CH. VII. -- History of Don Pompeyo de Castro.
DON ALEXO knows, that from my boyish days, my passion was for a military life. Our own country being at peace, I went into Portugal; thence to Africa with the Duke of Braganza, who gave me a commission. I was a younger brother, with as slender a provision as most in Spain; so that my only chance was in attracting the notice of the commander-in-chief by my bravery. I was so far from deficient in my duty, that the Duke promoted me, step by step, to one of the most honourable posts in the service. After a long war, of which you all know the issue, I devoted myself to the court; and the King, on strong testimonials from the general officers, rewarded me with a considerable pension. Alive to that sovereign's generosity, I lost no opportunity of proving my gratitude by my diligence. I was in attendance as often as etiquette would allow me to offer myself to his notice. By this conduct I gained insensibly the love of that prince, and received new favours from his hands.
One day, when I distinguished myself in running at the ring, and in a bull fight preceding it, all the court extolled my strength and dexterity. On my return home, with my honours thick upon me, I found there a note, informing me that a lady, my conquest over whom ought to flatter me more than all the glory I had gained that day, wished to have the pleasure of my company; and that I had only to attend in the evening, at a place marked out in the letter. This was more than all my public triumphs, and I concluded the writer to be a woman of the first quality. You may guess that I did not loiter by the way. An old woman in waiting, as my guide, conducted me by a little garden-gate into a large house, and left me in an elegant closet, saying -- Stay here, I will acquaint my mistress with your arrival. I observed a great many articles of value in the closet, which was magnificently illuminated; but this splendour only caught my attention as confirming me in my previous opinion of the lady's high rank. If appearances strengthened that conjecture, her noble and majestic air on her entrance left no doubt on my mind. Yet I was a little out in my calculation.
Noble sir, said she, after the step I have taken in your favour it were impertinent to disown my partiality. Your brilliant actions of to-day, in presence of the court, were not the inspirers of my sentiments, they only urge forward this avowal. I have seen you more than once, have inquired into your character, and the result has determined me to follow the impulse of my heart. But do not suppose that you are well with a Duchess. I am but the widow of a captain in the King's Guards; yet there is something to throw a radiance round your victory . . . . the preference you have gained over one of the first noblemen in the kingdom. The Duke d'Almeyda loves me, and presses his suit with ardour, yet without success. My vanity only induces me to bear his importunities.
Though I saw plainly, by this address, that I had got in with a coquet, my presiding star was not a whit out of my good graces for involving me in this adventure. Donna Hortensia, for that was the lady's name, was just in the ripeness and luxuriance of youth and dazzling beauty. Nay, more, she had refused the possession of her heart to the earnest entreaties of a duke, and offered it unsolicited to me. What a feather in the cap of a Spanish cavalier! I prostrated myself at Hortensia's feet, to thank her for her favours. I talked just as a man of gallantry always does talk, and she had reason to be satisfied with the extravagance of my acknowledgments. Thus we parted the best friends in the world, on the terms of meeting every evening when the Duke d'Almeyda was prevented from coming; and. she promised to give me due notice of his absence. The bargain was exactly fulfilled, and I was turned into the Adonis of this new Venus.
But the pleasures of this life are transitory. With all the lady's precautions to conceal our private treaty of commerce from my rival, he found means of gaining a knowledge, of which it concerned us greatly to keep him ignorant: a disloyal chamber-maid divulged the state secret. This nobleman, naturally generous, but proud, self-sufficient, and violent, was exasperated at my presumption. Anger and jealousy set him beside himself. Taking counsel only with his rage, he resolved on an infamous revenge. One night when I was with Hortensia, he waylaid me at the little garden-gate, with all his servants provided with cudgels. As soon as I came out, he ordered me to be seized, and beat to death by these wretches. Lay on, said he, let the rash intruder give up the ghost under your chastisement; thus shall his insolence be punished. No sooner had he finished these words, than his myrmidons assaulted me in a body, and gave me such a beating, as to stretch me senseless on the ground: after which they hurried off with their master, to whom this butchery had been a delicious pastime. I lay the remainder of the night, just as they had left me. At daybreak some people passed by, who, finding that life was still in me, had the humanity to carry me to a surgeon. Fortunately my wounds were not mortal; and, falling into skilful hands, I was perfectly cured in two months. At the end of that period I made my appearance again at court, and resumed my former way of life, except that I steered clear of Hortensia, who on her part made no further attempt to renew the acquaintance, because the Duke, on that condition, had pardoned her infidelity.
As my adventure was the town talk, and I was known to be no coward, people were astonished to see me as quiet as if I had received no affront; for I kept my thoughts to myself; and seemed to have no quarrel with any man living. No one knew what to think of my counterfeited insensibility. Some imagined that, in spite of my courage, the rank of the aggressor overawed me, and occasioned my tacit submission. Others, with more reason, mistrusted my silence, and considered my inoffensive demeanour as a cover to my revenge. The King was of opinion with these last, that I was not a man to put up with an insult, and that I should not be wanting to myself at a convenient opportunity. To discover my real intentions, he sent for me one day into his closet, where he said: Don Pompeyo, I know what accident has befallen you, and am surprised, I own, at your forbearance. You are certainly acting a part. Sire, answered I, how can I know whom to challenge? I was attacked in the night by persons unknown: it is a misfortune of which I must make the best. No, no, replied the King, I am not to be duped by these evasive answers. The whole story has reached my ears. The Duke d'Almeyda has touched your honour to the quick. You are nobly born, and a Castilian: I know what that double character requires. You cherish hostile designs. Admit me a party to your purposes; it must be so. Never fear the consequences of making me your confidant.
Since your majesty commands it, resumed I, my sentiments shall be laid open without reserve. Yes, sir, I meditate a severe retribution. Every man, wearing such a name as mine, must account for its untarnished lustre with his family. You know the unworthy treatment I have experienced; and I purpose assassinating the Duke d'Almeyda, as a mode of revenge correspondent to the injury. I shall plunge a dagger in his bosom, or shoot him through the head, and escape, if I can, into Spain. This is my design.
It is violent, said the King: and yet I have little to say against it, after the provocation which the Duke d'Almeyda has given you. He is worthy of the punishment you destine for him. But do not be in a hurry with your project. Leave me to devise a method of bringing you together again as friends. Oh! sir, exclaimed I with vexation, why did you extort my secret from me? What expedient can . . . . If mine is not to your satisfaction, interrupted he, you may execute your first intention. I do not mean to abuse your confidence. I shall not implicate your honour; so rest contented on that head.
I was greatly puzzled to guess by what means the King designed to terminate this affair amicably: but thus it was. He sent to speak with the Duke d'Almeyda in private. Duke, said he, you have insulted Don Pompeyo de Castro. You are not ignorant that he is a man of noble birth, a soldier who has served with credit, and stands high in my favour. You owe him reparation. I am not of a temper to refuse it, answered the Duke. If he complains of my outrageous behaviour, I am ready to justify it by the law of arms. Some thing very different must be done, replied the King: a Spanish gentleman understands the point of honour too well to fight on equal terms with a cowardly assassin. I can use no milder term; and you can only atone for the heinousness of your conduct, by presenting a cane in person to your antagonist, and offering to submit yourself to its discipline. Oh heaven! exclaimed the Duke: what! sir, would you have a man of my rank degrade, debase himself before a simple gentleman, and submit to be caned! No, replied the monarch, I will oblige Don Pompeyo to promise not to touch you. Only offer him the cane, and ask his pardon: that is all I require from you. And that is too much, sir, interrupted the Duke d'Almeyda warmly; I had rather remain exposed to all the secret machinations of his resentment. Your life is dear to me, said the king; and I should wish this affair to have no bad consequences. To terminate it with less disgust to yourself, I will be the only witness of the satisfaction which I order you to offer to the Spaniard.
The King was obliged to stretch his influence over the Duke to the utmost, before he could induce him to so mortifying a step. However, the peremptory monarch effected his purpose, and then sent for me. He related the particulars of his conversation with my enemy, and inquired if I should be content with the stipulated reparation. I answered, yes: and gave my word that, far from striking the offender, I would not even accept the cane, when he presented it. With this understanding, the Duke and myself at a certain hour attended the King, who took us into his closet. Come, said he to the Duke, acknowledge your fault, and deserve to be forgiven by the humility of your contrition. Then my antagonist made his apology, and offered me the cane in his hand. Don Pompeyo, said the monarch unexpectedly, take the cane, and let not my presence prevent you from doing justice to your outraged honour. I release you from your promise not to strike the Duke. No, sir, answered I, it is enough that he has submitted to the indignity of the offer: an offended Spaniard asks no more. Well, then! replied the King, since you are content with this satisfaction, you may both of you at once assume the privilege of a gentlemanly quarrel. Measure your swords, and discuss the question honourably. It is what I most ardently desire, exclaimed the Duke d'Almeyda in a menacing tone; for that only is competent to make me amends for the disgraceful step I have taken.
With these words, he went away full of rage and shame; and sent to tell me, two hours after, that he was waiting for me, in a retired place. I kept the appointment, and found this nobleman ready to fight lustily. He was not five and forty; deficient neither in courage nor in skill: so that the match was fair and equal. Come on, Don Pompeyo, said he, let us terminate our difference here. Our hostility ought to be reciprocally mortal; yours, for my aggression, and mine, for having asked your pardon. These words were no sooner out of his mouth, than he drew upon me so suddenly, that I had no time to reply. He pressed very closely upon me at first, but I had the good fortune to put by all his thrusts. I acted on the offensive in my turn: the encounter was evidently with a man equally skilled in defence or in attack; and. there is no knowing what might have been the issue, if he had not made a false step in retiring, and fallen backwards. I stood still immediately, and said to the duke, Recover yourself. Why give me any quarter? he answered. Your forbearance only aggravates my disgrace. I will not take advantage of an accident, replied I; it would only tarnish my glory. Once more recover yourself, and let us fight it out.
Don Pompeyo, said he rising, after this act of generosity, honour allows me not to renew the attack upon you. What would the world say of me, were I to wound you mortally? I should be branded as a coward for having murdered a man, at whose mercy I had just before lain prostrate. I cannot therefore again lift my arm against your life, and I feel my resentful passions subsiding into the sweet emotions of gratitude. Don Pompeyo, let us mutually lay aside our hatred. Let us go still further; let us be friends. Ah! my lord, exclaimed I, so flattering a proposal I joyfully accept. I proffer you my sincere friendship; and, as an earnest, promise never more to approach Donna Hortensia, though she herself should invite me. It is my duty, said he, to yield that lady to you. Justice requires me to give her up, since her affections are yours already. No, no, interrupted I; you love her. Her partiality in my favour would give you uneasiness; I sacrifice my own pleasures to your peace. Ah! too generous Castilian, replied the Duke, embracing me, your sentiments are truly noble. With what remorse do they strike me! Grieved and ashamed, I look back on the outrage you have sustained. The reparation in the King's chamber seems now too trifling. A better recompense awaits you. To obliterate all remembrance of your shame, take one of my nieces whose hand is at my disposal. She is a rich heiress, not fifteen, with beauty beyond the attractions of mere youth.
I made my acknowledgments to the Duke in terms such as the high honour of his alliance might suggest, and married his niece a few days afterwards. All the court complimented this nobleman on having made such generous amends to an insulted rival; and my friends took part in my joy at the happy issue of an adventure which might have led to the most melancholy consequences. From this time, gentlemen, I have lived happily at Lisbon. I am the idol of my wife, and have not sunk the lover in the husband. The Duke d'Almeyda gives me new proofs of friendship every day; and I may venture to boast of standing high in the King of Portugal's good graces. The importance of my errand hither sufficiently assures me of his confidence.