Charles Robert Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer
—This to me
In dreadful secrecy they did impart,
And I with them the third night kept the watch.
As they spoke, a soft knock was heard, such as kindness gives at the door of misfortune, and Everhard started up to answer it. Stay, said Walberg, absently, Where are the servants? Then recollecting himself, he smiled agonizingly, and waved his hand to his son to go. It was the good priest. He entered, and sat down in silence,—no one spoke to him. It might be truly said, as it is sublimely said in the original, There was neither speech nor language, but voices were heard among them—and felt too. The worthy priest piqued himself on his orthodoxy of all matters of belief and form enjoined by the Catholic church; and, moreover, had acquired a kind of monastic apathy, of sanctified stoicism, which priests sometimes imagine is the conquest of grace over the rebellion of nature, when it is merely the result of a profession that denies nature its objects and its ties. Yet so it was, that as he sat among this afflicted family, after complaining of the keenness of the morning air, and wiping away in vain the moisture, which he said it had brought into his eyes, he at last yielded to his feelings, and lifted up his voice and wept. But tears were not all he had to offer. On hearing the plans of Walberg and his family, he promised, with a faultering voice, his ready assistance in promoting them; and, as he rose to depart, observing that he had been entrusted by the faithful with a small sum for the relief of the unfortunate, and knew not where it could be better bestowed, he dropped from the sleeve of his habit a well filled purse on the floor, and hurried away.
The family retired to rest as the day approached, but rose in a few hours afterwards without having slept; and the remainder of that day, and the whole of the three following, were devoted to applications at every door where encouragement might be expected, or employment obtained, the priest in person aiding every application. But there were many circumstances unfavourable to the ill-starred family of Walberg. They were strangers, and, with the exception of their mother, who acted as interpreter, ignorant of the language of the country. This was a sore evil, extending almost to the total preclusion of their exertions as teachers. They were also heretics,—and this alone was a sufficient bar to their success in Seville. In some families the beauty of the daughters, in others that of the son, was gravely debated as an important objection. In others the recollection of their former splendour, suggested a mean and rancorous motive to jealous inferiority to insult them by a rejection, for which no other cause could be assigned. Unwearied and undismayed, they renewed their applications every day, at every house where admission could be obtained, and at many where it was denied; and each day they returned to examine the diminished stock, to divide the scantier meal, calculate how far it was possible to reduce the claims of nature to the level of their ebbing means, and smile when they talked of the morrow to each other, but weep when they thought of it alone. There is a withering monotony in the diary of misery,—one day telleth another. But there came at length a day, when the last coin was expended, the last meal devoured, the last resource exhausted, the last hope annihilated, and the friendly priest himself told them weeping, he had nothing to give them but his prayers.
That evening the family sat in profound and stupified silence together for some hours, till the aged mother of Walberg, who had not for some months uttered any thing but indistinct monosyllables, or appeared conscious of any thing that was going on, suddenly, with that ominous energy that announces its effort to be the last,—that bright flash of parting life that precedes its total extinction, exclaimed aloud, apparently addressing her husband, There is something wrong here,—why did they bring us from Germany? They might have suffered us to die there,—they have brought us here to mock us, I think. Yesterday,—(her memory evidently confounding the dates of her sons prosperous and adverse fortune), yesterday they clothed me in silk, and I drank wine, and to-day they give me this sorry crust,—(flinging away the piece of bread which had been her share of the miserable meal),—there is something wrong here. I will go back to Germany,—I will! and she rose from her seat in the sight of the astonished family, who, horror-struck, as they would have been at the sudden resuscitation of a corse, ventured not to oppose her by word or movement. I will go back to Germany, she repeated; and, rising, she actually took three or four firm and equal steps on the floor, while no one attempted to approach her. Then her force, both physical and mental, seemed to fail,—she tottered,—her voice sunk into hollow mutterings, as she repeated, I know the way,—I know the way,—if it was not so dark.—I have not far to go,—I am very near—home! As she spoke, she fell across the feet of Walberg. The family collected round her, and raised—a corse. Thank God! exclaimed her son, as he gazed on his mothers corse.—And this reversion of the strongest feeling of nature,—this wish for the death of those for whom, in other circumstances, we would ourselves have died, makes those who have experienced it feel as if there was no evil in life but want, and no object of rational pursuit but the means of avoiding it. Alas! if it be so, for what purpose were hearts that beat, and minds that burn, bestowed on us? Is all the energy of intellect, and all the enthusiasm of feeling, to be expended in contrivances how to meet or shift off the petty but torturing pangs of hourly necessity? Is the fire caught from heaven to be employed in lighting a faggot to keep the cold from the numbed and wasted fingers of poverty? Pardon this digression, Senhor, said the stranger, but I had a painful feeling, that forced me to make it. He then proceeded.
The family collected around the dead body,—and it might have been a subject worthy the pencil of the first of painters, to witness its interment, as it took place the following night. As the deceased was a heretic, the corse was not allowed to be laid in consecrated ground; and the family, solicitous to avoid giving offence, or attracting notice on the subject of their religion, were the only attendants on the funeral. In a small inclosure, at the rear of their wretched abode, her son dug his mothers grave, and Ines and her daughters placed the body in it. Everhard was absent in search of employment,—as they hoped,—and a light was held by the youngest child, who smiled as he watched the scene, as if it had been a pageant got up for his amusement. That light, feeble as it was, showed the strong and varying expression of the countenances on which it fell;—in Walbergs there was a stern and fearful joy, that she whom they were laying to rest had been taken from the evil to come,—in that of Ines there was grief, mingled with something of horror, at this mute and unhallowed ceremony.—Her daughters, pale with grief and fear, wept silently; but their tears were checked, and the whole course of their feelings changed, when the light fell on another figure who appeared suddenly standing among them on the edge of the grave,—it was that of Walbergs father. Impatient of being left alone, and wholly unconscious of the cause, he had groped and tottered his way till he reached the spot; and now, as he saw his son heap up the earth over the grave, he exclaimed, with a brief and feeble effort of reminiscence, sinking on the ground, Me, too,—lay me there, the same spot will serve for both! His children raised and supported him into the house, where the sight of Everhard, with an unexpected supply of provisions, made them forget the horrors of the late scene, and postpone once more the fears of want till to-morrow. No inquiry how this supply was obtained, could extort more from Everhard than that it was the gift of charity. He looked exhausted and dreadfully pale,—and, forbearing to press him with further questions, they partook of this manna-meal,—this food that seemed to have dropped from heaven, and separated for the night. * * * *
* * * *
Ines had, during this period of calamity, unremittingly enforced the application of her daughters to those accomplishments from which she still derived the hopes of their subsistence. Whatever were the privations and disappointments of the day, their musical and other exercises were strictly attended to; and hands enfeebled by want and grief, plied their task with as much assiduity as when occupation was only a variation of luxury. This attention to the ornaments of life, when its actual necessaries are wanted,—this sound of music in a house where the murmurs of domestic anxiety are heard every moment,—this subservience of talent to necessity, all its generous enthusiasm lost, and only its possible utility remembered or valued,—is perhaps the bitterest strife that ever was fought between the opposing claims of our artificial and our natural existence. But things had now occurred that shook not only the resolution of Ines, but even affected her feelings beyond the power of repression. She had been accustomed to hear, with delight, the eager application of her daughters to their musical studies;—now—when she heard them, the morning after the interment of their grandmother, renewing that application—she felt as if the sounds struck through her heart. She entered the room where they were, and they turned towards her with their usual smiling demand for her approbation.
The mother, with the forced smile of a sickening heart, said she believed there was no occasion for their practising any further that day. The daughters, who understood her too well, relinquished their instruments, and, accustomed to see every article of furniture converted into the means of casual subsistence, they thought no worse than that their ghitarras might be disposed of this day, and the next they hoped they would have to teach on those of their pupils. They were mistaken. Other symptoms of failing resolution,—of utter and hopeless abandonment, appeared that day. Walberg had always felt and expressed the strongest feelings of tender respect towards his parents—his father particularly, whose age far exceeded that of his mother. At the division of their meal that day, he shewed a kind of wilfish and greedy jealousy that made Ines tremble. He whispered to her—How much my father eats—how heartily he feeds while we have scarce a morsel!—And let us want that morsel, before your father wants one! said Ines in a whisper—I have scarce tasted any thing myself.—Father—father, cried Walberg, shouting in the ear of the doting old man, you are eating heartily, while Ines and her children are starving! And he snatched the food from his fathers hand, who gazed at him vacantly, and resigned the contested morsel without a struggle. A moment afterwards the old man rose from his seat, and with horrid unnatural force, tore the untasted meat from his grandchildrens lips, and swallowed it himself, while his rivelled and toothless mouth grinned at them in mockery at once infantine and malicious.
Squabbling about your supper? cried Everhard, bursting among them with a wild and feeble laugh,—Why, heres enough for to-morrow—and to-morrow. And he flung indeed ample means for two days subsistence on the table, but he looked paler and paler. The hungry family devoured the hoard, and forgot to ask the cause of his increasing paleness, and obviously diminished strength. * * * *
* * * *
They had long been without any domestics, and as Everhard disappeared mysteriously every day, the daughters were sometimes employed on the humble errands of the family. The beauty of the elder daughter, Julia, was so conspicuous, that her mother had often undertaken the most menial errands herself, rather than send her daughter into the streets unprotected. The following evening, however, being intently employed in some domestic occupation, she allowed Julia to go out to purchase their food for to-morrow, and lent her veil for the purpose, directing her daughter to arrange it in the Spanish fashion, with which she was well acquainted, so as to hide her face.
Julia, who went with trembling steps on her brief errand, had somehow deranged her veil, and a glimpse of her beauty was caught by a cavalier who was passing. The meanness of her dress and occupation suggested hopes to him which he ventured to express. Julia burst from him with the mingled terror and indignation of insulted purity, but her eyes rested with unconscious avidity on the handful of gold which glittered in his hand.—She thought of her famishing parents,—of her own declining strength, and neglected useless talents. The gold still sparkled before her,—she felt—she knew not what, and to escape from some feelings is perhaps the best victory we can obtain over them. But when she arrived at home, she eagerly thrust the small purchase she had made into her mothers hand, and, though hitherto gentle, submissive, and tractable, announced, in a tone of decision that seemed to her startled mother (whose thoughts were always limited to the exigencies of the hour) like that of sudden insanity, that she would rather starve than ever again tread the streets of Seville alone.
As Ines retired to her bed, she thought she heard a feeble moan from the room where Everhard lay, and where, from their being compelled to sell the necessary furniture of the bed, he had entreated his parents to allow Maurice to sleep with him, alleging that the warmth of his body would be a substitute for artificial covering to his little brother. Twice those moans were heard, but Ines did not dare to awake Walberg, who had sunk into that profound sleep which is as often the refuge of intolerable misery, as that of saturated enjoyment. A few moments after, when the moans had ceased, and she had half persuaded herself it was only the echo of that wave that seems for ever beating in the ears of the unfortunate,—the curtains of her bed were thrown open, and the figure of a child covered with blood, stained in breast, arms, and legs, appeared before her, and cried,—It is Everhards blood—he is bleeding to death,—I am covered with his blood!—Mother—mother—rise and save Everhards life! The object, the voice, the words, seemed to Ines like the imagery of some terrible dream, such as had lately often visited her sleep, till the tones of Maurice, her youngest, and (in her heart) her favourite child, made her spring from the bed, and hurry after the little blood-spotted figure that paddled before her on its naked feet, till she reached the adjoining room where Everhard lay. Amid all her anguish and fear, she trod as lightly as Maurice, lest she should awake Walberg.
The moon-light fell strongly through the unshuttered windows on the wretched closet that just contained the bed. Its furniture was sufficiently scanty, and in his spasms Everhard had thrown off the sheet. So he lay, as Ines approached his bed, in a kind of corse-like beauty, to which the light of the moon gave an effect that would have rendered the figure worthy the pencil of a Murillo, a Rosa, or any of those painters, who, inspired by the genius of suffering, delight in representing the most exquisite of human forms in the extremity of human agony. A St Bartholomew flayed, with his skin hanging about him in graceful drapery—a St Laurence, broiled on a gridiron, and exhibiting his finely-formed anatomy on its bars, while naked slaves are blowing the coals beneath it,—even these were inferior to the form half-veiled,—half-disclosed by the moon-light as it lay. The snow-white limbs of Everhard were extended as if for the inspection of a sculptor, and moveless, as if they were indeed what they resembled, in hue and symmetry, those of a marble statue. His arms were tossed above his head, and the blood was trickling fast from the opened veins of both,—his bright and curled hair was clotted with the red stream that flowed from his arms,—his lips were blue, and a faint and fainter moan issued from them as his mother hung over him. This sight banished in a moment all other fears and feelings, and Ines shrieked aloud to her husband for assistance. Walberg, staggering from his sleep, entered the room,—the object before him was enough. Ines had only strength left to point to it. The wretched father rushed out in quest of medical aid, which he was obliged to solicit gratuitously, and in bad Spanish, while his accents betrayed him at every door he knocked at,—and closed them against him as a foreigner and a heretic. At length a barber-surgeon (for the professions were united in Seville) consented, with many a yawn, to attend him, and came duly armed with lint and styptics. The distance was short, and he was soon by the bed of the young sufferer. The parents observed, with consternation unspeakable, the languid looks of recognition, the ghastly smile of consciousness, that Everhard viewed him with, as he approached the bed; and when he had succeeded in stopping the hæmorrhage, and bound up the arms, a whisper passed between him and the patient, and the latter raised his bloodless hand to his lips, and uttered, Remember our bargain. As the man retired, Walberg followed, and demanded to know the meaning of the words he had heard. Walberg was a German, and choleric—the surgeon was a Spaniard, and cool. I shall tell you to-morrow, Senhor, said he, putting up his instruments,—in the mean time be assured of my gratuitous attendance on your son, and of his certain recovery. We deem you heretics in Seville, but that youth is enough to canonize the whole family, and cover a multitude of sins. And with these words he departed. The next day he attended Everhard, and so for several, till he was completely recovered, always refusing the slightest remuneration, till the father, whom misery had made suspicious of every thing and nothing, watched at the door, and heard the horrible secret. He did not disclose it to his wife,—but from that hour, it was observed that his gloom became more intense, and the communications he used to hold with his family, on the subject of their distress, and the modes of evading it by hourly expedients, utterly and finally ceased.
Everhard, now recovered, but still pale as the widow of Seneca, was at last able to join the family consultation, and give advice, and suggest resources, with a mental energy that his physical weakness could not overcome. The next day, when they were assembled to debate on the means of procuring subsistence for the following one, they for the first time missed their father. At every word that was uttered, they turned to ask for his sanction—but he was not there. At last he entered the room, but without taking a part in their consultation. He leaned gloomily against the wall, and while Everhard and Julia, at every sentence, turned their appealing looks towards him, he sullenly averted his head. Ines, appearing to pursue some work, while her trembling fingers could scarce direct the needle, made a sign to her children not to observe him. Their voices were instantly depressed, and their heads bent closely towards each other. Mendicity appeared the only resource of this unfortunate family,—and they agreed, that the evening was the best time for trying its effect. The unhappy father remained rocking against the shattered wainscot till the arrival of evening. Ines repaired the clothes of the children, which were now so decayed, that every attempt at repair made a fresh rent, and the very thread she worked with seemed less attenuated than the worn-out materials it wrought on.
The grandfather, still seated in his ample chair by the care of Ines, (for his son had grown very indifferent about him), watched her moving fingers, and exclaimed, with the petulance of dotage, Aye,—you are arraying them in embroidery, while I am in rags.—In rags! he repeated, holding out the slender garments which the beggared family could with difficulty spare him. Ines tried to pacify him, and showed her work, to prove that it was the remnants of her childrens former dress she was repairing; but, with horror unutterable, she perceived her husband incensed at these expressions of dotage, and venting his frantic and fearful indignation in language that she tried to bury the sound of, by pressing closer to the old man, and attempting to fix his bewildered attention on herself and her work. This was easily accomplished, and all was well, till they were about to separate on their wretched precarious errands. Then a new and untold feeling trembled at the heart of one of the young wanderers. Julia remembered the occurrence of a preceding evening,—she thought of the tempting gold, the flattering language, and the tender tone of the young cavalier. She saw her family perishing around her for want,—she felt it consuming her own vitals,—and as she cast her eye round the squalid room, the gold glittered brighter and brighter in her eye. A faint hope, aided perhaps by a still more faint suggestion of venial pride, swelled in her heart. Perhaps he might love me, she whispered to herself, and think me not unworthy of his hand. Then despair returned to the charge. I must die of famine, she thought, if I return unaided,—and why may I not by my death benefit my family! I will never survive shame, but they may,—for they will not know it!—She went out, and took a direction different from that of the family.
Night came on,—the wanderers returned slowly one by one,—Julia was the last. Her brothers and sister had each obtained a trifling alms, for they had learned Spanish enough to beg in,—and the old mans face wore a vacant smile, as he saw the store produced, which was, after all, scarce sufficient to afford a meal for the youngest. And have you brought us nothing, Julia? said her parents. She stood apart, and in silence. Her father repeated the question in a raised and angry voice. She started at the sound, and, rushing forward, buried her head in her mothers bosom. Nothing,—nothing, she cried, in a broken and suffocated voice; I tried,—my weak and wicked heart submitted to the thought for a moment,—but no,—no, not even to save you from perishing, could I!—I came home to perish first myself! Her shuddering parents comprehended her,—and amid their agony they blessed her and wept,—but not from grief. The meal was divided, of which Julia at first steadily refused to partake, as she had not contributed to it, till her reluctance was overcome by the affectionate importunity of the rest, and she complied.
It was during this division of what all believed to be their last meal, that Walberg gave one of those proofs of sudden and fearful violence of temper, bordering on insanity, which he had betrayed latterly. He seemed to notice, with sullen displeasure, that his wife had (as she always did) reserved the largest portion for his father. He eyed it askance at first, muttering angrily to himself. Then he spoke more aloud, though not so as to be heard by the deaf old man, who was sluggishly devouring his sordid meal. Then the sufferings of his children seemed to inspire him with a kind of wild resentment, and he started up, exclaiming, My son sells his blood to a surgeon, to save us from perishing!1 My daughter trembles on the verge of prostitution, to procure us a meal! Then fiercely addressing his father, And what dost thou do, old dotard? Rise up,—rise up, and beg for us thyself, or thou must starve!—and, as he spoke, he raised his arm against the helpless old man. At this horrid sight, Ines shrieked aloud, and the children, rushing forward, interposed. The wretched father, incensed to madness, dealt blows among them, which were borne without a murmur; and then, the storm being exhausted, he sat down and wept.
1. Fact,—it occurred in a French family not many years ago.
At this moment, to the astonishment and terror of all except Walberg, the old man, who, since the night of his wifes interment, had never moved but from his chair to his bed, and that not without assistance, rose suddenly from his seat, and, apparently in obedience to his son, walked with a firm and steady pace towards the door. When he had reached it, he paused, looked back on them with a fruitless effort at recollection, and went out slowly;—and such was the terror felt by all at this last ghastly look, which seemed like that of a corse moving on to the place of its interment, that no one attempted to oppose his passage, and several moments elapsed before Everhard had the recollection to pursue him.
In the mean time, Ines had dismissed her children, and sitting as near as she dared to the wretched father, attempted to address some soothing expressions to him. Her voice, which was exquisitely sweet and soft, seemed to produce a mechanical effect on him. He turned towards her at first,—then leaning his head on his arm, he shed a few silent tears,—then flinging it on his wifes bosom, he wept aloud. Ines seized this moment to impress on his heart the horror she felt from the outrage he had committed, and adjured him to supplicate the mercy of God for a crime, which, in her eyes, appeared scarce short of parricide. Walberg wildly asked what she alluded to; and when, shuddering, she uttered the words,—Your father,—your poor old father!—he smiled with an expression of mysterious and supernatural confidence that froze her blood, and, approaching her ear, softly whispered, I have no father! He is dead,—long dead! I buried him the night I dug my mothers grave! Poor old man, he added with a sigh, it was the better for him,—he would have lived only to weep, and perish perhaps with hunger. But I will tell you, Ines,—and let it be a secret, I wondered what made our provisions decrease so, till what was yesterday sufficient for four, is not to-day sufficient for one. I watched, and at last I discovered—it must be a secret—an old goblin, who daily visited this house. It came in the likeness of an old man in rags, and with a long white beard, and it devoured every thing on the table, while the children stood hungry by! But I struck at—I cursed it,—I chased it in the name of the All-powerful, and it is gone. Oh it was a fell devouring goblin!—but it will haunt us no more, and we shall have enough. Enough, said the wretched man, involuntarily returning to his habitual associations,—enough for to-morrow!
Ines, overcome with horror at this obvious proof of insanity, neither interrupted or opposed him; she attempted only to soothe him, internally praying against the too probable disturbance of her own intellects. Walberg saw her look of distrust, and, with the quick jealousy of partial insanity, said, If you do not credit me in that, still less, I suppose, will you in the account of that fearful visitation with which I have latterly been familiar.—Oh, my beloved! said Ines, who recognized in these words the source of a fear that had latterly, from some extraordinary circumstances in her husbands conduct, taken possession of her soul, and made the fear even of famine trifling in comparison,—I dread lest I understand you too well. The anguish of want and of famine I could have borne,—aye, and seen you bear, but the horrid words you have lately uttered, the horrid thoughts that escape you in your sleep,—when I think on these, and guess at—You need not guess, said Walberg, interrupting her, I will tell you all. And, as he spoke, his countenance changed from its expression of wildness to one of perfect sanity and calm confidence,—his features relaxed, his eye became steady, and his tone firm.—Every night since our late distresses, I have wandered out in search of some relief, and supplicated every passing stranger;—latterly, I have met every night the enemy of man, who—Oh cease, my love, to indulge these horrible thoughts,—they are the results of your disturbed unhappy state of mind.—Ines, listen to me. I see that figure as plainly as I see yours,—I hear his voice as distinctly as you hear mine this moment. Want and misery are not naturally fertile in the production of imagination,—they grasp at realities too closely. No man, who wants a meal, conceives that a banquet is spread before him, and that the tempter invites him to sit down and eat at his ease. No,—no, Ines, the evil one, or some devoted agent of his in human form, besets me every night,—and how I shall longer resist the snare, I know not.—And in what form does he appear? said Ines, hoping to turn the channel of his gloomy thoughts, while she appeared to follow their direction. In that of a middle-aged man, of a serious and staid demeanour, and with nothing remarkable in his aspect except the light of two burning eyes, whose lustre is almost intolerable. He fixes them on me sometimes, and I feel as if there was fascination in their glare. Every night he besets me, and few like me could have resisted his seductions. He has offered, and proved to me, that it is in his power to bestow all that human cupidity could thirst for, on the condition that—I cannot utter! It is one so full of horror and impiety, that, even to listen to it, is scarce less a crime than to comply with it!
Ines, still incredulous, yet imagining that to soothe his delirium was perhaps the best way to overcome it, demanded what that condition was. Though they were alone, Walberg would communicate it only in a whisper; and Ines, fortified as she was by reason hitherto undisturbed, and a cool and steady temper, could not but recollect some vague reports she had heard in her early youth, before she quitted Spain, of a being permitted to wander through it, with power to tempt men under the pressure of extreme calamity with similar offers, which had been invariably rejected, even in the last extremities of despair and dissolution. She was not superstitious,—but, her memory now taking part with her husbands representation of what had befallen him, she shuddered at the possibility of his being exposed to similar temptation; and she endeavoured to fortify his mind and conscience, by arguments equally appropriate whether he was the victim of a disturbed imagination, or the real object of this fearful persecution. She reminded him, that if, even in Spain, where the abominations of Antichrist prevailed, and the triumph of the mother of witchcrafts and spiritual seduction was complete, the fearful offer he alluded to had been made and rejected with such unmitigated abhorrence, the renunciation of one who had embraced the pure doctrines of the gospel should be expressed with a tenfold energy of feeling and holy defiance. You, said the heroic woman, you first taught me that the doctrines of salvation are to be found alone in the holy scriptures,—I believed you, and wedded you in that belief. We are united less in the body than in the soul, for in the body neither of us may probably sojourn much longer. You pointed out to me, not the legends of fabulous saints, but the lives of the primitive apostles and martyrs of the true church. There I read no tales of voluntary humility, of self-inflicted, fruitless sufferings, but I read that the people of God were destitute, afflicted, tormented. And shall we dare to murmur at following the examples of those you have pointed out to me as ensamples of suffering? They bore the spoiling of their goods,—they wandered about in sheep skins and goat skins,—they resisted unto blood, striving against sin.—And shall we lament the lot that has fallen to us, when our hearts have so often burned within us, as we read the holy records together? Alas! what avails feeling till it is brought to the test of fact? How we deceived ourselves, in believing that we indeed participated in the feelings of those holy men, while we were so far removed from the test by which they were proved! We read of imprisonments, of tortures, and of flames!—We closed the book, and partook of a comfortable meal, and retired to a peaceful bed, triumphing in the thought, while saturated with all the worlds good, that if their trials had been ours, we could have sustained those trials as they did. Now, our hour has come,—it is an hour sharp and terrible!—It is! murmured the shuddering husband. But shall we therefore shrink? replied his wife. Your ancestors, who were the first in Germany that embraced the reformed religion, have bled and blazed for it, as you have often told me,—can there be a stronger attestation to it?—I believe there can, said Walberg, whose eyes rolled fearfully,—that of starving for it!—Oh Ines, he exclaimed, as he grasped her hands convulsively, I have felt,—I still feel, that a death at the stake would be mercy compared to the lingering tortures of protracted famine,—to the death that we die daily—and yet do not die! What is this I hold? he exclaimed, grasping unconsciously the hand he held in his. It is my hand, my love, answered the trembling wife.—Yours!—no—impossible!—Your fingers were soft and cool, but these are dry,—is this a human hand?—It is mine, said the weeping wife. Then you must have been famishing, said Walberg, awakening as if from a dream. We have all been so latterly, answered Ines, satisfied to restore her husbands sanity, even at the expense of this horrible confession,—We have all been so—but I have suffered the least. When a family is famishing, the children think of their meals—but the mother thinks only of her children. I have lived on as little as—I could,—I had indeed no appetite.—Hush, said Walberg, interrupting her—what sound was that?—was it not like a dying groan?—No—it is the children who moan in their sleep.—What do they moan for? Hunger I believe, said Ines, involuntarily yielding to the dreadful conviction of habitual misery.—And I sit and hear this, said Walberg, starting up,—I sit to hear their young sleep broken by dreams of hunger, while for a words speaking I could pile this floor with mountains of gold, and all for the risk of—Of what?—said Ines, clinging to him,—of what?—Oh! think of that!—what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?—Oh! let us starve, die, rot before your eyes, rather than you should seal your perdition by that horrible—Hear me, woman! said Walberg, turning on her eyes almost as fierce and lustrous as those of Melmoth, and whose light, indeed, seemed borrowed from his; Hear me!—My soul is lost! They who die in the agonies of famine know no God, and want none—if I remain here to famish among my children, I shall as surely blaspheme the Author of my being, as I shall renounce him under the fearful conditions proposed to me!—Listen to me, Ines, and tremble not. To see my children die of famine will be to me instant suicide and impenitent despair! But if I close with this fearful offer, I may yet repent,—I may yet escape!—There is hope on one side—on the other there is none—none—none! Your hands cling round me, but their touch is cold!—You are wasted to a shadow with want! Shew me the means of procuring another meal, and I will spit at the tempter, and spurn him!—But where is that to be found?—Let me go, then, to meet him!—You will pray for me, Ines,—will you not?—and the children?—No, let them not pray for me!—in my despair I forgot to pray myself, and their prayers would now be a reproach to me.—Ines!—Ines!—What? am I talking to a corse? He was indeed, for the wretched wife had sunk at his feet senseless. Thank God! he again emphatically exclaimed, as he beheld her lie to all appearance lifeless before him. Thank God a word then has killed her,—it was a gentler death than famine! It would have been kind to have strangled her with these hands! Now for the children! he exclaimed, while horrid thoughts chased each other over his reeling and unseated mind, and he imagined he heard the roar of a sea in its full strength thundering in his ears, and saw ten thousand waves dashing at his feet, and every wave of blood. Now for the children!—and he felt about as if for some implement of destruction. In doing so, his left hand crossed his right, and grasping it, he exclaimed as if he felt a sword in his hand,—This will do—they will struggle—they will supplicate,—but I will tell them their mother lies dead at my feet, and then what can they say? How now, said the miserable man, sitting calmly down, If they cry to me, what shall I answer? Julia, and Ines her mothers namesake,—and poor little Maurice, who smiles even amid hunger, and whose smiles are worse than curses!—I will tell them their mother is dead! he cried, staggering towards the door of his childrens apartment Dead without a blow!—that shall be their answer and their doom.
As he spoke, he stumbled over the senseless body of his wife; and the tone of his mind once more strung up to the highest pitch of conscious agony, he cried, Men!—men!—what are your pursuits and your passions?—your hopes and fears?—your struggles and your triumphs?—Look on me!—learn from a human being like yourselves, who preaches his last and fearful sermon over the corse of his wife, and approaching the bodies of his sleeping children, whom he soon hopes to see corses also—corses made so by his own hand!—Let all the world listen to me!—let them resign factitious wants and wishes, and furnish those who hang on them for subsistence with the means of bare subsistence!—There is no care, no thought beyond this! Let our children call on me for instruction, for promotion, for distinction, and call in vain—I hold myself innocent. They may find those for themselves, or want them if they list—but let them never in vain call on me for bread, as they have done,—as they do now! I hear the moans of their hungry sleep!—World—world, be wise, and let your children curse you to your face for any thing but want of bread! Oh that is the bitterest of curses,—and it is felt most when it is least uttered! I have felt it often, but I shall feel it no longer!—And the wretch tottered towards the beds of his children.
Father!—father! cried Julia, are these your hands? Oh let me live, and I will do any thing—any thing but—Father!—dear father! cried Ines, spare us!—to-morrow may bring another meal! Maurice, the young child, sprung from his bed, and cried, clinging round his father, Oh, dear father, forgive me!—but I dreamed a wolf was in the room, and was tearing out our throats; and, father, I cried so long, that I thought you never would come. And now—Oh God! oh God!—as he felt the hands of the frantic wretch grasping his throat,—are you the wolf?
Fortunately those hands were powerless from the very convulsion of the agony that prompted their desperate effort. The daughters had swooned from horror,—and their swoon appeared like death. The child had the cunning to counterfeit death also, and lay extended and stopping his breath under the fierce but faultering gripe that seized his young throat—then relinquished—then grasped it again—and then relaxed its hold as at the expiration of a spasm.
When all was over, as the wretched father thought, he retreated from the chamber. In doing so, he stumbled over the corse-like form of his wife.—A groan announced that the sufferer was not dead. What does this mean? said Walberg, staggering in his delirium,—does the corse reproach me for murder?—or does one surviving breath curse me for the unfinished work?
As he spoke, he placed his foot on his wifes body. At this moment, a loud knock was heard at the door. They are come! said Walberg, whose frenzy hurried him rapidly through the scenes of an imaginary murder, and the consequence of a judicial process. Well!—come in—knock again, or lift the latch—or enter as ye list—here I sit amid the bodies of my wife and children—I have murdered them—I confess it—ye come to drag me to torture, I know—but never—never can your tortures inflict on me more than the agony of seeing them perish by hunger before my eyes. Come in—come in—the deed is done!—The corse of my wife is at my foot, and the blood of my children is on my hands—what have I further to fear? But while the wretched man spoke thus, he sunk sullenly on his chair, appearing to be employed in wiping from his fingers the traces of blood with which he imagined they were stained. At length the knocking at the door became louder,—the latch was lifted,—and three figures entered the apartment in which Walberg sat. They advanced slowly,—two from age and exhaustion,—and the third from strong emotion. Walberg heeded them not,—his eyes were fixed,—his hands locked in each other;—nor did he move a limb as they approached.
Do you not know us? said the foremost, holding up a lantern which he held in his hand. Its light fell on a groupe worthy the pencil of a Rembrandt. The room lay in complete darkness, except where that strong and unbroken light fell. It glared on the rigid and moveless obduracy of Walbergs despair, who appeared stiffening into stone as he sat. It showed the figure of the friendly priest who had been Guzmans director, and whose features, pale and haggard with age and austerities, seemed to struggle with the smile that trembled over their wrinkled lines. Behind him stood the aged father of Walberg, with an aspect of perfect apathy, except when, with a momentary effort at recollection, he shook his white head, seeming to ask himself why he was there—and wherefore he could not speak. Supporting him stood the young form of Everhard, over whose cheek and eye wandered a glow and lustre too bright to last, and instantly succeeded by paleness and dejection. He trembled, advanced,—then shrinking back, clung to his infirm grandfather, as if needing the support he appeared to give. Walberg was the first to break the silence. I know ye who ye are, he said hollowly—ye are come to seize me—ye have heard my confession—why do you delay? Drag me away—I would rise and follow you if I could, but I feel as if I had grown to this seat—you must drag me from it yourselves.
As he spoke, his wife, who had remained stretched at his feet, rose slowly but firmly; and, of all that she saw or heard, appearing to comprehend only the meaning of her husbands words, she clasped her arms round him, as if to oppose his being torn from her, and gazed on the groupe with a look of impotent and ghastly defiance. Another witness, cried Walberg, risen from the dead against me? Nay, then, it is time to be gone,—and he attempted to rise. Stay, father, said Everhard, rushing forward and detaining him in his seat; stay,—there is good news, and this good priest has come to tell it,—listen to him, father, I cannot speak.—You! oh you! Everhard, answered the father, with a look of mournful reproach, you a witness against me too,—I never raised my hand against you!—Those whom I murdered are silent, and will you be my accuser?
They all now gathered round him, partly in terror and partly in consolation,—all anxious to disclose to him the tidings with which their hearts were burdened, yet fearful lest the freight might be too much for the frail vessel that rocked and reeled before them, as if the next breeze would be like a tempest to it. At last it burst forth from the priest, who, by the necessities of his profession, was ignorant of domestic feelings, and of the felicities and agonies which are inseparably twined with the fibres of conjugal and parental hearts. He knew nothing of what Walberg might feel as a husband or father,—for he could never be either; but he felt that good news must be good news, into whatever ears they were poured, or by whatever lips they might be uttered. We have the will, he cried abruptly, the true will of Guzman. The other was—asking pardon of God and the saints for saying so—no better than a forgery. The will is found, and you and your family are heirs to all his wealth. I was coming to acquaint you, late as it was, having with difficulty obtained the Superiors permission to do so, and in my way I met this old man, whom your son was conducting,—how came he out so late? At these words Walberg was observed to shudder with a brief but strong spasm. The will is found! repeated the priest, perceiving how little effect the words seemed to have on Walberg,—and he raised his voice to its utmost pitch. The will of my uncle is found, repeated Everhard. Found,—found,—found! echoed the aged grandfather, not knowing what he said, but vaguely repeating the last words he heard, and then looking round as if asking for an explanation of them. The will is found, love, cried Ines, who appeared restored to sudden and perfect consciousness by the sound; Do you not hear, love? We are wealthy,—we are happy! Speak to us, love, and do not stare so vacantly,—speak to us! A long pause followed. At length,—Who are those? said Walberg in a hollow voice, pointing to the figures before him, whom he viewed with a fixed and ghastly look, as if he was gazing on a band of spectres. Your son, love,—and your father,—and the good friendly priest. Why do you look so doubtfully on us?—And what do they come for? said Walberg. Again and again the import of their communication was told him, in tones that, trembling with varied emotion, scarce could express their meaning. At length he seemed faintly conscious of what was said, and, looking round on them, uttered a long and heavy sigh. They ceased to speak, and watched him in silence.—Wealth!—wealth!—it comes too late. Look there,—look there! and he pointed to the room where his children lay.
Ines, with a dreadful presentiment at her heart, rushed into it, and beheld her daughters lying apparently lifeless. The shriek she uttered, as she fell on the bodies, brought the priest and her son to her assistance, and Walberg and the old man were left together alone, viewing each other with looks of complete insensibility; and this apathy of age, and stupefaction of despair, made a singular contrast with the fierce and wild agony of those who still retained their feelings. It was long before the daughters were recovered from their death-like swoon, and still longer before their father could be persuaded that the arms that clasped him, and the tears that fell on his cold cheek, were those of his living children.
All that night his wife and family struggled with his despair. At last recollection seemed to burst on him at once. He shed some tears;—then, with a minuteness of reminiscence that was equally singular and affecting, he flung himself before the old man, who, speechless and exhausted, sat passively in his chair, and exclaiming, Father, forgive me! buried his head between his fathers knees.* * * *
* * * *
Happiness is a powerful restorative,—in a few days the spirits of all appeared to have subsided into a calm. They wept sometimes, but their tears were no longer painful;—they resembled those showers in a fine spring morning, which announce the increasing warmth and beauty of the day. The infirmities of Walbergs father made the son resolve not to leave Spain till his dissolution, which took place in a few months. He died in peace, blessing and blessed. His son was his only spiritual attendant, and a brief and partial interval of recollection enabled him to understand and express his joy and confidence in the holy texts which were read to him from the scriptures. The wealth of the family had now given them importance; and, by the interest of the friendly priest, the body was permitted to be interred in consecrated ground. The family then set out for Germany, where they reside in prosperous felicity;—but to this hour Walberg shudders with horror when he recals the fearful temptations of the stranger, whom he met in his nightly wanderings in the hour of his adversity, and the horrors of this visitation appear to oppress his recollection more than even the images of his family perishing with want.
There are other narratives, continued the stranger, relating to this mysterious being, which I am in possession of, and which I have collected with much difficulty; for the unhappy, who are exposed to his temptations, consider their misfortunes as a crime, and conceal, with the most anxious secresy, every circumstance of this horrible visitation. Should we again meet, Senhor, I may communicate them to you, and you will find them no less extraordinary than that I have just related. But it is now late, and you need repose after the fatigue of your journey.—So saying, the stranger departed.
Don Francisco remained seated in his chair, musing on the singular tale he had listened to, till the lateness of the hour, combining with his fatigue, and the profound attention he had paid to the narrative of the stranger, plunged him insensibly into a deep slumber. He was awoke in a few minutes by a slight noise in the room, and looking up perceived seated opposite to him another person, whom he never recollected to have seen before, but who was indeed the same who had been refused admittance under the roof of that house the preceding day. He appeared seated perfectly at his ease, however; and to Don Franciscos look of surprise and inquiry, replied that he was a traveller, who had been by mistake shown into that apartment,—that finding its occupant asleep and undisturbed by his entrance, he had taken the liberty of remaining there, but was willing to retire if his presence was considered intrusive.
As he spoke, Don Francisco had leisure to observe him. There was something remarkable in his expression, though the observer did not find it easy to define what it was; and his manner, though not courtly or conciliating, had an ease which appeared more the result of independence of thought, than of the acquired habitudes of society.
Don Francisco welcomed him gravely and slowly, not without a sensation of awe for which he could scarcely account;—and the stranger returned the salutation in a manner that was not likely to diminish that impression. A long silence followed. The stranger (who did not announce his name) was the first to break it, by apologizing for having, while seated in an adjacent apartment, involuntarily overheard an extraordinary tale or narrative related to Don Francisco, in which he confessed he took a profound interest, such as (he added, bowing with an air of grim and reluctant civility) would, he trusted, palliate his impropriety in listening to a communication not addressed to him.
To all this Don Francisco could only reply by bows equally rigid, (his body scarce forming an acute angle with his limbs as he sat), and by looks of uneasy and doubtful curiosity directed towards his strange visitor, who, however, kept his seat immoveably, and seemed, after all his apologies, resolved to sit out Don Francisco.
Another long pause was broken by the visitor. You were listening, I think, he said, to a wild and terrible story of a being who was commissioned on an unutterable errand,—even to tempt spirits in woe, at their last mortal extremity, to barter their hopes of future happiness for a short remission of their temporary sufferings.—I heard nothing of that, said Don Francisco, whose recollection, none of the clearest naturally, was not much improved by the length of the narrative he had just listened to, and by the sleep into which he had fallen since he heard it. Nothing? said the visitor, with something of abruptness and asperity in his tone that made the hearer start—nothing?—I thought there was mention too of that unhappy being to whom Walberg confessed his severest trials were owing,—in comparison with whose fearful visitations those of even famine were as dust in the balance.—Yes, yes, answered Don Francisco, startled into sudden recollection, I remember there was a mention of the devil,—or his agent,—or something—Senhor, said the stranger interrupting him, with an expression of wild and fierce derision, which was lost on Aliaga—Senhor, I beg you will not confound personages who have the honour to be so nearly allied, and yet so perfectly distinct as the devil and his agent, or agents. You yourself, Senhor, who, of course, as an orthodox and inveterate Catholic, must abhor the enemy of mankind, have often acted as his agent, and yet would be somewhat offended at being mistaken for him. Don Francisco crossed himself repeatedly, and devoutly disavowed his ever having been an agent of the enemy of man. Will you dare to say so? said his singular visitor, not raising his voice as the insolence of the question seemed to require, but depressing it to the lowest whisper as he drew his seat nearer his astonished companion—Will you dare to say so?—Have you never erred?—Have you never felt one impure sensation?—Have you never indulged a transient feeling of hatred, or malice, or revenge?—Have you never forgot to do the good you ought to do,—or remembered to do the evil you ought not to have done?—Have you never in trade overreached a dealer, or banquetted on the spoils of your starving debtor?—Have you never, as you went to your daily devotions, cursed from your heart the wanderings of your heretical brethren,—and while you dipped your fingers in the holy water, hoped that every drop that touched your pores, would be visited on them in drops of brimstone and sulphur?—Have you never, as you beheld the famished, illiterate, degraded populace of your country, exulted in the wretched and temporary superiority your wealth has given you,—and felt that the wheels of your carriage would not roll less smoothly if the way was paved with the heads of your countrymen? Orthodox Catholic—old Christian—as you boast yourself to be,—is not this true?—and dare you say you have not been an agent of Satan? I tell you, whenever you indulge one brutal passion, one sordid desire, one impure imagination—whenever you uttered one word that wrung the heart, or embittered the spirit of your fellow-creature—whenever you made that hour pass in pain to whose flight you might have lent wings of down—whenever you have seen the tear, which your hand might have wiped away, fall uncaught, or forced it from an eye which would have smiled on you in light had you permitted it—whenever you have done this, you have been ten times more an agent of the enemy of man than all the wretches whom terror, enfeebled nerves, or visionary credulity, has forced into the confession of an incredible compact with the author of evil, and whose confession has consigned them to flames much more substantial than those the imagination of their persecutors pictured them doomed to for an eternity of suffering! Enemy of mankind! the speaker continued,—Alas! how absurdly is that title bestowed on the great angelic chief,—the morning star fallen from its sphere! What enemy has man so deadly as himself? If he would ask on whom he should bestow that title aright, let him smite his bosom, and his heart will answer,—Bestow it here!
The emotion with which the stranger spoke, roused and affected even the sluggish and incrusted spirit of the listener. His conscience, like a state coach-horse, had hitherto only been brought on solemn and pompous occasions, and then paced heavily along a smooth and well-prepared course, under the gorgeous trappings of ceremony;—now it resembled the same animal suddenly bestrid by a fierce and vigorous rider, and urged by lash and spur along a new and rugged road. And slow and reluctant as he was to own it, he felt the power of the weight that pressed, and the bit that galled him. He answered by a hasty and trembling renunciation of all engagements, direct or indirect, with the evil power; but he added, that he must acknowledge he had been too often the victim of his seductions, and trusted for the forgiveness of his wanderings to the power of the holy church, and the intercession of the saints.
The stranger (though he smiled somewhat grimly at this declaration) seemed to accept the concession, and apologized, in his turn, for the warmth with which he had spoken; and which he begged Don Francisco would interpret as a mark of interest in his spiritual concerns. This explanation, though it seemed to commence favourably, was not followed, however, by any attempt at renewed conversation. The parties appeared to stand aloof from each other, till the stranger again alluded to his having overheard the singular conversation and subsequent narrative in Aliagas apartment. Senhor, he added, in a voice whose solemnity deeply impressed the hearer, wearied as he was,—I am acquainted with circumstances relating to the extraordinary person who was the daily watcher of Walbergs miseries, and the nightly tempter of his thoughts,—known but to him and me. Indeed I may add, without the imputation of vanity or presumption, that I am as well acquainted as himself with every event of his extraordinary existence; and that your curiosity, if excited at all about him, could be gratified by none so amply and faithfully as by myself.—I thank you, Senhor, answered Don Francisco, whose blood seemed congealing in his veins at the voice and expression of the stranger, he knew not why—I thank you, but my curiosity has been completely satisfied by the narrative I have already listened to. The night is far spent, and I have to pursue my journey to-morrow; I will therefore defer hearing the particulars you offer to gratify me with till our next meeting.
As he spoke, he rose from his seat, hoping that this action would intimate to the intruder, that his presence was no longer desirable. The latter continued, in spite of the intimation, fixed in his seat. At length, starting as if from a trance, he exclaimed, When shall our next meeting be?
Don Francisco, who did not feel particularly anxious to renew the intimacy, slightly mentioned, that he was on his journey to the neighbourhood of Madrid, where his family, whom he had not seen for many years, resided—that the stages of his journey were uncertain, as he would be obliged to wait for communications from a friend and future relative,—(he alluded to Montilla his intended son-in-law, and as he spoke, the stranger gave a peculiar smile),—and also from certain mercantile correspondents, whose letters were of the utmost importance. Finally, he added, in a disturbed tone, (for the awe of the strangers presence hung round him like a chilling atmosphere, and seemed to freeze even his words as they issued from his mouth), he could not—easily—tell when he might again have the honour of meeting the stranger. You cannot, said the stranger, rising and drawing his mantle over one shoulder, while his reverted eyes glanced fearfully on the pale auditor—You cannot,—but I can. Don Francisco di Aliaga, we shall meet tomorrow night!
As he spoke, he still continued to stand near the door, fixing on Aliaga eyes whose light seemed to burn more intensely amid the dimness of the wretched apartment. Aliaga had risen also, and was gazing on his strange visitor with dim and troubled vision,—when the latter, suddenly retreating from the door, approached him and said, in a stifled and mysterious whisper, Would you wish to witness the fate of those whose curiosity or presumption breaks on the secrets of that mysterious being, and dares to touch the folds of the veil in which his destiny has been enshrouded by eternity? If you do, look here! And as he spoke, he pointed to a door which Don Francisco well remembered to be that which the person whom he had met at the inn the preceding evening, and who had related to him the tale of Guzmans family, (or rather relatives), had retired by. Obeying mechanically the waving of the arm, and the beckoning of the strangers awful eye, rather than the impulse of his own will, Aliaga followed him. They entered the apartment; it was narrow, and dark, and empty. The stranger held a candle aloft, whose dim light fell on a wretched bed, where lay what had been the form of a living man within a few hours. Look there! said the stranger; and Aliaga with horror beheld the figure of the being who had been conversing with him the preceding part of that very evening,—extended a corse!
Advance—look—observe! said the stranger, tearing off the sheet which had been the only covering of the sleeper who had now sunk into the long and last slumber—There is no mark of violence, no distortion of feature, or convulsion of limb—no hand of man was on him. He sought the possession of a desperate secret—he obtained it, but he paid for it the dreadful price that can be paid but once by mortals. So perish those whose presumption exceeds their power!
Aliaga, as he beheld the body, and heard the words of the stranger, felt himself disposed to summon the inmates of the house, and accuse the stranger of murder; but the natural cowardice of a mercantile spirit, mingled with other feelings which he could not analyse, and dared not own, withheld him,—and he continued to gaze alternately on the corse and the corse-like stranger. The latter, after pointing emphatically to the body, as if intimating the danger of imprudent curiosity, or unavailing disclosure, repeated the words, We meet again to-morrow night! and departed.
Aliaga, overcome by fatigue and emotion, sunk down by the corse, and remained in that trance-like state till the servants of the inn entered the room. They were shocked to find a dead body in the bed, and scarce less shocked at the death-like state in which they found Aliaga. His known wealth and distinction procured for him those attentions which otherwise their terrors or their suspicions might have withheld. A sheet was cast over the body, and Aliaga was conveyed to another apartment, and attended sedulously by the domestics.
In the mean time, the Alcaide arrived; and having learned that the person who had died suddenly in the inn was one totally unknown, as being only a writer, and a man of no importance in public or private life, and that the person found near his bed in a passive stupor was a wealthy merchant,—snatched, with some trepidation, the pen from the ink-horn which hung at his button-hole, and sketched the record of this sapient inquest:—That a guest had died in the house, none could deny; but no one could suspect Don Francisco di Aliaga of murder.
As Don Francisco mounted his mule the following day, on the strength of this just verdict, a person, who did not apparently belong to the house, was particularly solicitous in adjusting his stirrups, &c.; and while the obsequious Alcaide bowed oft and profoundly to the wealthy merchant, (whose liberality he had amply experienced for the favourable colour he had given to the strong circumstantial evidence against him), this person whispered, in a voice that reached only the ears of Don Francisco, We meet to-night!
Don Francisco checked his mule as he heard the words. He looked round him—the speaker was gone. Don Francisco rode on with a feeling known to few, and which those who have felt are perhaps the least willing to communicate.
[4 lines of greek letters]
Don Francisco rode on most of that day. The weather was mild, and his servants holding occasionally large umbrellas over him as he rode, rendered travelling supportable. In consequence of his long absence from Spain, he was wholly unacquainted with his route, and obliged to depend on a guide; and the fidelity of a Spanish guide being as proverbial and trust-worthy as Punic faith, towards evening Don Francisco found himself just where the Princess Micomicona, in the romance of his countryman, is said to have discovered Don Quixote,—amid a labyrinth of rocks. He immediately dispatched his attendants in various directions, to discover the track they were to pursue. The guide gallopped after as fast as his wearied mule could go, and Don Francisco, looking round, after a long delay on the part of his attendants, found himself completely alone. Neither the weather nor the prospect was calculated to raise his spirits. The evening was very misty, unlike the brief and brilliant twilight that precedes the nights of the favoured climates of the south. Heavy showers fell from time to time,—not incessant, but seeming like the discharge of passing clouds, that were instantly succeeded by others. Those clouds gathered blacker and deeper every moment, and hung in fantastic wreaths over the stony mountains that formed a gloomy perspective to the eye of the traveller. As the mists wandered over them, they seemed to rise and fade, and shift their shapes and their stations like the hills of Ubeda,  as indistinct in form and as dim in hue, as the atmospheric illusions which in that dreary and deceptive light sometimes gave them the appearance of primeval mountains, and sometimes that of fleecy and baseless clouds.
1. Vide Cervantes, apud Don Quixote de Collibus Ubedæ.
Don Francisco at first dropt the reins on his mules neck, and uttered sundry ejaculations to the Virgin. Finding this did no good,—that the hills still seemed to wander before his bewildered eyes, and the mule, on the other hand, remained immoveable, he bethought himself of calling on a variety of saints, whose names the echoes of the hills returned with the most perfect punctuality, but not one of whom happened just then to be at leisure to attend to his petitions. Finding the case thus desperate, Don Francisco struck spurs into his mule, and gallopped up a rocky defile, where the hoofs of his beast struck fire at every step, and their echo from the rocks of granite made the rider tremble, lest he was pursued by banditti at every step he took. The mule, so provoked, gallopped fiercely on, till the rider, weary as he was, and somewhat incommoded by its speed, drew up the reins more tightly, at hearing the steps of another rider close behind him. The mule paused instantly. Some say that animals have a kind of instinct in discovering and recognizing the approach of beings not of this world. However that may be, Don Franciscos mule stood as if its feet had been nailed to the road, till the approach of the traveller set it once more into a gallop, on which, as it appeared, the gallop of the pursuer, whose course seemed fleeter than that of an earthly rider, gained fast, and in a few moments a singular figure rode close beside Don Francisco.
He was not in a riding dress, but muffled from head to foot in a long cloke, whose folds were so ample as almost to hide the flanks of his beast. As soon as he was abreast with Aliaga, he removed that part of the cloke which covered his head and shoulders, and, turning towards him, disclosed the unwelcome countenance of his mysterious visitor the preceding night. We meet again, Senhor, said the stranger, with his peculiar smile, and fortunately for you, I trust. Your guide has ridden off with the money you advanced him for his services, and your servants are ignorant of the roads, which, in this part of the country, are singularly perplexed. If you will accept of me as your guide, you will, I believe, have reason to congratulate yourself on our encounter.
Don Francisco, who felt that no choice was left, acquiesced in silence, and rode on, not without reluctance, by the side of his strange companion. The silence was at length broken, by the strangers pointing out the village at which Aliaga proposed to pass the night, at no very great distance, and at the same time noticing the approaching of his servants, who were returning to their master, after having made a similar discovery. These circumstances contributing to restore Aliagas courage, he proceeded with some degree of confidence, and even began to listen with interest to the conversation of the stranger; particularly as he observed, that though the village was near, the windings of the road were likely to retard their arrival for some hours. The interest which had thus been excited, the stranger seemed resolved to improve to the uttermost. He rapidly unfolded the stores of his rich and copiously furnished mind; and, by skilfully blending his displays of general knowledge with particular references to the oriental countries where Aliaga had resided, their commerce, their customs, and their manners, and with a perfect acquaintance with the most minute topics of mercantile discourse,—he so far conciliated his fellow-traveller, that the journey, begun in terror, ended in delight, and Aliaga heard with a kind of pleasure, (not however unmixed with awful reminiscences), the stranger announce his intention of passing the night at the same inn.
During the supper, the stranger redoubled his efforts, and confirmed his success. He was indeed a man who could please when he pleased, and whom. His powerful intellects, extensive knowledge, and accurate memory, qualified him to render the hour of companionship delightful to all whom genius could interest, or information amuse. He possessed a fund of anecdotical history, and, from the fidelity of his paintings, always appeared himself to have been an agent in the scenes he described. This night, too, that the attractions of his conversation might want no charm, and have no shade, he watchfully forbore those bursts of passion,—those fierce explosions of misanthropy and malediction, and that bitter and burning irony with which, at other times, he seemed to delight to interrupt himself and confound his hearer.
The evening thus passed pleasurably; and it was not till supper was removed, and the lamp placed on the table beside which the stranger and he were seated alone, that the ghastly scene of the preceding night rose like a vision before the eyes of Aliaga. He thought he saw the corse lying in a corner of the room, and waving its dead hand, as if to beckon him away from the society of the stranger. The vision passed away,—he looked up,—they were alone. It was with the utmost effort of his mixed politeness and fear, that he prepared himself to listen to the tale which the stranger had frequently, amid their miscellaneous conversation, alluded to, and showed an evident anxiety to relate.
These allusions were attended with unpleasant reminiscences to the hearer,—but he saw that it was to be, and armed himself as he might with courage to hear. I would not intrude on you, Senhor, said the stranger, with an air of grave interest which Aliaga had never seen him assume before—I would not intrude on you with a narrative in which you can feel but little interest, were I not conscious that its relation may operate as a warning the most awful, salutary, and efficacious to yourself.—Me! exclaimed Don Francisco, revolting with all the horror of an orthodox Catholic at the sound.—Me! he repeated, uttering a dozen ejaculations to the saints, and making the sign of the cross twice that number of times.—Me! he continued, discharging a whole volley of fulmination against all those who, being entangled in the snares of Satan, sought to draw others into them, whether in the shape of heresy, witchcraft, or otherwise. It might be observed, however, that he laid most stress on heresy, the latter evil, from the rigour of their mythology, or other causes, which it were not unworthy philosophical curiosity to inquire into, being almost unknown in Spain;—and he uttered this protestation (which was doubtless very sincere) with such a hostile and denunciatory tone, that Satan, if he was present, (as the speaker half imagined), would have been almost justified in making reprisals. Amid the assumed consequence which passion, whether natural or artificial, always gives to a man of mediocrity, he felt himself withering in the wild laugh of the stranger. You,—you! he exclaimed, after a burst of sound that seemed rather like the convulsion of a demoniac, than the mirth, however frantic, of a human being—you!—oh, theres metal more attractive! Satan himself, however depraved, has a better taste than to crunch such a withered scrap of orthodoxy as you between his iron teeth. No!—the interest I alluded to as possible for you to feel, refers to another one, for whom you ought to feel if possible more than for yourself. Now, worthy Aliaga, your personal fears being removed, sit and listen to my tale. You are sufficiently acquainted, through the medium of commercial feelings, and the general information which your habits have forced on you, with the history and manners of those heretics who inhabit the country called England.
Don Francisco, as a merchant, avouched his knowledge of their being fair dealers, and wealthy liberal speculators in trade; but (crossing himself frequently) he pronounced his utter detestation of them as enemies to the holy church, and implored the stranger to believe that he would rather renounce the most advantageous contract he had ever made with them in the mercantile line, than be suspected of—I suspect nothing, said the stranger, interrupting him, with that smile that spoke darker and bitterer things than the fiercest frown that ever wrinkled the features of man.—Interrupt me no more,—listen, as you value the safety of a being of more value than all your race beside. You are acquainted tolerably with the English history, and manners, and habits; the latter events of their history are indeed in the mouths of all Europe. Aliaga was silent, and the stranger proceeded.
The Lovers Tale
In a part of that heretic country lies a portion of land they call Shropshire, (I have had dealings with Shrewsbury merchants, said Aliaga to himself, they furnished goods, and paid bills with distinguished punctuality,)—there stood Mortimer Castle, the seat of a family who boasted of their descent from the age of the Norman Conqueror, and had never mortgaged an acre, or cut down a tree, or lowered a banner on their towers at the approach of a foe, for five hundred years. Mortimer castle had held out during the wars of Stephen and Matilda,—it had even defied the powers that summoned it to capitulation alternately, (about once a week), during the struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster,—it had also disdained the summons of Richard and Richmond, as their successive blasts shook its battlements, while the armies of the respective leaders advanced to the field of Bosworth. The Mortimer family, in fact, by their power, their extensive influence, their immense wealth, and the independency of their spirit, had rendered themselves formidable to every party, and superior to all.
At the time of the Reformation, Sir Roger Mortimer, the descendant of this powerful family, vigorously espoused the cause of the Reformers; and when the nobility and gentry of the neighbourhood sent their usual dole, at Christmas, of beef and ale to their tenants, Sir Roger, with his chaplain attending him, went about from cottage to cottage, distributing Bibles in English, of the edition printed by Tyndal in Holland. But his loyalism prevailed so far, that he circulated along with them the uncouth print, cut out of his own copy, of the King (Henry VIII.) dispensing copies of the Bible from both hands, which the people, as represented in the engraving, caught at with theirs, and seemed to devour as the word of life, almost before it could reach them.
In the short reign of Edward, the family was protected and cherished; and the godly Sir Edmund, son and successor to Sir Roger, had the Bible laid open in his hall window, that while his domestics passed on their errands, as he expressed himself,—he that runs may read. In that of Mary, they were oppressed, confiscated, and menaced. Two of their servants were burned at Shrewsbury; and it was said that nothing but a large sum, advanced to defray the expenses of the entertainments made at Court on the arrival of Philip of Spain, saved the godly Sir Edmund from the same fate.
Sir Edmund, to whatever cause he owed his safety, did not enjoy it long. He had seen his faithful and ancient servants brought to the stake, for the opinions he had taught them,—he had attended them in person to the awful spot, and seen the Bibles he had attempted to place in their hands flung into the flames, as they were kindled round them,—he had turned with tottering steps from the scene, but the crowd, in the triumph of their barbarity, gathered round, and kept him close, so that he not only involuntarily witnessed the whole spectacle, but felt the very heat of the flames that were consuming the bodies of the sufferers. Sir Edmund returned to Mortimer Castle, and died.
His successor, during the reign of Elizabeth, stoutly defended the rights of the Reformers, and sometimes grumbled at those of prerogative. These grumblings were said to have cost him dear—the court of purveyors charged him £3000, an enormous sum in those days, for an expected visit of the Queen and her court—a visit which was never paid. The money was, however, paid; and it was said that Sir Orlan de Mortimer raised part of the money by disposing of his falcons, the best in England, to the Earl of Leicester, the then favourite of the Queen. At all events, there was a tradition in the family, that when, on his last ride through his territorial demesne, Sir Orlando saw his favourite remaining bird fly from the falconers hand, and break her jesses, he exclaimed, Let her fly; she knows the way to my lord of Leicesters.
During the reign of James, the Mortimer family took a more decided part. The influence of the Puritans (whom James hated with a hatred passing that of even a controversialist, and remembered with pardonable filial resentment, as the inveterate enemies of his ill-fated mother) was now increasing every hour. Sir Arthur Mortimer was standing by King James at the first representation of Bartholomew Fair, written by Ben Jonson, when the prologue uttered these words:1
Your Majesty is welcome to a Fair;
Such place, such men, such language, and such ware,
You must expect—with these the zealous noise
Of your lands faction, scandalized at toys.
1 Vide Jonsons play, in which is introduced a Puritan preacher, a Banbury man, named Zeal-of-the-land Busy.
My lord, said the King, (for Sir Arthur was one of the lords of the privy council), how deem you by that?—Please your Majesty, answered Sir Arthur, those Puritans, as I rode to London, cut off mine horses tail, as they said the ribbons with which it was tied savoured too much of the pride of the beast on which the scarlet whore sits. Pray God their shears may never extend from the tails of horses to the heads of kings! And as he spoke with affectionate and ominous solicitude, he happened to place his hand on the head of Prince Charles, (afterwards Charles I.), who was sitting next his brother Henry, Prince of Wales, and to whom Sir Arthur Mortimer had had the high honour to be sponsor, as proxy for a sovereign prince.
The awful and troubled times which Sir Arthur had predicted soon arrived, though he did not live to witness them. His son, Sir Roger Mortimer, a man lofty alike in pride and in principle, and immoveable in both,—an Arminian in creed, and an aristocrat in politics,—the zealous friend of the misguided Laud, and the bosom-companion of the unfortunate Strafford,—was among the first to urge King Charles to those high-handed and impolitic measures, the result of which was so fatal.
When the war broke out between the King and the Parliament, Sir Roger espoused the royal cause with heart and hand,—raised a large sum in vain, to prevent the sale of the crown-jewels in Holland,—and led five hundred of his tenants, armed at his own expence, to the battles of Edge-hill and Marston-moor.
His wife was dead, but his sister, Mrs Ann Mortimer, a woman of uncommon beauty, spirit, and dignity of character, and as firmly attached as her brother to the cause of the court, of which she had been once the most brilliant ornament, presided over his household, and by her talents, courage, and promptitude, had been of considerable service to the cause.
The time came, however, when valour and rank, and loyalty and beauty, found all their efforts ineffectual; and of the five hundred brave men that Sir Roger had led into the field to his sovereigns aid, he brought back thirty maimed and mutilated veterans to Mortimer Castle, on the disastrous day that King Charles was persuaded to put himself into the hands of the disaffected and mercenary Scots, who sold him for their arrears of pay due by the Parliament.
The reign of rebellion soon commenced,—and Sir Roger, as a distinguished loyalist, felt the severest scourge of its power. Sequestrations and compositions,—fines for malignancy, and forced loans for the support of a cause he detested,—drained the well-filled coffers, and depressed the high spirit, of the aged loyalist. Domestic inquietude was added to his other calamities. He had three children.—His eldest son had fallen fighting in the Kings cause at the battle of Newbury, leaving an infant daughter, then supposed the heiress of immense wealth. His second son had embraced the Puritanic cause, and, lapsing from error to error, married the daughter of an Independent, whose creed he had adopted; and, according to the custom of those days, fought all day at the head of his regiment, and preached and prayed to them all night, in strict conformity with that verse in the psalms, which served him alternately for his text and his battle-word—Let the praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hands. This double exercise of the sword and the word, however, proved too much for the strength of the saint-militant; and after having, during Cromwells Irish campaign, vigorously headed the attack on Cloghan Castle,  the ancient seat of the OMoores, princes of Leix,—and being scalded through his buff-coat by a discharge of hot water from the bartizan,—and then imprudently given the word of exhortation for an hour and forty minutes to his soldiers, on the bare heath that surrounded the castle, and under a drenching rain,—he died of a pleurisy in three days, and left, like his brother, an infant daughter who had remained in England, and had been educated by her mother. It was said in the family, that this man had written the first lines of Miltons poem on the new forcers of conscience under the Long Parliament. It is certain, at least, that when the fanatics who surrounded his dying bed were lifting up their voices to sing a hymn, he thundered with his last breath,
Because ye have thrown off your prelate lord,
And with stiff vows renounce his Liturgy,
To seize the widowed w—-e pluralitie,
From them whose sin ye envied not, abhorrd, &c.
1. I have been an inmate in this castle for many months—it is still inhabited by the venerable descendant of that ancient family. His son is now High-Sheriff of the Kings county. Half the castle was battered down by Oliver Cromwells forces, and rebuilt in the reign of Charles the Second. The remains of the castle are a tower of about forty feet square, and five stories high, with a single spacious apartment on each floor, and a narrow staircase communicating with each, and reaching to the bartizan. A beautiful ash-plant, which I have often admired, is now displaying its foliage between the stones of the bartizan,—and how it got or grew there, heaven only knows. There it is, however; and it is better to see it there than to feel the discharge of hot water or molten lead from the apertures.
Sir Roger felt, though from different causes, pretty much the same degree of emotion on the deaths of his two sons. He was fortified against affliction at the death of the elder, from the consolation afforded him by the cause in which he had fallen; and that in which the apostate, as his father always called him, had perished, was an equal preventive against his feeling any deep or bitter grief on his dissolution.
When his eldest son fell in the royal cause, and his friends gathered round him in officious condolence, the old loyalist replied, with a spirit worthy of the proudest days of classic heroism, It is not for my dead son that I should weep, but for my living one. His tears, however, were flowing at that time for another cause.
His only daughter, during his absence, in spite of the vigilance of Mrs Ann, had been seduced by some Puritan servants in a neighbouring family, to hear an Independent preacher of the name of Sandal, who was then a Serjeant in Colonel Prides regiment, and who was preaching in a barn in the neighbourhood, in the intervals of his military exercises. This man was a natural orator, and a vehement enthusiast; and, with the license of the day, that compromised between a pun and a text, and delighted in the union of both, this serjeant-preacher had baptized himself by the name of—Thou-art-not-worthy-to-unloose-the-latchets-of-his-shoes,— Sandal.
This was the text on which he preached, and his eloquence had such effect on the daughter of Sir Roger Mortimer, that, forgetting the dignity of her birth, and the loyalty of her family, she united her destiny with this low-born man; and, believing herself to be suddenly inspired from this felicitous conjunction, she actually out-preached two female Quakers in a fortnight after their marriage, and wrote a letter (very ill-spelled) to her father, in which she announced her intention to suffer affliction with the people of God, and denounced his eternal damnation, if he declined embracing the creed of her husband; which creed was changed the following week, on his hearing a sermon from the celebrated Hugh Peters, and a month after, on hearing an itinerant preacher of the Ranters or Antinomians, who was surrounded by a troop of licentious, half-naked, drunken disciples, whose vociferations of—We are the naked truth, completely silenced a fifth-monarchy man, who was preaching from a tub on the other side of the road. To this preacher Sandal was introduced, and being a man of violent passions, and unsettled principles, he instantly embraced the opinions of the last speaker, (dragging his wife along with him into every gulph of polemical or political difficulty he plunged in), till he happened to hear another preacher of the Cameronians, whose constant topic, whether of triumph or of consolation, was the unavailing efforts made in the preceding reign, to force the Episcopalian system down the throats of the Scots; and, in default of a text, always repeated the words of Archy, jester to Charles the First, who, on the first intimation of the reluctance of the Scots to admit Episcopal jurisdiction, exclaimed to Archbishop Laud, My Lord, who is the fool now?—for which he had his coat stripped over his head, and was forbid the court. So Sandal vacillated between creed and creed, between preacher and preacher, till he died, leaving his widow with one son. Sir Roger announced to his widowed daughter, his determined purpose never to see her more, but he promised his protection to her son, if entrusted to his care. The widow was too poor to decline compliance with the offer of her deserted father.
So in Mortimer Castle were, in their infancy, assembled the three grandchildren, born under such various auspices and destinies. Margaret Mortimer the heiress, a beautiful, intelligent, spirited girl, heiress of all the pride, aristocratical principle, and possible wealth of the family; Elinor Mortimer, the daughter of the Apostate, received rather than admitted into the house, and educated in all the strictness of her Independent family; and John Sandal, the son of the rejected daughter, whom Sir Roger admitted into the Castle only on the condition of his being engaged in the service of the royal family, banished and persecuted as they were; and he renewed his correspondence with some emigrant loyalists in Holland, for the establishment of his protegé, whom he described, in language borrowed from the Puritan preachers, as a brand snatched from the burning.
While matters were thus at the Castle, intelligence arrived of Monks unexpected exertions in favour of the banished family. The result was as rapid as it was auspicious. The Restoration took place within a few days after, and the Mortimer family were then esteemed of so much consequence, that an express, girthed from his waist to his shoulders, was dispatched from London to announce the intelligence. He arrived when Sir Roger, whose chaplain he had been compelled by the ruling party to dismiss as a malignant, was reading prayers himself to his family. The return and restoration of Charles the Second was announced. The old loyalist rose from his knees, waved his cap, (which he had reverently taken from his white head), and, suddenly changing his tone of supplication for one of triumph, exclaimed, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation! As he spoke, the old man sunk on the cushion which Mrs Ann had placed beneath his knees. His grandchildren rose from their knees to assist him,—it was too late,—his spirit had parted in that last exclamation.
[ End of Chapter XXIX ]