Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/An adventure in Spain

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Having spent some time in Cadiz, I made up my mind to pay Gibraltar a visit, intending to return and take one more peep at the ancient city before coming back to England. Unfortunately I had put off my journey until the rainy season, so could not anticipate much comfort en route. Though since the establishment of the Civil Guard (a sort of organised police) travellers not only find greater attention paid to their wants and wishes, but, as is proved by the incident I am going to relate, that their property is perfectly safe, even (as an Irishman might say) when lost.

Leaving Cadiz in the last week of December, we went by rail to Chiclano, situated a few miles from Cadiz, like the generality of Spanish towns consisting of narrow, badly-paved streets, flat-roofed houses, and an almeda, which latter is every Sunday thronged with the fashionables of Cadiz, who, finding attractions that escaped my penetration, seem to make it the height of their happiness to have a country house in Chiclano. After engaging horses and guides, we started again for Gibraltar, and for the first ten miles all went so well with us that we were beginning to make light of our anticipated difficulties, when we were forcibly reminded that it was imprudent to holloa until “out of the wood” by reaching the bank of a deep river, the waters of which were swollen to a perfect torrent.

We waited some hours with what patience we might, until, seeing no visible change, we gave up all hope of crossing that night, and turned our horse’s heads back towards Chiclano. At this juncture a shepherd volunteered, for a consideration, to show us another ford, which, however, proved almost as formidable as the first, though from the nature of the stream, and character of the banks, swimming across was barely possible.

After a great deal of persuasion, backed by the promise of a dollar, the man mounted one of the horses, swam him across and back again, thus proving the possibility of the feat, and gaining his reward, which, judging by the demonstrations of delight he evinced, was a rare coin in his possession. All of our party, saving a couple of Spanish officers who preferred going back to Chiclano, crossed in safety. But, alas! our troubles were only beginning. As the rain increased, so did our annoyances; and we had ample opportunity to grumble, and feel rheumatic twinges as we jogged slowly through a wild dreary waste, where neither houses nor trees broke the monotony. At last, after toiling up the steep and difficult approach to Vejen, we found as little consolation, having scarcely a roof to keep out the rain.

At Vejen we fell in with the mail bags, in charge of two men on horseback, who had attempted the road that day, but had been obliged to return, and wait until the change of tide at midnight, all the streams at this point being tidal.

Thinking there was safety in numbers, we joined the escort, proposing to accompany it to Tarbilla, and accordingly started at twelve o’clock, in a perfect deluge of rain, and a pitch dark night—so dark, indeed, that we could only follow by the sound of the bells upon the post-horses. Here, of course, we saw nothing of the scenery, which is however grand, but gloomy, and uninhabited.

At five o’clock we reached Tarbilla, which proved a mere stable, for the sole accommodation of changing the post-horses; not a mouthful of food or even a fire was to be had for love or money; so, wet and miserable as we were, we sat and smoked until nine o’clock, when we got under way for Ojen. Here, again, the floods barred our speedy progress, and the road being naturally of a muddy character, by no means improved our locomotive powers; at one place my poor horse floundered into a deep hole, and in struggling to extricate himself fell, giving me one of the most unpleasant baths I ever remember—one, too, out of which I came off considerably the loser, as I found, on reaching what by comparison may be called terra firma, that I had lost my watch. I was particularly disgusted, as I valued it very much; but, as looking for it was out of the question, there remained nothing for me but to put the best face I could upon the matter, determining, as a forlorn hope, to give notice of my loss to the corporal of the Civil Guard on reaching the station for that district at Facina. This I eventually did, offering at the same time a reward of five hundred reals for its recovery. From Lecinas our road to Algeciras seemed only to grow worse and worse; in fact, in some places it disappeared altogether; and for five days (the longest I ever spent) lay through a wild and magnificent, but uninhabited country, veined with fierce torrents, the crossing of which was a constant scene of difficulty, and even danger. A better idea of our difficulties may be gathered from the fact that though we took five days to accomplish the journey, it is practicable in two, during summer, being only ninety miles in point of distance.

The last part of our journey lay in the great forest through which the Guadalquivir boils and tumbles headlong on its way. Enormous cork trees, with their stripped and bleeding branches, fringed with delicate ferns, abound on every side, and altogether there is a depth of colour, a gloom, and savage grandeur about the whole worthy of Salvator Rosa; and it is a common saying with the French, “that Poussin could not paint it, or M. Joinville take it.” Yet with all its beauty, the discomfort under which I first saw it has connected it with so many unpleasant impressions on my mind, that I doubt much whether I shall ever be able to think of it without a shudder.

After staying a short time at Gibraltar, and being kept in continual remembrance of my misfortunes on the way by the want of my watch, I returned to Cadiz, and there casually informed the consul of my loss, and the reward I had offered, receiving, however, very little comfort.

Months passed by, when to my surprise and joy I received intimation that my watch was found, and actually in the hands of a friend of the British consul at Cadiz, the latter having received it from the corporal, Ramero Fernandez (I record his name for the benefit of fellow travellers), of Facina, to whom I had reported my having lost it. After diligent inquiries had been made, for a long time ineffectually, a young peasant, a native of Tarafa, brought the watch and claimed the reward. It was detained until the fact was made known to the commander of the Civil Guard, thence through him to the consul at Cadiz, from whom I received it.

Thus, after lying several weeks under water, my watch was restored to me, and as it ticks contentedly in my pocket reminds me that time does not stand still, even in Spain, since it has seen the establishment of the Civil Guard.

C. R.