Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

The Exemplary Novels of Cervantes online

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out between her own family and Richard's, the possible cause of it
should be withdrawn, by sending Isabella to Spain. In support of this
suggestion she added that Isabella was a Catholic, and so rooted in that
faith, that all the arguments and persuasions she had used to withdraw
her from it, and they were many, were of no avail. The queen replied
that she esteemed her the more, since she was steadfast to the law
taught her by her parents; and that as for sending her to Spain, it was
not to be thought of, for she was charmed with her lovely presence and
her many graces and virtues. In fine, the queen was resolved that
Isabella should become Richard's wife, if not that day, on another,
without fail. The lady keeper was so mortified by this reply that she
withdrew without saying a word; and having already made up her mind that
unless Isabella was removed there could be no hope of relief for her son
or of peace between him and Richard, she determined to commit one of the
most atrocious acts that could enter the mind of a lady of her exalted
station.

Women being, for the most part, rash and sudden in the execution of
their resolves, the lady keeper that evening gave Isabella poison in a
conserve which she pressed her to take, under the pretence that it was
good for the sinking and oppression of the heart which she complained
of. A short while after Isabella had swallowed it her throat and tongue
began to swell, her lips turned black, her voice became hoarse, her eyes
fixed and glassy, and her breathing laboured and stertorous: in short,
she exhibited all the symptoms of having been poisoned. The queen's
ladies hastened to inform her majesty, assuring her that the lady keeper
had been the author of the nefarious deed.

The queen had no great difficulty in coming to the same conclusion, and
went at once to see Isabella, who seemed to be almost at the last gasp.
Sending with all speed for her physicians, she, meanwhile, ordered that
the sufferer should be given a quantity of powdered unicorn's horn and
several other antidotes, with which great princes are usually provided
against such casualties. The physicians arrived and begged the queen to
make the lady keeper declare what kind of poison she had used (for no
one doubted that she was the poisoner). This information having been
obtained from the criminal, the physician applied the proper remedies
with such good effect that, with God's help, Isabella's life was saved,
or at least there was a hope that it would be so.

The queen ordered that the lady keeper should be arrested and confined
in a chamber of the palace, intending to punish her as her crime
deserved; whilst the guilty woman thought to excuse herself by saying
that in killing Isabella she offered an acceptable sacrifice to heaven
by ridding the world of a Catholic, and removing with her the cause of
affliction to her son. Finally, Isabella did not die; but she escaped
only with the loss of her hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes, her face
swollen, her bloom gone, her skin blotched and blistered, and her eyes
red and humid. In a word, she was now become an object as loathsome to
look at as she had before been surpassingly beautiful. The change was so
frightful that those who knew her thought it would have been better had
the poison killed her. But notwithstanding all this, Richard supplicated
the queen to let him take her home with him, for the great love he bore
her comprehended not only her body but her soul, and if Isabella had
lost her beauty, she could not have lost her infinite virtues. "Be it
so," said the queen. "Take her, Richard, and reckon that you take in her
a most precious jewel, in a rough wooden casket. God knows how gladly I
would give her to you as I received her; but since that is impossible,
perhaps the punishment I will inflict on the perpetrator of the crime
will be some satisfaction to your feelings."

Richard spoke earnestly in the culprit's behalf, and besought her
majesty to pardon her. Finally, Isabella and her parents were consigned
to his care, and he took them home to his father's house, the queen
having added to the fine pearls and the diamonds she had bestowed on
Isabella other jewels and rich dresses, such as manifested the great
affection she felt for her. Isabella remained for two months in the same
state, without the least sign appearing that her beauty would ever
return; but at the end of that time her skin began to peel off, and she
gradually recovered the natural bloom of her lovely complexion.
Meanwhile, Richard's parents, thinking it impossible that Isabella
should ever again be what she had been, determined to send for the
Scotch lady, to whom they had at first intended to unite him. They did
not doubt that the actual beauty of the new bride would make their son
forget the lost beauty of her rival, whom they intended to send to Spain
with her parents, giving them so much wealth as would compensate them
for their past losses. All this was settled between them without
Richard's knowledge, and soon after the new bride entered their doors,
duly accompanied, and so beautiful that none could compare with her in
London, now that Isabella's charms were gone.

Richard was astounded at this unexpected arrival, and fearing that it
would have a fatal effect upon Isabella, he went to her bedside, and
said to her, in presence of her parents, "Beloved of my soul, my
parents, in their great love for me, but ill conceiving how great is
mine for you, have brought hither a Scotch lady, to whom they arranged
to marry me before I knew your worth. They have done so, I believe, upon
the supposition that her great beauty will efface from my soul the image
of yours, which is deeply impressed upon it. But from the moment I first
loved you, Isabella, it was with a different love from that which finds
its end attained in the gratification of the sensual appetite: for
though your great beauty captivated my senses, your infinite virtues
enthralled my soul, so that if I loved you in your beauty, I adore you
in your plainness. That I may confirm that truth, put your hand in
mine."

She held out her right hand; he took it in his, and continued:

"By the Catholic faith which my Christian parents have taught me; or, if
that is not as pure and perfect as it ought, then, by that held by the
Roman pontiff, and which in my heart I confess, believe, and hold, do I
swear, and by the true God who hears us, I promise you, Isabella, soul
of my soul! to be your husband; and your husband I am from this moment,
if you will raise me up so high."

Isabella could only kiss Richard's hand again and again, and tell him in
a voice broken by her tears, that she accepted him as hers, and gave
herself to him as his slave. Richard kissed her disfigured face, which
he had never ventured to kiss in its beauty; and her parents, with tears
of affection, ratified their solemn betrothal. Richard told them that he
would find a way to postpone his marriage with the Scotch lady, and that
when his father proposed to send them to Spain they were not to refuse,
but were to go to Cadiz and wait for him there or in Seville for two
years, within which time he gave them his word he would be with them, if
God spared his life. Should he not appear within that time, they might
be assured that he was prevented by some insuperable impediment, and
most probably by death. Isabella replied that she would wait for him not
only two years, but all the years of her life, until she knew that he
was no longer alive; for the moment that brought her that news would be
her last.

Richard having at length quitted Isabella, went and told his parents
that on no account would he marry the Scotch lady until he had first
been to Rome for the satisfaction of his conscience; and he represented
the matter in such a light to them and to the relations of Clesterna
(that was the name of the Scotch lady), that as they were all Catholics,
they easily assented, and Clesterna was content to remain in her
father-in-law's house until the return of Richard, who proposed to be
away a year. This being settled, Clotald told his son of his intention
to send Isabella and her parents to Spain, if the queen gave them leave;
perhaps her native air would confirm and expedite her incipient
recovery. Richard, to avoid betraying his secret intentions, desired
his father, with seeming indifference, to do as he thought best; only he
begged him not to take away from Isabella any of the presents which the
queen had given her. Clotald promised this, and the same day he went and
asked the queen's leave both to marry his son to Clesterna, and to send
Isabella and her parents to Spain. The queen granted both requests, and
without having recourse to lawyers or judges, she forthwith passed
sentence on the lady keeper, condemning her to lose her office, and to
pay down ten thousand crowns for Isabella. As for Count Ernest, she
banished him from England for six years.

Four days afterwards Richard set out on his exile, and the money had
been already paid. The queen, sending for a rich merchant, resident in
London, who was a Frenchman, and had correspondents in France, Italy,
and Spain, put the ten thousand crowns into his hands, and desired him
to let Isabella's father have bills for the amount on Seville or some
other place in Spain. The merchant having deducted his profit, told the
queen he would give good and safe bills on another French merchant, his
correspondent in Seville, in the following manner: - He would write to
Paris that the bills might be drawn there by another correspondent of
his, in order that they should be dated from France and not from
England, because of the interdicted communication between that country
and Spain. It would only be necessary to have a letter of advice from
him, with his signature and without date, in sight of which the merchant
of Seville would immediately pay the money, according to previous advice
from the merchant of Paris.

In fine, the queen took such securities from the merchant as made the
payment certain; and not content with this, she sent for the master of a
Flemish vessel who was about to sail for France, only to obtain a
manifest from some French port, in order to be allowed to land in Spain;
and she begged him to take Isabella and her parents, treat them well,
and land them safely at the first Spanish port he reached. The master,
who desired to please the queen, said he would do so, and would land
them at Lisbon, Cadiz, or Seville. After this the queen sent word to
Clotald not to take from Isabella any of the presents she had given her,
whether jewels or clothes.

The next day Isabella and her parents came to take leave of the queen,
who received them with great affection. The queen gave them the
merchant's bills, besides many other presents, both in money and in
things suitable for their voyage. Isabella expressed her gratitude in
such terms as to increase the queen's gracious disposition towards her.
She took leave of the ladies of the court, who, now that she had become
plain, would rather have had her remain among them, having no longer
reason to envy her beauty, and being willing to enjoy her society for
the sake of her good qualities of mind and disposition. The queen
embraced the three, and took leave of them, commending them to good
fortune and to the master of the vessel, and asking Isabella to inform
her of her arrival in Spain, and of her health at all times through the
French merchant. That evening they embarked, not without tears on the
part of Clotald, his wife, and his whole household, by whom Isabella was
exceedingly beloved. Richard was not present at the departure, for, in
order to avoid betraying his feelings, he had gone with some of his
friends to the chase.

Many were the dainties which the lady Catherine gave. Isabella for use
on the voyage; endless were her embraces, her tears, and her injunctions
that she should write to her; for all which Isabella and her parents
returned suitable thanks. That night the vessel set sail, and having
reached France with a fair wind, and obtained the necessary papers to
enable them to enter Spain, they crossed the bar of Cadiz thirty days
afterwards, and there Isabella and her parents disembarked. Being known
to the whole city, they were joyfully welcomed, and warmly congratulated
on their recovery of Isabella, and on their liberation, from their
Turkish captors (for that fact had been made known by the captives whom
Richard generously released), and also from detention in England. By
this time Isabella began to give great hopes that she would quite
recover her original beauty.

For more than a month they remained in Cadiz, recruiting themselves
after the toils of their voyage; and then they went to Seville, to see
if they should obtain payment of the ten thousand crowns upon the French
merchant's bill. Two days after their arrival they called upon the
person on whom it was drawn. He acknowledged it, but said that, until
the arrival of advices from Paris, he could not pay the money.
Isabella's father hired a large house facing St. Paul's, because there
was in that holy convent a nun who was remarkable for rare musical
talents, and who was his own niece. They chose the house to be near her
for that reason, and because Isabella had told Richard that if he came
to look for her he would find her in Seville, and her cousin, the nun of
St. Paula's, would tell him where: he had only to ask for the nun who
had the best voice in the convent; every one would know her by that
description.

It was forty days more before the advices came from Paris, and two days
after their arrival the French merchant paid Isabella the ten thousand
crowns, which she handed over to her parents. With that sum, and
something more made by the sale of part of Isabella's numerous jewels,
her father again began business as a merchant, to the surprise of those
who were cognisant of his great losses. After a few months his lost
credit began to return; so, too, did his daughter's good looks, so that,
whenever female beauty was the subject of discourse, the palm was
universally conceded to the Spanish-English lady; for by that name, as
well as for her great beauty, she was known throughout the city. Through
the French merchant of Seville, Isabella and her parents wrote to the
queen of England, announcing their arrival in such grateful and dutiful
terms as the many favours received at her Majesty's hands required. They
also wrote to Clotald and Catherine, whom Isabella addressed as her
revered parents.

Their letters to the queen remained unanswered, but from Clotald and his
wife they received a reply, congratulating them on their safe arrival,
and informing them that their son Richard had set out from France the
day after their departure, and thence to other countries, which it
behoved him to visit for the tranquillity of his conscience. Isabella
immediately concluded that Richard had left England for no other purpose
than to seek her; and cheered by this hope, she was as happy as she
could be, and strove to live in such a manner that, when Richard arrived
in Seville, the fame of her virtues should reach his ears before he
learned where she lived.

She seldom or never quitted the house, except to go to the convent, and
attended no other church services than those performed there. She never
went near the river, or to Triana, or witnessed the general rejoicings
at the Campo de Tablada, or the Puerta de Xeres on Sari Sebastian's day,
celebrated by an almost innumerable multitude; in short, she never went
abroad for any kind of amusement in Seville; her whole time was spent in
her devotions, and in praying and hoping for Richard's arrival. The
consequence of this strict retirement was a great increase of the
general interest about her; thence came serenades in her street by
night, and promenades by day. The desire which so many felt to see her,
and the difficulty of accomplishing it, was a great source of gain to
the professional go-betweens, who severally professed that they alone
had the ear of Isabella, and some there were who had recourse to what
are called charms, which are nothing but deceits and follies; but in
spite of all this, Isabella was like a rock in the ocean, which the
winds and waves assail in vain. A year and a half had now passed, and
her heart began to yearn more and more as the end of the period assigned
by Richard drew near. Already, in imagination, she looked upon him as
arrived; he stood before her eyes; she asked him what had caused his
long delay; she heard his excuses; she forgave him, embraced and
welcomed him as the half of her soul; and then there was put into her
hands a letter from the lady Catherine, dated from London fifty days
before. It was as follows: -

"Daughter of my heart, - You doubtless recollect Richard's page,
Guillart. He accompanied Richard on his journey the day after you
sailed, to France and other parts, whereof I informed you in a former
letter. This said Guillart, after we had been sixteen months without
hearing news of my son, yesterday entered our house with news that Count
Ernest had basely murdered Richard in France. Imagine, my daughter, the
effect upon his father, myself, and his intended wife, of such news as
this, coming to us in such wise as left no doubt of our misfortune. What
Clotald and myself beg of you once more, daughter of my soul, is that
you will pray heartily to God for the soul of Richard, for well he
deserves this service at your hands, he who loved you so much as you
know. Pray also to our Lord to grant us patience, and that we may make a
good end; as we will pray for long life for you and your parents."

This letter and the signature left no doubt in Isabella's mind of the
death of her husband. She knew the page Guillart very well, and knew
that he was a person of veracity, and that he could have had no motive
for publishing false news in such a matter; still less could the lady
Catharine have had any interest in deceiving her so painfully. In fine,
in whatever way she considered the subject, the conclusion at which she
invariably arrived was, that this dismal intelligence was unquestionably
true. When she had finished reading the letter, without shedding tears
or showing any outward tokens of grief, with a composed face and
apparently tranquil breast, she rose from her seat, entered an oratory,
and kneeling before a crucifix, made a vow to become a nun, thinking
herself free to do so, as she was no longer a betrothed maiden, but a
widow. Her parents studiously concealed the grief which this affecting
news caused them, in order that they might the better console their
bereaved daughter; whilst she, as if mistress over her sorrow, having
subdued it by the holy Christian resolution she had made, became their
comforter. She made her intention known to them, and they advised her to
postpone its execution, until the two years were elapsed which Richard
had assigned as the duration of his absence. That delay would suffice
for confirming the news of his death, and then she might with more
security change her condition. Isabella followed their advice; and the
six months and a half which remained to complete the term of two years
were spent by her in devotional exercises, and in arranging for her
entrance into the convent of Santa Paula, in which her cousin was a nun.

The remainder of the two years elapsed, and the day arrived when she was
to take the veil. The news having spread through the city, the convent,
and the space between it and Isabella's abode, was thronged by those who
knew her by sight, or by report only; and her father having invited her
friends, and these having invited others, Isabella had for her escort
one of the most imposing retinues ever seen in Seville on such
occasions. It included the chief justice of Seville, the vicar-general,
and all the titled personages of both sexes in the city, so great was
the desire of all to behold the sun of Isabella's beauty, which had been
for so many months eclipsed. And as it is customary for maidens about to
take the veil to dress themselves in their very gayest attire on the day
when they are to renounce for ever the pomps and vanities of the world,
Isabella wore the same splendid dress in which she was presented to the
queen of England, with her necklace and girdle of lustrous pearls, her
diamond ring, and all her other sumptuous jewels. Thus gorgeously
attired, Isabella set out from home on foot, for the short distance to
the convent seemed to render carriages superfluous; but the concourse
was so great that the procession could hardly advance, and its members
regretted too late that they had not chosen to ride instead of walking.
Some of the spectators blessed the father and mother of that lovely
creature; others praised Heaven that had endowed her with so much
beauty. Some strained forward to see her; others, having seen her once,
ran forward to have a second view of her. Among those who were most
eager to behold her, was a man who attracted the notice of many by his
extraordinary efforts. He was dressed in the garb of a slave lately
ransomed, and wore on his breast the emblem of the Holy Trinity, by
which it was known that he had been redeemed by the charity of the
Redemptorist fathers.

Already Isabella had set one foot on the threshold of the convent gate,
where the prioress and the nuns stood ready to receive her with the
cross, when this ransomed captive cried out, "Stop, Isabella, stop!"
Isabella and her parents turned at this cry, and saw the man cleaving
his way towards them through the crowd by main strength. The blue hat he
wore having fallen oft through the violence of his exertions, disclosed
a profusion of flaxen hair, and a clear red and white complexion, which
showed him at once to be a foreigner.

Struggling, stumbling, and rising again, he at last reached the spot
where Isabella stood, caught her hand in his, and said, "Do you know me,
Isabella? I am Richard, your betrothed." "Well do I know you," said
Isabella, "if indeed you are not a phantom come to trouble my repose."
Her parents also examined his features attentively, and saw that this
captive was indeed Richard. As for him, weeping at Isabella's feet, he
implored her not to let the strange garb he wore prevent her recognising
him, nor his low fortune impede the fulfilment of the pledges exchanged
between them. In spite of the impression which the letter from Richard's
mother had made on her memory, Isabella chose rather to believe the
living evidence before her eyes; and embracing the captive, she said,
"Without doubt, my lord and master, you are he who alone could hinder
the fulfilment of my Christian determination; you are without doubt the
half of my soul; my own betrothed! your image is stamped upon my memory,
and treasured in my heart. The news of your death, sent me by your lady
mother, not having killed me on the spot, I resolved to dedicate myself
to religion, and I was just about to enter this convent for the rest of
my days; but since God has shown us by so just an impediment that he
wills otherwise, it is not for me to refuse obedience. Come, señor, to
the house of my parents, which is yours, and there I will give myself to
you in the way which our holy catholic faith prescribes."

This dialogue, overheard by the spectators, struck them all with
amazement. The chief justice and the vicar-general immediately demanded
what was all this ado, who was this stranger, and what marriage was this
they talked about. Isabella's father replied, that what they had seen
was the sequel of a story which required a different place for the
telling of it; therefore, he begged that all who desired to hear it
should turn back to his house, which was close by, and there he would
fully satisfy their curiosity, and fill them with wonder at the strange
things he should relate.

Just then one of the crowd cried out, "Señors, this young man is the
great English corsair. It is not much more than two years since he took
from the Algerine corsairs the great Portuguese galleon from the Indies.
There is not the least doubt that he is the very man; I know him,
because he set me at liberty, and gave me money to carry me to Spain,
and not me only, but three hundred other captives likewise." These words
increased the general excitement and the desire to see all these
intricate matters cleared up. Finally, the principal persons of the
city, with the chief justice and the vicar-general, went back with
Isabella to her father's house, leaving the nuns sorely discomfited, and
crying with vexation at the loss they had sustained in not having the



Online LibraryMiguel de Cervantes SaavedraThe Exemplary Novels of Cervantes → online text (page 29 of 42)