CH. VIII. -- History of Don Roger de Rada.
DON ANASTASIO DE RADA, a gentleman of Grenada, was living happily in the town of Antequera, with Donna Estephania his wife, who united every charm of person and mind with the most unquestionable virtue. If her affection was lively towards her husband, his love for her was violent beyond all bounds. He was naturally prone to jealousy; and though wantonness could never assume such a semblance as his wife's, his thoughts were not quite at rest upon the subject. He was apprehensive lest some secret enemy to his repose might make some attempt upon his honour. His eye was turned askance upon all his friends, except Don Huberto de Hordales, who frequented the house without suspicion in quality of Estephania's cousin, and was the only man in whom he ought not to have confided.
Don Huberto did actually fall in love with his cousin, and ventured to make his sentiments known, in contempt of consanguinity and the ties of friendship. The lady, who was considerate, instead of making an outcry which might have led to fatal consequences, reproved her kinsman gently, represented to him the extreme criminality of attempting to seduce her and dishonour her husband, and told him very seriously that he must not flatter himself with the most distant hope.
This moderation only inflamed the seducer's appetite the more. Taking it for granted that, as a woman who had been accustomed to save appearances, she only wanted to be more strongly urged, he began to adopt little freedoms of more warmth than delicacy; and had the assurance one day to put the question home to her. She repulsed him with unbridled indignation, and threatened to refer the punishment of his offence to Don Anastasio. Her suitor, alarmed at such an intimation, promised to drop the subject; and Estephania in the candour of her soul forgave him for the past.
Don Huberto, a man totally devoid of principle, could not feel his passion to be foiled, without entertaining a mean spirit of revenge. He knew the weak side of Don Anastasio's temper. This was enough to engender the blackest design that ever scoundrel plotted. One evening as he was walking alone with this misguided husband, he said with an air of extreme uneasiness: My dear friend, I can no longer live without unburdening my mind; and yet I would be for ever silent, but that you value honour far above a treacherous repose. Your acute feelings and my own, on points which concern domestic injuries, forbid me to conceal what is passing in your family. Prepare to hear what will occasion you as much grief as astonishment. I am going to wound you in the tenderest part.
I know what you mean, interrupted Don Anastasio, in the first bunt of agony; your cousin is unfaithful. I no longer acknowledge her for my cousin, replied Hordales with impassioned vehemence; I disown her, as unworthy to share my friend's embraces. This is keeping me too long upon the rack, exclaimed Don Anastasio: say on, what has Estephania done? She has betrayed you, replied Don Huberto. You have a rival to whom she listens in private, but I cannot give you his name; for the adulterer, under favour of impenetrable darkness, has escaped the ken of those who watched him. All I know is, that you are duped: of that fact I am well assured. My own share in the disgrace is a sufficient pledge of my veracity. Her infidelity must be palpable indeed, when I turn Estephania's accuser.
It is to no purpose, continued he, watching the successful impression of his discourse, it is to no purpose to discuss the subject further. I perceive your indignation at the treacherous requital of your love, and your thoughts all aiming at a just revenge. Take your own course. Heed not in what relation to you your victim may stand: but convince the whole city that there is no earthly being whom you would not sacrifice to your honour.
Thus did the traitor exasperate a too credulous husband against an innocent wife; depicting in such glowing colours the infamy in which he would be plunged if he left the insult unpunished, as to heighten his anger into madness. Behold Don Anastasio, with his mind completely overturned; as if goaded by the furies. He returned homewards with the frantic design of murdering his ill-fated wife. She was just going to bed when he came in. He kept his passion under for a time, and waited till the attendants had withdrawn. Then, unrestrained by the fear of vengeance from above, by the vulgar scorn which must recoil upon an honourable family, by natural affection for his unborn child, since his wife was near her time, he approached his victim, and said to her in a furious tone of voice: Now is your hour to die, wretch as you are! One moment only is your own, which my relenting pity leaves you to make your peace with heaven. I would not that your soul should perish eternally, though your earthly honour is for ever lost.
At these words he drew his dagger. Estephania, just speechless with terror, throwing herself at his feet, besought him with uplifted hands and inarticulate agony, to tell her why he raised his arm against her life. If he suspected her fidelity, she called heaven to attest her innocence.
In vain, in vain, replied the infuriated murderer; your treason is but too well proved. My information is not to be contradicted: Don Huberto . . . . Ah! my lord, interrupted she with eager haste, you must hold your trust aloof from Don Huberto. He is less your friend than you imagine. If he has said aught against my virtue, believe him not. Restrain that infamous tongue, replied Don Anastasio. By appealing against Hordales, you condemn yourself. You would ruin your relation in my esteem, because he is acquainted with your misconduct. You would invalidate his evidence against you; but the artifice is palpable, and only whets my appetite for vengeance. My dear husband, rejoined the innocent Estephania, while her tears flowed in torrents, beware of this blind rage. If you follow its instigation, you will perpetrate a deed for which you will hate yourself, when convinced of its injustice. In the name of heaven, compose your disordered spirits. At least give me time to clear up your suspicions; you will then deal candidly by a wife who has nothing to reproach herself with.
Any other than Don Anastasio would have been touched by her pleadings, and still more by her agonizing affliction; but the barbarian, far from being softened, ordered the lady once again to recommend herself briefly to mercy, and lifted his arm to strike the blow. Hold, inhuman as you are! cried she. If your love for me is as if it had never been, if my lavish fondness in return is all blotted from your memory, if my tears have no eloquence to disarm your hellish purpose, have some pity on your own blood. Launch not your frantic hand against an innocent, who has not yet breathed this vital air. You cannot be its executioner without the curse of heaven and earth. As for myself, I can forgive my murderer; but the butcher of his own child, think deeply of it, must pay the dreadful forfeit of so detestable a deed.
Determined as Don Anastasio was to pay no attention to anything Estephania could say, he could not help being affected by the frightful images these last words presented to his soul. Wherefore, as if apprehensive lest nature should play the traitress to revenge, he hastened to make sure of his staggering resolves, and plunged his dagger into her bosom. She fell motionless on the ground. He thought her dead; and on that supposition left his house immediately to be no more seen at Antequera.
In the mean time, the unhappy victim of groundless suspicion was so stunned with the blow she had received, as to remain for a short interval on the ground without any signs of life. Afterwards, coming to herself, she brought an old female servant to her assistance by her plaints and lamentations. That good old woman, beholding her mistress in so deplorable a state, waked the whole household and even the neighbourhood by her cries. The room was soon filled with spectators. Surgical assistance was sent for. The wound was probed, and pronounced not to be mortal. Their opinion turned out to be correct; for Estephania soon recovered, and was in due time delivered of a son, not withstanding the cruel circumstances in which she had been placed. That son, Signor Gil Blas, you behold in me: I am the fruit of that dreadful pregnancy.
Women, when chaste as ice, when pure as snow, seldom escape calumny: this plague, however, though virtue's dowry, did not alight upon my mother. The bloody scene passed in common fame for the transport of a jealous husband. My father, it is true, bore the character of a passionate man, prone to kindle into fury on the slightest occasion. Hordales could not but suppose that his kinswoman must suspect him of having sown wild fancies in the mind of Don Anastasio; so that he satisfied himself with this imperfect relish of revenge, and ceased to importune her. But, not to be tedious, I shall pass over the detail of my education. Suffice it to say, that my principal exercise was fencing, which I practised regularly in the most famous schools of Grenada and Seville. My mother waited with impatience till I was of age to measure swords with Don Huberto, that she might instruct me in the grounds of her complaint against him. In my eighteenth year she submitted her cause to my arbitrement, not without floods of tears, and every symptom of the deepest anguish. What must not a son feel, if he has the spirit and the heart of a son, at the sight of a mother in such distressing circumstances? I went immediately and called out Hordales; our place of meeting was private as it should be; we fought long and furiously; three of my thrusts took place, and I threw him to the ground, like a dead dog despised.
Don Huberto, feeling his wound to be mortal, fixed his last looks upon me, and declared that he met his death at my hands as a just punishment for his treason against my mother's honour. He owned that in revenge for the pangs of despised love he had resolved on her ruin. Thus did he breathe his last, imploring pardon from heaven, from Don Anastasio, from Estephania, and from myself. I deemed it imprudent to return home and acquaint my mother of the issue; fame was sure to perform that office for me I passed the mountains, and repaired to Malaga, where I embarked on board a privateer. My outside not altogether indicating cowardice, the captain consented at once to enrol me among his crew.
We were not long before we went into action. Near the island of Alboutan, a corsair of Millila fell in with us, on his return towards the African coast with a Spanish vessel richly laden, taken off Carthagena. We attacked the African briskly, and made ourselves masters of both ships, with eighty Christians on board, going as slaves to Barbary. Afterwards, availing ourselves of a wind direct for the coast of Grenada, we shortly arrived at Punta de Helena.
While we were inquiring into the birth-place and condition of our rescued captives, a man about fifty, of prepossessing aspect, fell under my examination. He stated himself, with a sigh, to belong to Antequera. My heart palpitated, without my knowing why; and my emotion, too strong to pass unnoticed, excited a visible sympathy in him. I avowed myself his townsman, and asked his family name. Alas! answered he, your curiosity makes my sorrow flow afresh. Eighteen years ago did I leave my home, where my remembrance is coupled with scenes of blood and horror. You must yourself have heard but too much of my story. My name is Don Anastasio de Rada. Merciful heaven! exclaimed I, may I believe my senses? And can this be Don Anastasio? Father! What is it you say, young man? exclaimed he in his turn, with surprise and agitation equal to my own. Are you that ill-fated infant, still in its mother's womb, when I sacrificed her to my fury? Yes, said I; none other did the virtuous Estephania bring into the world, after the fatal night when you left her weltering in her own blood.
Don Anastasio stifled my words in his embraces. For a quarter of an hour we could only mingle our inarticulate sighs and exclamations. After exhausting our tender recollections, and indulging in the wild expression of our feelings, my father lifted his eyes to heaven, in gratitude for Estephania saved; but the next moment, as if doubtful of his bliss, he demanded by what evidence his wife's innocence had been cleared. Sir, answered I, none but yourself ever doubted it. Her conduct has been uniformly spotless. You must be undeceived. Know that Don Huberto was a traitor. In proof of this I unfolded all his perfidy, the vengeance I had taken, and his own confession before he expired.
My father was less delighted at his liberty restored than at these happy tidings. In the forgetfulness of ecstacy, he repeated all his former transports. His approbation of me was ardent and entire. Come, my son, said he, let us set out for Antequera. I burn with impatience to throw myself at the feet of a wife whom I have treated so unworthily. Since you have brought me acquainted with my own injustice, my heart has been torn by remorse.
I was too eager to bring together a couple so near and dear to me, not to expedite our journey as much as possible. I quitted the privateer, and with my share of prize-money bought two mules at Adra, my father not choosing again to incur the hazard of a voyage. He found leisure on the road to relate his adventures, which I inclined to hear as seriously as did the Prince of Ithaca the various recitals of the king his father. At length, after several days, we halted at the foot of a mountain near Antequera. Wishing to reach home privately, we went not into the town till midnight.
You may guess my mother's astonishment at beholding a husband whom she had thought for ever lost; and the almost miraculous circumstances of his restoration were a second source of wonder. He entreated forgiveness for his barbarity with marks of repentance so lively, that she could not but be moved. Instead of looking on him as a murderer, she only saw the man to whose will high heaven had subjected her; such religion is there in the name of husband to a virtuous wife! Estephania had been so alarmed about me, that my return filled her with rapture. But her joy on this account was not without alleviation. A sister of Hordales had instituted a criminal prosecution against her brother's antagonist. The search for me was hot, so that my mother, considering home as insecure, was painfully anxious about me. It was therefore necessary to set out that very night for court, whither I come to solicit my pardon, and hope to obtain it by your generous intercession with the prime minister.
The gallant son of Don Anastasio thus closed his narrative; after which I observed, with a self-sufficient physiognomy: It is well, Signor Don Roger; the offence seems to me to be venial. I will undertake to lay the case before his excellency, and may venture to promise you his protection. The thanks my client lavished would have passed in at one ear and out at the other, if they had not been backed by assurances of more substantial gratitude. But when once that string was touched, every nerve and fibre of my frame vibrated in unison. On the very same day did I relate the whole story to the duke, who allowed me to present the gentleman, and addressed him thus: Don Roger, I have been informed of the duel which has brought you to court; Santillane has laid all the particulars before me. Make yourself perfectly easy: you have done nothing but what the circumstances of the case might almost warrant; and it is especially on the ground of wounded honour, that his Majesty is best pleased to extend his grace and favour. You must be committed for mere form's sake; but you may depend on it, your confinement shall be of short duration. In Santillane you have a zealous friend, who will watch over your interests, and hasten your release.
Don Roger paid his respectful acknowledgments to the minister, on whose pledge he went and surrendered himself His pardon was soon made out, owing to my activity. In less than ten days, I sent this modern Telemachus home, to say "how do you do?" to his Ulysses and Penelope; had he stood upon the merits of his case without a protector, he might have whined out a year's imprisonment, and scarcely have got off at last. My commission was but a poor hundred pistoles. It was no very magnificent haul; but I was not as yet a Calderona, to turn up my nose at the small fry.