Departure from Astorga--The Venta--The By-path--Narrow Escape--The Cup of Water--Sun and Shade--Bembibre--Convent of the Rocks-- Sunset--Cacabelos--Midnight Adventure--Villafranca.
IT was four o'clock of a beautiful morning when we sallied from Astorga, or rather from its suburbs, in which we had been lodged: we directed our course to the north, in the direction of Galicia. Leaving the mountain Telleno on our left, we passed along the eastern skirts of the land of the Maragatos, over broken uneven ground, enlivened here and there by small green valleys and runnels of water. Several of the Maragatan women, mounted on donkeys, passed us on their way to Astorga, whither they were carrying vegetables. We saw others in the fields handling their rude ploughs, drawn by lean oxen. We likewise passed through a small village, in which we, however, saw no living soul. Near this village we entered the high road which leads direct from Madrid to Coruña, and at last, having travelled near four leagues, we came to a species of pass, formed on our left by a huge lumpish hill, (one of those which descend from the great mountain Telleno,) and on our right by one of much less altitude. In the middle of this pass, which was of considerable breadth, a noble view opened itself to us. Before us, at the distance of about a league and a half, rose the mighty frontier chain, of which I have spoken before; its blue sides and broken and picturesque peaks still wearing a thin veil of the morning mist, which the fierce rays of the sun were fast dispelling. It seemed an enormous barrier, threatening to oppose our farther progress, and it reminded me of the fables respecting the children of Magog, who are said to reside in remotest Tartary, behind a gigantic wall of rocks, which can only be passed by a gate of steel a thousand cubits in height.
We shortly after arrived at Manzanal, a village consisting of wretched huts, and exhibiting every sign of poverty and misery. It was now time to refresh ourselves and horses, and we accordingly put up at a venta, the last habitation in the village, where, though we found barley for the animals, we had much difficulty in procuring anything for ourselves. I was at length fortunate enough to obtain a large jug of milk, for there were plenty of cows in the neighbourhood, feeding in a picturesque valley which we had passed by, where was abundance of grass and trees, and a rivulet broken by tiny cascades. The jug might contain about half a gallon, but I emptied it in a few minutes, for the thirst of fever was still burning within me, though I was destitute of appetite. The venta had something the appearance of a German baiting-house. It consisted of an immense stable, from which was partitioned a kind of kitchen and a place where the family slept. The master, a robust young man, lolled on a large solid stone bench, which stood within the door. He was very inquisitive respecting news, but I could afford him none; whereupon he became communicative, and gave me the history of his life, the sum of which was, that