Calderon the Courtier Part 2

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Calderon the Courtier is a Webnovel created by Baron Edward Bulwer Lytton.
This lightnovel is currently completed.

“No, father, no; I never more desired your presence–your counsel. It is not often that I stand halting and irresolute between the two magnets of interest and conscience: this is one of those rare dilemmas.”

Here Calderon rapidly narrated the substance of his conversation with Fonseca, and of the subsequent communication with the prince.

“You see,” he said, in conclusion, “how critical is my position. On one side, my obligations to Fonseca, my promise to a benefactor, a friend to the boy I a.s.sisted to rear. Nor is that all: the prince asks me to connive at the abstraction of a novice from a consecrated house. What peril–what hazard! On the other side, if I refuse, the displeasure, the vengeance of the prince, for whose favour I have already half forfeited that of the king; and who, were he once to frown upon me, would encourage all my enemies–in other phrase, the whole court–in one united attempt at my ruin.”

“It is a stern trial,” said the monk, gravely; “and one that may well excite your fear.”

“Fear, Aliaga!–ha! ha!–fear!” said Calderon, laughing scornfully. “Did true ambition ever know fear? Have we not the old Castilian proverb, that tells us ‘He who has climbed the first step to power has left terror a thousand leagues behind’? No, it is not fear that renders me irresolute; it is wisdom, and some touch, some remnant of human nature–philosophers would call it virtue; you priests, religion.”

“Son,” said the priest, “when, as one of that sublime calling, which enables us to place our unshodden feet upon the necks of kings, I felt that I had the power to serve and to exalt you; when as confessor to Philip, I backed the patronage of Lerma, recommended you to the royal notice, and brought you into the sunshine of the royal favour–it was because I had read in your heart and brain those qualities of which the spiritual masters of the world ever seek to avail their cause. I knew thee brave, crafty, aspiring, unscrupulous. I knew that thou wouldest not shrink at the means that could secure to thee a n.o.ble end. Yea, when, years ago, in the valley of the Xenil, I saw thee bathe thy hands in the blood of thy foe, and heard thy laugh of exulting scorn;–when I, alone master of thy secret, beheld thee afterwards flying from thy home stained with a second murder, but still calm, stern, and lord of thine own reason, my knowledge of mankind told me, ‘Of such men are high converts and mighty instruments made!'”

The priest paused; for Calderon heard him not. His cheek was livid, his eyes closed, his chest heaved wildly. “Horrible remembrance!” he muttered; “fatal love–dread revenge! Inez–Inez, what hast thou to answer for!”

“Be soothed, my son; I meant not to tear the bandage from thy wounds.”

“Who speaks?” cried Calderon, starting. “Ha, priest! priest! I thought I heard the Dead. Talk on, talk on: talk of the world–the Inquisition–thy plots–the torture–the rack! Talk of aught that will lead me back from the past.”

“No; let me for a moment lead thee thither, in order to portray the future that awaits thee. When, at night, I found thee–the blood-stained fugitive–cowering beneath the shadow of the forest, dost thou remember that I laid my hand upon thine arm, and said to thee, ‘Thy life is in my power’? From that hour, thy disdain of my threats, of myself, of thine own life–all made me view thee as one born to advance our immortal cause. I led thee to safety far away; I won thy friendship and thy confidence. Thou becamest one of us–one of the great Order of Jesus.

Subsequently, I placed thee as the tutor to young Fonseca, then heir to great fortunes. The second marriage of his uncle, and the heir that by that marriage interposed between him and the honour of his house, rendered the probable alliance of the youth profitless to us. But thou hadst procured his friendship. He presented thee to the Duke of Lerma.

I was just then appointed confessor to the king; I found that years had ripened thy genius, and memory had blunted in thee all the affections of the flesh. Above all, hating, as thou didst, the very name of the Moor, thou wert the man of men to aid in our great design of expelling the accursed race from the land of Spain. Enough–I served thee, and thou didst repay us. Thou hast washed out thy crime in the blood of the infidel–thou art safe from detection. In Roderigo Calderon, Marquis de Siete Iglesias, who will suspect the Roderigo Nunez–the murderous student of Salamanca? Our device of the false father stifled even curiosity. Thou mayest wake to the future, nor tremble at one shadow in the past. The brightest hopes are before us both; but to realise them, we must continue the same path. We must never halt at an obstacle in our way. We must hold that to be no crime which advances our common objects.

Mesh upon mesh we must entangle the future monarch in our web: thou, by the nets of pleasure; I, by those of superst.i.tion. The day that sees Philip the Fourth upon the throne, must be a day of jubilee for the Brotherhood and the Inquisition. When thou art prime minister, and I grand inquisitor–that time must come–we shall have the power to extend the sway of the sect of Loyola to the ends of the Christian world. The Inquisition itself our tool, posterity shall regard us as the apostles of intellectual faith. And thinkest thou, that, for the attainment of these great ends, we can have the tender scruples of common men?

Perish a thousand Fonsecas–ten thousand novices, ere thou lose, by the strength of a hair, thy hold over the senses and soul of the licentious Philip! At whatever hazard, save thy power; for with it are bound, as mariners to a plank, the hopes of those who make the mind a sceptre.”

“Thy enthusiasm blinds and misleads thee, Aliaga,” said Calderon, coldly. “For me, I tell thee now, as I have told thee before, that I care not a rush for thy grand objects. Let mankind serve itself–I look to myself alone. But fear not my faith; my interests and my very life are identified with thee and thy fellow-fanatics. If I desert thee, thou art too deep in my secrets not to undo me; and were I to slay thee, in order to silence thy testimony, I know enough of thy fraternity to know that I should but raise up a mult.i.tude of avengers. As for this matter, you give me wise, if not pious counsel. I will consider well of it.

Adieu! The hour summons me to attend the king.”

CHAPTER V. THE TRUE FATA MORGANA.

In the royal chamber, before a table covered with papers, sat the King and his secretary. Grave, sullen, and taciturn, there was little in the habitual manner of Philip the Third that could betray to the most experienced courtier the outward symptoms of favour or caprice.

Education had fitted him for the cloister, but the necessities of despotism had added acute cunning to slavish superst.i.tion. The business for which Calderon had been summoned was despatched, with a silence broken but by monosyllables from the king, and brief explanations from the secretary; and Philip, rising, gave the signal for Calderon to retire. It was then that the king, turning a dull but steadfast eye upon the marquis, said, with a kind of effort, as if speech were painful to him,

“The prince left me but a minute before your entrance–have you seen him since your return?”

“Your majesty, yes. He honoured me this morning with his presence.”

“On state affairs?”

“Your majesty knows, I trust, that your servant treats of state affairs only with your August self, or your appointed ministers.”

“The prince has favoured you, Don Roderigo.”

“Your majesty commanded me to seek that favour.”

“It is true. Happy the monarch whose faithful servant is the confidant of the heir to his crown!”

“Could the prince harbour one thought displeasing to your majesty, I think I could detect and quell it at its birth. But your majesty is blessed in a grateful son.”

“I believe it. His love of pleasure decoys him from ambition–so it should be. I am not an austere parent. Keep his favour, Don Roderigo; it pleases me. Hast thou offended him in aught?”

“I trust I have not incurred so great a misfortune.”

“He spoke not of thee with his usual praises–I noticed it. I tell thee this that thou mayest rectify what is wrong. Thou canst not serve me more than by guarding him from all friendships save with those whose affection to myself I can trust. I have said enough.”

“Such has ever been my object. Bat I have not the youth of the prince, and men speak ill of me, that, in order to gain his confidence, I share in his pursuits.”

“It matters not what they say of thee. Faithful ministers are rarely eulogised by the populace or the court. Thou knowest my mind: I repeat, lose not the prince’s favour.” Calderon bowed low, and withdrew. As he pa.s.sed through the apartments of the palace, he crossed a gallery, in which he perceived, stationed by a window, the young prince and his own arch-foe, the Duke d’Uzeda. At the same instant, from an opposite door, entered the Cardinal-Duke de Lerma; and the same unwelcome conjunction of hostile planets smote the eyes of that intriguing minister. Precisely because Uzeda was the duke’s son was he the man in the world whom the duke most dreaded and suspected.

Whoever is acquainted with the Spanish comedy will not fail to have remarked the prodigality of intrigue and counter-intrigue upon which its interest is made to depend. In this, the Spanish comedy was the faithful mirror of the Spanish life, especially in the circles of a court. Men lived in a perfect labyrinth of plot and counter-plot. The spirit of finesse, manoeuvre, subtlety, and double-dealing pervaded every family.

Not a house that was not divided against itself.

As Lerma turned his eyes from the unwelcome spectacle of such sudden familiarity between Uzeda and the heir-apparent–a familiarity which it had been his chief care to guard against–his glance fell on Calderon.

He beckoned to him in silence, and retired, un.o.bserved by the two confabulators, through the same door by which he had entered. Calderon took the hint, and followed him. The duke entered a small room, and carefully closed the door.

“How is this, Calderon?” he asked, but in a timid tone, for the weak old man stood in awe of his favourite. “Whence this new and most ill-boding league?”

“I know not, your eminence; remember that I am but just returned to Madrid: it amazes me no less than it does your eminence.”

“Learn the cause of it, my good Calderon: the prince ever professed to hate Uzeda. Restore him to those feelings thou art all in all with his highness! If Uzeda once gain his ear, thou art lost.”

“Not so,” cried Calderon, proudly. “My service is to the king; I have a right to his royal protection, for I have a claim on his royal grat.i.tude.”

“Do not deceive thyself,” said the duke, in a whisper. “The king cannot live long: I have it from the best authority, his physician; nor is this all–a formidable conspiracy against thee exists at court. But for myself and the king’s confessor, Philip would consent to thy ruin.

The strong hold thou hast over him is in thy influence with the Infanta–influence which he knows to be exerted on behalf of his own fearful and jealous policy; that influence gone, neither I nor Aliaga could suffice to protect thee. Enough! Shut every access to Philip’s heart against Uzeda.” Calderon bowed in silence, and the duke hastened to the royal cabinet.

“What a fool was I to think that I could still wear a conscience!”

muttered Calderon, with a sneering lip; “but, Uzeda, I will baffle thee yet.”

The next morning, the Marquis de Siete Iglesias presented himself at the levee of the prince of Spain.

Around the favourite, as his proud stature towered above the rest, flocked the obsequious grandees. The haughty smile was yet on his lip when the door opened and the prince entered. The crowd, in parting suddenly, left Calderon immediately in front of Philip; who, after gazing on him sternly for a moment, turned away, with marked discourtesy, from the favourite’s profound reverence, and began a low and smiling conversation with Gonsalez de Leon, one of Calderon’s open foes.

The crowd exchanged looks of delight and surprise; and each or the n.o.bles, before so wooing in their civilities to the minister, edged cautiously away.

His mortification had but begun. Presently Uzeda, hitherto almost a stranger to those apartments, appeared; the prince hastened to him, and in a few minutes the duke was seen following the prince into his private chamber. The sun of Calderon’s favour seemed set. So thought the courtiers: not so the haughty favourite. There was even a smile of triumph on his lip–a sanguine flush upon his pale cheek, as he turned unheeding from the throng, and then entering his carriage, regained his home.

He had scarcely re-entered his cabinet, ere, faithful to his appointment, Fonseca was announced.

“What tidings, my best of friends?” exclaimed the soldier.

Calderon shook his head mournfully.

“My dear pupil,” said he, in accents of well-affected sympathy, “there is no hope for thee. Forget this vain dream–return to the army. I can promise thee promotion, rank, honours; but the hand of Beatriz is beyond my power.”

“How?” said Fonseca, turning pale and sinking into a seat. “How is this?

Why so sudden a change? Has the queen–“

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