It was early, one morning, that Leila stood by the lattice of her lofty chamber gazing, with many and mingled emotions, on the distant domes of Granada, as they slept in the silent sunshine. Her heart, for the moment, was busy with the thoughts of home, and the chances and peril of the time were forgotten.
The sound of martial music, afar off, broke upon her reveries; she started, and listened breathlessly; it became more distinct and clear. The clash of the zell, the boom of the African drum, and the wild and barbarous blast of the Moorish clarion, were now each distinguishable from the other; and, at length, as she gazed and listened, winding along the steeps of the mountain were seen the gleaming spears and pennants of the Moslem vanguard. Another moment and the whole castle was astir.
Mendo de Quexada, hastily arming, repaired, himself, to the battlements; and, from her lattice, Leila beheld him, from time to time, stationing to the best advantage his scanty troops. In a few minutes she was joined by Donna Inez and the women of the castle, who fearfully clustered round their mistress,—not the less disposed, however, to gratify the passion of the sex, by a glimpse through the lattice at the gorgeous array of the Moorish army.
The casements of Leila's chamber were peculiarly adapted to command a safe nor insufficient view of the progress of the enemy; and, with a beating heart and flushing cheek, the Jewish maiden, deaf to the voices around her, imagined she could already descry amidst the horsemen the lion port and snowy garments of Muza Ben Abil Gazan.
What a situation was hers! Already a Christian, could she hope for the success of the infidel? ever a woman, could she hope for the defeat of her lover? But the time for meditation on her destiny was but brief; the detachment of the Moorish cavalry was now just without the walls of the little town that girded the castle, and the loud clarion of the heralds summoned the garrison to surrender.
"Not while one stone stands upon another!" was the short answer of Quexada; and, in ten minutes afterwards, the sullen roar of the artillery broke from wall and tower over the vales below.
It was then that the women, from Leila's lattice, beheld, slowly marshalling themselves in order, the whole power and pageantry of the besieging army. Thick-serried—line after line, column upon column—they spread below the frowning steep. The sunbeams lighted up that goodly array, as it swayed, and murmured, and advanced, like the billows of a glittering sea. The royal standard was soon descried waving above the pavilion of Boabdil; and the king himself, mounted on his cream-coloured charger, which was covered with trappings of cloth-of-gold, was recognised amongst the infantry, whose task it was to lead the assault.
"Pray with us, my daughter!" cried Inez, falling on her knees.-Alas! what could Leila pray for?
Four days and four nights passed away in that memorable siege; for the moon, then at her full, allowed no respite, even in night itself. Their numbers, and their vicinity to Granada, gave the besiegers the advantage of constant relays, and troop succeeded to troop; so that the weary had ever successors in the vigour of new assailants.
On the fifth day, all of the fortress, save the keep (an immense tower), was in the hands of the Moslems; and in this last hold, the worn-out and scanty remnant of the garrison mustered, in the last hope of a brave, despair.
Quexada appeared, covered with gore and dust-his eyes bloodshot, his cheek haggard and hollow, his locks blanched with sudden age-in the hall of the tower, where the women, half dead with terror, were assembled.
"Food!" cried he,—"food and wine!—it may be our last banquet."
His wife threw her arms round him. "Not yet," he cried, "not yet; we will have one embrace before we part."
"Is there, then, no hope?" said Inez, with a pale cheek, yet steady eye.
"None; unless to-morrow's dawn gild the spears of Ferdinand's army upon yonder hills. Till morn we may hold out." As he spoke, he hastily devoured some morsels of food, drained a huge goblet of wine, and abruptly quitted the chamber.
At that moment, the women distinctly heard the loud shouts of the Moors; and Leila, approaching the grated casement, could perceive the approach of what seemed to her like moving wails.
Covered by ingenious constructions of wood and thick hides, the besiegers advanced to the foot of the tower in comparative shelter from the burning streams which still poured, fast and seething, from the battlements; while, in the rear came showers of darts and cross-bolts from the more distant Moors, protecting the work of the engineer, and piercing through almost every loophole and crevice in the fortress.
Meanwhile the stalwart governor beheld, with dismay and despair, the preparations of the engineers, whom the wooden screen-works protected from every weapon.
"By the Holy Sepulchre!" cried he, gnashing his teeth, "they are mining the tower, and we shall be buried in its ruins! Look out, Gonsalvo! see you not a gleam of spears yonder over the mountain? Mine eyes are dim with watching."
"Alas! brave Mendo, it is only the sloping sun upon the snows—but there is hope yet."
The soldier's words terminated in a shrill and sudden cry of agony; and he fell dead by the side of Quexada, the brain crushed by a bolt from a Moorish arquebus.
"My best warrior!" said Quexada; "peace be with him! Ho, there! see you yon desperate infidel urging on the miners? By the heavens above, it is he of the white banner!—it is the sorcerer! Fire on him! he is without the shelter of the woodworks."
Twenty shafts, from wearied and nerveless arms, fell innocuous round the form of Almamen: and as, waving aloft his ominous banner, he disappeared again behind the screen-works, the Spaniards almost fancied they could hear his exulting and demon laugh.
The sixth day came, and the work of the enemy was completed. The tower was entirely undermined—the foundations rested only upon wooden props, which, with a humanity that was characteristic of Boabdil, had been placed there in order that the besieged might escape ere the final crash of their last hold.
It was now noon: the whole Moorish force, quitting the plain, occupied the steep that spread below the tower, in multitudinous array and breathless expectation. The miners stood aloof—the Spaniards lay prostrate and exhausted upon the battlements, like mariners who, after every effort against the storm, await, resigned, and almost indifferent, the sweep of the fatal surge.
Suddenly the lines of the Moors gave way, and Boabdil himself, with Muza at his right hand, and Almamen on his left, advanced towards the foot of the tower. At the same time, the Ethiopian guards, each bearing a torch, marched slowly in the rear; and from the midst of them paced the royal herald and sounded the last warning. The hush of the immense armament—the glare of the torches, lighting the ebon faces and giant forms of their bearers—the majestic appearance of the king himself—the heroic aspect of Muza—the bare head and glittering banner of Almamen—all combined with the circumstances of the time to invest the spectacle with something singularly awful, and, perhaps, sublime.
Quexada turned his eyes, mutely, round the ghastly faces of his warriors, and still made not the signal. His lips muttered—his eyes glared: when, suddenly, he heard below the wail of women; and the thought of Inez, the bride of his youth, the partner of his age, came upon him; and, with a trembling hand, he lowered the yet unquailing standard of Spain. Then, the silence below broke into a mighty shout, which shook the grim tower to its unsteady and temporary base.
"Arise, my friends," he said, with a bitter sigh; "we have fought like men—and our country will not blush for us." He descended the winding stairs—his soldiers followed him with faltering steps: the gates of the keep unfolded, and these gallant Christians surrendered themselves to the Moor.
"Do with it as you will," said Quexada, as he laid the keys at the hoofs of Boabdil's barb; "but there are women in the garrison, who—"
"Are sacred," interrupted the king. "At once we accord their liberty, and free transport whithersoever ye would desire. Speak, then! To what place of safety shall they be conducted?"
"Generous king!" replied the veteran Quexada, brushing away his tears with the back of his hand; "you take the sting from our shame. We accept your offer in the same spirit in which it is made. Across the mountains, on the verge of the plain of Olfadez, I possess a small castle, ungarrisoned and unfortified. Thence, should the war take that direction, the women can readily obtain safe conduct to the queen at Cordova."
"Be it so," returned Boabdil. Then, with Oriental delicacy, selecting the eldest of the officers round him, he gave him instructions to enter the castle, and, with a strong guard, provide for the safety of the women, according to the directions of Quexada. To another of his officers he confided the Spanish prisoners, and gave the signal to his army to withdraw from the spot, leaving only a small body to complete the ruin of the fortress.
Accompanied by Almamen and his principal officers, Boabdil now hastened towards Granada; and while, with slower progress, Quexada and his companions, under a strong escort, took their way across the Vega, a sudden turn in their course brought abruptly before them the tower they had so valiantly defended. There it still stood, proud and stern, amidst the blackened and broken wrecks around it, shooting aloft, dark and grim, against the sky. Another moment, and a mighty crash sounded on their ears, while the tower fell to the earth, amidst volumes of wreathing smoke and showers of dust, which were borne, by the concussion to the spot on which they took their last gaze of the proudest fortress on which the Moors of Granada had beheld, from their own walls, the standard of Arragon and Castile.
At the same time, Leila—thus brought so strangely within the very reach of her father and her lover, and yet, by a mysterious fate, still divided from both,—with Donna Inez, and the rest of the females of the garrison, pursued her melancholy path along the ridges of the mountains.
CHAPTER II. ALMAMEN'S PROPOSED ENTERPRISE.—THE THREE ISRAELITES—CIRCUMSTANCE IMPRESSES EACH CHARACTER WITH A VARYING DIE.
Boadbil followed up his late success with a series of brilliant assaults on-the neighbouring fortresses. Granada, like a strong man bowed to the ground, wrenched one after one the bands that had crippled her liberty and strength; and, at length, after regaining a considerable portion of the surrounding territory, the king resolved to lay siege to the seaport of Salobrena. Could he obtain this town, Boabdil, by establishing communication between the sea and Granada, would both be enabled to avail himself of the assistance of his African allies, and also prevent the Spaniards from cutting off supplies to the city, should they again besiege it. Thither, then, accompanied by Muza, the Moorish king bore his victorious standard.
On the eve of his departure, Almamen sought the king's presence. A great change had come over the canton since the departure of Ferdinand; his wonted stateliness of mien was gone; his eyes were sunk and hollow; his manner disturbed and absent. In fact, his love for his daughter made the sole softness of his character; and that daughter was in the hands of the king who had sentenced the father to the tortures of the Inquisition! To what dangers might she not be subjected, by the intolerant zeal of conversion! and could that frame, and gentle heart, brave the terrific engines that might be brought against her fears? "Better," thought he, "that she should perish, even by the torture, than adopt that hated faith." He gnashed his teeth in agony at either alternative. His dreams, his objects, his revenge, his ambition—all forsook him: one single hope, one thought, completely mastered his stormy passions and fitful intellect.
In this mood the pretended santon met Boabdil. He represented to the king, over whom his influence had prodigiously increased since the late victories of the Moors, the necessity of employing the armies of Ferdinand at a distance. He proposed, in furtherance of this policy, to venture himself in Cordova; to endeavour secretly to stir up those Moors, in that, their ancient kingdom, who had succumbed to the Spanish yoke, and whose hopes might naturally be inflamed by the recent successes of Boabdil; and, at least, to foment such disturbances as might afford the king sufficient time to complete his designs, and recruit his force by aid of the powers with which he was in league.
The representations of Almamen at length conquered Boabdil's reluctance to part with his sacred guide; and it was finally arranged that the Israelite should at once depart from the city.
As Almamen pursued homeward his solitary way, he found himself suddenly accosted in the Hebrew tongue. He turned hastily, and saw before him an old man in the Jewish gown: he recognised Elias, one of the wealthiest and most eminent of the race of Israel.
"Pardon me, wise countryman!" said the Jew, bowing to the earth, "but I cannot resist the temptation of claiming kindred with one through whom the horn of Israel may be so triumphantly exalted."
"Hush, man!" said Almamen, quickly, and looking sharply round; "I thy countryman! Art thou not, as thy speech betokens, an Israelite?"
"Yea," returned the Jew, "and of the same tribe as thy honoured father—peace be with his ashes! I remembered thee at once, boy though thou wert when thy steps shook off the dust against Granada. I remembered thee, I say, at once, on thy return; but I have kept thy secret, trusting that, through thy soul and genius, thy fallen brethren might put off sackcloth and feast upon the house-tops."
Almamen looked hard at the keen, sharp, Arab features of the Jew; and at length he answered, "And how can Israel be restored? wilt thou fight for her?"
"I am too old, son of Issachar, to bear arms; but our tribes are many, and our youth strong. Amid these disturbances between dog and dog—"
"The lion may get his own," interrupted Almamen, impetuously,—"let us hope it. Hast thou heard of the new persecutions against us that the false Nazarene king has already commenced in Cordova—persecutions that make the heart sick and the blood cold?"
"Alas!" replied Elias, "such woes indeed have not failed to reach mine ear; and I have kindred, near and beloved kindred, wealthy and honoured men, scattered throughout that land."
"Were it not better that they should die on the field than by the rack?" exclaimed Almamen, fiercely. "God of my fathers! if there be yet a spark of manhood left amongst thy people, let thy servant fan it to a flame, that shall burn as the fire burns the stubble, so that the earth may bare before the blaze!"
"Nay," said Elias, dismayed rather than excited by the vehemence of his comrade,—"be not rash, son of Issachar, be not rash: peradventure thou wilt but exasperate the wrath of the rulers, and our substance thereby will be utterly consumed."
Almamen drew back, placed his hand quietly on the Jew's shoulder, looked him hard in the face, and, gently laughing, turned away.
Elias did not attempt to arrest his steps. "Impracticable," he muttered; "impracticable and dangerous! I always thought so. He may do us harm: were he not so strong and fierce, I would put my knife under his left rib. Verily, gold is a great thing; and—out on me! the knaves at home will be wasting the oil, now they know old Elias is abroad." Thereat the Jew drew his cloak around him, and quickened his pace.
Almamen, in the meanwhile, sought, through dark and subterranean passages, known only to himself, his accustomed home. He passed much of the night alone; but, ere the morning star announced to the mountain tops the presence of the sun, he stood, prepared for his journey, in his secret vault, by the door of the subterranean passages, with old Ximen beside him.
"I go, Ximen," said Almamen, "upon a doubtful quest: whether I discover my daughter, and succeed in bearing her in safety from their contaminating grasp, or whether I fall into their snares and perish, there is an equal chance that I may return no more to Granada. Should this be so, you will be heir to such wealth as I leave in these places I know that your age will be consoled for the lack of children when your eyes look upon the laugh of gold."
Ximen bowed low, and mumbled out some inaudible protestations and thanks. Almamen sighed heavily as he looked round the room. "I have evil omens in my soul, and evil prophecies in my books," said he, mournfully. "But the worst is here," he added, putting his finger significantly to his temples; "the string is stretched—one more blow would snap it."
As he thus said, he opened the door and vanished through that labyrinth of galleries by which he was enabled at all times to reach unobserved either the palace of the Alhambra or the gardens without the gates of the city.
Ximen remained behind a few moments in deep thought. "All mine if he dies!" said he: "all mine if he does not return! All mine, all mine! and I have not a child nor a kinsman in the world to clutch it away from me!" With that he locked the vault, and returned to the upper air.
CHAPTER III. THE FUGITIVE AND THE MEETING
In their different directions the rival kings were equally successful. Salobrena, but lately conquered by the Christians, was thrown into a commotion by the first glimpse of Boabdil's banners; the populace rose, beat back their Christian guards, and opened the gates to the last of their race of kings. The garrison alone, to which the Spaniards retreated, resisted Boabdil's arms; and, defended by, impregnable walls, promised an obstinate and bloody siege.
Meanwhile, Ferdinand had no sooner entered Cordova than his extensive scheme of confiscation and holy persecution commenced. Not only did more than five hundred Jews perish in the dark and secret gripe of the Grand Inquisitor, but several hundred of the wealthiest Christian families, in whose blood was detected the hereditary Jewish taint, were thrown into prison; and such as were most fortunate purchased life by the sacrifice of half their treasures. At this time, however, there suddenly broke forth a formidable insurrection amongst these miserable subjects—the Messenians of the Iberian Sparta. The Jews were so far aroused from their long debasement by omnipotent despair, that a single spark, falling on the ashes of their ancient spirit, rekindled the flame of the descendants of the fierce warriors of Palestine. They were encouraged and assisted by the suspected Christians, who had been involved in the same persecution; and the whole were headed by a man who appeared suddenly amongst them, and whose fiery eloquence and martial spirit produced, at such a season, the most fervent enthusiasm. Unhappily, the whole details of this singular outbreak are withheld from us; only by wary hints and guarded allusions do the Spanish chroniclers apprise us of its existence and its perils. It is clear that all narrative of an event that might afford the most dangerous precedent, and was alarming to the pride and avarice of the Spanish king, as well as the pious zeal of the Church, was strictly forbidden; and the conspiracy was hushed in the dread silence of the Inquisition, into whose hands the principal conspirators ultimately fell. We learn, only, that a determined and sanguinary struggle was followed by the triumph of Ferdinand, and the complete extinction of the treason.
It was one evening, that a solitary fugitive, hard chased by an armed troop of the brothers of St. Hermandad, was seen emerging from a wild and rocky defile, which opened abruptly on the gardens of a small, and, by the absence of fortification and sentries, seemingly deserted, castle. Behind him; in the exceeding stillness which characterises the air of a Spanish twilight, he heard, at a considerable distance the blast of the horn and the tramp of hoofs. His pursuers, divided into several detachments, were scouring the country after him, as the fishermen draw their nets, from bank to bank, conscious that the prey they drive before the meshes cannot escape them at the last. The fugitive halted in doubt, and gazed round him: he was well-nigh exhausted; his eyes were bloodshot; the large drops rolled fast down his brow; his whole frame quivered and palpitated, like that of a stag when he stands at bay. Beyond the castle spread a broad plain, far as the eye could reach, without shrub or hollow to conceal his form: flight across a space so favourable to his pursuers was evidently in vain. No alternative was left unless he turned back on the very path taken by the horsemen, or trusted to such scanty and perilous shelter as the copses in the castle garden might afford him. He decided on the latter refuge, cleared the low and lonely wall that girded the demesne, and plunged into a thicket of overhanging oaks and chestnuts.
At that hour, and in that garden, by the side of a little fountain, were seated two females: the one of mature and somewhat advanced years; the other, in the flower of virgin youth. But the flower was prematurely faded; and neither the bloom, nor sparkle, nor undulating play of feature, that should have suited her age, was visible in the marble paleness and contemplative sadness of her beautiful countenance.
"Alas! my young friend," said the elder of these ladies, "it is in these hours of solitude and calm that we are most deeply impressed with the nothingness of life. Thou, my sweet convert, art now the object, no longer of my compassion, but my envy; and earnestly do I feel convinced of the blessed repose thy spirit will enjoy in the lap of the Mother Church. Happy are they who die young! but thrice happy they who die in the spirit rather than the flesh: dead to sin, but not to virtue; to terror, not to hope; to man, but not to God!"
"Dear senora," replied the young maiden, mournfully, "were I alone on earth, Heaven is my witness with what deep and thankful resignation I should take the holy vows, and forswear the past; but the heart remains human, however divine the hope that it may cherish. And sometimes I start, and think of home, of childhood, of my strange but beloved father, deserted and childless in his old age."
"Thine, Leila," returned the elder Senora, "are but the sorrows our nature is doomed to. What matter, whether absence or death sever the affections? Thou lamentest a father; I, a son, dead in the pride of his youth and beauty—a husband, languishing in the fetters of the Moor. Take comfort for thy sorrows, in the reflection that sorrow is the heritage of all."
Ere Leila could reply, the orange-boughs that sheltered the spot where they sat were put aside, and between the women and the fountain stood the dark form of Almamen the Israelite. Leila rose, shrieked, and flung herself, unconscious, on his breast.
"O Lord of Israel!" cried Almamen, in atone of deep anguish. "I, then, at last regain my child? Do I press her to my heart? and is it only for that brief moment, when I stand upon the brink of death? Leila, my child, look up! smile upon thy father; let him feel, on his maddening and burning brow, the sweet breath of the last of his race, and bear with him, at least, one holy and gentle thought to the dark grave."
"My father! is it indeed my father?" said Leila, recovering herself, and drawing back, that she might assure herself of that familiar face; "it is thou! it is—it is! Oh! what blessed chance brings us together?"
"That chance is the destiny that hurries me to my tomb," answered Almamen, solemnly. "Hark! hear you not the sound of their rushing steeds—their impatient voices? They are on me now!"
"Who? Of whom speakest thou?"
"My pursuers—the horsemen of the Spaniard."
"Oh, senora, save him!" cried Leila, turning to Donna Inez, whom both father and child had hitherto forgotten, and who now stood gazing upon Almamen with wondering and anxious eyes. "Whither can he fly? The vaults of the castle may conceal him. This way-hasten!"
"Stay," said Inez, trembling, and approaching close to Almamen: "do I see aright? and, amidst the dark change of years and trial, do I recognise that stately form, which once contrasted to the sad eye of a mother the drooping and faded form of her only son? Art thou not he who saved my boy from the pestilence, who accompanied him to the shores of Naples, and consigned him to these arms? Look on me! dost thou not recall the mother of thy friend?"
"I recall thy features dimly and as in a dream," answered the Hebrew; "and while thou speakest, there rush upon me the memories of an earlier time, in lands where Leila first looked upon the day, and her mother sang to me at sunset by the stream of the Euphrates, and on the sites of departed empires. Thy son—I remember now: I had friendship then with a Christian—for I was still young."
"Waste not the time—father—senora!" cried Leila, impatiently clinging still to her father's breast.
"You are right; nor shall your sire, in whom I thus wonderfully recognise my son's friend, perish if I can save him."
Inez then conducted her strange guest to a small door in the rear of the castle; and after leading him through some of the principal apartments, left him in one of the tiring-rooms adjoining her own chamber, and the entrance to which the arras concealed. She rightly judged this a safer retreat than the vaults of the castle might afford, since her great name and known intimacy with Isabel would preclude all suspicion of her abetting in the escape of the fugitive, and keep those places the most secure in which, without such aid, he could not have secreted himself.
In a few minutes, several of the troop arrived at the castle, and on learning the name of its owner contented themselves with searching the gardens, and the lower and more exposed apartments; and then recommending to the servants a vigilant look-out remounted, and proceeded to scour the plain, over which now slowly fell the starlight and shade of night. When Leila stole, at last, to the room in which Almamen was hid, she found him, stretched on his mantle, in a deep sleep. Exhausted by all he had undergone, and his rigid nerves, as it were, relaxed by the sudden softness of that interview with his child, the slumber of that fiery wanderer was as calm as an infant's. And their relation almost seemed reversed; and the daughter to be as a mother watching over her offspring, when Leila seated herself softly by him, fixing her eyes—to which the tears came ever, ever to be brushed away-upon his worn but tranquil features, made yet more serene by the quiet light that glimmered through the casement. And so passed the hours of that night; and the father and the child—the meek convert, the revengeful fanatic—were under the same roof.
CHAPTER IV. ALMAMEN HEARS AND SEES, BUT REFUSES TO BELIEVE; FOR THE BRAIN, OVERWROUGHT, GROWS DULL, EVEN IN THE KEENEST.
The dawn broke slowly upon the chamber, and Almamen still slept. It was the Sabbath of the Christians—that day on which the Saviour rose from the dead—thence named so emphatically and sublimely by the early Church THE LORD'S DAY.
[Before the Christian era, the Sunday was, however, called the Lord's day—i.e., the day of the Lord the Sun.]
And as the ray of the sun flashed in the east it fell like a glory, over a crucifix, placed in the deep recess of the Gothic casement; and brought startlingly before the eyes of Leila that face upon which the rudest of the Catholic sculptors rarely fail to preserve the mystic and awful union of the expiring anguish of the man with the lofty patience of the God. It looked upon her, that face; it invited, it encouraged, while it thrilled and subdued. She stole gently from the side of her father; she crept to the spot, and flung herself on her knees beside the consecrated image.
"Support me, O Redeemer!" she murmured—"support thy creature! strengthen her steps in the blessed path, though it divide her irrevocably from all that on earth she loves: and if there be a sacrifice in her solemn choice, accept, O Thou, the Crucified! accept it, in part atonement of the crime of her stubborn race; and, hereafter, let the lips of a maiden of Judaea implore thee, not in vain, for some mitigation of the awful curse that hath fallen justly upon her tribe."
As broken by low sobs, and in a choked and muttered voice, Leila poured forth her prayer, she was startled by a deep groan; and turning, in alarm she saw that Almamen had awaked, and, leaning on his arm, was now bending upon her his dark eyes, once more gleaming with all their wonted fire.
"Speak," he said, as she coweringly hid her face, "speak to me, or I shall be turned to stone by one horrid thought. It is not before that symbol that thou kneelest in adoration; and my sense wanders, if it tell me that thy broken words expressed the worship of an apostate? In mercy, speak!"
"Father!" began Leila; but her lips refused to utter more than that touching and holy word.
Almamen rose; and plucking the hands from her face, gazed on her some moments, as if he would penetrate her very soul; and Leila, recovering her courage in the pause, by degrees met his eyes unquailing—her pure and ingenuous brow raised to his, and sadness, but not guilt, speaking from every line of that lovely face.
"Thou dost not tremble," said Almamen, at length, breaking the silence, "and I have erred. Thou art not the criminal I deemed thee. Come to my arms!"
"Alas!" said Leila, obeying the instinct, and casting herself upon that rugged bosom. "I will dare, at least, not to disavow my God. Father! by that dread anathema which is on our race, which has made us homeless and powerless—outcasts and strangers in the land; by the persecution and anguish we have known, teach thy lordly heart that we are rightly punished for the persecution and the anguish we doomed to Him, whose footstep hallowed our native earth! FIRST, IN THE HISTORY of THE WORLD, DID THE STERN HEBREWS INFLICT UPON MANKIND THE AWFUL CRIME OF PERSECUTION FOR OPINIONS SAKE. The seed we sowed hath brought forth the Dead Sea fruit upon which we feed. I asked for resignation and for hope: I looked upon yonder cross, and I found both. Harden not thy heart; listen to thy child; wise though thou be, and weak though her woman spirit, listen to me."
"Be dumb!" cried Almamen, in such a voice as might have come from the charnel, so ghostly and deathly sounded its hollow tone; then, recoiling some steps, he placed both his hands upon his temples, and muttered, "Mad, mad! yes, yes, this is but a delirium, and I am tempted with a devil! Oh, my child!" he resumed, in a voice that became, on the sudden, inexpressibly tender and imploring, "I have been sorely tried; and I dreamt a feverish dream of passion and revenge. Be thine the lips, and thine the soothing hand, that shall wake me from it. Let us fly for ever from these hated lands; let us leave to these miserable infidels their bloody contest, careless which shall fall. To a soil on which the iron heel does not clang, to an air where man's orisons rise, in solitude, to the Great Jehovah, let us hasten our weary steps. Come! while the castle yet sleeps, let us forth unseen—the father and the child. We will hold sweet commune by the way. And hark ye, Leila," he added, in a low and abrupt whisper, "talk not to me of yonder symbol; for thy God is a jealous God, and hath no likeness in the graven image."
Had he been less exhausted by long travail and racking thoughts, far different, perhaps, would have been the language of a man so stern. But circumstance impresses the hardest substance; and despite his native intellect and affected superiority over others, no one, perhaps, was more human, in his fitful moods,—his weakness and his strength, his passion and his purpose,—than that strange man, who had dared, in his dark studies and arrogant self-will, to aspire beyond humanity.
That was, indeed, a perilous moment for the young convert. The unexpected softness of her father utterly subdued her; nor was she sufficiently possessed of that all-denying zeal of the Catholic enthusiast to which every human tie and earthly duty has been often sacrificed on the shrine of a rapt and metaphysical piety. Whatever her opinions, her new creed, her secret desire of the cloister, fed as it was by the sublime, though fallacious notion, that in her conversion, her sacrifice, the crimes of her race might be expiated in the eyes of Him whose death had been the great atonement of a world; whatever such higher thoughts and sentiments, they gave way, at that moment, to the irresistible impulse of household nature and of filial duty. Should she desert her father, and could that desertion be a virtue? Her heart put and answered both questions in a breath. She approached Almamen, placed her hand in his, and said, steadily and calmly, "Father, wheresoever thou goest, I will wend with thee."
But Heaven ordained to each another destiny than might have been theirs, had the dictates of that impulse been fulfilled.
Ere Almamen could reply, a trumpet sounded clear and loud at the gate.
"Hark!" he said, griping his dagger, and starting back to a sense of the dangers round him. "They come—my pursuers and my murtherers!—but these limbs are sacred from—the rack."
Even that sound of ominous danger was almost a relief to Leila: "I will go," she said, "and learn what the blast betokens; remain here—be cautious—I will return."
Several minutes, however, elapsed before Leila reappeared; she was accompanied by Donna Inez, whose paleness and agitation betokened her alarm. A courier had arrived at the gate to announce the approach of the queen, who, with a considerable force, was on her way to join Ferdinand, then, in the usual rapidity of his movements, before one of the Moorish towns that had revolted from his allegiance. It was impossible for Almamen to remain in safety in the castle; and the only hope of escape was departing immediately and in disguise.
"I have," she said, "a trusty and faithful servant with me in the castle, to whom I can, without anxiety, confide the charge of your safety; and even if suspected by the way, my name, and the companionship of my servant, will remove all obstacles; it is not a long journey hence to Guadix, which has already revolted to the Moors: there, till the armies of Ferdinand surround the walls, your refuge may be secure."
Almamen remained for some moments plunged in a gloomy silence. But, at length, he signified his assent to the plan proposed, and Donna Inez hastened to give the directions of his intended guide.
"Leila," said the Hebrew, when left alone with his daughter, "think not that it is for mine own safety that I stoop to this flight from thee. No! but never till thou wert lost to me, by mine own rash confidence in another, did I know how dear to my heart was the last scion of my race, the sole memorial left to me of thy mother's love. Regaining thee once more, a new and a soft existence opens upon my eyes; and the earth seems to change, as by a sudden revolution, from winter into spring. For thy sake, I consent to use all the means that man's intellect can devise for preservation from my foes. Meanwhile, here will rest my soul; to this spot, within one week from this period—no matter through what danger I pass—I shall return: then I shall claim thy promise. I will arrange all things for our flight, and no stone shall harm thy footstep by the way. The Lord of Israel be with thee, my daughter, and strengthen thy heart! But," he added, tearing himself from her embrace, as he heard steps ascending to the chamber, "deem not that, in this most fond and fatherly affection, I forget what is due to me and thee. Think not that my love is only the brute and insensate feeling of the progenitor to the offspring: I love thee for thy mother's sake—I love thee for thine own—I love thee yet more for the sake of Israel. If thou perish, if thou art lost to us, thou, the last daughter of the house of Issachar, then the haughtiest family of God's great people is extinct."
Here Inez appeared at the door, but withdrew, at the impatient and lordly gesture of Almamen, who, without further heed of the interruption, resumed:
"I look to thee, and thy seed, for the regeneration which I once trusted, fool that I was, mine own day might see effected. Let this pass. Thou art under the roof of the Nazarene. I will not believe that the arts we have resisted against fire and sword can prevail with thee. But, if I err, awful will be the penalty! Could I once know that thou hadst forsaken thy ancestral creed, though warrior and priest stood by thee, though thousands and ten thousands were by thy right hand, this steel should save the race of Issachar from dishonour. Beware! Thou weepest; but, child, I warn, not threaten. God be with thee!"
He wrung the cold hand of his child, turned to the door, and, after such disguise as the brief time allowed him could afford, quitted the castle with his Spanish guide, who, accustomed to the benevolence of his mistress, obeyed her injunction without wonder, though not without suspicion.
The third part of an hour had scarcely elapsed, and the sun was yet on the mountain-tops, when Isabel arrived. She came to announce that the outbreaks of the Moorish towns in the vicinity rendered the half-fortified castle of her friend no longer a secure abode; and she honoured the Spanish lady with a command to accompany her, with her female suite, to the camp of Ferdinand.
Leila received the intelligence with a kind of stupor. Her interview with her father, the strong and fearful contests of emotion which that interview occasioned, left her senses faint and dizzy; and when she found herself, by the twilight star, once more with the train of Isabel, the only feeling that stirred actively through her stunned and bewildered mind, was, that the hand of Providence conducted her from a temptation that, the Reader of all hearts knew, the daughter and woman would have been too feeble to resist.
On the fifth day from his departure, Almamen returned to find the castle deserted, and his daughter gone.
CHAPTER V. IN THE FERMENT OF GREAT EVENTS THE DREGS RISE.
The Israelites did not limit their struggles to the dark conspiracy to which allusion has been made. In some of the Moorish towns that revolted from Ferdinand, they renounced the neutrality they had hitherto maintained between Christian and Moslem. Whether it was that they were inflamed by the fearful and wholesale barbarities enforced by Ferdinand and the Inquisition against their tribe, or whether they were stirred up by one of their own order, in whom was recognised the head of their most sacred family; or whether, as is most probable, both causes combined—certain it is, that they manifested a feeling that was thoroughly unknown to the ordinary habits and policy of that peaceable people. They bore great treasure to the public stock—they demanded arms, and, under their own leaders, were admitted, though with much jealousy and precaution, into the troops of the arrogant and disdainful Moslems.
In this conjunction of hostile planets, Ferdinand had recourse to his favourite policy of wile and stratagem. Turning against the Jews the very treaty Almamen had once sought to obtain in their favour, he caused it to be circulated, privately, that the Jews, anxious to purchase their peace with him, had promised to betray the Moorish towns, and Granada itself into his hands. The paper, which Ferdinand himself had signed in his interview with Almamen, and of which, on the capture of the Hebrew, he had taken care to repossess himself, he gave to a spy whom he sent, disguised as a Jew, into one of the revolted cities.
Private intelligence reached the Moorish ringleader of the arrival of this envoy. He was seized, and the document found on his person. The form of the words drawn up by Almamen (who had carefully omitted mention of his own name—whether that which he assumed, or that which, by birth, he should have borne) merely conveyed the compact, that if by a Jew, within two weeks from the date therein specified, Granada was delivered to the Christian king, the Jews should enjoy certain immunities and rights.
The discovery of this document filled the Moors of the city to which the spy had been sent with a fury that no words can describe. Always distrusting their allies, they now imagined they perceived the sole reason of their sudden enthusiasm, of their demand for arms. The mob rose: the principal Jews were seized and massacred without trial; some by the wrath of the multitude, some by the slower tortures of the magistrate. Messengers were sent to the different revolted towns, and, above all, to Granada itself, to put the Moslems on their guard against these unhappy enemies of either party. At once covetous and ferocious, the Moors rivalled the Inquisition in their cruelty, and Ferdinand in their extortion.
It was the dark fate of Almamen, as of most premature and heated liberators of the enslaved, to double the terrors and the evils he had sought to cure. The warning arrived at Granada at a time in which the vizier, Jusef, had received the commands of his royal master, still at the siege of Salobrena, to use every exertion to fill the wasting treasuries. Fearful of new exactions against the Moors, the vizier hailed, as a message from Heaven, so just a pretext for a new and sweeping impost on the Jews. The spendthrift violence of the mob was restrained, because it was headed by the authorities, who were wisely anxious that the state should have no rival in the plunder it required; and the work of confiscation and robbery was carried on with a majestic and calm regularity, which redounded no less to the credit of Jusef than it contributed to the coffers of the king.
It was late, one evening, when Ximen was making his usual round through the chambers of Almamen's house. As he glanced around at the various articles of wealth and luxury, he ever and anon burst into a low, fitful chuckle, rubbed his lean hands, and mumbled out, "If my master should die! if my master should die!"
While thus engaged, he heard a confused and distant shout; and, listening attentively, he distinguished a cry, grown of late sufficiently familiar, of, "Live, Jusef the just—perish, the traitor Jews!"
"Ah!" said Ximen, as the whole character of his face changed; "some new robbery upon our race! And this is thy work, son of Issachar! Madman that thou wert, to be wiser than thy sires, and seek to dupe the idolaters in the council chamber and the camp—their field, their vantage ground; as the bazaar and the market-place are ours. None suspect that the potent santon is the traitor Jew; but I know it! I could give thee to the bow-string—and, if thou Overt dead, all thy goods and gold, even to the mule at the manger, would be old Ximen's."
He paused at that thought, shut his eyes, and smiled at the prospect his fancy conjured up and completing his survey, retired to his own chamber, which opened, by a small door, upon one of the back courts. He had scarcely reached the room, when he heard a low tap at the outer door; and, when it was thrice repeated, he knew that it was one of his Jewish-brethren. For Ximen—as years, isolation, and avarice gnawed away whatever of virtue once put forth some meagre fruit from a heart naturally bare and rocky—still reserved one human feeling towards his countrymen. It was the bond which unites all the persecuted: and Ximen loved them, because he could not envy their happiness. The power—the knowledge—the lofty, though wild designs of his master, stung and humbled him—he secretly hated, because he could not compassionate or contemn him. But the bowed frame, and slavish voice, and timid nerves of his crushed brotherhood presented to the old man the likeness of things that could not exult over him. Debased and aged, and solitary as he was, he felt a kind of wintry warmth in the thought that even he had the power to protect!
He thus maintained an intercourse with his fellow Israelites; and often, in their dangers, had afforded them a refuge in the numerous vaults and passages, the ruins of which may still be descried beneath the mouldering foundations of that mysterious mansion. And, as the house was generally supposed the property of an absent emir, and had been especially recommended to the care of the cadis by Boabdil, who alone of the Moors knew it as one of the dwelling-places of the santon, whose ostensible residence was in apartments allotted to him within the palace,—it was, perhaps, the sole place within Granada which afforded an unsuspected and secure refuge to the hunted Israelites.
When Ximen recognised the wonted signal of his brethren, he crawled to the door; and, after the precaution of a Hebrew watchword, replied to in the same tongue, he gave admittance to the tall and stooping frame of the rich Elias.
"Worthy and excellent master!" said Ximen, after again securing the entrance; "what can bring the honoured and wealthy Elias to the chamber of the poor hireling?"
"My friend," answered the Jew; "call me not wealthy, nor honoured. For years I have dwelt within the city; safe and respected, even by the Moslemin; verily and because I have purchased with jewel and treasure the protection of the king and the great men. But now, alas! in the sudden wrath of the heathen—ever imagining vain things—I have been summoned into the presence of their chief rabbi, and only escaped the torture by a sum that ten years of labour and the sweat of my brow cannot replace. Ximen! the bitterest thought of all is, that the frenzy of one of our own tribe has brought this desolation upon Israel."
"My lord speaks riddles," said Ximen, with well-feigned astonishment in his glassy eyes.
"Why dost thou wind and turn, good Ximen?" said the Jew, shaking his head; "thou knowest well what my words drive at. Thy master is the pretended Almamen; and that recreant Israelite (if Israelite, indeed, still be one who hath forsaken the customs and the forms of his forefathers) is he who hath stirred up the Jews of Cordova and Guadix, and whose folly hath brought upon us these dread things. Holy Abraham! this Jew hath cost me more than fifty Nazarenes and a hundred Moors."
Ximen remained silent; and, the tongue of Elias being loosed by the recollection of his sad loss, the latter continued: "At the first, when the son of Issachar reappeared, and became a counsellor in the king's court, I indeed, who had led him, then a child, to the synagogue—for old Issachar was to me dear as a brother—recognised him by his eyes and voice: but I exulted in his craft and concealment; I believed he would work mighty things for his poor brethren, and would obtain, for his father's friend, the supplying of the king's wives and concubines with raiment and cloth of price. But years have passed: he hath not lightened our burthens; and, by the madness that hath of late come over him, heading the heathen armies, and drawing our brethren into danger and death, he hath deserved the curse of the synagogue, and the wrath of our whole race. I find, from our brethren who escaped the Inquisition by the surrender of their substance, that his unskilful and frantic schemes were the main pretext for the sufferings of the righteous under the Nazarene; and, again, the same schemes bring on us the same oppression from the Moor. Accursed be he, and may his name perish!"
Ximen sighed, but remained silent, conjecturing to what end the Jew would bring his invectives. He was not long in suspense. After a pause, Elias recommenced, in an altered and more careless tone, "He is rich, this son of Issachar—wondrous rich."
"He has treasures scattered over half the cities of Africa and the Orient," said Ximen.
"Thou seest, then, my friend, that thy master hath doomed me to a heavy loss. I possess his secret; I could give him up to the king's wrath; I could bring him to the death. But I am just and meek: let him pay my forfeiture, and I will forego mine anger."
"Thou dost not know him," said Ximen, alarmed at the thought of a repayment, which might grievously diminish his own heritage—of Almamen's effects in Granada.
"But if I threaten him with exposure?"
"Thou wouldst feed the fishes of the Darro," interrupted Ximen. "Nay, even now, if Almamen learn that thou knowest his birth and race, tremble! for thy days in the land will be numbered."
"Verily," exclaimed the Jew, in great alarm, "then have I fallen into the snare; for these lips revealed to him that knowledge."
"Then is the righteous Elias a lost man, within ten days from that in which Almamen returns to Granada. I know my master: and blood is to him as water."
"Let the wicked be consumed!" cried Elias, furiously stamping his foot, while fire flashed from his dark eyes, for the instinct of self-preservation made him fierce. "Not from me, however," he added, more calmly, "will come his danger. Know that there be more than a hundred Jews in this city, who have sworn his death; Jews who, flying hither from Cordova, have seen their parents murdered and their substance seized, and who behold, in the son of Issachar, the cause of the murder and the spoil. They have detected the impostor, and a hundred knives are whetting even now for his blood: let him look to it. Ximen, I have spoken to thee as the foolish speak; thou mayest betray me to thy lord; but from what I have learned of thee from our brethren, I have poured my heart into thy bosom without fear. Wilt thou betray Israel, or assist us to smite the traitor?"
Ximen mused for a moment, and his meditation conjured up the treasures of his master. He stretched forth his right hand to Elias; and when the Israelites parted, they were friends.
CHAPTER VI. BOADBIL'S RETURN.—THE REAPPEARANCE OF GRANADA.
The third morning from this interview, a rumour reached Granada that Boabdil had been repulsed in his assault on the citadel of Salobrena with a severe loss; that Hernando del Pulgar had succeeded in conducting to its relief a considerable force; and that the army of Ferdinand was on its march against the Moorish king. In the midst of the excitement occasioned by these reports, a courier arrived to confirm their truth, and to announce the return of Boabdil.
At nightfall, the king, preceding his army, entered the city, and hastened to bury himself in the Alhambra. As he passed dejectedly into the women's apartments, his stern mother met him.
"My son," she said, bitterly, "dost thou return and not a conqueror?"
Before Boabdil could reply, a light and rapid step sped through the glittering arcades; and weeping with joy, and breaking all the Oriental restraints, Amine fell upon his bosom. "My beloved! my king! light of mine eyes! thou hast returned. Welcome—for thou art safe."
The different form of these several salutations struck Boabdil forcibly. "Thou seest, my mother," said he, "how great the contrast between those who love us from affection, and those who love us from pride. In adversity, God keep me, O my mother, from thy tongue!"
"But I love thee from pride, too," murmured Amine; "and for that reason is thine adversity dear to me, for it takes thee from the world to make thee more mine own and I am proud of the afflictions that my hero shares with his slave."
"Lights there, and the banquet!" cried the king, turning from his haughty mother; "we will feast and be merry while we may. My adored Amine, kiss me!"
Proud, melancholy, and sensitive as he was in that hour of reverse, Boabdil felt no grief: such balm has Love for our sorrows, when its wings are borrowed from the dove! And although the laws of the Eastern life confined to the narrow walls of a harem the sphere of Amine's gentle influence; although, even in romance, THE NATURAL compels us to portray her vivid and rich colours only in a faint and hasty sketch, yet still are left to the outline the loveliest and the noblest features of the sex—the spirit to arouse us to exertion, the softness to console us in our fall!
While Boabdil and the body of the army remained in the city, Muza, with a chosen detachment of the horse, scoured the country to visit the newly-acquired cities, and sustain their courage.
From this charge he was recalled by the army of Ferdinand, which once more poured down into the Vega, completely devastated its harvests, and then swept back to consummate the conquests of the revolted towns. To this irruption succeeded an interval of peace—the calm before the storm. From every part of Spain, the most chivalric and resolute of the Moors, taking advantage of the pause in the contest, flocked to Granada; and that city became the focus of all that paganism in Europe possessed of brave and determined spirits.
At length, Ferdinand, completing his conquests, and having refilled his treasury, mustered the whole force of his dominions—forty thousand foot, and ten thousand horse; and once more, and for the last time, appeared before the walls of Granada. A solemn and prophetic determination filled both besiegers and besieged: each felt that the crowning crisis was at hand.
CHAPTER VII. THE CONFLAGRATION.—THE MAJESTY OF AN INDIVIDUAL PASSION IN THE MIDST OF HOSTILE THOUSANDS.
It was the eve of a great and general assault upon Granada, deliberately planned by the chiefs of the Christian army. The Spanish camp (the most gorgeous Christendom had ever known) gradually grew calm and hushed. The shades deepened—the stars burned forth more serene and clear. Bright, in that azure air, streamed the silken tents of the court, blazoned with heraldic devices, and crowned by gaudy banners, which, filled by a brisk and murmuring wind from the mountains, flaunted gaily on their gilded staves. In the centre of the camp rose the pavilion of the queen—a palace in itself. Lances made its columns; brocade and painted arras its walls; and the space covered by its numerous compartments would have contained the halls and outworks of an ordinary castle. The pomp of that camp realised the wildest dreams of Gothic, coupled with Oriental splendour; something worthy of a Tasso to have imagined, or a Beckford to create. Nor was the exceeding costliness of the more courtly tents lessened in effect by those of the soldiery in the outskirts, many of which were built from boughs, still retaining their leaves—savage and picturesque huts;—as if, realising old legends, wild men of the woods had taken up the cross, and followed the Christian warriors against the swarthy followers of Termagaunt and Mahound. There, then, extended that mighty camp in profound repose, as the midnight threw deeper and longer shadows over the sward from the tented avenues and canvas streets. It was at that hour that Isabel, in the most private recess of her pavilion, was employed in prayer for the safety of the king, and the issue of the Sacred War. Kneeling before the altar of that warlike oratory, her spirit became rapt and absorbed from earth in the intensity of her devotions; and in the whole camp (save the sentries), the eyes of that pious queen were, perhaps, the only ones unclosed. All was profoundly still; her guards, her attendants, were gone to rest; and the tread of the sentinel, without that immense pavilion, was not heard through the silken walls.
It was then that Isabel suddenly felt a strong grasp upon her shoulder, as she still knelt by the altar. A faint shriek burst from her lips; she turned, and the broad curved knife of an eastern warrior gleamed close before her eyes.
"Hush! utter a cry, breathe more loudly than thy wont, and, queen though thou art, in the centre of swarming thousands, thou diest!"
Such were the words that reached the ear of the royal Castilian, whispered by a man of stern and commanding, though haggard aspect.
"What is thy purpose? wouldst thou murder me?" said the queen, trembling, perhaps for the first time, before a mortal presence.
"Thy life is safe, if thou strivest not to delude or to deceive me. Our time is short—answer me. I am Almamen, the Hebrew. Where is the hostage rendered to thy hands? I claim my child. She is with thee—I know it. In what corner of thy camp?"
"Rude stranger!" said Isabel, recovering somewhat from her alarm,—"thy daughter is removed, I trust for ever, from thine impious reach. She is not within the camp."
"Lie not, Queen of Castile," said Almamen, raising his knife; "for days and weeks I have tracked thy steps, followed thy march, haunted even thy slumbers, though men of mail stood as guards around them; and I know that my daughter has been with thee. Think not I brave this danger without resolves the most fierce and dread. Answer me, where is my child?"
"Many days since," said Isabel, awed, despite herself, by her strange position,—"thy daughter left the camp for the house of God. It was her own desire. The Saviour hath received her into His fold."
Had a thousand lances pierced his heart, the vigour and energy of life could scarce more suddenly have deserted Almamen. The rigid muscles of his countenance relaxed at once, from resolve and menace, into unutterable horror, anguish, and despair. He recoiled several steps; his knees trembled violently; he seemed stunned by a death-blow. Isabel, the boldest and haughtiest of her sex, seized that moment of reprieve; she sprang forward, darted through the draperies into the apartments occupied by her train, and, in a moment, the pavilion resounded with her cries for aid. The sentinels were aroused; retainers sprang from their pillows; they heard the cause of the alarm; they made to the spot; when, ere they reached its partition of silk, a vivid and startling blaze burst forth upon them. The tent was on fire. The materials fed the flame like magic. Some of the guards had yet the courage to dash forward; but the smoke and the glare drove them back, blinded and dizzy. Isabel herself had scarcely time for escape, so rapid was the conflagration. Alarmed for her husband, she rushed to his tent—to find him already awakened by the noise, and issuing from its entrance, his drawn sword in his hand. The wind, which had a few minutes before but curled the triumphant banners, now circulated the destroying flame. It spread from tent to tent, almost as a flash of lightning that shoots along neighbouring clouds. The camp was in one continued blaze, ere a man could dream of checking the conflagration.
Not waiting to hear the confused tale of his royal consort, Ferdinand, exclaiming, "The Moors have done this—they will be on us!" ordered the drums to beat and the trumpets to sound, and hastened in person, wrapped merely in his long mantle, to alarm his chiefs. While that well-disciplined and veteran army, fearing every moment the rally of the foe, endeavoured rapidly to form themselves into some kind of order, the flame continued to spread till the whole heavens were illumined. By its light, cuirass and helmet glowed, as in the furnace, and the armed men seemed rather like life-like and lurid meteors than human forms. The city of Granada was brought near to them by the intensity of the glow; and, as a detachment of cavalry spurred from the camp to meet the anticipated surprise of the Paynims, they saw, upon the walls and roofs of Granada, the Moslems clustering and their spears gleaming. But, equally amazed with the Christians, and equally suspicious of craft and design, the Moors did not issue from their gates. Meanwhile the conflagration, as rapid to die as to begin, grew fitful and feeble; and the night seemed to fall with a melancholy darkness over the ruin of that silken city.
Ferdinand summoned his council. He had now perceived it was no ambush of the Moors. The account of Isabel, which, at last, he comprehended; the strange and almost miraculous manner in which Almamen had baffled his guards, and penetrated to the royal tent; might have aroused his Gothic superstition, while it relieved his more earthly apprehensions, if he had not remembered the singular, but far from supernatural dexterity with which Eastern warriors and even robbers continued then, as now, to elude the most vigilant precautions and baffle the most wakeful guards; and it was evident that the fire which burned the camp of an army had been kindled merely to gratify the revenge, or favour the escape of an individual. Shaking, therefore, from his kingly spirit the thrill of superstitious awe that the greatness of the disaster, when associated with the name of a sorcerer, at first occasioned, he resolved to make advantage out of misfortune itself. The excitement, the wrath of the troops, produced the temper most fit for action.
"And Heaven," said the King of Spain to his knights and chiefs, as they assembled round him, "has, in this conflagration, announced to the warriors of the Cross, that henceforth their camp shall be the palaces of Granada! Woe to the Moslem with to-morrow's sun!"
Arms clanged, and swords leaped from their sheaths, as the Christian knights echoed the anathema—"WOE TO THE MOSLEM!"
CHAPTER I. THE GREAT BATTLE.
The day slowly dawned upon that awful night; and the Moors, still upon the battlements of Granada, beheld the whole army of Ferdinand on its march towards their wails. At a distance lay the wrecks of the blackened and smouldering camp; while before them, gaudy and glittering pennons waving, and trumpets sounding, came the exultant legions of the foe. The Moors could scarcely believe their senses. Fondly anticipating the retreat of the Christians, after so signal a disaster, the gay and dazzling spectacle of their march to the assault filled them with consternation and alarm.
While yet wondering and inactive, the trumpet of Boabdil was heard behind; and they beheld the Moorish king, at the head of his guards, emerging down the avenues that led to the gate. The sight restored and exhilarated the gazers; and, when Boabdil halted in the space before the portals, the shout of twenty thousand warriors rose ominously to the ears of the advancing Christians.
"Men of Granada!" said Boabdil, as soon as the deep and breathless silence had succeeded to that martial acclamation,—"the advance of the enemy is to their destruction! In the fire of last night the hand of Allah wrote their doom. Let us forth, each and all! We will leave our homes unguarded—our hearts shall be their wall! True, that our numbers are thinned by famine and by slaughter, but enough of us are yet left for the redemption of Granada. Nor are the dead departed from us: the dead fight with us—their souls animate our own. He who has lost a brother, becomes twice a man. On this battle we will set all. Liberty or chains! empire or exile! victory or death! Forward!"
He spoke, and gave the rein to his barb. It bounded forward, and cleared the gloomy arch of the portals, and Boabdil el Chico was the first Moor who issued from Granada, to that last and eventful field. Out, then, poured, as a river that rushes from caverns into day, the burnished and serried files of the Moorish cavalry. Muza came the last, closing the array. Upon his dark and stern countenance there spoke not the ardent enthusiasm of the sanguine king. It was locked and rigid; and the anxieties of the last dismal weeks had thinned his cheeks, and ploughed deep lines around the firm lips and iron jaw which bespoke the obstinate and unconquerable resolution of his character.
As Muza now spurred forward, and, riding along the wheeling ranks, marshalled them in order, arose the acclamation of female voices; and the warriors, who looked back at the sound, saw that their women—their wives and daughters, their mothers and their beloved (released from their seclusion, by a policy which bespoke the desperation of the cause)—were gazing at them, with outstretched arms, from the battlements and towers. The Moors knew that they were now to fight for their hearths and altars in the presence of those who, if they failed, became slaves and harlots; and each Moslem felt his heart harden like the steel of his own sabre.
While the cavalry formed themselves into regular squadrons, and the tramp of the foemen came more near and near, the Moorish infantry, in miscellaneous, eager, and undisciplined bands, poured out, until, spreading wide and deep below the walls, Boabdil's charger was seen, rapidly careering amongst them, as, in short but distinct directions, or fiery adjurations, he sought at once to regulate their movements, and confirm their hot but capricious valour.
Meanwhile the Christians had abruptly halted; and the politic Ferdinand resolved not to incur the full brunt of a whole population, in the first flush of their enthusiasm and despair. He summoned to his side Hernando del Pulgar, and bade him, with a troop of the most adventurous and practised horsemen, advance towards the Moorish cavalry, and endeavour to draw the fiery valour of Muza away from the main army. Then, splitting up his force into several sections, he dismissed each to different stations; some to storm the adjacent towers, others to fire the surrounding gardens and orchards; so that the action might consist rather of many battles than of one, and the Moors might lose the concentration and union, which made, at present, their most formidable strength.
Thus, while the Mussulmans were waiting in order for the attack, they suddenly beheld the main body of the Christians dispersing, and, while yet in surprise and perplexed, they saw the fires breaking out from their delicious gardens, to the right and left of the walls, and hear the boom of the Christian artillery against the scattered bulwarks that guarded the approaches of that city.
At that moment a cloud of dust rolled rapidly towards the post occupied in the van by Muza, and the shock of the Christian knights, in their mighty mail, broke upon the centre of the prince's squadron.
Higher, by several inches, than the plumage of his companions, waved the crest of the gigantic del Pulgar; and, as Moor after Moor went down before his headlong lance, his voice, sounding deep and sepulchral through his visor, shouted out—"Death to the infidel!"
The rapid and dexterous horsemen of Granada were not, however, discomfited by this fierce assault: opening their ranks with extraordinary celerity, they suffered the charge to pass comparatively harmless through their centre, and then, closing in one long and bristling line, cut off the knights from retreat. The Christians wheeled round, and charged again upon their foe.
"Where art thou, O Moslem dog! that wouldst play the lion'?—Where art thou, Muza Ben Abil Gazan'?"
"Before thee, Christian!" cried a stern and clear voice; and from amongst the helmets of his people, gleamed the dazzling turban of the Moor.
Hernando checked his steed, gazed a moment at his foe, turned back, for greater impetus to his charge, and, in a moment more, the bravest warriors of the two armies met, lance to lance.
The round shield of Muza received the Christian's weapon; his own spear shivered, harmless, upon the breast of the giant. He drew his sword, whirled it rapidly over his head, and, for some minutes, the eyes of the bystanders could scarcely mark the marvellous rapidity with which strokes were given and parried by those redoubted swordsmen.
At length, Hernando, anxious to bring to bear his superior strength, spurred close to Muza; and, leaving his sword pendant by a thong to his wrist, seized the shield of Muza in his formidable grasp, and plucked it away, with a force that the Moor vainly endeavoured to resist: Muza, therefore, suddenly released his bold; and, ere the Spaniard had recovered his balance (which was lost by the success of his own strength, put forth to the utmost), he dashed upon him the hoofs of his black charger, and with a short but heavy mace, which he caught up from the saddlebow, dealt Hernando so thundering a blow upon the helmet, that the giant fell to the ground, stunned and senseless.
To dismount, to repossess himself of his shield, to resume his sabre, to put one knee to the breast of his fallen foe, was the work of a moment; and then had Don Hernando del Pulgar been sped, without priest or surgeon, but that, alarmed by the peril of their most valiant comrade, twenty knights spurred at once to the rescue, and the points of twenty lances kept the Lion of Granada from his prey. Thither, with similar speed, rushed the Moorish champions; and the fight became close and deadly round the body of the still unconscious Christian. Not an instant of leisure to unlace the helmet of Hernando, by removing which, alone, the Moorish blade could find a mortal place, was permitted to Muza; and, what with the spears and trampling hoofs around him, the situation of the Paynim was more dangerous than that of the Christian. Meanwhile, Hernando recovered his dizzy senses; and, made aware of his state, watched his occasion, and suddenly shook off the knee of the Moor. With another effort he was on his feet and the two champions stood confronting each other, neither very eager to renew the combat. But on foot, Muza, daring and rash as he was, could not but recognise his disadvantage against the enormous strength and impenetrable armour of the Christian. He drew back, whistled to his barb, that, piercing the ranks of the horsemen, was by his side on the instant, remounted, and was in the midst of the foe, almost ere the slower Spaniard was conscious of his disappearance.
But Hernando was not delivered from his enemy. Clearing a space around him, as three knights, mortally wounded, fell beneath his sabre, Muza now drew from behind his shoulder his short Arabian bow, and shaft after shaft came rattling upon the mail of the dismounted Christian with so marvellous a celerity, that, encumbered as he was with his heavy accoutrements, he was unable either to escape from the spot, or ward off that arrowy rain; and felt that nothing but chance, or Our Lady, could prevent the death which one such arrow would occasion, if it should find the opening of the visor, or the joints of the hauberk.
"Mother of Mercy," groaned the knight, perplexed and enraged, "let not thy servant be shot down like a hart, by this cowardly warfare; but, if I must fall, be it with mine enemy, grappling hand to hand."
While yet muttering this short invocation, the war-cry of Spain was heard hard by, and the gallant company of Villena was seen scouring across the plain to the succour of their comrades. The deadly attention of Muza was distracted from individual foes, however eminent; he wheeled round, re-collected his men, and, in a serried charge, met the new enemy in midway.
While the contest thus fared in that part of the field, the scheme of Ferdinand had succeeded so far as to break up the battle in detached sections. Far and near, plain, grove, garden, tower, presented each the scene of obstinate and determined conflict. Boabdil, at the head of his chosen guard, the flower of the haughtier tribe of nobles who were jealous of the fame and blood of the tribe of Muza, and followed also by his gigantic Ethiopians, exposed his person to every peril, with the desperate valour of a man who feels his own stake is greatest in the field. As he most distrusted the infantry, so amongst the infantry he chiefly bestowed his presence; and wherever he appeared, he sufficed, for the moment, to turn the changes of the engagement. At length, at mid-day Ponce de Leon led against the largest detachment of the Moorish foot a strong and numerous battalion of the best-disciplined and veteran soldiery of Spain. He had succeeded in winning a fortress, from which his artillery could play with effect; and the troops he led were composed, partly of men flushed with recent triumph, and partly of a fresh reserve, now first brought into the field. A comely and a breathless spectacle it was to behold this Christian squadron emerging from a blazing copse, which they fired on their march; the red light gleaming on their complete armour, as, in steady and solemn order, they swept on to the swaying and clamorous ranks of the Moorish infantry. Boabdil learned the danger from his scouts; and hastily quitting a tower from which he had for a while repulsed a hostile legion, he threw himself into the midst of the battalions menaced by the skilful Ponce de Leon. Almost at the same moment, the wild and ominous apparition of Almamen, long absent from the eyes of the Moors, appeared in the same quarter, so suddenly and unexpectedly, that none knew whence he had emerged; the sacred standard in his left hand—his sabre, bared and dripping gore, in his right—his face exposed, and its powerful features working with an excitement that seemed inspired; his abrupt presence breathed a new soul into the Moors.
"They come! they come!" he shrieked aloud. "The God of the East hath delivered the Goth into your hands!" From rank to rank—from line to line—sped the santon; and, as the mystic banner gleamed before the soldiery, each closed his eyes and muttered an "amen" to his adjurations. And now, to the cry of "Spain and St. Iago," came trampling down the relentless charge of the Christian war. At the same instant, from the fortress lately taken by Ponce de Leon, the artillery opened upon the Moors, and did deadly havoc. The Moslems wavered a moment when before them gleamed the white banner of Almamen; and they beheld him rushing, alone and on foot, amidst the foe. Taught to believe the war itself depended on the preservation of the enchanted banner, the Paynims could not see it thus rashly adventured without anxiety and shame: they rallied, advanced firmly, and Boabdil himself, with waving cimiter and fierce exclamations, dashed impetuously at the head of his guards and Ethiopians into the affray. The battle became obstinate and bloody. Thrice the white banner disappeared amidst the closing ranks; and thrice, like a moon from the clouds, it shone forth again—the light and guide of the Pagan power.
The day ripened; and the hills already cast lengthening shadows over the blazing groves and the still Darro, whose waters, in every creek where the tide was arrested, ran red with blood, when Ferdinand, collecting his whole reserve, descended from the eminence on which hitherto he had posted himself. With him moved three thousand foot and a thousand horse, fresh in their vigour, and panting for a share in that glorious day. The king himself, who, though constitutionally fearless, from motives of policy rarely perilled his person, save on imminent occasions, was resolved not to be outdone by Boabdil; and armed cap-a-pied in mail, so wrought with gold that it seemed nearly all of that costly metal, with his snow-white plumage waving above a small diadem that surmounted his lofty helm, he seemed a fit leader to that armament of heroes. Behind him flaunted the great gonfanon of Spain, and trump and cymbal heralded his approach. The Count de Tendilla rode by his side.
"Senor," said Ferdinand, "the infidels fight hard; but they are in the snare—we are about to close the nets upon them. But what cavalcade is this?"
The group that thus drew the king's attention consisted of six squires, bearing, on a martial litter, composed of shields, the stalwart form of Hernando del Pulgar.
"Ah, the dogs!" cried the king, as he recognised the pale features of the darling of the army,—"have they murdered the bravest knight that ever fought for Christendom?"
"Not that, your majesty," quoth he of the Exploits, faintly, "but I am sorely stricken."
"It must have been more than man who struck thee down," said the king.
"It was the mace of Muza Ben Abil Gazan, an please you, sire," said one of the squires; "but it came on the good knight unawares, and long after his own arm had seemingly driven away the Pagan."
"We will avenge thee well," said the king, setting his teeth: "let our own leeches tend thy wounds. Forward, sir knights! St. Iago and Spain!"
The battle had now gathered to a vortex; Muza and his cavalry had joined Boabdil and the Moorish foot. On the other hand, Villena had been reinforced by detachments that in almost every other quarter of the field had routed the foe. The Moors had been driven back, though inch by inch; they were now in the broad space before the very walls of the city, which were still crowded by the pale and anxious faces of the aged and the women: and, at every pause in the artillery, the voices that spoke of HOME were borne by that lurid air to the ears of the infidels. The shout that rang through the Christian force as Ferdinand now joined it struck like a death-knell upon the last hope of Boabdil. But the blood of his fierce ancestry burned in his veins, and the cheering voice of Almamen, whom nothing daunted, inspired him with a kind of superstitious frenzy.
"King against king—so be it! Let Allah decide between us!" cried the Moorish monarch. "Bind up this wound 'tis well! A steed for the santon! Now, my prophet and my friend, mount by the side of thy king—let us, at least, fall together. Lelilies! Lelilies!"
Throughout the brave Christian ranks went a thrill of reluctant admiration, as they beheld the Paynim king, conspicuous by his fair beard and the jewels of his harness, lead the scanty guard yet left to him once more into the thickest of their lines. Simultaneously Muza and his Zegris made their fiery charge; and the Moorish infantry, excited by the example of their leaders, followed with unslackened and dogged zeal. The Christians gave way—they were beaten back: Ferdinand spurred forward; and, ere either party were well aware of it, both kings met in the same melee: all order and discipline, for the moment, lost, general and monarch were, as common soldiers, fighting hand to hand. It was then that Ferdinand, after bearing down before his lance Naim Reduon, second only to Muza in the songs of Granada, beheld opposed to him a strange form, that seemed to that royal Christian rather fiend than man: his raven hair and beard, clotted with blood, hung like snakes about a countenance whose features, naturally formed to give expression to the darkest passions, were distorted with the madness of despairing rage. Wounded in many places, the blood dabbled his mail; while, over his head, he waved the banner wrought with mystic characters, which Ferdinand had already been taught to believe the workmanship of demons.
"Now, perjured king of the Nazarenes!" shouted this formidable champion, "we meet at last!—no longer host and guest, monarch and dervise, but man to man! I am Almamen! Die!"
He spoke; and his sword descended so fiercely on that anointed head that Ferdinand bent to his saddle-bow. But the king quickly recovered his seat, and gallantly met the encounter; it was one that might have tasked to the utmost the prowess of his bravest knight. Passions which, in their number, their nature, and their excess, animated no other champion on either side, gave to the arm of Almamen the Israelite a preternatural strength; his blows fell like rain upon the harness of the king; and the fiery eyes, the gleaming banner of the mysterious sorcerer, who had eluded the tortures of his Inquisition,—who had walked unscathed through the midst of his army,—whose single hand had consumed the encampment of a host, filled the stout heart of a king with a belief that he encountered no earthly foe. Fortunately, perhaps, for Ferdinand and Spain, the contest did not last long. Twenty horsemen spurred into the melee to the rescue of the plumed diadem: Tendilla arrived the first; with a stroke of his two-handed sword, the white banner was cleft from its staff, and fell to the earth. At that sight the Moors round broke forth in a wild and despairing cry: that cry spread from rank to rank, from horse to foot; the Moorish infantry, sorely pressed on all sides, no sooner learned the disaster than they turned to fly: the rout was as fatal as it was sudden. The Christian reserve, just brought into the field, poured down upon them with a simultaneous charge. Boabdil, too much engaged to be the first to learn the downfall of the sacred insignia, suddenly saw himself almost alone, with his diminished Ethiopians and a handful of his cavaliers.
"Yield thee, Boabdil el Chico!" cried Tendilla, from his rear, "or thou canst not be saved."
"By the Prophet, never!" exclaimed the king: and he dashed his barb against the wall of spears behind him; and with but a score or so of his guard, cut his way through the ranks that were not unwilling, perhaps, to spare so brave a foe. As he cleared the Spanish battalions, the unfortunate monarch checked his horse for a moment and gazed along the plain: he beheld his army flying in all directions, save in that single spot where yet glittered the turban of Muza Ben Abil Gazan. As he gazed, he heard the panting nostrils of the chargers behind, and saw the levelled spears of a company despatched to take him, alive or dead, by the command of Ferdinand. He laid the reins upon his horse's neck and galloped into the city—three lances quivered against the portals as he disappeared through the shadows of the arch. But while Muza remained, all was not yet lost: he perceived the flight of the infantry and the king, and with his followers galloped across the plain: he came in time to encounter and slay, to a man, the pursuers of Boabdil; he then threw himself before the flying Moors:
"Do ye fly in the sight of your wives and daughters? Would ye not rather they beheld ye die?"
A thousand voices answered him. "The banner is in the hands of the infidel—all is lost!" They swept by him, and stopped not till they gained the gates.
But still a small and devoted remnant of the Moorish cavaliers remained to shed a last glory over defeat itself. With Muza, their soul and centre, they fought every atom of ground: it was, as the chronicler expresses it, as if they grasped the soil with their arms. Twice they charged into the midst of the foe: the slaughter they made doubled their own number; but, gathering on and closing in, squadron upon squadron, came the whole Christian army—they were encompassed, wearied out, beaten back, as by an ocean. Like wild beasts, driven, at length, to their lair, they retreated with their faces to the foe; and when Muza came, the last—his cimiter shivered to the hilt,—he had scarcely breath to command the gates to be closed and the portcullis lowered, ere he fell from his charger in a sudden and deadly swoon, caused less by his exhaustion than his agony and shame. So ended the last battle fought for the Monarchy of Granada!
CHAPTER II. THE NOVICE.
It was in one of the cells of a convent renowned for the piety of its inmates and the wholesome austerity of its laws that a young novice sat alone. The narrow casement was placed so high in the cold grey wall as to forbid to the tenant of the cell the solace of sad or the distraction of pious thoughts, which a view of the world without might afford. Lovely, indeed, was the landscape that spread below; but it was barred from those youthful and melancholy eyes: for Nature might tempt to a thousand thoughts, not of a tenor calculated to reconcile the heart to an eternal sacrifice of the sweet human ties. But a faint and partial gleam of sunshine broke through the aperture and made yet more cheerless the dreary aspect and gloomy appurtenances of the cell. And the young novice seemed to carry on within herself that struggle of emotions without which there is no victory in the resolves of virtue: sometimes she wept bitterly, but with a low, subdued sorrow, which spoke rather of despondency than passion; sometimes she raised her head from her breast, and smiled as she looked upward, or as her eyes rested on the crucifix and the death's head that were placed on the rude table by the pallet on which she sat. They were emblems of death here, and life hereafter, which, perhaps, afforded to her the sources of a twofold consolation.
She was yet musing, when a slight tap at the door was heard, and the abbess of the convent appeared.
"Daughter," said she, "I have brought thee the comfort of a sacred visitor. The Queen of Spain, whose pious tenderness is maternally anxious for thy full contentment with thy lot, has sent hither a holy friar, whom she deems more soothing in his counsels than our brother Tomas, whose ardent zeal often terrifies those whom his honest spirit only desires to purify and guide. I will leave him with thee. May the saints bless his ministry!" So saying the abbess retired from the threshold, making way for a form in the garb of a monk, with the hood drawn over the face. The monk bowed his head meekly, advanced into the cell, closed the door, and seated himself, on a stool—which, save the table and the pallet, seemed the sole furniture of the dismal chamber.
"Daughter," said he, after a pause, "it is a rugged and a mournful lot this renunciation of earth and all its fair destinies and soft affections, to one not wholly prepared and armed for the sacrifice. Confide in me, my child; I am no dire inquisitor, seeking to distort thy words to thine own peril. I am no bitter and morose ascetic. Beneath these robes still beats a human heart that can sympathise with human sorrows. Confide in me without fear. Dost thou not dread the fate they would force upon thee? Dost thou not shrink back? Wouldst thou not be free?"
"No," said the poor novice; but the denial came faint and irresolute from her lips.
"Pause," said the friar, growing more earnest in his tone: "pause—there is yet time."
"Nay," said the novice, looking up with some surprise in her countenance; "nay, even were I so weak, escape now is impossible. What hand could unbar the gates of the convent?"
"Mine!" cried the monk, with impetuosity. "Yes, I have that power. In all Spain, but one man can save thee, and I am he."
"You!" faltered the novice, gazing at her strange visitor with mingled astonishment and alarm. "And who are you that could resist the fiat of that Tomas de Torquemada, before whom, they tell me, even the crowned heads of Castile and Arragon veil low?"
The monk half rose, with an impatient and almost haughty start, at this interrogatory; but, reseating himself, replied, in a deep and half-whispered voice "Daughter, listen to me! It is true, that Isabel of Spain (whom the Mother of Mercy bless! for merciful to all is her secret heart, if not her outward policy)—it is true that Isabel of Spain, fearful that the path to Heaven might be made rougher to thy feet than it well need be (there was a slight accent of irony in the monk's voice as he thus spoke), selected a friar of suasive eloquence and gentle manners to visit thee. He was charged with letters to yon abbess from the queen. Soft though the friar, he was yet a hypocrite. Nay, hear me out! he loved to worship the rising sun; and he did not wish always to remain a simple friar, while the Church had higher dignities of this earth to bestow. In the Christian camp, daughter, there was one who burned for tidings of thee,—whom thine image haunted—who, stern as thou wert to him, loved thee with a love he knew not of, till thou wert lost to him. Why dost thou tremble, daughter? listen, yet! To that lover, for he was one of high birth, came the monk; to that lover the monk sold his mission. The monk will have a ready tale, that he was waylaid amidst the mountains by armed men, and robbed of his letters to the abbess. The lover took his garb, and he took the letters; and he hastened hither. Leila! beloved Leila! behold him at thy feet!"
The monk raised his cowl; and, dropping on his knee beside her, presented to her gaze the features of the Prince of Spain.
"You!" said Leila, averting her countenance, and vainly endeavouring to extricate the hand which he had seized. "This is indeed cruel. You, the author of so many sufferings—such calumny—such reproach!"
"I will repair all," said Don Juan, fervently. "I alone, I repeat it, have the power to set you free. You are no longer a Jewess; you are one of our faith; there is now no bar upon our loves. Imperious though my father,—all dark and dread as is this new POWER which he is rashly erecting in his dominions, the heir of two monarchies is not so poor in influence and in friends as to be unable to offer the woman of his love an inviolable shelter alike from priest and despot. Fly with me!—quit this dreary sepulchre ere the last stone close over thee for ever! I have horses, I have guards at hand. This night it can be arranged. This night—oh, bliss!—thou mayest be rendered up to earth and love!"
"Prince," said Leila, who had drawn herself from Juan's grasp during this address, and who now stood at a little distance erect and proud, "you tempt me in vain; or, rather you offer me no temptation. I have made my choice; I abide by it."
"Oh! bethink thee," said the prince, in a voice of real and imploring anguish; "bethink thee well of the consequences of thy refusal. Thou canst not see them yet; thine ardour blinds thee. But, when hour after hour, day after day, year after year, steals on in the appalling monotony of this sanctified prison; when thou shalt see thy youth—withering without love—thine age without honour; when thy heart shall grow as stone within thee, beneath the looks of you icy spectres; when nothing shall vary the aching dulness of wasted life save a longer fast or a severer penance: then, then will thy grief be rendered tenfold by the despairing and remorseful thought, that thine own lips sealed thine own sentence. Thou mayest think," continued Juan, with rapid eagerness, "that my love to thee was at first light and dishonouring. Be it so. I own that my youth has passed in idle wooings, and the mockeries of affection. But for the first time in my life I feel that—I love. Thy dark eyes—thy noble beauty—even thy womanly scorn, have fascinated me. I—never yet disdained where I have been a suitor—acknowledge, at last, that there is a triumph in the conquest of a woman's heart. Oh, Leila! do not—do not reject me. You know not how rare and how deep a love you cast away."
The novice was touched: the present language of Don Juan was so different from what it had been before; the earnest love that breathed in his voice—that looked from his eyes, struck a chord in her breast; it reminded her of her own unconquered, unconquerable love for the lost Muza. She was touched, then—touched to tears; but her resolves were not shaken.
"Oh, Leila!" resumed the prince, fondly, mistaking the nature of her emotion, and seeking to pursue the advantage he imagined he had gained, "look at yonder sunbeam, struggling through the loophole of thy cell. Is it not a messenger from the happy world? does it not plead for me? does it not whisper to thee of the green fields and the laughing vineyards, and all the beautiful prodigality of that earth thou art about to renounce for ever? Dost thou dread my love? Are the forms around thee, ascetic and lifeless, fairer to thine eyes than mine? Dost thou doubt my power to protect thee? I tell thee that the proudest nobles of Spain would flock around my banner, were it necessary to guard thee by force of arms. Yet, speak the word—be mine—and I will fly hence with thee to climes where the Church has not cast out its deadly roots, and, forgetful of crowns and cares, live alone for thee: Ah, speak!"
"My lord," said Leila, calmly, and rousing herself to the necessary effort, "I am deeply and sincerely grateful for the interest you express—for the affection you avow. But you deceive yourself. I have pondered well over the alternative I have taken. I do not regret nor repent—much less would I retract it. The earth that you speak of, full of affections and of bliss to others, has no ties, no allurements for me. I desire only peace, repose, and an early death."
"Can it be possible," said the prince, growing pale, "that thou lovest another? Then, indeed, and then only, would my wooing be in vain."
The cheek of the novice grew deeply flushed, but the color soon subsided; she murmured to herself, "Why should I blush to own it now?" and then spoke aloud: "Prince, I trust I have done with the world; and bitter the pang I feel when you call me back to it. But you merit my candour; I have loved another; and in that thought, as in an urn, lie the ashes of all affection. That other is of a different faith. We may never—never meet again below, but it is a solace to pray that we may meet above. That solace, and these cloisters, are dearer to me than all the pomp, all the pleasures, of the world."
The prince sank down, and, covering his face with his hands, groaned aloud—but made no reply.
"Go, then, Prince of Spain," continued the novice; "son of the noble Isabel, Leila is not unworthy of her cares. Go, and pursue the great destinies that await you. And if you forgive—if you still cherish a thought of—the poor Jewish maiden, soften, alleviate, mitigate, the wretched and desperate doom that awaits the fallen race she has abandoned for thy creed."
"Alas, alas!" said the prince, mournfully; "thee alone, perchance, of all thy race, I could have saved from the bigotry that is fast covering this knightly land like the rising of an irresistible sea—and thou rejectest me! Take time, at least, to pause—to consider. Let me see thee again tomorrow."
"No, prince, no—not again! I will keep thy secret only if I see thee no more. If thou persist in a suit that I feel to be that of sin and shame, then, indeed, mine honour—"
"Hold!" interrupted Juan, with haughty impatience, "I torment, I harass you no more. I release you from my importunity. Perhaps already I have stooped too low." He drew the cowl over his features, and strode sullenly to the door; but, turning for one last gaze on the form that had so strangely fascinated a heart capable of generous emotions, the meek and despondent posture of the novice, her tender youth, her gloomy fate, melted his momentary pride and resentment. "God bless and reconcile thee, poor child!" he said, in a voice choked with contending passions—and the door closed upon his form.
"I thank thee, Heaven, that it was not Muza!" muttered Leila, breaking from a reverie in which she seemed to be communing with her own soul: "I feel that I could not have resisted him." With that thought she knelt down, in humble and penitent self-reproach, and prayed for strength.
Ere she had risen from her supplications, her solitude was again invaded by Torquemada, the Dominican.
This strange man, though the author of cruelties at which nature recoils, had some veins of warm and gentle feeling streaking, as it were, the marble of his hard character; and when he had thoroughly convinced himself of the pure and earnest zeal of the young convert, he relaxed from the grim sternness he had at first exhibited towards her. He loved to exert the eloquence he possessed, in raising her spirit, in reconciling her doubts. He prayed for her, and he prayed beside her, with passion and with tears.
He stayed long with the novice; and, when he left her, she was, if not happy, at least contented. Her warmest wish now was to abridge the period of her novitiate, which, at her desire, the Church had already rendered merely a nominal probation. She longed to put irresolution out of her power, and to enter at once upon the narrow road through the strait gate.
The gentle and modest piety of the young novice touched the sisterhood; she was endeared to all of them. Her conversion was an event that broke the lethargy of their stagnant life. She became an object of general interest, of avowed pride, of kindly compassion; and their kindness to her, who from her cradle had seen little of her own sex, had a great effect towards calming and soothing her mind. But, at night, her dreams brought before her the dark and menacing countenance of her father. Sometimes he seemed to pluck her from the gates of heaven, and to sink with her into the yawning abyss below. Sometimes she saw him with her beside the altar, but imploring her to forswear the Saviour, before whose crucifix she knelt. Occasionally her visions were haunted, also, with Muza—but in less terrible guise She saw his calm and melancholy eyes fixed upon her; and his voice asked, "Canst thou take a vow that makes it sinful to remember me?"
The night, that usually brings balm and oblivion to the sad, was thus made more dreadful to Leila than the day.
Her health grew feebler, and feebler, but her mind still was firm. In happier time and circumstance that poor novice would have been a great character; but she was one of the countless victims the world knows not of, whose virtues are in silent motives, whose struggles are in the solitary heart.