos, he received the Moor with cold politeness, behind which esteem was nonetheless evident.
Lautrec had arranged for the finest fruits of
The generous Lautrec, who saw the eyes of Abencerrajes turn despite himself to gaze at Boabdil’s sword, said: ‘Sir Moor, had I anticipated that you would do me the honour to attend my celebration, I would not have received you here. Every day a sword is lost, and I have seen the most valiant of kings surrender his to his fortunate enemy.’
‘Ah,’ cried the Moor, covering his face with a fold of his robe, ‘it is one thing to lose one’s sword as Francis I did; another to do so like Boabdil...!’
Night fell; torches were brought; the conversation
changed direction. Don Carlos was asked to tell of the conquest of
After these speeches, Lautrec, who wanted to amuse the goddess of that gathering, took up a guitar, and sang the ballad he had composed to a tune from the mountains of his country:
How sweet is the remembrance
Of my birthplace that enchants!
My sister, how joyful were those days
O my land, let that love exist, heart says,
Dost thou remember how our mother,
At the entrance to our home there,
Pressed us to her heart, so joyfully
And we kissed her white hair gently,
You and me.
My sister, doth memory yet restore
The chateau bathed by the waters of the Dore,
And that old ancient tower,
Of the Moors,
Where the trumpet sounded, to your bower,
The dawn hour.
Dost thou recall that tranquil lake
Where the agile swallows deftly take
The breeze that sets the bending reed
Till the sun’s rays, on the water, recede
Oh! Who’ll bring back my Helen, to me;
Those mountains; and our old oak-tree?
The memory of them all fills my days
My land, may you be my love, heart says,
he ended the last verse, with his glove wiped away a tear, prompted by his memories
of the noble
‘If it concerns the Infidels, who bemoan our victories,’ Don Carlos retorted scornfully, ‘you may sing; the vanquished are allowed their tears.’
‘Yes,’ said Blanca, ‘and that is why our ancestors, once subjected to the yoke of the Moors, have left so many plaints.’
So Aben-Hamet sang his ballad, which he had been taught by a poet of the tribe of the Abencerrajes:
Don Juan the King
One day out riding
Saw beneath the Sierra
Said he: ‘As I stand,
City so lovely,
My heart I give thee,
With my hand.’
‘I’ll marry thee,
I’ll give to thee,
To serve your will,
Sweet attire, my dove,
And pearls so fine
If thou art mine
Shall mark our love.’
To the Moor, instead,
I’m already wed.
Your gifts leave un-given:
I yet have here,
Rich, lovely gear
And sweet children.’
‘So thou may’st say;
Yet thou errest, today;
O mortal injury!
An accursed Christian,
Of the Abencerraje
Will have the heritage:
So it is written!
The camels shall never
Bring Hadjis from
To the fountain, and room
By the pool, to the tomb.
An accursed Christian,
Of the Abencerraje
Will have the heritage:
So it is written!’
River of green plains!
An accursed Christian,
Of the Abencerraje
Will have the heritage:
So it is written!’
The simplicity of this plaint even moved the proud Don Carlos, despite the imprecations against Christians. He had indeed wished to be granted the dispensation to sing; but as a courtesy to Lautrec had thought he ought to yield to that prior request. Aben-Hamet now gave the guitar to Blanca’s brother, who celebrated the exploits of his illustrious ancestor El Cid:
Set to leave for the shores of
The Cid, all armed, brilliant in valour,
On his guitar, at the feet of Ximena,
Sang these verses dictated by honour:
Ximena had said, ‘Go fight the Moor;
In this, above all, return as the victor.
I’ll believe Rodrigo must truly adore
One he leaves for the love of honour.’
‘Give me my helmet, give me my spear!
I wish to show that Rodrigo’s the braver:
In this battle, to show he’s no fear,
His cry will be: his lady and honour.’
‘Moors praised for thy gallantry,
My noble song, over thine the victor,
The rage of
Since it sings of true love with honour.
In the valleys of our
Christians there will sing of my valour:
He preferred, his God, his king, his Ximena,
To life itself, and above all: his honour.’
Don Carlos seemed so proud, singing these lyrics in a sonorous masculine voice, that he might have been taken for the Cid himself. Lautrec shared his friend’s warlike enthusiasm; but the Abencerraje grew pale at the name of El Cid.
‘That knight,’ he said, ‘whom Christians call the Flower of Battles, has a name among us for his cruelty. If only his mercy had matched his valour...!’
‘His mercy,’ Don Carlos replied, interrupting Aben-Hamet vigorously, ‘surpassed even his courage, and no Moor shall slander the hero to whom my family owes its existence.’
‘What is this, thou sayest?’ cried Aben-Hamet, leaping from the seat where he was reclining: ‘thou countest the Cid amongst thy ancestors?’
‘His blood flows in my veins,’ replied Don Carlos, ‘and I recognise that noble blood by the hatred that burns in my heart for the enemies of my God.’
‘So,’ said Aben-Hamet, gazing at Blanca, ‘thou art of that same House of Bivar that following the conquest of Granada invaded the homes of the unfortunate Abencerrajes and dealt death to an old knight of that name who sought to defend the tomb of his ancestors!’
‘Moor!’ cried Don Carlos, inflamed with anger, ‘Know that I will allow no further questioning. If I today possess the spoils of the Abencerrajes, my ancestors gained them at the cost of their blood, and owe them simply to their prowess with the blade.’
‘One word, yet.’ said Aben-Hamet increasingly troubled: ‘Exiled as we are, we were ignorant of the fact that the Bivars bear the title of Santa Fé: that is what has led to my error.’
‘It was,’ replied Don Carlos, ‘upon that same Bivar,
the conqueror of the Abencerrajes, that the title was conferred by Ferdinand II
bent on his breast: he stood silent between Don Carlos, Lautrec and the
astonished Blanca. Two streams of tears fell from his eyes onto the knife
attached to his waist. ‘Forgive me,’ he said; ‘men,
I know, should not shed tears: from this moment mine will flow no more, though
much remains to weep over: listen to me, Blanca, for my love for thee burns
like the hot winds of
A movement of joy from Blanca, and surprise from Don Carlos, interrupted Aben-Hamet; Lautrec hid his face in his hands. The Moor divined his thoughts, and shook his head with a heartbreaking smile: ‘Knight,’ he said, ‘do not lose all hope; and thou, Blanca, weep forever for the last of the Abencerrajes!’
Blanca, Don Carlos, Lautrec, all three raised their hands to heaven, and exclaimed: ‘The last of the Abencerrajes!’
Silence reigned; fear, hope, hate, love, astonishment, jealousy, stirred their hearts; Blanca soon fell to her knees. ‘God of Kindness,’ she said, ‘Thou justifiest my choice! I could only love a descendant of heroes.’
‘My sister,’ said Don Carlos, with irritation, ‘remember you have Lautrec before you!’
‘Don Carlos’ said Aben-Hamet, ‘quench thy anger: it is for me to grant thee repose.’ Then turning to Blanca who had seated herself again:
‘Heavenly Houri, Spirit of Love and Beauty, Aben-Hamet will be thy slave until his last breath; but know the full extent of his misfortune. The old man slain by thy grandfather in defending his home was my grandfather; learn a further secret that I have hidden, or rather that thou hast made me forget. When I came first to visit this sad country, I had a plan to seek above all some descendant of the Bivars, who could repay in blood that which his fathers had shed.’
‘Well,’ said Blanca, in a mournful voice, but sustaining the tones of a profound spirit; what hast thou resolved?’
‘That alone which is worthy of thee,’ said Aben-Hamet: ‘to absolve thee of thy vows, to fulfil by my eternal absence, and my death, what we both owe to the enmity between our gods, our homelands, and our families. If ever my image fades from thy heart, if time, which destroys everything, erases from thy memory that of the Abencerraje….this French knight…Thou owest thy brother this sacrifice.’
impetuously, and threw himself into the arms of the Moor. ‘Aben-Hamet,’ he
cried, ‘do not think to defeat me in generosity: I am French; Bayard knighted
me; I have shed my blood for my king; I will be, like my sponsor and my Prince, without fear and without reproach. If thou remainest
among us, I beg Don Carlos to grant thee the hand of his sister; if thou leavest
And the young knight pressed the Moor to his breast with the warmth and vivacity of a Frenchman.
‘Sir Knights,’ said Don Carlos, in turn, ‘I expected nothing less from your illustrious origins. Aben-Hamet, by what mark shall I recognize you for the last of the Abencerrajes?’
‘By my conduct,’ said Aben-Hamet.
‘I admire it,’ said the Spaniard; but before you explain, show me some testament to your birth.’
Aben-Hamet drew from his breast the hereditary ring of the Abencerrajes which he wore, suspended from a gold chain.
At this sign, Don Carlos offered his hand to the unfortunate Aben-Hamet. ‘Sir Knight,’ he said, ‘I consider you worthy, and a true son of kings. You honour me by your intentions concerning my family: I accept the combat that you came in search of secretly. If I am vanquished, all my goods, once yours, will be faithfully restored to you. If you renounce the idea of combat: accept what I in turn offer you: become a Christian and receive the hand of my sister, which Lautrec has requested on your behalf.’
The temptation was great, but not beyond the self-control of Aben-Hamet. Though love with all its power spoke to the heart of the Abencerraje, yet he could not think without horror of any idea of uniting the blood of the persecutors to that of the persecuted. He thought he saw the shadow of his grandfather rise from the grave to condemn so unholy an alliance. Pierced with grief, Aben-Hamet cried: ‘Ah, must I meet here such sublime souls, such generous characters, only to feel more deeply what I lose! Let Blanca pronounce my fate; what does she declare I must do to be yet more worthy of her love!’
Blanca cried: ‘Return to the desert!’ and fainted.
Aben-Hamet bowed, offered his adoration to Blanca even
more than to Heaven, and left without uttering a single word. That very
night he departed for
life was at first threatened, returned to health. Lautrec,
true to the promise he had given to the Abencerraje, departed, and never a word
of his love or pain troubled the melancholy daughter of the Duke of Santa Fé. Each
year, Blanca would wander the mountains near
When one leaves
The End of Chateaubriand’s Les Aventures du dernier Abencérage