Calderon the Courtier Part 3

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Calderon the Courtier is a Webnovel created by Baron Edward Bulwer Lytton.
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“I have not seen her majesty; but the king is resolved upon this matter: so are the Inquisition. The Church complains of recent and numerous examples of unholy and im politic relaxation of her dread power. The court dare not interfere. The novice must be left to her own choice.”

“And there is no hope?”

“None! Return to the excitement of thy brave career.”

“Never!” cried Fonseca, with great vehemence. “If, in requital of all my services–of life risked, blood spilt, I cannot obtain a boon so easy to accord me, I renounce a service in which even fame has lost its charm.

And hark you, Calderon, I tell you that I will not forego this pursuit.

So fair, so innocent a victim shall not be condemned to that living tomb. Through the walls of the nunnery, through the spies of the Inquisition, love will find out its way; and in some distant land I will yet unite happiness and honour. I fear not exile; I fear not reverse; I no longer fear poverty itself. All lands, where the sound of the trumpet is not unknown, can afford career to the soldier, who asks from Heaven no other boon but his mistress and his sword.”

“You will seek to abstract Beatriz, then?” said Calderon, calmly and musingly. “Yes–it may be your best course, if you take the requisite precautions. But can you see her? can you concert with her?”

“I think so. I trust I have already paved the way to an interview.

Yesterday, after I quitted thee, I sought the convent; and, as the chapel is one of the public sights of the city, I made my curiosity my excuse. Happily, I recognised in the porter of the convent an old servitor of my father’s; he had known me from a child–he dislikes his calling–he will consent to accompany our flight, to share our fortunes: he has promised to convey a letter from me to Beatriz, and to transmit to me her answer.”

“The stars smile on thee, Don Martin. When thou hast learned more, consult with me again. Now, I see a way to a.s.sist thee.”

CHAPTER VI. WEB UPON WEB.

The next day, to the discomfiture of the courtiers, Calderon and the Infant of Spain were seen together, publicly, on the parade; and the secretary made one of the favoured few who attended the prince at the theatre. His favour was greater, his power more dazzling than ever it had been known before. No cause for the breach and reconciliation being known, some attributed it to caprice, others to the wily design of the astute Calderon for the humiliation of Uzeda, who seemed only to have been admitted to one smile from the rising sun in order more signally to be reconsigned to the shade.

Meanwhile, Fonseca prospered almost beyond his hopes. Young, ardent, sanguine, the poor novice had fled from her quiet home and the indulgence of her free thoughts, to the chill solitude of the cloister, little dreaming of the extent of the change. With a heart that overflowed with the warm thoughts of love and youth, the ghostlike shapes that flitted round her, the icy forms, the rigid ceremonials of that life, which is but the mimicry of death, appalled and shocked her. That she had preserved against a royal and most perilous, because unscrupulous suitor, her fidelity to the absent Fonseca, was her sole consolation.

Another circ.u.mstance had combined with the loss of her protectress and the absence of Don Martin to sadden her heart and dispose her to the cloister. On the deathbed of the old woman, who had been to her as a mother, she had learned a secret hitherto concealed from her tender youth. Dark and tragic were the influences of the star which had shone upon her birth, gloomy the heritage of memories a.s.sociated with her parentage. A letter, of which she now became the guardian and treasurer–a letter, in her mother’s hand-woke tears more deep and bitter than she had ever shed for herself. In that letter she read the strength and the fidelity, the sorrow and the gloom, of woman’s love; and a dreary foreboding told her that the shadow of the mother’s fate was cast over the child’s. Such were the thoughts that made the cloister welcome, till the desolation of the shelter was tried and known. But when, through the agency of the porter, Fonseca’s letter reached her, all other feelings gave way to the burst of natural and pa.s.sionate emotion. The absent had returned, again wooed, was still faithful.

The awful vow was not spoken–she might yet be his. She answered; she chided; she spoke of doubt, of peril, of fear for him, of maiden shame; but her affection coloured every word, and the letter was full of hope.

The correspondence continued; the energetic remonstrances of Fonseca, the pure and fervent attachment of the novice, led more and more rapidly and surely to the inevitable result. Beatriz yielded to the prayer of her lover; she consented to the scheme of escape and flight that he proposed.

Late at evening Fonseca sought Calderon. The marquis was in the gardens of his splendid mansion.

The moonlight streamed over many a row of orange-trees and pomegranates–many a white and richly sculptured vase, on its marble pedestal–many a fountain, that scattered its low music round the breathless air. Upon a terrace that commanded a stately view of the spires and palaces of Madrid stood Calderon, alone; beside him, one solitary and gigantic aloe cast its deep gloom of shade and his motionless att.i.tude, his folded arms, his face partially lifted to the starlit heavens, bespoke the earnestness and concentration of his thoughts.

“Why does this shudder come over me?” said, he, half aloud. “It was thus in that dismal hour which preceded the knowledge of my shame–the deed of a dark revenge–the revolution of my eventful and wondrous life! Ah!

how happy was I once! a contented and tranquil student; a believer in those eyes that were to me as the stars to the astrologer. But the golden age pa.s.sed into that of iron. And now,” added Calderon, with a self-mocking sneer, “comes the era which the poets have not chronicled; for fraud, and hypocrisy, and vice, know no poets!”

The quick step of Fonseca interrupted the courtier’s reverie. He turned, knit his brow, and sighed heavily, as if nerving himself to some effort; but his brow was smooth, and his aspect cheerful, ere Fonseca reached his side.

“Give me joy–give me joy, dear Calderon! she has consented. Now, then, your promised aid.”

“You can depend upon the fidelity of your friendly porter?

“With my life.”

“A master key to the back-door of the chapel has been made?”

“See, I have it.”

“And Beatriz can contrive to secrete herself in the confessional at the hour of the night prayers?”

“There is no doubt of her doing so with safety. The number of the novices is so great, that one of them cannot well be missed.”

“So much, then, for your part of the enterprise. Now for mine. You know that solitary house in the suburbs, on the high road to Fuencarral, which I pointed out to you yesterday? Well, the owner is a creature of mine. There, horses shall be in waiting; there, disguises shall be prepared. Beatriz must necessarily divest herself of the professional dress; you had better choose meaner garments for yourself. Drop those hidalgo t.i.tles of which your father is so proud, and pa.s.s off yourself and the novice as a notary and his wife, about to visit France on a lawsuit of inheritance. One of my secretaries shall provide you with a pa.s.s. Meanwhile, to-morrow, I shall be the first officially to hear of the flight of the novice, and I will set the pursuers on a wrong scent.

Have I not arranged all things properly, my Fonseca?”

“You are our guardian angel!” cried Don Martin, fervently. “The prayers of Beatriz will be registered in your behalf above–prayers that will reach the Great Throne as easily from the open valleys of France as in the gloomy cloisters of Madrid. At midnight, to-morrow, then, we seek the house you have described to us.”

“Ay, at midnight, all shall be prepared.”

With a light step and exulting heart, Fonseca turned from the palace of Calderon. Naturally sanguine and high-spirited, visions of hope and joy floated before his eyes, and the future seemed to him a land owning but the twin deities of Glory and Love.

He had reached about the centre of the streets in which Calderon’s abode was placed, when six men, who for some moments had been watching him from a little distance, approached.

“I believe,” said the one who appeared the chief of the band, “that I have the honor to address Senior Don Martin Fonseca?”

“Such is my name.”

“In the name of the king we arrest you. Follow us.”

“Arrest! on what plea? What is my offence?”

“It is stated on this writ, signed by his Eminence the Cardinal-Duke de Lerma. You are charged with the crime of desertion.”

“Thou liest, knave! I had the general’s free permission to quit the camp.”

“We have said all–follow!”

Fonseca, naturally of the most impetuous and pa.s.sionate character, was not, in that moment, in a mood to calculate coldly all the consequences of resistance. Arrest–imprisonment–on the eve before that which was to see him the deliverer of Beatriz, const.i.tuted a sentence of such despair, that all other considerations vanished before it. He set his teeth firmly, drew his sword, dashed aside the alguazil who attempted to obstruct his path, and strode grimly on, shaking one clenched hand in defiance, while, with the other, he waved the good Toledo that had often blazed in the van of battle, at the war-cry of “St. Iago and Spain!”

The alguazils closed round the soldier, and the clash of swords was already heard; when suddenly torches borne on high threw their glare across the moonlit street, and two running footmen called out, “Make way for the most n.o.ble the Marquis de Siete Iglesias!” At that name, Fonseca dropped the point of his weapon; the alguazils themselves drew aside; and the tall figure and pale countenance of Calderon were visible amongst the group.

“What means this brawl in the open streets at this late hour?” said the minister, sternly.

“Calderon!” exclaimed Fonseca; “this is indeed fortunate. These caitiffs have dared to lay hands on a soldier of Spain, and to forge for their villany the name of his own kinsman, the Duke de Lerma.”

“Your charge against this gentleman?” asked Calderon, calmly, turning to the princ.i.p.al alguazil, who placed the writ of arrest in the secretary’s hand. Calderon read it leisurely, and raised his hat as he returned it to the alguazil: he then drew aside Fonseca.

“Are you mad?” said he, in a whisper. “Do you think you can resist the law? Had I not arrived so opportunely you would have converted a slight accusation into a capital offence. Go with these men: do not fear; I will see the duke, and obtain your immediate release. To-morrow I will visit and accompany you home.”

Fonseca, still half beside himself with rage, would have replied, but Calderon significantly placed his finger on his lip and turned to the alguazils.

“There is a mistake here: it will be rectified to-morrow. Treat this cavalier with all the respect and worship due to his birth and merits.

Go, Don Martin, go,” he added, in a lower voice; “go, unless you desire to lose Beatriz for ever. Nothing but obedience can save you from the imprisonment of half a life!”

Awed and subdued by this threat, Fonseca, in gloomy silence, placed his sword in its sheath, and sullenly followed the alguazils. Calderon watched them depart with a thoughtful and absent look; then, starting from his reverie, he bade his torchbearers proceed, and resumed his way to the Prince of Spain.

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