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King Abul Hassan And The Alcaide Of Gibraltar
by [?]

Muley Abul Hassan, the warlike king of Granada, weary of having his lands raided and his towns taken, resolved to repay the Christians in kind. The Duke of Medina Sidonia had driven him from captured Alhama. He owed this mighty noble a grudge, and the opportunity to repay it seemed at hand. The duke had led his forces to the aid of King Ferdinand, who was making a foray into Moorish territory. He had left almost unguarded his far-spreading lands, wide pasture plains covered thickly with flocks and herds and offering a rare opportunity for a hasty foray.

“I will give this cavalier a lesson that will cure him of his love for campaigning,” said the fierce old king.

Leaving his port of Malaga at the head of fifteen hundred horse and six thousand foot, the Moorish monarch followed the sea-shore route to the border of his dominions, entering Christian territory between Gibraltar and Castellar. There was only one man in this quarter of whom he had any fear. This was Pedro de Vargas, governor of Gibraltar, a shrewd and vigilant old soldier, whose daring Abul Hassan well knew, but knew also that his garrison was too small to serve for a successful sally.

The alert Moor, however, advanced with great caution, sending out parties to explore every pass where an ambush might await him, since, despite his secrecy, the news of his coming might have gone before. At length the broken country of Castellar was traversed and the plains were reached. Encamping on the banks of the Celemin, he sent four hundred lancers to the vicinity of Algeciras to keep a close watch upon Gibraltar across the bay, to attack Pedro if he sallied out, and to send word to the camp if any movement took place. This force was four times that said to be in Gibraltar. Remaining on the Celemin with his main body of troops, King Hassan sent two hundred horsemen to scour the plain of Tarifa, and as many more to the lands of Medina Sidonia, the whole district being a rich pasture land upon which thousands of animals grazed.

All went well. The parties of foragers came in, driving vast flocks and herds, enough to replace those which had been swept from the vega of Granada by the foragers of Spain. The troops on watch at Algeciras sent word that all was quiet at Gibraltar. Satisfied that for once Pedro de Vargas had been foiled, the old king called in his detachments and started back in triumph with his spoils.

He was mistaken. The vigilant governor had been advised of his movements, but was too weak in men to leave his post. Fortunately for him, a squadron of the armed galleys in the strait put into port, and, their commander agreeing to take charge of Gibraltar in his absence, Pedro sallied out at midnight with seventy of his men, bent upon giving the Moors what trouble he could.

Sending men to the mountain-tops, he had alarm fires kindled as a signal to the peasants that the Moors were out and their herds in peril. Couriers were also despatched at speed to rouse the country and bid all capable of bearing arms to rendezvous at Castellar, a stronghold which Abul Hassan would have to pass on his return. The Moorish king saw the fire signals and knew well what they meant. Striking his tents, he began as hasty a retreat as his slow-moving multitude of animals would permit. In advance rode two hundred and fifty of his bravest men. Then came the great drove of cattle. In the rear marched the main army, with Abul Hassan at its head. And thus they moved across the broken country towards Castellar.

Near that place De Vargas was on the watch, a thick and lofty cloud of dust revealing to him the position of the Moors. A half-league of hills and declivities separated the van and the rear of the raiding column, a long, dense forest rising between. De Vargas saw that they were in no position to aid each other quickly, and that something might come of a sudden and sharp attack. Selecting the best fifty of his small force, he made a circuit towards a place which he knew to be suitable for ambush. Here a narrow glen opened into a defile with high, steep sides. It was the only route open to the Moors, and he proposed to let the vanguard and the herds pass and fall upon the rear.