The Exemplary Novels of Cervantes/The Spanish-English Lady
THE SPANISH-ENGLISH LADY.
Among the spoils which the English carried off from the city of Cadiz, was a little girl of about seven years old. An English gentleman, named Clotald, commander of a squadron of vessels, took her to London without the knowledge of the Earl of Essex, and in defiance of his general orders. The parents complained to the earl of the loss of their child, and implored him, since he had declared that property alone should be seized, and the persons of the inhabitants should be left free, they should not, besides being reduced to poverty, suffer the additional misery of being deprived of their daughter, who was the very light of their eyes. The earl caused it to be proclaimed throughout his whole army, that whoever had possession of the child, should restore her on pain of death; but no threatened penalties could constrain Clotald to obey; in spite of them, he kept the child concealed in his ship, being fascinated, though in a Christian manner, with the incomparable beauty of Isabella, as she was called. In fine, her inconsolable parents were left to mourn her loss, and Clotald, rejoicing beyond measure, returned to London, and presented the pretty child to his wife, as the richest prize he had brought home from the war.
It happened fortunately that all the members of Clotald's household were catholics in secret, though in public they affected to follow the religion of the state. Clotald had a son about twelve years old, named Richard, who was brought up by his parents to love and fear God, and to be very stedfast in the truths of the catholic faith. Catherine, the wife of Clotald, a noble, Christian, and prudent lady, conceived such an affection for Isabella, that she reared her as if she was her own daughter; and the child was so well endowed by nature, that she readily learned all they taught her. Time and the kind treatment she received, gradually wore out from her recollection that which her parents had bestowed upon her; not so much so, however, but that she often thought of them with a sigh. Though she learned English, she did not forget her native tongue, for Clotald took care to bring Spaniards secretly to his house to converse with her, and thus it was, that without ceasing to speak Spanish, she became as proficient in English as if she had been born in London.
After having learned all kinds of work becoming a young lady of good birth, she was taught to read and write more than passably well; but what she excelled in above all, was in playing all sorts of instruments suitable to her sex, with extraordinary perfection of musical taste and skill, and with the accompaniment of a voice which Heaven had endowed with such melody that when she chanted she enchanted. All these graces, natural and acquired, gradually inflamed the heart of Richard, whom she loved and respected as the son of her lord. At first his affection for her was like that of a brother for a sister, but when she reached her twelfth year, this feeling had changed into a most ardent desire to possess her, but only in the honourable way of becoming her lawful spouse; for Isabella's incomparable virtue made it hopeless to obtain her in any other way, nor would he have done so even, if he could, for his own noble disposition, and the high estimation in which he held her, forbade any bad thought to take root in his soul.
A thousand times he determined to make known his passion to his father and mother, and as often broke his resolution, knowing that they had destined him to be the husband of a young Scotch lady of great wealth and good family, who, like themselves, secretly professed the catholic faith; and it seemed clear to him, that after having betrothed him to a lady of rank, they would not think of bestowing him on a slave, if that name could be applied to Isabella. Agitated by these distressing reflections, not knowing what course to pursue or whom to consult, he fell into a melancholy that nearly cost him his life. But thinking it was a very cowardly thing to let himself die without making any kind of effort for his own relief, he strove to gather up courage enough to declare his feelings to Isabella.
Everybody in the house was grieved for Richard's illness for he was beloved by them all, and by his parents to the utmost degree, both because he was their only child, and because his virtues, his worth, and good sense deserved all their affection. The physicians could not make out the nature of his complaint, nor could he himself venture to declare it. At last, one day when Isabella entered his room alone, to attend upon him, he said to her, with a faltering voice and stammering tongue, "Lovely Isabella, your worth, your great virtue, and exceeding beauty, have brought me to the state you see; if you would not have me perish in the worst agonies that can be imagined, say that you return the love I feel for you, and consent to my fondest desire, which is to make you secretly my wife; for I fear that my parents, not knowing your merits as I do, would refuse me a blessing to me so indispensable. If you will give me your word to be mine, I here pledge you my own, as a true catholic Christian, to be yours; and though our union be deferred, as deferred it shall be until it can take place with the church's sanction and that of my parents, yet the thought that you will surely be mine, will be enough to restore me to health, and to keep my spirits buoyant until the happy day arrives."
Whilst Richard was speaking, Isabella stood with downcast eyes, and when he had ceased, she replied with equal modesty and good sense, "Ever since Heaven, in its anger or its mercy (I know not which), withdrew me from my parents, Señor Richard, and gave me to yours, I have resolved, in gratitude for the infinite kindness they have bestowed upon me, never to act in opposition to their wishes; and without their consent, I should regard the inestimable boon you desire to confer upon me, not as a good but as an evil fortune. Should it ever be my happy destiny to be acknowledged by them as worthy of you, be assured that my heart shall be yours; but till that time comes, or should it never come, let it console you to know that the dearest wish of my soul will ever be that you may know every blessing which Heaven can bestow upon you." She said no more, but from that moment began the convalescence of Richard, and the revival of his parents' drooping hopes.
The youthful pair took courteous leave of each other, he with tears in his eyes, and she wondering in her soul to see that of Richard captive to her love. As for him, having been raised from his sick bed by a miracle, as it seemed to his parents, he would no longer conceal from them the state of his feelings, but disclosed it one day to his mother, and ended a long conversation by declaring that they might as well put him to death as refuse him Isabella, for it amounted to the same thing. He extolled the virtues of Isabella in such terms, that he almost brought his mother to think that in becoming her son's wife she would have the worst of the bargain. Accordingly she gave Richard good hopes that she would prevail on his father to assent to his wishes, as she herself did; in this she succeeded, for by repeating to her husband all Richard's arguments, she easily induced him to approve of the young man's design, and to find excuses for breaking off the match with the Scotch lady.
At this time Isabella was fourteen and Richard twenty; but even in that early spring time of their youth, they were old in sense and judgment. It wanted but four days of the time appointed by Richard's parents when he should bend his neck to the holy yoke of matrimony; and wise and fortunate did they deem themselves in choosing their prisoner to be their daughter, esteeming her virtues to be a better dower than the great wealth of the Scotch lady. The preparations for the wedding were all made, the relations and friends of the family were invited, and nothing remained but to make known the intended match to the Queen, no marriage between persons of noble blood being lawful without her knowledge and consent; but making no doubt of obtaining the royal licence, they put off applying for it to the last. Things being in this state, their joy was disturbed one evening by the appearance of one of the Queen's servants with an order to Clotald from her Majesty, requiring his appearance before her next morning with his Spanish prisoner. He replied that he would cheerfully obey her Majesty's command. The messenger retired, and left the family in great perturbation; "Alas," said dame Catherine, "what if the Queen knows that I have brought up this girl as a Catholic, and thence infers that we are all of us Christians in this house! For, if her Majesty asks her what she has learned during the eight years she has been with us, what answer can she give with all her discretion, poor timid girl, that will not condemn us?"
"Be under no fear on that account, dear lady," said Isabella; "for I trust in the divine goodness and mercy of Heaven, that it will put such words into my mouth as will not only not condemn you, but redound to your advantage."
Richard trembled as if he foreboded some calamity. Clotald cast about for some encouragement to allay his grievous fears, and found none but in his great trust in God and in the prudence of Isabella, whom he earnestly entreated to try in every possible way to avoid convicting them of being Catholics; for, though their spirits were willing to encounter martyrdom, yet their flesh was weak and recoiled from the bitter trial. Isabella assured them over and over again that they might set their minds at rest; what they apprehended should not befal them through her instrumentality; for though she knew not then what answer she should make to the questions that should be put to her on the morrow, she had a lively and confident hope that she would reply in such a manner as would be for their good.
Many were the comments and surmises they made that night on this unwelcome incident, and especially it occurred to them that, if the Queen knew they were Catholics, she would not have sent them so mild a message; it seemed reasonable to infer from it, that she only desired to see Isabella, the fame of whose incomparable beauty and accomplishments, known to every one in the capital, must have reached her Majesty's ears. Clotald and his wife confessed to themselves, however, that they had done wrong in not presenting her at court, and they thought the best excuse they could make for this, was to say that ever since she had come into their hands, they had destined her to be the wife of their son. But even this would be acknowledging themselves culpable, since it would appear that they arranged the marriage without the Queen's leave; but such an offence would probably not incur any severe punishment. In this way, they comforted themselves, and they resolved that Isabella should not be dressed humbly like a prisoner, but in rich bridal attire, such as became the betrothed of a gentleman of importance Ike their son. Next day accordingly they dressed Isabella in the Spanish style, in a robe of green satin with a long train, and slashes lined with cloth of gold and looped with the pearls, the whole being adorned with precious stones; a diamond necklace and girdle, with a fan such as is carried by Spanish ladies; and for head dress her own luxuriant golden hair entwined with diamonds and pearls.
In that sumptuous attire, with her sprightly air and marvellous beauty, she made her appearance in London in a handsome coach, fascinating the eyes and souls of all who beheld her. Clotald, his wife, and Richard rode with her in the coach, and many noble relations of the family escorted her on horseback, Clotald desiring that all these honours should be paid to his prisoner, in order that the queen might treat her as his son's betrothed. When they arrived at the palace, and entered the vast hall in which her majesty was seated, Isabella's escort halted at the lower end, and she herself advanced alone in all her inconceivable beauty, producing an effect like that of a brilliant meteor shooting through the sky on a calm clear night, or of a sunbeam darting at the first dawn of day through a mountain gorge. A comet she seemed, portending a fiery doom to the hearts of many in that presence hall. Full of meekness and courtesy, she advanced to the foot of the throne, knelt before the queen, and said to her in English, "May it please your Majesty to extend your royal hands to your servant's lips, who will henceforth esteem herself exalted, since she has been so fortunate as to behold your grandeur."
The queen remained a good while gazing on her without saying a word, figuring to herself, as she afterwards told her lady of the bed-chamber, that she had before her a starry heaven, the stars of which were the many pearls and diamonds worn by Isabella; her fair face and her eyes its sun and moon, and her whole person a new marvel of beauty. The queen's ladies would fain have been all eyes, that they might do nothing but gaze on Isabella; one praised her brilliant eyes, one her complexion, another her fine figure, another her sweet voice; and one there was who said in pure envy, "The Spaniard is good looking, but I do not like her dress."
At last the queen motioned to Isabella to rise, and said to her, "Speak to me in Spanish, maiden, for I understand it well, and shall like to hear it." Then turning to Clotald, "You have done me wrong, Clotald," she said, "in keeping this treasure so many years concealed from me; but it is such a one as may well have excited you to avarice. You are bound however to restore it to me, for by right it is mine."
"My liege," replied Clotald, "what your majesty says is quite true; I confess my fault, if it is one, to have kept this treasure until it arrived at the perfection suitable for appearing before your majesty's eyes. Now that it has done so, I had it in mind to enhance it still more, by asking your majesty's leave for Isabella to become the wife of my son Richard."
"I like her name, too," returned the queen. "Nothing was wanting to the fulness of her perfection but that she should be called Isabella the Spaniard. But, mark you, Clotald, I know that, without my leave, you have promised her to your son."
"That is true, my liege, but it was in the confident hope that the many eminent services which my ancestors and I have rendered to the crown, would obtain from your majesty favours still more difficult to grant than the leave in question, the more so as my son is not yet wedded."
"Nor shall he be wedded to Isabella," said the queen, "until he has merited it in his own person. I mean that I will not have him avail himself to that end of your services or those of his forefathers. He must himself prepare to serve me, and win by his own deserts this prize which I esteem as if she were my daughter."
The queen had no sooner uttered these last words than Isabella again fell on her knees before her, saying in Spanish, "Such thwartings as these, most gracious sovereign, are rather to be esteemed auspicious boons than misfortunes. Your majesty has given me the name of daughter; after that what can I have to fear, or what may I not hope?"
Isabella uttered this with so winning a grace, that the queen conceived an extreme affection for her, desired that she should remain in her service, and committed her to the care of a great lady, her keeper of the robes, who was to instruct her in the duties of her new position.
Richard, who saw himself thus, as it were, deprived of his life in losing Isabella, was almost at his wits' end. Agitated and discomfited, he knelt before the queen, and said, "I need no other rewards to induce me to serve your majesty than such as my ancestors have obtained in the service of your royal predecessors; but since it is your majesty's pleasure that I should have new motives and incentives for my zeal, I would crave to know in what way I may fulfil your majesty's behest?"
"There are two ships ready to set out on a cruise," said the queen, "of which I have made the Baron de Lansac general. I appoint you captain of one of them, being assured that the qualities you derive from those whose blood is in your veins will supply the defect of your years. Mark what a favour I confer upon you, since I give you an opportunity to signalise yourself in the service of your queen, to display your capacity and your valour, and to win the highest reward, methinks, which you yourself could desire. I myself will be Isabella's guardian, though she manifests that her own virtue will be her truest guardian. Go in God's name; for since you are in love, as I imagine, I expect great things from your prowess. Fortunate were the king who in time of war had in his army ten thousand soldiers in love, expecting to obtain their mistresses as the reward of their victories. Rise, Richard, and if you have anything to say to Isabella, say it now, for to-morrow you must sail."
Richard kissed the queen's hands, highly prizing the favour she had conferred upon him, and went and knelt before Isabella. He tried to speak to her, but could not, for he felt as if there was a knot in his throat that paralysed his tongue. He strove with all his might to keep down the tears that started into his eyes, but he could not conceal them from the queen. "Shame not to weep, Richard," said her majesty, "nor think less of yourself for allowing such evidence of a tender heart to escape you, for it is one thing to fight the enemy, and another to take leave of one who is dearly loved. Isabella, embrace Richard, and give him your blessing: his affection well deserves it."
Isabella's heart ached to see Richard so cast down. She could not understand what her majesty said. Conscious of nothing but her grief, motionless, and blinded by her tears, she looked like a weeping statue of alabaster. The anguish of the two lovers drew tears from most of the beholders. In fine, Richard and Isabella separated without exchanging a word; and Clotald and his friends, after saluting the queen, left the hall full of grief and pity. Isabella felt like an orphan whose parents have just been buried, and dreaded lest her new mistress should make her abandon the rule of life in which she had been brought up.
Two days afterwards, Richard put to sea, distracted among many other sources of incertitude by two reflections—one was that he had to perform exploits by which he might merit Isabella's hand; and the other, that he could perform none without violating his conscience as a catholic, which forbade him to draw his sword against those of his own faith, but unless he did so, he should be denounced as a catholic or as a coward, to the peril of his life and his hopes. But, in fine, he determined to postpone his inclinations as a lover to his duty as a catholic, and in his heart he prayed heaven to send him occasions in which he might show himself at once valiant and a true Christian,—might satisfy his queen and merit Isabella.
For six days the two vessels sailed with a prosperous wind, shaping their course for the Western Islands, for, in that direction they could not fail to fall in with Portuguese East India men, or vessels returning from the West Indies; but on the seventh day the wind became contrary and continued that way so long that they could not make the islands, but were forced to run for the coast of Spain. On nearing it at the entrance of the straits of Gibraltar, they discovered three vessels, one very large and two small. Richard steered towards his commander's ship to know if it was his intention they should attack the three vessels just discovered; but on nearing it, he saw them hoist a black flag, and presently he heard a mournful sound of trumpets, indicating that either the general or one of his chief officers was dead. When he came within hail, which had not before been the case since they put to sea, there was a call from the leading ship for Captain Richard to come on board, as their general had died of apoplexy the preceding night. Sad as this news was, Richard could not help being glad, not of his admiral's death, but at finding himself in command of both ships, according to the Queen's orders for the contingency which had occurred. He went on board the flag-ship where he found some lamenting the old commander, and some rejoicing over the new one; but all promised him obedience, yet proclaimed him general with short ceremony, not having time for longer, for two out of the three vessels they had discovered had quitted the third and were bearing down upon them.
They at once made them out by the crescents on their flags to be Turkish galleys, to the great delight of Richard, who believed that with the help of Heaven he should make an important capture without prejudice to his religion. The two galleys came up to reconnoitre the English ships, which had not shown their national colours but those of Spain, in order to baffle those who might overhaul them, and prevent their recognising them as war cruisers. The Turks mistook them for trading vessels from India, and made sure of capturing them with ease. Richard took care to let them approach till they were well within range of his guns, which he let fly at them so opportunely, that with a single broadside he disabled one of the galleys, sending five balls through her middle and nearly cutting her in two. She immediately heeled over and began to founder; the other galley made haste to take her in tow, in order to get her under the lee of the large ship; but Richard, whose ships manoeuvred as rapidly as if they were impelled by oars, having reloaded his guns, pursued the retreating galleys, pouring upon them an incessant shower of balls. The crew of the crippled galley having clambered on board the large ship, Richard poured such a cross fire from his two ships on her consort, that she could neither use sails nor oars, and the Turks on board her, following the example of their comrades, took refuge in the large ship, not with the intention of defending her, but for the momentary safety of their lives. The Christian galley-slaves broke their chains, and mingling with the Turks also boarded the large ship, but as they were in danger from the musquetry of Richard's two ships as they were swarming up the side, he gave orders to cease firing on Turks and Christians alike. The former, however, had already lost the great part of their numbers, and the rest were cut to pieces with their own weapons by the revolted slaves, who, thinking the two English ships were Spanish, did marvels for the recovery of their freedom.
At last, when nearly all the Turks were killed, some Spaniards shouted from the deck to their supposed countrymen to come on board and enjoy the fruits of their victory. Richard asked them in Spanish what ship was that? They replied that she was a Portuguese ship from the West Indies, freighted with spices, and with such a quantity of diamonds and pearls that she was worth a million. She had been driven into those latitudes by a storm, much damaged, with all her guns thrown overboard, and her crew almost perishing of hunger and thirst. In that condition, being unable to make any resistance, she had been captured the day before by these two galleys, which belonged to the corsair Arnaut Mami, and which not having stowage room for her great cargo, had taken her in tow to convey her to the river Larache. Richard apprised them, in return, that if they supposed his two vessels were Spanish, they were greatly mistaken, for they belonged to the Queen of England. This information astonished and alarmed them, making them fear that they had escaped from one rock to founder on another; but Richard told them they had nothing to fear, and that they might rely on obtaining their liberty, provided they did not make any defence. "It would be impossible for us to do so," they said, "for as we have told you, we have neither cannon nor other arms, and have no choice but to throw ourselves upon the generosity of your general. Since he has freed us from the intolerable yoke of the Turks, let him enhance his good work by an act which will exalt his fame all over the world wherever the news reaches of this memorable victory and his magnanimity."
Richard lent a favourable ear to this request, and immediately called a council of his officers to consider what might be the best means of sending all the Christians to Spain, without incurring any risk from them, should their numbers encourage them to rise and attempt to overpower his crews. There were some who suggested that they should be brought on board one by one, and put to death as they entered. "No," said Richard; "since by God's grace we have obtained so rich a prize, I will not betray my ingratitude by such an act of cruelty. It is never well to have recourse to the sword, when, with a little forethought, the end may be secured by other means. I will, therefore, not have any Catholic Christian put to death, not that I care so much for them, but for my own sake and for yours, for I would not have the honour of our victory tarnished by cruelty. My orders are, then, that the crew of one of our ships, with all her guns and arms and the greater part of her stores, be put on board the large Portuguese vessel, which we will then take to England, and leave the Spaniards to return home on ours."
No one ventured to contravene this proposal, which to some appeared equally magnanimous and judicious, while others in their hearts condemned it as showing an undue leaning towards the Catholics.
Taking with him fifty arquebusiers Richard went on hoard the Portuguese ship, in which he found about three hundred persons, who had escaped out of the galleys. He immediately had the vessel he intended to discharge brought alongside, and had its guns brought on board. Then making a short speech to the Christians, he ordered them to pass into the discharged vessel, where they found stores enough for more than a month and for a greater number of people; and as they embarked he gave each of them four Spanish crowns, which he sent for to his own ship, in order partly to relieve their wants when they reached land, which was not far off; for the lofty mountains of Abyla and Calpe were in sight. They all thanked him heartily for his generous behaviour, and when they were nearly all embarked, the same person who had first spoken to him from the deck of the ship, addressed him, "You would do me a greater service, valorous sir, in taking me with you to England than in sending me to Spain; for, though it is my country, and it is but six days since I left it, I have nothing to look for there but grief and desolation.
"You must know, señor, that at the sack of Cadiz which happened about fifteen years ago, I lost a daughter, whom the English carried away with them to England, and with her I lost the comfort of my age and the light of my eyes, which since she passed from their sight, have never seen anything to gladden them. Grief for this calamity and for the loss of my property, of which I was also despoiled, so overcame me that I was no longer able or willing to apply myself to commerce, in which I had been so successful that I was commonly reputed to be the richest merchant in our whole city; and so indeed I was, for, besides my credit, which was good for many hundred thousand dollars, my estate was worth more than fifty thousand ducats. I lost all; yet all my losses would have been nothing had I not lost my daughter. After the general calamity and my own, want pressed me so hard, that not being able to bear up against it, myself and my wife—that woe-begone creature sitting yonder—determined to emigrate to the Indies, the common refuge of the well-born poor. We embarked six days ago in a packet-ship, but just outside the harbour of Cadiz we were captured by those two corsairs. This was a new addition to our affliction; but it would have been greater had not the corsair taken this Portuguese ship, which fortunately detained them until you came to our rescue."
In reply to Richard's question what was his daughter's name, the Spaniard said it was Isabella. This confirmed the suspicion which Richard had all along entertained, that the person before him was the father of his beloved mistress. Keeping this fact to himself, he told the Spaniard that he would willingly take him and his wife to London, where possibly they might obtain some intelligence about their child.
Taking them both on board his flag-ship, and having sufficiently armed and manned the Portuguese galleon, he set sail that night, avoiding the coast of Spain as much as possible, lest he should be intercepted in consequence of! information given by the liberated captives. Among the latter there were some twenty Turks, to whom also Richard granted freedom, to show that his conduct had been the result simply of his generous disposition, and not of any secret leaning to the Catholics: and he asked the Spaniards to set the Turks at liberty upon the first opportunity. The wind, which had blown fresh and fair at first, died away into a calm, to the dismay of the English, who murmured against Richard's unseasonable generosity, saying, that the liberated captives might give information of what had happened, and that if there chanced to be armed galleons in port, they might sally out and intercept them.
Richard knew that this was quite true, but strove to allay their fears in the best way he could. But what availed with them more than all his arguments, was that the wind sprang up again, so that they crowded all sail, and in nine days reached London, from which they had been only a month absent on their cruise. Richard would not enter the port with only joyous demonstrations, on account of the death of his late commander, but mingled signs of grief with them. At one moment bugles rang out cheerily, at the next they were answered by melancholy trumpet notes, and the wailing fife was heard at intervals between the lively rattle of the drum and the clash of arms. From one mast-head hung a Turkish banner reversed, and from another a long black streamer, the ends of which dipped in the water. In this manner he entered the river of London in his English ship, leaving the Portuguese ship at sea, for want of depth of water in the river to float it.
These conflicting demonstrations puzzled the vast multitudes, who observed them from the shore. They easily recognised the smaller vessel as the flag-ship of Baron Lansac; but they could not make out how it was that his second vessel had been exchanged for the large and powerful ship which lay out at sea. But the problem was solved when they saw the valorous Richard jump into his boat, fully equipped in rich and splendid armour. Without waiting for any other escort than that of a vast multitude of the people who followed him, he proceeded on foot to the palace, where the queen was standing in a balcony, waiting for news of the ships, and surrounded by her ladies, among whom was Isabella, dressed in the English style, which became her as well as the Castilian. A messenger, who had anticipated Richard's arrival, had startled her by the announcement of his coming, and she stood watching for him with feelings that fluttered between hope and fear, not knowing whether he had sped well or ill upon his expedition.
Richard was a young man of noble presence, tall and finely proportioned, and he looked to great advantage in a complete suit of Milanese armour all graven and gilded, and instead of a helmet, a wide-leafed fawn coloured hat with Walloon plumes. Thus equipped, and with his spirited bearing, to some he seemed like Mars the god of battles; others, struck by the beauty of his face, compared him to Venus sportively disguised in the armour of that god. When he came before the Queen he knelt, and gave a brief account of his expedition.
"After the sudden death of general de Lansac," he said, "I took his place in pursuance of your Majesty's gracious orders. Shortly afterwards we discovered two Turkish galleys towing a large ship, which we have brought home with us. We attacked them; your Majesty's soldiers fought with great spirit, as they always do, and the corsair galleys went to the bottom. I liberated in your Majesty's royal name the Christians who had escaped out of the hands of the Turks, and sent them away in one of our vessels; and have only brought with me one Spaniard and his wife, who desired of their own accord to come and behold your Majesty's greatness. The great ship we took, is one of those which come from the Portuguese possessions in India; being damaged by a storm, it fell into the power of the Turks, who took it without any difficulty. According to the account given by some of the Portuguese on board the ship, her cargo of spices, and the pearls and diamonds she carries, are worth more than a million. All is untouched, the Turks not having had time to lay hands on anything, and I have given orders that the whole should be presented to your Majesty. There is one jewel alone which, if your Majesty will bestow it upon me, will leave me your debtor for ten other ships. That jewel your Majesty has promised me: it is my Isabella, in obtaining whom I shall be richly rewarded, not only for this service, such as it is, which I have rendered your Majesty, but for many others which I intend to perform in order to repay some part of the incalculable amount which your Majesty will bestow upon me in that jewel."
"Rise, Richard," replied the queen, "and believe me that were I to deliver Isabella to you in the way of bargain at the price at which I value her, you could not pay for her with all the wealth of your prize-ship, nor with what remains in the Indies. I give her to you because I promised to do so, and because she is worthy of you, and you of her; your valour alone entitles you to have her. If you have kept the jewels in the ship for me, I have kept your jewel for you; and though it may seem to you that I do not do much for you in returning to you what is your own, I know that I confer upon you a boon the worth of which is beyond all human computation. Isabella is yours; there she stands; you may claim her when you will, and I believe that it will be with her own consent, for she has the good sense to prize your affection as it deserves. I shall expect you again to-morrow to give me a more detailed account of your exploits, and bring me those two Spaniards who wish to see me, that I may gratify their desire." Richard kissed the queen's hand, and her majesty retired.
The ladies now gathered round Richard, and one of them, the lady Tansi, who had taken a great liking to Isabella, and who was the liveliest and most facetious lady of the court, said to him, "What is all this, sir? Why these arms? Did you, perchance, imagine that you were coming here to fight your enemies? Believe me, you have none but friends here, unless it be the lady Isabella, who, as a Spaniard, is bound to bear you no good will."
"Let her only vouchsafe, Lady Tansi, to have me a little in her thoughts, and I am sure she will not think of me with ill will; for ingratitude can have no place in the heart of one so good, so wise, and so exquisitely fair."
"Since I am to be yours, señor Richard," said Isabella, "claim from me what you will in recompense for the praises you bestow upon me."
Whilst Isabella and the other ladies were thus conversing with Richard, there was a little girl present who did nothing but gaze at him, lift up his cuishes to see what was beneath them, touch his sword, and, with childlike simplicity, peep at her own image reflected in his bright armour. When Richard was gone away, she said, turning to the ladies, "Now I see what a fine thing war must be, since armed men look to such advantage even among ladies." "Look to advantage!" exclaimed Lady Tansi; "one might take Richard for the sun, come down from Heaven, to walk the streets in that garb." Every one laughed at the little girl's remark, and at Lady Tansi's hyperbole; and there lacked not back-biters, who thought his appearing in arms at the palace was an act of great impropriety; but others excused him, saying that it was a very natural and pardonable act of vanity on the part of a gallant young soldier.
Richard was most cordially welcomed by his parents, relations, and friends, and that night there were general rejoicings in London. On his return home, he found Isabella's parents already there, and told his father and mother who they were, but begged they would give no hint of the matter to Isabella till he should make it known to her himself. His desire was punctually observed. That night they began with a great number of boats and barges, and in presence of a multitude of admiring spectators, to unload the great galleon, but eight days were consumed in the work before they had disembowelled it of its aromatic and precious freight. On the following day, Richard went again to the palace, taking with him Isabella's father and mother, dressed in the English style, telling them that the queen wished to see them. They found the queen surrounded by her ladies, with Isabella by her side, wearing, by the queen's desire, for Richard's special gratification, the same dress in which she had made her first appearance at court. Isabella's parents were filled with admiration and astonishment at such a display of grandeur and gaiety combined. They looked at Isabella, but did not recognise her, though their hearts, prophetic of the happiness so near at hand, began to throb, not anxiously, but with an emotion of joy for which they could not account.
The queen would not allow Richard to kneel before her, but made him rise and be seated on a chair which was placed for him alone, an unusual favour, which provoked many envious comments. "It is not on a chair he sits," said one, "but on the pepper he has brought." "It is a true saying," remarked another, "that gifts can soften rocks, since they have mollified the hard heart of our queen." "He sits at his ease," said a third, "but there are those who will make bold to push him from his seat." In fact, that new mark of honour which the queen bestowed on Richard gave occasion to many to regard him with envy and malice; for there is no favour which the sovereign bestows on a subject but pierces the heart of the envious like a lance. In obedience to the queen's command, Richard narrated more minutely the details of his conflict with the corsairs, attributing the victory to God, and to the arms of her valiant soldiers. He extolled them all collectively, and made special mention of some who had particularly distinguished themselves, in order that the queen might reward them all and singly. When he came to speak of his having, in her majesty's name, set the Turks and Christians at liberty, he said, pointing to Isabella's parents, "These are the persons of whom I spoke yesterday to your majesty, who, desiring to behold your greatness, earnestly besought me to bring them away with me. They are from Cadiz, and from what they have told me, and from what I have myself observed, I am assured that they are persons of worth and quality."
The queen commanded them to approach her. Isabella raised her eyes to look at persons who she heard were Spaniards, and, above all, from Cadiz, longing to know if perchance they were acquainted with her parents. Her mother first encountered her gaze, and as she looked attentively at her, there rose on her mind some shadowy confused reminiscences that seemed to intimate she had seen that face before. Her father was in the same wavering state of mind, not daring to believe the evidence of his eyes, whilst Richard watched intently the workings of their perplexed and dubious souls. The queen too noticed the emotion of the two strangers, and also Isabella's uneasiness, for she saw her often raise her hand to her forehead, which was bedewed with perspiration. Whilst Isabella was longing that the person she imagined to be her mother would speak, thinking that the sound of her voice would resolve her doubts, the queen commanded her to ask the strangers in Spanish what had induced them voluntarily to forego the freedom which Richard had offered them, since freedom was the thing most prized, not only by reasonable creatures, but even by irrational animals. Isabella put this question to her mother, who, without answering a word, rushed abruptly and almost totteringly to Isabella, and forgetting all respect of place or circumstances, put her hand to her daughter's right ear, and discovered a dark mole behind it. Assured now beyond all doubt that Isabella was her daughter, she cried out, "Child of my heart! treasure of my soul!" and swooned in her arms. The father, no less tender hearted but with more self-command, gave no other token of his feelings than the tears that streamed down his venerable face and beard. With her lips pressed upon her mother's, Isabella bent her eyes upon her father, with looks that spoke the gladness of her soul.
The queen was greatly affected by this touching scene, and said to Richard, "I know not whether you have done wisely in contriving this meeting, for sudden joy, it is known, can kill as well as grief." Then, turning to Isabella, she withdrew her from her mother, who, after her face had been sprinkled with water, came to her senses, and recollecting herself a little better, fell on her knees before the queen, entreating her majesty's pardon. Elizabeth graciously replied, and commanded that the two strangers should take up their abode in the palace, that they might have the more opportunity of rejoicing in their daughter's society. Richard then renewed his request that the queen would fulfil her promise, and bestow Isabella upon him, if so it were that he had deserved her, but if not, he begged to be sent where he might find opportunities of doing so.
The queen was well aware that Richard was well satisfied with himself, and that there was no need of putting him to further proof; she told him, therefore, that in four days he should obtain the object of his desires, and that she would honour their union with her royal countenance. Richard then took his leave of her majesty, his heart swelling with joy at the near prospect of Isabella becoming his own for ever. Time sped, but not with the nimbleness he desired; for those who live on the hopes of pleasure to come, always imagine that time does not fly, but hobbles on the feet of sloth itself. At last the day came on which Richard expected, not to end his desires, but to find in Isabella new graces which should make him love her more, if more was possible. But in that brief space of time, in which he thought the bark of his fortunes was running with a prosperous gale towards the desired haven, it encountered such a fearful tempest, as a thousand times threatened it with wreck.
The queen's keeper of the robes, who had charge of Isabella, had a son aged two-and-twenty, named Count Ernest, whom his great wealth, his high blood, and his mother's great favour with the queen, made too arrogant and overbearing. He fell most violently in love with Isabella, and, during Richard's absence, he had made some overtures to her which she had coldly disregarded. Although repugnance and disdain manifested at the outset usually make the enamoured desist from their suit, yet Isabella's notorious disdain had the contrary effect on Ernest, for it fired his passion, and consumed his sense of honour. He was almost distracted when he found that the queen had adjudged Isabella to Richard, and that she was so soon to become his; but before he committed himself to the infamous and dastardly course which he ultimately adopted, he first besought his mother to use her influence with the queen on his behalf, declaring that his death was at hand unless he obtained Isabella for his wife.
The countess, well knowing her son's violent and arrogant disposition, and the obstinacy with which he pursued his desires, had reason to fear that his passion would lead to some unhappy result. With a mother's natural anxiety to gratify her son's wishes, she promised to speak to the queen, not with the hope of succeeding in the impossible attempt to make her majesty break her word, but in order not to sit down in despair, while any remedy remained to be tried. That morning Isabella was dressed by the queen's orders with a magnificence which defies description. With her own hands her majesty put on her neck a string of the largest pearls found in the galleon, valued at twenty thousand ducats, and a diamond ring on her finger worth six thousand crowns. But whilst the ladies were in great glee anticipating the glad time so near at hand, the keeper of the robes presented herself before the queen, and implored her on her knees to postpone Isabella's wedding for two days longer, declaring that if her majesty would only do so, it would more than reward her for all her past services. The queen desired to know, in the first instance, why she made that request, so directly at variance with the royal promise given to Richard; but the countess would not explain until the queen, urged by curiosity to discover the cause of this strange request, promised that she would grant it. Having thus succeeded in her immediate object, the lady keeper made the queen acquainted with her son's passion, and how, fearing that unless he obtained Isabella he would commit some desperate deed against himself or others, she had asked for that delay of two days in order that her majesty might devise the best means of saving the life of her son. The queen replied that had she not pledged her royal word, she would have found a way to smooth over that difficulty, but that, for no consideration, could she retract her promise or defraud Richard of the hope she had given him.
The lady keeper reported the queen's answer to her son, but nothing could overcome his headstrong presumption. Arming himself at all points he mounted a powerful charger, and presented himself before Clotald's house, and shouted for Richard to come to the window. Richard was dressed as a bridegroom, and was on the point of setting out for the palace with his friends, but hearing himself thus summoned, he went with some surprise and showed himself at an open window. "Hark you, Richard; I have something to say to you," said Count Ernest. "Our lady the queen ordered you to go forth on her service and perform exploits that should render you worthy of the peerless Isabella. You set out, and returned with ships laden with wealth, with which you think you have bought your title to Isabella. But though our lady the queen promised her to you, it was under the belief that there was no one at her court who could serve her better than you, or more justly aspire to the fair Spaniard's hand; but in this it may be that her majesty was mistaken. Being of that opinion, and holding it for very truth, I say that you have done no such deeds as can make you worthy of Isabella, nor can you ever perform any to raise you to that honour; and if you dare to maintain the contrary, I defy you to the death."
"I am in no wise called upon to take up your defial," replied Richard; "because I confess not only that I do not merit Isabella, but that no man living does so. Confessing, therefore, the truth of what you allege, I say again, that your defial touches not me; nevertheless, I accept it in order to chastise your insolence." So saying, he left the window and called for his arms.
Richard's family and the friends who had assembled to escort him to the palace were thrown into confusion by this untoward incident. The challenge having been so publicly given, it could not be but that some one should report it to the queen. This was done accordingly, and her majesty ordered the captain of her guard to arrest Count Ernest. The captain made such good speed that he arrived just as Richard was riding out from his father's house, mounted on a handsome steed, and equipped with the magnificent arms in which he had gone to pay his respects to the queen on his return from his expedition. The moment the count saw the captain of the queen's guard, he guessed his purpose, and resolving not to let himself be caught, he shouted out, "You see, Richard, how we are interrupted. If you are bent upon chastising me, you will look for me as I will look for you. Two people surely meet when they have a mind." "The sooner the better," said Richard. Meanwhile, the captain of the guards came up and, in the queen's name, arrested the count, who surrendered, requesting to be taken into the queen's presence. The captain complied, and carried Ernest before the queen, who, without entering into any discourse with him, ordered that he should surrender his sword and be committed to the Tower.
All these things were torture to the heart of Isabella and to her parents, who saw their new-found happiness so soon disturbed. The lady keeper advised the queen that to prevent the mischief which might break out between her own family and Richard's, the possible cause of it should be withdrawn, by sending Isabella to Spain. In support of this suggestion she added that Isabella was a Catholic, and so rooted in that faith, that all the arguments and persuasions she had used to withdraw her from it, and they were many, were of no avail. The queen replied that she esteemed her the more, since she was steadfast to the law taught her by her parents; and that as for sending her to Spain, it was not to be thought of, for she was charmed with her lovely presence and her many graces and virtues. In fine, the queen was resolved that Isabella should become Richard's wife, if not that day, on another, without fail. The lady keeper was so mortified by this reply that she withdrew without saying a word; and having already made up her mind that unless Isabella was removed there could be no hope of relief for her son or of peace between him and Richard, she determined to commit one of the most atrocious acts that could enter the mind of a lady of her exalted station.
Women being, for the most part, rash and sudden in the execution of their resolves, the lady keeper that evening gave Isabella poison in a conserve which she pressed her to take, under the pretence that it was good for the sinking and oppression of the heart which she complained of. A short while after Isabella had swallowed it her throat and tongue began to swell, her lips turned black, her voice became hoarse, her eyes fixed and glassy, and her breathing laboured and stertorous: in short, she exhibited all the symptoms of having been poisoned. The queen's ladies hastened to inform her majesty, assuring her that the lady keeper had been the author of the nefarious deed.
The queen had no great difficulty in coming to the same conclusion, and went at once to see Isabella, who seemed to be almost at the last gasp. Sending with all speed for her physicians, she, meanwhile, ordered that the sufferer should be given a quantity of powdered unicorn's horn and several other antidotes, with which great princes are usually provided against such casualties. The physicians arrived and begged the queen to make the lady keeper declare what kind of poison she had used (for no one doubted that she was the poisoner). This information having been obtained from the criminal, the physician applied the proper remedies with such good effect that, with God's help, Isabella's life was saved, or at least there was a hope that it would be so.
The queen ordered that the lady keeper should be arrested and confined in a chamber of the palace, intending to punish her as her crime deserved; whilst the guilty woman thought to excuse herself by saying that in killing Isabella she offered an acceptable sacrifice to heaven by ridding the world of a Catholic, and removing with her the cause of affliction to her son. Finally, Isabella did not die; but she escaped only with the loss of her hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes, her face swollen, her bloom gone, her skin blotched and blistered, and her eyes red and humid. In a word, she was now become an object as loathsome to look at as she had before been surpassingly beautiful. The change was so frightful that those who knew her thought it would have been better had the poison killed her. But notwithstanding all this, Richard supplicated the queen to let him take her home with him, for the great love he bore her comprehended not only her body but her soul, and if Isabella had lost her beauty, she could not have lost her infinite virtues. "Be it so," said the queen. "Take her, Richard, and reckon that you take in her a most precious jewel, in a rough wooden casket. God knows how gladly I would give her to you as I received her; but since that is impossible, perhaps the punishment I will inflict on the perpetrator of the crime will be some satisfaction to your feelings."
Richard spoke earnestly in the culprit's behalf, and besought her majesty to pardon her. Finally, Isabella and her parents were consigned to his care, and he took them home to his father's house, the queen having added to the fine pearls and the diamonds she had bestowed on Isabella other jewels and rich dresses, such as manifested the great affection she felt for her. Isabella remained for two months in the same state, without the least sign appearing that her beauty would ever return; but at the end of that time her skin began to peel off, and she gradually recovered the natural bloom of her lovely complexion. Meanwhile, Richard's parents, thinking it impossible that Isabella should ever again be what she had been, determined to send for the Scotch lady, to whom they had at first intended to unite him. They did not doubt that the actual beauty of the new bride would make their son forget the lost beauty of her rival, whom they intended to send to Spain with her parents, giving them so much wealth as would compensate them for their past losses. All this was settled between them without Richard's knowledge, and soon after the new bride entered their doors, duly accompanied, and so beautiful that none could compare with her in London, now that Isabella's charms were gone.
Richard was astounded at this unexpected arrival, and fearing that it would have a fatal effect upon Isabella, he went to her bedside, and said to her, in presence of her parents, "Beloved of my soul, my parents, in their great love for me, but ill conceiving how great is mine for you, have brought hither a Scotch lady, to whom they arranged to marry me before I knew your worth. They have done so, I believe, upon the supposition that her great beauty will efface from my soul the image of yours, which is deeply impressed upon it. But from the moment I first loved you, Isabella, it was with a different love from that which finds its end attained in the gratification of the sensual appetite: for though your great beauty captivated my senses, your infinite virtues enthralled my soul, so that if I loved you in your beauty, I adore you in your plainness. That I may confirm that truth, put your hand in mine."
She held out her right hand; he took it in his, and continued:
"By the Catholic faith which my Christian parents have taught me; or, if that is not as pure and perfect as it ought, then, by that held by the Roman pontiff, and which in my heart I confess, believe, and hold, do I swear, and by the true God who hears us, I promise you, Isabella, soul of my soul! to be your husband; and your husband I am from this moment, if you will raise me up so high."
Isabella could only kiss Richard's hand again and again, and tell him in a voice broken by her tears, that she accepted him as hers, and gave herself to him as his slave. Richard kissed her disfigured face, which he had never ventured to kiss in its beauty; and her parents, with tears of affection, ratified their solemn betrothal. Richard told them that he would find a way to postpone his marriage with the Scotch lady, and that when his father proposed to send them to Spain they were not to refuse, but were to go to Cadiz and wait for him there or in Seville for two years, within which time he gave them his word he would be with them, if God spared his life. Should he not appear within that time, they might be assured that he was prevented by some insuperable impediment, and most probably by death. Isabella replied that she would wait for him not only two years, but all the years of her life, until she knew that he was no longer alive; for the moment that brought her that news would be her last.
Richard having at length quitted Isabella, went and told his parents that on no account would he marry the Scotch lady until he had first been to Rome for the satisfaction of his conscience; and he represented the matter in such a light to them and to the relations of Clesterna (that was the name of the Scotch lady), that as they were all Catholics, they easily assented, and Clesterna was content to remain in her father-in-law's house until the return of Richard, who proposed to be away a year. This being settled, Clotald told his son of his intention to send Isabella and her parents to Spain, if the queen gave them leave; perhaps her native air would confirm and expedite her incipient recovery. Richard, to avoid betraying his secret intentions, desired his father, with seeming indifference, to do as he thought best; only he begged him not to take away from Isabella any of the presents which the queen had given her. Clotald promised this, and the same day he went and asked the queen's leave both to marry his son to Clesterna, and to send Isabella and her parents to Spain. The queen granted both requests, and without having recourse to lawyers or judges, she forthwith passed sentence on the lady keeper, condemning her to lose her office, and to pay down ten thousand crowns for Isabella. As for Count Ernest, she banished him from England for six years.
Four days afterwards Richard set out on his exile, and the money had been already paid. The queen, sending for a rich merchant, resident in London, who was a Frenchman, and had correspondents in France, Italy, and Spain, put the ten thousand crowns into his hands, and desired him to let Isabella's father have bills for the amount on Seville or some other place in Spain. The merchant having deducted his profit, told the queen he would give good and safe bills on another French merchant, his correspondent in Seville, in the following manner:—He would write to Paris that the bills might be drawn there by another correspondent of his, in order that they should be dated from France and not from England, because of the interdicted communication between that country and Spain. It would only be necessary to have a letter of advice from him, with his signature and without date, in sight of which the merchant of Seville would immediately pay the money, according to previous advice from the merchant of Paris.
In fine, the queen took such securities from the merchant as made the payment certain; and not content with this, she sent for the master of a Flemish vessel who was about to sail for France, only to obtain a manifest from some French port, in order to be allowed to land in Spain; and she begged him to take Isabella and her parents, treat them well, and land them safely at the first Spanish port he reached. The master, who desired to please the queen, said he would do so, and would land them at Lisbon, Cadiz, or Seville. After this the queen sent word to Clotald not to take from Isabella any of the presents she had given her, whether jewels or clothes.
The next day Isabella and her parents came to take leave of the queen, who received them with great affection. The queen gave them the merchant's bills, besides many other presents, both in money and in things suitable for their voyage. Isabella expressed her gratitude in such terms as to increase the queen's gracious disposition towards her. She took leave of the ladies of the court, who, now that she had become plain, would rather have had her remain among them, having no longer reason to envy her beauty, and being willing to enjoy her society for the sake of her good qualities of mind and disposition. The queen embraced the three, and took leave of them, commending them to good fortune and to the master of the vessel, and asking Isabella to inform her of her arrival in Spain, and of her health at all times through the French merchant. That evening they embarked, not without tears on the part of Clotald, his wife, and his whole household, by whom Isabella was exceedingly beloved. Richard was not present at the departure, for, in order to avoid betraying his feelings, he had gone with some of his friends to the chase.
Many were the dainties which the lady Catherine gave. Isabella for use on the voyage; endless were her embraces, her tears, and her injunctions that she should write to her; for all which Isabella and her parents returned suitable thanks. That night the vessel set sail, and having reached France with a fair wind, and obtained the necessary papers to enable them to enter Spain, they crossed the bar of Cadiz thirty days afterwards, and there Isabella and her parents disembarked. Being known to the whole city, they were joyfully welcomed, and warmly congratulated on their recovery of Isabella, and on their liberation, from their Turkish captors (for that fact had been made known by the captives whom Richard generously released), and also from detention in England. By this time Isabella began to give great hopes that she would quite recover her original beauty.
For more than a month they remained in Cadiz, recruiting themselves after the toils of their voyage; and then they went to Seville, to see if they should obtain payment of the ten thousand crowns upon the French merchant's bill. Two days after their arrival they called upon the person on whom it was drawn. He acknowledged it, but said that, until the arrival of advices from Paris, he could not pay the money. Isabella's father hired a large house facing St. Paul's, because there was in that holy convent a nun who was remarkable for rare musical talents, and who was his own niece. They chose the house to be near her for that reason, and because Isabella had told Richard that if he came to look for her he would find her in Seville, and her cousin, the nun of St. Paula's, would tell him where: he had only to ask for the nun who had the best voice in the convent; every one would know her by that description.
It was forty days more before the advices came from Paris, and two days after their arrival the French merchant paid Isabella the ten thousand crowns, which she handed over to her parents. With that sum, and something more made by the sale of part of Isabella's numerous jewels, her father again began business as a merchant, to the surprise of those who were cognisant of his great losses. After a few months his lost credit began to return; so, too, did his daughter's good looks, so that, whenever female beauty was the subject of discourse, the palm was universally conceded to the Spanish-English lady; for by that name, as well as for her great beauty, she was known throughout the city. Through the French merchant of Seville, Isabella and her parents wrote to the queen of England, announcing their arrival in such grateful and dutiful terms as the many favours received at her Majesty's hands required. They also wrote to Clotald and Catherine, whom Isabella addressed as her revered parents.
Their letters to the queen remained unanswered, but from Clotald and his wife they received a reply, congratulating them on their safe arrival, and informing them that their son Richard had set out from France the day after their departure, and thence to other countries, which it behoved him to visit for the tranquillity of his conscience. Isabella immediately concluded that Richard had left England for no other purpose than to seek her; and cheered by this hope, she was as happy as she could be, and strove to live in such a manner that, when Richard arrived in Seville, the fame of her virtues should reach his ears before he learned where she lived.
She seldom or never quitted the house, except to go to the convent, and attended no other church services than those performed there. She never went near the river, or to Triana, or witnessed the general rejoicings at the Campo de Tablada, or the Puerta de Xeres on Sari Sebastian's day, celebrated by an almost innumerable multitude; in short, she never went abroad for any kind of amusement in Seville; her whole time was spent in her devotions, and in praying and hoping for Richard's arrival. The consequence of this strict retirement was a great increase of the general interest about her; thence came serenades in her street by night, and promenades by day. The desire which so many felt to see her, and the difficulty of accomplishing it, was a great source of gain to the professional go-betweens, who severally professed that they alone had the ear of Isabella, and some there were who had recourse to what are called charms, which are nothing but deceits and follies; but in spite of all this, Isabella was like a rock in the ocean, which the winds and waves assail in vain. A year and a half had now passed, and her heart began to yearn more and more as the end of the period assigned by Richard drew near. Already, in imagination, she looked upon him as arrived; he stood before her eyes; she asked him what had caused his long delay; she heard his excuses; she forgave him, embraced and welcomed him as the half of her soul; and then there was put into her hands a letter from the lady Catherine, dated from London fifty days before. It was as follows:—
"Daughter of my heart,—You doubtless recollect Richard's page, Guillart. He accompanied Richard on his journey the day after you sailed, to France and other parts, whereof I informed you in a former letter. This said Guillart, after we had been sixteen months without hearing news of my son, yesterday entered our house with news that Count Ernest had basely murdered Richard in France. Imagine, my daughter, the effect upon his father, myself, and his intended wife, of such news as this, coming to us in such wise as left no doubt of our misfortune. What Clotald and myself beg of you once more, daughter of my soul, is that you will pray heartily to God for the soul of Richard, for well he deserves this service at your hands, he who loved you so much as you know. Pray also to our Lord to grant us patience, and that we may make a good end; as we will pray for long life for you and your parents."
This letter and the signature left no doubt in Isabella's mind of the death of her husband. She knew the page Guillart very well, and knew that he was a person of veracity, and that he could have had no motive for publishing false news in such a matter; still less could the lady Catharine have had any interest in deceiving her so painfully. In fine, in whatever way she considered the subject, the conclusion at which she invariably arrived was, that this dismal intelligence was unquestionably true. When she had finished reading the letter, without shedding tears or showing any outward tokens of grief, with a composed face and apparently tranquil breast, she rose from her seat, entered an oratory, and kneeling before a crucifix, made a vow to become a nun, thinking herself free to do so, as she was no longer a betrothed maiden, but a widow. Her parents studiously concealed the grief which this affecting news caused them, in order that they might the better console their bereaved daughter; whilst she, as if mistress over her sorrow, having subdued it by the holy Christian resolution she had made, became their comforter. She made her intention known to them, and they advised her to postpone its execution, until the two years were elapsed which Richard had assigned as the duration of his absence. That delay would suffice for confirming the news of his death, and then she might with more security change her condition. Isabella followed their advice; and the six months and a half which remained to complete the term of two years were spent by her in devotional exercises, and in arranging for her entrance into the convent of Santa Paula, in which her cousin was a nun.
The remainder of the two years elapsed, and the day arrived when she was to take the veil. The news having spread through the city, the convent, and the space between it and Isabella's abode, was thronged by those who knew her by sight, or by report only; and her father having invited her friends, and these having invited others, Isabella had for her escort one of the most imposing retinues ever seen in Seville on such occasions. It included the chief justice of Seville, the vicar-general, and all the titled personages of both sexes in the city, so great was the desire of all to behold the sun of Isabella's beauty, which had been for so many months eclipsed. And as it is customary for maidens about to take the veil to dress themselves in their very gayest attire on the day when they are to renounce for ever the pomps and vanities of the world, Isabella wore the same splendid dress in which she was presented to the queen of England, with her necklace and girdle of lustrous pearls, her diamond ring, and all her other sumptuous jewels. Thus gorgeously attired, Isabella set out from home on foot, for the short distance to the convent seemed to render carriages superfluous; but the concourse was so great that the procession could hardly advance, and its members regretted too late that they had not chosen to ride instead of walking. Some of the spectators blessed the father and mother of that lovely creature; others praised Heaven that had endowed her with so much beauty. Some strained forward to see her; others, having seen her once, ran forward to have a second view of her. Among those who were most eager to behold her, was a man who attracted the notice of many by his extraordinary efforts. He was dressed in the garb of a slave lately ransomed, and wore on his breast the emblem of the Holy Trinity, by which it was known that he had been redeemed by the charity of the Redemptorist fathers.
Already Isabella had set one foot on the threshold of the convent gate, where the prioress and the nuns stood ready to receive her with the cross, when this ransomed captive cried out, "Stop, Isabella, stop!" Isabella and her parents turned at this cry, and saw the man cleaving his way towards them through the crowd by main strength. The blue hat he wore having fallen oft through the violence of his exertions, disclosed a profusion of flaxen hair, and a clear red and white complexion, which showed him at once to be a foreigner.
Struggling, stumbling, and rising again, he at last reached the spot where Isabella stood, caught her hand in his, and said, "Do you know me, Isabella? I am Richard, your betrothed." "Well do I know you," said Isabella, "if indeed you are not a phantom come to trouble my repose." Her parents also examined his features attentively, and saw that this captive was indeed Richard. As for him, weeping at Isabella's feet, he implored her not to let the strange garb he wore prevent her recognising him, nor his low fortune impede the fulfilment of the pledges exchanged between them. In spite of the impression which the letter from Richard's mother had made on her memory, Isabella chose rather to believe the living evidence before her eyes; and embracing the captive, she said, "Without doubt, my lord and master, you are he who alone could hinder the fulfilment of my Christian determination; you are without doubt the half of my soul; my own betrothed! your image is stamped upon my memory, and treasured in my heart. The news of your death, sent me by your lady mother, not having killed me on the spot, I resolved to dedicate myself to religion, and I was just about to enter this convent for the rest of my days; but since God has shown us by so just an impediment that he wills otherwise, it is not for me to refuse obedience. Come, señor, to the house of my parents, which is yours, and there I will give myself to you in the way which our holy catholic faith prescribes."
This dialogue, overheard by the spectators, struck them all with amazement. The chief justice and the vicar-general immediately demanded what was all this ado, who was this stranger, and what marriage was this they talked about. Isabella's father replied, that what they had seen was the sequel of a story which required a different place for the telling of it; therefore, he begged that all who desired to hear it should turn back to his house, which was close by, and there he would fully satisfy their curiosity, and fill them with wonder at the strange things he should relate.
Just then one of the crowd cried out, "Señors, this young man is the great English corsair. It is not much more than two years since he took from the Algerine corsairs the great Portuguese galleon from the Indies. There is not the least doubt that he is the very man; I know him, because he set me at liberty, and gave me money to carry me to Spain, and not me only, but three hundred other captives likewise." These words increased the general excitement and the desire to see all these intricate matters cleared up. Finally, the principal persons of the city, with the chief justice and the vicar-general, went back with Isabella to her father's house, leaving the nuns sorely discomfited, and crying with vexation at the loss they had sustained in not having the beautiful Isabella to grace their nunnery. The company being arrived at the house of Isabella's father, she made them be seated in a long hall, and though Richard would willingly have taken it upon himself to tell his story, yet he thought it better to trust it to Isabella's tongue than to his own, which was not very expert in speaking Spanish. Accordingly she began her narration in the midst of profound silence and attention.
She related all that happened to her from the day when Clotald carried her off from Cadiz until her return thither; also Richard's engagement with the Turks; his liberality to the Christians; the promise they had given each other to be husband and wife; the two years' delay agreed on, and the news she had received of his death, which seemed to her so certain, as to have nearly occasioned her taking the veil! She extolled the liberality of the queen of England, the Christian faith of Richard and his parents, and she concluded by saying, that Richard would relate what had happened to him since he left London until that moment, when he stood before them in the dress of a captive, and with the mark of having been ransomed by charity. "I will do so," said Richard, "and briefly relate the hardships I have undergone.
"I quitted London to avoid marrying Clisterna, the Scottish Catholic lady, to whom Isabella has told you that my parents wished to unite me, and I took with me Guillart, my page, the same who carried the news of my death to London, as my mother stated in her letter. Passing through France, I arrived in Rome, where my soul was gladdened, and my faith fortified. I kissed the feet of the supreme pontiff, confessed my sins to the grand penitentiary, obtained absolution, and received the necessary certificates of my confession and penance, and of the submission I had paid to our holy mother, the church. This done, I visited the numberless holy places in that sacred city, and out of two thousand crowns I had with me in gold, I deposited one thousand six hundred with a money-changer, who gave me a letter of credit for them on one Roqui, a Florentine, in this city. With the four hundred that remained, I set out for Spain, by way of Genoa, where I had heard that there were two galleys of that signory bound for this country. I arrived with Guillart at a place called Aquapendente, which is the last town in the pope's dominions on the road to Florence, and in an inn at which I alighted, I met Count Ernest, my mortal enemy. He had four servants with him, he was disguised, and was going, as I understood, to Rome, not because he was a Catholic, but from motives of curiosity. I thought he had not recognised me, and shut myself up in a room with my servant Guillart, where I remained on my guard, intending to shift my quarters at nightfall. I did not do so, however, for the perfect indifference shown by the count and his servants made me confident that they had not recognised me. I supped in my room, locked the door, looked to my sword, commended myself to God, but would not lie down.
"My servant lay asleep, and I sat on a chair between asleep and awake; but a little after midnight, I was near put to sleep for eternity by four pistol shots fired at me, as I afterwards learned, by the count and his servants. They left me for dead, and their horses being in readiness, they rode off, telling the innkeeper to bury me suitably, for I was a man of quality. My servant, awaking in terror at the noise, leaped out of a window, and ran away in such mortal fear, that it seems he never stopped till he got to London, for it was he brought the news of my death.
"The people of the inn came up and found I had been struck by four balls and several slugs, but none of the wounds in any vital part. Calling for a confessor, I received all the sacraments as became a Catholic Christian; but I gradually recovered, though it was two months before I was able to continue my journey. I then proceeded to Genoa, but found no other means of passage than two feluccas, which were hired by myself and two Spanish gentlemen. One of them we employed to go before and pilot the way, and in the other we ourselves embarked. In this way we pursued our voyage, closely hugging the shore; but when we came to a spot on the coast of France, called the Three Marias, two Turkish galleys suddenly came out upon us from a creek, and one keeping to seaward of us, the other more in shore, they cut off our escape to the land and captured us. The corsairs stripped us to the skin, plundered the feluccas, and having completely emptied them, let them drift ashore, instead of sinking them, saying that they might serve to bring them more pickings another time.
"You may well believe how bitterly I felt my captivity, and above all, the loss of the certificates from Rome, which I carried in a tin case, with the bill for the sixteen hundred ducats; but, by good fortune, they fell into the hands of a Christian slave, a Spaniard, who kept them, for if the Turks had got hold of them, they would have required for my ransom at least the amount of the bill. They carried us to Algiers, where I found that the fathers of the Most Holy Trinity were redeeming Christian slaves. I spoke to them, told them who I was, and they, moved by charity, ransomed me, though I was a foreigner. The price set upon me was three hundred ducats; they paid down one hundred on the spot, and engaged to pay the remaining two hundred as soon as the ship should return with the contributions for the release of the Redemptorist father who remained in Algiers in pledge for four thousand ducats, which he had spent over and above the amount he had brought in hand; for so extreme is the charity of these compassionate fathers, that they give their liberty for another's, and remain in captivity that others may go free. In addition to the happiness of obtaining my liberty, I recovered the case with the certificates and the bill. I showed its contents to the good father, and promised him five hundred ducats, in addition to the amount of my ransom, as a contribution towards the payment of the sum for which he was a hostage.
"It was nearly a year before the ship returned with the redemption money. What befel me in that year would, of itself, furnish matter for another history too long to relate at present. I will only say, that I was recognised by one of the twenty Turks whom I liberated with the Christians on the occasion already mentioned; but he was so grateful and so honest, that he would not betray me, for had the Turks known me to be the person who had sunk two of their galleys, and despoiled them of the great Indian galleon, they would either have put me to death, or presented me to the Grand Turk, in which case I should never have recovered my liberty. Finally, the Redemptorist father came to Spain with me, and fifty other ransomed Christians. We made a general procession in Valentia, and from that place we dispersed and took each his own several way, wearing this garb in token of the means by which we had been released. For myself, I arrived to-day in this city, burning with desire to see Isabella, my betrothed, and asked my way at once to the convent, where I was to hear of her. What happened there you all know. It now only remains for me to exhibit these certificates to satisfy you of the truth of my strange story."
So saying, he produced the documents from a tin case, and placed them in the hands of the vicar-general, who examined them along with the chief justice, and found nothing in them to make him doubt the truth of what Richard had stated. Moreover, for the fuller confirmation of his story, Heaven ordained that among the persons present should be that very Florentine merchant on whom the bill for sixteen hundred ducats was drawn. He asked to see it, found it genuine, and accepted it on the spot, for he had received advice of it several months before. Thereupon Richard confirmed the promise he had made of contributing five hundred ducats to the funds of the Redemptorist fathers. The chief justice embraced him, Isabella, and her parents, and complimented them all in the most courteous terms. So, too, did the vicar-general, who requested Isabella to commit this whole story to writing, that he might lay it before his superior, the archbishop, and this she promised to do.
The deep silence in which the audience had listened to this extraordinary narrative was broken by thanksgivings to God for his great marvels; and all present, from the highest to the lowest, congratulated Isabella, Richard, and their parents, and prayed for their happiness as they took leave of them. Eight days afterwards, Richard and Isabella were united before the altar, their marriage being honoured by the presence of the chief justice, and all the persons of distinction in Seville. Thus, after so many vicissitudes, Isabella's parents recovered their daughter, and re-established their fortune; and she, favoured by heaven, and aided by her many virtues, in spite of so many crosses and troubles, obtained for her husband a man so deserving as Richard, with whom it is believed that she lives to this day, in the house facing Santa Paula, which her father had hired, and which they subsequently bought of the heirs of a gentleman of Burgos, named Hernando Cifuentes.
This tale may teach us what virtue and what beauty can effect, since they are sufficient together, or either singly, to win the love even of enemies; and how Heaven is able to bring forth our greatest happiness even out of our heaviest misfortunes.
- In the year 1596, when the city was taken by Elizabeth's commanders, Admiral Howard and the Earl of Essex.
- Under whom Cervantes himself was for four years in slavery at Algiers.