Melmoth the Wanderer, by Charles Maturin

Chapter 29

Χαλεπον δε το φιλησαι

χαλεπον το με φιλησαι

χαλεποτερον δε το παντον

αποτυγχανειν φιλγντα

‘Don Francisco rode on most of that day. The weather was mild, and his servants holding occasionally large umbrellas over him as he rode, rendered travelling supportable. In consequence of his long absence from Spain, he was wholly unacquainted with his route, and obliged to depend on a guide; and the fidelity of a Spanish guide being as proverbial and trust-worthy as Punic faith, towards evening Don Francisco found himself just where the Princess Micomicona, in the romance of his countryman, is said to have discovered Don Quixote, — ‘amid a labyrinth of rocks.’ He immediately dispatched his attendants in various directions, to discover the track they were to pursue. The guide gallopped after as fast as his wearied mule could go, and Don Francisco, looking round, after a long delay on the part of his attendants, found himself completely alone. Neither the weather nor the prospect was calculated to raise his spirits. The evening was very misty, unlike the brief and brilliant twilight that precedes the nights of the favoured climates of the south. Heavy showers fell from time to time, — not incessant, but seeming like the discharge of passing clouds, that were instantly succeeded by others. Those clouds gathered blacker and deeper every moment, and hung in fantastic wreaths over the stony mountains that formed a gloomy perspective to the eye of the traveller. As the mists wandered over them, they seemed to rise and fade, and shift their shapes and their stations like the hills of Ubeda,1 as indistinct in form and as dim in hue, as the atmospheric illusions which in that dreary and deceptive light sometimes gave them the appearance of primeval mountains, and sometimes that of fleecy and baseless clouds.

1 Vide Cervantes, apud Don Quixote de Collibus Ubedæ.

‘Don Francisco at first dropt the reins on his mule’s neck, and uttered sundry ejaculations to the Virgin. Finding this did no good, — that the hills still seemed to wander before his bewildered eyes, and the mule, on the other hand, remained immoveable, he bethought himself of calling on a variety of saints, whose names the echoes of the hills returned with the most perfect punctuality, but not one of whom happened just then to be at leisure to attend to his petitions. Finding the case thus desperate, Don Francisco struck spurs into his mule, and gallopped up a rocky defile, where the hoofs of his beast struck fire at every step, and their echo from the rocks of granite made the rider tremble, lest he was pursued by banditti at every step he took. The mule, so provoked, gallopped fiercely on, till the rider, weary as he was, and somewhat incommoded by its speed, drew up the reins more tightly, at hearing the steps of another rider close behind him. The mule paused instantly. Some say that animals have a kind of instinct in discovering and recognizing the approach of beings not of this world. However that may be, Don Francisco’s mule stood as if its feet had been nailed to the road, till the approach of the traveller set it once more into a gallop, on which, as it appeared, the gallop of the pursuer, whose course seemed fleeter than that of an earthly rider, gained fast, and in a few moments a singular figure rode close beside Don Francisco.

‘He was not in a riding dress, but muffled from head to foot in a long cloke, whose folds were so ample as almost to hide the flanks of his beast. As soon as he was abreast with Aliaga, he removed that part of the cloke which covered his head and shoulders, and, turning towards him, disclosed the unwelcome countenance of his mysterious visitor the preceding night. ‘We meet again, Senhor,’ said the stranger, with his peculiar smile, ‘and fortunately for you, I trust. Your guide has ridden off with the money you advanced him for his services, and your servants are ignorant of the roads, which, in this part of the country, are singularly perplexed. If you will accept of me as your guide, you will, I believe, have reason to congratulate yourself on our encounter.’

‘Don Francisco, who felt that no choice was left, acquiesced in silence, and rode on, not without reluctance, by the side of his strange companion. The silence was at length broken, by the stranger’s pointing out the village at which Aliaga proposed to pass the night, at no very great distance, and at the same time noticing the approaching of his servants, who were returning to their master, after having made a similar discovery. These circumstances contributing to restore Aliaga’s courage, he proceeded with some degree of confidence, and even began to listen with interest to the conversation of the stranger; particularly as he observed, that though the village was near, the windings of the road were likely to retard their arrival for some hours. The interest which had thus been excited, the stranger seemed resolved to improve to the uttermost. He rapidly unfolded the stores of his rich and copiously furnished mind; and, by skilfully blending his displays of general knowledge with particular references to the oriental countries where Aliaga had resided, their commerce, their customs, and their manners, and with a perfect acquaintance with the most minute topics of mercantile discourse, — he so far conciliated his fellow-traveller, that the journey, begun in terror, ended in delight, and Aliaga heard with a kind of pleasure, (not however unmixed with awful reminiscences), the stranger announce his intention of passing the night at the same inn.

‘During the supper, the stranger redoubled his efforts, and confirmed his success. He was indeed a man who could please when he pleased, and whom. His powerful intellects, extensive knowledge, and accurate memory, qualified him to render the hour of companionship delightful to all whom genius could interest, or information amuse. He possessed a fund of anecdotical history, and, from the fidelity of his paintings, always appeared himself to have been an agent in the scenes he described. This night, too, that the attractions of his conversation might want no charm, and have no shade, he watchfully forbore those bursts of passion, — those fierce explosions of misanthropy and malediction, and that bitter and burning irony with which, at other times, he seemed to delight to interrupt himself and confound his hearer.

‘The evening thus passed pleasurably; and it was not till supper was removed, and the lamp placed on the table beside which the stranger and he were seated alone, that the ghastly scene of the preceding night rose like a vision before the eyes of Aliaga. He thought he saw the corse lying in a corner of the room, and waving its dead hand, as if to beckon him away from the society of the stranger. The vision passed away, — he looked up, — they were alone. It was with the utmost effort of his mixed politeness and fear, that he prepared himself to listen to the tale which the stranger had frequently, amid their miscellaneous conversation, alluded to, and showed an evident anxiety to relate.

‘These allusions were attended with unpleasant reminiscences to the hearer, — but he saw that it was to be, and armed himself as he might with courage to hear. ‘I would not intrude on you, Senhor,’ said the stranger, with an air of grave interest which Aliaga had never seen him assume before — ‘I would not intrude on you with a narrative in which you can feel but little interest, were I not conscious that its relation may operate as a warning the most awful, salutary, and efficacious to yourself.’ — ‘Me!’ exclaimed Don Francisco, revolting with all the horror of an orthodox Catholic at the sound. — ‘Me!’ he repeated, uttering a dozen ejaculations to the saints, and making the sign of the cross twice that number of times. — ‘Me!’ he continued, discharging a whole volley of fulmination against all those who, being entangled in the snares of Satan, sought to draw others into them, whether in the shape of heresy, witchcraft, or otherwise. It might be observed, however, that he laid most stress on heresy, the latter evil, from the rigour of their mythology, or other causes, which it were not unworthy philosophical curiosity to inquire into, being almost unknown in Spain; — and he uttered this protestation (which was doubtless very sincere) with such a hostile and denunciatory tone, that Satan, if he was present, (as the speaker half imagined), would have been almost justified in making reprisals. Amid the assumed consequence which passion, whether natural or artificial, always gives to a man of mediocrity, he felt himself withering in the wild laugh of the stranger. ‘You, — you!’ he exclaimed, after a burst of sound that seemed rather like the convulsion of a demoniac, than the mirth, however frantic, of a human being — ‘you! — oh, there’s metal more attractive! Satan himself, however depraved, has a better taste than to crunch such a withered scrap of orthodoxy as you between his iron teeth. No! — the interest I alluded to as possible for you to feel, refers to another one, for whom you ought to feel if possible more than for yourself. Now, worthy Aliaga, your personal fears being removed, sit and listen to my tale. You are sufficiently acquainted, through the medium of commercial feelings, and the general information which your habits have forced on you, with the history and manners of those heretics who inhabit the country called England.’

‘Don Francisco, as a merchant, avouched his knowledge of their being fair dealers, and wealthy liberal speculators in trade; but (crossing himself frequently) he pronounced his utter detestation of them as enemies to the holy church, and implored the stranger to believe that he would rather renounce the most advantageous contract he had ever made with them in the mercantile line, than be suspected of — ‘I suspect nothing,’ said the stranger, interrupting him, with that smile that spoke darker and bitterer things than the fiercest frown that ever wrinkled the features of man. — ‘Interrupt me no more, — listen, as you value the safety of a being of more value than all your race beside. You are acquainted tolerably with the English history, and manners, and habits; the latter events of their history are indeed in the mouths of all Europe.’ Aliaga was silent, and the stranger proceeded.

The Lovers’ Tale

‘In a part of that heretic country lies a portion of land they call Shropshire, (‘I have had dealings with Shrewsbury merchants,’ said Aliaga to himself, ‘they furnished goods, and paid bills with distinguished punctuality,’) — there stood Mortimer Castle, the seat of a family who boasted of their descent from the age of the Norman Conqueror, and had never mortgaged an acre, or cut down a tree, or lowered a banner on their towers at the approach of a foe, for five hundred years. Mortimer castle had held out during the wars of Stephen and Matilda, — it had even defied the powers that summoned it to capitulation alternately, (about once a week), during the struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster, — it had also disdained the summons of Richard and Richmond, as their successive blasts shook its battlements, while the armies of the respective leaders advanced to the field of Bosworth. The Mortimer family, in fact, by their power, their extensive influence, their immense wealth, and the independency of their spirit, had rendered themselves formidable to every party, and superior to all.

‘At the time of the Reformation, Sir Roger Mortimer, the descendant of this powerful family, vigorously espoused the cause of the Reformers; and when the nobility and gentry of the neighbourhood sent their usual dole, at Christmas, of beef and ale to their tenants, Sir Roger, with his chaplain attending him, went about from cottage to cottage, distributing Bibles in English, of the edition printed by Tyndal in Holland. But his loyalism prevailed so far, that he circulated along with them the uncouth print, cut out of his own copy, of the King (Henry VIII.) dispensing copies of the Bible from both hands, which the people, as represented in the engraving, caught at with theirs, and seemed to devour as the word of life, almost before it could reach them.

‘In the short reign of Edward, the family was protected and cherished; and the godly Sir Edmund, son and successor to Sir Roger, had the Bible laid open in his hall window, that while his domestics passed on their errands, as he expressed himself, — ‘he that runs may read.’ In that of Mary, they were oppressed, confiscated, and menaced. Two of their servants were burned at Shrewsbury; and it was said that nothing but a large sum, advanced to defray the expenses of the entertainments made at Court on the arrival of Philip of Spain, saved the godly Sir Edmund from the same fate.

‘Sir Edmund, to whatever cause he owed his safety, did not enjoy it long. He had seen his faithful and ancient servants brought to the stake, for the opinions he had taught them, — he had attended them in person to the awful spot, and seen the Bibles he had attempted to place in their hands flung into the flames, as they were kindled round them, — he had turned with tottering steps from the scene, but the crowd, in the triumph of their barbarity, gathered round, and kept him close, so that he not only involuntarily witnessed the whole spectacle, but felt the very heat of the flames that were consuming the bodies of the sufferers. Sir Edmund returned to Mortimer Castle, and died.

‘His successor, during the reign of Elizabeth, stoutly defended the rights of the Reformers, and sometimes grumbled at those of prerogative. These grumblings were said to have cost him dear — the court of purveyors charged him £3000, an enormous sum in those days, for an expected visit of the Queen and her court — a visit which was never paid. The money was, however, paid; and it was said that Sir Orlan de Mortimer raised part of the money by disposing of his falcons, the best in England, to the Earl of Leicester, the then favourite of the Queen.’ At all events, there was a tradition in the family, that when, on his last ride through his territorial demesne, Sir Orlando saw his favourite remaining bird fly from the falconer’s hand, and break her jesses, he exclaimed, ‘Let her fly; she knows the way to my lord of Leicester’s.’

‘During the reign of James, the Mortimer family took a more decided part. The influence of the Puritans (whom James hated with a hatred passing that of even a controversialist, and remembered with pardonable filial resentment, as the inveterate enemies of his ill-fated mother) was now increasing every hour. Sir Arthur Mortimer was standing by King James at the first representation of ‘Bartholomew Fair,’ written by Ben Jonson, when the prologue uttered these words:1

‘Your Majesty is welcome to a Fair;

Such place, such men, such language, and such ware,

You must expect — with these the zealous noise

Of your land’s faction, scandalized at toys.’

1 Vide Jonson’s play, in which is introduced a Puritan preacher, a Banbury man, named Zeal-of-the-land Busy.

‘My lord,’ said the King, (for Sir Arthur was one of the lords of the privy council), ‘how deem you by that?’ — ‘Please your Majesty,’ answered Sir Arthur, ‘those Puritans, as I rode to London, cut off mine horse’s tail, as they said the ribbons with which it was tied savoured too much of the pride of the beast on which the scarlet whore sits. Pray God their shears may never extend from the tails of horses to the heads of kings!’ And as he spoke with affectionate and ominous solicitude, he happened to place his hand on the head of Prince Charles, (afterwards Charles I.), who was sitting next his brother Henry, Prince of Wales, and to whom Sir Arthur Mortimer had had the high honour to be sponsor, as proxy for a sovereign prince.

‘The awful and troubled times which Sir Arthur had predicted soon arrived, though he did not live to witness them. His son, Sir Roger Mortimer, a man lofty alike in pride and in principle, and immoveable in both, — an Arminian in creed, and an aristocrat in politics, — the zealous friend of the misguided Laud, and the bosom-companion of the unfortunate Strafford, — was among the first to urge King Charles to those high-handed and impolitic measures, the result of which was so fatal.

‘When the war broke out between the King and the Parliament, Sir Roger espoused the royal cause with heart and hand, — raised a large sum in vain, to prevent the sale of the crown-jewels in Holland, — and led five hundred of his tenants, armed at his own expence, to the battles of Edge-hill and Marston-moor.

‘His wife was dead, but his sister, Mrs Ann Mortimer, a woman of uncommon beauty, spirit, and dignity of character, and as firmly attached as her brother to the cause of the court, of which she had been once the most brilliant ornament, presided over his household, and by her talents, courage, and promptitude, had been of considerable service to the cause.

‘The time came, however, when valour and rank, and loyalty and beauty, found all their efforts ineffectual; and of the five hundred brave men that Sir Roger had led into the field to his sovereign’s aid, he brought back thirty maimed and mutilated veterans to Mortimer Castle, on the disastrous day that King Charles was persuaded to put himself into the hands of the disaffected and mercenary Scots, who sold him for their arrears of pay due by the Parliament.

‘The reign of rebellion soon commenced, — and Sir Roger, as a distinguished loyalist, felt the severest scourge of its power. Sequestrations and compositions, — fines for malignancy, and forced loans for the support of a cause he detested, — drained the well-filled coffers, and depressed the high spirit, of the aged loyalist. Domestic inquietude was added to his other calamities. He had three children. — His eldest son had fallen fighting in the King’s cause at the battle of Newbury, leaving an infant daughter, then supposed the heiress of immense wealth. His second son had embraced the Puritanic cause, and, lapsing from error to error, married the daughter of an Independent, whose creed he had adopted; and, according to the custom of those days, fought all day at the head of his regiment, and preached and prayed to them all night, in strict conformity with that verse in the psalms, which served him alternately for his text and his battle-word — ‘Let the praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hands.’ This double exercise of the sword and the word, however, proved too much for the strength of the saint-militant; and after having, during Cromwell’s Irish campaign, vigorously headed the attack on Cloghan Castle,1 the ancient seat of the O’Moores, princes of Leix, — and being scalded through his buff-coat by a discharge of hot water from the bartizan, — and then imprudently given the word of exhortation for an hour and forty minutes to his soldiers, on the bare heath that surrounded the castle, and under a drenching rain, — he died of a pleurisy in three days, and left, like his brother, an infant daughter who had remained in England, and had been educated by her mother. It was said in the family, that this man had written the first lines of Milton’s poem ‘on the new forcers of conscience under the Long Parliament.’ It is certain, at least, that when the fanatics who surrounded his dying bed were lifting up their voices to sing a hymn, he thundered with his last breath,

‘Because ye have thrown off your prelate lord,

And with stiff vows renounce his Liturgy,

To seize the widowed w — e pluralitie,

From them whose sin ye envied not, abhorr’d,’ &c.’

1 I have been an inmate in this castle for many months — it is still inhabited by the venerable descendant of that ancient family. His son is now High-Sheriff of the King’s county. Half the castle was battered down by Oliver Cromwell’s forces, and rebuilt in the reign of Charles the Second. The remains of the castle are a tower of about forty feet square, and five stories high, with a single spacious apartment on each floor, and a narrow staircase communicating with each, and reaching to the bartizan. A beautiful ash-plant, which I have often admired, is now displaying its foliage between the stones of the bartizan, — and how it got or grew there, heaven only knows. There it is, however; and it is better to see it there than to feel the discharge of hot water or molten lead from the apertures.

‘Sir Roger felt, though from different causes, pretty much the same degree of emotion on the deaths of his two sons. He was fortified against affliction at the death of the elder, from the consolation afforded him by the cause in which he had fallen; and that in which the apostate, as his father always called him, had perished, was an equal preventive against his feeling any deep or bitter grief on his dissolution.

‘When his eldest son fell in the royal cause, and his friends gathered round him in officious condolence, the old loyalist replied, with a spirit worthy of the proudest days of classic heroism, ‘It is not for my dead son that I should weep, but for my living one.’ His tears, however, were flowing at that time for another cause.

‘His only daughter, during his absence, in spite of the vigilance of Mrs Ann, had been seduced by some Puritan servants in a neighbouring family, to hear an Independent preacher of the name of Sandal, who was then a Serjeant in Colonel Pride’s regiment, and who was preaching in a barn in the neighbourhood, in the intervals of his military exercises. This man was a natural orator, and a vehement enthusiast; and, with the license of the day, that compromised between a pun and a text, and delighted in the union of both, this serjeant-preacher had baptized himself by the name of — ‘Thou-art-not-worthy-to-unloose-the-latchets-of-his-shoes, — Sandal.’

‘This was the text on which he preached, and his eloquence had such effect on the daughter of Sir Roger Mortimer, that, forgetting the dignity of her birth, and the loyalty of her family, she united her destiny with this low-born man; and, believing herself to be suddenly inspired from this felicitous conjunction, she actually out-preached two female Quakers in a fortnight after their marriage, and wrote a letter (very ill-spelled) to her father, in which she announced her intention to ‘suffer affliction with the people of God,’ and denounced his eternal damnation, if he declined embracing the creed of her husband; which creed was changed the following week, on his hearing a sermon from the celebrated Hugh Peters, and a month after, on hearing an itinerant preacher of the Ranters or Antinomians, who was surrounded by a troop of licentious, half-naked, drunken disciples, whose vociferations of — ‘We are the naked truth,’ completely silenced a fifth-monarchy man, who was preaching from a tub on the other side of the road. To this preacher Sandal was introduced, and being a man of violent passions, and unsettled principles, he instantly embraced the opinions of the last speaker, (dragging his wife along with him into every gulph of polemical or political difficulty he plunged in), till he happened to hear another preacher of the Cameronians, whose constant topic, whether of triumph or of consolation, was the unavailing efforts made in the preceding reign, to force the Episcopalian system down the throats of the Scots; and, in default of a text, always repeated the words of Archy, jester to Charles the First, who, on the first intimation of the reluctance of the Scots to admit Episcopal jurisdiction, exclaimed to Archbishop Laud, ‘My Lord, who is the fool now?’ — for which he had his coat stripped over his head, and was forbid the court. So Sandal vacillated between creed and creed, between preacher and preacher, till he died, leaving his widow with one son. Sir Roger announced to his widowed daughter, his determined purpose never to see her more, but he promised his protection to her son, if entrusted to his care. The widow was too poor to decline compliance with the offer of her deserted father.

‘So in Mortimer Castle were, in their infancy, assembled the three grandchildren, born under such various auspices and destinies. Margaret Mortimer the heiress, a beautiful, intelligent, spirited girl, heiress of all the pride, aristocratical principle, and possible wealth of the family; Elinor Mortimer, the daughter of the Apostate, received rather than admitted into the house, and educated in all the strictness of her Independent family; and John Sandal, the son of the rejected daughter, whom Sir Roger admitted into the Castle only on the condition of his being engaged in the service of the royal family, banished and persecuted as they were; and he renewed his correspondence with some emigrant loyalists in Holland, for the establishment of his protegé, whom he described, in language borrowed from the Puritan preachers, as ‘a brand snatched from the burning.’

‘While matters were thus at the Castle, intelligence arrived of Monk’s unexpected exertions in favour of the banished family. The result was as rapid as it was auspicious. The Restoration took place within a few days after, and the Mortimer family were then esteemed of so much consequence, that an express, girthed from his waist to his shoulders, was dispatched from London to announce the intelligence. He arrived when Sir Roger, whose chaplain he had been compelled by the ruling party to dismiss as a malignant, was reading prayers himself to his family. The return and restoration of Charles the Second was announced. The old loyalist rose from his knees, waved his cap, (which he had reverently taken from his white head), and, suddenly changing his tone of supplication for one of triumph, exclaimed, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation!’ As he spoke, the old man sunk on the cushion which Mrs Ann had placed beneath his knees. His grandchildren rose from their knees to assist him, — it was too late, — his spirit had parted in that last exclamation.

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