« PreviousContinue »
THE CHESTNUT TREE.
It is a deplorable custom with spendthrifts, when their purses are empty, to replenish them at the cost of the dryads, often cutting down the very trees that have sheltered the most venerable of their ancestors, as well as the timber which wants many years of its proper growth, according to the pressure of their wants. Many foolish persons, again, under false pretences of taste, will root up the sheltering woods and copses, that made comfortable fences against the inclement wind, thus letting in the unmitigated tempest to rage against their bleak naked mansions; both parties being equally mischievous in their way. There are other persons, however, who cut down their oaks, and chestnuts, for much better reasons, as you shall presently hear.
A certain Hidalgo was walking in a lonely plain, in the neighbourhood of Granada, when he was suddenly attacked by a small wild Spanish bull. The spiteful creature, with red sparkling eyes, and a body as black as any coal, made a run at the gentleman so nimbly, that he had barely time to save himself by climbing up a large chestnut-tree; whereupon the wicked beast began to toss about the loose earth with great fury, instead of the human clay he had intended to trifle with. «
There is no such creature in the world as your bull for a revengeful memory, for he will cherish affronts or dislikes for a considerable while; and besides, he takes great pleasure in any premeditated mischief, which he will pursue with a vast deal of patience. Thus, whenever the Hidalgo set his foot upon the ground, the wily animal, who had kept at a convenient distance, immediately ran at him again, so that he was forced to betake himself to the tree with the utmost alacrity. Then the bull would stray farther off, still keeping a wary eye towards the tree; but feeding in the meantime so quietly, that every thought of malice seemed to have quite gone out of his round roguish head; whereas he was ready at a twinkling for a fresh career, his perseverance excelling that of grimalkin, when she sits watching at a mouse's street-door.
The impatient Hidalgo, weary at heart of this game, where all his moves tended to no purpose, at last gave up the point, and removed higher up in the tree, in order to amuse himself with the surrounding prospect, which was now enlivened by the oblique rays of the declining sun. I will wait, said he, till night makes a diversion in my favour, and, like the matadore, hangs her cloak on this wild devil's horns; so turning himself about, from side to side, he began to contemplate the various objects in the distance.
Whilst he was thus occupied, with his eyes turned towards the East, there came two men on foot from the opposite quarter, who, passing beyond the tree, approached the browzing bull without any kind of mistrust. The dissembling creature allowed them to come pretty near, without any suspicion; and then suddenly charging at the two men, they were obliged to run to the tree as the only shelter, and with great difficulty clambered out of reach of his mischievous horns. The animal, being thus foiled for the second time, revenged himself on the hat of one of the travellers, which had been dropped in the race, and then began to feed again at the usual distance.
The two pedlars, for so they seemed, made several attempts, like the Hidalgo, to get away, but the bull still intercepted them in the same manner; so that at last they were fain to dispose themselves as comfortably as they could on a lower branch, and await the pleasure of the animal, to proceed on their way. The Hidalgo being a shy, reserved man by nature, as well as very haughty on account of his nation and his birth, did not choose to make any advances towards his fellow-lodgers in the tree, who by their dress were people of the common sort. The two men, on their part, knew nothing of a third person being perched above their heads; wherefore, to pass away the time, they began to talk over their affairs together, with as much confidence as if they had been sitting in the middle of the great Arabian Desert.
At first the Hidalgo, being much occupied by his own reflections, did not listen very attentively to their discourse ; besides, he had a great contempt for the conversation of such vulgar persons, which would have prevailed over any common curiosity; however, as some sentences reached him against his will, he happened to overhear a name passing between them that made him prick up his ears.
VOL. II. I