Calderon the Courtier Part 5

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

The Jew appeared and was ordered to summon Jacinta. A young woman of the same persuasion, and of harsh and forbidding exterior, entered, and to her care Calderon briefly consigned the yet insensible Beatriz.

While Jacinta unlaced the dress, and chafed the temples, of the novice, Calderon seemed buried in gloomy thought. At last he strode slowly away, as if to quit the chamber, when his foot struck against the case of the picture, and his eye rested upon a paper which lay therein, folded and embedded. He took it up, and, lifting aside the hangings, hurried into a small cabinet lighted by a single lamp. Here, alone and unseen, Calderon read the following letter:

“TO RODERIGO NUNEZ.

“Will this letter ever meet thine eyes? I know not; but it is comfort to write to thee on the bed of death; and were it not for that horrible and haunting thought that thou believest me–me whose very life was in thy love–faithless and dishonoured, even death itself would be the sweeter because it comes from the loss of thee. Yes, something tells me that these lines will not be written in vain; that thou wilt read them yet, when this hand is still and this brain at rest, and that then thou wilt feel that I could not have dared to write to thee if I were not innocent; that in every word thou wilt recognise the evidence that is strong as the voice of thousands,–the simple but solemn evidence of faith and truth. What! when for thee I deserted all–home, and a father’s love, wealth, and the name I had inherited from Moors who had been monarchs in their day–couldst thou think that I had not made the love of thee the core, and life, and principle of my very being! And one short year, could that suffice to shake my faith?–one year of marriage, but two months of absence? You left me, left that dear home, by the silver Xenil. For love did not suffice to you; ambition began to stir within you, and you called it ‘love.’ You said, ‘It grieved you that I was poor; that you could not restore to me the luxury and wealth I had lost.’ (Alas! why did you turn so incredulously from my a.s.surance, that in you, and you alone, were centred my ambition and pride?) You declared that the vain readers of the stars had foretold at your cradle that you were predestined to lofty honours and dazzling power, and that the prophecy would work out its own fulfilment. You left me to seek in Madrid your relation who had risen into the favour of a minister, and from whose love you expected to gain an opening to your career. Do you remember how we parted? how you kissed away my tears, and how they gushed forth again? how again and again you said, ‘Farewell!’ and again and again returned as if we could never part? And I took my babe, but a few weeks born, from her cradle, and placed her in thy arms, and bade thee see that she had already learned thy smile; and were these the signs of falsehood? Oh, how I pined for the sound of thy footstep when thou wert gone! how all the summer had vanished from the landscape; and how, turning to thy child, I fancied I again beheld thee! The day after thou hadst left me there was a knock at the cottage; the nurse opened it, and there entered your former rival, whom my father had sought to force upon me, the richest of the descendants of the Moor, Arraez Ferrares. Why linger on this hateful subject? He had tracked us to our home, he had learned thy absence, he came to insult me with his vows. By the Blessed Mother, whom thou hast taught me to adore, by the terror and pang of death, by my hopes of Heaven, I am innocent, Roderigo, I am innocent! Oh, how couldst thou be so deceived? He quitted the cottage, discomfited and enraged; again he sought me, and again and again; and when the door was closed upon him, he waylaid my steps. Lone and defenceless as we were, thy wife and child, with but one attendant I feared him not; but I trembled at thy return, for I knew that thou went a Spaniard, a Castilian, and that beneath thy calm and gentle seeming lurked pride, and jealousy, and revenge. Thy letter came, the only letter since thy absence, the last letter from thee I may ever weep over, and lay upon my heart. Thy relation was dead, and his wealth enriched a nearer heir. Thou wert to return. The day in which I might expect thee approached–it arrived. During the last week I had seen and heard no more of Ferrares. I trusted that he had at length discovered the vanity of his pursuit. I walked into the valley, thy child in my arms, to meet thee; but thou didst not come. The sun set, and the light of thine eyes replaced not the declining day. I returned home, and watched for thee all night, but in vain. The next morning again I went forth into the valley, and again, with a sick heart, returned to my desolate home. It was then noon. As I approached the door I perceived Ferrares. He forced his entrance. I told him of thy expected return, and threatened him with thy resentment. He left me; and, terrified with a thousand vague forebodings, I sat down to weep. The nurse, Leonarda, was watching by the cradle of our child in the inner room.

“I was alone. Suddenly the door opened. I heard thy step; I knew it; I knew its music. I started up. Saints of Heaven! what a meeting–what a return! Pale, haggard, thine hands and garments dripping blood, thine eyes blazing with insane fire, a terrible smile of mockery on thy lip, thou stoodst before me. I would have thrown myself on thy breast; thou didst cast me from thee; I fell on my knees, and thy blade was pointed at my heart–the heart so full of thee! ‘He is dead,’ didst thou say, in a hollow voice; ‘he is dead–thy paramour–take thy bed beside him!’ I know not what I said, but it seemed to move thee; thy hand trembled, and the point of thy weapon dropped. It was then that, hearing thy voice, Leonarda hastened into the room, and bore in her arms thy child.

‘See,’ I exclaimed, ‘see thy daughter; see, she stretches her hands to thee–she pleads for her mother!’ At that sight thy brow became dark, the demon seized upon thee again. ‘Mine!’ were thy cruel words–they ring in my ear still–‘no! she was born before the time–ha! ha!–thou didst betray me from the first!’ With that thou didst raise thy sword; but, even then (ah, blessed thought! even then) remorse and love palsied thy hand, and averted thy gaze: the blow was not that of death. I fell senseless to the ground, and when I recovered thou wert gone. Delirium succeeded; and when once more my senses and reason returned to me, I found by my side a holy priest, and from him, gradually, I learned all that till then was dare. Ferrares had been found in the valley, weltering in his blood. Borne to a neighbouring monastery, he lingered a few days, to confess the treachery he had practised on thee; to adopt, in his last hours, the Christian faith; and to attest his crime with his own signature. He enjoined the monk, who had converted and confessed him, to place this proof of my innocence in my hands. Behold it enclosed within. If this letter ever reach thee, thou wilt learn how thy wife was true to thee in life, and has therefore the right to bless thee in death.”

At this pa.s.sage, Calderon dropped the letter, and was seized with a kind of paralysis, which for some moments seemed to deprive him of life itself. When he recovered he eagerly grasped a scroll that was enclosed in the letter, but which, hitherto, he had disregarded. Even then, so strong were his emotions, that sight itself was obscured and dimmed, and it was long before he could read the characters, which were already discoloured by time.

“TO INEZ.

“I have but a few hours to live,–let me spend them in atonement and in prayer, less for myself than thee. Thou knowest not how madly I adored thee; and how thy hatred or indifference stung every pa.s.sion into torture. Let this pa.s.s. When I saw thee again–the forsaker of thy faith–poor, obscure, and doomed to a peasant’s lot–daring hopes shaped themselves into fierce resolves. Finding that thou wert inexorable, I turned my arts upon thy husband. I knew his poverty and his ambition: we Moors have had ample knowledge of the avarice of the Christians’. I bade one whom I could trust to seek him out at Madrid. Wealth–lavish wealth–wealth that could open to a Spaniard all the gates of power was offered to him if he would renounce thee forever. Nay, in order to crush out all love from his breast, it was told him that mine was the prior right–that thou hadst yielded to my suit ere thou didst fly with him–that thou didst use his love as an escape from thine own dishonour–that thy very child owned another father. I had learned, and I availed myself of the knowledge, that it was born before its time.

We had miscalculated the effect of this representation, backed and supported by forged letters: instead of abandoning thee, he thought only of revenge for his shame. As I left thy house, the last time I gazed upon thine indignant eyes, I found the avenger, on my path! He had seen me quit thy roof–he needed no other confirmation of the tale. I fell into the pit which I had digged for thee. Conscience unnerved my hand and blunted my sword: our blades scarcely crossed before his weapon stretched me on the ground. They tell me he has fled from the anger of the law; let him return without a fear Solemnly, and from the bed of death, and in the sight of the last tribunal, I proclaim to justice and the world that we fought fairly, and I perish justly. I have adopted thy faith, though I cannot comprehend its mysteries. It is enough that it holds out to me the only hope that we shall meet again. I direct these lines to be transmitted to thee–an eternal proof of thy innocence and my guilt. Ah, canst thou forgive me? I knew no sin till I knew thee.

“ARRAEZ FERRARES.”

Calderon paused ere he turned to the concluding lines of his wife’s letter; and, though he remained motionless and speechless, never were agony and despair stamped more terribly on the face of man.

CONCLUSION OF THE LETTER OF INEZ.

“And what avails to me this testimony of my faith? thou art fled; they cannot track thy footsteps; I shall see thee no more on earth. I am dying fast, but not of the wound I took from thee; let not that thought darken thy soul, my husband! No, that wound is healed. Thought is sharper than the sword. I have pilled away for the loss of thee and thy love! Can the shadow live without the sun? And wilt thou never place thy hands on my daughter’s head, and bless her for her mother’s sake? Ah, yes–yes! The saints that watch over our human destinies will one day cast her in thy way: and the same hour that gives thee a daughter shall redeem and hallow the memory of a wife…. Leonarda has vowed to be a mother to our child; to tend her, work for her, rear her, though in poverty, to virtue. I consign these letters to Leonarda’s charge, with thy picture–never to be removed from my breast till the heart within has ceased to beat. Not till Beatriz (I have so baptised her–it was thy mother’s name!) has attained to the age when reason can wrestle with the knowledge of sorrow, shall her years be shadowed with the knowledge of our fate. Leonarda has persuaded me that Beatriz shall not take thy name of Nunez. Our tale has excited horror–for it is not understood–and thou art called the murderer of thy wife; and the story of our misfortunes would cling to our daughter’s life, and reach her ears, and perhaps mar her fate. But I know that thou wilt discover her not the less, for Nature has a Providence of its own. When at last you meet her, protect, guard, love her–sacred to you as she is, and shall be–the pure but mournful legacy of love and death. I have done: I die blessing thee!” “INEZ.”

Scarce had he finished those last words, ere the clock struck: it was the hour in which the prince was to arrive. The thought restored Calderon to the sense of the present time–the approaching peril. All the cold calculations he had formed for the stranger-novice vanished now. He kissed the letter pa.s.sionately, placed it in his breast, and hurried into the chamber where he had left his child. Our tale returns to Fonseca.

CHAPTER IX. THE COUNTERPLOT.

Calderon had not long left the young soldier before the governor of the prison entered to pay his respects to a captive of such high birth and military reputation.

Fonseca, always blunt and impatient of mood, was not in a humour to receive and return compliments; but the governor had scarcely seated himself ere he struck a chord in the conversation which immediately arrested the attention and engaged the interest of the prisoner.

“Do not fear, sir,” said he, “that you will be long detained; the power of your enemy is great, but it will not be of duration. The storm is already gathering round him; he must be more than man if he escapes the thunderbolt.”

“Do you speak to me thus of my kinsman, the Cardinal-Duke de Lerma?”

“No, Don Martin, pardon me. I spoke of the Marquis de Siete Iglesias.

Are you so great a stranger to Madrid and to the court as to suppose that the Cardinal de Lerma ever signs a paper but at the instance of Don Roderigo? Nay, that he ever looks over the paper to which he sets his hand? Depend upon it, you are here to gratify the avarice or revenge of the Scourge of Spain.”

“Impossible!” cried Fonseca. “Don Roderigo is my friend–my intercessor.

He overwhelms me with his kindness.”

“Then you are indeed lost,” said the governor, in accents of compa.s.sion; “the tiger always caresses his prey before he devours it. What have you done to provoke his kindness?”

“Senor,” said Fonseca, suspiciously, “you speak with a strange want of caution to a stranger, and against a man whose power you confess.”

“Because I am safe from his revenge; because the Inquisition have already fixed their fatal eyes upon him; because by that Inquisition I am not unknown nor unprotected; because I see with joy and triumph the hour approaching that must render up to justice the pander of the prince, the betrayer of the king, the robber of the people; because I have an interest in thee, Don Martin, of which thou wilt be aware when thou hast learned my name. I am Juan de la Nuza, the father of the young officer whose life you saved in the a.s.sault of the Moriscos, in Valentia, and I owe you an everlasting grat.i.tude.”

There was something in the frank and hearty tone of the governor which at once won Fonseca’s confidence. He became agitated and distracted with suspicions of his former tutor and present patron.

“What, I ask, hast thou done to attract his notice? Calderon is not capricious in cruelty. Art thou rich, and does he hope that thou wilt purchase freedom with five thousand pistoles? No! Hast thou crossed the path of his ambition? Hast thou been seen with Uzeda? or art thou in favour with the prince? No, again! Then hast thou some wife, some sister, some mistress, of rare accomplishments and beauty, with whom Calderon would gorge the fancy and retain the esteem of the profligate Infant? Ah, thou changest colour.”

“By Heaven! you madden me with these devilish surmises. Speak plainly.”

“I see thou knowest not Calderon,” said the governor, with a bitter smile. “I do–for my niece was beautiful, and the prince wooed her–.

But enough of that: at his scaffold, or at the rack, I shall be avenged on Roderigo Calderon. You said the Cardinal was your kinsman; you are, then, equally related to his son, the Duke d’Uzeda. Apply not to Lerma; he is the tool of Calderon. Apply yourself to Uzeda; he is Calderon’s mortal foe. While Calderon gains ground with the prince, Uzeda advances with the king. Uzeda by a word can procure thy release. The duke knows and trusts me. Shall I be commissioned to acquaint him with thy arrest, and entreat his intercession with Philip?”

“You give me new life! But not an hour is to be lost; this night–this day-oh, Mother of Mercy! what image have you conjured up! fly to Uzeda, if you would save my very reason. I myself have scarcely seen him since my boyhood–Lerma forbade me seek his friendship. But I am of his race–his blood.”

“Be cheered, I shall see the duke to-day. I have business with him where you wot not. We are bringing strange events to a crisis. Hope the best.”

With this the governor took his leave.

At the dusk of the evening, Don Juan de la Nuza, wrapped in a dark mantle, stood before a small door deep-set in a ma.s.sive and gloomy wall, that stretched along one side of a shunned and deserted street. Without sign of living hand, the door opened at his knock, and the governor entered a long and narrow pa.s.sage that conducted to chambers more a.s.sociated with images of awe than any in his own prison. Here he suddenly encountered the Jesuit, Fray Louis de Aliaga, confessor to the king.

“How fares the Grand Inquisitor?” asked De la Nuza. “He has just breathed his last,” answered the Jesuit. “His illness–so sudden–defied all aid. Sandoval y Roxas is with the saints.”

The governor, who was, as the reader may suppose, one of the sacred body, crossed himself, and answered.–“With whom will rest the appointment of the successor? Who will be first to gain the ear of the king?”

“I know not,” replied the Jesuit; “but I am at this instant summoned to Uzeda. Pardon my haste.”

So saying, Aliaga glided away.

“With Sandoval y Roxas,” muttered Don Juan, “dies the last protector of Calderon and Lerma: unless, indeed, the wily marquis can persuade the king to make Aliaga, his friend, the late cardinal’s successor. But Aliaga seeks Uzeda–Uzeda his foe and rival. What can this portend?”

Thus soliloquising, the governor silently continued his way till he came to a door by which stood two men, masked, who saluted him with a mute inclination of the head. The door opened and again closed, as the governor entered. Meanwhile, the confessor had gained the palace of the Duke d’ Uzeda. Uzeda was not alone: with him was a man whose sallow complexion, ill-favoured features, and simple dress strangely contrasted the showy person and sumptuous habiliments of the duke. But the instant this personage opened his lips, the comparison was no longer to his prejudice. Something in the sparkle of his deep-set eye-in the singular enchantment of his smile–and above all, in the tone of a very musical and earnest voice, chained attention at once to his words. And, whatever those words, there was about the man, and his mode of thought and expression, the stamp of a mind at once crafty and commanding. This personage was Gaspar de Guzman, then but a gentleman of the Prince’s chamber (which post he owed to Calderon, whose creature he was supposed to be), afterwards so celebrated in the history of Philip IV., as Count of Olivares and prime minister of Spain.

The conversation between Guzman and Uzeda, just before the Jesuit entered, was drawing to a close.

“You see,” said Uzeda, “that if we desire to crush Calderon, it is on the Inquisition that we must depend. Now is the time to elect, in the successor of Sandoval y Roxas, one pledged to the favourite’s ruin.

The reason I choose Aliaga is this,–Calderon will never suspect his friendship, and will not, therefore, thwart us with the king. The Jesuit, who would sell all Christendom for the sake of advancement to his order or himself will gladly sell Calderon to obtain the chair of the Inquisition.”

“I believe it,” replied Guzman. “I approve your choice; and you may rely on me to destroy Calderon with the prince. I have found out the way to rule Philip; it is by never giving him a right to despise his favourites–it is to flatter his vanity, but not to share his vices.

Trust me, you alone–if you follow my suggestions–can be minister to the Fourth Philip.”

Here a page entered to announce Don Fray Louis de Aliaga. Uzeda advanced to the door, and received the holy man with profound respect.

“Be seated, father, and let me at once to business; for time presses, and all must be despatched to-night. Before interest is made by others with the king, we must be prompt in gaining the appointment of Sandoval’s successor.”

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