For a moment, while the King addressed him as man to man, the pallid cheek and brow of the prisoner flushed with painful emotion, and there was a scarcely audible tremulousness in his voice as he replied:
"And how will defence avail me? How may mere assertion deny proof, and so preserve life and redeem honor? My liege, I had resolved to attempt no defence, because I would not unnecessarily prolong the torture of degradation. Had I one proof, the slightest proof to produce, which might in the faintest degree avail me, I would not withhold it; justice to my father's name would be of itself sufficient to command defence. But I have none! I cannot so perjure myself as to deny one word of the charges brought against me, save that of murder! Of thoughts of hate and wrath, ay, and blood, but such blood as honorable men would shed, I am guilty, I now feel, unredeemably guilty, but not of murder! I am not silent because conscious of enacted guilt. I will not go down to the dishonored grave, now yawning for me, permitting, by silence, your Highness, and these your subjects, to believe me the monster of ingratitude, the treacherous coward which appearances pronounce me. No!" he continued, raising his right hand as high as his fetters would permit, and speaking in a tone which fell with the eloquence of truth, on every heart—"No: here, as on the scaffold—now, as with my dying breath, I will proclaim aloud my innocence; I call on the Almighty Judge himself, as on every Saint in heaven, to attest it—ay, and I believe it WILL be attested, when nought but my memory is left to be cleared from shame—I am not the murderer of Don Ferdinand Morales! Had he been in every deed my foe—had he given me cause for the indulgence of those ungovernable passions which I now feel were roused against him so causelessly and sinfully, I might have sought their gratification by honorable combat, but not by midnight murder! I speak not, I repeat, to save my life: it is justly forfeited for thoughts of crime! I speak that, when in after years my innocence will be made evident by the discovery of the real assassin, you will all remember what I now say—that I have not so basely requited the King and Country who so generously and trustingly befriended me—that I am no murderer!"
"Then, if so convinced of innocence, young man, wherefore not attempt defence?" demanded the Sub-Prior of St. Francis. "Knowest thou not that wilfully to throw away the life intrusted to you, for some wise purpose, is amenable before the throne of the Most High as self-committed murder? Proofs of this strongly asserted innocence, thou must have."
"I have none," calmly answered the prisoner, "I have but words, and who will believe them? Who, here present, will credit the strange tale, that, tortured and restless from mental suffering, I courted the fury of the elements, and rushed from my quarters on the night of the murder without my sword?—that, in securing the belt, I missed the weapon, but still sought not for it as I ought?—who will believe that it was accident, not design, which took me to the Calle Soledad? and that it was a fall over the murdered body of Don Ferdinand which deluged my hands and dress with the blood that dyed the ground? Who will credit that it was seeing him thus which chained me, paralyzed, horror-stricken, to the spot? In the wild fury of my passions I had believed him my enemy, and sworn his death; then was it marvel that thus beholding him turned me well-nigh to stone, and that, in my horror, I had no power to call for aid, or raise the shout after the murderer, for my own thoughts arose as fiends, to whisper, such might have been nay work—that I had wished his death? Great God! the awful wakening from the delusion of weeks—the dread recognition in that murdered corse of my own thoughts of sin!" He paused involuntarily, for his strong agitation completely choked his voice, and shook his whole frame. After a brief silence, which none in the hall had heart to break, he continued calmly, "Let the trial proceed, gracious Sovereign. Your Highness's generous interest in one accused of a crime so awful, comprising the death, not of a subject only, but of a friend, does but add to the heavy weight of obligation already mine, and would of itself excite the wish to live, to prove that I am not so utterly unworthy; but I feel that not to such as I, may the Divine mercy be so shown, as to bring forward the real murderer. The misery of the last fortnight has shown me how deeply I have sinned in thought, though not in deed; and how dare I, then, indulge the wild dream that my innocence will be proved, until too late, save for mine honor? My liege, I have trespassed too long on the time of this assemblage; let the trial proceed."
So powerful was the effect of his tone and words, that the impulse was strong in every heart to strike off his fetters, and give him life and freedom. The countenance of the Sub-Prior of St. Francis alone retained its unmoved calmness, and its tone, its imperturbable gravity, as he commanded Don Felix d'Estaban to produce the witnesses; and on their appearance, desired one of the fathers to administer the oath.
"His unaltering-cheek Still vividly doth hold its natural hue, And his eye quails not. Is this innocence?"
During the examination of Don Alonzo of Aguilar, and of old Pedro and Juana, the prisoner remained with his arms calmly folded and head erect, without the smallest variation of feature or position denoting either anxiety or agitation. Don Alonzo's statement was very simple. He described the exact spot where he had found the body, and the position in which it lay; the intense agitation of Stanley, the bloody appearance of his clothes, hands, and face, urging them to secure his person even before they discovered the broken fragment of his sword lying beside the corse. His account was corroborated, in the very minutest points, by the men who had accompanied him, even though cross-questioned with unusual particularity by Father Francis. Old Pedro's statement, though less circumstantial, was, to the soldiers and citizens especially, quite as convincing. He gave a wordy narrative of Senor Stanley's unnatural state of excitement from the very evening he had become his lodger—that he had frequently heard him muttering to himself such words as "blood" and "vengeance." He constantly appeared longing for something; never eat half the meals provided for him—a sure proof, in old Pedro's imagination, of a disordered mind, and that the night of the murder he had heard him leave the house, with every symptom of agitation. Old Juana, with very evident reluctance, confirmed this account; but Father Francis was evidently not satisfied. "Amongst these incoherent ravings of the prisoner, did you ever distinguish the word 'murder?'" he demanded—a question which would be strange, indeed, in the court of justice of the present day, but of importance in an age when such words as blood and vengeance, amongst warriors, simply signified a determination to fight out their quarrel in (so-called) honorable combat. The answer, after some hesitation, was in the negative. "Did you ever distinguish any name, as the object of Senor Stanley's desired vengeance?"
Pedro immediately answered "No;" but there was a simper of hesitation in old Juana, that caused the Sub-Prior to appeal to her. "Please your Reverence, I only chanced to hear the poor young man say, 'Oh, Marie! Marie!' one day when I brought him his dinner, which he put away untouched, though I put my best cooking in it."
A slight, scarcely perceptible flush passed over the prisoner's cheek and brow. The King muttered an exclamation; Father Francis's brow contracted, and several of the nobles looked uneasily from one to the other.
"At what time did the prisoner leave his apartments the night of the murder?" continued the Sub-Prior.
"Exactly as the great bell of the cathedral chimed eleven," was the ready reply from Pedro and Juana at the same moment.
"Did you hear nothing but his hasty movements, as you describe? Did he not call for attendance, or a light? Remember, you are on oath," he continued sternly, as he observed the hesitation with which old Pedro muttered "No;" and that Juana was silent. "The church punishes false swearers. Did he speak or not?"
"He called for a light, please your Reverence, but—"
"But you did not choose to obey at an hour so late!" sternly responded Father Francis; "and by such neglect may be guilty of accelerating the death of the innocent, and concealing the real murderer! You allege that Senor Stanley returned from some military duty at sunset, and slept from then till just before eleven, so soundly that you could not rouse him even for his evening meal. This was strange for a man with murder in his thoughts! Again, that he called for a light, which, you neglected to bring; and Senor Stanley asserts that he missed his sword, but rushed from the house without it. Your culpable neglect, then, prevents our discovering the truth of this assertion; yet you acknowledge he called loudly for light; this appears too unlikely to have been the case, had the prisoner quitted the house with the intention to do murder."
"Intention at that moment he might not have had, Reverend Father," interposed the head of the Associated Brethren, who had taken an active part in the examination. "Were there no evidence as to premeditated desire of vengeance, premeditated insult, and long-entertained enmity, these conclusions might have foundation. As the case stands, they weigh but little. Where evil passions have been excited, opportunity for their indulgence is not likely to pass unused."
"But evidence of that long-entertained enmity and premeditated vengeance we have not yet examined," replied the Sub-Prior. "If it only rest on the suppositions of this old couple, in one of whom it is pretty evident, prejudice is stronger than clearly defined truth, methinks that, despite this circumstantial evidence, there is still hope of the prisoner's innocence, more especially as we have one other important fact to bring forward. You are certain," he continued, addressing old Pedro, "that the bell chimed eleven when Senor Stanley quitted your dwelling?" The man answered firmly in the affirmative. "And you will swear that the Senor slept from sunset till that hour?"
"I dare not swear to it, your Reverence, for Juana and I were at a neighbor's for part of that time; but on our return, Juana took up his supper again, and found him so exactly in the same position as we had left him, that we could not believe he had even moved."
"Was he alone in the house during this interval?"
"No; the maid Beta was at her work in the room below Senor Stanley's."
"Let her be brought here."
The order was so rapidly obeyed, that it was very evident she was close at hand; but so terribly alarmed at the presence in which she stood, as to compel the Sub-Prior to adopt the gentlest possible tone, to get any answer at all. He merely inquired if, during the absence of her master and mistress, she had heard any movement in the prisoner's room. She said that she thought she had—a quiet, stealthy step, and also a sound as if a door in the back of the house closed; but the sounds were so very indistinct, she had felt them at the time more like a dream than reality; and the commencement of the storm had so terrified her, that she did not dare move from her seat.
"And what hour was this?"
It might have been about nine; but she could not say exactly. And from the assertion that she did hear a slight sound, though puzzlingly cross-questioned, she never wavered. The King and the Sub-Prior both looked disappointed. The chief of the Santa Hermandad expressed himself confirmed in his previous supposition.
The prisoner retained his calmness; but a gleam of intelligence seemed to flit across his features.
"You would speak, Senor Stanley," interposed the King, as the girl was dismissed. "We would gladly hear you."
"I would simply say, your Highness," replied Stanley, gratefully, "that it is not unlikely Beta may have heard such sounds. I am convinced my evening draught was drugged; and the same secret enemy who did this, to give him opportunity undiscovered to purloin my sword—may, nay, must have entered my chamber during that deathlike sleep, and committed the theft which was to burden an innocent man with his deed of guilt. The deep stillness in the house might have permitted her ear to catch the step, though my sleep was too profound. I could hardly have had time to waken, rise, commit the deed of death, and return to such a completely deceiving semblance of sleep, in the short hour of Pedro and Juana's absence; and if I had, what madness would have led me there again, and so appalled me, as to prevent all effort of escape?"
"Conscience," replied the chief of the Santa Hermandad, sternly. "The impelling of the Divine Spirit, whom you had profaned, and who in justice so distracted you, as to lead you blindly to your own destruction—no marvel the darkness oppressed, and the storm appalled you; or that heaven in its wrath should ordain the events you yourself have described—the fall over your own victim, and the horror thence proceeding. We have heard that your early years have been honorable, Senor Stanley, and to such, guilt is appalling even in its accomplishment. Methinks, Father Francis, we need now but the evidence of the premeditation."
"Your pardon, brother; but such, conclusions are somewhat over-hasty. It is scarcely probable, had Senor Stanley returned after the committal of such a deed, that his reentrance should not have been heard as well as his departure; whereas the witness expressly declares, that though her attention was awakened by the previous faint sound, and she listened frequently, she never heard another movement, till her master and mistress's return; and as they went into the Senor's room directly, and found him without the very least appearance of having moved, justice compels us to incline to the belief in Senor Stanley's suggestion—that he could scarcely have had sufficient time to rouse, depart, do murder, and feign sleep during Pedro Benito's brief interval of absence."
"We will grant that so it may be, Reverend Father, but what proof have we that the murder had not been just committed when the body and the assassin were discovered?"
Father Francis replied, by commanding the appearance of Don Ferdinand's steward, and after the customary formula, inquired what hour his late lamented master had quitted his mansion the night of the murder. The man replied, without hesitation, "Exactly as the chimes played the quarter before nine."
"But was not that unusually early? The hour of meeting at the castle was ten, and the distance from Don Ferdinand's mansion not twenty minutes' ride, and scarce forty minutes' walk. Are you perfectly certain as to the hour?"
"I can take my oath upon it, your Reverence, and Lopez will say the same. Our sainted master (Jesu rest his soul!) called to him a few minutes before he entered my lady's room, and told him not to get his horse ready, as he should walk to the castle. Lopez asked as to who should attend him, and his reply was he would go alone. He had done so before, and so we were not surprised; but we were grieved at his look, for it seemed of suffering, unlike himself, and were noticing it to each other as he passed us, after quitting my lady, and so quickly and so absorbed, that he did not return our salutation, which he never in all his life neglected to do before. My poor, poor master! little did we think we should never see him again!" And the man's unconstrained burst of grief excited anew the indignation of the spectators against the crime, till then almost forgotten, in the intense interest as to the fate of the accused. Lopez was called, and corroborated the steward's account exactly.
"If he left his house at a quarter before nine, at what hour, think you, he would reach the Calle Soledad?"
From ten to fifteen minutes past the hour, your Reverence, unless detained by calling elsewhere on his way."
"Did he mention any intention of so doing?" The answer was in the negative. "According to this account, then, the murder must have taken place between nine and ten; and Senor Stanley was not heard to quit his apartment till eleven. This would corroborate his own assertion, that the deed was committed ere he reached the spot."
"But what proof have we that Don Ferdinand was not detained on his way?" replied the chief of the Santa Hermandad. "His domestics assert no more than the hour of his quitting the house."
"The hour of the royal meeting was ten," rejoined the Sub-Prior; "he was noted for regularity, and was not likely to have voluntarily lingered so long, as not even to reach the Calle till one hour afterwards."
"Not voluntarily; but we have heard that he appeared more suffering than he was ever seen to do. His illness might have increased, and so cause detention; and yet, on even partial recovery, we know him well enough to believe he would still have endeavored to join his Highness."
"He would; but there is evidence that when brought to the castle, he had been dead at the very least three hours. Let Curador Benedicto come forward."
A respectable man, dressed in black, and recognized at once as the leech or doctor of the royal household, obeyed the summons, and on being questioned, stated that he had examined the body the very moment it had been conveyed to the castle, in the hope of discovering some signs of animation, however faint. But life was totally extinct, and, according to his judgment, had been so at the very least three hours."
"And what hour was this?"
"Just half-an-hour after midnight."
A brief silence followed the leech's dismissal; Ferdinand still seemed perplexed and uneasy, and not one countenance, either of the nobles or Associated Brethren, evinced satisfaction.
"Our task, instead of decreasing in difficulty, becomes more and more complicated, my lords and brethren," observed the Sub-Prior, after waiting for the chief of the Santa Hermandad to speak. "Had we any positive proof, that Senor Stanley really slept from the hour of sunset till eleven the same evening, and never quitted his quarters until then, we might hope that the sentence of Curador Benedicto, as to the length of time life had been extinct in his supposed victim, might weigh strongly against the circumstantial chain of evidence brought against him. Believing that the prisoner having slept from the hour of sunset to eleven was a proven and witnessed fact, I undertook the defensive and argued in his favor. The sounds heard by the girl Beta may or may not have proceeded from the stealthy movements of the accused, and yet justice forbids our passing them by unnoticed. The time of this movement being heard, and that of the murder, according to the leech's evidence, tally so exactly that we cannot doubt but the one had to do with the other; but whether it were indeed the prisoner's step, or that of the base purloiner of his sword, your united judgment must decide. Individual supposition, in a matter of life or death, can be of no avail. My belief, as you may have discovered, inclines to the prisoner's innocence. My brother, the chief Hermano, as strongly believes in his guilt. And it would appear as if the evidence itself, supports the one judgment equally with the other; contradictory and complicated, it has yet been truthfully brought forward and strictly examined. Your united judgment, Senors and Hermanos, must therefore decide the prisoner's fate."
"But under your favor, Reverend Father, all the evidence has not been brought forward," rejoined the chief Hermano. "And methinks that which is still to come is the most important of the whole. That the business is complicated, and judgment most difficult, I acknowledge, and therefore gladly avail myself of any remaining point on which the scale may turn. Sworn as I am to administer impartial justice, prejudice against the prisoner I can have none; but the point we have until now overlooked, appears sufficient to decide not only individual but general opinion. I mean the premeditated vengeance sworn by the prisoner against the deceased—long indulged and proclaimed enmity, and premeditated determination to take his life or lose his own. Don Ferdinand Morales—be his soul assoilized!—was so universally beloved, so truly the friend of all ranks and conditions of men, that to believe in the existence of any other enmity towards his person is almost impossible. We have evidence that the prisoner was at feud with him—was harboring some design against him for weeks. It may be he was even refused by Don Ferdinand the meeting he desired, and so sought vengeance by the midnight dagger. Let the evidence of this enmity be examined, and according or not as premeditated malice is elicited, so let your judgment be pronounced."
"Ay, so let it be," muttered the King as a loud murmur of assent ran through the hall. "We have two witnesses for this; and, by heaven, if the one differ from the other in the smallest point, the prisoner may still be reprieved!"
Whether the royal observation was heard or not, there was no rejoinder, for at the summoning of the chief Hermano, Don Luis Garcia stood before the assemblage. His appearance excited surprise in many present, and in none more than the prisoner himself. He raised his head, which had been resting on his hand during the address of the Sub-Prior, and the reply of the Hermano, and looked at the new witness with bewildered astonishment. As Don Luis continued his relation of the stormy interview between the deceased and the accused, and the words of threatening used by the latter, astonishment itself, changed into an indignation and loathing impossible to be restrained.
"Thou base dishonored villain!" he exclaimed, so suddenly and wrathfully that it startled more by its strange contrast with his former calmness than by its irreverent interruption to the formula of the examination; "where wert thou during this interview? Hearing so well, and so invisibly concealed, none but the voluntary spy could have heard all this; so skilfully detailed that thou wouldst seem in very truth witness as well as hearer. What accident could have led thee to the most retired part of Don Ferdinand's garden, and, being there, detained thee? Thou treacherous villain! and on thy evidence—evidence so honorably, so truthfully obtained, my life or death depends! Well, be it so."
"But so it shall not be," interposed the King himself, ere either Sub-Prior or the Hermano could reply; "even as the prisoner, we ourselves hold evidence dishonestly obtained of little moment—nay, of no weight whatever. Be pleased, Don Luis Garcia, to explain the casualty which led you, at such an important moment, to Don Ferdinand's grounds; or name some other witness. The voluntary listener is, in our mind, dishonorable as the liar, and demanding no more account."
With a mien and voice of the deepest humility, Don Luis replied; grieving that his earnest love of justice should expose him to the royal displeasure; submitting meekly to unjust suspicion as concerned himself, but still upholding the truth and correctness of his statement. The other witness to the same, he added mysteriously, he had already named to his Royal Highness.
"And she waits our pleasure," replied the King; "Don Felix d'Estaban, be pleased to conduct the last witness to our presence."
But love is strong. There came Strength upon Woman's fragile heart and frame; There came swift courage.
Death has no pang More keen than this. Oh, wherefore art thou here?
A profound silence followed Don Felix's departure. Don Luis had so evidently evaded the King's demand, as to how he had witnessed this important interview, that even those most prejudiced in his favor, on account of his extreme sanctity, found themselves doubting his honor; and those who had involuntarily been prejudiced against him, by the indefinable something pervading his countenance and voice, doubly rejoiced that their unspoken antipathy had some foundation. In modern courts of justice, to refuse the validity of evidence merely because the manner of obtaining it was supposed dishonorable, would be pronounced the acme of folly and romance. In the age of which we write, and in Spain especially, the sense of honor was so exquisitely refined, that the King's rebuke, and determination not to allow the validity of Don Luis's evidence, unless confirmed by an honorable witness, excited no surprise whatever; every noble, nay, every one of the Associated Brethren, there present, would have said the same; and the eager wonder, as to the person of the witness on whom so much stress was laid, became absolutely intense. The prisoner was very evidently agitated; his cheek flushed and paled in rapid alternation, and a suppressed but painful exclamation escaped from him as Don Felix re-entered, leading with him a female form; but the faint sound was unheard, save by the King and the Sub-Prior, who had been conversing apart during d'Estaban's absence—lost in the irrepressible burst of wonder and sympathy, which broke from all within the hall, as in the new witness, despite the change of garb, and look, from the dazzling beauty of health and peace, to the attenuated form of anxiety and sorrow, they recognized at once the widow of the murdered, Donna Marie. Nor was this universal sympathy lessened, when, on partially removing her veil, to permit a clear view of the scene around her, her sweet face was disclosed to all—profoundly, almost unnaturally, calm, indeed—but the cheek and lips were perfectly colorless; the ashy whiteness of the former rendered them more striking from the long black lash resting upon it, unwetted by a single tear: and from the peculiarly dark eye appearing the larger, from the attenuation of the other features. One steady and inquiring glance she was seen to fix upon the prisoner, and then she bent in homage to the Sovereign; and emotion, if there were any, passed unseen.
"Sit, lady," said the King, with ready courtesy, touched more than he could have imagined possible, by the change fourteen short days had wrought. "We would feign render this compelled summons as brief and little fatiguing as may be: none can grieve more than ourselves at this harsh intrusion on thy hours of sorrow; but in a great measure the doom of life or death rests with thee, and justice forbids our neglecting evidence so important. Yet sit, lady; we command it."
"It needs not, gracious Sovereign; my strength will not fail me," replied Marie, her sweet voice falling distinctly on every ear, while Stanley started at its calmness; and she gracefully refused the seat Don Felix proffered. "Give no more thought to me than to any other witness; it is not a subject's place to sit in presence of her Sovereign."
But Ferdinand's kindliest feelings were excited, and instead of permitting the Sub-Prior to give the necessary details, he himself, with characteristic brevity, but clearly and kindly, narrated the progress of the evidence for and against the prisoner, and how great the weight laid on the proofs, if there were any, of acknowledged enmity, and premeditated injury, on the part of the accused towards the deceased. The questions to which he was compelled to request her reply were simply, "Was she aware of any cause of hatred existing between the accused and the deceased?" "Had she ever heard opprobrious and insulting epithets used by the former or the latter?" "or any threat, implying that the death of Don Ferdinand Morales was desired by the prisoner?" "Had she ever seen the prisoner draw his sword upon the deceased?—and had she any reason to believe that Don Ferdinand had ever refused, or intended to refuse to meet the prisoner in honorable combat, and so urged the gratification of vengeance by a deed of murder? Reverend Father," continued the King, "be pleased yourself to administer the customary oath."
Father Francis instantly rose from his seat, and taking the large and richly embossed silver crucifix from the Monk, who had administered the oath to all the other witnesses, himself approached Marie. "Marie Henriquez Morales," he said, as he reverentially held the solemn symbol of his religion before her, "art thou well advised of the solemnity of the words thou art called upon to speak? If so, swear to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Swear by the Holy Symbol which I support; by the unpronounceable name of the Father, by the flesh and blood, the resurrection and the life of our Lord and Saviour Christ Jesu; by the Holy Spirit; by the saving and glorious Trinity; by the goodly army of Saints and Martyrs; daughter, swear, and the blessing or the curse be with you as you swear true or falsely."
The fine countenance of the Sub-Prior glowed with the holy enthusiasm of his appeal; his form, as he stood, one hand clasping the crucifix, the other emphatically raised, seemed dilated to unusual height and majesty, and the deep solemnity of his accents so enhanced the awful responsibility of the oath, that it thrilled throughout the multitude as it had never done before. So deep was the stillness which followed, that not one of those vast crowds seemed to breathe. To the prisoner it was a moment of intense emotion: for if, indeed, Marie had once told him truth, that oath, to her, even in its solemnity, was as nought; but ere he could even think as to the wording of her answer, that answer came, and so distinct, so unfalteringly spoken, that there was not one person present who even strained his ear to catch the words.
"Reverend Father," she said, "I am grateful for thy counsel; and, believe me, am well advised of the truth and solemnity of the words I speak. But I cannot aid his Grace, and these his subjects, in their decision as to the prisoner's sentence. My evidence is valueless. I belong to that race whose word is never taken as witness, for or against, in a court of justice. I cannot take the oath required, for I deny the faith in which it is administered. I am a JEWESS!"
A wild cry, in every variety of intonation—astonishment, horror, wrath, and perhaps terror, ran through the hall—from Sovereign, Noble, Monk, and Citizen, simultaneously. Father Francis staggered back several paces, as if there were contamination in remaining by her side, and then stood as rooted to the ground, his hand convulsively grasping the crucifix which had nearly fallen from his hold; his lips apart, his nostrils slightly distended, and his eyes almost starting from their sockets, in the horrified and astonished gaze he fixed upon the pale and fragile being who had dared speak such impious words. The attendant fathers rose simultaneously, and formed a semicircle round their superior, ready, at his slightest signal, to hurl down on her the anathema of the church; reverence to the Sub-Prior alone preventing the curse from instantly bursting forth. The nobles, the Associated Brethren, Ferdinand himself, started almost unconsciously to their feet, and an eager rush brought many of the citizens still nearer to the scene of action. The prisoner, with an irresistible impulse, darted forwards, and ere any one had recovered from his trance of bewilderment, had flung himself at Marie's feet.
"Marie! Marie!" he exclaimed, in a voice so hoarse and choked, its words were heard by her alone. "Oh! why hast thou done this? Why not take the required oath, and condemn me at once? Marie, I am unworthy of such self-sacrifice!"
"Ha! didst thou slay him then? Have I judged thee too kindly, Arthur," she answered; and the hand she laid heavily on his shoulder trembled so violently, it was evident she had thus placed it only to save her from sinking to the ground, for the unnatural strength had gone.
"No!" he exclaimed, in a tone and with a look that satisfied her at once, and there was no time for more. The King had perceived that the Sub-Prior was recovering composure, and with it energy of action; though himself a zealous Catholic, he felt compelled to save Marie. "Hold! hold!" he said hastily, as Father Francis was about to speak. "Reverend Father, we pray thee, be not over hasty in this matter; these are strange and terrible words; but they are meaningless; they must be. Her misery has turned her brain; she is mad; heed her not; be silent all of ye! See how she glares upon the prisoner! Is that the look of sanity? By St. Francis, we have done wrong to call her hither! Stand back, good fathers. Remove the prisoner; and let Donna Marie be conducted from the hall. Our Consort should have warned us of this!"
"Forbear, my liege!" replied the Sub-Prior sternly. "The blaspheming words were all too calmly and collectively spoken for the ravings of madness. Let not the false unbeliever pass hence till at least she has done reverence to the sacred symbol, she has, by daring denial, insulted. As thou wouldst save thine own soul from hell-fire, my liege, interfere not in this!"
As he spoke, several soldiers had endeavored rudely to drag Arthur from Marie: he strove fiercely for freedom, for but one hour's power to protect her, but in vain. And the look she fixed upon him, as he was torn from her, from its contrast with her previous profound calm, did indeed seem almost of madness. The excitement which had enabled her to make this dread avowal—an avowal comprising such variety, and terrible danger, that the magnitude of the sacrifice comprised in the confession can now scarcely be understood; danger, not merely from the vengeance of the church for long years of fraud, nor from the secret and awful tribunal of whose existence she was conscious (though not of its close vicinity); not merely these, but danger from the wrath, and terrors of the secret members of her own faith, who might naturally imagine their own safety endangered in the suspicion, engendered by her rash confession. Of all this she had thought; had believed herself strengthened to brave and bear every possible suffering, rather than breathe those words which must seal Stanley's fate; but now that she had spoken, though she would not have recalled them if she could—such an overpowering, crushing sense of all she had drawn upon herself, such fearful, spectral shapes of indefinable horror came upon her, that, as the Sub-Prior stood again before her with the uplifted cross, bidding her kneel and acknowledge him whose fate it imaged—she burst into a wild hysteric laugh, and fell prone upon the floor.
"Said I not she was mad? And what need was there for this unmanly violence?" angrily exclaimed the Monarch; and, starting from his seat, he authoritatively waved back the denouncing monks, and himself bent over Marie. The Duke of Murcia, Don Felix d'Estaban, the Lord of Aguilar, and several other nobles following the Sovereign's example, hastened to her assistance. But to restore animation was not in their power, and on the King's whispered commands, Don Felix gently, even tenderly raised her, and bore her in his arms from the hall. Even in that moment of excitement Ferdinand could not forbear glancing at the prisoner, whose passionate struggles to escape from the guard, when Marie fell, had been noticed by all, and unhappily, combined with, his previous irritation, but confirmed the unspoken suspicions of many as to the real cause of his enmity against Don Ferdinand. The expression of his countenance was of such contending, terrible suffering, that the King hastily withdrew his gaze, vainly endeavoring to disbelieve, as he had done, the truth of Garcia's charge.
Order was at length universally restored, and after a brief silence, the chief of the Santa Hermandad demanded of the prisoner if he had aught to say in his defence, or reply himself to Don Luis Garcia's charge. The reply was a stern, determined negative; and, deputed so to do by the Sub-Prior, who seemed so absorbed in the horror of Marie's daring avowal, as to be incapable of further interference, the Hermano proceeded to sum up the evidence. As the widow of the deceased had so strangely, yet effectually deprived them of her evidence, he said, he thought some slight regard ought to be paid to Don Luis Garcia's words; but even without doing so, the circumstantial evidence, though contradictory and complicated, was enough in his opinion to convict the prisoner; but he referred to his associates and to the peers then present, to pronounce sentence. His task was but to sum up the evidence, which he trusted he had done distinctly; his opinion was that of but one individual; there were at least fifty or sixty voices, to confirm or to oppose it.
Deep and sustained as had been the interest throughout the trial, it was never more intense than during the awful pause which heralded the prisoner's doom. It was spoken at length; the majority alike of the nobles and of the Santa Hermandad, believed and pronounced him guilty, and sentence of death was accordingly passed; but the Duke of Murcia then stepped forward, and urged the following, not only in the name of his brother peers, but in the name of his native sovereign, Isabella; that in consideration of the complicated and contradictory evidence, of the prisoner's previous high character, and of his strongly protested innocence, a respite of one month should be granted between sentence and execution, to permit prayers to be offered up throughout Spain for the discovery of the real murderer, or at least allow time for some proof of innocence to appear; during which time the prisoner should be removed from the hateful dungeon he had till that morning occupied, and confined under strict ward, in one of the turrets of the castle; and that, if at the end of the granted month affairs remained as they were then, that no proof of innocence appeared, a scaffold was to be erected in the Calle Soledad, on the exact spot where the murder was committed; there the prisoner, publicly degraded from the honors and privileges of chivalry, his sword broken before him, his spurs ignominiously struck from his heels, would then receive the award of the law, death from hanging, the usual fate of the vilest and commonest malefactors.
Ferdinand and the Sub-Prior regarded him attentively while this sentence was pronounced, but not a muscle in his countenance moved; what it expressed it would have been difficult to define; but it seemed as if his thoughts were on other than himself. The King courteously thanked the assemblage for their aid in a matter so momentous, and at once ratified their suggestion. The Associated Brethren were satisfied that it was Isabella's will; confident also in their own power to prevent the evasion, and bring about the execution of the sentence, if still required, at the termination of the given time; and with a brief but impressive address from the Sub-Prior to the prisoner, the assemblage dispersed.
But the excitement of the city ceased not with the conclusion of the trial: not alone the populace, but the nobles themselves, even the Holy Fathers and Associated Brethren were seen, forming in various groups, conversing eagerly and mysteriously. The interest in the prisoner had in some measure given way to a new excitement. Question followed question, conjecture followed conjecture, but nothing could solve the mystery of Donna Marie's terrible avowal, or decrease the bewilderment and perplexity which, from various causes, it created in every mind. One alone, amongst the vast crowds which had thronged the trial, shunned his fellows. Not a change in the calm, cold, sneering expression of Don Luis Garcia's countenance had betrayed either surprise at, or sympathy with, any one of the various emotions stirring that vast multitude of human hearts; he had scarcely even moved his position during the continuance of the trial, casting indeed many a glance on the immediate scene of action, from beneath his thick and shadowy eyebrows, which concealed the sinister gaze from observation. He shunned the face of day; but in his own dark haunts, and with his hellish colleagues, plans were formed and acted on, with a rapidity which, to minds less matured in iniquity, would have seemed incredible.
The quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed, It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes; 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown.
The interest attending a trial, in which royalty had evinced such powerful sympathy, naturally extended to every member of Isabella's female train: her anxiety as to the issue had been very visible, notwithstanding her calm and quiet demeanor. The Infanta Isabella and the Infant Don Juan were with her during the morning as usual; but even their infantile caresses, dearer to her true woman's heart than all her vast possessions, had failed to disperse the anxiety of thought. Few can peruse the interesting life of Isabella of Castile without being struck by the fact, that even as her public career was one of unmixed prosperity for her country and herself, her private sorrows and domestic trials vied, in their bitterness, with those of the poorest and humblest of her subjects. Her first-born, the Infanta Isabella, who united all the brilliant and endearing qualities of her mother, with great beauty, both of face and form, became a loving bride only to become a widow—a mother, only to gaze upon her babe, and die; and her orphan quickly followed. Don Juan, the delight and pride and hope of his parents, as of the enthusiasm and almost idolatry of their subjects, died in his twentieth year. The hapless Catherine of Arragon, with whose life of sorrow and neglect every reader of English history is acquainted, though they sometimes forget her illustrious parentage; her sorrows indeed Isabella was spared, as she died before Henry the Eighth ascended the English throne. But it was Juana, the wife of Philip, and mother of Charles V., whose intellects, always feeble, and destroyed by the neglect and unkindness of the husband she idolized, struck the last and fatal blow. And she, whom all Europe regarded with unfeigned veneration—she whom her own subjects so idolized, they would gladly have laid down a thousand lives for hers—she fell a victim to a mother's heart-consuming grief.[A] Who then, after perusing her life, and that of how many other sovereigns, will refuse them, the meed of sympathy, because, raised so far above us in outward things, we deem the griefs and feelings of common humanity unknown and uncared for? To our mind, the destiny of the Sovereign, the awful responsibility, the utter loneliness of station, the general want of sympathy, the proneness to be condemned for faults or omissions of which they are, individually, as innocent as their contemners, present a subject for consideration and sympathy, and ought to check the unkind thoughts and hasty condemnation, excited merely because they are placed in rank and circumstances above us. A King of kings has placed them there, and a Universal Father calls them His children, even as ourselves.
[Footnote A: Isabella had been previously attacked by dangerous indisposition, from which, however, the natural strength of her constitution would have enabled her in some degree to rally; but the springs of life had been injured by previous bereavement. Her lungs became affected, and the symptoms of decline rapidly and fatally increased from continual affliction of mind.—History of Spain.]
Isabella had not seen Marie that morning; her trusty attendant, Donna Inez de Leon, had alone been with her, and had reported that she was calm and composed, and more like herself than she had been since her bereavement. Time passed but slowly, and Catherine Pas, the same high-spirited maiden mentioned in a former chapter, perceiving that the Queen's anxiety evidently increased as the hours waned, quietly left the chamber, unbidden, and even unseen. A brief interval saw her return, and with a countenance so expressive of horrified bewilderment, as to excite the astonishment of all.
"Oh, madam!" she exclaimed, as she flew to the Queen's seat, regardless of either decorum or rebuke; "Oh, madam, it has killed her; she is dying!"
"Dying!" repeated Isabella, and the whole strength of her character was put forth, to prevent her starting from her seat. "Dying!—who is dying? Speak out, in Santa Maria's name!"
"Donna Marie—the poor, unhappy Marie; she has been borne from the hall! Don Felix had her in his arms; I saw her; I followed them, and she looked dead, quite dead; they would not let me go to her at first, till I called them hard-hearted wretches! And I have tried to rouse her, but I could not. Oh, save her, gracious madam! Do not let her die!"
"And have they none with her?" demanded the Queen. "But whom can they have, save her own terrified women? Inez—Leonor—go to her at once! Your skill and tenderness will soon revive her; this silly child is terrified at shadows. 'Tis but a faint, such as followed the announcement of her husband's death. If any one dare refuse you entrance, tell them you go in your Queen's name. Foolish trembler," she added, in a tone of relief, as her commands were instantly obeyed, "why this excessive agitation, when thou hast seen a faint like this before?"
"Nay, but by your leave, gracious madam, I have not," replied Catherine, with emotion. "There is far more of horror in this; she is cold—cold, like stone; and they have planted a guard at the entrance of her apartments, and they tell a tale so wild and strange, I cannot give it credence!"
"Ha! what say they?" demanded the Queen hastily, her eyes flashing with light, as they always did when she was excited. "What can it be, too wild and strange for thy hair-brained fancy to believe? Marvellous it must be indeed!"
Isabella spoke jestingly, but her heart was not with her words: and Catherine replied with tears starting to her eyes, "Oh, do not speak thus, my liege. It is indeed no theme for jest." And she continued so rapidly, that to any but the quickened mind of Isabella, her words must have seemed unintelligible. "They say she is a heretic, royal madam! Nay, worse—a blaspheming unbeliever; that she has refused to take the oath, on plea of not believing in the Holy Catholic Church; that she has insulted, has trampled on the sacred cross! Nor is this all—worse, yet worse; they say she has proclaimed herself a JEWESS!—an abhorred, an unbelieving Jewess!"
A general start and loud exclamation of horror was the natural rejoinder to this unlooked-for intelligence; but not from Isabella, whose flashing eyes were still fixed on the young girl's face, as to read in her soul the confirmation of these strange words. "What dost thou say?" she said at length, and so slowly, a second might have intervened between each word. "Speak! let me hear again! A Jewess! Santa Maria! But no; it cannot be. They must have told thee false!"
So the Queen spoke; but ere Catherine had concluded a calmer repetition of the tale, Marie's words of the preceding evening rushed back on her mind, confirming it but too surely. "To-morrow all will be distinct and clear enough!" she had said; ay, distinct it was; and so engrossingly intense became the thoughts thronging in her mind, bewildering succession, that Isabella sat motionless, her brow leaning on her hand, wholly unconscious of the lapse of time.
A confusion in the gallery, and the words, "The King! the King!" roused her at length; and never was the appearance of Ferdinand more welcome, not only to Isabella, but to her attendants, as giving them the longed-for opportunity to retire, and so satisfy curiosity, and give vent to the wonderment which, from their compelled silence in Isabella's presence, had actually become intolerable.
Ferdinand speedily narrated the affairs of the morning, and concluded by inquiring if any thing had occurred in her interview with Marie to excite suspicion of her mad design. The Queen replied by relating, in her turn, all that had passed between them. The idea of madness could no longer exist; there was not the faintest hope that in a moment of frenzy she had spoken falsely.
"And yet, was it not madness," the King urged, "thus publicly to avow a determined heresy, and expose herself to all the horrors of the church's vengeance! 'Years of deception and fraud!' she told thee, 'would be disclosed.' By St. Francis! fraud enough. Who could have suspected the wife of Don Ferdinand Morales a Jewess? It was on this account he kept her so retired. How could he reconcile his conscience to a union with one of a race so abhorred, beautiful as she is? And where could he have found her? But this matters not: it is all wild conjecture, save the madness of the avowal. What cause could there have been for such self-sacrifice?"
"There was a cause," replied the Queen earnestly; "cause enough to render life to her of little moment. Do not ask me my meaning, dearest Ferdinand; I would not do her such wrong as to breathe the suspicion that, spite of myself, spite of incomprehensible mystery, will come, even to thee. Do not let us regret her secret is discovered. Let her but recover from the agony of these repeated trials, and with the help of our holy fathers, we may yet turn her from her abhorred faith, and so render her happy in this world, and secure her salvation in the next."
"The help of the holy fathers!" repeated the King. "Nay, Isabel, their sole help will be to torture and burn! They will accuse her of insulting, by years of deceit, the holy faith, of which she has appeared a member. Nay, perchance of using foul magic on Morales (whom the saints preserve), and then thou knowest what will follow!"
The Queen shuddered. "Never with my consent, my husband! From the first moment I beheld this unfortunate, something attracted me towards her; her misery deepened the feeling; and even now, knowing what she is, affection lingers. The Holy Virgin give me pardon, if 'tis sin!"
"For such sin I will give thee absolution, dearest," replied the King, half jestingly, half earnestly. "Do not look so grave. No one knows, or values thy sterling piety half so tenderly and reverentially as I do. But this is no common case. Were Marie one of those base and grovelling wretches, those accursed unbelievers, who taint our fair realm with their abhorred rites—think of nothing but gold and usury, and how best to cheat their fellows; hating us almost as intensely as we hate them—why, she should abide by the fate she has drawn upon herself. But the wife of my noble Morales, one who has associated so long with zealous Catholics, that she is already most probably one of us, and only avowed her descent from some mysterious cause—by St. Francis, she shall be saved!"
"But how?" inquired Isabella anxiously. "Wouldst thou deny her faith to Father Francis, and persuade him she has spoken falsely?"
The King shook his head. "That will never do, Isabel. I have had the holy man closeted with me already, insisting on the sanity of her words, and urging me to resign the unbeliever at once to the tender mercy of the church. All must depend on thee."
"On me?" repeated Isabella, in a tone of surprised yet anxious inquiry.
"On thee, love. Thy perfect humility is ignorant of the fact—yet it is nevertheless perfectly true—that thou art reverenced, well nigh canonized, by the holy church; and thy words will have weight when mine would be light as air. Refuse the holy fathers all access to her; say she is unfitted to encounter them; that she is ill; nay, mad, if thou wilt. Bring forward the state in which she was borne from the hall; her very laugh (by St. Francis, it rings in my ear still) to confirm it, and they will believe thee. The present excitement will gradually subside, and her very existence be forgotten. Let none but thy steadiest, most pious matrons have access to her; forbid thy young maidens to approach or hold converse with her; and her being under thy protection can do harm to none. Let her be prisoner in her own apartments, an thou wilt; she deserves punishment for the deception practised towards thee. Treat her as thou deemest best, only give her not up to the mercy of the church!"
"Talk not of it," replied the Queen earnestly. "Unbeliever though she be, offspring of a race which every true Catholic must hold in abhorrence, she is yet a woman, Ferdinand, and, as such, demands and shall receive the protection of her Queen. Yet, would there were some means of saving her from the eternal perdition to which, as a Jewess, she is destined; some method, without increase of suffering, to allure her, as a penitent and believing child, to the bosom of our holy mother church."
"And to do this, who so fitted as thyself, dearest Isabel?" answered the King with earnest affection. "Thou hast able assistants in some of thy older matrons, and may after a while call in the aid of Father Denis, whose kindly nature is better fitted for gentle conversion than either Francis, or thy still sterner chaplain, Torquemada. Thy kindness has gained thee the love of this misguided one; and if any one have sufficient influence to convert, by other than sharp means, it can only be thyself."
Isabella was not long undecided. Her heart felt that to turn Marie from blindness and perdition by kindness and affection would be indeed far more acceptable to the virgin (her own peculiar saint) than the heretic's blood, and she answered with animation, "Then so it shall be, Ferdinand; I fear me, alas! that there will be little reason to prevaricate, to deny all spiritual access to her. Thy report, combined with my terrified Catherine's, gives me but little hope for health or reason. But should she indeed recover, trust me she shall be happy yet."
Great was the astonishment of the guards as they beheld their Sovereign fearlessly enter the chamber of a proclaimed Jewess—a word in their minds synonymous with the lowest, most degraded rank of being; and yet more, to hear and perceive that she herself was administering relief. The attendants of Isabella—whose curiosity was now more than satisfied, for the tale had been repeated with the usual exaggerations, even to a belief that she had used the arts of sorcery on Morales—huddled together in groups, heaping every opprobrious epithet upon her, and accusing her of exposing them all to the horrors of purgatory by contaminating them with her presence. And as the Sovereign re-appeared in her saloon with the leech Benedicto, whose aid she had summoned, there were many who ventured to conjure her not to expose herself to such pollution as the tending of a Jewess—to leave her to the fate her fraud so merited. Even Catherine, finding to disbelieve the tale any longer was impossible, and awed and terrified at the mysterious words of her companions, which told of danger to her beloved mistress, flung herself on her knees before her, clasping her robe to detain her from again seeking the chamber of Marie. Then was the moment for a painter to have seized on the face and form of Isabella! Her eye flashed till its very color was undistinguishable, her lip curled, every feature—usually so mild and feminine—was so transformed by indignation into majesty and unutterable scorn as scarcely to have been recognized. Her slight and graceful form dilated till the very boldest cowered before her, even before she spoke; for never had they so encountered her reproof:—
"Are ye women?" she said at length, in the quiet, concentrated tone of strong emotion; "or are we deceived as to the meaning of your words? Pollution! Are we to see a young, unhappy being perish for want of sympathy and succor, because—forsooth—she is a Jewess? Danger to our soul! We should indeed fear it; did we leave her to die, without one effort to restore health to the frame, and the peace of Christ to the mind! Has every spark of woman's nature faded from your hearts, that ye can speak thus? If for yourselves you fear, tend her not, approach her not—we will ourselves give her the aid she needs. And as for thee," she continued severely, as she forced the now trembling Catherine to stand upright before her, "whose energy to serve Marie we loved and applauded; child as thou art, must thou too speak of pollution? but example may have done this. Follow me, minion; and then talk of pollution if thou canst!" And with a swift step Isabella led the way to the chamber of Marie.
"Behold!" she said emphatically, as she pointed to the unhappy sufferer, who, though restored to life, was still utterly unconscious where she was or who surrounded her; her cheek and brow, white and damp; her large eye lustreless and wandering; her lip and eyelid quivering convulsively; her whole appearance proving too painfully that reason had indeed, for the time, fled. The soul had been strong till the dread words were said; but the re-action had been too much for either frame or mind. "Catherine! thou hast seen her in her beauty, the cherished, the beloved of all who knew her—seen her when no loveliness could mate with hers. Thou seest now the wreck that misery has made, though she has numbered but few more years than thou hast! Detest, abhor, avoid her faith—for that we command thee; but her sex, her sorrow, have a claim to sympathy and aid, which not even her race can remove. Jewess though she be, if thou can look on her thus, and still speak of pollution and danger, thou art not what we deemed thee!"
Struck to the heart, alike by the marked display of a mistress she idolized and the sympathy her better nature really felt for Marie, Catherine sunk on her knees by the couch, and burst into tears. Isabella watched her till her unusual indignation subsided, and then said more kindly, "It is enough; go, Catherine. If we judge thee rightly thou wilt not easily forget this lesson! Again I bid thee abhor her faith; but seek to win her to the right path, by gentleness and love, not prejudice and hate."
"Oh! let me tarry here and tend her, my gracious Sovereign," implored Catherine, again clasping Isabella's robe and looking beseechingly in her face—but from a very different feeling to the prompter of the same action a few minutes before—"Oh, madam, do not send me from her! I will be so gentle, so active—watch, tend, serve; only say your Grace's bidding, and I will do it, if I stood by her alone!"
"My bidding would be but the promptings of thine own heart, my girl," replied the Queen, fondly, for she saw the desired impression had been made. "If I need thee—which I may do—I will call upon thee; but now, thou canst do nothing, but think kindly, and judge mercifully—important work indeed, if thou wouldst serve an erring and unhappy fellow-creature, with heart as well as hand. But now go: nay, not so sorrowfully; thy momentary fault is forgiven," she added, kindly, as she extended her hand towards the evidently pained and penitent maiden, who raised it gratefully and reverentially to her lips, and thoughtfully withdrew.
It was not, however, with her attendants only, this generous and high-minded princess had to contend—with them her example was enough; but the task was much more difficult, when the following day, as King Ferdinand had anticipated, brought the stern Sub-Prior of St. Francis to demand, in the church's name, the immediate surrender of Marie. But Isabella's decision once formed never wavered. Marie was under her protection, she said—an erring indeed, but an unhappy young creature, who, by her very confession, had thrown herself on the mercy of her Sovereign—and she would not deliver up the charge. In vain the Prior urged the abomination of a Jewess residing under her very roof—the danger to her soul should she be tempted to associate with her, and that granting protection to an avowed and blaspheming unbeliever must expose her to the suspicions, or, at least the censure of the church. Isabella was inexorable. To his first and second clause she quietly answered as she had done to her own attendants; his third only produced a calm and fearless smile. She knew too well, as did the Prior also, though for the time he chose to forget it, that her character for munificent and heartfelt piety was too well established, not only in Spain but throughout Europe, to be shaken even by the protection of a Jewess. Father Francis then solicited to see her; but even this point he could not gain. Isabella had, alas! no need to equivocate as to the reason of his non-admission to Marie. Reason had indeed returned, and with it the full sense of the dangers she had drawn upon herself; but neither frame nor mind was in a state to encounter such an interview as the Prior demanded.
The severity of Father Francis originated, as we have before remarked, neither in weak intellect nor selfish superstition. Towards himself indeed he never relented either in severity or discipline; towards others benevolence and humanity very often gained ascendency; and something very like a tear glistened in his eye as Isabella forcibly portrayed the state in which Marie still remained. And when she concluded, by frankly imparting her intention, if health were indeed restored, to leave no means untried—even to pursue some degree of severity if nothing else would do—to wean her from her mistaken faith, he not only abandoned his previous intentions, but commended and blessed the nobler purpose of his Sovereign. To his request that Marie might be restrained from all intercourse with the younger members of Isabella's female court—in fact, associate with none but strict and uncompromising Catholics—the Queen readily acceded; and moreover, granted him full permission to examine the mansion of Don Ferdinand Morales, that any books or articles of dangerous or heretical import might be discovered and destroyed.
With these concessions Father Francis left his Sovereign, affected at her goodness and astonished at her influence on himself. He had entered her presence believing nothing could change the severity of his intentions or the harshness of his feelings; he left her with the one entirely renounced, and the other utterly subdued.
Such was the triumph of prejudice achieved by the lofty-minded and generous woman, who swayed the sceptre of Castile.[A] And yet, though every history of the time unites in so portraying her; though her individual character was the noblest, the most magnanimous, the most complete union of masculine intellect with perfect womanhood, ever traced on the pages of the past; though under her public administration her kingdom stood forth the noblest, the most refined, most generous, ay, and the freest, alike in national position, as in individual sentiment, amongst all the nations of Europe, Isabella's was the fated hand to sign two edicts[B] whose consequences extinguished the lustre, diminished the virtues, enslaved the sentiments, checked the commerce, and in a word deteriorated the whole character of Spain.
[Footnote A: We are authorized to give this character to Isabella of Castile, and annex the lustre of such action to her memory; as we know that even when, by the persuasions and representations of Torquemada, the Inquisition was publicly established, Isabella constantly interfered her authority to prevent zeal from becoming inhumanity. Rendered unusually penetrating by her peculiarly feeling and gentle nature, she discovered, what was concealed from others, "That many enormities may be committed under the veil of religion—many innocent persons falsely accused; their riches being their only crime. Her exertions brought such things to light, and the suborners were punished according to their guilt."—WASHINGTON IRVING'S Siege of Granada.—Of Ferdinand too we are told, "Respeto la jurisdiction ecclesiastica, y conservo la real;" he respected the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, but guarded or was jealous, for that of the crown. His determination, therefore, to refuse the church's interference in the case of Marie, though unusual to his age, is warranted by his larger mind and freer policy.]
[Footnote B: The establishment of the Inquisition, and expulsion of the Jews.]
For fourteen days affairs remained the same. At the end of that period the castle and city of Segovia were thrown anew into a state of the wildest excitement by a most mysterious occurrence—Marie had disappeared.
"Meekly had he bowed and prayed, As not disdaining priestly aid; And while before the Prior kneeling, His heart was weaned from earthly feeling: No more reproach, no more despair— No thought but heaven, no word but prayer."
Time passed slowly on, and no proof appeared to clear Arthur Stanley's fame. All that man's judgment could counsel, was adopted—secret measures were taken throughout Spain, for the apprehension of any individual suspected of murder, or even of criminal deeds; constant prayers offered up, that if Arthur Stanley were not the real murderer, proofs of his innocence might be made so evident that not even his greatest enemy could doubt any longer; but all seemed of no avail. Week after week passed, and with the exception of one most mysterious occurrence, affairs remained the same. So strong was the belief of the nobles in his innocence, that the most strenuous exertions were made in his favor; but, strong as Ferdinand's own wish was to save him, his love of justice was still stronger; though the testimony of Don Luis might be set aside, calm deliberation on all the evidence against him marked it as sufficiently strong to have sentenced any other so accused at once. The resolute determination to purge their kingdom from the black crimes of former years, which both sovereigns felt and unitedly acted upon, urged them to conquer every private wish and feeling, rather than depart from the line laid down. The usual dispensers of justice, the Santa Hermandad—men chosen by their brother citizens for their lucid judgment, clearness of perception, and utter absence of all overplus of chivalrous feeling, in matters of cool dispassionate reasoning—were unanimous in their belief in the prisoner's guilt, and only acquiesced in the month's reprieve, because it was Isabella's wish. Against their verdict what could be brought forward? In reality nothing but the prisoner's own strongly-attested innocence—an attestation most forcible in the minds of the Sovereign and the nobles, but of no weight whatever to men accustomed to weigh, and examine, and cross-examine, and decide on proof, or at least from analogy, and never from an attestation, which the greatest criminals might as forcibly make. The power and election of these men Ferdinand and Isabella had confirmed. How could they, then, interfere in the present case, and shackle the judgment which they had endowed with authority, dispute and deny the sentence they had previously given permission to pronounce? Pardon they might, and restore to life and liberty; but the very act of pronouncing pardon supposed belief in and proclamation of guilt. There was but one thing which could save him and satisfy justice, and that was the sentence of "not guilty." For this reason Ferdinand refused every petition for Stanley's reprieve, hoping indeed, spite of all reason, that even at the eleventh hour evidence of his innocence would and must appear.
Stanley himself had no such hope. All his better and higher nature had been called forth by the awful and mysterious death of Morales, dealt too by his own sword—that sword which, in his wild passions, he had actually prayed might shed his blood. The film of passion had dropped alike from mental and bodily vision. He beheld his irritated feelings in their true light, and knew himself in thought a murderer. He would have sacrificed life itself, could he but have recalled the words of insult offered to one so noble; not for the danger to himself from their threatening nature, but for the injurious injustice done to the man from whom he had received a hundred acts of little unobtrusive kindnesses, and whom he had once revered as the model of every thing virtuous and noble—services which Morales had rendered him, felt gratefully perhaps at the time, but forgotten in the absorption of thought or press of occupation during his sojourn in Sicily, now rushed back upon him, marking him ingrate as well as dishonored. All that had happened he regarded as Divine judgment on an unspoken, unacted, but not the less encouraged sin. The fact that his sword had done the deed, convinced him that his destruction had been connived at, as well as that of Morales. A suspicion as to the designer, if not the actual doer of the deed, had indeed taken possession of him; but it was an idea so wild, so unfounded, that he dared not give it words.
From the idea of death, and such a death, his whole soul indeed revolted; but to avert it seemed so utterly impossible, that he bent his proud spirit unceasingly to its anticipation; and with the spiritual aid of the good and feeling Father Francis, in some degree succeeded. It was not the horror of his personal fate alone which bade him so shrink from death. Marie was free once more; nay, had from the moment of her dread avowal—made, he intuitively felt, to save him—become, if possible, dearer, more passionately loved than before. And, oh! how terrible is the anticipation of early death to those that love!—the only trial which bids even the most truly spiritual, yet while on earth still human heart, forget that if earth is loved and lovely, heaven must be lovelier still.
From Don Felix d'Estaban, his friendly warder, he heard of Isabella's humane intentions toward her; that her senses had been restored, and she was, to all appearance, the same in health as she had been since her husband's death; only evidently suffering more, which might be easily accounted for from the changed position in which the knowledge of her unbelief had placed her with all the members of Isabella's court; that the only agitation she had evinced was, when threatened with a visit from Father Francis—who, finding nothing in the mansion of Don Ferdinand Morales to confirm the truth of her confession, had declared his conviction that there must be some secret chamber destined for her especial use. As if shrinking from the interview he demanded, Marie had said to the Senora, to whose care she had been intrusted—"He need not seek me to obtain this information. For my husband's sake alone I concealed the faith in which I glory. Let Father Francis remove a sliding panel beneath the tapestry behind the couch in my sleeping apartment, and he will find not only all he seeks, but the surest proof of my husband's care and tenderness for me, unbeliever though he might deem me."
The discovery of this secret closet, Don Felix continued, had caused much marvel throughout the court. Where Morales had found her, or how he could have reconciled his conscience not only to make her his wife, but permit her the free exercise of a religion accursed in the sight both of God and man, under his own roof, were questions impossible to solve, or reconcile with the character of orthodox Catholicism he had so long borne. The examination had been conducted with the church's usual secrecy; the volumes of heresy and unbelief (it did not signify that the word of God was amongst them) burnt; the silver lamps and other ornaments melted down, to enrich, by an image of the virgin, the church of St. Francis; the recess itself purified with incense and sprinkled with holy water; the sign of the cross deeply burnt in the walls; and the panel which formed the secret entrance firmly fastened up, that its very existence should be forgotten. The matter, however, Don Felix added, was not publicly spoken of, as both the King and Queen, in conjunction with the Sub-Prior, seemed to wish all that had passed, in which Donna Marie was concerned, should be gradually forgotten. Don Ferdinand's vast possessions had, in consequence of his widow's being an unbeliever, and so having no power to inherit, reverted to the crown; but in case of Marie's conversion, of which Don Felix appeared to entertain little doubt, the greater part would be restored to her. Till then, Marie was kept in strict confinement in the palace; but all harsher measures Isabella had resolved to avoid.
This intelligence relieved Stanley's mind of one painful dread, while it unconsciously increased his wish to live. Marie free! a Catholic! what could come between them then? Must she not love him, else why seek to save him? And then again the mystery darkened round her. A wild suspicion as to the real reason of her having wedded Ferdinand, had flitted across his mind; but the words of Estaban so minutely repeated, seemed to banish it entirely; they alluded but to her husband's forbearing tenderness, felt the more intensely from its being extended by a zealous Catholic to one of a race usually so contemned and hated. In vain he tried to reconcile the seeming inconsistency of her conduct; his thoughts only became the more confused and painful, till even the remembrance of her self-devotion lost its power to soothe or to allay them.
When Don Felix again visited his prisoner, his countenance was so expressive of consternation, that Stanley had scarcely power to ask what had occurred. Marie had disappeared from the castle so strangely and mysteriously, that not a trace or clue could be discovered of her path. Consternation reigned within the palace; the King was full of wrath at the insult offered to his power; the Queen even more grieved than angry. The guards stationed without the chamber had declared on oath that no one had passed them; the Senoras Leon and Pas, who slept in the room adjoining, could tell nothing wherewith to explain the mystery. In the first paroxsym of alarm they had declared the night had passed as usual; but on cooler reflection they remembered starting from their sleep with the impression of a smothered cry, which having mingled with their dreams, and not being repeated, they had believed mere fancy. And this faint sound was the only sign, the only trace that her departure was not a voluntary act.
"Father Francis! the arm of the church!" gasped Stanley, as Don Felix paused in his recital, astonished at the effect of his words on the prisoner, whose very respiration seemed impeded.
"Father Francis has solemnly sworn," he replied, "that neither he nor any of his brethren had connived at an act of such especial disrespect to the sovereign power, and of injustice towards the Queen. Torquemada is still absent, or suspicion night rest on him—he is stern enough even for such a deed; but how could even he have withdrawn her from the castle without discovery?"
"Can she not have departed voluntarily?" inquired Stanley, with sudden hope. "The cry you mention may indeed have been but fancy. Is it not likely that fear as to her fate may have prompted her to seek safety in flight?"
"Her Grace thinks not, else some clue as to her path must, ere this, have been discovered. Besides, escape was literally impossible without the aid of magic, which however her accursed race know well how to use. The guards must have seen her, had she passed her own threshold in any human form. The casement was untouched, remaining exactly as the Senora Leon secured it with her own hand the preceding evening; and, even had she thence descended to the ground, she could have gone no further from the high and guarded walls. It may be magic: if so, and the devil hides himself in so fair a form, the saints preserve us! for we know not in whom next he will be hid." So spoke, gravely, seriously, undoubtingly, a wise and thoughtful Spanish noble, of the fifteenth century; and so then thought the whole European world. Stanley scarcely heard the last words; for in his mind, however sorcery might be synonymous with Judaism it certainly was not with Marie; and he could only realize the fact of the utter impossibility of a voluntary flight.
"Had the Queen seen her since her trial?" he inquired.
"She had not; a fact which deepens her distress; for she fancies had Marie been nearer her person, and aware of the full extent of her merciful intentions, this might have been averted. She believes that the smothered cry alluded to was really Donna Marie's; but, if so, what the dark power is, which has so trampled on the royal prerogative, is plunged in as impenetrable mystery as every thing else, in which Donna Marie has been concerned."
"Even the same dark power which seeks my destruction, and laid Morales low," replied Stanley, more as if thinking aloud than addressing his companion; "and when the clue to one mystery is found, the rest will follow. Some fiend from hell is at work around us. Morales is gone. Marie has followed, and I shall be the next; and then, perhaps, the demon's reign will end, and the saints of heaven triumph."
"Would to heaven a Jewess had never come amongst us," was the rejoinder; "there is always evil in their train." And the blood rushed to Arthur's cheek, his hand involuntarily clenched, and his eye glanced defiance towards Don Felix, as if, even at such a moment, insult even in thought towards Marie should not pass unquestioned; but he restrained himself, and the emotion was unnoticed.
From that day so engrossed were the thoughts of the prisoner with vain speculations as to the fate of Marie, that the fact of his own position remaining the same, and his hours of life waning fast, seemed actually unheeded. From Don Felix, in various visits, he heard that Marie was no longer publicly spoken of; the excitement occasioned alike by her avowal and disappearance was fast fading from the imagination of the populace. The public jousts and festivals, intended to celebrate the visit of the sovereigns, but which Morales's death and the events ensuing had so painfully suspended, were recommencing, and men flocked to them, as glad to escape from the mourning and mystery which had held sway so long.
And now only three days intervened ere the expiration of the given month; and each day did the Sub-Prior of St. Francis pass with the prisoner, exhorting, comforting, and strengthening him for the dread passage through which it was now too evident his soul must pass to eternity. It was with difficulty and pain, that Stanley could even then so cease to think of Marie, as to prepare himself with fitting sobriety and humility for the fate impending; but the warm sympathy of Father Francis, whose fine feelings had never been blunted by a life of rigid seclusion, won him to listen and to join in his prayers, and, gradually weaning his thoughts from their earthly resting, raised them to that heaven which, if he truly repented of sin, the good father assured him, was fast opening for him. Under the inviolable seal of confession, Arthur acknowledged his deep and long-cherished love for Marie, his dislike to her husband, which naturally followed the discovery of her marriage, and the evil passions thence arising; but he never wavered in the reiteration of his innocence; adding, that he reproached no man with his death. The sentence was just according to the appearances against him. Had he himself been amongst his judges, his own sentence would have been the same. Yet still he was innocent; and Father Francis so believed him that, after pronouncing absolution and blessing, he hastened from the prisoner to the King to implore a yet longer reprieve. But Ferdinand, though more moved by the Prior's recital than he chose to display, remained firm; he had pledged his kingly word to the chief of the Santa Hermandad that the award of justice should not be waived without proof of innocence, and he could not draw back. One chance only he granted, urged to do so by an irresistible impulse, which how often comes we know not wherefore, till the event marks it as the whisper of some guardian angel, who has looked into the futurity concealed from us. The hour of the execution had been originally fixed for the sixth hour of the morning; it was postponed till noon.
The morning dawned, and with its first beams came Father Francis to the prisoner. He found him calm and resigned: his last thought of earth was to commend Marie, if ever found, to the holy father's care, conjuring him to deal gently and mercifully with a spirit so broken, and lead her to the sole fountain of peace by kindness, not by wrath; and to tell her how faithfully he had loved her to the last. Much affected, Father Francis promised—aye, even to protect, if possible, an unbeliever. And Stanley once mere knelt in prayer, every earthly thought at rest. The last quarter-bell had chimed; and ere it ceased, the step of Don Felix was heard in the passage, followed by the heavy tramp of the guard. The Prior looked eagerly in the noble's countenance as he entered, hoping even then to read reprieve; but the stern yet sad solemnity on Don Felix's face betrayed the hope was vain. The hour had indeed come, and Arthur Stanley was led forth to death!
"Oh! blissful days, When all men worship God as conscience wills! Far other times our fathers' grandsires knew. What tho' the skeptic's scorn hath dared to soil The record of their fame! What tho' the men Of worldly minds have dared to stigmatize The sister-cause Religion and the Law With Superstition's name! Yet, yet their deeds, Their constancy in torture and in death— These on Tradition's tongue shall live; these shall On History's honest page be pictur'd bright To latest time."
Retrospection is not pleasant in a narrative; but, if Marie has indeed excited any interest in our readers, they will forgive the necessity, and look back a few weeks ere they again arrive at the eventful day with which our last chapter closed. All that Don Felix had reported concerning the widow of Morales was correct. The first stunning effects of her dread avowal were recovered, sense was entirely restored, but the short-lived energy had gone. The trial to passively endure is far more terrible than that which is called upon to act and do. She soon discovered that, though nursed and treated with kindness, she was a prisoner in her own apartments. Wish to leave them she had none, and scarcely the physical strength; but to sit idly down under the pressure of a double dread—the prisoner's fate and her own sentence—to have no call for energy, not a being for whom to rouse herself and live, not one for whose sake she might forget herself and win future happiness by present exertion; the Past, one yearning memory for the husband, who had so soothed and cherished her, when any other would have cast her from his heart as a worthless thing; the Present, fraught with thoughts she dared not think, and words she might not breathe; the very prayer for Stanley's safety checked—for what could he be to her?—the Future shrouded in a pall so dense, she could not read a line of its dark page, for the torch of Hope was extinguished, and it is only by her light we can look forward; Isabella's affection apparently lost for ever; was it marvel energy and hope had so departed, or that a deadening despondency seemed to crush her heart and sap the very springs of life?
But in the midst of that dense gloom one ray there was, feeble indeed at first as if human suffering had deadened even that, but brightening and strengthening with every passing day. It was the sincerity of her faith—the dearer, more precious to its followers, from the scorn and condemnation, in which it was held by man.
The fact that the most Catholic kingdom, of Spain, was literally peopled with secret Jews, brands this unhappy people, with a degree of hypocrisy, in addition to the various other evil propensities with which they have been so plentifully charged. Nay, even amongst themselves in modern times, this charge has gained ascendency; and the romance-writer who would make use of this extraordinary truth, to vividly picture the condition of the Spanish Jews, is accused of vilifying the nation, by reporting practices, opposed to the upright dictates of the religion of the Lord. It is well to pronounce such judgment now, that the liberal position which we occupy in most lands, would render it the height of dissimulation, and hypocrisy, to conceal our faith; but to judge correctly of the secret adherence to Judaism and public profession of Catholicism which characterized our ancestors in Spain, we must transport ourselves not only to the country but to the time, and recall the awfully degraded, crushing, and stagnating position which acknowledged Judaism occupied over the whole known world. As early as 600—as soon, in fact, as the disputes and prosecutions of Arian against Catholic, and Catholic against Arian, had been checked by the whole of Spain being subdued and governed by Catholic kings—intolerance began to work against the Jews, who had been settled in vast numbers in Spain since the reign of the Emperor Adrian; some authorities assert still earlier.[A] They were, therefore, nearly the original colonists of the country, and regarded it with almost as much attachment as they had felt towards Judea. When persecution began to work, "90,000 Jews were compelled to receive the sacrament of baptism," the bodies of the more obstinate tortured, and their fortunes confiscated; and yet—a remarkable instance of inconsistency—they were not permitted to leave Spain; and this species of persecution continued from 600 downwards. Once or twice edicts of expulsion were issued, but speedily recalled; the tyrants being unwilling to dismiss victims whom they delighted to torture, or deprive themselves of industrious slaves over whom they might exercise a lucrative oppression; and a statute was enacted, "that the Jews who had been baptized should be constrained, for the honor of the church, to persevere in the external practice of a religion which they inwardly disbelieved and detested."[B]
[Footnote A: Basnage asserts that the Jews were introduced into Spain by the fleet of Soloman, and the arms of Nebuchadnezzar, and that Hadrian transported forty thousand families of the tribe of Judah, and ten thousand of the tribe of Benjamin, etc.]
[Footnote B: "Gibbon's Decline and Fall," vol. 6, chap. xxxvii, from which all the previous sentences in inverted commas have been extracted.]
How, then, can compelled obedience to this statute be termed hypocrisy? Persecution, privation, tyranny, may torture and destroy the body, but they cannot force the mind to the adoption of, and belief in tenets, from which the very treatment they commanded must urge it to revolt. Of the 90,000 Jews forcibly baptized by order of Sisebut, and constrained to the external profession of Catholicism, not ten, in all probability, became actually Christians. And yet how would it have availed them to relapse into the public profession of the faith they so obeyed and loved in secret? To leave the country was utterly impossible. It is easy to talk now of such proceedings being their right course of acting, when every land is open to the departure and entrance of every creed; but it was widely different then, and, even if they could have quitted Spain, there was not a spot of ground, in the whole European and Asiatic world, where persecution, extortion, and banishment would not equally have been their doom. Constant relapses into external as well as internal Judaism, there were, but they were but the signal for increased misery to the whole nation; and by degrees they ceased. It was from the forcible baptism of the 90,000 Hebrews, by Sisebut, that we may trace the origin of the secret Jews. From father to son, from mother to daughter, the solemn secret descended, and gradually spread, still in its inviolable nature, through every rank and every profession, from the highest priest to the lowest friar, the general to the common soldier, the noble to the peasant, over the whole land. There were indeed some few in Spain, before the final edict of expulsion in 1492, who were Hebrews in external profession as well as internal observance; but their condition was so degraded, so scorned, so exposed to constant suffering, that it was not in human nature voluntarily to sink down to them, when, by the mere continuance of external Catholicism—which from its universality, its long existence, and being in fact a rigidly enforced statute of the state, could not be regarded either as hypocrisy or sin—they could take their station amongst the very highest and noblest of the land, and rise to eminence and power in any profession, civil, military, or religious, which they might prefer. The subject is so full of philosophical inquiry, that in the limits of a romance we cannot possibly do it justice; but to accuse the secret Jews of Spain of hypocrisy, of departing from the pure odinances of their religion, because compelled to simulate Catholicism, is taking indeed but a one-handed, short-sighted view of an extensive and intensely interesting topic. We may often hope for the present by considering the changes of the past; but to attempt to pronounce judgment on the sentiments of the past by reasoning of the present, when the mind is always advancing, is one of the weakest and idlest fallacies that ever entered the human breast.