Mary Lyman Booth.

Visions and memories; California, nineteen hundred & fifteen online

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ask her all about it ? I chose the latter course, as being the

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THE MYSTERIOUS CHAMBERS

simplest though the least romantic; and found, somewhat
to my disappointment, that there was no mystery in the
case. I was welcome to explore the apartment, and there
was the key.

Thus provided, I returned forthwith to the door. It opened,
as I had surmised, to a range of vacant chambers ; but they
were quite different from the rest of the palace. The archi-
tecture, though rich and antiquated, was European. There
was nothing Moorish about if. The first two rooms were
lofty; the ceilings, broken in many places, were of cedar,
deeply panelled and skilfully carved with fruits and flowers,
intermingled with grotesque masks or faces.

The walls had evidently in ancient times been hung with
damask ; but now were naked and scrawled over by that class
of aspiring travellers who defile noble monuments with their
worthless names. The windows, dismantled and open to wind
and weather, looked out into a charming little secluded gar-
den, where an alabaster fountain sparkled among roses and
myrtles, and was surrounded by orange and citron trees, some
of which flung their branches into the chambers. Beyond
these rooms were two saloons, longer but less lofty, looking
also into the garden. In the compartments of the panelled
ceilings were baskets of fruit and garlands of flowers, painted
by no mean hand, and in tolerable preservation. The walls
also had been painted in fresco in the Italian style, but the
paintings were nearly obliterated ; the windows were in the
same shattered state with those of the other chambers. This
fanciful suite of rooms terminated in an open gallery with
balustrades, running at right angles along another side of the
garden. The whole apartment, so delicate and elegant in its
decorations, so choice and sequestered in its situation along

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THE ALHAMBRA

this retired little garden, and so different in architecture from
the neighboring halls, awakened an interest in its history. I
found on inquiry that it was an apartment fitted up by Italian
artists in the early part of the last century, at the time when
Philip V and his second wife, the beautiful Elizabetta of
Farnese, daughter of the Duke of Parma, were expected at
the Alhambra. It was destined for the queen and the ladies
of her train. One of the loftiest chambers had been her
sleeping-room. A narrow staircase, now walled up, led up to
a delightful belvedere, originally a mirador of the Moorish
sultanas, but which was fitted up as a boudoir for the fair
Elizabetta, and still retains the name of El Tocador de la
Reina, or the queen's toilette.

One window of the royal sleeping-room commanded a
prospect of the Generalife and its embowered terraces ; an-
other looked out into the little secluded garden I have men-
tioned, which was decidedly Moorish in its character, and
also had its history. It was in fact the garden of Lindaraxa,
so often mentioned in descriptions of the Alhambra, but who
this Lindaraxa was I had never heard explained. A little
research gave me the few particulars known about her. She
was a Moorish beauty who flourished in the court of Muhamed
the Left-Handed, and was the daughter of his loyal adherent
the Alcaide of Mdlaga, who sheltered him in his city when
driven from the throne. On regaining his crown, the Alcaide
was rewarded for his fidelity. His daughter had her apart-
ment in the Alhambra, and was given by the king in mar-
riage to Nasar, a young Celtimerian prince descended from
Aben Hud the Just. Their espousals were doubtless cele-
brated in the royal palace, and their honeymoon may have
passed among these very bowers.

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THE QUEEN'S CHAMBER



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THE ALHAMBRA

Four centuries had elapsed since the fair Lindaraxa passed
away, yet how much of the fragile beauty of the scenes she
inhabited remained ! The garden still bloomed in which she
delighted ; the fountain still presented the crystal mirror in
which her charms may once have been reflected ; the alabas-
ter, it is true, had lost its whiteness ; the basin beneath, over-
run with weeds, had become the lurking-place of the lizard,
but there was something in the very decay that enhanced the
interest of the scene, speaking as it did of that mutability,'
the irrevocable lot of man and all his works.

The desolation too of these chambers, once the abode of
the proud and elegant Elizabetta, had a more touching charm
for me than if I had beheld them in their pristine splendor,
glittering with the pageantry of a court.

When I returned to my quarters, in the governor's apart-
ment, everything seemed tame and commonplace after the
poetic region I had left. The thought suggested itself : Why
could I not change my quarters to these vacant chambers ?
that would indeed be living in the Alhambra, surrounded by
its gardens and fountains, as in the time of the Moorish sov-
ereigns. I proposed the change to Dame Antonia and her
family, and it occasioned vast surprise. They could not con-
ceive any rational inducement for the choice of an apartment
so forlorn, remote, and solitary. Dolores exclaimed at its
frightful loneliness ; nothing but bats and owls flitting about
— and then a fox and wildcat kept in the vaults of the neigh-
boring baths, and roamed about at night. The good Tia had
more reasonable objections. The neighborhood was infested
by vagrants ; gypsies swarmed in the caverns of the adjacent
hills ; the palace was ruinous and easy to be entered in many
places ; the rumor of a stranger quartered alone in one of the

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THE MYSTERIOUS CHAMBERS

remote and ruined apartments, out of the hearing of the rest
of the inhabitants, might tempt unwelcome visitors in the
night, especially as foreigners were always supposed to be
well stocked with money. I was not to be diverted from my
humor, however, and my will was law with these good people.
So, calling in the assistance of a carpenter, and the ever offi-
cious Mateo Ximenes, the doors and windows were soon placed
in a state of tolerable security, and the sleeping-room of the
stately Elizabetta prepared for my reception. Mateo kindly
volunteered as a body-guard to sleep in my antechamber ; but
I did not think it worth while to put his valor to the proof.

With all the hardihood I had assumed and all the precau-
tions I had taken, I must confess the first night passed in
these quarters was inexpressibly dreary. I do not think it
was so much the apprehension of dangers from without that
affected me, as the character of the place itself, with all its
strange associations : the deeds of violence committed there ;
the tragical ends of many of those who had once reigned
there in splendor. As I passed beneath the fated halls of the
tower of Comares on the way to my chamber, I called to mind
a quotation, that used to thrill me in the days of boyhood :

" Fate sits on these dark battlements and frowns ;
And, as the portal opens to receive me,
A voice in sullen echoes through the courts
Tells of a nameless deed ! "

The whole family escorted me to my chamber and took
leave of me as one engaged on a perilous enterprise ; and
when I heard their retreating steps die away along the waste
antechambers and echoing galleries, and turned the key of my
door, I was reminded of those hobgoblin stories where the hero
is left to accomplish the adventure of an enchanted house.

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THE ALHAMBRA

Even the thoughts of the fair Elizabetta and the beauties
of her court who had once graced these chambers, now, by
a perversion of fancy, added to the gloom. Here was the
scene of their transient gayety and loveliness; here were
the traces of their elegance and enjoyment ; but what and
where were they ? Dust and ashes ! tenants of the tomb !
phantoms of the memory !

A vague and indescribable awe was creeping over me.
I would fain have ascribed it to the thoughts of robbers
awakened by the evening's conversation, but I felt it was
something more unreal and absurd. The long-buried super-
stitions of the nursery were reviving, and asserting their
power over my imagination. Everything began to be affected
by the working of my mind. The whispering of the wind
among the citron-trees beneath my window had something
sinister. I cast my eyes into the garden of Lindaraxa ; the
groves presented a gulf of shadows, the thickets indistinct
and ghastly shapes. * I was glad to close the window, but my
chamber itself became infected. There was a slight rustling
noise overhead; a bat suddenly emerged from a broken
panel of the ceiling, flitting about the room and athwart my
solitary lamp ; and as the fateful bird almost flouted my face
with his noiseless wing, the grotesque faces carved in high
relief in the cedar ceiling whence he had emerged seemed
to mope and mow at me.

Rousing myself, and half smiling at this temporary weak-
ness, I resolved to brave it out in the true spirit of the hero
of the enchanted house ; so, taking lamp in hand, I sallied
forth to make a tour of the palace. Notwithstanding every
mental exertion the task was a severe one. I had to traverse
waste halls and mysterious galleries, where the rays of the

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THE MYSTERIOUS CHAMBERS

lamp extended but a short distance around me. I walked, as
it were, in a mere halo of light, walled in by impenetrable
darkness. The vaulted corridors were as caverns; the ceil-
ings of the halls were lost in gloom. I recalled all that had
been said of the danger from interlopers in these remote
and ruined apartments. Might not some vagrant foe be
lurking before or behind me, in the outer darkness? My
own shadow, cast upon the wall, began to disturb me. The
echoes of my own footsteps along the corridors made me
pause and look round. I was traversing scenes fraught with
dismal recollections. One dark passage led down to the
mosque where Yusef, the Moorish monarch, the finisher of
the Alhambra, had been basely murdered. In another place
I trod the gallery where another monarch had been struck
down by the poniard of a relative whom he had thwarted in
his love.

A low murmuring sound, as of stifled voices and clanking
chains, now reached me. It seemed to come from the Hall
of the Abencerrages. I knew it to be the rush of water
through subterranean channels, but it sounded strangely in
the night, and reminded me of the dismal stories to which
it had given rise.

Soon, however, my ear was assailed by sounds too fearfully
real to be the work of fancy. As I was crossing the Hall of
Ambassadors, low moans and broken ejaculations rose, as it
were, from beneath my feet. I paused and listened. They
then appeared to be outside of the tower — then again within. ,
Then broke forth howlings as of an animal — then stifled
shrieks and inarticulate ravings. Heard in that dead hour
and singular place the effect was thrilling. I had no desire
for further perambulation, but returned to my chamber with

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THE ALHAMBRA

infinitely more alacrity than I had sallied forth, and drew my
breath more freely when once more within its walls and the
door bolted behind me. When I awoke in the morning, with
the sun shining in at my window and lighting up every part
of the building with his cheerful and truth-telling beams, I
could scarcely recall the shadows and fancies conjured up by
the gloom of the preceding night, or believe that the scenes
around me, so naked and apparent, could have been clothed
with such imaginary horrors.

Still, the dismal howlings and ejaculations I had heard
were not ideal ; they were soon accounted for, however, by
my handmaid Dolores, being the ravings of a poor maniac,
a brother of her aunt, who was subject to violent paroxysms,
during which he was confined in a vaulted room beneath the
Hall of Ambassadors.

In the course of a few evenings a thorough change took
place in the scene and its associations. The moon, which
when I took possession of my new apartments was invisible,
gradually gained each evening upon the darkness of the night,
and at length rolled in full splendor above the towers, pouring
a flood of tempered light into every court and hall. The gar-
den beneath my window, before wrapped in gloom, was gently
lighted up ; the orange and citron trees were tipped with sil-
ver, the fountain sparkled in the moonbeams, and even the
blush of the rose was faintly visible.

I now felt the poetic merit of the Arabic inscription on the
walls : " How beauteous is this garden ; where the flowers
of the earth vie with the stars of heaven. What can compare
with the vase of yon alabaster fountain filled with crystal water?
nothing but the moon in her fulness, shining in the midst of
an unclouded sky ! "

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THE ALHAMBRA

On such heavenly nights I would sit for hours at my win-
dow, inhaling the sweetness of the garden, and musing on
the checkered fortunes of those whose history was dimly
shadowed out in the elegant memorials around. Sometimes,
when all was quiet, and the clock from the distant cathedral
of Granada struck the midnight hour, I have sallied out on
another tour and wandered over the whole building ; but how
different from my first tour ! No longer dark and mysteri-
ous ; no longer peopled with shadowy foes ; no longer recall-
ing scenes of violence and murder ; all was open, spacious,
beautiful ; everything called up pleasing and romantic fancies ;
Lindaraxa once more walked in her garden ; the gay chivalry
of Moslem Granada once more glittered about the Court of
Lions ! Who can do justice to a moonlight night in such a
climate and such a place? The temperature of a summer
midnight in Andalusia is perfectly ethereal. We seem lifted
up into a purer atmosphere ; we feel a serenity of soul, a
buoyancy of spirits, an elasticity of frame, which render mere
existence happiness. But when moonlight is added to all this,
the effect is like enchantment. Under its plastic sway the
Alhambra seems to regain its pristine glories. Every rent
and chasm of time, every mouldering tint and weather stain
is gone ; the marble resumes its original whiteness, the long
colonnades brighten in the moonbeams, the halls are illumi-
nated with a softened radiance, — we tread the enchanted
palace of an Arabian tale !

What a delight, at such a time, to ascend to the little airy
pavilion of the queen's toilette (El Tocador de la Reina),
which, like a bird-cage, overhangs the valley of the Darro, and
gaze from its light arcades upon the moonlight prospect ! To
the right, the swelling mountains of the Sierra Nevada, robbed

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THE MYSTERIOUS CHAMBERS

of their ruggedness and softened into a fairy land, with their
snowy summits gleaming like silver clouds against the deep
blue sky. And then to lean over the parapet of the Tocador
and gaze down upon Granada and the Albaicin spread out
like a map below, all buried in deep repose ; the white palaces
and convents sleeping in the moonshine, and beyond all these
the vapory Vega fading away like a dreamland in the distance.

Sometimes the faint click of castanets rise from the Ala-
meda, where some gay Andalusians are dancing away the
summer night. Sometimes the dubious tones of a guitar and
the notes of an amorous voice tell perchance the whereabout
of some moonstruck lover serenading his lady's window.

Such is a faint picture of the moonlight nights I have
passed loitering about the courts and halls and balconies of
this most suggestive pile ; " feeding my fancy with sugared
suppositions/ ' and enjoying that mixture of reverie and sensa-
tion which steal away existence in a southern climate ; so that
it has been almost morning before I have retired to bed, and
been lulled to sleep by the falling waters of the fountain of
Lindaraxa.



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PANORAMA FROM THE TOWER OF COMARES

IT IS a serene and beautiful morning ; the sun has not
gained sufficient power to destroy the freshness of the
night. What a morning to mount to the summit of the
Tower of Comares and take a bird's-eye view of Granada and
its environs !

Come then, worthy reader and comrade, follow my steps
into this vestibule, ornamented with rich tracery, which opens
into the Hall of Ambassadors. We will not enter the hall,
however, but turn to this small door opening into the wall.
Have a care ! here are steep winding steps and but scanty
light, yet up this narrow, obscure, and spiral staircase the
proud monarchs of Granada and their queens have often as-
cended to the battlements to watch the approach of invading
armies or gaze with anxious hearts on the battles in the Vega.
At length we have reached the terraced roof and may take
breath for a moment while we cast a general eye over the

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PANORAMA FROM TOWER OF COMARES

splendid panorama of city and country, of rocky mountain,
verdant valley, and fertile plain ; of castle, cathedral, Moorish
towers, and Gothic domes, crumbling ruins, and blooming
groves. Let us approach the battlements and cast our eyes
immediately below. See, on this side we have the whole plain
of the Alhambra laid open to us and can look down into its
courts and gardens. At the foot of the tower is the Court of
the Alberca, with its great tank or fishpool, bordered with
flowers ; and yonder is the Court of Lions with its famous
fountain and its light Moorish arcades ; and in the centre of
the pile is the little garden of Lindaraxa, buried in the heart
of the building, with its roses and citrons and shrubbery of
emerald green.

That belt of battlements, studded with square towers, strag-
gling round the brow of the hill, is the outer boundary of the for-
tress. Some of the towers, you may perceive, are in ruins and
their massive fragments buried among vines, fig-trees, and aloes.

Let us look on this northern side of the tower. It is a
giddy height ; the very foundations of the tower rise above
the groves of the steep hillside. And see ! a long fissure in
the massive walls shows that the tower has been rent by some
of the earthquakes which from time to time have thrown
Granada into consternation, and which, sooner or later, must
reduce this crumbling pile to a mere mass of ruin. The deep
narrow glen below us, which gradually widens as it opens
from the mountains, is the valley of the Darro ; you see the
little river winding its way under embowered terraces, and
among orchards and flower-gardens. It is a stream famous
in old times for yielding gold, and its sands are still sifted
occasionally in search of the precious ore. Some of those
white pavilions, which here and there gleam from among

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THE ALHAMBRA

groves and vineyards, were rustic retreats of the Moors to
enjoy the refreshment of their gardens. Well have they been
compared by one of their poets to so many pearls set in a
bed of emeralds.

The airy palace, with its tall white towers and long arcades,
which breasts yon mountain, among pompous groves and
hanging gardens, is the Generalife, a summer palace of the
Moorish kings, to which they resorted during the sultry
months to enjoy a still more breezy region than that of the
Alhambra. The naked summit of the height above it, where
you behold some shapeless ruins, is the Silla del Moro, or
Seat of the Moor, so called from having been a retreat of the
unfortunate Boabdil during the time of an insurrection, where
he seated himself and looked down mournfully upon his
rebellious city.

A murmuring sound of water now and then rises from the
valley. It is from the aqueduct of yon Moorish mill, nearly
at the foot of the hill. The avenue of trees beyond is the
Alameda, along the bank of the Darro, a favorite resort in
evenings and a rendezvous of lovers in the summer nights
when the guitar may be heard at a late hour from the benches
along its walks. At present you see none but a few loitering
monks there and a group of water-carriers. The latter are
burdened with water-jars of ancient Oriental construction,
such as were used by the Moors. They have been filled at
the cold and limpid spring called the Fountain of Avellanos.
Yon mountain path leads to the fountain, a favorite resort of
Moslems as well as Christians ; for this is said to be the
Adinamar (Aynu-1-adamar), the " Fountain of Tears," men-
tioned by Ibn Batuta, the traveller, and celebrated in the
histories and romances of the Moors.

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PANORAMA FROM TOWER OF COMARES

You start ! 't is nothing but a hawk that we have frightened
from his nest. This old tower is a complete breeding-place
for vagrant birds ; the swallow and martlet abound in every
chink and cranny, and circle about it the whole day long;
while at night, when all other birds have gone to rest, the
moping owl comes out of its lurking-place, and utters its
boding cry from the battlements. See how the hawk we have
dislodged sweeps away below us, skimming over the tops of
the trees, and sailing up to the ruins above the Generalife !

I see you raise your eyes to the snowy summit of yon pile
of mountains, shining like a white summer cloud in the blue
sky. It is the Sierra Nevada, the pride and delight of Gra-
nada ; the source of her. cooling breezes and perpetual ver-
dure, of her gushing fountains and perennial streams. It is
this glorious pile of mountains which gives to Granada that
combination of delights so rare in a southern city, — the
fresh vegetation and temperate airs of a northern climate,
with the vivifying ardor of a tropical sun, and the cloudless
azure of a southern sky. It is this aerial treasury of snow,
which, melting in proportion to the increase of the summer
heat, sends down rivulets and streams through every glen
and gorge of the Alpuxarras, diffusing emerald verdure and
fertility throughout a chain of happy and sequestered valleys.

Those mountains may be well called the glory of Granada.
They dominate the whole extent of Andalusia, and may be
seen from its most distant parts. The muleteer hails them,
as he views their frosty peaks from the sultry level of the
plain ; and the Spanish mariner on the deck of his bark, far,
far off on the bosom of the blue Mediterranean, watches them
with a pensive eye, thinks of delightful Granada, and chants,
in low voice, some old romance about the Moors.



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THE ALHAMBRA

See to the south at the foot of those mountains a line of arid
hills, down which a long train of mules is slowly moving. Here
was the closing scene of Moslem domination. From the summit
of one of those hills the unfortunate Boabdil cast back his last
look upon Granada, and gave vent to the agony of his soul. It is
the spot famous in song and story, " The last sigh of the Moor.'!

Further this way these arid hills slope down into the lux-
urious Vega, from which he had just emerged : a blooming
wilderness of grove and garden, and teeming orchard, with
the Xenil winding through it in silver links, and feeding
innumerable rills ; which, conducted through ancient Moor-
ish channels, maintain the landscape in perpetual verdure.
Here were the beloved bowers and gardens, and rural pavil-
ions, for which the unfortunate Moors fought with such des-
perate valor. The very hovels and rude granges, now inhabited
by boors, show, by the remains of arabesques and other taste-
ful decoration, that they were elegant residences in the days
of the Moslems. Behold, in the very centre of this eventful
plain, a place which in a manner links the history of the Old
World with that of the New. Yon line of walls and towers
gleaming in the morning sun is the city of Santa Fe, built
by the Catholic sovereigns during the siege of Granada, after
a conflagration had destroyed their camp. It was to these
walls Columbus was called back by the heroic queen, and
within them the treaty was concluded which led to the dis-
covery of the Western World. Behind yon promontory to
the west is the bridge of Pinos, renowned for many a bloody
fight between Moors and Christians. At this bridge the mes-
senger overtook Columbus when, despairing of success with
the Spanish sovereigns, he was departing to carry his project
of discovery to the court of France.

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Online LibraryMary Lyman BoothVisions and memories; California, nineteen hundred & fifteen → online text (page 7 of 25)