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...
(The entire section is 1,359 words.)