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Martin Conisby's Vengeance(Chapter21)

2006-08-28 23:08

  Chapter XXI. How I Came to Nombre de Dios

  I awoke to the glare of a light and, starting up, was smitten to my knees and, lying half-stunned, was conscious of voices loud and excited, of hands that wrenched me here and there. And now (my hands securely trussed) I was hauled up and marched on stumbling feet amid shadowy captors, all of whom seemed to talk excitedly and none to listen, the which I little heeded being yet dazed by the blow. And presently I was aware of a dim street where lights gleamed, of tall buildings, an open square and a shadowy pile soaring upward into the dark. And presently from the surrounding gloom a darker figure stole, slow-moving and silent, at sight of which my captors halted to kneel, one and all, with bowed heads, whereupon the form raised a shadowy arm in salutation or blessing. And then a voice spake in sonorous Spanish, very soft and low and sweet, yet a voice that chilled me none the less:

  "Whom bring ye?"

  Here came voices five or six, speaking also in Spanish, and amid this babel I caught such words as:

  "A stranger, holy father!"

  "An Englishman!"

  "A Lutheran dog!"

  "Follow!" the sweet voice commanded, whereupon up sprang my captors and hauled me along and so presently into a spacious hall with a dais at one end where stood a table and great elbow-chair; but what drew and held my gaze was the slender, dark-robed ecclesiastic that, moving on leisured, soundless feet, went on before until, reaching the table, he seated himself there, head bowed upon one hand; and thus he sat awhile then beckoned with one imperious finger, whereupon my captors led me forward to the dais.

  "Begone!" spake the pleasant voice and immediately my captors drew away and presently were gone, leaving me staring upon the tonsured crown of the man at the table who, with head still bowed upon his hand, struck a silver bell that stood beside him. Scarce had the sound died away than I heard a stealthy rustling and beheld divers forms that closed silently about me, figures shrouded from head to foot in black habits and nought of them to see save their hands and the glitter of eyes that gazed on me through the holes of them black, enveloping hoods.

  Now turning to him at the table, I saw that he had raised his head at last and was viewing me also, and as he stared on me so stared I on him and this is what I saw: A lean and pallid face with eyes dim and slumberous, a high nose with nostrils thin and curling, a wide, close-lipped mouth and long, pointed chin. When we had stared thus a while, he leaned him back in the great chair and spoke me in his soft, sweet voice:

  "You are English, senor?"

  "I am!" said I in Spanish.

  "What do you here?"

  "Seek another Englishman known to be prisoner to the Inquisition of Nombre de Dios."

  "His name?"

  "Richard Brandon. Is he here?"

  "Are you of the Faith?"

  "Of all or any save that of Rome!" said I, staring up into the pale, emotionless face. "But Rome I do abominate and all its devil's work!" At this, from the hooded figures about me rose a gasp of horror and amaze, while into the dim eyes of my questioner came a momentary glow.

  "Oh, fleshly lips!" quoth he. "Oh, tongue of blasphemy damned. Since you by the flesh have sinned, so by the flesh, its pains and travail, must your soul win forgiveness and life hereafter. Oh, vain soul, though your flesh hath uttered damnable sin and heresy, yet Holy Church in its infinite mercy shall save your soul in despite sinful flesh, to which end we must lay on your evil flesh such castigation as shall, by its very pain, purge your soul and win it to life hereafter——"

  But now, and even as the black-robed familiars closed upon me, I heard steps behind me, a clash of arms and thereafter a voice whose calm tones I recognised.

  "What is this, Father Alexo?"

  "An Englishman and blasphemous Lutheran, captured and brought hither within the hour, Your Excellency." Now here the familiars, at sign of Fra Alexo, moved aside, and thus I beheld to my surprise and inexpressible joy, Don Federigo, pale from his late sickness, the which the sombre blackness of his rich velvet habit did but offset; for a moment his eyes met mine and with no sign of recognition, whereupon I checked the greeting on my lips.

  "And am I of so little account as not to be warned of this?" said he.

  "Alas, Excellency, if I have something forgot the respect due your high and noble office, let my zeal plead my excuse. In your faithful charge do we leave this miserable one until Holy Church shall require him of you." So saying, Fra Alexo, crossing lean hands meekly on his bosom, bowed himself in humble fashion, and yet I thought to see his dull eyes lit by that stealthy glow as Don Federigo, having duly acknowledged his salutation, turned away.

  Thence I was led into the soft night air to a noble house, through goodly chambers richly furnished and so at last to a small room; and ever as I went I had an uneasy feeling that a long, black robe rustled stealthily amid the shadows, and of dull eyes that watched me unseen, nor could I altogether shake off the feeling even when the door closed and I found myself alone with Don Federigo. Indeed it almost seemed as he too felt something of this, for he stood a while, his head bowed and very still, like one listening intently; suddenly he was before me, had grasped my two fettered hands, and when he spake it was in little more than whisper.

  "Alas, Don Martino——good my friend, Death creepeth all about you here——"

  "Fra Alexo's spies!" I nodded. Now at this he gave me a troubled look and fell to pacing to and fro.

  "A hard man and cunning!" quoth he, as to himself. "The Church——ah, the power of the Church! Yet must I get you safe away, but how——how?"

  "Nay, Don Federigo, never trouble."

  "Trouble, Senor? Ah, think you I count that? My life is yours, Don Martino, and joyfully do I risk it——"

  "Nay, sir," quoth I, grasping his hand, "well do I know you for brave and noble gentleman whose friendship honoureth me, but here is no need you should hazard your life for me, since I am here of my own will. I have delivered myself over to the Inquisition to the fulfilment of a purpose."

  "Sir," said he, his look of trouble deepening. "Alas, young sir——"

  "This only would I ask of your friendship——when they take me hence, see to it that I am set in company with one that lieth prisoned here, see that I am fettered along with Sir Richard Brandon. And this do I ask of your friendship, sir!"

  "Alas!" said he. "Alas, 'tis out of my jurisdiction; you go hence you are lost——you do pass from the eye of man——none knoweth whither."

  "So long as I come unto mine enemy 'tis very well, sir. 'Tis this I have prayed for, lived for, hoped and suffered for. Wherefore now, Don Federigo, in memory of our friendship and all that hath passed betwixt us, I would ask you to contrive me this one thing howsoever you may."

  At this he fell to his walking again and seemingly very full of anxious thought. Presently he sounded a whistle that hung about his neck, in answer to which summons came one I judged to be an Indian by his look, though he was dressed Christianly enough. And now, with a bow to me, Don Federigo speaks to him in tongue I had never heard before, a language very soft and pleasing:

  "Your pardon, sir," said Don Federigo when we were alone, "but Hualipa is an Indian and hath but indifferent Spanish."

  "An Indian?"

  "An Aztec Cacique that I saved from an evil death. He is one of the few I can trust. And here another!" said he, as the door opened and a great blackamoor Centered, bearing a roast with wine, etc., at sight whereof my mouth watered and I grew mightily hungered.

  While I ate and drank and Don Federigo ministering to my wants, he told me of Adam Penfeather, praising his courtliness and seamanship; he spoke also of my lady and how she had cared for him in his sickness. He told me further how they had been attacked by a great ship and having beaten off this vessel were themselves so much further shattered and unseaworthy that 'twas wonder they kept afloat. None the less Adam had contrived to stand in as near to Nombre de Dios as possible and thus set him safely ashore. Suddenly the arras in the corner was lifted and Hualipa reappeared, who, lifting one hand, said somewhat in his soft speech, whereupon Don Federigo rose suddenly and I also.

  "Senor Martino," said he, taking my hand, "good friend, the familiars of the Holy Office are come for you, so now is farewell, God go with you, and so long as I live, I am your friend to aid you whensoever I may. But now must I see you back in your bonds."

  He now signed to Hualipa who forthwith bound my wrists, though looser than before, whereupon Don Federigo sighed and left me. Then the Indian brought me to a corner of the room and lifting the arras, showed me a small door and led me thence along many dim and winding passages into a lofty hall where I beheld Don Federigo in confabulation with divers of these black-robed ecclesiastics who, beholding me, ceased their talk and making him their several obeisances, carried me away whither they would. Thus very soon I found myself looking again into the pallid, dim-eyed face of the Chief Inquisitor who, lifting one white, bony finger, thus admonished me in his sweet, sad voice:

  "Unworthy son, behold now! Holy Church, of its infinite mercy and great love to all such detestable sinners as thou manifestly art, doth study how to preserve thy soul from hell in despite of thyself. And because there is nought so purging as fire, to the fire art thou adjudged except, thy conscience teaching thee horror of thine apostacy, thou wilt abjure thy sin and live. And because nought may so awaken conscience as trouble of mind and pain of body, therefore to trouble and pain doth Holy Church adjudge thy sinful flesh, by water, by fire, by rack, pulley and the wheel." Here he paused and bowed his head upon his hands and thus remained a while; when at last he spoke, it was with face still hid and slowly, as if unwilling to give the words utterance: "Yet, first——thou art decreed——a space——for contemplation of thy heresy vile and abominable, having fellowship with one who, blasphemous as thyself and of a pride stubborn and hateful, long persisted in his sinfulness, yet at the last, by oft suffering, hath lately abjured his damnable heresy and is become of humble and contrite heart, and thus, being soon to die, shall, by pain of flesh and sorrow of mind, save his soul alive in Paradise everlasting. Go, miserable wretch, thy body is but corruption soon to perish, but the immortal soul of thee is in Holy Church her loving care henceforth, to save in thy despite."

  Then, with face still bowed, he gestured with his hand, whereupon came two hooded familiars and led me forth of his presence. Now as I walked betwixt these shapeless forms that flitted on silent feet and spake no word, my flesh chilled; in despite my reason, for they seemed rather spectres than truly men, yet phantoms of a grim and relentless purposefulness. Voiceless and silent they brought me down stone stairs and along echoing passages into a dim chamber where other cloaked forms moved on soundless feet and spake in hushed and sibilant whispers. Here my bonds were removed and in their place fetters were locked upon my wrists, which done, one came with a lanthorn, who presently led the way along other gloomy passageways where I beheld many narrow, evil-looking doorways. At last my silent guide halted, I heard the rattle of iron, the creak of bolts and a door opened suddenly before me upon a dank and noisome darkness. Into this evil place I was led, and the door clapped to upon me and locked and bolted forthwith. But to my wonder they had left me the lanthorn, and by its flickering beam I stared about me and saw I was in a large dungeon, its corners lost in gloom.

  Suddenly as I stood thus, nigh choked with the foul air of the place and full of misgiving, I heard a groaning sigh, and from the shadow of a remote corner a figure reared itself upon its knees to peer under palsied hand with eyes that blinked as if dazzled by this poor light.

  "So young——so young——oh, pity! God be merciful to thee——alas, what do you in this place of torment and living death——young sir?"

  Now this voice was pitifully cracked and feeble, yet the words were English, wherefore I caught up the lanthorn and coming nearer, set it down where I might better behold the speaker.

  "So young——so young! What dost thou among the living dead?"

  "I come seeking Sir Richard Brandon!"

  Now from the dim figure before me broke a sound that was neither scream nor laughter yet something of both. I saw wild hands upcast to the gloom above, a shrunken, pallid face, the gleam of snow-white hair.

  "Oh, God of mercies——oh, God of Justice——at last, oh, God——at last!"

  Stooping, I dragged him to the light and found myself suddenly a-trembling so violently that he shook in my gripe.

  "What——what mean you?" I cried.

  "That I——I am Richard Brandon."

  "Liar!" I cried, shaking him. "Damned liar!"

  And yet, looking down upon this old, withered creature who crouched before me on feeble knees, his shrivelled hands clasped and haggard face uplifted, I knew that he spoke truth, and uttering a great and bitter cry, I cast him from me, for here, in place of my proud and masterful enemy, the man I had hated for his fierce and arrogant spirit, God had given to my vengeance at last no more than this miserable thing, this poor, pale shadow. Wherefore now I cast myself down upon my face, beating the floor with my shackled fists and blaspheming my God like the very madman I was.

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