Melmoth the Wanderer, by Charles Maturin

Chapter 12

Juravi lingua, mentem injuratam gero. —

 

Who brought you first acquainted with the devil?

SHIRLEY’S ST PATRICK FOR IRELAND

‘I ran on till I had no longer breath or strength, (without perceiving that I was in a dark passage), till I was stopt by a door. In falling against it, I burst it open, and found myself in a low dark room. When I raised myself, for I had fallen on my hands and knees, I looked round, and saw something so singular, as to suspend even my personal anxiety and terror for a moment.

‘The room was very small; and I could perceive by the rents, that I had not only broken open a door, but a large curtain which hung before it, whose ample folds still afforded me concealment if I required it. There was no one in the room, and I had time to study its singular furniture at leisure.

‘There was a table covered with cloth; on it were placed a vessel of a singular construction, a book, into whose pages I looked, but could not make out a single letter. I therefore wisely took it for a book of magic, and closed it with a feeling of exculpatory horror. (It happened to be a copy of the Hebrew Bible, marked with the Samaritan points). There was a knife too; and a cock was fastened to the leg of the table, whose loud crows announced his impatience of further constraint.1

1 Quilibet postea paterfamilias, cum gallo præ manibus, in medium primus prodit.

Deinde expiationem aggreditur et capiti suo ter gallum allidit, singulosque ictus his vocibus prosequitur. Hic Gallus sit permutio pro me, &c.

Gallo deinde imponens manus, eum statim mactat, &c.

Vide Buxtorf, as quoted in Dr Magee (Bishop of Raphoe’s ) work on the atonement. Cumberland in his Observer, I think, mentions the discovery to have been reserved for the feast of the Passover. It is just as probable it was made on the day of expiation.

‘I felt that this apparatus was somewhat singular — it looked like a preparation for a sacrifice. I shuddered, and wrapt myself in the volumes of the drapery which hung before the door my fall had broken open. A dim lamp, suspended from the ceiling, discovered to me all these objects, and enabled me to observe what followed almost immediately. A man of middle age, but whose physiognomy had something peculiar in it, even to the eye of a Spaniard, from the clustering darkness of his eye-brows, his prominent nose, and a certain lustre in the balls of his eyes, entered the room, knelt before the table, kissed the book that lay on it, and read from it some sentences that were to precede, as I imagined, some horrible sacrifice; — felt the edge of the knife, knelt again, uttered some words which I did not understand, (as they were in the language of that book), and then called aloud on some one by the name of Manasseh-ben-Solomon. No one answered. He sighed, passed his hand over his eyes with the air of a man who is asking pardon of himself for a short forgetfulness, and then pronounced the name of ‘Antonio.’ A young man immediately entered, and answered, ‘Did you call me, Father?’ — But while he spoke, he threw a hollow and wandering glance on the singular furniture of the room.

‘I called you, my son, and why did you not answer me?’ — ‘I did not hear you, father — I mean, I did not think it was on me you called. I heard only a name I was never called by before. When you said ‘Antonio,’ I obeyed you — I came.’ — ‘But that is the name by which you must in future be called and be known, to me at least, unless you prefer another. — You shall have your choice.’ — ‘My father, I shall adopt whatever name you choose.’ — ‘No; the choice of your new name must be your own — you must, for the future, either adopt the name you have heard, or another.’ — ‘What other, Sir?’ — ‘That of parricide.’ The youth shuddered with horror, less at the words than at the expression that accompanied them; and, after looking at his father for some time in a posture of tremulous and supplicating inquiry, he burst into tears. The father seized the moment. He grasped the arms of his son, ‘My child, I gave you life, and you may repay the gift — my life is in your power. You think me a Catholic — I have brought you up as one for the preservation of our mutual lives, in a country where the confession of the true faith would infallibly cost both. I am one of that unhappy race every where stigmatized and spoken against, yet on whose industry and talent the ungrateful country that anathematizes us, depends for half the sources of its national prosperity. I am a Jew, ‘an Israelite,’ one of those to whom, even by the confession of a Christian apostle, ‘pertain the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh — ‘ Here he paused, not willing to go on with a quotation that would have contradicted his sentiments. He added, ‘The Messias will come, whether suffering or triumphant.1 I am a Jew. I called you at the hour of your birth by the name of Manasseh-ben-Solomon. I called on you by that name, which I felt had clung to the bottom of my heart from that hour, and which, echoing from its abyss, I almost hoped you would have recognized. It was a dream, but will you not, my beloved child, realize that dream? Will you not? — will you not? The God of your fathers is waiting to embrace you — and your father is at your feet, imploring you to follow the faith of your father Abraham, the prophet Moses, and all the holy prophets who are with God, and who look down on this moment of your soul’s vacillation between the abominable idolatries of those who not only adore the Son of the carpenter, but even impiously compel you to fall down before the image of the woman his mother, and adore her by the blasphemous name of Mother of God, — and the pure voice of those who call on you to worship the God of your fathers, the God of ages, the eternal God of heaven and earth, without son or mother, without child or descendant, (as impiously presumed in their blasphemous creed), without even worshipper, save those who, like me, sacrifice their hearts to him in solitude, at the risk of those hearts being PIERCED BY THEIR OWN CHILDREN.’

1 The Jews believe in two Messias, a suffering and a triumphant one, to reconcile the prophecies with their own expectations.

‘At these words, the young man, overcome by all he saw and heard, and quite unprepared for this sudden transition from Catholicism to Judaism, burst into tears. The father seized the moment, ‘My child, you are now to profess yourself the slave of these idolaters, who are cursed in the law of Moses, and by the commandment of God, — or to enrol yourself among the faithful, whose rest shall be in the bosom of Abraham, and who, reposing there, shall see the unbelieving crawling over the burning ashes of hell, and supplicate you in vain for a drop of water, according to the legends of their own prophet. And does not such a picture excite your pride to deny them a drop?’ — ‘I would not deny them a drop,’ sobbed the youth, ‘I would give them these tears.’ — ‘Reserve them for your father’s grave,’ added the Jew, ‘for to the grave you have doomed me. — I have lived, sparing, watching, temporizing, with these accursed idolaters, for you. And now — and now you reject a God who is alone able to save, and a father kneeling to implore you to accept that salvation.’ — ‘No, I do not,’ said the bewildered youth. — ‘What, then, do you determine? — I am at your feet to know your resolution. Behold, the mysterious instruments of your initiation are ready. There is the uncorrupted book of Moses, the prophet of God, as these idolaters themselves confess. There are all the preparations for the year of expiation — determine whether those rites shall now dedicate you to the true God, or seize your father, (who has put his life into your hands), and drag him by the throat into the prisons of the Inquisition. You may — you can — will you?’

‘In prostrate and tremulous agony, the father held up his locked hands to his child. I seized the moment — despair had made me reckless. I understood not a word of what was said, except the reference to the Inquisition. I seized on that last word — I grasped, in my despair, at the heart of father and child. I rushed from behind the curtain, and exclaiming, ‘If he does not betray you to the Inquisition, I will.’ I fell at his feet. This mixture of defiance and prostration, my squalid figure, my inquisitorial habit, and my bursting on this secret and solemn interview, struck the Jew with a horror he vainly gasped to express, till, rising from my knees, on which I had fallen from my weakness, I added, ‘Yes, I will betray you to the Inquisition, unless you instantly promise to shelter me from it.’ The Jew glanced at my dress, perceived his danger and mine, and, with a physical presence of mind unparalleled, except in a man under strong impressions of mental excitation and personal danger, bustled about to remove every trace of the expiatory sacrifice, and of my inquisitorial costume, in a moment. In the same breath he called aloud for Rebekah, to remove the vessels from the table; bid Antonio quit the apartment, and hastened to clothe me in some dress that he had snatched from a wardrobe collected from centuries; while he tore off my inquisitorial dress with a violence that left me actually naked, and the habit in rags.

‘There was something at once fearful and ludicrous in the scene that followed. Rebekah, an old Jewish woman, came at his call; but, seeing a third person, retreated in terror, while her master, in his confusion, called her in vain by her Christian name of Maria. Obliged to remove the table alone, he overthrew it, and broke the leg of the unfortunate animal fastened to it, who, not to be without his share in the tumult, uttered the most shrill and intolerable screams, while the Jew, snatching up the sacrificial knife, repeated eagerly, ‘Statim mactat gallum,’ and put the wretched bird out of its pain; then, trembling at this open avowal of his Judaism, he sat down amid the ruins of the over thrown table, the fragments of the broken vessels, and the remains of the martyred cock. He gazed at me with a look of stupified and ludicrous inanity, and demanded in delirious tones, what ‘my lords the Inquisitors had pleased to visit his humble but highly-honoured mansion for?’ I was scarce less deranged than he was; and, though we both spoke the same language, and were forced by circumstances into the same strange and desperate confidence with each other, we really needed, for the first half-hour, a rational interpreter of our exclamations, starts of fear, and burst of disclosure. At last our mutual terror acted honestly between us, and we understood each other. The end of the matter was, that, in less than an hour, I felt myself clad in a comfortable garment, seated at a table amply spread, watched over by my involuntary host, and watching him in turn with red wolfish eyes, which glanced from his board to his person, as if I could, at a moment’s hint of danger from his treachery, have changed my meal, and feasted on his life-blood. No such danger occurred, — my host was more afraid of me than I had reason to be of him, and for many causes. He was a Jew innate, an impostor, — a wretch, who, drawing sustenance from the bosom of our holy mother the church, had turned her nutriment to poison, and attempted to infuse that poison into the lips of his son. I was but a fugitive from the Inquisition, — a prisoner, who had a kind of instinctive and very venial dislike to giving the Inquisitors the trouble of lighting the faggots for me, which would be much better employed in consuming the adherent to the law of Moses. In fact, impartiality considered, there was every thing in my favour, and the Jew just acted as if he felt so, — but all this I ascribed to his terrors of the Inquisition.

‘That night I slept, — I know not how or where. I had wild dreams before I slept, if I did sleep; and after, — such visions, — such things, passed in dread and stern reality before me. I have often in my memory searched for the traces of the first night I passed under the roof of the Jew, but can find nothing, — nothing except a conviction of my utter insanity. It might not have been so, — I know not how it was. I remember his lighting me up a narrow stair, and my asking him, was he lighting me down the steps of the dungeons of the Inquisition? — his throwing open a door, and my asking him, was it the door of the torture-room? — his attempting to undress me, and my exclaiming, ‘Do not bind me too tight, — I know I must suffer, but be merciful;’ — his throwing me on the bed, while I shrieked, ‘Well, you have bound me on the rack, then? — strain it hard, that I may forget myself the sooner; but let your surgeon not be near to watch my pulse, — let it cease to throb, and let me cease to suffer.’ I remember no more for many days, though I have struggled to do so, and caught from time to time glimpses of thoughts better lost. Oh, Sir, there are some criminals of the imagination, whom if we could plunge into the oubliettes of its magnificent but lightly-based fabric, its lord would reign more happy.

‘Many days elapsed, indeed, before the Jew began to feel his immunity somewhat dearly purchased, by the additional maintenance of a troublesome, and, I fear, a deranged inmate. He took the first opportunity that the recovery of my intellect offered, of hinting this to me, and inquired mildly what I purposed to do, and where I meant to go. This question for the first time opened to my view that range of hopeless and interminable desolation that lay before me, — the Inquisition had laid waste the whole track of life, as with fire and sword. I had not a spot to stand on, a meal to earn, a hand to grasp, a voice to greet, a roof to crouch under, in the whole realm of Spain.

‘You are not to learn, Sir, that the power of the Inquisition, like that of death, separates you, by its single touch, from all mortal relations. From the moment its grasp has seized you, all human hands unlock their hold of yours, — you have no longer father, mother, sister, or child. The most devoted and affectionate of all those relatives, who, in the natural intercourse of human life, would have laid their hands under your feet to procure you a smoother passage over its roughnesses, would be the first to grasp the faggot that was to reduce you to ashes, if the Inquisition were to demand the sacrifice. I knew all this; and I felt, besides, that, had I never been a prisoner in the Inquisition, I was an isolated being, rejected by father and mother, — the involuntary murderer of my brother, the only being on earth who loved me, or whom I could love or profit by, — that being who seemed to flash across my brief human existence, to illuminate and to blast. The bolt had perished with the victim. In Spain it was impossible for me to live without detection, unless I plunged myself into an imprisonment as profound and hopeless as that of the Inquisition. And, if a miracle were wrought to convey me out of Spain, ignorant as I was of the language, the habits, and the modes of obtaining subsistence, in that or any other country, how could I support myself even for a day. Absolute famine stared me in the face, and a sense of degradation accompanying my consciousness of my own utter and desolate helplessness, was the keenest shaft in the quiver, whose contents were lodged in my heart. My consequence was actually lessened in my own eyes, by ceasing to become the victim of persecution, by which I had suffered so long. While people think it worth their while to torment us, we are never without some dignity, though painful and imaginary. Even in the Inquisition I belonged to somebody, — I was watched and guarded; — now, I was the outcast of the whole earth, and I wept with equal bitterness and depression at the hopeless vastness of the desert I had to traverse.

‘The Jew, not at all disturbed by these feelings, went daily out for intelligence, and returned one evening in such raptures, that I could easily discover he had ascertained his own safety at least, if not mine. He informed me that the current report in Madrid was, that I had perished in the fall of the burning ruins on the night of the fire. He added, that this report had received additional currency and strength from the fact, that the bodies of those who had perished by the fall of the arch, were, when discovered, so defaced by fire, and so crushed by the massive fragments, as to be utterly undistinguishable; — their remains had been collected, however, and mine were supposed to be among the number. A mass had been performed for them, and their cinders, occupying but a single coffin,1 were interred in the vaults of the Dominican church, while some of the first families of Spain, in the deepest mourning, and their faces veiled, testified their grief in silence for those whom they would have shuddered to acknowledge their mortal relationship to, had they been still living. Certainly a lump of cinders was no longer an object even of religious hostility. My mother, he added, was among the number of mourners, but with a veil so long and thick, and attendance so few, that it would have been impossible to have known the Duchess di Monçada, but for the whisper that her appearance there had been enjoined for penance. He added, what gave me more perfect satisfaction, that the holy office was very glad to accredit the story of my death; they wished me to be believed dead, and what the Inquisition wishes to be believed, is rarely denied belief in Madrid. This signing my certificate of death, was to me the best security for life. In the communicativeness of his joy, which had expanded his heart, if not his hospitality, the Jew, as I swallowed my bread and water, (for my stomach still loathed all animal food), informed me that there was a procession to take place that evening, the most solemn and superb ever witnessed in Madrid. The holy office was to appear in all the pomp and plenitude of its glory, accompanied by the standards of St Dominic and the cross, while all the ecclesiastical orders in Madrid were to attend with their appropriate insignia, invested by a strong military guard, (which, for some reason or other, was judged necessary or proper), and, attended by the whole populace of Madrid, was to proceed to the principal church to humiliate themselves for the recent calamity they had undergone, and implore the saints to be more personally active in the event of a future conflagration.

1 This extraordinary fact occurred after the dreadful fire which consumed sixteen persons in one house, in Stephen’s Green, Dublin, 1816. The writer of this heard the screams of sufferers whom it was impossible to save, for an hour and a half.

‘The evening came on — the Jew left me; and, under an impression at once unaccountable and irresistible, I ascended to the highest apartment in his house, and, with a beating heart, listened for the toll of the bells that was to announce the commencement of the ceremony. I had not long to wait. At the close of twilight, every steeple in the city was vibrating with the tolls of their well-plied bells. I was in an upper room of the house. There was but one window; but, hiding myself behind the blind, which I withdrew from time to time, I had a full view of the spectacle. The house of the Jew looked out on an open space, through which the procession was to pass, and which was already so filled, that I wondered how the procession could ever make its way through such a wedged and impenetrable mass. At last, I could distinguish a motion like that of a distant power, giving a kind of indefinite impulse to the vast body that rolled and blackened beneath me, like the ocean under the first and far-felt agitations of the storm.

‘The crowd rocked and reeled, but did not seem to give way an inch. The procession commenced. I could see it approach, marked as it was by the crucifix, banner, and taper — (for they had reserved the procession till a late hour, to give it the imposing effect of torch-light.) And I saw the multitude at a vast distance give way at once. Then came on the stream of the procession, rushing, like a magnificent river, between two banks of human bodies, who kept as regular and strict distance, as if they had been ramparts of stone, — the banners, and crucifixes, and tapers, appearing like the crests of foam on advancing billows, sometimes rising, sometimes sinking. At last they came on, and the whole grandeur of the procession burst on my view, and nothing was ever more imposing, or more magnificent. The habits of the ecclesiastics, the glare of the torches struggling with the dying twilight, and seeming to say to heaven, We have a sun though your’s is set; — the solemn and resolute look of the whole party, who trod as if their march were on the bodies of kings, and looked as if they would have said, What is the sceptre to the cross? — the black crucifix itself, trembling in the rear, attended by the banner of St Dominick, with its awful inscription. — It was a sight to convert all hearts, and I exulted I was a Catholic. Suddenly a tumult seemed to arise among the crowd — I knew not from what it could arise — all seemed so pleased and so elated.

‘I drew away the blind, and saw, by torch-light, among a crowd of officials who clustered round the standard of St Dominick, the figure of my companion. His story was well known. At first a faint hiss was heard, then a wild and smothered howl. Then I heard voices among the crowd repeat, in audible sounds, ‘What is this for? Why do they ask why the Inquisition has been half-burned? — why the virgin has withdrawn her protection? — why the saints turn away their faces from us? — when a parricide marches among the officials of the Inquisition. Are the hands that have cut a father’s throat fit to support the banner of the cross?’ These were the words but of a few at first, but the whisper spread rapidly among the crowd; and fierce looks were darted, and hands were clenched and raised, and some stooped to the earth for stones. The procession went on, however, and every one knelt to the crucifixes as they advanced, held aloft by the priests. But the murmurs increased too, and the words, ‘parricide, profanation, and victim,’ resounded on every side, even from those who knelt in the mire as the cross passed by. The murmur increased — it could no longer be mistaken for that of adoration. The foremost priests paused in terror ill concealed — and this seemed the signal for the terrible scene that was about to follow. An officer belonging to the guard at this time ventured to intimate to the chief Inquisitor the danger that might be apprehended, but was dismissed with the short and sullen answer, ‘Move on — the servants of Christ have nothing to fear.’ The procession attempted to proceed, but their progress was obstructed by the multitude, who now seemed bent on some deadly purpose. A few stones were thrown; but the moment the priests raised their crucifixes, the multitude were on their knees again, still, however, holding the stones in their hands. The military officers again addressed the chief Inquisitor, and intreated his permission to disperse the crowd. They received the same dull and stern answer, ‘The cross is sufficient for the protection of its servants — whatever fears you may feel, I feel none.’ Incensed at the reply, a young officer sprung on his horse, which he had quitted from respect while addressing the Suprema, and was in a moment levelled by the blow of a stone that fractured his skull. He turned his blood-swimming eyes on the Inquisitor, and died. The multitude raised a wild shout, and pressed closer. Their intentions were now too plain. They pressed close on that part of the procession among which their victim was placed. Again, and in the most urgent terms, the officers implored leave to disperse the crowd, or at least cover the retreat of the obnoxious object to some neighbouring church, or even to the walls of the Inquisition. And the wretched man himself, with loud outcries, (as he saw the danger thickening around him), joined in their petition. The Suprema, though looking pale, bated not a jot of his pride. ‘These are my arms!’ he exclaimed, pointing to the crucifixes, ‘and their inscription is εν-τϒτω-νικα’.

‘I forbid a sword to be drawn, or a musket to be levelled. On, in the name of God.’ And on they attempted to move, but the pressure now rendered it impossible. The multitude, unrepressed by the military, became ungovernable; the crosses reeled and rocked like standards in a battle; the ecclesiastics, in confusion and terror, pressed on each other. Amid that vast mass, every particle of which seemed in motion, there was but one emphatic and discriminate movement — that which bore a certain part of the crowd strait on to the spot where their victim, though inclosed and inwrapt by all that is formidable in earthly, and all that is awful in spiritual power — sheltered by the crucifix and the sword — stood trembling to the bottom of his soul. The Suprema saw his error too late, and now called loudly on the military to advance, and disperse the crowd by any means. They attempted to obey him; but by this time they were mingled among the crowd themselves. All order had ceased; and besides, there appeared a kind of indisposition to this service, from the very first, among the military. They attempted to charge, however; but, entangled as they were among the crowd, who clung round their horses hoofs, it was impossible for them even to form, and the first shower of stones threw them into total confusion. The danger increased every moment, for one spirit now seemed to animate the whole multitude. What had been the stifled growl of a few, was now the audible yell of all — ‘Give him to us — we must have him;’ and they tossed and roared like a thousand waves assailing a wreck. As the military retreated, a hundred priests instantly closed round the unhappy man, and with generous despair exposed themselves to the fury of the multitude. While the Suprema, hastening to the dreadful spot, stood in the front of the priests, with the cross uplifted, — his face was like that of the dead, but his eye had not lost a single flash of its fire, nor his voice a stone of its pride. It was in vain; the multitude proceeded calmly, and even respectfully, (when not resisted), to remove all that obstructed their progress; in doing so, they took every care of the persons of priests whom they were compelled to remove, repeatedly asking their pardon for the violence they were guilty of. And this tranquillity of resolved vengeance was the most direful indication of its never desisting till its purpose was accomplished. The last ring was broken — the last resister overcome. Amid yells like those of a thousand tigers, the victim was seized and dragged forth, grasping in both hands fragments of the robes of those he had clung to in vain, and holding them up in the impotence of despair.

‘The cry was hushed for a moment, as they felt him in their talons, and gazed on him with thirsty eyes. Then it was renewed, and the work of blood began. They dashed him to the earth — tore him up again — flung him into the air — tossed him from hand to hand, as a bull gores the howling mastiff with horns right and left. Bloody, defaced, blackened with earth, and battered with stones, he struggled and roared among them, till a loud cry announced the hope of a termination to a scene alike horrible to humanity, and disgraceful to civilization. The military, strongly reinforced, came galloping on, and all the ecclesiastics, with torn habits, and broken crucifixes, following fast in the rear, — all eager in the cause of human nature — all on fire to prevent this base and barbarous disgrace to the name of Christianity and of human nature.

‘Alas! this interference only hastened the horrible catastrophe. There was but a shorter space for the multitude to work their furious will. I saw, I felt, but I cannot describe, the last moments of this horrible scene. Dragged from the mud and stones, they dashed a mangled lump of flesh right against the door of the house where I was. With his tongue hanging from his lacerated mouth, like that of a baited bull; with, one eye torn from the socket, and dangling on his bloody cheek; with a fracture in every limb, and a wound for every pore, he still howled for ‘life — life — life — mercy!’ till a stone, aimed by some pitying hand, struck him down. He fell, trodden in one moment into sanguine and discoloured mud by a thousand feet. The cavalry came on, charging with fury. The crowd, saturated with cruelty and blood, gave way in grim silence. But they had not left a joint of his little finger — a hair of his head — a slip of his skin. Had Spain mortgaged all her reliques from Madrid to Monserrat, from the Pyrennees to Gibraltar, she could not have recovered the paring of a nail to canonize. The officer who headed the troop dashed his horse’s hoofs into a bloody formless mass, and demanded, ‘Where was the victim?’ He was answered, ‘Beneath your horse’s feet;’1 and they departed.

1 This circumstance occurred in Ireland 1797, after the murder of the unfortunate Dr Hamilton. The officer was answered, on inquiring what was that heap of mud at his horse’s feet, — ‘The man you came for.’

‘It is a fact, Sir, that while witnessing this horrible execution, I felt all the effects vulgarly ascribed to fascination. I shuddered at the first movement — the dull and deep whisper among the crowd. I shrieked involuntarily when the first decisive movements began among them; but when at last the human shapeless carrion was dashed against the door, I echoed the wild shouts of the multitude with a kind of savage instinct. I bounded — I clasped my hands for a moment — then I echoed the screams of the thing that seemed no longer to live, but still could scream; and I screamed aloud and wildly for life — life — and mercy! One face was turned towards me as I shrieked in unconscious tones. The glance, fixed on me for a moment, was in a moment withdrawn. The flash of the well-known eyes made no impression on me then. My existence was so purely mechanical, that, without the least consciousness of my own danger, (scarce less than that of the victim, had I been detected), I remained uttering shout for shout, and scream for scream — offering worlds in imagination to be able to remove from the window, yet feeling as if every shriek I uttered was as a nail that fastened me to it — dropping my eye-lids, and feeling as if a hand held them open, or cut them away — forcing me to gaze on all that passed below, like Regulus, with his lids cut off, compelled to gaze on the sun that withered up his eye-balls — till sense, and sight, and soul, failed me, and I fell grasping by the bars of the window, and mimicking, in my horrid trance, the shouts of the multitude, and the yell of the devoted.1 I actually for a moment believed myself the object of their cruelty. The drama of terror has the irresistible power of converting its audience into its victims.

1 In the year 1803, when Emmett’s insurrection broke out in Dublin — (the fact from which this account is drawn was related to me by an eye-witness) — Lord Kilwarden, in passing through Thomas Street, was dragged from his carriage, and murdered in the most horrid manner. Pike after pike was thrust through his body, till at last he was nailed to a door, and called out to his murderers to ‘put him out of his pain.’ At this moment, a shoemaker, who lodged in the garret of an opposite house, was drawn to the window by the horrible cries he heard. He stood at the window, gasping with horror, his wife attempting vainly to drag him away. He saw the last blow struck — he heard the last groan uttered, as the sufferer cried, ‘put me out of pain,’ while sixty pikes were thrusting at him. The man stood at his window as if nailed to it; and when dragged from it, became — an idiot for life.

‘The Jew had kept apart from the tumult of the night. He had, I suppose, been saying within himself, in the language of your admirable poet,

‘Oh, Father Abraham, what these Christians are!’

But when he returned at a late hour, he was struck with horror at the state in which he found me. I was delirious, — raving, and all he could say or do to soothe me, was in vain. My imagination had been fearfully impressed, and the consternation of the poor Jew was, I have been told, equally ludicrous and dismal. In his terror, he forgot all the technical formality of the Christian names by which he had uniformly signalized his household, since his residence in Madrid at least. He called aloud on Manasseh-ben-Solomon his son, and Rebekah his maid, to assist in holding me. ‘Oh, Father Abraham, my ruin is certain, this maniac will discover all, and Manasseh-ben-Solomon, my son, will die uncircumcised.’

‘These words operating on my delirium, I started up, and, grasping the Jew by the throat, arraigned him as a prisoner of the Inquisition. The terrified wretch, falling on his knees, vociferated, ‘My cock, — my cock, — my cock! oh! I am undone!’ Then, grasping my knees, ‘I am no Jew, — my son, Manasseh-ben-Solomon, is a Christian; you will not betray him, you will not betray me, — me who have saved your life. Manasseh, — I mean Antonio, — Rebekah, — no, Maria, help me to hold him. Oh God of Abraham, my cock, and my sacrifice of expiation, and this maniac to burst on the recesses of our privacy, to tear open the veil of the tabernacle!’ — ‘Shut the tabernacle,’ said Rebekah, the old domestic whom I have before mentioned; ‘yea, shut the tabernacle, and close up the veils thereof, for behold there be men knocking at the door, — men who are children of Belial, and they knock with staff and stone; and, verily, they are about to break in the door, and demolish the carved work thereof with axes and hammers.’ — ‘Thou liest,’ said the Jew, in much perturbation: ‘there is no carved work thereabout, nor dare they break it down with axes and hammers; peradventure it is but an assault of the children of Belial, in their rioting and drunkenness. I pray thee, Rebekah, to watch the door, and keep off the sons of Belial, even the sons of the mighty of the sinful city — the city of Madrid, while I remove this blaspheming carrion, who struggleth with me, — yea, struggleth mightily,’ (and struggle I did mightily). But, as I struggled, the knocks at the door became louder and stronger; and, as I was carried off, the Jew continued to repeat, ‘Set thy face against them, Rebekah; yea, set thy face like a flint.’ As he retired, Rebekah exclaimed, ‘Behold I have set my back against them, for my face now availeth not. My back is that which I will oppose, and verily I shall prevail.’ — ‘I pray thee, Rebekah,’ cried the Jew, ‘oppose thy FACE unto them, and verily that shall prevail. Try not the adversary with thy back, but oppose thy face unto them; and behold, if they are men, they shall flee, even though they were a thousand, at the rebuke of one. I pray thee try thy face once more, Rebekah, while I send this scape-goat into the wilderness. Surely thy face is enough to drive away those who knocked by night at the door of that house in Gibeah, in the matter of the wife of the Benjamite.’ The knocking all this time increased. ‘Behold my back is broken,’ cried Rebekah, giving up her watch and ward, ‘for, of a verity, the weapons of the mighty do smite the lintels and door-posts; and mine arms are not steel, neither are my ribs iron, and behold I fail, — yea, I fail, and fall backwards into the hands of the uncircumcised.’ And so saying, she fell backwards as the door gave way, and fell not, as she feared, into the hands of the uncircumcised, but into those of two of her countrymen, who, it appeared, had some extraordinary reason for this late visit and forcible entrance.

‘The Jew, apprized who they were, quitted me, after securing the door, and sat up the greater part of the night, in earnest conversation with his visitors. Whatever was their subject, it left traces of the most intense anxiety on the countenance of the Jew the next morning. He went out early, did not return till a late hour, and then hastened to the room I occupied, and expressed the utmost delight at finding me sane and composed. Candles were placed on the table, Rebekah dismissed, the door secured, and the Jew, after taking many uneasy turns about the narrow apartment, and often clearing his throat, at length sat down, and ventured to entrust me with the cause of his perturbation, in which, with the fatal consciousness of the unhappy, I already began to feel I must have a share. He told me, that though the report of my death, so universally credited through Madrid, had at first set his mind at ease, there was now a wild story, which, with all its falsehood and impossibility, might, in its circulation, menace us with the most fearful consequences. He asked me, was it possible I could have been so imprudent as to expose myself to view on the day of that horrible execution? and when I confessed that I had stood at a window, and had involuntarily uttered cries that I feared might have reached some ears, he wrung his hands, and a sweat of consternation burst out on his pallid features. When he recovered himself, he told me it was universally believed that my spectre had appeared on that terrible occasion, — that I had been seen hovering in the air, to witness the sufferings of the dying wretch, — and that my voice had been heard summoning him to his eternal doom. He added, that this story, possessing all the credibility of superstition, was now repeated by a thousand mouths; and whatever contempt might be attached to its absurdity, it would infallibly operate as a hint to the restless vigilance, and unrelaxing industry of the holy office, and might ultimately lead to my discovery. He therefore was about to disclose to me a secret, the knowledge of which would enable me to remain in perfect security even in the centre of Madrid, until some means might be devised of effecting my escape, and procuring me the means of subsistence in some Protestant country, beyond the reach of the Inquisition.

‘As he was about to disclose this secret on which the safety of both depended, and which I bent in speechless agony to hear, a knock was heard at the door, very unlike the knocks of the preceding night. It was single, solemn, peremptory, — and followed by a demand to open the doors of the house in the name of the most holy Inquisition. At these terrible words, the wretched Jew flung himself on his knees, blew out the candles, called on the names of the twelve patriarchs, and slipped a large rosary on his arm, in less time than it is possible to conceive any human frame could go through such a variety of movements. The knock was repeated, — I stood paralyzed; but the Jew, springing on his feet, raised one of the boards of the floor in a moment, and, with a motion between convulsion and instinct, pointed to me to descend. I did so, and found myself in a moment in darkness and in safety.

‘I had descended but a few steps, on the last of which I stood trembling, when the officers of the Inquisition entered the room, and stalked over the very board that concealed me. I could hear every word that passed. ‘Don Fernan,’ said an officer to the Jew, who re-entered with them, after respectfully opening the door, ‘why were we not admitted sooner?’ — ‘Holy Father,’ said the trembling Jew, ‘my only domestic, Maria, is old and deaf, the youth my son is in his bed, and I was myself engaged in my devotions.’ — ‘It seems you can perform them in the dark,’ said another, pointing to the candles, which the Jew was re-lighting. — ‘When the eye of God is on me, most reverend fathers, I am never in darkness.’ — ‘The eye of God is on you,’ said the officer, sternly seating himself; ‘and so is another eye, to which he has deputed the sleepless vigilance and resistless penetration of his own, — the eye of the holy office. Don Fernan di Nunez,’ the name by which the Jew went, ‘you are not ignorant of the indulgence extended by the church, to those who have renounced the errors of that accursed and misbelieving race from which you are descended, but you must be also aware of its incessant vigilance being directed towards such individuals, from the suspicion necessarily attached to their doubtful conversion, and possible relapse. We know that the black blood of Grenada flowed in the tainted veins of your ancestry, and that not more than four centuries have elapsed, since your forefathers trampled on that cross before which you are now prostrate. You are an old man, Don Fernan, but not an old Christian; and, under these circumstances, it behoves the holy office to have a watchful scrutiny over your conduct.’

‘The unfortunate Jew, invoking all the saints, protested he would feel the strictest scrutiny with which the holy office might honour him, as a ground of obligation and a matter of thanksgiving, — renouncing at the same time the creed of his race in terms of such exaggeration and vehemence, as made me tremble for his probable sincerity in any creed, and his fidelity to me. The officers of the Inquisition, taking little notice of his protestations, went on to inform him of the object of their visit. They stated that a wild and incredible tale of the spectre of a deceased prisoner of the Inquisition having been seen hovering in the air near his house, had suggested to the wisdom of the holy office, that the living individual might be concealed within its walls.

‘I could not see the trepidation of the Jew, but I could feel the vibration of the boards on which he stood communicated to the steps that supported me. In a choaked and tremulous voice, he implored the officers to search every apartment of his house, and to raze it to the ground, and inter him under its dust, if aught were found in it which a faithful and orthodox son of the church might not harbour. ‘That shall doubtless be done,’ said the officer, taking him at his word with the utmost sang froid; ‘but, in the mean time, suffer me to apprize you, Don Fernan, of the peril you incur, if at any future time, however remote, it shall be discovered that you harboured or aided in concealing a prisoner of the Inquisition, and an enemy of the holy church, — the very first and lightest part of that penalty will be your dwelling being razed to the ground.’ The Inquisitor raised his voice, and paused with emphatic deliberation between every clause of the following sentences, measuring as it were the effect of his blows on the increasing terror of his auditor. ‘You will be conveyed to our prison, under the suspected character of a relapsed Jew. Your son will be committed to a convent, to remove him from the pestilential influence of your presence; — and your whole property shall be confiscated, to the last stone in your walls, the last garment on your person, and the last denier in your purse.

‘The poor Jew, who had marked the gradations of his fear by groans more audible and prolonged at the end of every tremendous denunciatory clause, at the mention of confiscation so total and desolating, lost all self-possession, and, ejaculating — ‘Oh Father Abraham, and all the holy prophets!’ — fell, as I conjectured from the sound, prostrate on the floor. I gave myself up for lost. Exclusive of his pusillanimity, the words he had uttered were enough to betray him to the officers of the Inquisition; and, without a moment’s hesitation between the danger of falling into their hands, and plunging into the darkness of the recess into which I had descended, I staggered down a few remaining steps, and attempted to feel my way along a passage, in which they seemed to terminate.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/maturin/charles/melmoth_the_wanderer/chapter12.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09