Continuing with the theme of water and scary stuff, here's a short story by one of my favorite Spanish writers. I translated it a few years ago for my middle-school students.
by Gustavo Adolfo BÚcquer
For a long time I have wanted to write something using this title. Now that the occasion has presented itself, I have written it in large letters across the first sheet of paper and have allowed the pen to fly at will. I think I have seen eyes like those I have painted in this legend. Perhaps only in dreams, but I have seen them. Of course it is impossible to describe them just as they were, luminous, transparent, like drops of rain that slip down the leaves of trees after a summer storm. In any case, I am counting on the imagination of my readers in order to make myself understood in this which we could call a sketch of a picture I will paint some day.
"The stag runs, woundedů he is wounded; there's no doubt. Traces of blood can be seen in the bramble, and after jumping one of those mastic trees his legs have weakened... Our young lord begins where others end... In forty years as a hunter I have not seen a better hit... But by Saint Saturio, patron of Soria, cut him off at those holly oaks, urge on the dogs, blow on those horns until you're out of breath and sink the iron of your spurs into the flanks of your steeds! Don't you see that he's headed toward Poplar Fount, and if he reaches it before dying we might as well give him up for lost?"
The hollows of Mount Moncayo echoed repeatedly with the blare of the trumpets, the yelping of the unchained pack of hounds and the shouting of the pages, resounding now with renewed fury. The confused rush of men, horses, and dogs headed toward the place which ═˝igo, master of the hunt for the Marquis of Almenar, had pointed out as the most suitable for intercepting the animal.
But it was useless. When the most agile coursing hound reached the holly oaks, panting, its jaws covered in foam, it found that the stag, swift as an arrow, had already cleared them in a single leap, disappearing within the thickets of a trail that lead to the fountain.
"Stop! Everyone stop!" ═˝igo then shouted. "It was God's will that he escape."
The troop halted, the trumpets fell silent, and the hounds, growling, abandoned the trail at the call of the hunters. In that moment the hero of the feast, Fernando of Argensola, first born son of the Marquis of Almenar, joined his retinue.
"What are you doing?" he exclaimed, addressing his huntsman, amazement on his face, fury already burning in his eyes. "What are you doing, idiot? The game is wounded, the first to fall by my hand, and you abandon the scent and let it escape to die in the depths of the forest! Whatů do you think I've come to kill deer so wolves can feast on them?"
"My lord," muttered ═˝igo between his teeth, "It is impossible to pass this point."
"Impossible? And why is that?"
"Because that path," continued the hunter, "Leads to Poplar Fount; Poplar Fount, in whose waters an evil spirit dwells. He who dares to muddy its current will pay a high price for his boldness. The animal has probably already reached its banks; how will your lordship catch it without bringing upon his head some horrible calamity? We hunters are the kings of Mount Moncayo, but kings that pay a tribute. Any game that takes refuge in that mysterious spring is considered lost."
"Lost? I would rather lose the lands and titles of my parents, would rather lose my soul in Satan's hands than allow this stag to escape me, the only one my arrow has wounded, the first fruit of my excursions as a hunter... Do you see it? Do you see it? It can still be made out at intervals from here... its legs are faltering, its pace is slowing; let me through... let me through... release the bridle rein or I'll knock you down in the dirt... How do you know I'm not merely giving him time to reach the spring? And even if he has reached it, to hell with it, its transparent waters and its inhabitants. On, Relampago! Get up, my steed! If you catch up to it, I will have the diamonds of my crown set in your golden nose-band."
Horse and rider departed like a hurricane.
═˝igo followed them with his eyes until they disappeared into the underbrush and then looked about him; everyone remained motionless, as terrified as he.
Presently the hunter exclaimed:
"Gentlemen, you have seen it. I have risked my life between the legs of his horse in order to stop him. I have fulfilled my duty. Bravado does not impress the Devil."
"You seem pale; you go about gloomy and sad; what has happened to you? Ever since that ill-fated day on which you reached Poplar Fount on the heels of that wounded beast, one might say some evil witch has weakened you with her spells.
"You no longer ride into the woods, the noisy pack before you, nor does the clamor of your trumpets echo through the hills. Now, chased by whatever disturbing thoughts haunt you, you grab your crossbow every morning and set out for the deep woods, where you remain until the sun is hidden. When night has fallen and you return, pallid and exhausted, to the castle, I search in vain through the game bag for the spoils of the hunt. What is it that keeps you far from those who so love you during such long hours?"
While ═˝igo spoke, Fernando, absorbed in his own thoughts, used his hunting knife to mechanically pare slivers of black from the ebony bench. After a long silence, broken only by the squeak of his blade sliding across the shiny wood, the young man exclaimed, addressing his servant as if he hadn't heard a single word.
"═˝igo, you're old; you know all the lairs of Moncayo, you've lived most of your life on its slopes chasing wild animals, and in your wanderings you've climbed more than once to its summit. So tell me: have you ever encountered by chance a woman living among its boulders?"
"A woman!" exclaimed the old hunter, astonished and staring fixedly at his lord.
"Yes," said the young man. "A strange thing has happened to me... I thought I could keep my secret forever, but this is no longer possible; it overflows from my heart and slowly appears upon my face. So I'm going to reveal it to you... You will help me clear up the mystery which shrouds this being, which apparently exists only in my imagination, since no one else knows of her, nor has seen her, nor can give me any information about her."
The hunter, without opening his mouth, dragged his stool over next to his lord's bench. He didn't turn his terrified eyes the slightest bit away from the young noble, who, after pausing to gather his thoughts, continued in this manner:
"Ever since the day when, despite your dismal predictions, I reached Poplar Fount and, crossing its waters, recovered the deer your superstition would have allowed to escape, my heart has been filled with a longing for solitude.
"You don't know that place. You see, the fountain, hidden in the bosom of a rock, springs forth and falls, sliding drop by drop down the green floating leaves of plants that grow at the edge of its source. Those drops, which when falling shine like bits of gold and sound like notes from some magical instrument, run together in the grass, whispering, whispering, with a noise like the buzzing of bees round flowers, then flow away through the sand, forming channels, fighting with obstacles in their path, doubling back on themselves, and finally jump and flee and run, at times laughing, at times sighing, until they fall into a lake with an indescribable sound. I have heard cries, words, names, songs, and God knows what else in that quiet sound while sitting, alone and feverish, upon the boulder where the waters of the spring leap and then fall silent in the depths of a pool whose still surface is barely stirred by the afternoon wind.
"Everything there inspires awe. Solitude with its thousand unknown whispers lives there and makes the spirit drunk with unspeakable melancholy. In the silvery leaves of the poplar trees, in the hollows of the rocks, in the ripples of water, it seems the invisible spirit of Nature speaks to us, perhaps recognizing a brother in the immortal spirit of Man.
"When, at the break of day, you would see me grab my crossbow and head toward the woods, it was not to loose myself within its brush on the trail of some animal. No. I would go sit at the edge of the spring, searching in its waves... I don't know what for. It's crazy, I know, but... the day that I jumped across that pond on Relampago's back, I thought I saw a strange thing glowing in its depths... very strange... a woman's eyes.
"Maybe it was just a sunbeam winding furtively through the spray, or one of those flowers with outer coverings that look like emeralds which float among the water plants growing at the bottom... I don't know. I thought I saw eyes staring into mine, a gaze that set an absurd and unattainable desire to burning in my chest: to find a person with eyes like those. With this purpose, I returned to that place day after day.
"Finally, one afternoon... You know, I thought I was the plaything of some dream, but no... it's true. I've spoken to her many times already, just as I'm speaking to you now... Anyway, one afternoon I found, sitting in my place and wearing robes which trailed to the water and floated on the surface, a woman beautiful beyond all imagination. Her hair was like gold, her eyelashes gleamed like threads of light, and between them her irises turned restlessly, irises that I had seen before... yes, because that woman's eyes were of an impossible color..."
"Green!" ═˝igo exclaimed with profound terror as he leapt from his stool.
Fernando looked at him, shocked that the old hunter had finished his sentence. With a mixture of anxiety and happiness he asked, "You know her?"
"Oh, no!" ═˝igo replied. "God save me from ever meeting her! But my parents, when forbidding me from going to the fount, told me a thousand times that the spirit, goblin, demon or woman that inhabits its waters has eyes of that color. I beg you, my lord, in the name of all you hold dear in this world, never to return to Poplar Fount. One day or another, its curse will fall on you, and you will pay for having muddied its waves with your very life."
"In the name of all I hold dear..." the young man muttered with a sad smile.
"Yes," the old man continued, "For your parents, for your relatives, for the tears of whatever woman Heaven has destined to be your wife and those of a servant who watched you be born..."
"Do you know what I hold most dear in this world? Do you know what I'd exchange the love of my father, the kisses of my mother, and all the affection stored in all the women on the face of the earth for? For another look, just one long look into those eyes... How could I ever stop searching for them?"
Fernando said these words with such conviction that the tear which trembled in ═˝igo's eyelashes slipped silently down his cheek as he declared with a somber groan:
"God's will be done!"
"Who are you? From what kingdom do you hail? Where do you dwell? I come day after day in search of you, but I see neither the steed that brings you to this place nor the servants that carry your litter. Rip once and for all the mysterious veil in which you wrap yourself up as if in darkest night. I love you, and, be you noble or common, I will be yours, yours forever..."
The sun had slipped behind the summit of the mountain; shadows descended its slopes in rapid strides; the breeze moaned among the poplars near the fountain, and the fog, lifting gradually from the surface of the lake, began to swallow the boulders at its edge.
Upon one of these boulders, one that seemed about to plunge into the depths of the water whose surface reflected his trembling image, the first-born of Almenar, on his knees at the feet of his mysterious love, attempted in vain to tear from her the secret of her existence.
She was beautiful, beautiful and pale like an alabaster statue. One of her curls fell over her shoulder, slipping between the folds of her veil like a shaft of sunlight that bores through the clouds, and from between her blond eyelashes her irises shone like two emeralds set in some golden piece of jewlery.
When the young man had finished talking, her lips moved as if to pronounce some words, but they only exhaled a sigh, a weak, pained sigh, like that of the light ripple that a breeze creates as it dies among the rushes.
"You don't answer me!" Fernando exclaimed, seeing his hopes dashed. "Do you want me to credit the things they've told me about you? Oh! No... speak to me; I want to know whether you love me, I want to know whether I can love you, whether you're a woman, or..."
"Or a demon. And if I were?"
The young man hesitated a moment; a cold sweat ran down his limbs; his pupils dilated as they fixed on those of the woman, and, obsessed by their phosphorescent glow, nearly insane, he exclaimed in an outburst of passion:
"If you were..., I'd love you as I love you now, as is my destiny to love you, even beyond this life, if there is something beyond it."
"Fernando," the beautiful figure then said with a voice like music, "I love you even more than you love me; I, pure spirit, have taken on mortality for you. I'm not a woman like those that exist on earth; I am a woman worthy of you, a man above men. I live in the depths of these waters; bodiless as they are, fleeting and transparent, I speak with their murmuring and undulate with their waves. I don't punish he who dares to disturb the fountain where I dwell; rather, I reward him with my love, as a mortal above commoners' superstitions, as a lover capable of understanding my strange and mysterious affections."
As she spoke, the young man, absorbed in his contemplation of her fantastic beauty, attracted as if by an unknown force, drew closer and closer to the edge of the boulder. The woman with green eyes continued:
"Do you see? Do you see the crystalline depths of this lake, the plants whose long, green leaves dance near the bottom? They will provide us with a bed of emerald and coral... and I... I will give you happiness without name, that happiness you've dreamed of in your moments of delirium and which no one else can offer you... Come; the fog from the lake floats above our heads like a linen pavillion...; the waves call to us with their incomprehensible voices; among the poplars the wind begins its hymns of love; come... come..."
Night had begun to spread its shadows; the moon shimmered upon the surface of the lake as the fog swirled with the softly blowing wind. Green eyes glowed in the darkness like will-o'-the-wisps along the face of stagnant water. Come... come... The word buzzed in Fernando's ears, bewitching him. Come... And the mysterious woman called him to the edge of the abyss above which she was floating, and she offered him a kiss... a kiss...
Fernando took a step toward her... and another... He felt slender, flexible arms wrap about his neck and a cold sensation on his burning lips, a kiss of snow... He hesitated... and lost his footing... and fell into the water with a dull and mournful sound.
The water leapt in sparks of light, closing over his body, and silvery circles widened and widened until they died upon the banks.
-Translated by David Bowles
[This message has been edited by David Bowles (edited October 31, 2002).]