CH. XI -- The history of Donna Mencia de Mosquera.
I WAS born at Valladolid, and am called Donna Mencia de Mosquera. My father, Don Martin, after spending most of his family estate in the service, was killed in Portugal at the head of his regiment. He left me so little property, that I was a bad match, though an only daughter. I was not, however, without my admirers, notwithstanding the mediocrity of my fortune. Several of the most considerable cavaliers in Spain sought me in marriage. My favourite was Don Alvar de Mello. It is true he had a prettier person than his rivals; but more solid qualities determined me in his favour. He had wit, discretion, valour, probity; and in addition to all these, an air of fashion. Was an entertainment to be given? His taste was sure to be displayed. If he appeared in the lists, he always fixed the eyes of the beholders on his strength and dexterity. I singled him out from among all the rest, and married him.
A few days after our nuptials, he met Don Andrew de Baësa, who had been his rival, in a private place. They attacked one another sword in hand, and Don Andrew fell. As he was nephew to the corregidor of Valladolid, a turbulent man, violently incensed against the house of Mello, Don Alvar thought he could not soon enough make his escape. He returned home speedily, and told me what had happened while his horse was getting ready. My dear Mencia, said he at length, we must part. You know the corregidor: let us not flatter ourselves; he will hunt me even to death. You are unacquainted with his influence; this empire will be too hot to hold me. He was so penetrated by his own grief and mine as not to be able to articulate further. I made him take some cash and jewels: then he folded me in his arms, and we did nothing but mingle our sighs and tears for a quarter of an hour. In a short time the horse was at the door. He tore himself from me, and left me in a condition not easily to be expressed. It had been well if the excess of my affliction had destroyed me! How much pain and trouble might I have escaped by death! Some hours after Don Alvar was gone, the corregidor became acquainted with his flight. He set up a hue and cry after him, sparing no pains to get him into his power. My husband, however, eluded his pursuit, and got into safe quarters; so that the judge, finding himself reduced to confine his vengeance to the poor satisfaction of confiscating, where he meant to execute, laboured to good purpose in his vocation. Don Alvar's little property all went to the hammer.
I remained in a very comfortless situation, with scarcely the means of subsistence. A retired life was best suited to my circumstances, with a single female servant. I passed my hours in lamenting, not an indigence, which I bore patiently, but the absence of a beloved husband, of whom I received no accounts. He had indeed pledged himself, in the melancholy moments of our parting, to be punctual in acquainting me with his destiny, to whatever part of the world his evil star might conduct him. And yet seven years roiled on without my hearing of him. My suspense respecting his fate afflicted me most deeply. At last I heard of his falling in battle, under the Portuguese banner, in the kingdom of Fez. A man newly returned from Africa brought me the account, with the assurance that he had been well acquainted with Don Alvar de Mello; had served with him in the army, and had seen him drop in the action. To this narrative of facts he added several collateral circumstances, which left me no room to doubt of my husband's premature death.
About this time Don Ambrosio Mesia Carillo, Marquis de la Guardia, arrived at Valladolid. He was one of those elderly noblemen who, with that good breeding acquired by long experience in courts, throw their years into the background, and retain the faculty of making themselves agreeable to our sex. One day he happened by accident to hear the story of Don Alvar; and, from the part I bore in it and the description of my person, there arose a desire of being better acquainted. To satisfy his curiosity, he made interest with one of my relations to invite me to her house. The gentleman was one of the party. This first interview made not the less impression on his heart for the traces of sorrow which were too obvious on my countenance. He was touched by its melancholy and languishing expression, which gave him a favourable forecast of my constancy. Respect, rather than any warmer sentiment, might perhaps be the inspirer of his wishes. For he told me more than once what a miracle of good faith he considered me, and my husband's fate as enviable in this respect, however lamentable in others. In a word, he was struck with me at first sight, and did not wait for a review of my pretensions, but at once took the resolution of making me his wife.
The intervention of my kinswoman was adopted as the means of inducing me to accept his proposal. She paid me a visit; and in the course of conversation, pleaded, that as my husband had submitted to the decree of Providence in the kingdom of Fez, according to very credible accounts, it was no longer rational to coop up my charms. I had shed tears enough over a man to whom I had been united but for a few moments as it were, and I ought to avail myself of the present offer, and had nothing to do but to step into happiness at once. In furtherance of these arguments, she set forth the old marquis's pedigree, his wealth, and high character: but in vain did her eloquence expatiate on his endowments, for I was not to be moved. Not that my mind misgave me respecting Don Alvar's death; nor that the apprehension of his sudden and unwelcome appearance hereafter, checked my inclinations. My little liking, or rather my extreme repugnance, to a second marriage, after the sad issue of the first, was the sole obstacle opposed to my relation's urgency. Neither was she disheartened: on the contrary, her zeal for Don Ambrosio resorted to endless stratagems. All my family were pressed into the old lord's service. So beneficial a match was not to be trifled with! They were eternally besetting, dunning, and tormenting me. In fact, my despondency, which increased from day to day, contributed not a little to my yielding.
As there was no getting rid of him, I gave way to their eager suit, and was wedded to the Marquis de la Guardia. The day after the nuptials, we went to a very fine castle of his near Burgos, between Grajal and Rodillas. He conceived a violent love for me: the desire of pleasing was visible in all his actions: the anticipation of my slenderest wishes was his earliest and his latest study. No husband ever regarded his wife more tenderly, no lover could pour forth more devotion to his mistress. Nor would it have been possible for me to steel my heart against a return of passion, though our ages were so disproportioned, had not every soft sentiment been buried in Don Alvar's grave. But the avenues of a constant heart are barred against a second inmate. The memory of my first husband threw a damp on all the kind efforts of the second. Mere gratitude was a cold retribution for such tenderness; but it was all I had to give.
Such was my temper of mind, when, taking the air one day at a window in my apartment, I perceived a peasant-looking man in the garden, viewing me with fixed attention. He appeared to be a common labourer. The circumstance soon passed out of my thoughts; but the next day, having again taken my station at the window, I saw him on the self-same spot, and again found myself the object of his eager gaze. This seemed strange! I looked at him in my turn; and, after an attentive scrutiny, thought I could trace the features of the unhappy Don Alvar. This seeming visit from the tombs roused all the dormant agony of my soul, and extorted from me a piercing scream. Happily, I was then alone with Inès, who of all my women engaged the largest share of my confidence. I told her what surmise had so agitated my spirits. She only laughed at the idea, and took it for granted that a slight resemblance had imposed on my fancy. Take courage, madam, said she, and do not be afraid of seeing your first husband. What likelihood is there of his being here in the disguise of a peasant? Is it even within the reach of credibility that he is yet alive? However, I will go down into the garden, and talk with this rustic. I will answer for finding out who be is, and will return in all possible haste with my intelligence. Inès ran on her errand like a lapwing; but soon returned to my apartment with a face of mingled astonishment and emotion. Madam, exclaimed she, your conjecture is but too well grounded; it is indeed Don Alvar whom you have seen; he made himself known at once, and pleads for a private interview.
As I had the means of admitting Don Alvar instantaneously, by the absence of the Marquis at Burgos, I commissioned my waiting-maid to introduce him into my closet by a private staircase. Well may you imagine the hurry and agitation of my spirits. How could I support the presence of a man, who was entitled to overwhelm me with reproaches? I fainted at his very foot-fall as he entered. They were about me in a moment -- he as well as Inès; and when they had recovered me from my swoon, Don Alvar said -- Madam, for heaven's sake, compose yourself. My presence shall never be the cause of pain to you; nor would I for the world expose you to the slightest anxiety. I am no savage husband, come to account with you for a sacred pledge; nor do I impute to criminal motives the second contract you have formed. I am well aware that it was owing to the importunity of your friends; your persecutions from that quarter are not unknown to me. Besides, the report of my death was current in Valladolid; and you had so much the more reason to give it credit, as no letter from me gave you any assurance to the contrary. In short, I am no stranger to your habits of life since our cruel separation; and know that necessity, not lightness of heart, has thrown you into the arms Ah! sir, interrupted I with sobs, why will you make excuses for your unworthy wife? She is guilty, since you survive. Why am I not still in the forlorn state in which I languished before my marriage with Don Ambrosio? Fatal nuptials! -- alas! but for these, I should at least have had the consolation in my wretchedness of seeing the object of my first vows again without a blush.
My dear Mencia, replied Don Alvar, with a look which marked how deeply he was penetrated by my contrition, I make no complaint of you; and far from upbraiding you with your present prosperity, as heaven is my witness, I return it thanks for the favours it has showered on you. Since the sad day of my departure from Valladolid, my own fate has ever been adverse. My life has been but a tissue of misfortune; and, as a surcharge of evil destiny, I had no means of letting you hear from me. Too secure in your affection, I could neither think nor dream but of the condition to which my fatal love might have reduced you. Donna Mencia in tears was the lovely, but killing spectre that haunted me; of all my miseries, your dear idea was the most acute. Some times, I own, I felt remorse for the transporting crime of having pleased you. I wished you had lent an ear to the suit of some happier rival, since the preference with which you had honoured me was to fall so cruelly on your own head. To cut short my melancholy tale -- after seven years of suffering, more enamoured than ever, I determined to see you once again. The impulse was not to be resisted; and the expiration of a long slavery having furnished me with the power of giving way to it, I have been at Valladolid under this disguise at the hazard of a discovery. There, I learned the whole story. I then came to this castle, and found the means of admission into the gardener's service, who has engaged me as a labourer. Such was my stratagem to obtain this private interview. But do not suppose me capable of blasting, by my continuance here, the happiness of your future days. I love you better than my own life; I have no consideration but for your repose; and it is my purpose, after thus unburdening my heart, to finish in exile the sacrifice of an existence which has lost its value since no longer to be devoted to your service.
No, Don Alvar, no, exclaimed I at these words; you shall never quit me a second time. I will be the companion of your wanderings; and death only shall divide us from this hour. Take my advice, replied he, live with Don Ambrosio; unite not yourself with my miseries, but leave me to stand under their undivided weight. These and other such entreaties he used; but the more willing he seemed to sacrifice himself to my welfare, the less did I feel disposed to take advantage of his generosity. When he saw me resolute in my determination to follow him, he all at once changed his tone; and assuming an aspect of more satisfaction, Madam, said he, since you still love Don Alvar well enough to prefer adversity with him before your present ease and affluence, let us then take up our abode at Betancos, in the interior of Galicia. There I have a safe retreat. Though my misfortunes may have stripped me of all my effects, they have not alienated all my friends; some are yet faithful, and have furnished me with the means of carrying you off. With their help I have hired a carriage at Zamora; have bought mules and horses, and am accompanied by perhaps the three boldest of the Galicians. They are armed with carabines and pistols, waiting my orders at the village of Rodillas. Let us avail ourselves of Don Ambrosio's absence. I will send the carriage to the castle gate, and we will set out without loss of time. I consented. Don Alvar flew towards Rodillas, and shortly returned with his escort. My women, from the midst of whom I was carried off, not knowing what to think of this violent proceeding, made their escape in great terror. Inès only was in the secret; but she would not link her fate with mine, on account of a love affair with Don Ambrosio's favourite man.
I got into the carriage, therefore, with Don Alvar, taking nothing with me but my clothes and some jewels of my own before my second marriage; for I could not think of appropriating any presents of the Marquis. We travelled in the direction of Galicia, without knowing if we should be lucky enough to reach it. We had reason to fear Don Ambrosio's pursuit on his return, and that we should be overtaken by superior numbers. We went forward for two days without any alarm, and in the hope of being equally fortunate the third, had got into a very quiet conversation. Don Alvar was relating the melancholy adventure which had occasioned the rumour of his death, and how he recovered his freedom, after five years of slavery, when yesterday we met upon the Leon road the banditti you were with. He it was whom they killed with all his attendants, and it is for him the tears flow, which you see me shedding at this moment.