The Devil on Two Sticks - CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER IV
THE STORY OF THE LOVES OF THE COUNT DE BELFLOR AND LEONORA DE CESPEDES

LEONORA DE CESPEDES was passionately beloved by the young Count de Belflor, one of the most distinguished nobles of the court. He had, however, no thoughts of suing for her hand; the daughter of a private gentleman might command his love, but had no pretensions in his eyes to rank above his mistress; and such was the honour he designed for her.

Accordingly, he followed her everywhere; and lost no opportunity of testifying by his glances the extent of his affection for her person: but he was unable to converse with her, or even to communicate by letter, so incessantly and vigilantly was she guarded by an austere duenna, the lady Marcella. He was almost in despair; yet, incited by the obstacles which were thus opposed to his desires, he was constantly occupied in devising means for their attainment, and for deceiving the Argus who so carefully watched his Io.

In the meanwhile, Leonora had perceived the attention with which the Count regarded her; and flattered by that first homage, so delightful to the unworn heart, she soon yielded to the soft persuasion of his eyes, and insensibly formed for him a passion as violent as his own. The flames of love are seldom kindled at the altar but they burn the temple. I did not, however, fan those thus lighted in her bosom, for the magician had put a stopper on my operations; but Nature, and woman's nature especially, is generally potent enough in such cases, without my assistance. Indeed, I doubt if she does not manage these matters best by herself; the only difference in our modes of procedure being, that Nature saps the heart by slow degrees, while I love to carry it by storm.

Affairs were in this posture, when Leonora, and her eternal governante, going one morning to church, were accosted by an old woman, carrying in her hand one of the largest chaplets ever framed by hypocrisy. Heaven bless you! said she, addressing herself, with a saintly smile, to the duenna, the peace of God be with you! Have I not the honour of speaking to the lady Marcella, the chaste widow of the lamented Signor Martin Rosetta? You have, replied the governante. How fortunate! exclaimed the old hypocrite; I have a relation, at this moment lying at my house, who would see you ere he dies. He was intimately acquainted with your dear husband, and has matters of the utmost importance to communicate to you. It is only three days since he arrived in Madrid, from Flanders, for the express purpose of seeing you; but scarcely had he entered my house when he was stretched on a bed of sickness, and he has now, I fear, but a few hours to live. Let us hasten, while there is yet time, to soothe the pangs of his passing spirit: a few steps will bring us to his side.

Illustration: Going one morning to church

The wary duenna, who had seen enough of the world to be suspicious of the best even of her own sex, still, however, hesitated to follow: which the old lady perceiving, My dear lady Marcella, said she, surely you do not doubt me. You must have heard of La Chichona. Why! the licentiate Marcos de Figuerna and the bachelor Mira de Mesqua would answer for me as for their grandmothers. If I desire that you accompany me to my house, it is for your good only. Heaven forbid that I should touch the smallest portion of that which is your due, and which my poor relation is so anxious to repay to the wife of his friend! At the word 'repay,' the lady Marcella hesitated no longer: Let us go, my child, said she to Leonora; we will see this good woman's relation;—to visit the sick is among the first of our duties. Verily, said the Demon, charity does cover a multitude of sins!

They soon arrived at the house of La Chichona, who introduced them to a mean apartment, where they found a man in bed: he had a long beard, and if he were not really desperately ill, he at least appeared to be so. See, cousin! said the old woman, presenting the governante; behold the person whom you sought so anxiously; this is the lady Marcella, the respected widow of your friend Rosetta. At these words, the old man raised himself on his pillow with apparent difficulty and, making signs for the duenna to approach him, said with a feeble voice,—Heaven be praised, for its mercy in permitting me to live till now!—to see you, my dear lady, was all that I desired upon earth. Indeed I feared to die without the satisfaction of seeing you, and of rendering it to your hands the hundred ducats which your late husband, my dearest friend, so kindly lent me in my dire necessity, at Bruges, when but for that assistance my honour had been for ever lost:—but you must have often heard of me and my adventures.

Alas! no, replied Marcella, he never mentioned it to me. God rest his soul! he was ever so generous as to forget the services he rendered to his friends; and so far from boasting of such kindnesses as these, I can declare that I even never heard of his doing a good action in his life. His was indeed a noble mind, replied the sick man, as I have perhaps better reason to know than most persons; and to prove this to you, I must relate the history of the unfortunate affair from which his liberality so happily released me. But as I shall have to speak of things which should be disclosed to no other ears than thine, honourable as they are to the memory of my deceased friend, it were better that we should be alone.

Oh, certainly! cried Chichona, though it would delight me to hear of the good Rosetta, whom you are always praising, we will retire to my closet; saying which, she led Leonora into the next apartment. No sooner had she done so, and closed the door, than without ceremony the old woman thus addressed her companion: Charming Leonora, our moments are too precious to be wasted. You know the young Count de Belflor, at least by sight. Need I say how long he has loved you, and how ardently he desires to tell you so? Driven to despair by the vigilance and austerity of Marcella, he has had recourse to my assistance to procure him an interview; and I, who could refuse nothing to so handsome a cavalier, have dressed up his valet as the sick man you have just seen, that I might engage your governante's attention and bring you hither.

As she finished speaking, the Count, who was concealed by the drapery of a little window, discovered himself, and, falling at the feet of Leonora: Madam, said he, pardon the stratagem of a lover, who could no longer conceal from you the passion that is destroying the life to which it alone gives value:—but for this good woman's kindness, I had perished in despair. These words, uttered with respectful earnestness, by a man whose appearance was far from displeasing, affected, while they perplexed Leonora, and she remained for some time speechless. But at length recovering herself, she looked, or endeavoured to look, haughtily on her prostrate lover, and replied: Truly you are deeply indebted to your obliging confidante for this attention, but I am not so sure that I have equal reason to be thankful, or that you will gain by her kindness the object you desire.

In saying these words, she moved towards the door; but the Count, gently detaining her, exclaimed: Stay, adorable Leonora! deign to listen to me but for an instant. Be not alarmed! my affection for you is pure as your own thoughts. I feel that the artifice to which I have descended must revolt you; but consider how vainly I have striven by more honourable means to address you. You cannot be ignorant that for many months, at the church, in the public walk, at the theatre, I have vainly sought to confirm with my lips that passion which my eyes could not disguise. Alas! while I implore pardon for a crime to which the cruelty of the merciless duenna has compelled me, let me also entreat your pity for the torments I have endured; and judge, by the charms which your happy mirror discloses, of the extent of his wretchedness who is banished from their sight.

Belflor did not fail to accompany these words with all the arts of persuasion commonly practised with so much success by my devotees: tender looks, heartbroken sighs, and even a few tears were not wanting; and Leonora was of course affected. Despite herself, she began to feel those little flutterings of the heart, which are the usual preludes of capitulation with woman; but far from yielding without a struggle to her tenderness, or pity, or weakness, the more sensible she became of treason in the garrison, the more hastily she resolved to vacate the place. Count, she exclaimed, it is in vain you tell me this. I will listen no longer. Do not attempt to detain me: let me leave a house in which my honour is exposed to suspicion; or my cries shall alarm the neighbourhood, and expose your audacity which has dared to insult me. This she uttered with so resolute an air that Chichona, who was on very punctilious terms with the police, prayed the Count not to push matters to extremity. Finding his entreaties useless, he released Leonora, who hastened from the apartment, and, what never happened to any maiden before, left it as she had entered it.

Let us quit this dangerous house, said Leonora, on rejoining her governante: finish this idle talk,—we are deceived. What ails you, child? cried Marcella in reply; and why should we leave this poor man so hastily? I will tell you, said Leonora but let us fly: every instant I remain here but adds to my affliction. However desirous was the duenna to learn the cause of her ward's anxiety, she saw that the best way to be satisfied was to yield to her entreaties; and they quitted the apartment with a celerity which quite discomposed the stately governante, leaving Chichona, the Count, and his valet as much disconcerted as a company of comedians, when the curtain falls on a wretched farce, which the presiding deities of the pit have consigned to a lower deep.

When Leonora found herself safely in the street, she related, as well as her extreme agitation, and Marcella's exclamations of astonishment, would permit, all that had passed in the chamber with the Count and Chichona. I must confess, child, said the duenna, when they had reached home, that I am exceedingly mortified to hear what you have just been telling me. To think that I have been the dupe of that wicked woman!

You will allow, however, that I was not without my doubts. Why did I yield them? I should have been suspicious of so much kindness and honesty. I have committed a folly which is absolutely inexcusable in a person of my sagacity and experience. Ah! why did you not tell me this in her presence? I would have torn her eyes out: I would have loaded the Count de Belflor with reproaches for his perfidy: and as for the scoundrel with his ducats and his beard, he should not have had a hair left on his head. But I will return, this instant, with the money which I have received as a real restitution; and if I find them still together, they shall not have waited for nothing. So saying, the enraged widow of the generous Rosetta folded her mantilla around her, and left Leonora to weep over the treachery of mankind.

Marcella found the Count with Chichona, in despair at the failure of his design. Most of my pupils, in his place, would have been abashed at seeing her: it is extraordinary what scruples I have to overcome. But Belflor was of another stamp: to a thousand good qualities, he added that of yielding implicit obedience to my inspirations. When he loved, nothing could exceed the ardour with which he followed the devoted object of his affections; and though naturally what the world calls an honourable man, he was then capable of violating the most sacred duties for the attainment of his desires. No sooner, therefore, did he perceive Marcella, than, as he saw that their fulfilment could only be completed through the duenna's agency, he resolved to spare nothing to win her to his interests. He shrewdly guessed that, rigidly virtuous as the lady appeared, she, like her betters, had her price; and as he was disposed to bid pretty liberally, you will own he did no great injustice to a duenna's fidelity: for so rare a commodity will only be found where lovers are not over-rich, or not sufficiently liberal.

The instant Marcella entered the room, and perceived the three persons she sought, her tongue went as though possessed; and while she poured a torrent of abuse on the Count and Chichona, she sent the restitution flying at the head of the valet. The Count patiently endured the storm; and throwing himself on his knees before the duenna, to render the scene more moving, he pressed her to take back the purse she had rejected; and offering to add to it a thousand pistoles, he besought her compassion on his sufferings. As Marcella had never before been so earnestly entreated, it is no wonder that she was, on this occasion, not inexorable: her invectives, therefore, speedily ceased; and on comparing the tempting sum now offered to her, with the paltry recompence she expected from Don Luis de Cespedes, she was not slow in discovering that it would be much more profitable to turn Leonora from her duty, than to keep her in its path. Accordingly, after some little affectation, she again received the purse, accepting the offer of the thousand pistoles, promised to assist the Count in his designs, and departed at once to labour for their accomplishment.

As she knew Leonora to be strictly virtuous, she was extremely cautious of exciting the least suspicion of her intelligence with the Count, lest the plot should be discovered to Don Luis, her father; so, desirous of skilfully effecting her ruin, she thus addressed her on her return: My dear Leonora, I have revenged myself on the wretches who deceived us. I found them quite confounded at your virtuous resolution; and, threatening the infamous Chichona with your father's resentment, and the most rigorous severity of the law, I bestowed on the Count de Belflor all the insulting epithets that my anger could suggest. I warrant that the Signor will make no more attempts of this kind on you; and that henceforth his gallantries will cease to engage my attention. I thank Heaven that, by your firmness, you have escaped the snare that was laid for you. I could weep for joy to think that the deceiver has gained nothing by his stratagem; for these noble signors make it their amusement to seduce the young and innocent. Indeed, the greater part even of those who pique themselves on their honourable conduct have no scruples on this point, as though it were no disgrace to carry ruin into virtuous families. Not that I think the Count absolutely of this character, nor even that he intends studiously to deceive you: we should not judge too harshly of our neighbours; and perhaps, after all, he meant you honourably. Although his rank would give him pretensions to the hand of the noblest at our court, your beauty may yet have induced him to resolve on marriage with yourself. In fact, I recollect that in his answers to my reproaches, which I heeded not at the time, I might have perceived something of the sort.

What say you, dear Marcella? interrupted Leonora. If that were his intention, he would have sought me of my father, who would never have refused his daughter to a person of his rank. What you say is perfectly just, replied the governante, and I am quite of your opinion; the Count's proceedings are certainly suspicious, or rather his designs cannot be good: for a trifle, I would return and scold him again. No, good Marcella, replied Leonora, we had better forget the past, and revenge ourselves by contempt. Very true, said the duenna; I believe that is the best plan: you are more prudent than myself. But, after all, may we not do the Count an injustice? Who knows that he has not been actuated by the purest and most delicate motives? It is possible that, before obtaining your father's consent, he may have resolved to deserve and to please you; to render your union more delightful by first gaining your heart. If that were so, child, would it be a very great sin to listen to him? Tell me your thoughts, child; you know my affection; does your heart incline to the Count, or would it be very disagreeable to marry such a man?

To this malicious question, the too-sincere Leonora replied, with downcast eyes, and face suffused with blushes, by avowing that she had no aversion to the Count; but, as modesty prevented her explaining herself more openly, the duenna pressed her to conceal nothing from her; and at last succeeded by affected tenderness, in obtaining a full confession of her love. Dearest Marcella, said the unsuspicious girl, since you desire me to speak to you without disguise, I must confess that Belflor has appeared to me not unworthy of my love. I was struck by his appearance; and I have heard him so much praised, that I could not remain insensible to the affection he displayed for me. Your watchful care to guard me from his addresses, has caused me many a sigh; nay, I will own I have in secret wept his absence; and repaid with my tears the suffering your vigilance has caused him. Even at this moment, instead of hating him for the insult he has offered to my honour, my heart against my will excuses him, and throws his fault on your severity.

My child, said the governante, since you give me reason to believe that his attentions are pleasing to you, I will endeavour to secure this lover. I am very sensible, replied Leonora, of the kindness you intend me. It is not that the Count holds the first place at court; were he but an honourable private gentleman, I should prefer him to all others on earth; but let us not flatter ourselves: Belflor is a noble signor, destined, without doubt, for one of the richest heiresses in our kingdom. Let us not expect that he would descend to ally himself with Don Luis, who has but a moderate fortune to offer with his daughter. No, no, she added, he entertains for me no such favourable thoughts: he thinks me not worthy to bear his name, but seeks only my dishonour.

Ah! Wherefore, said the duenna, will you insist he loves you not well enough to seek your hand? Love daily works much greater miracles. One would imagine, to hear you, that Heaven had made some infinite distinction between you and the Count. Do yourself more justice, Leonora! He would not condescend, in uniting his destiny with yours. You are of an ancient and noble family, and your alliance would never call a blush upon his cheek. However, you love him, continued she,; and I must therefore see him, and sound him on the subject; and if I find his designs as honourable as they should be, I will indulge him with slight hopes. Not for the world! cried Leonora; on no account would I have you seek him: should he but suspect my knowledge of your proceedings, he must cease even to esteem me. Oh! I am more cunning than you think me, answered Marcella. I shall begin by accusing him of a design to seduce you. He of course will not fail to defend himself; I shall listen to his excuses, and shall mark the event: in short, my dear child, leave it to me; I will be as careful of your honour as of my own.

Towards night, the duenna left the house, and found Belflor watching in the neighbourhood. She informed him of her conversation with his mistress, not forgetting to boast of the address with which she had elicited from Leonora the confession of her love. Nothing could more agreeably surprise the Count than this discovery; and accordingly his gratitude was displayed in the most ardent manner; that is to say, he promised to Marcella the thousand ducats on the morrow, and to himself the most complete success of his enterprise; well knowing, as he did, that a woman prepossessed is half seduced. They then separated, extremely well satisfied with each other, and the duenna returned to her home.

Leonora, who had waited for her with extreme anxiety, timidly inquired if she brought any news of the Count. The best news you could hear, replied the governante. I have seen him, and I can assure you of the purity of his intentions: he declared that his only object is to marry you, and this he confirmed by every oath that man holds sacred. I did not, however, as you may suppose, yield implicitly to these protestations. If you are sincere, said I to him, why do you not at once apply to Don Luis, her father? Ah! my dear Marcella, replied he, without appearing in the least embarrassed by this question, could you, even, approve that, without assuring myself of Leonora's affection, and following, blindly, the dictates of a devouring passion, I should seek her of Don Luis as a slave? No! her happiness is dearer to me that my own desires; and I have too nice a sense of honour, even to endanger that happiness by an indiscreet avowal.

While he spoke thus, continued the duenna, I observed him with extreme attention; and employed all my experience to discover in his eyes if he were really possessed of all the love that he expressed. What shall I say?—He appeared to me penetrated by the truest love; I felt elated with joy, which I took good care, however, to conceal: nevertheless, when I felt persuaded of his sincerity, I thought that, in order to secure for you so important a conquest, it would be proper to give him some faint idea of your feelings towards him. Signor, said I, Leonora has no aversion for you; I know that she esteems you; and, as far as I can judge, her heart would not be grieved by your addresses. Great God! he cried, transported with delight, what do I hear? Is it possible, that the charming Leonora should be disposed so favourably towards me? What do I not owe to you, kindest Marcella, for thus relieving me from such torturing suspense? I am the more rejoiced, too, that this should be announced by you;—you, who have ever opposed my love; you, who have inflicted on me such lengthened suffering. But, my dear Marcella, complete my bliss! let me see my divine Leonora, and pledge to her my faith; let me swear, in your presence, to be hers only for ever.

To all these expressions of his devotion, continued the governante, he added others still more touching. At last, my dear child, he entreated me in so pressing a manner, to procure for him a secret interview, that I could not forbear promising he should see you. Ah! why have you done so? exclaimed Leonora, with emotion. How often have you told me, that a virtuous girl should ever shun such secret conversations,—always wrong, and almost always dangerous? Certainly, replied the duenna, I acknowledge to have said so, and a very good maxim it is; but you are not obliged to adhere to it strictly on this occasion; for you may look upon the Count as your husband. He is not so yet, said Leonora, and I ought not to see him until my father permits his addresses.

Marcella, at this moment, repented of having imbued the mind of her pupil with those notions of propriety which she found so much trouble to overcome. Determined, however, at any rate to effect her object, she thus recommenced her attack: My dear Leonora! I am proud to witness so much virtuous delicacy. Happy fruit of all my cares! You have truly profited by the lessons I have taught you. I am delighted with the result of my labours. But, child, you have read rather too literally; you construe my maxims too rigidly; your susceptibility is indeed somewhat prudish. However much I pique myself on my severity, I do not quite approve of that precise chastity which arms itself indifferently against guilt or innocence. A girl ceases not to be virtuous who yields her ear only to her lover, especially when she is conscious of the purity which chastens his desires; and she is then no more wrong in responding to his love, than she is for her sensibility to the passion. Rely upon me, Leonora; I have too much experience and am too much interested in your welfare, to suffer you to take a step that might be prejudicial to it.

But where would you have me see the Count, said Leonora? In this room, to be sure, replied the duenna. Where could you see him so safely? I will introduce him to-morrow evening. You are not surely serious, Marcella! exclaimed Leonora. What! think you I would permit a man—To be sure you will! interrupted the duenna; there is nothing so wonderful in that, as you imagine. It happens daily; and would to Heaven that every damsel who receives such visits, had desires as pure as those by which you are animated! Besides, what have you to fear? Shall not I be with you? Alas! said Leonora, should my father surprise us! Do not trouble yourself about that, replied Marcella. Your father is perfectly satisfied as to your conduct: he knows my fidelity, and would not do me so much wrong as to suspect it. Poor Leonora, thus artfully instigated by the duenna, and secretly moved by her own feelings, could withstand no longer; and at last yielded, although unwillingly, to her governante's proposal.

The Count was soon informed of Marcella's success, of which he was so well satisfied, that he at once gave her five hundred pistoles, and a ring of equal value. The duenna, finding his promises so well performed, was determined to be as scrupulously exact in the fulfilment of her own; and, accordingly, on the following night, when she felt assured that every one in the house was fast asleep, she fastened to the balcony a silken ladder, which the Count had provided, and introduced his lordship to the chamber of his mistress.

In the meanwhile, the fair Leonora was immersed in reflections of the most painfully agitating nature. Notwithstanding her affection for the Count, and despite her governante's assurances, she bitterly reproached herself for her weakness, in yielding a consent to an interview which she still felt was in violation of her duty; nor could a knowledge of the purity of her intentions bring comfort to her bosom. To receive, by night, in her apartment, a man whose love was unsanctioned by her parent, and not certainly known even by herself, now appeared to her not only criminal, but calculated to degrade her in the estimation of her lover also; and this last thought tortured her almost to madness, when that lover entered.

He threw himself on his knees before her; and, apparently penetrated by love and gratitude, thanked her for that confidence in his honour, which had permitted this visit, and assured her of his determination to merit it, by shortly espousing her. However, as he was not as explicit upon this point as Leonora desired, Count, said she to him, I am too anxious to believe that you have no other views than those you express to me; but whatever assurances you may offer must always appear to me suspicious, so long as my father is ignorant of your designs, and has not ratified them by his consent. Madam, replied Belflor, that would have been long since demanded by me, had I not feared to have obtained it at the sacrifice of your repose. Alas! said Leonora, I do not reproach you that you have not yet sought Don Luis,—I cannot but be sensible of your delicacy; but nothing now restrains you, and you must at once resolve to see my father, or never to see me more.

What do I hear? exclaimed the Count,—never to see you more! Beauteous Leonora! how little sensible are you to the charms of love! Did you know how to love like me, you would delight in secret to receive my vows; and, for some time at least, to conceal them from your father as from all the world. Oh! who can paint the charms of that mysterious intercourse, in which two hearts indulge, united by a passion as intense as pure. It may have charms for you, replied Leonora; to me such intercourse would bring but sorrow: this refinement of tenderness but ill becomes a virtuous maiden. Speak not to me of such impure delights! Did you esteem me, you had not dared to do so; and were your intentions such as you would persuade me, you would, from your soul, reproach me that I could listen to you with patience. But, alas! she added, while tears filled her eyes, my weakness alone has exposed me to this outrage: I have indeed deserved it, that I see you here.

Adorable Leonora! cried the Count, you wrong my love most cruelly! Your virtue, too scrupulous, is causelessly alarmed. What! can you conceive that, because I have been so happy as to prevail on you to favour my passion, I should cease to esteem you? What injustice! No, Madam, I know, too well, the value of your kindness; it can never deprive you of my esteem; and I am ready to do as you require me. I will, tomorrow, see Don Luis; and nothing shall be wanting on my part to ensure my happiness: but I cannot conceal from you, that I scarcely indulge a hope. How! replied Leonora, with extreme surprise; is it possible that my father should refuse me to the Count de Belflor?—Ah! it is that very title which gives me cause for alarm. But I see this surprises you; your astonishment, however, will soon cease.

Only a few days ago, continued he, the King was pleased to declare his will, that I should marry: you know how these matters are managed at our court. He has not, however, named the lady for whom I am intended; but has contented himself with intimating that she is one who will do me honour, and that he has set his mind upon our union. As I was then ignorant of your disposition towards me,—for, as you well know, your rigorous severity has never, until now, permitted me to divine it,—I did not let him perceive in me any aversion to the accomplishment of his desires. You may now, therefore, judge, madam, whether Don Luis would hazard the King's displeasure, by accepting me as his son-in-law.

No, doubtless, said Leonora; I know my father well: however desirable he might esteem your alliance, he would not hesitate to renounce it, rather than expose himself to the anger of his Majesty. But, even though my father had consented to our union, we should not be less unfortunate; for, Belflor, how could you possibly bestow on me a hand which the King has destined for another? Madam, replied the Count, I will not disguise that your question embarrasses me. Still, I am not without hope that, by prudent management with the King, and by availing myself of the influence which his friendship for me secures, I should find means to avoid the misfortune which threatens me; and yourself, lovely Leonora, might assist me in so doing, did you but deem me worthy of the happiness of being yours. I assist you! she exclaimed; how could I possibly enable you to avert an union which the King proposes for you? Ah! madam, he replied, with impassioned looks, would you deign to receive my vows of eternal fidelity to you, I should have no difficulty in preserving my faith inviolate, without offending my sovereign. Permit, charming Leonora, he continued, throwing himself at her feet, permit me to espouse you in the presence of our friend Marcella; she is a witness who will vouch for the sanctity of our engagements. I shall thus escape the hateful bonds they would impose upon me; for, should the King still press me to accept the lady he designs for me, I will prostrate myself before him, and, on my knees, confess how long and ardently my love has been devoted to you, and that we are secretly married. However desirous he may be to unite me with another, he is too gracious to think of tearing me from the object I adore, and too just to offer so grievous an affront to your honourable family.

What is your opinion, discreet Marcella? added he, turning towards the governante; what think you of this project with which love has so opportunely inspired me? I am charmed with it, said the duenna; the rogue, Cupid, is never at a loss for an expedient. And you, dearest Leonora, resumed the Count, what do you say to it? Can your heart, always mistrustful, refuse its assent to my proposal? No, she replied, provided my father consent to it; and I do not doubt that he will, when you have explained to him your reasons for secrecy. You must be very cautious how you consult him upon the subject, interrupted the abominable duenna; you do not know Don Luis; his notions of honour are too scrupulous to permit him to engage himself with secret amours. The proposal of a private marriage would shock him; besides which, he is too prudent not to foresee the possible consequences of one which interfered with the designs of the King. And, once proposed to him, and his suspicion aroused, his eyes will be constantly upon you; and he will take good care to prevent your marriage, by separating you for ever.

And I should die with grief and despair, cried our courtier. But, madam, continued he, addressing himself to Marcella, with an air of profound disappointment, do you really think, then, that there is no chance of Don Luis yielding to our prayer? Not the slightest! replied the governante. But suppose he should! Exact and scrupulous as he is, he would never consent to the omission of a single religious ceremony on the occasion and if they are all to be observed in your marriage, the secret will be soon none in Madrid.

Ah! my dear Leonora, said the Count, taking her hand, and tenderly pressing it within his own, must we, then, to satisfy a vain notion of decorum, expose ourselves to the frightful danger of an eternal separation? Our happiness is in your hands; since it depends on you alone to bestow yourself on me. A father's consent might, perhaps, spare you some uneasiness; but since our kind Marcella has convinced us of the impossibility of obtaining it, yield yourself, without further scruple, to my innocent desires. Receive my heart and hand; and when the time shall have arrived, that we may inform Don Luis of our union, we shall have no difficulty in satisfying him as to our reasons for its concealment. Well, Count, said Leonora, I consent to your not at once speaking to my father, but that you first sound the King upon the subject. Before, however, I receive thus secretly your hand, I would have this done. See his Majesty; tell him even, if necessary, that we are married. Let us endeavour, by this show of confidence,—Alas! madam, interrupted Belflor, what do you ask of me? No, my soul revolts at the thoughts of falsehood. I cannot lie; and you would despise me, could I thus dissemble with the King;—besides, how could I hope for pardon at his hands, should he discover the meanness of which I had been guilty?

I should never have done, Signor Don Cleophas, continued the Demon, were I to repeat word for word all that Belflor said, in order to seduce his lovely mistress; I will only add, that he repeated, without my assistance, all those passionate phrases with which I usually inspire gallants upon similar occasions. But in vain did he swear he would publicly confirm, as soon as possible, the faith which he proposed to pledge in secret: Leonora's virtue was proof against his oaths; and the blushing day, which surprised him while he called Heaven to witness for his fidelity, compelled him to retire less triumphant than he had anticipated.

On the following morning, the duenna, conceiving that her honour, or rather her interest, engaged her not to abandon the enterprise, took an opportunity of reverting to the subject. Leonora, said she, I am confounded by what passed last evening; you appear to disdain the Count's affection, or to regard it as inspired by an unworthy motive. Perhaps, however, after all, you remarked something in his person or manner that displeased you? No, good governante, replied Leonora; he never appeared to me more amiable; and his conversation discovered to me a thousand new charms. If that be the case, said the duenna, I am still more perplexed. You acknowledge to be strongly prepossessed in his favour, and yet refuse to yield in a point, the absolute necessity of which he has so clearly demonstrated.

My dear Marcella, replied her ward, you are wiser, and have had more experience in these matters, than myself; but have you sufficiently reflected on the consequences of a marriage contracted without my father's knowledge? Yes, certainly, answered the duenna, I have maturely considered all that; and I regret to find you oppose yourself, with an obstinacy of which I deemed you incapable, to the brilliant establishment which fortune presents so uselessly. Have a care that your perverseness does not weary and repel your lover; remember that he may discover the inequality of your station and fortune, which his passion overlooks. While he offers you his faith, receive it without hesitation. His word is his bond; there is no tie more sacred with a man of honour, like Belflor: besides, I am witness that he acknowledges you as his wife; and I need not tell you that a testimony like mine would be more than sufficient to condemn a lover who should dare to perjure himself, and attempt to evade a legal contract.

By this and similar conversations, the resolution of the artless Leonora was at last shaken; and the perils which surrounded her were so adroitly concealed by her perfidious governante, that, some days afterwards, she abandoned herself, without further reflection, to the will of the Count. Belflor was introduced nightly, by the balcony, into his mistress's apartment; which he left again before daybreak, when summoned by the duenna.

Illustration: Some days afterwards, she abandoned herself, without further reflection, to the will of the Count

One morning, the old lady overslept herself; and Aurora had already half opened the golden chambers of the east, when the Count hastily departed, as usual. Unfortunately, in his hurry to descend the ladder, his foot missed, and he fell heavily on the ground.

Don Luis de Cespedes, who slept in the room over Leonora's, had that morning risen earlier than usual to attend to some important engagements; and hearing the noise of Belflor's fall, he opened his window to learn whence it proceeded. To his astonishment, he perceived a man just raising himself, with difficulty, from the earth, while Marcella was busily engaged in the balcony with the silken ladder, of which the Count had made such bad use in his descent. Scarcely believing his eyes, and rubbing them to make sure that he was awake, Don Luis stood for some time in amazement; but he was too soon convinced that what he saw was no illusion; and that the light of day, although just breaking, was bright enough to discover to him, too clearly, his disgrace.

Afflicted at this fatal sight, transported by a just wrath, he instantly sought the apartment of Leonora, holding the light by which he had been writing in one hand, and his sword in the other. With a frantic determination of sacrificing his daughter and her governante to his resentment, he struck the door of their chamber violently, and commanded them to admit him. Trembling, they obeyed his summons; when he entered with infuriated looks, and displaying his naked sword: I come, he cried, to wash out, in the blood of an infamous child, the stains on the wounded honour of her father; and to punish the crime of a perfidious wretch, who has betrayed his confidence.

They were in a moment on their knees before him; and, as he raised his arm, the trembling duenna exclaimed: In mercy hold, Signor! Before you inflict on us the punishment you meditate, deign but to listen to me for a moment. Speak, then, unhappy woman, said Don Luis; I will retard my vengeance but for the instant you require: speak, I repeat! tell me all the circumstances of my misfortune. But what do I say,—all the circumstances? Alas! I am ignorant but of one; it is, the name of the villain who has dishonoured me. Signor, replied Marcella, the cavalier who has just left us is the Count de Belflor. The Count de Belflor! repeated Don Luis; and where did he see my daughter? By what means has he seduced her? On your life, hide nothing from me! Signor, replied the governante, I will relate the whole history to you, with all the sincerity of which I am capable.

She then related, with infinite art, all the conversations she had previously narrated to Leonora, as having passed between herself and the Count; whom she painted in the most flattering colours, as a lover tender, delicate, and sincere, beyond description. As, however, there was no escaping the event in which this heroic love most naturally terminated, she was obliged to avow the truth. But she managed this so adroitly, insisting on the weighty reasons which Belflor had for secrecy in his nuptials, and on the regret he had always expressed for its necessity, that she gradually appeased the fury of her master. This she was not slow to perceive; and, to completely soften the old man, she wound up by a peroration that would have done as much honour to a wig as to a gown:—Signor, said she, I have thus told you the simple truth: now punish us if you will, and plunge your sword into your daughter's bosom! But what say I? No! Leonora is innocent, she has but followed the faithful counsels of her to whom you confided the guidance of her conduct. It is my heart against which your sword should be directed; it was I who first introduced the Count to her apartment; it is I who formed those ties which bind him to your daughter. I would not perceive the irregularity of his engagement, although unauthorised by you; I saw in him but a son-in-law, whom I was anxious to secure to you; but the channel, through which the favours of our Court might reach you. I forgot all but the happiness of Leonora, and the advancement of your family, in the brilliant alliance of the Count. I have erred; the excess of my zeal has made me forgetful of my duty.

While the subtle Marcella was speaking thus, poor Leonora was not sparing of her tears; and her grief appeared so excessive that the good old man could not resist it. He was affected. His anger was changed into compassion; his sword fell on the ground; and, quitting the air of an irritated parent: Ah! my daughter, he cried, while tears sprung from his aged eyes, like water from the rock of Horeb, what a fatal passion is love! Alas! you know not yet all the causes it will bring you for affliction. The shame which a father's presence alone excites, can bring tears to your eyes at this moment; but you foresee not the woes which your lover is, perhaps even now, preparing for the future. And you, imprudent Marcella, what have you done? Into what an abyss has your indiscreet zeal for my family plunged us! I allow that an alliance with a man like Belflor might dazzle you, and it is that which alone excuses and saves you; but, miserable that you are, why were you not more cautious with a lover of his station? The greater his credit and favour at court, the more guarded should you have been against his approaches. Should he not scruple to break his faith with my daughter, how shall I avenge the insult? Shall I implore the power of our laws? A person of his rank can easily shelter himself from its severity. I will suppose that, faithful to his oaths, he would abide by his engagements with my daughter: if the King, as you say, has decreed that he shall marry with another, is it likely that our sovereign will fail to be obeyed?

Oh! my father, replied Leonora, that need not alarm us. The Count has assured us that the King would never do so great a violence to his feelings—Of which I am convinced, interrupted the duenna; for, besides that the monarch loves Belflor too much to exercise so great a tyranny upon his favourite, he is of too noble a character to afflict so grievously the valiant Don Luis de Cespedes, who has devoted to the service of the state the best years of his life.

Heaven grant, exclaimed the old man, sighing, that all my fears are vain! I will seek the Count, and demand a full explanation of his conduct; the eyes of a father, alarmed for a daughter's welfare, will pierce his very soul. If I find him what I would hope, and what you would persuade me he is, I will pardon what is passed; but, added he firmly, if in his discourse I discern the perfidy of his heart, you go, both of you, to bewail in retirement, for the rest of your days, the imprudence of which you have been guilty. As he finished, he took up his sword, and retired to his own room, leaving his daughter and her governante to recover themselves from the fright into which this discovery had so unexpectedly thrown them.

Asmodeus was at this moment interrupted in his recital by the Student, who thus addressed him: My dear Devil, interesting as is the history you are relating to me, my eyes have wandered to an object which prevents my listening to you as attentively as I could wish. I see a lady, who is rather good-looking, seated between a young man and a gentleman old enough to be his grandfather. They seem to enjoy the liqueurs which are on the table near them, but what amuses me, is, that as from time to time the amorous old dotard embraces his mistress, the deceiver conveys her hand to the lips of the other, who covers it with silent kisses. He is doubtless her gallant. On the contrary, replied the cripple, he is her husband, and the old fool is her lover. He is a man of consequence,—no less than a commandant of the military order of Calatrava; and is ruining himself for the lady, whose complaisant husband holds some inferior place at court. She bestows her caresses on the sighing knight, for the sake of his gold; and is unfaithful to him in favour of her husband, from inclination.

Illustration: "On the contrary," replied the cripple, "he is her husband, and the old fool is her lover"

That is a marvellously pretty picture, said Zambullo. The husband of course is French? No, no, replied the Demon; he is a Spaniard. Oh! the good city of Madrid can boast within its walls a fair proportion of such well-bred spouses: still, they do not swarm here as in Paris, which is, beyond contradiction, the most fruitful city of the world in such inhabitants. I thought so, said Don Cleophas; but pardon me, Signor Asmodeus, if I have broken the thread of the fair Leonora's story. Continue it, I pray you; it interests me exceedingly; and exhibits such variety in the art of seduction as transports me with admiration.

 

Previous Next