Charles Robert Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer
If he to thee no answer give,
Ill give to thee a sign;
A secret known to nought that live,
Save but to me and mine.
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Gone to be married.—SHAKESPEARE
The whole of the next day was occupied by Donna Clara, to whom letter-writing was a rare, troublesome, and momentous task, in reading over and correcting her answer to her husbands letter; in which examination she found so much to correct, interline, alter, modify, expunge, and new-model, that finally Donna Claras epistle very much resembled the work she was now employed in, namely, that of overcasting a piece of tapestry wrought by her grandmother, representing the meeting of king Solomon and the queen of Sheba. The new work, instead of repairing, made fearful havock among the old; but Donna Clara went on, like her countryman at Mr Peters puppet-show, playing away (with her needle) in a perfect shower of back-strokes, forestrokes, side-thrusts, and counter-thrusts, till not a figure in the tapestry could know himself again. The faded face of Solomon was garnished with a florid beard of scarlet silk (which Fra Jose at first told her she must rip out, as it made Solomon very little better than Judas) that made him resemble a boiled scallop. The fardingale of the queen of Sheba was expanded to an enormous hoop, of whose shrunk and pallid wearer it might be truly said, Minima est pars sui. The dog that, in the original tapestry, stood by the spurred and booted heel of the oriental monarch, (who was clad in Spanish costume), by dint of a few tufts of black and yellow satin, was converted into a tiger,—a transformation which his grinning fangs rendered as authentic as heart could wish. And the parrot perched on the queens shoulder, with the help of a train of green and gold, which the ignorant mistook for her majestys mantle, proved a very passable peacock.
As little trace of her original epistle did Donna Claras present one bear, as did her elaborate overcasting to the original and painful labours of her grandmother. In both, however, Donna Clara (who scorned to flinch) went over the same ground with dim eye, and patient touch, and inextinguishable and remorseless assiduity. The letter, such as it was, was still sufficiently characteristic of the writer. Some passages of it the reader shall be indulged with,—and we reckon on his gratitude for not insisting on his perusal of the whole. The authentic copy, from which we are favoured with the extracts, runs thus.
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Your daughter takes to her religion like mothers milk; and well may she do so, considering that the trunk of our family was planted in the genuine soil of the Catholic church, and that every branch of it must flourish there or perish. For a Neophyte, (as Fra Jose wills me to word it), she is as promising a sprout as one should wish to see flourishing within the pale of the holy church;—and for a heathen, she is so amenable, submissive, and of such maidenly suavity, that for the comportment of her person, and the discreet and virtuous ordering of her mind, I have no Christian mother to envy. Nay, I sometimes take pity on them, when I see the lightness, the exceeding vain carriage, and the unadvised eagerness to be wedded, of the best trained maidens of our country. This our daughter hath nothing of, either in her outward demeanour, or inward mind. She talks little, therefore she cannot think much; and she dreams not of the light devices of love, and is therefore well qualified for the marriage proposed unto her.
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One thing, dear spouse of my soul, I would have thee to take notice of, and guard like the apple of thine eye,—our daughter is deranged, but never, on thy discretion, mention this to Don Montilla, even though he were the descendant in the right line of the Campeador, or of Gonsalvo di Cordova. Her derangement will in no wise impede or contravene her marriage,—for be it known to thee, it breaks out but at times, and at such times, that the most jealous eye of man could not spy it, unless he had a foretaught intimation of it. She hath strange fantasies swimming in her brain, such as, that heretics and heathens shall not be everlastingly damned—(God and the saints protect us!)—which must clearly proceed from madness,—but which her Catholic husband, if ever he comes to the knowledge of them, shall know how to expel, by aid of the church, and conjugal authority. That thou mayst better know the truth of what I hereby painfully certify, the saints and Fra Jose (who will not let me tell a lie, because he in a manner holds my pen) can witness, that about four days before we left Madrid, as we went to church, and I was about, while ascending the steps, to dole alms to a mendicant woman wrapt in a mantle, who held up a naked child for the receiving of charity, your daughter twitched my sleeve, while she whispered, Madam, she cannot be mother to that child, for she is covered, and her child is naked. If she were its mother, she would cover her child, and not be comfortably wrapt herself. True it was, I found afterwards the wretched woman had hired the child from its more wretched mother, and my alms had paid the price of its hire for the day; but still that not a whit disproved our daughter insane, inasmuch as it showed her ignorant of the fashion and usages of the beggars of the country, and did in some degree shew a doubt of the merit of alms-deeds, which thou knowst none but heretics or madmen could deny. Other and grievous proofs of her insanity doth she give daily; but not willing to incumber you with ink, (which Fra Jose willeth me to call atramentum), I will add but a few particulars to arouse your dormant faculties, which may be wrapt in lethargic obliviousness by the anodyne of my somniferous epistolation.
Reverend Father, said Donna Clara, looking up to Fra Jose, who had dictated the last line, Don Francisco will know the last line not to be mine—he heard it in one of your sermons. Let me add the extraordinary proof of my daughters insanity at the ball.—Add or diminish, compose or confound, what you will, in Gods name! said Fra Jose, vexed at the frequent erazures and lituras which disfigured the lines of his dictation; for though in style I may somewhat boast of my superiority, in scratches no hen on the best dunghill in Spain can contend with you! On, then, in the name of all the saints!—and when it pleases heaven to send an interpreter to your husband, we may hope to hear from him by the next post-angel, for surely such a letter was never written on earth.
With this encouragement and applause, Donna Clara proceeded to relate sundry other errors and wanderings of her daughter, which, to a mind so swathed, crippled, and dwarfed, by the ligatures which the hand of custom had twined round it since its first hour of consciousness, might well have appeared like the aberrations of insanity. Among other proofs, she mentioned that Isidoras first introduction to a Christian and Catholic church, was on that night of penitence in passion-week, when, the lights being extinguished, the miserere is chaunted in profound darkness, the penitents macerate themselves, and groans are heard on every side instead of prayers, as if the worship of Moloch was renewed without its fires;—struck with horror at the sounds she heard, and the darkness which surrounded her, Isidora demanded what they were doing.—Worshipping God, was the answer.
At the expiration of Lent, she was introduced to a brilliant assembly, where the gay fandango was succeeded by the soft notes of the seguedilla,—and the crackling of the castanets, and the tinkling of the guitars, marked alternate time to the light and ecstatic step of youth, and the silvery and love-tuned voice of beauty. Touched with delight at all she saw and heard,—the smiles that dimpled and sparkled over her beautiful features reflecting every shade of pleasure they encountered, like the ripplings of a brook kissed by the moon-beams,—she eagerly asked, And are not these worshipping God?—Out on it, daughter! interposed Donna Clara, who happened to overhear the question; This is a vain and sinful pastime,—the invention of the devil to delude the children of folly,—hateful in the eyes of heaven and its saints,—and abhorred and renounced by the faithful.—Then there are two Gods, said Isidora sighing, the God of smiles and happiness, and the God of groans and blood. Would I could serve the former!—I will take order you shall serve the latter, heathenish and profane that you are! answered Donna Clara, as she hurried her from the assembly, shocked at the scandal which her words might have given. These and many similar anecdotes were painfully indited in Donna Claras long epistle, which, after being folded and sealed by Fra Jose, (who swore by the habit he wore, he had rather study twenty pages of the Polyglot fasting, than read it over once more), was duly forwarded to Don Francisco.
The habits and movements of Don Francisco were, like those of his nation, so deliberate and dilatory, and his aversion to writing letters, except on mercantile subjects, so well known, that Donna Clara was actually alarmed at receiving, in the evening of the day in which her epistle was dispatched, another letter from her husband.
Its contents must be guessed to be sufficiently singular, when the result was, that Donna Clara and Fra Jose sat up over them nearly the whole of the night, in consultation, anxiety, and fear. So intense was their conference, that it is recorded it was never interrupted even by the lady telling her beads, or the monk thinking of his supper. All the artificial habits, the customary indulgences, the factitious existence of both, were merged in the real genuine fear which pervaded their minds, and which asserted its power over both in painful and exacting proportion to their long and hardy rejection of its influence. Their minds succumbed together, and sought and gave in vain, feeble counsel, and fruitless consolation. They read over and over again this extraordinary letter, and at every reading their minds grew darker,—and their counsels more perplexed,—and their looks more dismal. Ever and anon they turned their eyes on it, as it lay open before them on Donna Claras ebony writing-desk, and then starting, asked each other by looks, and sometimes in words, Did either hear some strange noise in the house? The letter, among other matter not important to the reader, contained the singular passage following.
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In my travel from the place where I landed, to that whence I now write, I fortuned to be in company with strangers, from whom I heard things touching me (not as they meant, but as my fear interpreted them) in a point the most exquisite that can prick and wound the soul of a Christian father. These I shall discuss unto thee at thy more leisure. They are full of fearful matter, and such as may perchance require the aid of some churchman rightly to understand, and fully to fathom. Nevertheless this I can commend to thy discretion, that after I had parted from this strange conference, the reports of which I cannot by letter communicate to thee, I retired to my chamber full of sad and heavy thoughts, and being seated in my chair, pored over a tome containing legends of departed spirits, in nowise contradictive to the doctrine of the holy Catholic church, otherwise I would have crushed it with the sole of my foot into the fire that burned before me on the hearth, and spit on its cinders with the spittle of my mouth. Now, whether it was the company I fortuned to be into, (whose conversation must never be known but to thee only), or the book I had been reading, which contained certain extracts from Pliny, Artemidore, and others, full-filled with tales which I may not now recount, but which did relate altogether to the revivification of the departed, appearing in due accordance with our Catholic conceptions of Christian ghosts in purgatory, with their suitable accoutrements of chains and flames,—as thus Pliny writeth, Apparebat eidolon senex, macie et senie confectus,—or finally, the weariness of my lonely journey, or other things I know not,—but feeling my mind ill-disposed for deeper converse with books or my own thoughts, and though oppressed by sleep, unwilling to retire to rest,—a mood which I and others have often experienced,—I took out thy letters from the desk in which I duly reposit them, and read over the description which thou didst send me of our daughter, upon the first intelligence of her being discovered in that accursed isle of heathenism,—and I do assure thee, the description of our daughter hath been written in such characters on the bosom to which she hath never been clasped, that it would defy the art of all the limners in Spain to paint it more effectually. So, thinking on those dark-blue eyes,—and those natural ringlets which will not obey their new mistress, art,—and that slender undulating shape,—and thinking it would soon be folded in my arms, and ask the blessing of a Christian father in Christian tones, I dozed as I sat in my chair; and my dreams taking part with my waking thoughts, I was a-dreamt that such a creature, so fair, so fond, so cherubic, sat beside me, and asked me blessing. As I bowed to give it, I nodded in my chair and awoke. Awoke I say, for what followed was as palpable to human sight as the furniture of my apartment, or any other tangible object. There was a female seated opposite me, clad in a Spanish dress, but her veil flowed down to her feet. She sat, and seemed to expect that I should bespeak her first. Damsel, I said, what seekest thou?—or why art thou here? The figure never raised its veil, nor motioned with hand or lip. Mine head was full of what I had heard and read of; and after making the sign of the cross, and uttering certain prayers, I approached that figure, and said, Damsel, what wantest thou?—A father, said the form, raising its veil, and disclosing the identical features of my daughter Isidora, as described in thy numerous letters. Thou mayest well guess my consternation, which I might almost term fear, at the sight and words of this beautiful but strange and solemn figure. Nor was my perplexity and trouble diminished but increased, when the figure, rising and pointing to the door, through which she forthwith passed with a mysterious grace and incredible alacrity, uttered, in transitu, words like these:—Save me!—save me!—lose not a moment, or I am lost! And I swear to thee, wife, that while that figure sat or departed, I heard not the rustling of her garments, or the tread of her foot, or the sound of her respiration—only as she went out, there was a rushing sound as of a wind passing through the chamber,—and a mist seemed to hang on every object around me, which dispersed,—and I was conscious of heaving a deep sigh, as if a load had been removed from my breast. I sat thereafter for an hour pondering on what I had seen, and not knowing whether to term it a waking dream, or a dream-like waking. I am a mortal man, sensible of fear, and liable to error,—but I am also a Catholic Christian, and have ever been a hearty contemner of your tales of spectres and visions, excepting always when sanctioned by the authority of the holy church, and recorded in the lives of her saints and martyrs. Finding no end or fruit of these my heavy cogitations, I withdrew myself to bed, where I long lay tossing and sleepless, till at the approach of morning, just as I was falling into a deep sleep, I was awoke by a noise like that of a breeze waving my curtains. I started up, and drawing them, looked around me. There was a glimpse of day-light appearing through the window-shutters, but not sufficient to enable me to distinguish the objects in the room, were it not for the lamp that burned on the hearth, and whose light, though somewhat dim, was perfectly distinct. By it I discovered, near the door, a figure which my sight, rendered more acute by my terror, verified as the identical figure I had before beheld, who, waving its arm with a melancholy gesture, and uttering in a piteous voice these words, It is too late, disappeared. As, I will own to thee, overcome with horror at this second visitation, I fell back on my pillow almost bereft of the use of my faculties, I remember the clock struck three.
As Donna Clara and the priest (on their tenth perusal of the letter) arrived at these words, the clock in the hall below struck three. That is a singular coincidence, said Fra Jose. Do you think it nothing more, Father? said Donna Clara, turning very pale. I know not, said the priest; many have told credible stories of warnings permitted by our guardian saints, to be given even by the ministry of inanimate things. But to what purpose are we warned, when we know not the evil we are to shun?—Hush!—hark! said Donna Clara, did you hear no noise?—None, said Fra Jose listening, not without some appearance of perturbation—None, he added, in a more tranquil and assured voice, after a pause; and the noise which I did hear about two hours ago, was of short continuance, and has not been renewed.—What a flickering light these tapers give! said Donna Clara, viewing them with eyes glassy and fixed with fear. The casements are open, answered the priest. So they have been since we sat here, returned Donna Clara; yet now see what a stream of air comes rushing against them! Holy God! they flare as if they would go out!
The priest, looking up at the tapers, observed the truth of what she said,—and at the same time perceived the tapestry near the door to be considerably agitated. There is a door open in some other direction, said he, rising. You are not going to leave me, Father? said Donna Clara, who sat in her chair paralyzed with terror, and unable to follow him but with her eyes.
The Father Jose made no answer. He was now in the passage, where a circumstance which he observed had arrested all his attention,—the door of Isidoras apartment was open, and lights were burning in it. He entered it slowly at first, and gazed around, but its inmate was not there. He glanced his eye on the bed, but no human form had pressed it that night—it lay untouched and undisturbed. The casement next caught his eye, now glancing with the quickness of fear on every object. He approached it—it was wide open,—the casement that looked towards the garden. In his horror at this discovery, the good Father could not avoid uttering a cry that pierced the ears of Donna Clara, who, trembling and scarce able to make her way to the room, attempted to follow him in vain, and fell down in the passage. The priest raised and tried to assist her back to her own apartment. The wretched mother, when at last placed in her chair, neither fainted or wept; but with white and speechless lips, and a paralytic motion of her hand, tried to point towards her daughters apartment, as if she wished to be conveyed there. It is too late, said the priest, unconsciously using the ominous words quoted in the letter of Don Francisco.
Responde meum argumentum—nomen est nomen
—ergo, quod tibi est nomen—responde argumentum.
BEAUMONT and FLETCHERS Wit at several Weapons
That night was the one fixed on for the union of Isidora and Melmoth. She had retired early to her chamber, and sat at the casement watching for his approach for hours before she could probably expect it. It might be supposed that at this terrible crisis of her fate, she felt agitated by a thousand emotions,—that a soul susceptible like hers felt itself almost torn in pieces by the struggle,—but it was not so. When a mind strong by nature, but weakened by fettering circumstances, is driven to make one strong spring to free itself, it has no leisure to calculate the weight of its hindrances, or the width of its leap,—it sits with its chains heaped about it, thinking only of the bound that is to be its liberation—or—
During the many hours that Isidora awaited the approach of this mysterious bridegroom, she felt nothing but the awful sense of that approach, and of the event that was to follow. So she sat at her casement, pale but resolute, and trusting in the extraordinary promise of Melmoth, that by whatever means he was enabled to visit her, by those she would be enabled to effect her escape, in spite of her well-guarded mansion, and vigilant household.
It was near one (the hour at which Fra Jose, who was sitting in consultation with her mother over that melancholy letter, heard the noise alluded to in the preceding chapter) when Melmoth appeared in the garden, and, without uttering a word, threw up a ladder of ropes, which, in short and sullen whispers, he instructed her to fasten, and assisted her to descend. They hurried through the garden,—and Isidora, amid all the novelty of her feelings and situation, could not avoid testifying her surprise at the facility with which they passed through the well-secured garden gate.
They were now in the open country,—a region far wilder to Isidora than the flowery paths of that untrodden isle, where she had no enemy. Now in every breeze she heard a menacing voice,—in the echoes of her own light steps she heard the sound of steps pursuing her.
The night was very dark,—unlike the midsummer nights in that delicious climate. A blast sometimes cold, sometimes stifling from heat, indicated some extraordinary vicissitude in the atmosphere. There is something very fearful in this kind of wintry feeling in a summer night. The cold, the darkness, followed by intense heat, and a pale, meteoric lightning, seemed to unite the mingled evils of the various seasons, and to trace their sad analogy to life,—whose stormy summer allows youth little to enjoy, and whose chilling winter leaves age nothing to hope.
To Isidora, whose sensibilities were still so acutely physical, that she could feel the state of the elements as if they were the oracles of nature, which she could interpret at sight,—this dark and troubled appearance seemed like a fearful omen. More than once she paused, trembled, and turned on Melmoth a glance of doubt and terror,—which the darkness of the night, of course, prevented him from observing. Perhaps there was another cause,—but as they hurried on, Isidoras strength and courage began to fail together. She perceived that she was borne on with a kind of supernatural velocity,—her breath failed,—her feet faultered,—and she felt like one in a dream.
Stay! she exclaimed, gasping from weakness, stay!—whither am I going?—where do you bear me?—To your nuptials, answered Melmoth, in low and almost inarticulate tones;—but whether rendered so by emotion, or by the speed with which they seemed to fly along, Isidora could not discover.
In a few moments, she was forced to declare herself unable to proceed, and leaned on his arm, gasping and exhausted. Let me pause, said she ominously, in the name of God! Melmoth returned no answer. He paused, however, and supported her with an appearance of anxiety, if not of tenderness.
During this interval, she gazed around her, and tried to distinguish the objects near; but the intense darkness of the night rendered this almost impossible,—and what she could discover, was not calculated to dispel her alarm. They seemed to be walking on a narrow and precipitous path close by a shallow stream, as she could guess, by the hoarse and rugged sound of its waters, as they fought with every pebble to win their way. This path was edged on the other side by a few trees, whose stunted growth, and branches tossing wild and wide to the blast that now began to whisper mournfully among them, seemed to banish every image of a summer night from the senses, and almost from the memory. Every thing around was alike dreary and strange to Isidora, who had never, since her arrival at the villa, wandered beyond the precincts of the garden,—and who, even if she had, would probably have found no clue to direct her where she now was. This is a fearful night, said she, half internally. She then repeated the same words more audibly, perhaps in hope of some answering and consolatory sounds. Melmoth was silent—and her spirits subdued by fatigue and emotion, she wept. Do you already repent the step you have taken? said he, laying a strange emphasis on the word—already. No, love, no! replied Isidora, gently wiping away her tears; it is impossible for me ever to repent it. But this loneliness,—this darkness,—this speed,—this silence,—have in them something almost awful. I feel as if I were traversing some unknown region. Are these indeed the winds of heaven that sigh around me? Are these trees of natures growth, that nod at me like spectres? How hollow and dismal is the sound of the blast!—it chills me though the night is sultry!—and those trees, they cast their shadows over my soul! Oh, is this like a bridal night? she exclaimed, as Melmoth, apparently disturbed at these words, attempted to hurry her on—Is this like a bridal? No father, no brother, to support me!—no mother near me!—no kiss of kindred to greet me!—no congratulating friends!—and her fears increasing, she wildly exclaimed, Where is the priest to bless our union?—where is the church under whose roof we are to be united?
As she spoke, Melmoth, drawing her arm under his, attempted to lead her gently forward. There is, said he, a ruined monastery near—you may have observed it from your window.—No! I never saw it. Why is it in ruins?—I know not—there were wild stories told. It was said the Superior, or Prior, or—I know not what—had looked into certain books, the perusal of which was not altogether sanctioned by the rules of his order—books of magic they called them. There was much noise about it, I remember, and some talk of the Inquisition,—but the end of the business was, the Prior disappeared, some said into the prisons of the Inquisition, some said into safer custody—(though how that could be, I cannot well conceive)—and the brethren were drafted into other communities, and the building became deserted. There were some offers made for it by the communities of other religious houses, but the evil, though vague and wild reports, that had gone forth about it, deterred them, on inquiry, from inhabiting it,—and gradually the building fell to ruin. It still retains all that can sanctify it in the eyes of the faithful. There are crucifixes and tomb-stones, and here and there a cross set up where there has been murder,—for, by a singular congeniality of taste, a banditti has fixed their seat there now,—and the traffic of gold for souls, once carried on so profitably by the former inmates, is exchanged for that of souls for gold, by the present.
At these words, Melmoth felt the slender arm that hung on his withdrawn,—and he perceived that his victim, between shuddering and struggling, had shrunk from his hold. But there, he added, even amid those ruins, there dwells a holy hermit,—one who has taken up his residence near the spot,—he will unite us in his oratory, according to the rites of your church. He will speak the blessing over us,—and one of us, at least, shall be blessed.—Hold! said Isidora, repelling, and standing at what distance from him she could,—her slight figure expanding to that queen-like dignity with which nature had once invested her as the fair and sole sovereign of her own island-paradise. Hold! she repeated—approach me not by another step,—address me not by another word,—till you tell me when and where I am to be united to you,—to become your wedded wife! I have borne much of doubt and terror,—of suspicion and persecution,—but—Hear me, Isidora, said Melmoth, terrified at this sudden burst of resolution. Hear me, answered the timid but heroic girl, springing, with the elasticity of her early movements, upon a crag that hung over their stony path, and clinging to an ash-tree that had burst through its fissures—Hear me! Sooner will you rend this tree from its bed of stone, than me from its trunk! Sooner will I dash this body on the stony bed of the stream that groans below my feet, than descend into your arms, till you swear to me they will bear me to honour and safety! For you I have given up all that my newly-taught duties have told me was holy!—all that my heart long ago whispered I ought to love! Judge by what I have sacrificed, of what I can sacrifice—and doubt not that I would be my own victim ten thousand times sooner than yours!—By all that you deem holy! cried Melmoth, humbling himself even to kneel before her as she stood,—my intentions are as pure as your own soul!—the hermitage is not an hundred paces off. Come, and do not, by a fantastic and causeless apprehension, frustrate all the magnanimity and tenderness you have hitherto shewed, and which have raised you in my eyes not only above your sex, but above your whole species. Had you not been what you are, and what no other but you could be, you had never been the bride of Melmoth. With whom but you did he ever seek to unite his dark and inscrutable destiny? Isidora, he added, in tones more potent and emphatic, perceiving she still hesitated, and clung to the tree—Isidora, how weak, how unworthy of you is this! You are in my power,—absolutely, hopelessly in my power. No human eye can see me—no human arm can aid you. You are as helpless as infancy in my grasp. This dark stream would tell no tales of deeds that stained its waters,—and the blast that howls round you would never waft your groans to mortal ear! You are in my power, yet I seek not to abuse it. I offer you my hand to conduct you to a consecrated building, where we shall be united according to the fashion of your country—and will you still persevere in this fanciful and profitless waywardness?
As he spoke, Isidora looked round her helplessly—every object was a confirmation of his arguments—she shuddered and submitted. But as they walked on in silence, she could not help interrupting it to give utterance to the thousand anxieties that oppressed her heart.
But you speak, said she, in a suppressed and pleading tone,—you speak of religion in words that make me tremble—you speak of it as the fashion of a country,—as a thing of form, of accident, of habit. What faith do you profess?—what church do you frequent?—what holy rites do you perform?—I venerate all faiths—alike, I hold all religious rites—pretty much in the same respect, said Melmoth, while his former wild and scoffing levity seemed to struggle vainly with a feeling of involuntary horror. And do you then, indeed, believe in holy things? asked Isidora. Do you indeed? she repeated anxiously. I believe in a God, answered Melmoth, in a voice that froze her blood; you have heard of those who believe and tremble,—such is he who speaks to you!
Isidoras acquaintance with the book from which he quoted, was too limited to permit her to understand the allusion. She knew, according to the religious education she had received, more of her breviary than her Bible; and though she pursued her inquiry in a timid and anxious tone, she felt no additional terror from words she did not understand.
But, she continued, Christianity is something more than belief in a God. Do you also believe in all that the Catholic church declares to be essential to salvation? Do you believe that—And here she added a name too sacred, and accompanied with terms too awful, to be expressed in pages so light as these.  I believe it all—I know it all, answered Melmoth, in a voice of stern and reluctant confession. Infidel and scoffer as I may appear to you, there is no martyr of the Christian church, who in other times blazed for his God, that has borne or exhibited a more resplendent illustration of his faith, than I shall bear one day—and for ever. There is a slight difference only between our testimonies in point of duration. They burned for the truths they loved for a few moments—not so many perchance. Some were suffocated before the flames could reach them,—but I am doomed to bear my attestation on the truth of the gospel, amid fires that shall burn for ever and ever. See with what a glorious destiny yours, my bride, is united! You, as a Christian, would doubtless exult to see your husband at the stake,—and amid the faggots to prove his devotion. How it must ennoble the sacrifice to think that it is to last to eternity!
1 Here Monçada expressed his surprise at this passage, (as savouring more of Christianity than Judaism), considering it occurred in the manuscript of a Jew.
Melmoth uttered these words in ears that heard no longer. Isidora had fainted; and hanging with one cold hand on his arm still, fell a helpless, senseless weight on the earth. Melmoth, at this sight, shewed more feeling than he could have been suspected of. He disentangled her from the folds of her mantle, sprinkled water from the stream on her cold cheek, and supported her frame in every direction where a breath of air was to be caught. Isidora recovered; for her swoon was that of fatigue more than fear; and, with her recovery, her lovers short-lived tenderness seemed to cease. The moment she was able to speak he urged her to proceed,—and while she feebly attempted to obey him, he assured her, her strength was perfectly recovered, and that the place they had to reach was but a few paces distant. Isidora struggled on. Their path now lay up the ascent of a steep hill,—they left the murmur of the stream, and the sighing of trees, behind them,—the wind, too, had sunk, but the night continued intensely dark,—and the absence of all sound seemed to Isidora to increase the desolateness of the scene. She wished for something to listen to beside her impeded and painful respiration, and the audible beatings of her heart. As they descended the hill on the other side, the murmuring of the waters became once more faintly audible; and this sound she had longed to hear again, had now, amid the stillness of the night, a cadence so melancholy, that she almost wished it hushed.
Thus always, to the unhappy, the very fulfilment of their morbid wishings becomes a source of disappointment, and the change they hoped for is desirable only as it gives them cause to long for another change. In the morning they say, Would to God it were evening!—Evening comes,—and in the evening they say, Would to God it were morning! But Isidora had no time to analyse her feelings,—a new apprehension struck her,—and, as she could well guess from the increasing speed of Melmoth, and head thrown backward impatiently, and often, it had probably reached him too. A sound they had been for some time watching, (without communicating their feelings to each other), became every moment more distinct. It was the sound of a human foot, evidently pursuing them, from the increasing quickness of its speed, and a certain sharpness of tread, that irresistibly gave the idea of hot and anxious pursuit. Melmoth suddenly paused, and Isidora hung trembling on his arm. Neither of them uttered a word; but Isidoras eyes, instinctively following the slight but fearful waving of his arm, saw it directed towards a figure so obscure, that it at first appeared like a spray moving in the misty night,—then was lost in darkness as it descended the hill,—and then appeared in a human form, as far as the darkness of the night would permit its shape to be distinguishable. It came on—its steps were more and more audible, and its shape almost distinct.—Then Melmoth suddenly quitted Isidora, who, shivering with terror, but unable to utter a word that might implore him to stay, stood alone, her whole frame trembling almost to dissolution, and her feet feeling as if she were nailed to the spot where she stood. What passed she knew not. There was a short and darkened struggle between two figures,—and, in this fearful interval, she imagined she heard the voice of an ancient domestic, much attached to her, call on her, first in accents of expostulation and appeal, then in choaked and breathless cries for help—help—help!—Then she heard a sound as if a heavy body fell into the water that murmured below.—It fell heavily—the wave groaned—the dark hill groaned in answer, like murderers exchanging their stilled and midnight whispers over their work of blood—and all was silent. Isidora clasped her cold and convulsed fingers over her eyes, till a whispering voice, the voice of Melmoth, uttered, Let us hasten on, my love.—Where? said Isidora, not knowing the meaning of the words she uttered.—To the ruined monastery, my love,—to the hermitage, where the holy man, the man of your faith, shall unite us.—Where are the steps that pursued us? said Isidora, suddenly recovering her recollection.—They will pursue you no more.—But I saw a figure.—But you will see it no more.—I heard something fall into that stream—heavily—like a corse.—There was a stone that fell from the precipice of the hill—the waters splashed, and curled, and whitened round it for a moment, but they have swallowed it now, and appear to have such a relish for the morsel, that they will not be apt to resign it.
In silent horror she proceeded, till Melmoth, pointing to a dusky and indefinite mass of what, in the gloom of night, bore, according to the eye or the fancy, the shape of a rock, a tuft of trees, or a massive and unlighted building, whispered, There is the ruin, and near it stands the hermitage,—one moment more of effort,—of renewed strength and courage, and we are there. Urged by these words, and still more by an undefinable wish to put an end to this shadowy journey,—these mysterious fears,—even at the risk of finding them worse than verified at its termination, Isidora exerted all her remaining strength, and, supported by Melmoth, began to ascend the sloping ground on which the monastery had once stood. There had been a path, but it was now all obstructed by stones, and rugged with the knotted and interlaced roots of the neglected trees that had once formed its shelter and its grace.
As they approached, in spite of the darkness of the night, the ruin began to assume a distinct and characteristic appearance, and Isidoras heart beat less fearfully, when she could ascertain, from the remains of the tower and spire, the vast Eastern window, and the crosses still visible on every ruined pinnacle and pediment, like religion triumphant amid grief and decay, that this had been a building destined for sacred purposes. A narrow path, that seemed to wind round the edifice, conducted them to a front which overlooked an extensive cemetery, at the extremity of which Melmoth pointed out to her an indistinct object, which he said was the hermitage, and to which he would hasten to intreat the hermit, who was also a priest, to unite them. May I not accompany you? said Isidora, glancing round on the graves that were to be her companions in solitude.—It is against his vow, said Melmoth, to admit a female into his presence, except when obliged by the course of his duties. So saying he hasted away, and Isidora, sinking on a grave for rest, wrapt her veil around her, as if its folds could exclude even thought. In a few moments, gasping for air, she withdrew it; but as her eye encountered only tomb-stones and crosses, and that dark and sepulchral vegetation that loves to shoot its roots, and trail its unlovely verdure amid the joints of grave-stones, she closed it again, and sat shuddering and alone. Suddenly a faint sound, like the murmur of a breeze, reached her,—she looked up, but the wind had sunk, and the night was perfectly calm. The same sound recurring, as of a breeze sweeping past, made her turn her eyes in the direction from which it came, and, at some distance from her, she thought she beheld a human figure moving slowly along on the verge of the inclosure of the burial-ground. Though it did not seem approaching her, (but rather moving in a low circuit on the verge of her view), conceiving it must be Melmoth, she rose in expectation of his advancing to her, and, at this moment, the figure, turning and half-pausing, seemed to extend its arm towards her, and wave it once or twice, but whether with a motion or purpose of warning or repelling her, it was impossible to discover,—it then renewed its dim and silent progress, and the next moment the ruins hid it from her view. She had no time to muse on this singular appearance, for Melmoth was now at her side urging her to proceed. There was a chapel, he told her, attached to the ruins, but not like them in decay, where sacred ceremonies were still performed, and where the priest had promised to join them in a few moments. He is there before us, said Isidora, adverting to the figure she had seen; I think I saw him.—Saw whom? said Melmoth, starting, and standing immoveable till his question was answered.—I saw a figure, said Isidora, trembling—I thought I saw a figure moving towards the ruin.—You are mistaken, said Melmoth; but a moment after he added, We ought to have been there before him. And he hurried on with Isidora. Suddenly slackening his speed, he demanded, in a choaked and indistinct voice, if she had ever heard any music precede his visits to her,—any sounds in the air. Never, was the answer.—You are sure?—Perfectly sure.
At this moment they were ascending the fractured and rugged steps that led to the entrance of the chapel, now they passed under the dark and ivied porch,—now they entered the chapel, which, even in darkness, appeared to the eyes of Isidora ruinous and deserted. He has not yet arrived, said Melmoth, in a disturbed voice; Wait there a moment. And Isidora, enfeebled by terror beyond the power of resistance, or even intreaty, saw him depart without an effort to detain him. She felt as if the effort would be hopeless. Left thus alone, she glanced her eyes around, and a faint and watery moon-beam breaking at that moment through the heavy clouds, threw its light on the objects around her. There was a window, but the stained glass of its compartments, broken and discoloured, held rare and precarious place between the fluted shafts of stone. Ivy and moss darkened the fragments of glass, and clung round the clustered pillars. Beneath were the remains of an altar and crucifix, but they seemed like the rude work of the first hands that had ever been employed on such subjects. There was also a marble vessel, that seemed designed to contain holy water, but it was empty,—and there was a stone bench, on which Isidora sunk down in weariness, but without hope of rest. Once or twice she looked up to the window, through which the moon-beams fell, with that instinctive feeling of her former existence, that made companions of the elements, and of the beautiful and glorious family of heaven, under whose burning light she had once imagined the moon was her parent, and the stars her kindred. She gazed on the window still, like one who loved the light of nature, and drank health and truth from its beams, till a figure passing slowly but visibly before the pillared shafts, disclosed to her view the face of that ancient servant, whose features she remembered well. He seemed to regard her with a look, first of intent contemplation,—then of compassion,—the figure then passed from before the ruined window, and a faint and wailing cry rung in the ears of Isidora as it disappeared.
At that moment the moon, that had so faintly lit the chapel, sunk behind a cloud, and every thing was enveloped in darkness so profound, that Isidora did not recognize the figure of Melmoth till her hand was clasped in his, and his voice whispered, He is here—ready to unite us. The long-protracted terrors of this bridal left her not a breath to utter a word withal, and she leaned on the arm that she felt, not in confidence, but for support. The place, the hour, the objects, all were hid in darkness. She heard a faint rustling as of the approach of another person,—she tried to catch certain words, but she knew not what they were,—she attempted also to speak, but she knew not what she said. All was mist and darkness with her,—she knew not what was muttered,—she felt not that the hand of Melmoth grasped hers,—but she felt that the hand that united them, and clasped their palms within his own, was as cold as that of death.
Τηλε μειργουσι ψυχαι, ειδοωλα καμοντων. —HOMER
We have now to retrace a short period of our narrative to the night on which Don Francisco di Aliaga, the father of Isidora, fortuned, as he termed it, to be among the company whose conversation had produced so extraordinary an effect on him.
He was journeying homewards, full of the contemplation of his wealth,—the certainty of having attained complete security against the evils that harass life,—and being able to set at defiance all external causes of infelicity. He felt like a man at ease in his possessions,—and he felt also a grave and placid satisfaction at the thought of meeting a family who looked up to him with profound respect as the author of their fortunes,—of walking in his own house, amid bowing domestics and obsequious relatives, with the same slow authoritative step with which he paced the mart among wealthy merchants, and saw the wealthiest bow as he approached,—and when he had passed, point out the man of whose grave salute they were proud, and whisper, That is Aliaga the rich.—So thinking and feeling, as most prosperous men do, with an honest pride in their worldly success,—an exaggerated expectation of the homage of society,—(which they often find frustrated by its contempt),—and an ultimate reliance on the respect and devotion of their family whom they have enriched, making them ample amends for the slights they may be exposed to where their wealth is unknown, and their newly assumed consequence unappreciated,—or if appreciated, not valued:—So thinking and feeling, Don Francisco journeyed homeward.
At a wretched inn where he was compelled to halt, he found the accommodation so bad, and the heat of the weather so intolerable in the low, narrow, and unwindowed rooms, that he preferred taking his supper in the open air, on a stone bench at the door of the inn. We cannot say that he there imagined himself to be feasted with trout and white bread, like Don Quixote,—and still less that he fancied he was ministered unto by damsels of rank;—on the contrary, Don Francisco was digesting a sorry meal with wretched wine, with a perfect internal consciousness of the mediocrity of both, when he beheld a person ride by, who paused, and looked as if he was inclined to stop at the inn. (The interval of this pause was not long enough to permit Don Francisco to observe particularly the figure or face of the horseman, or indeed to recognize him on any future occasion of meeting; nor was there any thing remarkable in his appearance to invite or arrest observation.) He made a sign to the host, who approached him with a slow and unwilling pace,—appeared to answer all his inquiries with sturdy negatives,—and finally, as the stranger rode on, returned to his station, crossing himself with every mark of terror and deprecation.
There was something more in this than the ordinary surliness of a Spanish innkeeper. Don Franciscos curiosity was excited, and he asked the innkeeper, whether the stranger had proposed to pass the night at the inn, as the weather seemed to threaten a storm? I know not what he proposes, answered the man, but this I know, that I would not suffer him to pass an hour under my roof for the revenues of Toledo. If there be a storm coming on, I care not—those who can raise them are the fittest to meet them!
Don Francisco inquired the cause of these extraordinary expressions of aversion and terror, but the innkeeper shook his head and remained silent, with, as it were, the circumspective fear of one who is inclosed within a sorcerers circle, and dreads to pass its verge, lest he become the prey of the spirits who are waiting beyond it to take advantage of his transgression.
At last, at Don Franciscos repeated instances, he said, Your worship must needs be a stranger in this part of Spain not to have heard of Melmoth the wanderer.—I have never heard of the name before, said Don Francisco; and I conjure you, brother, to tell me what you know of this person, whose character, if I may judge by the manner in which you speak of him, must have in it something extraordinary.—Senhor, answered the man, were I to relate what is told of that person, I should not be able to close an eye to-night; or if I did, it would be to dream of things so horrible, that I had rather lie awake for ever. But, if I am not mistaken, there is in the house one who can gratify your curiosity—it is a gentleman who is preparing for the press a collection of facts relative to that person, and who has been, for some time, in vain soliciting for a license to print them, they being such as the government, in its wisdom, thinks not fit to be perused by the eyes of Catholics, or circulated among a Christian community.
As the innkeeper spoke, and spoke with an earnestness that at least made the hearer believe he felt the conviction he tried to impress, the person of whom he spoke was standing beside Don Francisco. He had apparently overheard their conversation, and seemed not indisposed to continue it. He was a man of a grave and composed aspect, and altogether so remote from any appearance of imposition, or theatrical and conjuror-like display, that Don Francisco, grave, suspicious, and deliberate as a Spaniard, and moreover a Spanish merchant, may be, could not avoid giving him his confidence at sight, though he forbore any external expression of it.
Senhor, said the stranger, mine host has told you but the truth. The person whom you saw ride by, is one of those beings after whom human curiosity pants in vain,—whose life is doomed to be recorded in incredible legends that moulder in the libraries of the curious, and to be disbelieved and scorned even by those who exhaust sums on their collection, and ungratefully depreciate the contents of the volumes on whose aggregate its value depends. There has been, however, I believe, no other instance of a person still alive, and apparently exercising all the functions of a human agent, who has become already the subject of written memoirs, and the theme of traditional history. Several circumstances relating to this extraordinary being are even now in the hands of curious and eager collectors; and I have myself attained to the knowledge of one or two that are not among the least extraordinary. The marvellous period of life said to be assigned him, and the facility with which he has been observed to pass from region to region, (knowing all, and known to none), have been the principal causes why the adventures in which he is engaged, should be at once so numerous and so similar.
As the stranger ceased to speak, the evening grew dark, and a few large and heavy drops of rain fell. This night threatens a storm, said the stranger, looking abroad with some degree of anxiety—we had better retire within doors; and if you, Senhor, are not otherwise occupied, I am willing to pass away some hours of this unpleasant night in relating to you some circumstances relating to the wanderer, which have come within my certain knowledge.
Don Francisco assented to this proposal as much from curiosity, as from the impatience of solitude, which is never more insupportable than in an inn, and during stormy weather. Don Montilla, too, had left him on a visit to his father, who was in a declining state, and was not to join him again till his arrival in the neighbourhood of Madrid. He therefore bid his servants shew the way to his apartment, whither he courteously invited his new acquaintance.
Imagine them now seated in the wretched upper apartment of a Spanish inn, whose appearance, though dreary and comfortless, had in it, nevertheless, something picturesque, and not inappropriate, as the scene where a wild and wondrous tale was to be related and listened to. There was no luxury of inventive art to flatter the senses, or enervate the attention,—to enable the hearer to break the spell that binds him to the world of horrors, and recover to all the soothing realities and comforts of ordinary life, like one who starts from a dream of the rack, and finds himself waking on a bed of down. The walls were bare, and the roofs were raftered, and the only furniture was a table, beside which Don Francisco and his companion sat, the one on a huge high-backed chair, the other on a stool so low, that he seemed seated at the listeners foot. A lamp stood on the table, whose light flickering in the wind, that sighed through many apertures of the jarring door, fell alternately on lips that quivered as they read, and cheeks that grew paler as the listener bent to catch the sounds to which fear gave a more broken and hollow tone, at the close of every page. The rising voice of the stormy night seemed to make wild and dreary harmony with the tones of the listeners feelings. The storm came on, not with sudden violence, but with sullen and long-suspended wrath—often receding, as it were, to the verge of the horizon, and then returning and rolling its deepening and awful peals over the very roof. And as the stranger proceeded in his narrative, every pause, which emotion or weariness might cause, was meetly filled by the deep rushing of the rain that fell in torrents,—the sighs of the wind,—and now and then a faint, distant, but long-continued peal of thunder. It sounds, said the stranger, raising his eyes from the manuscript, like the chidings of the spirits, that their secrets are disclosed!
[ End of Chapter XXV ]