Charles Robert Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)
Chap 1
Chap 2
Chap 3
Chap 4
Chap 5
Chap 6
Chap 7
Chap 8
Chap 9
Chap 10
Chap 11
Chap 12
Chap 13
Chap 14
Chap 15
Chap 16
Chap 17
Chap 18
Chap 19
Chap 20
Chap 21
Chap 22
Chap 23
Chap 24
Chap 25
Chap 26
Chap 27
Chap 28
Chap 29
Chap 30
Chap 31
Chap 32
Chap 33
Chap 34
Chap 35
Chap 36
Chap 37
Chap 38
Chap 39

CHAPTER XXXIV

Husband, husband, I’ve the ring
Thou gavest to-day to me;
And thou to me art ever wed,
As I am wed to thee!
                   LITTLE’S POEMS

“The remainder of that dreadful night when Isidora disappeared, had been passed almost in despair by Donna Clara, who, amid all her rigour and chilling mediocrity, had still the feelings of a mother—and by Fra Jose, who, with all his selfish luxury and love of domination, had a heart where distress never knocked for admittance, that she did not find pity ready to open the door.

 “The distress of Donna Clara was aggravated by her fear of her husband, of whom she stood in great awe, and who, she dreaded, might reproach her with unpardonable negligence of her maternal authority.

 “In this night of distress, she was often tempted to call on her son for advice and assistance; but the recollection of his violent passions deterred her, and she sat in passive despair till day. Then, with an unaccountable impulse, she rose from her seat, and hurried to her daughter’s apartment, as if she imagined that the events of the preceding night were only a fearful and false illusion that would be dispersed by the approach of day.

 “It seemed, indeed, as if they were, for on the bed lay Isidora in a profound sleep, with the same pure and placid smile as when she was lulled into slumber by the melodies of nature, and the sound was prolonged in her dream by the whispered songs of the spirits of the Indian Ocean. Donna Clara uttered a shriek of surprise, that had the singular effect of rousing Fra Jose from a deep sleep into which he had fallen at the approach of day. Starting at the sound, the good-natured, pampered priest, tottered into the room, and saw, with incredulity that slowly yielded to frequent application to his obstinate and adhesive eye-lids, the form of Isidora extended in profound slumber.

 “Oh what an exquisite enjoyment!” said the yawning priest, as he looked on the sleeping beauty without another emotion than that of the delight of an uninterrupted repose.—“Pray, don’t disturb her,” he said, yawning himself out of the room—“after such a night as we all have had, sleep must be a very refreshing and laudable exercise; and so I commend you to the protection of the holy saints!”—“Oh reverend Father!—Oh holy Father!” cried Donna Clara clinging to him, “desert me not in this extremity—this has been the work of magic—of infernal spirits. See how profoundly she sleeps, though we are speaking, and it is now day-light.”—“Daughter, you are much mistaken,” answered the drowsy priest; “people can sleep soundly even in the day-time; and for proof send me, as I am now retiring to rest, a bottle of Foncarral or Valdepenas—not that I value the richest vintage of Spain from the Chacoli of Biscay to the Mataro of Catalonia, [1] but I would never have it said that I slept in the day-time, but for sufficient reason.”—“Holy Father!” answered Donna Clara, “do you not think my daughter’s disappearance and intense slumber are the result of preternatural causes?”—“Daughter,” answered the priest, contracting his brows, “let me have some wine to slake the intolerable thirst caused by my anxiety for the welfare of your family, and let me meditate some hours afterwards on the measures best to be adopted, and then—when I awake, I will give you my opinion.”—“Holy Father, you shall judge for me in every thing.”—“It were not amiss, daughter,” said the priest retiring, “if a few slices of ham, or some poignant sausages, accompanied the wine—it might, as it were, abate the deleterious effects of that abominable liquor, which I never drink but on emergencies like these.”—“Holy Father, they shall be ordered,” said the anxious mother—“but do you not think my daughter’s sleep is supernatural?”—“Follow me to mine apartment, daughter,” answered the priest, exchanging his cowl for a night-cap, which one of the numerous household obsequiously presented him, “and you will soon see that sleep is a natural effect of a natural cause. Your daughter has doubtless passed a very fatiguing night, and so have you, and so have I, though perhaps from very different causes; but all those causes dispose us to a profound repose.—I have no doubt of mine—fetch up the wine and sausages—I am very weary—Oh I am weak and worn with fasts and watching, and the labours of exhortation. My tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth, and my jaws cling together,—perhaps a draught or two might dissolve their parching adhesion. But I do so hate wine—why the devil don’t you fetch up the bottle?”

1 Vide Dillon’s travels through Spain.

“The attendant domestic, terrified by the tone of wrath in which the last words were uttered, hurried on with submissive expedition, and Fra Jose sat down at length in his apartment to ruminate on the calamities and perplexities of the family, till he was actually overcome by the subject, and exclaimed in a tone of despair, “Both bottles empty! Then it is useless to meditate further on this subject.” * * * *

* * * *

“He was roused at an earlier hour than he wished, by a message from Donna Clara, who, in the distress of a weak mind, accustomed always to factitious and external support, now felt as if every step she took without it, must lead to actual and instant perdition. Her fear of her husband, next to her superstitious fears, held the strongest power over her mind, and that morning she called Fra Jose to an early consultation of terror and inquietude.—Her great object was to conceal, if possible, the absence of her daughter on that eventful night; and finding that none of the domestics appeared conscious of it, and that amid the numerous household, only one aged servant was absent, of whose absence no one took notice amid the superfluous multitude of a Spanish establishment, her courage began to revive. It was raised still higher by a letter from Aliaga, announcing the necessity of his visiting a distant part of Spain, and of the marriage of his daughter with Montilla being deferred for some months—this sounded like reprieve in the ears of Donna Clara—she consulted with the priest, who answered in words of comfort, that if Donna Isidora’s short absence were known, it was but a slight evil, and if it were not known, it was none at all,—and he recommended to her, to ensure the secresy of the servants by means that he swore by his habit were infallible, as he had known them operate effectively among the servants of a far more powerful and extensive establishment. “Reverend Father,” said Donna Clara, “I know of no establishment among the grandees of Spain more splendid than ours.”—“But I do, daughter,” said the priest, “and the head of that establishment is—the Pope;—but go now, and awake your daughter, who deserves to sleep till doomsday, as she seems totally to have forgotten the hour of breakfast. It is not for myself I speak, daughter, but I cannot bear to see the regularity of a magnificent household thus interrupted; for myself, a basin of chocolate, and a cluster of grapes, will be sufficient; and to allay the crudity of the grapes, a glass of Malaga.—Your glasses, by the bye, are the shallowest I ever drank out of—could you not find some means to get from Ildefonso1 glasses of the right make, with short shanks and ample bodies? Yours resemble those of Quichotte, all limbs and no trunk. I like one that resembles his squire, a spacious body and a shank that may be measured by my little finger.”—“I will send to St Ildefonso this day,” answered Donna Clara.—“Go and awake your daughter first,” said the priest.

1 The celebrated manufactory for glass in Spain.

“As he spoke, Isidora entered the room—the mother and the priest both stood amazed. Her countenance was as serene, her step as equal, and her mein as composed, as if she were totally unconscious of the terror and distress her disappearance the preceding night had caused. To the first short silence of amazement, succeeded a storm of interrogations from Donna Clara and Fra Jose in concert—why—where—wherefore—and what, and with whom and how—that was all they could articulate. They might as well have spared themselves the trouble, for neither that day nor many following, could the remonstrances, intreaties, or menaces of her mother, aided by the spiritual authority and more powerful anxiety of the priest, extort from her a word of explanation on the cause of her absence that awful night. When closely and sternly pressed, Isidora’s mind seemed to assume something of the wild but potent spirit of independence, which her early habits and feelings might have communicated to her. She had been her own teacher and mistress for seventeen years, and though naturally gentle and tractable, when imperious mediocrity attempted to tyrannize over her, she felt a sense of disdain which she expressed only by profound silence.

 “Fra Jose, incensed at her obstinacy, and trembling for the loss of his power over the family, threatened to exclude her from confession, unless she disclosed to him the secret of that night—“Then I will confess to God!” said Isidora. Her mother’s importunity she found it more difficult to resist, for her feminine heart loved all that was feminine even in its most unattractive shape, and the persecution from that quarter was alike monotonous and unremitting.

 “There was a weak but harassing tenacity about Donna Clara, that is the general adjunct to the female character when it combines intellectual mediocrity with rigid principle. When she laid siege to a secret, the garrison might as well capitulate at once.—What she wanted in vigour and ability, she supplied by a minute and gnawing assiduity. She never ventured to carry the fort by storm, but her obstinacy blockaded it till it was forced to surrender. But here even her importunity failed.—Isidora remained respectfully, but resolutely silent; finding matters thus desperate, Donna Clara, who had a fine talent for keeping as well as discovering a secret, agreed with Fra Jose not to utter a syllable of the business to her father and brother.—“We will show,” said Donna Clara, with a sagacious and self-approving nod, “that we can keep a secret as well as she.”—“Right, daughter,” said Fra Jose, “imitate her in the only point in which you can flatter yourself with the hope of resemblance.” * * * *

* * * *

“The secret was, however, soon disclosed. Some months had elapsed, and the visits of her husband began to give an habitual calm and confidence to the mind of Isidora. He imperceptibly was exchanging his ferocious misanthropy for a kind of pensive gloom.—It was like the dark, cold, but unterrific and comparatively soothing night, that succeeds to a day of storm and earthquake. The sufferers remember the terrors of the day, and the still darkness of the night feels to them like a shelter. Isidora gazed on her espoused with delight, when she saw no longer his withering frown, or more withering smile; and she felt the hope that the calm purity of female hearts always suggests, that its influence will one day float over the formless and the void, like the spirit that moved upon the face of the waters; and that the unbelieving husband may yet be saved by the believing wife.

 “These thoughts were her comfort, and it was well she had thoughts to comfort her, for facts are miserable allies when imagination fights its battle with despair. On one of those nights that she expected Melmoth, he found her employed in her usual hymn to the Virgin, which she accompanied on her lute. “Is it not rather late to sing your vesper hymn to the Virgin after midnight?” said Melmoth with a ghastly smile. “Her ear is open at all times, I have been told,” answered Isidora.—“If it is, then, love,” said Melmoth, vaulting as usual through the casement, “add a stanza to your hymn in favour of me.”—“Alas!” said Isidora, dropping her lute, “you do not believe, love, in what the Holy Church requires.”—“Yes, I do believe, when I listen to you.”—“And only then?”—“Sing again your hymn to the Virgin.”

 “Isidora complied, and watched the effect on the listener. He seemed affected—he motioned to her to repeat it. “My love,” said Isidora, “is not this more like the repetition of a theatrical song called for by an audience, than a hymn which he who listens to loves his wife better for, because she loves her God.”—“It is a shrewd question,” said Melmoth, “but why am I in your imagination excluded from the love of God?”—“Do you ever visit the church,” answered the anxious Isidora. A profound silence.—“Do you ever receive the Holy Sacrament?”—Melmoth did not utter a word.—“Have you ever, at my earnest solicitation, enabled me to announce to my anxious family the tie that united us?”—No answer.—“And now—that—perhaps—I dare not utter what I feel! Oh! how shall I appear before eyes that watch me even now so closely?—what shall I say?—a wife without a husband—a mother without a father for her child, or one whom a fearful oath has bound her never to declare! Oh! Melmoth, pity me,—deliver me from this life of constraint, falsehood, and dissimulation. Claim me as your wedded wife in the face of my family, and in the face of ruin your wedded wife will follow—will cling to—will perish with you!” Her arms clung round him, her cold but heart-wrung tears fell fast on his cheek, and the imploring arms of woman supplicating for deliverance in her hour of shame and terror, seldom are twined round us in vain. Melmoth felt the appeal—it was but for a moment. He caught the white arms extended towards him—he fixed an eager and fearful look of inquiry on his victim-consort, as he asked—“And is it so?” The pale and shuddering wife shrunk from his arms at the question—her silence answered him. The agonies of nature throbbed audibly in his heart. He said to himself—it is mine—the fruit of affection—the first-born of the heart and of nature—mine—mine,—and whatever becomes of me, there shall yet be a human being on earth who traces me in its external form, and who will be taught to pray for its father, even when its prayer falls parched and hissing on the fires that burn for ever, like a wandering drop of dew on the burning sands of the desert! * * * *

* * * *

“From the period of this communication, Melmoth’s tenderness for his wife visibly increased.

 “Heaven only knows the source of that wild fondness with which he contemplated her, and in which was still mingled something of ferocity. His warm look seemed like the glow of a sultry summer day, whose heat announces a storm, and compels us by its burning oppression, to look to the storm almost for relief.

 “It is not impossible that he looked to some future object of his fearful experiment—and a being so perfectly in his power as his own child, might have appeared to him fatally fitted for his purpose—the quantum of misery, too, necessary to qualify the probationer, it was always in his own power to inflict. Whatever was his motive, he assumed as much tenderness as it was possible for him to assume, and spoke of the approaching event with the anxious interest of a human father.

 “Soothed by his altered manner, Isidora bore with silent sufferance the burden of her situation, with all its painful accompaniments of indisposition and dejection, aggravated by hourly fear and mysterious secresy. She hoped he would at length reward her by an open and honourable declaration, but this hope was expressed only in her patient smiles. The hour approached fast, and fearful and indefinite apprehensions began to overshadow her mind, relative to the fate of the infant about to be born under circumstances so mysterious.

 “At his next nightly visit, Melmoth found her in tears.

 “Alas!” said she in answer to his abrupt inquiry, and brief attempt at consolation, “How many causes have I for tears—and how few have I shed? If you would have them wiped away, be assured it is only your hand can do it. I feel,” she added, “that this event will be fatal to me—I know I shall not live to see my child—I demand from you the only promise that can support me even under this conviction”—Melmoth interrupted her by the assurance, that these apprehensions were the inseparable concomitants of her situation, and that many mothers, surrounded by a numerous offspring, smiled as they recollected their fears that the birth of each would be fatal to them.

 “Isidora shook her head. “The presages,” said she, “that visit me, are such as never visited mortality in vain. I have always believed, that as we approach the invisible world, its voice becomes more audible to us, and grief and pain are very eloquent interpreters between us and eternity—quite distinct from all corporeal suffering, even from all mental terror, is that deep and unutterable impression which is alike incommunicable and ineffaceable—it is as if heaven spoke to us alone, and told us to keep its secret, or divulge it on the condition of never being believed. Oh! Melmoth, do not give that fearful smile when I speak of heaven—soon I may be your only intercessor there.” “My dear saint,” said Melmoth, laughing and kneeling to her in mockery, “let me make early interest for your mediation—how many ducats will it cost me to get you canonized?—you will furnish me, I hope, with an authentic account of legitimate miracles—one is ashamed of the nonsense that is sent monthly to the Vatican.” “Let your conversion be the first miracle on the list,” said Isidora, with an energy that made Melmoth tremble—it was dark—but she felt that he trembled—she pursued her imagined triumph—“Melmoth,” she exclaimed, “I have a right to demand one promise from you—for you I have sacrificed every thing—never was woman more devoted—never did woman give proofs of devotion like mine. I might have been the noble, honoured wife of one who would have laid his wealth and titles at my feet. In this my hour of danger and suffering, the first families in Spain would have been waiting round my door. Alone, unaided, unsustained, unconsoled, I must undergo the terrible struggle of nature—terrible to those whose beds are smoothed by the hands of affection, whose agonies are soothed by the presence of a mother—who hears the first feeble cry of her infant echoed by the joy of exulting noble relatives. Oh Melmoth! what must be mine! I must suffer in secresy and in silence! I must see my babe torn from me before I have even kissed it,—and the chrism-mantle will be one of that mysterious darkness which your fingers have woven! Yet grant me one thing—one thing!” continued the suppliant, growing earnest in her prayer even to agony; “swear to me that my child shall be baptised according to the forms of the Catholic church,—that it shall be a Christian as far as those forms can make it,—and I shall feel that, if all my fearful presages are fulfilled, I shall leave behind me one who will pray for his father, and whose prayer may be accepted. Promise me,—swear to me,” she added, in intenser agony, “that my child shall be a Christian! Alas! if my voice be not worthy to be heard in heaven, that of a cherub may! Christ himself suffered children to come unto him while on earth, and will he repel them in heaven?—Oh! no,—no! he will not repel yours!”

 “Melmoth listened to her with feelings that it is better to suppress than explain or expatiate on. Thus solemnly adjured, however, he promised that the child should be baptised; and added, with an expression which Isidora’s delight at this concession did not give her time to understand, that it should be a Christian as far as the rites and ceremonies of the Catholic church could make it one. While he added many a bitter hint of the inefficacy of any external rites—and the impotentiality of any hierarchy—and of the deadly and desperate impositions of priests under every dispensation—and exposed them with a spirit at once ludicrous and Satanic,—a spirit that mingled ridicule with horror, and seemed like a Harlequin in the infernal regions, flirting with the furies, Isidora still repeated her solemn request that her child, if it survived her, should be baptised. To this he assented; and added, with a sarcastic and appalling levity,—“And a Mahometan, if you should change your mind,—or any other mythology you please to adopt;—only send me word,—priests are easily obtained, and ceremonies cheaply purchased! Only let me know your future intentions,—when you know them yourself.”—“I shall not be here to tell you,” said Isidora, replying with profound conviction to this withering levity, like a cold winter day to the glow of a capricious summer one, that blends the sunshine and the lightning;—“Melmoth, I shall not be here then!” And this energy of despair in a creature so young, so inexperienced, except in the vicissitudes of the heart, formed a strong contrast to the stony apathy of one who had traversed life from Dan to Beersheba, and found all barren, or—made it so.

 “At this moment, while Isidora wept the cold tears of despair, without daring to ask the hand of him she loved to dry them, the bells of a neighbouring convent, where they were performing a mass for the soul of a departed brother, suddenly rung out. Isidora seized that moment, when the very air was eloquent with the voice of religion, to impress its power on that mysterious being whose presence inspired her equally with terror and with love. “Listen,—listen!” she cried. The sounds came slowly and stilly on, as if it was an involuntary expression of that profound sentiment that night always inspires,—the reverberating watch-word from sentinel to sentinel, when wakeful and reflecting minds have become the “watchers of the night.’ [1] The effect of these sounds was increased, by their catching from time to time the deep and thrilling chorus of the voices,—these voices more than harmonized, they were coincident with the toll of the bell, and seemed like them set in involuntary motion,—music played by invisible hands.

1 He called unto me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night?—Watchman, what of the night?—ISAIAH.

“Listen,” repeated Isidora, “is there no truth in the voice that speaks to you in tones like these? Alas! if there be no truth in religion, there is none on earth! Passion itself evanishes into an illusion, unless it is hallowed by the consciousness of a God and of futurity. That sterility of the heart that forbids the growth of divine feeling, must be hostile also to every tender and generous sentiment. He who is without a God must be without a heart! Oh, my love, will you not, as you bend over my grave, wish my last slumbers to have been soothed by sounds like these,—wish that they may whisper peace to your own? Promise me, at least, that you will lead your child to my tomb-stone,—that you will suffer it to read the inscription that tells I died in the faith of Christ, and the hope of immortality. Its tears will be powerful pleaders to you not to deny it the consolation that faith has given me in hours of suffering, and the hopes with which it will illuminate my parting hour. Oh promise me this at least, that you will suffer your child to visit my grave—that is all. Do not interrupt or distract the impression by sophistry or levity, or by that wild and withering eloquence that flashes from your lips, not to enlighten but to blast. You will not weep, but you will be silent,—leave Heaven and nature free to their work. The voice of God will speak to its heart, and my spirit, as it witnesses the conflict, will tremble though in paradise,—and, even in heaven, will feel an added joy, when it beholds the victory won. Promise me, then,—swear to me!” she added, with agonizing energy of tone and gesture. “Your child shall be a Christian!” said Melmoth.


CHAPTER XXXV

              —Oh, spare me, Grimbald!
I will tempt hermits for thee in their cells,
And virgins in their dreams.
                           DRYDEN’S KING ARTHUR

“It is a singular, but well-attested fact, that women who are compelled to undergo all the inconveniences and uneasiness of clandestine pregnancy, often fare better than those whose situation is watched over by tender and anxious relatives; and that concealed or illegitimate births are actually attended with less danger and suffering than those which have all the aid that skill and affection can give. So it appeared likely to fare with Isidora. The retirement in which her family lived—the temper of Donna Clara, as slow to suspect from want of penetration, as she was eager in pursuing an object once discovered, from the natural cupidity of a vacant mind—these circumstances, combined with the dress of the day, the enormous and enveloping fardingale, gave safety to her secret, at least till the arrival of its crisis. As this crisis approached, one may easily imagine the secret and trembling preparation—the important nurse, proud of the trust reposed in her—the confidential maid—the faithful and discreet medical attendant—to obtain all these Melmoth supplied her amply with money—a circumstance that would have surprised Isidora, as his appearance was always remarkably plain and private, if, at this moment of anxiety, any thought but that of the hour could have found room in her mind. * * * *

* * * *

“On the evening supposed to be that preceding the dreaded event, Melmoth had thrown an unusual degree of tenderness into his manner—he gazed on her frequently with anxious and silent fondness—he seemed to have something to communicate which he had not courage to disclose. Isidora, well versed in the language of the countenance, which is often, more than that of words, the language of the heart, intreated him to tell her what he looked. “Your father is returning,” said Melmoth reluctantly. “He will certainly be here in a few days, perhaps in a few hours.” Isidora heard him in silent horror. “My father!” she cried—“I have never seen my father.—Oh, how shall I meet him now! And is my mother ignorant of this?—would she not have apprized me?”—“She is ignorant at present; but she will not long be so.”—“And from whence could you have obtained intelligence that she is ignorant of?” Melmoth paused some time,—his features assumed a more contracted and gloomy character than they had done laterally—he answered with slow and stern reluctance—“Never again ask me that question—the intelligence that I can give you must be of more importance to you than the means by which I obtain it—enough for you that it is true.”—“Pardon me, love,” said Isidora; “it is probable that I may never again offend you—will you not, then, forgive my last offence?”

 “Melmoth seemed too intently occupied with his own thoughts to answer even her tears. He added, after a short and sullen pause, “Your betrothed bridegroom is coming with your father—Montilla’s father is dead—the arrangements are all concluded for your nuptials—your bridegroom is coming to wed the wife of another—with him comes your fiery, foolish brother, who has set out to meet his father and his future relative. There will be a feast prepared in the house on the occasion of your future nuptials—you may hear of a strange guest appearing at your festival—I will be there!”

 “Isidora stood stupified with horror. “Festival!” she repeated—“a bridal festival!—and I already wedded to you, and about to become a mother!” * * * *

* * * *

“At this moment the trampling of many horsemen was heard as they approached the villa—the tumult of the domestics hurrying to admit and receive them, resounded through the apartments and Melmoth, with a gesture that seemed to Isidora rather like a menace than a farewell, instantly disappeared; and within an hour, Isidora knelt to the father she had never till then beheld—suffered herself to be saluted by Montilla—and accepted the embrace of her brother, who, in the petulance of his spirit, half rejected the chill and altered form that advanced to greet him. * * * *

* * * *

“Every thing at the family meeting was conducted in true Spanish formality. Aliaga kissed the cold hand of his withered wife—the numerous domestics exhibited a grave joy at the return of their master—Fra Jose assumed increased importance, and called for dinner in a louder tone. Montilla, the lover, a cold and quiet character, took things as they occurred.

 “Every thing lay hushed under a brief and treacherous calm. Isidora, who trembled at the approaching danger, felt her terrors on a sudden suspended. It was not so very near as she apprehended—and she bore with tolerable patience the daily mention of her approaching nuptials, while she was momently harassed by her confidential servants with hints of the impossibility of the event of which they were in expectation, being much longer delayed. Isidora heard, felt, endured all with courage—the grave congratulation of her father and mother—the self-complacent attentions of Montilla, sure of the bride and of her dower—the sullen compliance of the brother, who, unable to refuse his consent, was for ever hinting that his sister might have formed a higher connection. All these passed over her mind like a dream—the reality of her existence seemed internal, and she said to herself,—“Were I at the altar, were my hand locked in that of Montilla, Melmoth would rend me from him.” A wild but deeply-fixed conviction—a wandering image of preternatural power, overshadowed her mind while she thought of Melmoth;—and this image, which had caused her so much terror and inquietude in her early hours of love, now formed her only resource against the hour of inconceivable suffering; as those unfortunate females in the Eastern Tales, whose beauty has attracted the fearful passion of some evil genie, are supposed to depend, at their nuptial hour, on the presence of the seducing spirit, to tear from the arms of the agonised parent, and the distracted bridegroom, the victim whom he has reserved for himself, and whose wild devotion to him gives a dignity to the union so unhallowed and unnatural. [1]

1 Vide the beautiful tale of Auheta the Princess of Egypt, and Maugraby the Sorcerer, in the Arabian Tales. * * * *

* * * *

“Aliaga’s heart expanded amid the approaching completion of the felicitous plans he had formed, and with his heart, his purse, which was its depositary, opened also, and he resolved to give a splendid fete in honour of his daughter’s nuptials. Isidora remembered Melmoth’s prediction of a fatal festival; and his words, “I will be there,” gave her for a time a kind of trembling confidence. But as the preparations were carried on under her very eye,—as she was hourly consulted about the disposal of the ornaments, and the decorations of the apartments,—her resolution failed, and while she uttered a few incoherent words, her eye was glazed with horror.

 “The entertainment was to be a masked ball; and Isidora, who imagined that this might suggest to Melmoth some auspicious expedient for her escape, watched in vain for some hint of hope,—some allusion to the probability of this event facilitating her extrication from those snares of death that seemed compassing her about. He never uttered a word, and her dependence on him was at one moment confirmed, at another shaken to its foundation, by this terrible silence. In one of these latter moments, the anguish of which was increased beyond expression by a conviction that her hour of danger was not far distant, she exclaimed to Melmoth—“Take me—take me from this place! My existence is nothing—it is a vapour that soon must be exhaled—but my reason is threatened every moment! I cannot sustain the horrors to which I am exposed! All this day I have been dragged through rooms decorated for my impossible nuptials!—Oh, Melmoth, if you no longer love me, at least commiserate me! Save me from a situation of horror unspeakable!—have mercy on your child, if not on me! I have hung on your looks,—I have watched for a word of hope—you have not uttered a sound—you have not cast a glance of hope on me! I am wild!—I am reckless of all but the imminent and present horrors of tomorrow—you have talked of your power to approach, to enter these walls without suspicion or discovery—you boasted of that cloud of mystery in which you could envelope yourself. Oh! in this last moment of my extremity, wrap me in its tremendous folds, and let me escape in them, though they prove my shroud!—Think of the terrible night of our marriage! I followed you then in fear and confidence—your touch dissolved every earthly barrier—your steps trod an unknown path, yet I followed you!—Oh! If you really possess that mysterious and inscrutable power, which I dare not either question or believe, exert it for me in this terrible emergency—aid my escape—and though I feel I shall never live to thank you, the silent suppliant will remind you by its smiles of the tears that I now shed; and if they are shed in vain, its smile will have a bitter eloquence as it plays with the flowers on its mother’s grave!”

 “Melmoth, as she spoke, was profoundly silent, and deeply attentive. He said at last, “Do you then resign yourself to me?”—“Alas! have I not?”—“A question is not an answer. Will you, renouncing all other engagements, all other hopes, depend on me solely for your extrication from this fearful emergency?”—“I will—I do!”—“Will you promise, that if I render you the service you require, if I employ the power you say I have alluded to, you will be mine?”—“Yours!—Alas! am I not yours already?”—“You embrace my protection, then? You voluntarily seek the shelter of that power which I can promise? You yourself will me to employ that power in effecting your escape?—Speak—do I interpret your sentiments aright?—I am unable to exercise those powers you invest me with, unless you yourself require me to do so. I have waited—I have watched for the demand—it has been made—would that it never had!” An expression of the fiercest agony corrugated his stern features as he spoke.—“But it may yet be withdrawn—reflect!”—“And you will not then save me from shame and danger? Is this the proof of your love—is this the boast of your power?” said Isidora, half frantic at this delay. “If I adjure you to pause—if I myself hesitate and tremble—it is to give time for the salutary whisper of your better angel.”—“Oh! save me, and you shall be my angel!” said Isidora, falling at his feet. Melmoth shook through his whole frame as he heard these words. He raised and soothed her, however, with promises of safety, though in a voice that seemed to announce despair—and then turning from her, burst into a passionate soliloquy. “Immortal Heaven! what is man?—A being with the ignorance, but not the instinct, of the feeblest animals!—They are like birds—when thy hand, O Thou whom I dare not call Father, is on them, they scream and quiver, though the gentle pressure is intended only to convey the wanderer back to his cage—while, to shun the light fear that scares their senses, they rush into the snare that is spread in their sight, and where their captivity is hopeless!” As he spoke, hastily traversing the room, his foot struck against a chair on which a gorgeous dress was spread. “What is this?” he exclaimed—“What ideot trumpery, what May-queen foolery is this?”—“It is the habit I am to wear at the feast to-night,” said Isidora—“My attendants are coming—I hear them at the door—oh, with what a throbbing heart I shall put on this glittering mockery!—But you will not desert me then?” she added, with wild and breathless anxiety. “Fear not,” said Melmoth, solemnly—“You have demanded my aid, and it shall be accorded. May your heart tremble no more when you throw off that habit, than now when you are about to put it on!”

 “The hour approached, and the guests were arriving. Isidora, arrayed in a splendid and fanciful garb, and rejoicing in the shelter which her mask afforded to the expression of her pale features, mingled among the groupe. She walked one measure with Montilla, and then declined dancing on the pretence of assisting her mother in receiving and entertaining her guests.

 “After a sumptuous banquet, dancing was renewed in the spacious hall, and Isidora followed the company thither with a beating heart. Twelve was the hour at which Melmoth had promised to meet her, and by the clock, which was placed over the door of the hall, she saw it wanted but a quarter to twelve. The hand moved on—it arrived at the hour—the clock struck! Isidora, whose eyes had been rivetted on its movements, now withdrew them in despair. At that moment she felt her arm gently touched, and one of the maskers, bending towards her, whispered, “I am here!” and he added the sign which Melmoth and she had agreed on as the signal of their meeting. Isidora, unable to reply, could only return the sign. “Make haste,” he added—“All is arranged for your flight—there is not a moment to be lost—I will leave you now, but meet me in a few moments in the western portico—the lamps are extinguished there, and the servants have neglected to relight them—be silent and be swift!” He disappeared as he spoke, and Isidora, after a few moments, followed him. Though the portico was dark, a faint gleam from the splendidly illuminated rooms disclosed to her the figure of Melmoth. He drew her arm under his in silence, and proceeded to hurry her from the spot. “Stop, villain, stop!” exclaimed the voice of her brother, who, followed by Montilla, sprung from the balcony—“Where do you drag my sister?—and you, degraded wretch, where are you about to fly, and with whom?” Melmoth attempted to pass him, supporting Isidora with one arm, while the other was extended to repel his approach; but Fernan, drawing his sword, placed himself directly in their way, at the same time calling on Montilla to raise the household, and tear Isidora from his arms. “Off, fool—off!” exclaimed Melmoth “Rush not on destruction!—I seek not your life—one victim of your house is enough—let us pass ere you perish!”—“Boaster, prove your words!” said Fernan, making a desperate thrust at him, which Melmoth coolly put by with his hand. “Draw, coward!” cried Fernan, rendered furious by this action—“My next will be more successful!” Melmoth slowly drew his sword. “Boy!” said he in an awful voice—“If I turn this point against you, your life is not worth a moment’s purchase—be wise and let us pass.” Fernan made no answer but by a fierce attack, which was instantly met by his antagonist.

 “The shrieks of Isidora had now reached the ears of the revellers, who rushed in crowds to the garden—the servants followed them with flambeaux snatched from the walls adorned for this ill-omened festival, and the scene of the combat was in a moment as light as day, and surrounded by a hundred spectators.

 “Part them—part them—save them!” shrieked Isidora, writhing at the feet of her father and mother, who, with the rest, were gazing in stupid horror at the scene—“Save my brother—save my husband!” The whole dreadful truth rushed on Donna Clara’s mind at these words, and casting a conscious look at the terrified priest, she fell to the ground. The combat was short as it was unequal,—in two moments Melmoth passed his sword twice through the body of Fernan, who sunk beside Isidora, and expired! There was a universal pause of horror for some moments—at length a cry of—“Seize the murderer!” burst from every lip, and the crowd began to close around Melmoth. He attempted no defence. He retreated a few paces, and sheathing his sword, waved them back only with his arm; and this movement, that seemed to announce an internal power above all physical force, had the effect of nailing every spectator to the spot where he stood.

 “The light of the torches, which the trembling servants held up to gaze on him, fell full on his countenance, and the voices of a few shuddering speakers exclaimed, “MELMOTH THE WANDERER!”—“I am—I am!” said that unfortunate being—“and who now will oppose my passing—who will become my companion?—I seek not to injure now—but I will not be detained. Would that breathless fool had yielded to my bidding, not to my sword—there was but one human chord that vibrated in my heart—it is broken to-night, and for ever! I will never tempt woman more! Why should the whirlwind, that can shake mountains, and overwhelm cities with its breath, descend to scatter the leaves of the rose-bud?” As he spoke, his eyes fell on the form of Isidora, which lay at his feet extended beside that of Fernan. He bent over it for a moment—a pulsation like returning life agitated her frame. He bent nearer—he whispered, unheard by the rest,—“Isadora, will you fly with me—this is the moment—every arm is paralyzed—every mind is frozen to its centre!—Isidora, rise and fly with me—this is your hour of safety!” Isidora, who recognized the voice but not the speaker, raised herself for a moment—looked on Melmoth—cast a glance on the bleeding bosom of Fernan, and fell on it dyed in that blood. Melmoth started up—there was a slight movement of hostility among some of the guests—he turned one brief and withering glance on them—they stood every man his hand on his sword, without the power to draw them, and the very domestics held up the torches in their trembling hands, as if with involuntary awe they were lighting him out. So he passed on unmolested amid the groupe, till he reached the spot where Aliaga, stupified with horror, stood beside the bodies of his son and daughter. “Wretched old man!” he exclaimed, looking on him as the unhappy father strained his glazing and dilated eyes to see who spoke to him, and at length with difficulty recognized the form of the stranger—the companion of his fearful journey some months past—“Wretched old man—you were warned—but you neglected the warning—I adjured you to save your daughter—I best knew her danger—you saved your gold—now estimate the value of the dross you grasped, and the precious ore you dropt! I stood between myself and her—I warned—I menaced—it was not for me to intreat. Wretched old man—see the result!”—and he turned slowly to depart. An involuntary sound of execration and horror, half a howl and half a hiss, pursued his parting steps, and the priest, with a dignity that more became his profession than his character, exclaimed aloud, “Depart accursed, and trouble us not—go, cursing and to curse.”—“I go conquering and to conquer,” answered Melmoth with wild and fierce triumph—“wretches! your vices, your passions, and your weaknesses, make you my victims. Upbraid yourselves, and not me. Heroes in your guilt, but cowards in your despair, you would kneel at my feet for the terrible immunity with which I pass through you at this moment.—I go accursed of every human heart, yet untouched by one human hand!”—As he retired slowly, the murmur of suppressed but instinctive and irrepressible horror and hatred burst from the groupe. He past on scowling at them like a lion on a pack of bayed hounds, and departed unmolested—unassayed—no weapon was drawn—no arm was lifted—the mark was on his brow,—and those who could read it knew that all human power was alike forceless and needless,—and those who could not succumbed in passive horror. Every sword was in its sheath as Melmoth quitted the garden. “Leave him to God!”—was the universal exclamation. “You could not leave him in worse hands,” exclaimed Fra Jose—“He will certainly be damned—and—that is some comfort to this afflicted family.”

CHAPTER XXXVI

Nunc animum pietas, et materna nomina frangunt.

“In less than half an hour, the superb apartments, the illuminated gardens of Aliaga, did not echo a footstep; all were gone, except a few who lingered, some from curiosity, some from humanity, to witness or condole with the sufferings of the wretched parents. The sumptuously decorated garden now presented a sight horrid from the contrasted figures and scenery. The domestics stood like statues, holding the torches still in their hands—Isidora lay beside the bloody corse of her brother, till an attempt was made to remove it, and then she clung to it with a strength that required strength to tear her from it—Aliaga, who had not uttered a word, and scarcely drawn a breath, sunk on his knees to curse his half-lifeless daughter—Donna Clara, who still retained a woman’s heart, lost all fear of her husband in this dreadful emergency, and, kneeling beside him, held his uplifted hands, and struggled hard for the suspension of the malediction—Fra Jose, the only one of the groupe who appeared to possess any power of recollection or of mental sanity, addressed repeatedly to Isidora the question, “Are you married,—and married to that fearful being?”—“I am married!” answered the victim, rising from beside the corse of her brother. “I am married!” she added, glancing a look at her splendid habit, and displaying it with a frantic laugh. A loud knocking at the garden gate was heard at this moment. “I am married!” shrieked Isidora, “and here comes the witness of my nuptials!”

 “As she spoke, some peasants from the neighbourhood, assisted by the domestics of Don Aliaga, brought in a corse, so altered from the fearful change that passes on the mortal frame, that the nearest relative could not have known it. Isidora recognized it in a moment for the body of the old domestic who had disappeared so mysteriously on the night of her frightful nuptials. The body had been discovered but that evening by the peasants; it was lacerated as by a fall from rocks, and so disfigured and decayed as to retain no resemblance to humanity. It was recognizable only by the livery of Aliaga, which, though much defaced, was still distinguishable by some peculiarities in the dress, that announced that those defaced garments covered the mortal remains of the old domestic. “There!” cried Isidora with delirious energy—“There is the witness of my fatal marriage!”

 “Fra Jose hung over the illegible fragments of that whereon nature had once written—“This is a human being,” and, turning his eyes on Isidora, with involuntary horror he exclaimed, “Your witness is dumb!” As the wretched Isidora was dragged away by those who surrounded her, she felt the first throes of maternal suffering, and exclaimed, “Oh! there will be a living witness—if you permit it to live!” Her words were soon realized; she was conveyed to her apartment, and in a few hours after, scarcely assisted and wholly unpitied by her attendants, gave birth to a daughter.

 “This event excited a sentiment in the family at once ludicrous and horrible. Aliaga, who had remained in a state of stupefaction since his son’s death, uttered but one exclamation—“Let the wife of the sorcerer, and their accursed offspring, be delivered into the hands of the merciful and holy tribunal, the Inquisition.” He afterwards muttered something about his property being confiscated, but to this nobody paid attention. Donna Clara was almost distracted between compassion for her wretched daughter, and being grandmother to an infant demon, for such she deemed the child of “Melmoth the Wanderer” must be—and Fra Jose, while he baptized the infant with trembling hands, almost expected a fearful sponsor to appear and blast the rite with his horrible negative to the appeal made in the name of all that is holy among Christians. The baptismal ceremony was performed, however, with an omission which the good-natured priest overlooked—there was no sponsor—the lowest domestic in the house declined with horror the proposal of being sponsor for the child of that terrible union. The wretched mother heard them from her bed of pain, and loved her infant better for its utter destitution. * * * *

* * * *

“A few hours put an end to the consternation of the family, on the score of religion at least. The officers of the Inquisition arrived, armed with all the powers of their tribunal, and strongly excited by the report, that the Wanderer of whom they had been long in search, had lately perpetrated an act that brought him within the sphere of their jurisdiction, by involving the life of the only being his solitary existence held alliance with. “We hold him by the cords of a man,” said the chief inquisitor, speaking more from what he read than what he felt—“if he burst these cords he is more than man. He has a wife and child, and if there be human elements in him, if there be any thing mortal clinging to his heart, we shall wind round the roots of it, and extract it.” * * * *

* * * *

“It was not till after some weeks, that Isidora recovered her perfect recollection. When she did, she was in a prison, a pallet of straw was her bed, a crucifix and a death’s head the only furniture of her cell; the light struggled through a narrow grate, and struggled in vain, to cast one gleam on the squalid apartment that it visited and shrunk from. Isidora looked round her—she had light enough to see her child—she clasped it to her bosom, from which it had unconsciously drawn its feverish nourishment, and wept in extasy. “It is my own,” she sobbed, “and only mine! It has no father—he is at the ends of the earth—he has left me alone—but I am not alone while you are left to me!”

 “She was left in solitary confinement for many days, undisturbed and unvisited. The persons in whose hands she was had strong reasons for this mode of treatment. They were desirous that she should recover perfect sanity of intellect previous to her examination, and they also wished to give her time to form that profound attachment to the innocent companion of her solitude, that might be a powerful engine in their hands in discovering those circumstances relative to Melmoth that had hitherto baffled all the power and penetration of the Inquisition itself. All reports agreed that the Wanderer had never before been known to make a woman the object of his temptation, or to entrust her with the terrible secret of his destiny;1 and the Inquisitors were heard to say to each other, “Now that we have got the Delilah in our hands, we shall soon have the Sampson.”

1. From this it should seem that they were unacquainted with the story of Elinor Mortimer.

“It was on the night previous to her examination, (of which she was unapprized), that Isidora saw the door of her cell opened, and a figure appear at it, whom, amid the dreary obscurity that surrounded her, she recognized in a moment,—it was Fra Jose. After a long pause of mutual horror, she knelt in silence to receive his benediction, which he gave with feeling solemnity; and then the good monk, whose propensities, though somewhat “earthly and sensual,” were never “devilish,” after vainly drawing his cowl over his face to stifle his sobs, lifted up his voice and “wept bitterly.”

 “Isidora was silent, but her silence was not that of sullen apathy, or of conscience-seared impenitence. At length Fra Jose seated himself on the foot of the pallet, at some distance from the prisoner, who was also sitting, and bending her cheek, down which a cold tear slowly flowed, over her infant. “Daughter,” said the monk, collecting himself, “it is to the indulgence of the holy office I owe this permission to visit you.”—“I thank them,” said Isidora, and her tears flowed fast and relievingly. “I am permitted also to tell you that your examination will take place to-morrow,—to adjure you to prepare for it,—and, if there be any thing which”—“My examination!” repeated Isidora with surprise, but evidently without terror, “on what subject am I then to be examined?”—“On that of your inconceivable union with a being devoted and accursed.” His voice was choaked with horror, and he added, “Daughter, are you then indeed the wife of—of—that being, whose name makes the flesh creep, and the hair stand on end?”—“I am.”—“Who were the witnesses of your marriage, and what hand dared to bind yours with that unholy and unnatural bond?”—“There were no witnesses—we were wedded in darkness. I saw no form, but I thought I heard words uttered—I know I felt a hand place mine in Melmoth’s—its touch was as cold as that of the dead.”—“Oh complicated and mysterious horror!” said the priest, turning pale, and crossing himself with marks of unfeigned terror; he bowed his head on his arm for some time, and remained silent from unutterable emotion. “Father,” said Isidora at length, “you knew the hermit who lived amid the ruins of the monastery near our house,—he was a priest also,—he was a holy man, it was he who united us!” Her voice trembled.—“Wretched victim!” groaned the priest, without raising his head, “you know not what you utter—that holy man is known to have died the very night preceding that of your dreadful union.”

 “Another pause of mute horror followed, which the priest at length broke.—“Unhappy daughter,” said he in a composed and solemn voice, “I am indulged with permission to give you the benefit of the sacrament of confession, previous to your examination. I adjure you to unburden your soul to me,—will you?”—“I will, my father.”—“Will you answer me, as you would answer at the tribunal of God?”—“Yes,—as I would answer at the tribunal of God.” As she spake, she prostrated herself before the priest in the attitude of confession. * * * *

* * * *

“And you have now disclosed the whole burden of your spirit?”—“I have, my father.” The priest sat thoughtfully for a considerable time. He then put to her several singular questions relative to Melmoth, which she was wholly unable to answer. They seemed chiefly the result of those impressions of supernatural power and terror, which were every where associated with his image. “My father,” said Isidora, when he had ceased, in a faultering voice, “My father, may I inquire about my unhappy parents?” The priest shook his head, and remained silent. At length, affected by the agony with which she urged her inquiry, he reluctantly said she might guess the effect which the death of their son, and the imprisonment of their daughter in the Inquisition, must have on parents, who were no less eminent for their zeal for the Catholic faith, than for their parental affection. “Are they alive?” said Isidora.—“Spare yourself the pain of further inquiries, daughter,” said the priest, “and be assured, that if the answer was such as could give you comfort, it would not be withheld.”

 “At this moment a bell was heard to sound in a distant part of the structure. “That bell,” said the priest, “announces that the hour of your examination approaches—farewell, and may the saints be with you.”—“Stay, father,—stay one moment,—but one moment!” cried Isidora, rushing franticly between him and the door. Fra Jose paused. Isidora sunk before him, and, hiding her face with her hands, exclaimed in a voice choaked with agony, “Father, do you think—that I am—lost for ever?”—“Daughter,” said the priest in heavy accents, and in a troubled and doubting spirit, “Daughter,—I have given you what comfort I could—press for no more, lest what I have given (with many struggles of conscience) may be withdrawn. Perhaps you are in a state on which I can form no judgment, and pronounce no sentence. May God be merciful to you, and may the holy tribunal judge you in its mercy also.”—“Yet stay, father—stay one moment—only one moment—only one question more.” As she spoke, she caught her pale and innocent companion from the pallet where it slept, and held it up to the priest. “Father, tell me, can this be the child of a demon?—can it be, this creature that smiles on me—that smiles on you, while you are mustering curses against it?—Oh, holy drops have sprinkled it from your own hand!—Father, you have spoke holy words over it. Father, let them tear me with their pincers, let them roast me on their flames, but will not my child escape—my innocent child, that smiles on you?—Holy father, dear father, look back on your child.” And she crawled after him on her knees, holding up the miserable infant in her arms, whose weak cry and wasted frame, pleaded against the dungeon-life to which its infancy had been doomed.

 “Fra Jose melted at the appeal, and he was about to bestow many a kiss and many a prayer on the wretched babe, when the bell again was sounded, and hasting away, he had but time to exclaim, “My daughter, may God protect you!”—“God protect me,” said Isidora, clasping her infant to her bosom. The bell sounded again, and Isidora knew that the hour of her trial approached.

[ End of Chapter XXXVI ]

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