Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2007
First published: 1832
Type of work: Tale
Type of plot: Folkore
Time of work: Seventeenth century
Locale: Granada, Spain
Pedro Gil (Peregil), a water carrier
A Moorish Shopkeeper
Pedrillo Pedrugo, a prying barber
In the Square of the Cisterns, fronting the royal palace in the fortress of the Alhambra, was a deep Moorish well of clear, cold water. So famous was the well throughout all Granada that to it repaired water carriers from every quarter of the city, some bearing great earthen jars on their own sturdy shoulders, others, more prosperous, driving donkeys similarly burdened. The well was also a great place for meeting and gossip. Each day, housewives, lazy servants, beggars—idlers of every age and condition—gathered on the stone benches to talk over the doings of their neighbors and to exchange rumors that were afloat in the city.
Among the carriers who drew water from the ancient well of the Alhambra was a strong-backed, bandy-legged little fellow named Pedro Gil, called Peregil for short. He had begun his trade with only a single water jar, but since no one in all Granada was more industrious than he, it was not long before he was able to purchase a donkey to do his carrying for him. All day long, he trudged the streets calling his wares, and for every woman, old or young, he had a merry smile and a pleasing compliment. It was not surprising that everyone thought him the happiest of men. Yet Peregil's heart was often heavy and sad. He had a brood of ragged children who were ravenous as young birds, so that it was all he could do to fill their mouths with food. His wife, grown slatternly and fat, nagged poor Peregil even while she spent his hard-earned money for fripperies they could not afford. Subdued to patience by his matrimonial yoke, Peregil made the best of the situation and concealed his frequent dejection with merry quips and songs.
Late one summer night, he made one last trip to the well in hopes of adding to his small store of coppers for meat to put in the Sunday pot. He found the square empty except for a stranger in Moorish dress. When the man said that he was a traveler taken suddenly ill, Peregil, touched with compassion, gave the stranger a ride back to the city on his donkey. On the way, the man confessed that he had no lodgings in the town, and he asked that he be allowed to rest under Peregil's roof. He promised that the carrier would be well repaid.
Peregil had little desire to deal in this manner with an infidel, but in the kindness of his heart, he could not refuse aid to the stranger. Ignoring his wife's protests, the carrier spread a mat in the coolest part of his hovel for the sick man. Before long the Moor was seized with convulsions. Knowing that his end was near, he gave Peregil a small sandalwood box and told him that it contained the secret to a great treasure. He died before he could reveal the nature of the secret.
Peregil's wife, afraid that the body would be found in their house and that they would be charged with murder, railed at her husband for his folly. Equally disturbed, the carrier tried to mend matters by taking the dead Moor, under cover of darkness, to the bank of the river and there burying him.
Now it happened that Peregil lived opposite to a barber named Pedrillo Pedrugo, whose greatest pleasure was to spy on his neighbors and tattle their affairs. Having seen Peregil arriving with the Moor, he was still on watch when the carrier took away the body of the dead man. Following stealthily, he spied on the secret burial. Early the next morning, he hurried off to the Alcalde, who was one of his daily customers, and told what he had seen.
The Alcalde, who put so high a value on justice that he sold it only for gold, sent a constable to bring Peregil before him. Frightened, the water carrier called upon the saints to witness his innocence and frankly related the whole story. When he produced the sandalwood box, the Alcalde expected to find it filled with gold or jewels. Instead, it contained only a parchment scroll and the end of a wax taper. Disappointed, he returned the box to Peregil, but kept the carrier's donkey to pay for the trouble the poor wretch had caused.
At home, Peregil became so disgusted with his wife's taunts over the loss of his donkey that he threw the sandalwood box to the floor. When the parchment rolled out, he picked it up and found on it some writing in Arabic. Curious to know what the meaning might be, he took it to a Moorish shopkeeper of his acquaintance. The Moor said that the scroll contained an incantation for the recovery of a treasure hidden under the Alhambra.
At first, Peregil was skeptical. Several days later, however, he heard loiterers by the well talking about a treasure supposed to be buried under the Tower of the Seven Floors in the old fortress. Once more, he went to the Moor and proposed that they search for the treasure together. The Moor replied that the incantation was powerless without a magic candle to burn while the charm was being read. Peregil said that the taper was also in his possession.
Later that night, he and the Moor went secretly to the Tower of the Seven Floors and descended into the damp, musty vault beneath. There they lit the taper, and the Moor began to read the words on the parchment. As he finished, the floor opened with a noise like thunder. Descending the steps thus revealed, they found themselves in another vault, where stood a chest and several great jars filled with gold coins and precious stones, over which two enchanted Moorish warriors stood guard. Amazed and fearful, they filled their pockets with valuables. Then they climbed the stairs and blew out the taper. The floor closed again with a ponderous crash.
Peregil and the Moor hoped to keep their secret safe, but the carrier could conceal nothing from his wife. She bought herself expensive clothing and put on so many fine airs that her neighbors became curious. One day, the barber saw her after she had decked herself with some of the jewels Peregil had found. Once more Pedrillo hurried to the Alcalde to tell his story. The Alcalde, convinced that Peregil had tricked him, ordered the trembling water carrier dragged into his presence.
After Peregil's story had been confirmed by the Moor, the Alcalde's greed for gold became almost more than he could bear. That night, taking Peregil and the Moor with them as prisoners, the Alcalde, the constable, and the prying barber went to the tower. They took the donkey Peregil had once owned with them. There in the vault, the taper was lighted, and the Moor read the incantation. Again the floor rolled aside, revealing the treasure vault beneath. The Alcalde and his friends were too frightened to descend, but they ordered Peregil to bring up two immense jars filled with gold and gems and to strap them on the donkey which they had brought to carry away the spoils. When they learned that the vault also contained a chest filled with treasure, the Alcalde, the constable, and the barber overcame their fears sufficiently to go down the stairs to secure the riches for themselves. After they had entered the lower vault, the Moor blew out the taper, and the floor closed over the men below, leaving them entombed in darkness. The Moor, assuring Peregil that such was the will of Allah, threw away the magic taper.
Peregil and the Moor divided the treasure equally between them. A short time later, the Moor returned to his native city of Tangier. Peregil, with his wife, his brood of children, and his sturdy donkey, went to Portugal, where his wife used his riches to make him a man of consequence, known to all as Don Pedro Gil. As for the greedy Alcalde, the constable, and the prying barber, they remain under the Tower of the Seven Floors to this day.
When Washington Irving wrote "Legend of the Moor's Legacy," he did not have to rely, as one might expect, upon his imagination to produce the exotic and colorful setting—he had been there. When he lived in the Alhambra, a fifteenth century Spanish fortress, in 1829, it had undergone no restoration whatsoever; it was literally a ruins, inhabited by gypsies and beggars, invalid soldiers and ragged peasants. In the central court was a Moorish well which attracted a constant congregation of gossipers, storytellers, and water carriers who were the models for Pedro Gil, his wife, and neighbors. For the plot of "Legend of the Moor's Legacy," as for those of most of the tales in his collection THE ALHAMBRA, Irving fused together scraps of legends which he heard, and peopled them with standard folktale characters. For this reason, the story is familiar to anyone who has read fairy tales or folktales, stories of a traveler's strange adventures, or Scheherazade's stories for the Sultan.
Irving's tale has all the stock figures: Peregil, the humble and kindly water carrier who is naive about the greedy and scheming ways of the world; his lazy, nagging wife, forever dreaming of wealth and finery; the spying, talebearing mischief maker Pedrillo Pedrugo; and the corrupt and tyrannical authority figure, the Alcalde. The story itself is the well-known one about an honest, hardworking poor man who is rewarded for an act of charity with a great treasure and then almost cheated out of it, and who lives happily ever after in the end. What sets "Legend of the Moor's Legacy" apart from countless other tales like it is the author's skillful use of local color. All of Irving's writing reflects his love of faraway places and distant times, of the picturesque and the exotic, and is inspired by his desire to escape imaginatively from the humdrum actuality to these romantic realms. Thus it is that he so masterfully describes a sunset over Granada or a mule trail winding through barren mountains, a poor man's hovel or a cave brimming with ancient treasure, that each is brought vividly before the reader's eyes.
The original 1832 edition of THE ALHAMBRA was revised by the author in 1850. This later version, written nine years before his death, is superior to the first in that its several tales are unified by a common mood; they share a feeling of melancholy and longing, a sense of loss and disillusionment, mingled with Irving's distinctive strains of romance and magical possibility.
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