"Why, where am I?" I inquired, with alarm.
"Where are you?" replied he. "Why, in Bedlam!"
As I afterwards discovered, my uncle had had me confined upon the plea that I was a young man who was deranged with an idea that his name was Simple, and that he was the heir to the title and estates, and that it was more from the fear of my coming to some harm than from any ill-will toward the poor young man that he wished me to remain in the hospital and be taken care of. Under these circumstances, I remained in Bedlam for one year and eight months.
A chance visit from General O'Brien, a prisoner on parole, who was accompanied by his friend, Lord Belmore, secured my release; and shortly afterwards I commenced an action for false imprisonment against Lord Privilege. But the sudden death of my uncle stopped the action, and gave me the title and estates. The return of my old messmate, Captain O'Brien, who had just been made Sir Terence O'Brien, in consequence of his successes in the East Indies, added to my happiness.
I found that Sir Terence had been in love with my sister Ellen from the day I had first taken him home, and that Ellen was equally in love with him; so when Celeste consented to my entreaties that our wedding should take place six weeks after my assuming the title, O'Brien took the hint and spoke.
Both unions have been attended with as much happiness as this world can afford. O'Brien and I are blessed with children, until we can now muster a large Christmas party in the two families.
Such is the history of Peter Simple, Viscount Privilege, no longer the fool, but the head, of the family.
* * * * *
Melmoth the Wanderer
The romances of Charles Robert Maturin mark the transition stage between the old crude "Gothic" tales of terror and the subtler and weirder treatment of the supernatural that had its greatest master in Edgar Allan Poe. Maturin was born at Dublin in 1782, and died there on October 30, 1824. He became a clergyman of the Church of Ireland; but his leanings were literary rather than clerical, and his first story, "Montorio" (1807), was followed by others that brought him increasing popularity. Over-zealousness on a friend's behalf caused him heavy financial losses, for which he strove to atone by an effort to write for the stage. Thanks to the good offices of Scott and Byron, his tragedy, "Bertram," was acted at Drury Lane in 1816, and proved successful. But his other dramatic essays were failures, and he returned to romance. In 1820 was published his masterpiece, "Melmoth the Wanderer," the central figure of which is acknowledged to be one of the great Satanic creations of literature. The book has been more appreciated in France than in England; one of its most enthusiastic admirers was Balzac, who paid it the compliment of writing a kind of sequel to it.
"I want a glass of wine," groaned the old man; "it would keep me alive a little longer."
John Melmoth offered to get some for him. The dying man clutched the blankets around him, and looked strangely at his nephew.
"Take this key," he said. "There is wine in that closet."
John knew that no one but his uncle had entered the closet for sixty years—his uncle who had spent his life in greedily heaping treasure upon treasure, and who, now, on his miserable death-bed, grudged the clergyman's fee for the last sacrament.
When John stepped into the closet, his eyes were instantly riveted by a portrait that hung on the wall. There was nothing remarkable about costume or countenance, but the eyes, John felt, were such as one feels they wish they had never seen. In the words of Southey, "they gleamed with demon light." John held the candle to the portrait, and could distinguish the words on the border: "Jno. Melmoth, anno 1646." He gazed in stupid horror until recalled by his uncle's cough.
"You have seen the portrait?" whispered old Melmoth.
"Well, you will see him again—he is still alive."
Later in the night, when the miser was at the point of death, John saw a figure enter the room, deliberately look round, and retire. The face of the figure was the face of the portrait! After a moment of terror, John sprang up to pursue, but the shrieks of his uncle recalled him. The agony was nearly ended; in a few minutes old Melmoth was dead.
In the will, which made John a wealthy man, there was an instruction to him to destroy the portrait in the closet, and also to destroy a manuscript that he would find in the mahogany chest under the portrait; he was to read the manuscript if he pleased.
On a cold and gloomy evening John entered the closet, found the manuscript, and with a feeling of superstitious awe, began to read it. The task was a hard one, for the manuscript was discoloured and mutilated, and much was quite indecipherable.
John was able to gather, however, that it was the narrative of an Englishman, named Stanton, who had travelled in Spain in the seventeenth century. On one night of storm, Stanton had seen carried past him the bodies of two lovers who had been killed by lightning. As he watched, a man had stepped forward, had looked calmly at the bodies, and had burst into a horrible demoniac laugh. Stanton saw the man several times, always in circumstances of horror; he learnt that his name was Melmoth. This being exercised a kind of fascination over Stanton, who searched for him far and wide. Ultimately, Stanton was confined in a madhouse by relatives who wanted to secure his property; and from the madhouse he was offered, but refused, release by Melmoth as a result of some bargain, the nature of which was not revealed.
After reading this story, John Melmoth raised his eyes, and he started involuntarily as they encountered those of the portrait. With a shudder, he tore the portrait from its frame, and rushed into his room, where he flung its fragments on the fire.
The mansion was close by the iron-bound coast of Wicklow, in Ireland, and on the next night John was summoned forth by the news that a vessel was in distress. He saw immediately that the ship was doomed. She lay beating upon a rock, against which the tempest hurled breakers that dashed their foam to a height of thirty feet.
In the midst of the tumult John descried, standing a little above him on the rock, a figure that showed neither sympathy nor terror, uttered no sound, offered no help. A few minutes afterwards he distinctly heard the words, "Let them perish!"
Just then a tremendous wave dashing over the vessel extorted a cry of horror from the spectators. When the cry had ceased, Melmoth heard a laugh that chilled his blood. It was from the figure that stood above him. He recalled Stanton's narrative. In a blind fury of eagerness, he began to climb the rock; but a stone gave way in his grasp, and he was hurled into the roaring deep below.
It was several days before he recovered his senses, and he then learned that he had been rescued by the one survivor of the wreck, a Spaniard, who had clutched at John and dragged him ashore with him. As soon as John had recovered somewhat, he hastened to thank his deliverer, who was lodged in the mansion. Having expressed his gratitude, Melmoth was about to retire, when the Spaniard detained him.
"Senor," he said, "I understand your name is"—he gasped—"Melmoth?"
"Had you," said the Spaniard rapidly, "a relative who was, about one hundred and forty years ago, said to be in Spain?"
"I believe—I fear—I had."
"Are you his descendant? Are you the repository of that terrible secret which—?" He gave way to uncontrollable agitation. Gradually he recovered himself, and went on. "It is singular that accident should have placed me within the reach of the only being from whom I could expect either sympathy or relief in the extraordinary circumstances in which I am placed—circumstances which I did not believe I should ever disclose to mortal man, but which I shall disclose to you."
II.—The Spaniard's Story
I am, as you know, a native of Spain; but you are yet to learn that I am a descendant of one of its noblest houses—the house of Moncada. While I was yet unborn, my mother vowed that I should be devoted to religion. As the time drew near when I was to forsake the world and retire to a monastery, I revolted in horror at the career before me, and refused to take the vows. But my family were completely under the influence of a cunning and arrogant priest, who threatened God's curse upon me if I disobeyed; and ultimately, with a despairing heart, I consented.
"The horror with which I had anticipated monastic life was nothing to my disgust and misery at the realisation of its evils. The narrowness and littleness of it, the hypocrisies, all filled me with revolt; and it was only by brooding over possibilities of escape that I could avoid utter despair. At length a ray of hope came to me. My younger brother, a lad of spirit, who had quarrelled with the priest who dominated our family, succeeded with great difficulty in communicating with me, and promised that a civil process should be undertaken for the reclamation of my vows.
"But presently my hopes were destroyed by the news that my civil process had failed. Of the desolation of mind into which this failure plunged me, I can give no account—despair has no diary. I remember that I used to walk for hours in the garden, where alone I could avoid the neighbourhood of the other monks. It happened that the fountain of the garden was out of repair, and the workmen engaged upon it had had to excavate a passage under the garden wall. But as this was guarded by day and securely locked by night, it offered but a tantalising image of escape and freedom.
"One evening, as I sat gloomily by the door of the passage, I heard my name whispered. I answered eagerly, and a paper was thrust under the door. I knew the handwriting—it was that of my brother Juan. From it I learned that Juan was still planning my escape, and had found a confederate within the monastery—a parricide who had turned monk to evade his punishment.
"Juan had bribed him heavily, yet I feared to trust him until he confided to me that he himself also intended to escape. At length our plans were completed; my companion had secured the key of a door in the chapel that led through the vaults to a trap-door opening into the garden. A rope ladder flung by Juan over the wall would give us liberty.
"At the darkest hour of the night we passed through the door, and crawled through the dreadful passages beneath the monastery. I reached the top of the ladder-a lantern flashed in my eyes. I dropped down into my brother's arms.
"We hurried away to where a carriage was waiting. I sprang into it.
"'He is safe,' cried Juan, following me.
"'But are you?' answered a voice behind him. He staggered and fell back. I leapt down beside him. I was bathed in his blood. He was dead. One moment of wild, fearful agony, and I lost consciousness.
"When I came to myself, I was lying in an apartment not unlike my cell, but without a crucifix. Beside me stood my companion in flight.
"'Where am I?' I asked.
"'You are in the prison of the Inquisition,' he replied, with a mocking laugh.
"He had betrayed me! He had been all the while in league with the superior.
"I was tried again and again by the Inquisition—, charged not only with the crime of escaping from the convent and breaking my religious vows, but with the murder of my brother. My spirits sank with each appearance before the judges. I foresaw myself doomed to die at the stake.
"One night, and for several nights afterwards, a visitor presented himself to me. He came and went apparently without help or hindrance—as if he had had a master-key to all the recesses of the prison. And yet he seemed no agent of the Inquisition—indeed, he denounced it with caustic satire and withering severity. But what struck me most of all was the preternatural glare of his eyes. I felt that I had never beheld such eyes blazing in a mortal face. It was strange, too, that he constantly referred to events that must have happened long before his birth as if he had actually witnessed them.
"On the night before my final trial, I awoke from a hideous dream of burning alive to behold the stranger standing beside me. With an impulse I could not resist, I flung myself before him and begged him to save me. He promised to do so—on one awful and incommunicable condition. My horror brought me courage; I refused, and he left me.
"Next day I was sentenced to death at the stake. But before my fearful doom could be accomplished, I was free—and by that very agency of fire that was to have destroyed me. The prison of the Inquisition was burned to the ground, and in the confusion I escaped.
"When my strength was exhausted by running through the deserted streets, I leaned against a door; it gave way, and I found myself within the house. Concealed, I heard two voices—an old man's and a young man's. The old man was confessing to the young one—his son—that he was a Jew, and entreating the son to adopt the faith of Israel.
"I knew I was in the presence of a pretended convert—one of those Jews who profess to become Catholics through fear of the Inquisition. I had become possessed of a valuable secret, and instantly acted upon it. I burst out upon them, and threatened that unless the old man gave me hiding I should betray him. At first he was panic-stricken, then, hastily promising me protection, he conducted me within the house. In an inner room he raised a portion of the floor; we descended and went along a dark passage, at the end of which my guide opened a door, through which I passed. He closed it behind me, and withdrew.
"I was in an underground chamber, the walls of which were lined with skeletons, bottles containing strange misshapen creatures, and other hideous objects. I shuddered as I looked round.
"'Why fearest thou these?' asked a voice.' Surely the implements of the healing art should cause no terror.'
"I turned and beheld a man immensely old seated at a table. His eyes, although faded with years, looked keenly at me.
"'Thou hast escaped from the clutches of the Inquisition?' he asked me.
"'Yes,' I answered.
"'And when in its prison,' he continued, leaning forward eagerly, 'didst thou face a tempter who offered thee deliverance at a dreadful price?'
"'It was so,' I answered, wondering.
"'My prayer, then, is granted,' he said. 'Christian youth, thou art safe here. None save mine own Jewish people know of my existence. And I have employment for thee.'
"He showed me a huge manuscript.
"'This,' he said, 'is written in characters that the officers of the Inquisition understand not. But the time has come for transcribing it, and my own eyes, old with age, are unequal to the labour. Yet it was necessary that the work should be done by one who has learnt the dread secret.'
"A glance at the manuscript showed me that the language was Spanish, but the characters Greek. I began to read it, nor did I raise my eyes until the reading was ended."
III.—The Romance of Immalee
"The manuscript told how a Spanish merchant had set forth for the East Indies, taking his wife and son with him, and leaving an infant daughter behind. He prospered, and decided to settle in the East; he sent for his daughter, who came with her nurse. But their ship was wrecked; the child and the nurse alone escaped, and were stranded on an uninhabited island near the mouth of the Hooghly. The nurse died; but the child survived, and grew up a wild and beautiful daughter of nature, dwelling in lonely innocence, and revered as a goddess by the natives who watched her from afar.
"To the Island, when Immalee (so she called herself) was growing into pure and lovely womanhood, there came a stranger—pale-faced, wholly different from the dark-skinned people she had seen from the shores of the island. She welcomed him with innocent joy. He came often; he told her of the outer world, of its wickedness and its miseries. She, too untutored to realise the sinister bitterness of his tone, listened with rapt attention and sympathy. She loved him. She told him that he was her all, that she would cling to him wheresoever he went. He looked at her with stern sorrow; he left her abruptly, nor did he ever visit the island again.
"Immalee was rescued, her origin was discovered, and she became Isidora de Aliaga, the carefully nurtured daughter of prosperous and devout Spanish parents. The island and the stranger were memories of the past. Yet one day, in the streets of Madrid, she beheld once more the well-remembered eyes. Soon afterwards she was visited by the stranger. How he entered and left her home when he came to her—and again he came often—she could not tell. She feared him, and yet she loved him.
"At length her father, who had been on another voyage, announced that he was returning, and bringing with him a suitable husband for his newly-found daughter. Isidora, in panic, besought the stranger to save her. He was unwilling. At last, in response to her tears, he consented. They were wedded, so Isidora believed, by a hermit in a ruined monastery. She returned home, and he renewed his visits, promising to reveal their marriage in the fullness of time.
"Meanwhile, tales had reached her father's ears of a malignant being who was permitted to wander over the earth and tempt men in dire extremity with release from their troubles as the result of their concluding an unspeakable bargain. This being himself appeared to the father, and warned him that his daughter was in danger.
"He returned, and pressed on with preparations for the bridal ceremony. Isidora entreated her husband to rescue her. He promised, and went away. A masked ball was given in celebration of the nuptials. At the hour of twelve Isidora felt a touch upon her shoulder. It was her husband. They hastened away, but not unperceived. Her brother called on the pair to stop, and drew his sword. In an instant he lay bleeding and lifeless. The family and the guests crowded round in horror. The stranger waved them back with his arm. They stood motionless, as if rooted to the ground.
"'Isidora, fly with me!' he said. She looked at him, looked at the body of her brother, and sank in a swoon. The stranger passed out amid the powerless onlookers.
"Isidora, the confessed bride of an unhallowed being, was taken before the Inquisition, and sentenced to life-long imprisonment. But she did not survive long; and ere she died, her husband appeared to her, and offered her freedom, happiness, and love—at a dreadful price she would not pay. Such was the history of the ill-fated love of Immalee for a being to whom mortal love was a boon forbidden."
IV.—The Fate of Melmoth
When Moncada had completed the tale of Immalee, he announced his intention of describing how he had left the house of the Jewish doctor, and what was his purpose in coming to Ireland. A time was fixed for the continuation of the recital.
The night when Moncada prepared to resume his story was a dark and stormy one. The two men drew close to the fire.
"Hush!" suddenly said Moncada.
John Melmoth listened, and half rose from his chair.
"We are watched!" he exclaimed.
At that moment the door opened, and a figure appeared at it. The figure advanced slowly to the centre of the room. Moncada crossed himself, and attempted to pray. John Melmoth, nailed to his chair, gazed upon the form that stood before him—it was indeed Melmoth the Wanderer. But the eyes were dim; those beacons lit by an infernal fire were no longer visible.
"Mortals," said the Wanderer, in strange and solemn accents, "you are here to talk of my destiny. That distiny is accomplished. Your ancestor has come home," he continued, turning to John Melmoth. "If my crimes have exceeded those of mortality, so will my punishment. And the time for that punishment is come.
"It is a hundred and fifty years since I first probed forbidden secrets. I have now to pay the penalty. None can participate in my destiny but with his own consent. None has consented. It has been reported of me, as you know, that I obtained from the enemy of souls a range of existence beyond the period of mortality—a power to pass over space with the swiftness of thought—to encounter perils unharmed, to penetrate into dungeons, whose bolts were as flax and tow at my touch. It has been said that this power was accorded to me that I might be enabled to tempt wretches at their fearful hour of extremity with the promise of deliverance and immunity on condition of their exchanging situations with me.
"No one has ever changed destinies with Melmoth the Wanderer. I have traversed the world in search, and no one to gain that world would lose his own soul!" He paused. "Let me, if possible, obtain an hour's repose. Ay, repose—sleep!" he repeated, answering the astonishment of his hearers' looks. "My existence is still human!"
And a ghastly and derisive smile wandered over his features as he spoke. John Melmoth and Moncada quitted the apartment, and the Wanderer, sinking back in his chair slept profoundly.
The two men did not dare to approach the door until noon next day. The Wanderer started up, and they saw with horror the change that had come over him. The lines of extreme age were visible in every feature.
"My hour is come," he said. "Leave me alone. Whatever noises you may hear in the course of the awful night that is approaching, come not near, at peril of your lives. Be warned! Retire!"
They passed that day in intense anxiety, and at night had no thought of repose. At midnight sounds of indescribable horror began to issue from the Wanderer's apartment, shrieks of supplication, yells of blasphemy— they could not tell which. The sounds suddenly ceased. The two men hastened into the room. It was empty.
A small door leading to a back staircase was open, and near it they discovered the trace of footsteps of a person who had been walking in damp sand or clay. They traced the footsteps down the stairs, through the garden, and across a field to a rock that overlooked the sea.
Through the furze that clothed this rock, there was a kind of track as if a person had dragged his way, or been dragged, through it. The two men gained the summit of the rock; the wide, waste, engulfing ocean was beneath. On a crag below, something hung as floating to the blast. Melmoth clambered down and caught it. It was the handkerchief which the Wanderer had worn about his neck the preceding night. That was the last trace of the Wanderer.
Melmoth and Moncada exchanged looks of silent horror, and returned slowly home.
* * * * *
DIEGO DE MENDOZA
Lazarillo de Tormes
Don Diego Hurtado de Mendoza's career was hardly of a kind that would be ordinarily associated with a lively romance of vagabondage. A grandee of high birth, an ambassador of the Emperor Charles V., an accomplished soldier and a learned historian—such was the creator of the hungry rogue Lazarillo, and the founder of the "picaresque" school of fiction, or the romance of roguery, which is not yet extinct. Don Diego de Mendoza, born early in 1503, was educated at the University of Salamanca, and spent most of the rest of his days in courts and camps. He died at Madrid in April 1575. Although written during Mendoza's college days, "Lazarillo de Tormes" did not appear until 1533, when it was published anonymously at Antwerp. During the following year it was reprinted at Bruges, but it fell under the ban of the Inquisition, and subsequent editions were considerably expurgated. Such was its popularity that it was continued by inferior authors after Mendoza's death.
I.—The Blind Man
You must know, in the first place, that my name is Lazarillo de Tormes, and that I am the son of Thomas Gonzalez and Antonia Perez, natives of Tejares, a village of Salamanca. My father was employed to superintend the operations of a water-mill on the river Tormes, from which I took my surname; and I had only reached my ninth year, when he was taken into custody for administering certain copious, but injudicious, bleedings to the sacks of customers. Being thrown out of employment by this disaster, he joined an armament then preparing against the Moors in the quality of mule-driver to a gentleman; and in that expedition he, along with his master, finished his life and services together.
My widowed mother hired a small place in the city of Salamanca, and opened an eating-house for the accommodation of students. It happened some time afterwards that a blind man came to lodge at the house, and thinking that I should do very well to lead him about, asked my mother to part with me. He promised to receive me not as a servant, but as a son; and thus I left Salamanca with my blind and aged master. He was as keen as an eagle in his own calling. He knew prayers suitable for all occasions, and could repeat them with a devout and humble countenance; he could prognosticate; and with respect to the medicinal art, he would tell you that Galen was an ignoramus compared with him. By these means his profits were very considerable.
With all this, however, I am sorry to say that I never met with so avaricious and so wicked an old curmudgeon; he allowed me almost daily to die of hunger, without troubling himself about my necessities; and, to say the truth, if I had not helped myself by means of a ready wit I should have closed my account from sheer starvation.
The old man was accustomed to carry his food in a sort of linen knapsack, secured at the mouth by a padlock; and in adding to or taking from his store he used such vigilance that it was almost impossible to cheat him of a single morsel. By means of a small rent, however, which I slyly effected in one of the seams of the bag, I helped myself to the choicest pieces.
Whenever we ate, he kept a jar of wine near him; and I adopted the practice of bestowing on it sundry loving though stolen embraces. The fervency of my attachment was soon discovered in the deficiency of the wine, and the old man tied the jar to himself by the handle. I now procured a large straw, which I dipped into the mouth of the jar; but the old traitor must have heard me drink with it, for he placed the jar between his knees, keeping the mouth closed with his hand.
I then bored a small hole in the bottom of the jar, and closed it very delicately with wax. As the poor old man sat over the fire, with the jar between his knees, the heat melted the wax, and I, placing my mouth underneath, received the whole contents of the jar. The old boy was so enraged and surprised that he thought the devil himself had been at work. But he discovered the hole; and when next day I placed myself under the jar, he brought the jar down with full force on my mouth. Nearly all my teeth were broken, and my face was horribly cut with the fragments of the broken vessel.
After this, he continually ill-treated me; on the slightest occasion he would flog me without mercy. If any humane person interfered, he immediately recounted the history of the jar; they would laugh, and say, "Thrash him well, good man; he deserves it richly!" I determined to revenge myself on the old tyrant, and seized an opportunity on a rainy day when a stream was flowing down the street. I took him to a point where the stream passed a stone pillar, told him that the water was narrowest there, and invited him to jump. He jumped accordingly, and gave his poor old pate such a smash against the pillar that he fell senseless. I took to my heels as swiftly as possible; nor did I even trouble to inquire what became of him.
The next day I went to a place called Maqueda, where, as it were in punishment for my evil deeds, I fell in with a certain priest. I accosted him for alms, when he inquired whether I knew how to assist at mass. I answered that I did, which was true, for the blind man had taught me. The priest, therefore, engaged me on the spot.
There is an old proverb which speaks of getting out of the frying-pan into the fire, which was indeed my unhappy case in this change of masters. This priest was, without exception, the most niggardly of all miserable devils I have ever met with. He had a large old chest, the key of which he always carried about him; and when the charity bread came from the church, he would with his own hands deposit it in the chest and turn the key. The only other eatable we had was a string of onions, of which every fourth day I was allowed one. Five farthings' worth of meat was his allowance for dinner and supper. It is true he divided the broth with me; but my share of the meat I might have put in my eye instead of my mouth, and have been none the worse for it; but sometimes, by good luck, I got a little morsel of bread.
At the end of three weeks I was so exhausted with sheer hunger that I could hardly stand on my legs. One day, when my miserable, covetous thief of a master had gone out, an angel, in the likeness of a tinker, knocked at the door, and inquired whether I had anything to mend. Suddenly a light flashed upon me. "I have lost the key of this chest," said I, "can you fit it?" He drew forth a bunch of keys, fitted it, and lo! the lid of the chest arose. "I have no money," I said to my preserver, "but give me the key and help yourself." He helped himself, and so, when he had gone, did I.
But it was not predestined for me that such good luck should continue long; for on the third day I beheld the priest turning and counting the loaves over and over again. At last he said, "If I were not assured of the security of this chest, I should say that somebody had stolen my bread; but from this day I shall count the loaves; there remain now exactly nine and a piece."
"May nine curses light upon you, you miserable beggar!" said I to myself. The utmost I dared do, for some days, was to nibble here and there a morsel of the crust. At last it occurred to me that the chest was old and in parts broken. Might it not be supposed that rats had made an entrance? I therefore picked one loaf after another until I made up a tolerable supply of crumbs, which I ate like so many sugar-plums.
The priest, when he returned, beheld the havoc with dismay.
"Confound the rats!" quoth he. "There is no keeping anything from them." I fared well at dinner, for he pared off all the places which he supposed the rats had nibbled at, and gave them to me, saying, "There, eat that; rats are very clean animals." But I received another shock when I beheld my tormentor nailing pieces of wood over all the holes in the chest. All I could do was to scrape other holes with an old knife; and so it went on until the priest set a trap for the rats, baiting it with bits of cheese that he begged from his neighbours. I did not nibble my bread with less relish because I added thereto the bait from the rat-trap. The priest, almost beside himself with astonishment at finding the bread nibbled, the bait gone, and no rat in the trap, consulted his neighbours, who suggested, to his great alarm, that the thief must be a snake.
For security, I kept my precious key in my mouth—which I could do without inconvenience, as I had been in the habit of carrying in my mouth the coins I had stolen from my former blind master. But one night, when I was fast asleep, it was decreed by an evil destiny that the key should be placed in such a position in my mouth that my breath caused a loud whistling noise. My master concluded that this must be the hissing of the snake; he arose and stole with a club in his hand towards the place whence the sound proceeded; then, lifting the club, he discharged with all his force a blow on my unfortunate head. When he had fetched a light, he found me moaning, with the tell-tale key protruding from my mouth.
"Thank God," he exclaimed, "that the rats and snakes which have so long devoured my substance are at last discovered!"
As soon as my wounds were healed, he turned me out of his door as if I had been in league with the evil one.
III.—The Poor Gentleman
By the assistance of some kind people I made my way to Toledo, where I sought my living by begging from door to door. But one day I encountered a certain esquire; he was well dressed, and walked with an air of ease and consequence. "Are you seeking a master, my boy?" he said. I replied that I was, and he bade me follow him.
He led me through a dark and dismal entry to a house absolutely bare of furniture; and the hopes I had formed when he engaged me were further depressed when he told me that he had already breakfasted, and that it was not his custom to eat again till the evening. Disconsolately I began to eat some crusts that I had about me.
"Come here, boy," said my master. "What are you eating?" I showed him the bread. "Upon my life, but this seems exceedingly nice bread," he exclaimed; and seizing the largest piece, he attacked it fiercely.
When night came on, and I was expecting supper, my master said, "The market is distant, and the city abounds with rogues; we had better pass the night as we can, and to-morrow we will fare better. Nothing will ensure length of life so much as eating little."
"Then truly," said I to myself in despair, "I shall never die."
I spent the night miserably on a hard cane bedstead without a mattress. In the morning my master arose, washed his hands and face, dried them on his garments for want of a towel, and then carefully dressed himself, with my assistance. Having girded on his sword, he went forth to hear mass, without saying a word about breakfast. "Who would believe," I said, observing his erect bearing and air of gentility as he walked up the street, "that such a fine gentleman had passed the whole of yesterday without any other food than a morsel of bread? How many are there in this world who voluntarily suffer more for their false idea of honour, than they would undergo for their hopes of an hereafter!"
The day advanced, and my master did not return; my hopes of dinner disappeared like those of breakfast. In desperation, I went out begging, and such was the talent I had acquired in this art that I came back with four pounds of bread, a piece of cow-heel, and some tripe. I found my master at home, and he did not disapprove of what I had done.
"It is much better," said he, "to ask, for the love of God, than to steal. I only charge you on no account to say you live with me."
When I sat down to supper, my poor master eyed me so longingly that I resolved to invite him to partake of my repast; yet I wondered whether he would take it amiss if I did so. But my wishes towards him were soon gratified.
"Ah!" said he; "cow-heel is delicious. There is nothing I am more fond of."
"Then taste it, sir," said I, "and try whether this is as good as you have eaten." Presently he was grinding the food as ravenously as a greyhound.
In this manner we passed eight or ten days, my master taking the air every day with the most perfect ease of a man of fashion, and returning home to feast on the contributions of the charitable, levied by poor Lazaro. Whereas my former masters declined to feed me, this one expected that I should maintain him. But I was much more sorry for him than angry at him, and with all his poverty I found greater satisfaction in serving him than either of the others.
At length a man came to demand the rent, which of course my master could not pay. He answered the man very courteously that he was going out to change a piece of gold. But this time he made his exit for good. Next morning the man came to seize my master's effects, and on finding there were none, he had me arrested. But I was soon found to be innocent, and released. Thus did I lose my third and poorest master.
IV.—The Dealer in Indulgences
My fourth master was a holy friar, eager in the pursuit of every kind of secular business and amusement. He kept me so incessantly on the trot that I could not endure it, so I took my leave of him without asking it.
The next master that fortune threw in my way was a bulero, or dealer in papal indulgences, one of the cleverest and most impudent rogues that I have ever seen. He practised all manner of deceit, and resorted to the most subtle inventions to gain his end. A regular account of his artifices would fill a volume; but I will only recount a little manoeuvre which will give you some idea of his genius and invention.
He had preached two or three days at a place near Toledo, but found his indulgences go off but slowly. Being at his wits' end what to do, he invited the people to the church next morning to take his farewell. After supper at the inn that evening, he and the alguazil quarrelled and began to revile each other, my master calling the alguazil a thief, the alguazil declaring that the bulero was an impostor, and that his indulgences were forged. Peace was not restored until the alguazil had been taken away to another inn.
Next morning, during my master's farewell sermon, the alguazil entered the church and publicly repeated his charge, that the indulgences were forged. Whereupon my devout master threw himself on his knees in the pulpit, and exclaimed: "O Lord, Thou knowest how cruelly I am calumniated! I pray Thee, therefore, to show by a miracle the whole truth as to this matter. If I deal in iniquity may this pulpit sink with me seven fathoms below the earth, but if what is said be false let the author of the calumny be punished, so that all present may be convinced of his malice."
Hardly had he finished his prayer when the alguazil fell down, foaming at the mouth, and rolled about in the utmost apparent agony. At this wonderful interposition of Providence, there was a general clamour in the church, and some terrified people implored my sainted master, who was kneeling in the pulpit, with his eyes towards heaven, to intercede for the poor wretch. He replied that no favour should be sought for one whom God had chastised, but that as we were bidden to return good for evil, he would try to obtain pardon for the unhappy man. Desiring the congregation to pray for the sinner, he commanded the holy bull to be placed on the alguazil's head. Gradually the sufferer was restored, and fell at the holy commissary's feet, imploring his pardon, which was granted with benevolent words of comfort.
Great now was the demand for indulgences; people came flocking from all parts, so that no sermons were necessary in the church to convince them of the benefits likely to result to the purchasers. I must confess that I was deceived at the time, but hearing the merriment which it afforded to the holy commissary and the alguazil, I began to suspect that it originated in the fertile brain of my master, and from that time I ceased to be a child of grace. For, I argued, "If I, being an eye-witness to such an imposition, could almost believe it, how many more, amongst this poor innocent people, must be imposed on by these robbers?"
On leaving the bulero I entered the service of a chaplain, which was the first step I had yet made towards attaining an easy life, for I had here a mouthful at will. Having bidden the chaplain farewell, I attached myself to an alguazil. But I did not long continue in the train of justice; it pleased Heaven to enlighten and put me into a much better way, for certain gentlemen procured me an office under government. This I yet keep, and flourish in it, with the permission of God and every good customer. In fact, my charge is that of making public proclamation of the wine which is sold at auctions, etc.; of bearing those company who suffer persecution for justice's sake, and publishing to the world, with a loud voice, their faults.
About this time the arch-priest of Salvador, to whom I was introduced, and who was under obligations to me for crying his wine, showed his sense of it by uniting me with one of his own domestics. About this time I was at the top of the ladder, and enjoyed all kinds of good fortune. This happy state I conceived would continue; but fortune soon began to show another aspect, and a fresh series of miseries and difficulties followed her altered looks—troubles which it would be too cruel a task for me to have to recount.
* * * * *
The Death of the Gods
Among Russian writers whose works have achieved European reputation, prominence must be given to Dmitri Merejkowski. The son of a court official, Merejkowski was born in 1866, and began to write verses at the age of fifteen, his first volume of poems appearing in 1888. Then, nine years later, came the first of his great trilogy, "The Death of the Gods," which is continued in "The Resurrection of the Gods," and completed by "Anti-Christ," the last-named having for its central character the figure of Peter the Great, the creator of modern Russia. "The Death of the Gods," by many considered the finest of the three, is a vivid picture of the times of the Roman Emperor Julian, setting forth the doctrine that the pagan and the Christian elements in human nature are equally legitimate and sacred, a doctrine which, in its various guises, runs through the trilogy.
All was dark in the great palace at Macellum, an ancient residence of Cappadocian princes. Here dwelt Julian and Gallus, the youthful cousins of the reigning Emperor Constantius, and the nephews of Constantine the Great. They were the last representatives of the hapless house of the Flavii. Their father, Julian Constantius, brother of Constantine, was murdered by the orders of Constantius on his accession to the throne, and the two orphans lived in constant fear of death.
Julian was not asleep. He listened to the regular breathing of his brother, who slept near him on a more comfortable bed, and to the heavy snore of his tutor Mardonius in the next room. Suddenly the door of the secret staircase opened softly, and a bright light dazzled Julian. Labda, an old slave, entered, carrying a metal lamp in her hand.
The old woman, who loved Julian, and held him to be the true successor of Constantine the Great, placed the lamp in a stone niche above his head, and produced honey cakes for him to eat. Then she blessed him with the sign of the cross and disappeared.
A heavy slumber fell on Julian, and then he awoke full of fears. He sat up on his bed, and listened in the silence to the beatings of his own heart. Suddenly, voices and steps resounded from room to room. Then the steps approached, the voices became distinct.
The boy called out, "Gallus, wake up! Mardonius, can't you hear something?"
Gallus awoke, and at the same moment old Mardonius, with his grey hair all dishevelled, entered and rushed towards the secret door.
"The soldiers of the Prefect! ... Dress! ... We must fly! ..." he exclaimed.
Mardonius was too late; all he could do was to draw an old sword and stand in warlike attitude before the door, brandishing his weapon. The centurion, who was drunk, promptly seized him by the throat and threw him out of the way, and the Roman legionaries entered.
"In the name of the most orthodox and blessed Augustus Constantius Imperator! I, Marcus Scuda, Tribune of the Fretensian Legion, take under my safeguard Julian and Gallus, sons of the Patrician Julius Flavius."
It was Scuda's plan to gain favour with his superiors by boldly carrying off the lads and sending them down to his barracks at Caesarea. There were rumours from time to time of their escaping from Macellum, and Scuda knew, the emperor's fear lest these possible claimants for the throne should gain a following among the soldiers of the people. At Caesarea they would be in safe custody.
For the first time he gazed upon Gallus and Julian. The former, with his indolent and listless blue eyes and flaxen hair, trembled and blinked, his eyelids heavy with sleep, and crossed himself. The latter, thin, sickly, and pale, with large shining eyes, stared at Scuda fixedly, and shook with bridled rage. In his right hand, hidden by the panther skin of his bed, which he had flung over his shoulder, he gripped the handle of a Persian dagger given him by Labda; it was tipped with the keenest of poisons.
A wild chance of safety suddenly occurred to Mardonius. Throwing aside his sword, he caught hold of the tribune's mantle, and shrieked out, "Do you know what you're doing, rascals? How dare you insult an envoy of Constantius? It is I who am charged to conduct these two princes to court. The august emperor has restored them to his favour. Here is the order from Constantinople!"
"What is he saying? What order is it?" Scuda waited in perplexity while Mardonius, after hunting in a drawer, pulled out a roll of parchment, and presented it to the tribune. Scuda saw the name of the emperor, and read the first lines, without remarking the date of the document. At the sight of the great imperial seal of dark green wax he became frightened.
"Pardon, there is some mistake," said the tribune humbly. "Don't ruin us! We are all brothers and fellow-sinners! I beseech you in the name of Christ!"
"I know what acts you commit in the name of Christ. Away with you! Begone at once!" screamed Mardonius. The tribune gave the order to retire, and only when the sound of the steps dying away assured Mardonius that all peril was over did the old man forget his tutorial dignity. A wild fit of laughter seized him, and he began to dance.
"Children, children!" he cried gleefully. "Glory to Hermes! We've done them cleverly! That edict was annulled three years ago! Ah, the idiots, the idiots!"
At daybreak Julian fell into a deep sleep.
II.—Julian the Emperor
Gallus had fallen at the hands of the imperial executioner, and Julian had been banished to the army in Gaul. Constantius hoped to get news of the defeat and death of Julian, and was horribly disappointed when nothing was heard but tidings of victory.
Julian, successful in arms and worshipped by his soldiers, became more and more convinced that the old Olympian gods were protecting him and advancing his cause, and only for prudential reasons did he continue to attend Christian churches. In his heart he abhorred the crucified Galilean God of the Christians, and longed for the restoration of the old worship of Apollo and the gods of Greece and Rome.
More than two years after the victory of Argentoratum, when Julian had delivered all Gaul from the barbarians, he received an important letter from the Emperor Constantius.
Each new victory in Gaul had maddened the soul of Constantius, and smitten his vanity to the quick. He writhed with jealousy, and grew thin and sleepless and sick. At the same time he sustained defeat after defeat in his own campaign in Asia against the Persians. Musing, during nights of insomnia, the emperor blamed himself for having let Julian live.
Finally, Constantius decided to rob Julian of his best soldiers, and then, by gradually disarming him, to draw him into his toils and deal him the mortal blow.
With this intention he sent a letter to Julian by the tribune Decensius, commanding him to select the most trusted legions, namely, the Heruli, Batavians, and Celts, and to dispatch them into Asia for the emperor's own use. Each remaining legion was also to be deflowered of its three hundred bravest warriors, and Julian's transport crippled of the pick of the porters and baggage carriers.
Julian at once warned Decensius, and proved to him that rebellion was inevitable among the savage legions raised in Gaul, who would almost certainly prefer to die rather than quit their native soil. But Decensius took no account of these warnings.
On the departure of the first cohorts, the soldiers, hitherto only restrained by Julian's stern and wise discipline, became excited and tumultuous. Savage murmurs ran through the crowd. The cries came nearer; wild agitation seized the garrison.
"What has happened?" asked a veteran.
"Twenty soldiers have been beaten to death!"
"Twenty! No; a hundred!"
A legionary, with torn clothes and terrified appearance, rushed into the crowd, shouting, "Comrades, quick to the palace! Quick! Julian's just been beheaded!"
These words kindled the long-smouldering flame. Everyone began to shout, "Where is the envoy from the Emperor Constantius?"
"Down with the envoy!"
"Down with the emperor!"
Another mob swept by the barracks, calling out, "Glory to the Emperor Julian! Glory to Augustus Julian!"
Then the cohorts, who had marched out the night before, mutinied, and were soon seen returning. The crowd grew thicker and thicker, like a raging flood.
"To the palace! To the palace!" the cry was raised. "Let us make Julian emperor! Let us crown him with the diadem!"
Foreseeing the revolt, Julian had not left his quarters nor shown himself to the soldiers, but for two days and two nights had waited for a sign.
The indistinct cries of the mutineers came to him, borne faintly upon the wind.
A servant entered, and announced that an old man from Athens desired to see the Caesar on urgent business. Julian ran to meet the newcomer; it was the high-priest of the mysteries of Eleusis, whom he had impatiently expected.
"Caesar," said the old man, "be not hasty. Decide nothing to-night; wait for the morrow, the gods are silent."
Outside could be heard the noise of soldiers pouring into the courtyard, and thrilling the old palace with their cries. The die was cast, Julian put on his armour, warcloak, and helmet, buckled on his sword, and ran down the principal staircase to the main entrance. In a moment the crowd felt his supremacy; in action his will never vacillated; at his first gesture the mob was silenced.
Julian spoke to the soldiers, asked them to restore order, and declared that he would neither abandon them nor permit them to be taken from Gaul.
"Down with Constantius!" cried the legionaries. "Thou art our emperor! Glory to Augustus Julian the Invincible!"
Admirably did Julian affect surprise, lowering his eyes, and turning aside his head with a deprecating gesture of his lifted palms.
The shouts redoubled. "Silence!" exclaimed Julian, striding towards the crowd. "Do you think that I can betray my sovereign? Are we not sworn?"
The soldiers seized his hands, and many, falling at his feet, kissed them, weeping and crying, "We are willing to die for you! Have pity on us; be our emperor!"
With an effort that might well have been thought sincere, Julian answered, "My children, my dear comrades, I am yours in life and in death! I can refuse you nothing!"
A standard-bearer pulled from his neck the metal chain denoting his rank, and Julian wound it twice around his own neck. This chain made him Emperor of Rome.
"Hoist him on a shield," shouted the soldiery. A round buckler was tendered. Hundreds of arms heaved the emperor. He saw a sea of helmeted heads, and heard, like the rolling of thunder, the exultant cry, "Glory to Julian, the divine Augustus!"
It seemed the will of destiny.
III.—The Worship of Apollo
Constantius was dead, and Julian sole emperor of Rome.
Before all the army the golden cross had been wrenched from the imperial standard, and a little silver statue of the sun-god, Mithra-Helios, had been soldered to the staff of the Labarum.
One of the men in the front rank uttered a single word so distinctly that Julian heard it, "Anti-Christ!"
Toleration was promised to the Christians, but Julian organised processions in honour of the Olympian gods, and encouraged in every way the return of the old and dying worship.
* * * * *
Five miles from Antioch stood the celebrated wood of Daphne, consecrated to Apollo. A temple had been built there, where every year the praises of the sun-god were celebrated.
Julian, without telling anyone of his intention, quitted Antioch at daybreak. He wished to find out for himself whether the inhabitants remembered the ancient sacred feast. All along the road he mused on the solemnity, hoping to see lads and maidens going up the steps of the temple, the crowd of the faithful, the choirs, and the smoke of incense.
Presently the columns and pediments of the temple shone through the wood, but not a worshipper yet had Julian encountered. At last he saw a boy of twelve years old, on a path overgrown with wild hyacinth.
"Do you know, child, where are the sacrificers and the people?" Julian asked.
The child made no answer.
"Listen, little one. Can you not lead me to the priest of Apollo?"
The boy put a finger to his lips and then to both his ears, and shook his head gravely. Suddenly he pointed out to Julian an old man, clothed in a patched and tattered tunic, and Julian recognised a temple priest. The weak and broken old man stumbled along in drunken fashion, carrying a large basket and laughing and mumbling to himself as he went. He was red-nosed, and his watery and short-sighted eyes had an expression of childlike benevolence.
"The priest of Apollo?" asked Julian.
"I am he. I am called Gorgius. What do you want, good man?"
He smelt strongly of wine. Julian thought his behaviour indecent.
"You seem to be drunk, old man!"
Gorgius, in no wise dismayed, put down his basket and rubbed his bald head.
"Drunk? I don't think so. But I may have had four or five cups in honour of the celebration; and, as to that, I drink more through sorrow than mirth. May the Olympians have you in their keeping!"
"Where are the victims?" asked Julian. "Have many people been sent from Antioch? Are the choirs ready?"
"Victims! Small thanks for victims! Many's the long year, my brother, since we saw that kind of thing. Not since the time of Constantine. It is all over—done for! Men have forgotten the gods. We don't even get a handful of wheat to make a cake; not a grain of incense, not a drop of oil for the lamps. There's nothing for it but to go to bed and die.... The monks have taken everything.... Our tale is told.... And you say 'don't drink.' But it's hard not to drink when one suffers. If I didn't drink I should have hanged myself long ago."
"And no one has come from Antioch for this great feast day?" asked Julian.
"None but you, my son. I am the priest, you are the people! Together we will offer the victim to the god. It is my own offering. We've eaten little for three days, this lad and I, to save the necessary money. Look; it is a sacred bird!"
He raised the lid of the basket. A tethered goose slid out its head, cackling and trying to escape.
"Have you dwelt long in this temple; and is this lad your son?" questioned Julian.
"For forty years, and perhaps longer; but I have neither relatives nor friends. This child helps me at the hour of sacrifice. His mother was the great sibyl Diotima, who lived here, and it is said that he is the son of a god," said Gorgius.
"A deaf mute the son of a god?" murmured the emperor, surprised.
"In times like ours if the son of a god and a sibyl were not a deaf mute he would die of grief," said Gorgius.
"One thing more I want to ask you," said Julian. "Have you ever heard that the Emperor Julian desired to restore the worship of the old gods?"
"Yes, but ... what can he do, poor man? He will not succeed. I tell you—all's over. Once I sailed in a ship near Thessalonica, and saw Mount Olympus. I mused and was full of emotion at beholding the dwellings of the gods; and a scoffing old man told me that travellers had climbed Olympus, and seen that it was an ordinary mountain, with only snow and ice and stones on it. I have remembered those words all my life. My son, all is over; Olympus is deserted. The gods have grown weary and have departed. But the sun is up, the sacrifice must be performed. Come!"
They passed into the temple alone.
From behind the trees came the sound of voices, a procession of monks chanting psalms. In the very neighbourhood of Apollo's temple a tomb had been built in honour of a Christian martyr.
IV.—"Thou Hast Conquered, Galilean!"
At the beginning of spring Julian quitted Antioch for a Persian campaign with an army of sixty-five thousand men.
"Warriors, my bravest of the brave," said Julian, addressing his troops at the outset, "remember the destiny of the world is in our hands. We are going to restore the old greatness of Rome! Steel your hearts, be ready for any fate. There is to be no turning back, I shall be at your head, on horseback or on foot, taking all dangers and toils with the humblest among you; because, henceforth, you are no longer my servants, but my children and my friends. Courage then, my comrades; and remember that the strong are always conquerors!"
He stretched his sword, with a smile, toward the distant horizon. The soldiers, in unison, held up their bucklers, shouting in rapture, "Glory, glory to conquering Caesar!"
But the campaign so bravely begun ended in treachery and disaster.
At the end of July, when the Roman army was in steady retreat, came the last battle with the Persians. The emperor looked for a miracle in this battle, the victory which would give him such renown and power that the Galileans could no longer resist; but it was not till the close of the day that the ranks of the enemy were broken. Then a cry of triumph came from Julian's lips. He galloped ahead, pursuing the fugitives, not perceiving that he was far in advance of his main body. A few bodyguards surrounded the Caesar, among them old General Victor. This old man, though wounded, was unconscious of his hurt, not quitting the emperor's side, and shielding him time after time from mortal blows. He knew that it was as dangerous to approach a fleeing enemy as to enter a falling building.
"Take heed, Caesar!" he shouted. "Put on this mail of mine!" But Julian heard him not, and still rode on, as if he, unsupported, unarmed, and terrible, were hunting his countless enemies by glance and gesture only from the field.
Suddenly a lance, aimed by a flying Saracen who had wheeled round, hissed, and grazing the skin of the emperor's right hand, glanced over the ribs, and buried itself in his body. Julian thought the wound a slight one, and seizing the double-edged barb to withdraw it, cut his fingers. Blood gushed out, Julian uttered a cry, flung his head back, and slid from his horse into the arms of the guard.
They carried the emperor into his tent, and laid him on his camp-bed. Still in a swoon, he groaned from time to time. Oribazius, the physician, drew out the iron lance-head, and washed and bound up the deep wound. By a look Victor asked if any hope remained, and Oribazius sadly shook his head. After the dressing of the wound Julian sighed and opened his eyes.
Hearing the distant noise of battle, he remembered all, and with an effort, rose upon his bed. His soul was struggling against death. Slowly he tottered to his feet.
"I must be with them to the end.... You see, I am able-bodied still.... Quick, give me my sword, buckler, horse!"
Victor gave him the shield and sword. Julian took them, and made a few unsteady steps, like a child learning to walk. The wound re-opened; he let fall his sword and shield, sank into the arms of Oribazius and Victor, and looking up, cried contemptuously, "All is over! Thou hast conquered, Galilean!" And making no further resistance, he gave himself up to his friends, and was laid on the bed.
At night he was in delirium.
"One must conquer ... reason must.... Socrates died like a god.... I will not believe!... What do you want from me?... Thy love is more terrible than death.... I want sunlight, the golden sun!"
At dawn the sick man lay calm, and the delirium had left him.
"Call the generals—I must speak."
The generals came in, and the curtain of the tent was raised so that the fresh air of the morning might blow on the face of the dying. The entrance faced east, and the view to the horizon was unbroken.
"Listen, friends," Julian began, and his voice was low, but clear. "My hour is come, and like an honest debtor, I am not sorry to give back my life to nature, and in my soul is neither pain nor fear. I have tried to keep my soul stainless; I have aspired to ends not ignoble. Most of our earthly affairs are in the hands of destiny. We must not resist her. Let the Galileans triumph. We shall conquer later on!"
The morning clouds were growing red, and the first beam of the sun washed over the rim of the horizon. The dying man held his face towards the light, with closed eyes.
Then his head fell back, and the last murmur came from his half-open lips, "Helios! Receive me unto thyself!"
* * * * *
Novelist, archaeologist, essayist, and in all three departments one of the greatest masters of French style of his century, Prosper Merimee was born in Paris on September 23, 1803. The son of a painter, Merimee was intended for the law, but at the age of twenty-two achieved fame as the author of a number of plays purporting to be translations from the Spanish. From that time until his death at Cannes on September 23, 1870, a brilliant series of plays, essays, novels, and historical and archaeological works poured from his fertile pen. Altogether he wrote about a score of tales, and it is on these and on his "Letters to an Unknown" that Merimee's fame depends. His first story to win universal recognition was "Colombo," in 1830. Seventeen years later appeared his "Carmen, the Power of Love," of which Taine, in his celebrated essay on the work, says, "Many dissertations on our primitive savage methods, many knowing treatises like Schopenhauer's on the metaphysics of love and death, cannot compare to the hundred pages of 'Carmen.'"
I.—I Meet Don Jose
One day, wandering in the higher part of the plain of Cachena, near Cordova, harassed with fatigue, dying of thirst, burned by an overhead sun, I perceived, at some distance from the path I was following, a little green lawn dotted with rushes and reeds. It proclaimed to me the neighbourhood of a spring, and I saw that a brook issued from a narrow gorge between two lofty spurs of the Sierra de Cabra.
At the mouth of the gorge my horse neighed, and another horse that I did not see answered immediately. A hundred steps farther, and the gorge, suddenly widening, revealed a sort of natural circus, shaded by the cliffs which surrounded it. It was impossible to light upon a place which promised a pleasanter halt to the traveller.
But the honour of discovering this beautiful spot did not belong to me. A man was resting there already, and it my entrance, he had risen and approached his horse. He was a young fellow of medium height, but robust appearance, with a gloomy and haughty air. In one hand he held his horse's halter, in the other a brass blunderbuss. The fierce air of the man somewhat surprised me, but not having seen any robbers I no longer believed in them. My guide Antonio, however, who came up behind me, showed evident signs of terror, and drew near very much against his will.
I stretched myself on the grass, drew out my cigar-case, and asked the man with the blunderbuss if he had a tinder-box on him. The unknown, without speaking, produced his tinder-box, and hastened to strike a light for me. In return I gave him one of my best Havanas, for which he thanked me with an inclination of the head.
In Spain a cigar given and received establishes relations of hospitality, like the sharing of bread and salt in the East. My unknown now proved more talkative than I had expected. He seemed half famished, and devoured some slices of excellent ham, which I had put in my guide's knapsack, wolfishly. When I mentioned I was going to the Venta del Cuervo for the night he offered to accompany me, and I accepted willingly.
As we rode along Antonio endeavoured to attract my attention by mysterious signs, but I took no notice. Doubtless my companion was a smuggler, or a robber. What did it matter to me? I knew I had nothing to fear from a man who had eaten and smoked with me.
We arrived at the venta, which was one of the most wretched I had yet come across. An old woman opened the door, and on seeing my companion, exclaimed, "Ah, Senor Don Jose!"
Don Jose frowned and raised his hand, and the old woman was silent at once.
The supper was better than I expected, and after supper Don Jose played the mandoline and sang some melancholy songs. My guide decided to pass the night in the stable, but Don Jose and I stretched ourselves on mule cloths on the floor.
Very disagreeable itchings snatched me from my first nap, and drove me to a wooden bench outside the door. I was about to close my eyes for the second time, when, to my surprise, I saw Antonio leading a horse. He stopped on seeing me, and said anxiously, "Where is he?"
"In the venta; he is sleeping. He is not afraid of the fleas. Why are you taking away my horse?"
I then observed that, in order to prevent any noise, Antonio had carefully wrapped the animal's feet in the remains of an old sack.
"Hush!" said Antonio. "That man there is Jose Navarro, the most famous bandit of Andalusia. There are two hundred ducats for whoever gives him up. I know a post of lancers a league and a half from here, and before it is day I will bring some of them here."
"What harm has the poor man done you that you denounce him?" said I.
"I am a poor wretch, sir!" was all Antonio could say. "Two hundred ducats are not to be lost, especially when it is a matter of delivering the country from such vermin."
My threats and requests were alike unavailing. Antonio was in the saddle, he set spurs to his horse after freeing its feet from the rags, and was soon lost to sight in the darkness.
I was very much annoyed with my guide, and somewhat uneasy; but quickly making up my mind, returned to the inn, and shook Don Jose to awaken him.
"Would you be very pleased to see half a dozen lancers arrive here?" I said.
He leapt to his feet.
"Ah, your guide has betrayed me! Your guide! I had suspected him. Adieu, sir. God repay you the service I am in your debt for. I am not quite as bad as you think. Yes, there is still something in me deserving the pity of a gentleman. Adieu!"
He ran to the stable, and some minutes later I heard him galloping into the fields.
As for me, I asked myself if I had been right in saving a robber, perhaps a murderer, from the gallows only because I had eaten ham and rice and smoked with him.
I think Antonio cherished a grudge against me; but, nevertheless, we parted good friends at Cordova.
II.—My Experience with Carmen
I passed some days at Cordova searching for a certain manuscript in the Dominican's library.
One evening I was leaning on the parapet of the quay, smoking, when a woman came up the flight of stairs leading to the river and sat down beside me. She was simply dressed, all in black, and we fell into conversation.
On my taking out my repeater watch she was greatly astonished.
"What inventions they have among you foreigners!"
Then she told me she was a gipsy, and proposed to tell my fortune.
"Have you heard people speak of La Carmencita?" she added. "That is me!"
"Good!" I said to myself. "Last week I supped with a highway robber; now to-day I will eat ices with a gipsy. When travelling one must see everything."
With that I escorted the Senorita Carmen to a cafe, and we had ices.
My gipsy had a strange and wild beauty, a face which astonished at first, but which one could not forget. Her eyes, in particular, had an expression, at once loving and fierce, that I have found in no human face since.
It would have been ridiculous to have had my fortune told in a public cafe and I begged the fair sorceress to allow me to accompany her to her domicile. She at once consented, but insisted on seeing my watch again.
"Is it really of gold?" she said, examining it with great attention.
Night had set in, and most of the shops were closed and the streets almost deserted as we crossed the Guadalquiver bridge, and went on to the outskirts of the town.
The house we entered was by no means a palace. A child opened the door, and disappeared when the gipsy said some words to it in the Romany tongue.
Then the gipsy produced some cards, a magnet, a dried chameleon, and other things necessary for her art. She told me to cross my left hand with a piece of money, and the magic ceremonies began. It was evident to me that she was no half-sorceress.
Unfortunately, we were soon disturbed. Of a sudden the door opened violently, and a man entered, who denounced the gipsy in a manner far from polite.
I at once recognised my friend Don Jose, and greeted him cheerfully.
"The same as ever! This will have an end," he said turning fiercely to the gipsy, who now started talking to him in her own language. She grew animated as she spoke, and her eyes became terrible. It appeared to me she was urging him warmly to do something at which he hesitated. I think I understood what it was only too well from seeing her quickly pass and repass her little hand under her chin. There was some question of a throat to cut, and I had a suspicion that the throat was mine.
Don Jose only answered with two or three words in a sharp tone, and the gipsy, casting a look of deep contempt at him, retired to a corner of the room, and taking an orange, peeled it and began to eat it.
Don Jose took my arm, opened the door, and led me into the street. We walked some way together in the profoundest silence. Then, stretching out his hand, "Keep straight on," he Said, "and you will find the bridge."
With that he turned his back on me, and walked rapidly away. I returned to my inn a little crestfallen and depressed. Worst of all was that, as I was undressing, I discovered my watch was missing.
I departed for Seville next day, and after several months of rambling in Andalusia, was once more back in Cordova, on my way to Madrid.
The good fathers at the Dominican convent received me with open arms.
"Your watch has been found again, and will be returned to you," one of them told me. "The rascal is in gaol, and is to be executed the day after to-morrow. He is known in the country under the name of Jose Navarro, and he is a man to be seen."
I went to see the prisoner, and took him some cigars. At first he shrugged his shoulders and received me coldly, but I saw him again on the morrow, and passed a part of the day with him. It was from his mouth I learnt the sad adventures of his life.
III.—Don Jose's Story
"I was born," he said, "at Elizondo, and my name—Don Jose Lizzarrabengoa—will tell you that I am Basque, and an old Christian. If I take the don, it is because I have the right to do so. One day when I had been playing tennis with a lad from Alava I won, and he picked a quarrel with me. We took our iron-tipped sticks, and fought, and again I had the advantage; but it forced me to quit the country. I met some dragoons, and enlisted in the Almanza regiment of cavalry. Soon I became a corporal, and they were under promise to make me sergeant when, to my misfortune, I was put on guard at the tobacco factory at Seville.
"I was young then, and I was always thinking of my native country, and was afraid of the Andalusian young women and their jesting ways. But one Friday—I shall never forget it—when I was on duty, I heard people saying, 'Here's the gipsy.' And, looking up, I saw her for the first time. I saw that Carmen whom you know, in whose house I met you some months ago.
"She made some joke at me as she passed into the factory, and flipped a cassia flower just between my eyes. When she had gone, I picked it up and put it carefully in my pocket. First piece of folly!
"A few hours afterwards I was ordered to take two of my men into the factory. There had been a quarrel, and Carmen had slashed another woman with two terrible cuts of her knife across the face. The case was clear. I took Carmen by the arm, and bade her follow me. At the guard-house the sergeant said it was serious, and that she must be taken to prison. I placed her between two dragoons, and, walking behind, we set out for the town.
"At first the gipsy kept silence, but presently she turned to me, and said softly, 'You are taking me to prison! Alas! what will become of me? Have pity on me, Mr. Officer! You are so young, so good-looking! Let me escape, and I will give you a piece of the loadstone which will make all women love you.'
"I answered her as seriously as I could that the order was to take her to prison, and that there was no help for it.
"My accent told her I was from the Basque province, and she began to speak to me in my native tongue. Gipsies, you know, sir, speak all languages. She told me she had been carried off by gipsies from Navarro, and was working at the factory in order to earn enough to return home to her poor mother. Would I do nothing for a country-woman? The Spanish women at the factory had slandered her native place.
"It was all lies, sir. She always lied. But I believed her at the time.
"'If I pushed you and you fell,' she resumed, in Basque, 'it would not be these two conscripts who would hold me.'
"I forgot my order and everything, and said, "'Very well, my country- woman; and may our Lady of the Mountain be your aid!'
"Suddenly Carmen turned round and dealt me a blow on the chest with her fist. I let myself fall backwards on purpose, and, with one bound, she leapt over me, and started to run. There was no risk of overtaking her with our spurs, our sabres, and our lances. The prisoner disappeared in no time, and all the women-folk in the quarter favoured her escape, and made fun of us, pointing out the wrong road on purpose. We had to return at last to the guard-house without a receipt from the governor of the prison.
"The result of this was I was degraded and sent to prison for a month. Farewell to the sergeant's stripes, I thought.
"One day in prison the jailor entered, and gave me a special loaf of bread.
"'Here,' he said, 'see what your cousin has sent you.'
"I was astonished, for I had no cousin in Seville, and when I broke the loaf I found a small file and a gold piece inside it. No doubt then, it was a present from Carmen, for a gipsy would set fire to a town to escape a day's imprisonment, and I was touched by this mark of remembrance.
"But I served my sentence, and, on coming out, was put on sentry outside the colonel's door, like a common soldier. It was a terrible humiliation.
"While I was on duty I saw Carmen again. She was dressed out like a shrine, all gold and ribbons, and was going in one evening with a party of gipsies to amuse the colonel's guests. She recognised me, and named a place where I could meet her next day. When I gave her back the gold piece she burst into laughter, but kept it all the same. Do you know, my son,' she said to me when we parted, 'I believe I love you a little. But that cannot last. Dog and wolf do not keep house together long. Perhaps, if you adopted the gipsy law, I would like to become your wife. But it is nonsense; it is impossible. Think no more of Carmencita, or she will bring you to the gallows.'
"She spoke the truth. I would have been wise to think no more of her; but after that day I could think of nothing else, and walked about always hoping to meet her, but she had left the town.
"It was some weeks later, when I had been placed as a night sentinel at one of the town gates that I saw Carmen. I was put there to prevent smuggling; but Carmen persuaded me to let five of her friends pass in, and they were all well laden with English goods. She told me I might come and see her next day at the same house I had visited before.
"Carmen had moods, like the weather in our country. She would make appointments and not keep them, and at another time, would be full of affection.
"One evening when I had called on a friend of Carmen's the gipsy entered the room, followed by a young man, a lieutenant in our regiment.
"He told me to decamp, and I said something sharp to him. We soon drew our swords, and presently the point of mine entered his body. Then Carmen extinguished the lamp, and, wounded though I was, we started running down the street. 'Great fool,' she said. 'You can do nothing but foolish things. Besides, I told you I would bring you bad luck.' She made me take off my uniform and put on a striped cloak, and this with a handkerchief over my head, enabled me to pass fairly well for a peasant. Then she took me to a house at the end of a little lane, and she and another gipsy washed and dressed my wounds. Next day Carmen pointed out to me the new career she destined me for. I was to go to the coast and become a smuggler. In truth it was the only one left me, now that I had incurred the punishment of death. Besides, I believed I could make sure of her love. Carmen introduced me to her people, and at first the freedom of the smuggler's life pleased me better than the soldier's life. I saw Carmen often, and she showed more liking for me than ever; but, she would not admit that she was willing to be my wife."
IV.—The End of Don Jose's Story
"One becomes a rogue without thinking, sir. A pretty girl makes one lose one's head, one fights for her, a misfortune happens, one is driven to the mountains, from smuggler one becomes robber before reflecting.
"Carmen often made me jealous, especially after she accepted me as her husband, and she warned me not to interfere with her freedom. On my part I wanted to change my way of life, but when I spoke to her about quitting Spain and trying to live honestly in America, she laughed at me.
"'We are not made for planting cabbages,' she said; 'our destiny is to live at the expense of others.' Then she told me of a fresh piece of smuggling on hand, and I let myself be persuaded to resume the wretched traffic.
"While I was in hiding at Granada, there were bullfights to which Carmen went. When she returned, she spoke much of a very skilful picador, named Lucas. She knew the name of his horse, and how much his embroidered jacket cost him. I paid no heed to this, but began to grow alarmed when I heard that Carmen had been seen about with Lucas. I asked her how and why she had made his acquaintance.
"'He is a man,' she said, 'with whom business can be done. He has won twelve hundred pounds at the bullfights. One of two things: we must either have the money, or, as he is a good horseman, we can enroll him in our band.'
"'I wish,' I replied, 'neither his money nor his person, and I forbid you to speak to him.'
"'Take care,' she said; 'when anyone dares me to do a thing it is soon done.'
"Luckily the picador left for Malaga, and I set about my smuggling. I had a great deal to do in this expedition, and it was about that time I first met you. Carmen robbed you of your watch at our last interview, and she wanted your money as well. We had a violent dispute about that, and I struck her. She turned pale and wept. It was the first time I saw her weep, and it had a terrible effect on me. I begged her pardon, but it was not till three days later that she would kiss me.
"'There is a fete at Cordova,' she said, when we were friends again. 'I am going to see it, then I shall find out the people who carry money with them and tell you.'
"I let her go, but when a peasant told me there was a bull-fight at Cordova, I set off like a madman to the spot. Lucas was pointed out to me, and on the bench close to the barrier I recognised Carmen. It was enough for me to see her to be certain how things stood. Lucas, at the first bull, did the gallant, as I had foreseen. He tore the bunch of ribbons from the bull and carried it to Carmen, who put it in her hair on the spot. The bull took upon itself the task of avenging me. Lucas was thrown down with his horse on his chest, and the bull on the top of both. I looked at Carmen, she had already left her seat, but I was so wedged in I was obliged to wait for the end of the fights.
"I got home first, however, and Carmen only arrived at two o'clock in the morning.
"'Come with me,' I said.
"'Very well, let us go,' she answered.
"I went and fetched my horse; I put her behind me, and we travelled all the rest of the night without speaking. At daybreak we were in a solitary gorge.
"'Listen,' I said to Carmen, 'I forget everything. Only swear to me one thing, that you will follow me to America, and live there quietly with me.'
"'No,' she said, in a sulky tone, 'I do not want to go to America. I am quite comfortable here.'
"I implored her to let us change our way of life and Carmen answered, 'I will follow you to death, but I will not live with you any longer. I always thought you meant to kill me, and now I see that is what you are going to do. It is destiny, but you will not make me yield.'
"'Listen to me!' I said, 'for the last time. You know that it is for you I have become a robber and a murderer. Carmen! my Carmen, there is still time for us to save ourselves,' I promised anything and everything if she would love me again.
"'Jose,' she replied, 'you ask me for the impossible. I do not love you any more. All is over between us. You have the right to kill me. But Carmen must always be free. To love you is impossible, and I do not wish to live with you.'
"Fury took possession of me, and I killed her with my knife. An hour later I laid her in a grave in the wood. Then I mounted my horse, galloped to Cordova, and gave myself up at the first guard-house.... Poor Carmen! it is the gipsies who are to blame for having brought her up like that."
* * * * *
MARY RUSSELL MITFORD
Mary Russell Mitford was known first as a dramatist, with tragedy as her forte, and in later years as a novelist, but by posterity she will be remembered as a portrayer of country life, in simply worded sketches, with a quiet colouring of humour. These sketches were collected, as "Our Village," into five volumes, between 1824 and 1832. Miss Mitford was born Dec. 16, 1787, at Alresford, Hampshire, England, the daughter of a foolish spendthrift father, to whom she was pathetically devoted, and lived in her native county almost throughout her life. In her later years she received a Civil List pension. She died on January 10, 1855. The quietness of the country is in all Miss Mitford's writing, but it is a cheerful country, pervaded by a rosy-cheeked optimism. Her letters, too, scribbled on small scraps of paper, are as attractive as her books.
I.—Some of the Inhabitants
Will you walk with me through our village, courteous reader? The journey is not long. We will begin at the lower end, and proceed up the hill.
The tidy, square, red cottage on the right hand, with the long, well-stocked garden by the side of the road, belongs to a retired publican from a neighbouring town; a substantial person with a comely wife—one who piques himself on independence and idleness, talks politics, reads the newspapers, hates the minister, and cries out for reform. He hangs over his gate, and tries to entice passengers to stop and chat. Poor man! He is a very respectable person, and would be a very happy one if he would add a little employment to his dignity. It would be the salt of life to him.
Next to his house, though parted from it by another long garden with a yew arbour at the end, is the pretty dwelling of the shoemaker, a pale, sickly-looking, black-haired man, the very model of sober industry. There he sits in his little shop from early morning till late at night. An earthquake would hardly stir him. There is at least as much vanity in his industry as in the strenuous idleness of the retired publican. The shoemaker has only one pretty daughter, a light, delicate, fair-haired girl of fourteen, the champion, protectress, and play-fellow of every brat under three years old, whom she jumps, dances, dandles, and feeds all day long. A very attractive person is that child-loving girl. She likes flowers, and has a profusion of white stocks under her window, as pure and delicate as herself.
The first house on the opposite side of the way is the blacksmith's—a gloomy dwelling, where the sun never seems to shine; dark and smoky within and without, like a forge. The blacksmith is a high officer in our little state, nothing less than a constable; but alas, alas! when tumults arise, and the constable is called for, he will commonly be found in the thickest of the fray. Lucky would it be for his wife and her eight children if there were no public-house in the land.
Then comes the village shop, like other village shops, multifarious as a bazaar—a repository for bread, shoes, tea, cheese, tape, ribbons, and bacon; for everything, in short, except the one particular thing which you happen to want at the moment, and will be sure not to find.
Divided from the shop by a narrow yard is a habitation of whose inmates I shall say nothing. A cottage—no, a miniature house, all angles, and of a charming in-and-outness; the walls, old and weather-stained, covered with hollyhocks, roses, honeysuckles, and a great apricot-tree; the casements full of geraniums (oh, there is our superb white cat peeping out from among them!); the closets (our landlord has the assurance to call them rooms) full of contrivances and corner-cupboards; and the little garden behind full of common flowers. That house was built on purpose to show in what an exceeding small compass comfort may be packed.
The next tenement is a place of importance, the Rose Inn—a whitewashed building, retired from the road behind its fine swinging sign, with a little bow-window room coming out on one side, and forming, with our stable on the other, a sort of open square, which is the constant resort of carts, waggons, and return chaises.
Next door lives a carpenter, "famed ten miles around, and worthy all his fame," with his excellent wife and their little daughter Lizzy, the plaything and queen of the village—a child three years old according to the register, but six in size and strength and intellect, in power and self-will. She manages everybody in the place; makes the lazy carry her, the silent talk to her, and the grave to romp with her. Her chief attraction lies in her exceeding power of loving, and her firm reliance on the love and the indulgence of others.
How pleasantly the road winds up the hill, with its broad, green borders and hedgerows so thickly timbered! How finely the evening sun falls on that sandy, excavated bank, and touches the farmhouse on the top of the eminence!
The shaw leading to Hannah Bint's habitation is a very pretty mixture of wood and coppice. A sudden turn brings us to the boundary of the shaw, and there, across the open space, the white cottage of the keeper peeps from the opposite coppice; and the vine-covered dwelling of Hannah Bint rises from amidst the pretty garden, which lies bathed in the sunshine around it.
My friend Hannah Bint is by no means an ordinary person. Her father, Jack Bint (for in all his life he never arrived at the dignity of being called John), was a drover of high repute in his profession. No man between Salisbury Plain and Smithfield was thought to conduct a flock of sheep so skilfully through all the difficulties of lanes and commons, streets and high-roads, as Jack Bint, aided by Jack Bint's famous dog, Watch.