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AMONG THE FLAMINGOES. Ill

and their graceful necks neatly curled away among their
back-feathers like a sitting swan, with the heads resting
on their breasts — all these points were unmistakable.
Indeed, as regards the disposition of their legs, it is hardly
necessary to point out that in the great majority of cases
(the nests being hardly raised above the level of the mud)
no other position was possible — to sit astride on a flat
surface is out of the question.

Still none of the crowded nests contained a single egg.
How strange it is that the flamingo, a bird which never
seems happy unless half-way up to his knees in water,



FLAMINGOES AND NESTS.



should so long delay the period of incubation : for, long
before eggs could be laid and hatched in these nests and
the young reared, the full summer-heats of June and July
would have set in, the water would have entirely dis-
appeared, and the flamingoes would be left stranded in the
midst of a scorching desert of dry, sun-baked mud.

Being unable myself to return to the marisma, I sent
Felipe back there on the 26th of May, when he obtained
eggs — long, white and chalky, some specimens extremely
rough. Two is the number laid in each nest. In 1872
the writer obtained eggs taken on May 24th, which is
therefore, probably, about the average date of laying.



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112 WILD SPAIN.

Owing to the late period at which incubation takes place,
we have not had an opportunity of examining the young
flamingoes when newly-hatched, or of endeavouring to solve
the biological problems which appear to cluster round their
adolescent anatomy. In June and July, 1872, the writer
spent some time in the marisma, but unfortunately was
not aware, at that time, of the interest attaching to these
points.

According to native accounts, very few young flamingoes
are ever reared in Spain. Though in wet seasons eggs are
laid in thousands (they are sold by boatloads in the
neighbouring villages), yet few, if any, of the young
Spanish flamingoes reach maturity — possibly by reason
of their lateness in nesting, and the rapid changes in the
state of the water in the marisma.

In the spring of 1891, after an exceptionally severe
winter in Spain, and with comparatively little water in the
marisma, flamingoes were remarkably scarce, and we
believe that none bred in Andalucia that year.

Since the author's description of the nesting habits of the
flamingo first appeared in the Ibis (January, 1884), its
accuracy has been corroborated by independent observa-
tions made on the West Indian island of Abaco by His
Excellency (now Sir) H. H. Blake, when Governor of the
Bahamas. The value of the corroboration is enhanced by
the fact that the above-named gentleman was unaware at
the time he wrote that the long-vexed question had already,
three years previously, been solved : and his graphic
description in the Nineteenth Century for December, 1887,
is, as regards facts, almost identical with the present
writer's account of a similar scene narrated in the Ibis for
January, 1884.

One other point before we leave the flamingo and
its haunts. We have seen it stated that the brilliant
colours of the flamingo do but reflect the brilliancy of
its environment — that these bright colours have been
acquired through the aesthetic tastes of the bird and by
" selective preference " ; then, proceeding to enlarge on a
** fascinating theory," its expounder goes on from particular



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AMONG THE FLAMINGOES. IIB

to general, and to demonstrate that this Darwinian princi-
ple is generally operative in ornithic coloration. Whether
birds in general have or have not aesthetic tastes in the
matter of coloration or ornament, we are not prepared to
say : but to our less imaginative minds it is a question
whether there exists in nature a shred of real evidence in
support of such a hypothesis. The flamingo truly has a
brilliant plumage, but 7iever a brilliant environment. No
one who has been intimately acquainted with these birds
in their haunts could have conceived such a sentiment ; for
anything less brilliant than the bleak and tawny monotony
which characterizes the chosen homes of the flamingo it*
would be impossible to imagine. The flamingo itself,
indeed, is the one solitary speck of pure bright colour
amidst the broad leagues of mud and muddy water which
it so conspicuously ornaments. Other birds are there, it is
true, but to them the same remark applies. They, also,
are as bright, pure and conspicuously diflferent from their
environment as are the flamingoes. What more exquisite
examples of bright, spotless beauty amidst strongly con-
trasted surroundings than the stilts and avocets, the lovely
southern herons, egrets and spoonbills, the gulls and
marsh-terns? These are but a handful of examples
fatal to such a theory, and they could easily be multiplied
indefinitely.

That many brilliant bird-forms aflfect brilliant surround-
ings, that the fauna of the cold and colourless north in
general lacks the gorgeous hues of certain denizens of the
tropics, or, again, that many creatures possess hues assimi-
lated to the general tone of their destined haunts — all
these are /acf« which we readily recognize. But are such
facts much more than coincidences? Or is it wise to
deduce any binding rules or axiom therefrom ? As regards
protective assimilation in colour, that is quite a different
thing : its advantages are self-evident, and its application
more or less universal throughout the animal-world, but it
is hardly to the point. Protective coloration we recognize
and understand — it is an every-day phenomenon — but
aesthetic tastes in colour we utterly reject.



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114 WILD SPAIN.

The composition of the human mind is midoubtedly
speculative : and to those of deep thought, as distinguished
from others the bent of whose energies tends rather towards
action, the temptation to theorize — to venture on the
dangerous regions of inference and deduction — appears
irresistible. The contemplative thinker formulates theories
the apparent beauty of which fascinate his imagination.
Collateral evidence which seems to substantiate, is, in
general, not difficult to find — that of a negative or preju-
dicial character is not sought. Then with a mind uncon-
sciously biassed in favour of a preconceived idea, it may
happen that probabilities are mistaken for facts, evidence
for proof : and thus a new hypothesis is duly launched,
based on ten, fifty, or a hundred adduced circumstances, the
whole of which may be merely coincidences, and exceptions
to the rule if applied to the millions of unadduced cases,
and perhaps, even in relation to the particular examples
cited, of no direct bearing in the sense in which it is sought
to apply them.

As an example of the class of theories alluded to, we
have read that the colours of the sea-gull tribe are dark
above and light below in order, on the one hand, that they
may escape the searching scrutiny of the eagle soaring
above, and, on the other, avoid alarming their finny prey
beneath. If there was anjrthing in this idea, it would, at
least, be a hard case for those sea-birds not so coloured,
and it should be added that of the birds which are so
coloured several species take three or four years to attain
adult dress. How do they survive those earlier years ?
But a very slight acquaintance with the subjects in life
shows that there is actually nothing in it. Lying in one's
gunning-punt, the whitest-breasted gulls, as viewed from
below against the lightest of cloud backgrounds, are seen
as clearly as if the bird's colour was actually black. Every
detail of form and movement is clearly distinguishable —
the clean-cut wings and tail, legs pressed close up under
4;he latter, the pointed head turning from side to side as it
searches the waters. Its colour makes no diflference, and
is no factor at all. Then from high above, from the heights



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AMONG THE FLAMINGOES. 115

of a sea-cliff, what man of even moderate vision cannot
distinguish with equal ease the movements of the black-
backed gull from those of the pale herring-gull and paler
tern? And both eagles and surface-swimming fish are
infinitely keener of vision than the sharpest-eyed of our
kind.



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116 WILD SPAIK.



CHAPTER X.

BRIGANDAGE IN SPAIN.

SKETCHES OF TWO ROBBER-TYPES.

I.^ — ^VlZCO EL BORJE.

The existence of the brigand, it would appear, is desir-
able in order to cast a glamour of heroism over the
adventures of travellers in foreign lands. Many Penin-
sular tourists mention encounters with " brigands," and
according to some books on Spanish travel, their authors
were frequently experiencing hair-breadth escapes from
these gentry, who were, of course, bristling as to their
persons with deadly weapons— as is, in fact, nearly every
harmless peasant or goatherd one may meet in the wilds.
The tendency to overcolour is, perhaps, natural to imagi-
native writers ; but it is a mistake to rush to the other
extreme, and to deny in toto the survival of this fra-
ternity in modem Spain.

In his " Gatherings from Spain " — one of the best books
ever written — ^Ford draws a picture of Spanish brigandage,
actual and imaginary, and diagnoses the whole status of
these " men of the road," as it existed in his day, with a
knowledge and terseness that cannot be excelled. And
although Ford wrote fifty years ago, yet his remarks stand
substantially correct at the present day ; the only change of
importance being that measure of reclamation which half a
century of equal laws has succeeded in effecting in the
prowling gitano or gypsy, in Ford's day a lawless pariah,
the curse of rural Spain.



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BRIGANDAGE IN SPAIN. 117

Though nowadays the traveller may, and probably would,
traverse Iberia in every direction without personal molesta-
tion, yet the race of Jose Maria, the Jack Sheppard of the
Peninsula, whose safe-conduct was more effective than
that of his king, is not extinct, though, like other rapacious
animals, his home is now confined to mountain-fastnesses,
whence he only emerges to seize by a sudden coup some
opportunity for plunder, of which his satellites have sent
him notice — for, by profuse generosity and terrorism, the
ladron en grande holds the sparse hill-peasantry in a bond
of allegiance.

Putting on one side the conventional and highly-coloured
notions that pass current, the condition of bandolerismo,
or brigandage, at the present day may be thus defined : —
There is first the noble outlaw, or " professional " robber-
king, a rare and meteoric personage, of whom anon ; and
there are the sneaking petty pilferers who rob as oppor-
tunity serves, or as their wild environment almost suggests.
These voltigeurs of the road are normally peasants, goat-
herds, or mere good-for-nothings; content to confine
their energies to minor larcenies, and whose poor am-
bitions soar no higher than relieving solitary wayfarers
of their watches, loose cash, &c., as happened to a friend
of ours while traversing the sierras between Patema and
Alcald. Though a fight is no part of these footpads'
tactics, yet in favourable situations a single hidden
scoundrel may command the way, and dominate a dozen
travellers who know not whether that sudden summons to
Iialt and lay down their loose goods and chattels proceeds
from one or from a score of assailants, concealed amid the
tumbled rocks and dense underwood of a narrow pass.
And, after all, it is probably wiser, if caught in such a trap,
to lose a few dollars than to risk life.

Very different is the character of the noble robber-chief,
or ladron en grande. In this man who leads the lawless,
and, by force of predominant will, controls and commands
a cut-throat gang, but ill-disposed either to subjection or
discipline, there are qualities that, rightly directed, might
attain any object sought — qualities of moral force, courage,



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118 WILD SPAIN.

and an iron will, that one cannot but admire. Men of
this calibre appear but at intervals ; for " nature is
chary in the production of such specimens of dangerous
grandeur.'* Such a man was Jose Maria; and of late
years a fine example has been afforded by the notorious
outlaw, Vizco el Borje, of whose methods of procedure the
following incident, as narrated to us almost in the words
of its principal victim, will serve to give a good idea.

At the little mountain-village of Zahrita it is the
custom to celebrate the annual festival of its patron saint,
San Antonio, by an amateur bull-fight, a performance at
which the smartest of the young bloods of the village take
the principal parts. For many years it had been the habit
of the owner of the neighbouring pasturages to provide the
bulls for this annual function free of charge ; and on the
eve of the festival the son of the well-to-do proprietor, Don
Pedro de M , was, with his steward Diego, and a herds-
man, engaged in selecting some of the most fiery and
active young bulls. Both were dismounted, and, rein in
hand, were walking round the herd, when they were
suddenly arrested by a sharp summons to halt and
surrender. Then, turning round, they found themselves
face to face with the muzzles of three levelled guns bear-
ing upon them — the three mounted men having stolen up
behind and taken them unawares. Resistance under such
circumstances was out of the question. The guns of both
Pedro and his servant hung in their saddle-slings, but any
movement in that direction would have brought instant fire
upon them. Before they had well recovered from their
surprise, one of the brigands coolly dismounted and took
possession of both their guns, the other pair meanwhile
each keeping his man well *' covered." The unlucky Pedro
was now completely at the mercy of his aggressors. At
the order of one of these, evidently the chief, the prisoners
remounted and followed his lead, the others closing in
behind, and precluding all chance of escape, except at the
risk — or certainty — of being shot down. The guide took a
line leading towards the higher sierra, and avoiding the
frequented track. Arrived in a densely close thicket, the



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BRIGANDAGE IN SPAIN. 119

cavalcade halted, and one man was sent forward to recon-
noitre. A shrill whistle was heard in that direction, and
presently nine other horsemen rode in. The captives were
now ordered to dismoimt, their eyes were closely bandaged,
and they were informed that their lives depended on
implicit obedience to orders, and that it was better for
them to see nothing and to hear less — the latter an almost
mmecessary injunction, since hardly a word had been
spoken. For hours the captives were led forward, their
horses stumbling along a rocky ascent, and they presently
knew, by the absence of brushwood, that they had reached
the higher regions of the sierra ; then a halt was ordered,
they were assisted to dismount, and led on foot along a
passage whose echoing sounds told them it was sub-
terranean. Here, in an extensive cavern, probably the
long-abandoned workings of a Eoman mine, his eyes were
unbandaged, and Pedro found himself in the presence of
his three original assailants. The only furniture in the
cave consisted of a few empty boxes ; on one of these
glimmered a flickering wick in a saucerful of oil. The
robber-leader drew up another box for a seat, and produc-
ing writing materials, ordered Pedro to write to his dicta-
tion as follows : — " My dear father, I am in the power of
sequestradores, who make good plans and bind fast. It is
madness to put Government on their track — ^they will
escape and you will lose your son. Your secrecy and
money at once free me. You can send the silver by Diego,
our steward, who bears you this. Let him appear on the
mountain-road between Grazalema and El Bosque, riding
a white donkey, and bringing ten thousand dollars." . .
. . At this point the prisoner, who had so far written as
directed, stopped short, and point-blank refused to demand
such a sum — declaring he would not take from his
brothers any part of their patrimony, and that the only
sum he would accept of his father was such as might fall
to him as one of a numerous family. The fairness of this,
and the imdaunted attitude of Pedro, seemed to please the
brigand, who declared, with a shake of his hand, that
whatever bargain was struck should be honourably adhered



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120 WILD SPAIN.

to. The sum of 6,000 dollars was then inserted, the mis-
sive signed and sealed, and Diego, who had remained
blindfold, was led to a point in the sierra which was
familiar to him, his eyes unbandaged, and told to make
the best of his way with the note to Jerez. This, as the
dawn was just breaking, he had no difficulty in doing
before night.

After Diego's departure, the chief invited his captive to
sup with him and join in a borracha (skin) of wine, under
whose influence the bandit became more genial, and
related certain facts concerning his personal history. He
had formerly been an officer of carabineros^ but being dis-
missed for some, as he held, trifling fault, all means of
subsistence were denied to him, and losing caste step by
step, there had gradually developed in his breast an intense
hatred of all social arrangements, which had finally led to
his present state of outlawry. First he had been a smug-
gler, but, as the Spanish proverb runs, —

" De contrabandista d ladron
No hay mas que un escalon."
(From a smuggler to a thief
The step is short, the time is brie£)

Little by little his revolt against law and order led him
into further excesses and more outrageous acts of crime.
The daring courage and character of the man had attracted
rogues of lesser caUbre to his side, and now Vizco el Borje
was the acknowledged chief of the party of plunder and
anarchy.

The following night another party of robbers arrived :
the captive was again blindfolded, and the dark journey
resumed. For three days and nights the same course was
pursued — the brigands each morning at dawn going to
ground in a fresh earth. An amusing incident occurred
during one of these nocturnal marches. The cavalcade was
suddenly brought to a stop, and the words passed down
the line — Civiles, civiles ! The prisoner now hoped that his
deliverance was at hand ; the chief ordered his band to
close up their ranks — the prisoner being removed some
yards to the rear — and to prepare to fire. During the



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BRIGANDAOE IN SPAIN. 121

panicy and amidst the clicking of locks^ Pedro took the
opportunity of slightly raising his bandage. The robbers
were halted on a narrow ledge of the mountain-side — a
sheer rock- wall behind and a precipitous slope below mak-
ing any lateral movement impossible. A direct retreat was
of course available, but this did not commend itself to the
chief, who, under the shadow of the cliff, had the approach-
ing horsemen at a disadvantage. The clatter of hoofs



CIVIL GUARDS.

sounded nearer and nearer, and as the first beast appeared
on the ledge it was evident there had been a false alarm*
The heavily-laden transport of a gang of smugglers
advanced along the narrow track, and as they slowly filed
past the robber-troop, the only words that passed were
Buenos noches ! and the reply Vayan ustedes con Dios !
Good night, and God go with you !
On the second night Yizco had left his captive, saying he



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122 WILD SPAIN.

had other work in hand: but, a day or two afterwards,
Pedro received a message from him, stating that, owing to
the vigilance of the authorities, no opportunity had offered
itself of meeting Diego and the white donkey at the
appointed tryst : and instructing him again to write to his
father, with fresh directions to forward half the stipulated
ransom to Grazalema, where means would be found of
receiving it — the other half to be borne by the white
donkey to a freshly-appointed spot among the hills.
Overjoyed at receiving this second assurance that his son
still lived, the father, though an old man, set off at once,
with six hundred pounds in cash, on the long ride to
Grazalema. Then for two days he hung about its precipi-
tous streets in an agony of suspense almost unendurable.
No one spoke to him till the third morning, when a man
leading a pony laden with the rough woollen cloth which
is made in Grazalema and forms the staple industry of the
little town, accosted him as he passed with the words —
" Follow me." The pony was stopped before a small shop
wherein some of the same woollen cloths were exposed for
sale : and passing through into the small back-room, the
old father found a man seated whose appearance was that
of a cloth-pedlar — men who with their sturdy ponies carry
on a trade or barter of these coarse woollens throughout
the sierras.

After the customary Andalucian exchange of civilities,
the pedlar, looking the old man straight in the face, said,
" Have you the three thousand dollars ? You know this ? "
and he produced Pedro's pencil-case. The. money was at
the posada, and soon the old man, ripping up the stuffing
of his saddle, returned to the pedlar*s shop with that sum.
The money was counted out, and Vizco el Borje, springing
on top of that honest-looking freight of coarse cloth, was
soon clear of the streets of Grazalema and steering his
pony to some well-known mountain-lair.

While these events were occurring in Grazalema poor
Diego was wearying of his long-delayed assignation. For
three days he and his white donkey hung about the remote
spot which had been indicated : and at last, on the third



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BRIGANDAGE IN SPAIN. 128

evening, as he was entering the village of Benocaz, a goat-
herd said, " At the well beyond the village you will find a
woman in black who will direct you to those you seek."
He passed along the line of white casitas which form the
only street of Benocaz, and by the old Moorish draw-well
beyond sat a woman in black. As directed by the goat-
herd, he addressed her, " Que hora es ? " and the reply,
" Las doccy' was what he had been told to expect. The
woman at once struck over into the hills till she reached a
well-worn track and directed Diego to follow this till
accosted by a shepherd. He did as he was bidden,, and
after two hours* rough riding over the dark hill, heard the
same words, " Qiie hora es ? " " Las doce,'' he replied, and
was piloted by this new guide to a cavern, in which, to his in-
tense joy, he found his young master, alive and well. The
money was at once paid over, and though at first the
brigands refused to release their captive on the ground that
only half the stipulated sum had been brought, yet sus-
pense did not last long, for during the night a messenger
from Vizco arrived, announcing the due payment of the
other half, and instructing the robbers at once to set free
their prisoners, and to place them on a road which they
would know. And on the following evening, after a cap-
tivity of fifteen days, Pedro rode once more into the city
of Jerez.

Since the above was written Vizco el Borje has died —
died as a robber-chieftain should die, by the rifle-ball.
Several times, towards the end, his Ufe was only saved by
his magnificent pluck and resource. But at last, while
campaigning in the Sierra Morena, not far from C6rdova,
his whereabouts became known to the authorities — pre-
sumably through treachery — and after a series of desperate
deeds of bravery, the bold brigand was finally surrounded,
all retreat cut off, and Vizco el Borje fell with five bullets in
his body.

We now give a brief history of a robber of the other
type— and, incidentally, of the vagaries of judicial justice
in Spain.



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124 WILD SPAIN.



II. — AOUA-DULCE.

Agua-Dulce lacked the character of the noble brigand ;
but was so successful in a long course of perpetual petty
robberies, and in invariably escaping justice when caught,
that he had become a terror to the neighbourhood of Jerez.
To the simple folk whose duties took them to the
sequestered farmsteads or along the lonely reredas, or
bridle-tracks, leading towards the sierras, there appeared
to be something " uncanny " about this ratetiUo. Agua-
Dulce was one of those men who acquire much fame
without having done anything to justify it. As a robber,



Online LibraryFrancis WhartonWharton and Stillé's medical jurisprudence .. → online text (page 10 of 36)