THE FORCE OF FRIENDSHIP
A YOUNG cavalier of Toledo, accompanied by his valet-de-chambre, was journeying with all possible speed from the place of his birth, in order to avoid the consequences of a tragical adventure in which he had unfortunately been engaged. He was about two leagues from the town of Valencia, when, at the entrance of a wood, he fell in with a lady who was alighting hastily from a carriage. No veil obscured her charms, which were more than enough to dazzle a youthful beholder; and, as the lovely damsel appeared in trouble, it is not to be wondered that the cavalier, imagining that she sought assistance, offered her his protection and his services.Illustration: He was about two leagues from the town of Valencia, when, at the entrance of a wood, he fell in with a lady.
Generous unknown, said the lady, I will not refuse your proffered aid: Heaven it would seem, has sent you here to avert a dreadful misfortune. Two cavaliers have met to fight within this wood;—I this moment saw them enter. Hasten with me, I entreat you, and assist me to prevent their fatal design. As she spoke, she plunged into the forest, and the Toledan, throwing his horse's rein to his attendant, followed her as quickly as he was able.
They had not gone a hundred yards before they heard the clashing of arms, and almost immediately discovered the two gentlemen, who were thrusting at each other with becoming fury. The Toledan drew his sword but to separate theirs; and by its assistance, and by entreaties uttered in exclamations, he managed to suspend their pastime, while he inquired the subject of their difference.
Brave cavalier, said one of the combatants, you see in me, Don Fabricio de Mendoza, and in my opponent, Don Alvaro Ponza. We both love Donna Theodora, the lady by whom you are accompanied; but we love to little purpose, for, despite our endeavours to win her affections, she treats our attentions with disdain. For myself, I should have been contented to worship an unwilling deity; but my rival, instead of acting with as much wisdom, has resolved to have the shrine to himself, and so has brought me here.
It is true, interrupted Don Alvaro, that I have so determined; and it is because I believe that, my rival away, Donna Theodora might deign to listen to my vows. I seek then the life of Don Fabricio, to rid myself of a man who stands in the way of my happiness.
Signor Cavalier, said the Toledan, I cannot approve of your reasons for duelling; besides that, you are injuring the lady who is the object of your strife. You must be aware that it will soon be known that you have been fighting for her; and the honour of your mistress should surely be dearer to you than happiness or life itself. And what, too, can he who may be successful expect to gain by his victory? Can he hope that, after having staked a lady's reputation on the quarrel, she will thank him for his folly? What madness! Believe me, it were far better, that, acting as becomes the names you bear, you should control your jealous wrath. Be men! and pledge me your sacred words to bind yourselves by the terms I shall propose to you, and your quarrel may be adjusted without a deed of blood.
Ah! but how? cried Don Alvaro. Why, replied the Toledan, let the lady determine the question; let her choose between yourself and Don Fabricio; and let the slighted lover, instead of seeking to injure his more fortunate rival, leave the field at once. Agreed! said Don Alvaro; and I swear it by all that is sacred. Let Donna Theodora decide between us. She may prefer, if she will, my rival to myself: this even would be less unbearable than the dread suspense in which I now exist. And I, said Don Fabricio in his turn,—I call Heaven to witness, that if the divine object of my love declares not in my favour, I will fly from the sight of her perfections; and if I cannot forget them, I will at least behold them no more.
On this the Toledan, turning to Donna Theodora, said: Madam, it is for you now, by a single word, to disarm these two rivals for your love: you have only to name him whose constancy your favours would reward. Signor cavalier, replied the lady, try some other means of reconciling them. Why should I become the victim of their disagreement? I esteem, in all sincerity, both Don Fabricio and Don Alvaro; but I love neither: and it were surely unjust, that, to prevent the stain with which their disputes may sully my name, I should be compelled to excite hopes that my heart disavows.
It is too late to dissemble, Madame, resumed the Toledan; you must now declare yourself. Although these cavaliers are equally good-looking, I doubt not that you can discern more merit in one than in the other; and I am confirmed in that opinion by the alarm with which but now I saw you agitated.
You misinterpret that alarm, replied Donna Theodora. The loss of either of these gentlemen would affect me beyond a doubt, and I should never cease to reproach myself with his death, although its innocent cause; but if I appeared to you greatly agitated, I can assure you that it was the peril to which my own honour was exposed that excited all my fear.
The impetuous Don Alvaro Ponza now lost all patience. Enough! he exclaimed, with an air of fury; since the lady refuses to end the matter peaceably, let the fate of arms decide; and, as he spoke, he raised his weapon against Don Fabricio, who on his part prepared to receive him.
On this, the lady, more alarmed by the fury of Don Alvaro than decided by her own inclination, exclaimed wildly: Hold! noble cavaliers; I will do as you desire. Since there is no other means of preventing a strife in which my reputation is involved, I declare in favour of Don Fabricio de Mendoza.
These words had no sooner escaped her lips, than the discarded Ponza, without uttering a syllable, hastened to his horse, which he had fastened to a tree, released it, threw himself into the saddle, and disappeared, after casting one look of intense fury on his rival and implacable mistress. The fortunate Mendoza, on the contrary, was in ecstacies; now humbling himself in his joy at the feet of Donna Theodora, and now embracing the Toledan, unable to contain the satisfaction with which his heart was filled, or to find words to express his gratitude.
In the meanwhile the lady, freed from the presence of the burning Don Alvaro, had become more tranquil; and it was with grief she reflected that she had engaged to permit the addresses of a lover, whom, while she truly esteemed his merit, her heart told her she could never love.
Signor Don Fabricio, she said to him, timidly, I trust you will not abuse the preference I have just avowed for you: you owe it only to the necessity in which I found myself placed of declaring between yourself and Don Alvaro. I can say with truth that I have ever thought more highly of you than of him;—there are noble qualities that you possess of which Alvaro cannot boast: I have always looked on you with justice as the most perfect cavalier Valencia contains; I have even no hesitation in saying that the attentions of such a man would be flattering to the vanity of any woman; but, how honourable soever they might be to me, I feel bound to tell you that my heart is still untouched, and that it is with sorrow I behold in you an affection for myself so great as your every action displays. I will not, however, take from you all hope of winning my affections; my present indifference may arise from the effects of that grief which still fills my bosom for the loss of my late husband, Don Andrea de Cifuentes, who died about a year ago. Although we were not long united, and although he was advanced in years when my parents, dazzled by his riches, compelled me to espouse him, I was yet much afflicted by his loss, and the wound is still green which his death inflicted.
Ah! was he not worthy of my regret? she added. He was indeed unlike those aged and jealous tyrants, who, unable to persuade themselves that a youthful wife can be virtuous enough to excuse their weakness, watch all her motions with suspicion, or place over her some hideous duenna as a spy. Alas! he had in my honour a confidence of which a young and much-loved husband would be hardly capable. His kindness was unbounded, and his only study, to anticipate my every wish. You may suppose, then, Mendoza, that such a man as Don Andrea de Cifuentes is not easily forgotten. No! he is ever present in my thoughts; and the fond recollection of his amiability and love for me may excuse my indifference for objects which might otherwise attract me.
Ah! Madam, exclaimed Don Fabricio, interrupting Donna Theodora, how great is my delight to learn from those lovely lips that it is from no dislike for myself that you have slighted all my cares! I can still then hope that the day will come when my constancy may be rewarded. It will not be my fault if that do not happen, replied the lady, since I consent that you should visit me, and will not forbid you to speak to me of love. You shall strive, then, to win me to the world and to yourself by your attentions; and I promise to conceal not from you any favourable impression you may make: but if, Mendoza, despite your efforts, my heart refuses to be happy, remember that I give you no right to reproach me.
Don Fabricio was about to reply; but the lady, placing her hand in that of the Toledan, turned away, and hastened towards her carriage. He therefore unbound his horse, and leading it through the thicket by the bridle, followed his mistress, and arrived just in time to see her enter the vehicle, which she did with as much agitation as she had left it, although arising from a very different cause. The Toledan and himself accompanied Donna Theodora to the gate of Valencia, where they separated,—she taking the road to her own house, and Don Fabricio taking the Toledan with him to his.
After a slight repose, Mendoza entertained the stranger with a sumptuous repast, and in the course of conversation asked him what had brought him to Valencia, and whether he proposed to stay there for any time. For as short a time as possible, replied the Toledan; I am here only on my way to the sea, that I may embark in the first vessel that leaves the shores of Spain. It matters little to me in what part of the world I go to end a life of unhappiness, except that the more distant from this fatal clime the better.
What do I hear? exclaimed Don Fabricio with surprise. What can have disgusted you with your native land, and caused you to look with hate on that which all men love so fondly? After what has occurred to me, replied the Toledan, my country is to me unbearable, and to leave it, for ever, my only desire. Ah! signor cavalier, cried Mendoza, affected with compassion, I am impatient to learn your misfortunes! If I cannot relieve them, I am at least disposed to share them. Your appearance from the first prepossessed me in your favour, your bearing and manners charmed me, and already I feel deeply interested in your destiny.
You afford me, signor Don Fabricio, replied the Toledan, the greatest consolation I could receive; and in return for the kindness you are pleased to express for me, it delights me to be able to say, with truth, that on seeing you with Don Alvaro Ponza my heart inclined towards yourself. A feeling, with which I never was inspired at the first sight of any one before, made me fear lest Donna Theodora should decide in favour of your rival; and it was with joy I heard her state her preference for you. Since then, you have so gained upon that first impression, that, far from desiring to conceal my griefs, I seek with a sort of pleasure to unbosom them to you: Learn then my misfortunes.
I was born in Toledo, and my name is Don Juan de Zarata. I lost my parents while almost in my infancy; so that at an early age I found myself in the enjoyment of a yearly income of four thousand ducats, which I inherited from them. As my hand was at my own disposal, and as I was rich enough to be able to bestow it where my heart should dictate, I married, early, a maiden of exquisite beauty; careless that she added nothing to my fortune, and that her rank was inferior to my own. I loved her, and I was happy; and that I might enjoy to the full the pleasure of possessing one so dear to me, I had not been long married before I sought with her a small estate which I possessed a few leagues from Toledo.
We lived there, for some time, in unity and bliss; when it chanced that the Duke de Naxera, whose seat was in the neighbourhood, came one day, when he was hunting, to refresh himself at my house. He saw my wife, and unfortunately became enamoured of her. I suspected his passion from the first; and was not long before I was too certainly convinced of its existence by the eagerness with which he sought my friendship, that up to this time he had wholly neglected. His hunting parties were now never complete without me; he loaded me with presents, and still more with his offers of service.
I became alarmed by his evident design, and prepared for our return to Toledo. Heaven doubtless inspired me with this resolution; for, had I acted upon it, and thus taken from the Duke his opportunities of seeing my wife, I should have avoided all the misfortunes which followed a contrary course. My confidence in her virtue, however, soon reassured me. It appeared to me impossible that a being whom I had raised from obscurity to her present position, from motives of affection alone, could be ungrateful enough to consent to my disgrace. Alas! I little thought that ambition and vanity, two feelings common to every woman, were the greatest vices in the character of my wife.
No sooner, therefore, had the Duke managed to inform her of his sentiments towards her, than she took credit to herself for so important a conquest. The attachment of a man approached by all the world with the titles of Your Grace and Your Highness tickled her pride, and filled her mind with the most absurd notions; so that she was indefinitely exalted in her own opinion, and thought the less of me. All that I had done for love of her, instead of exciting feelings of gratitude, now appeared but a contemptible offering to her charms, of which she no longer thought me worthy; and she seems not to have doubted that if the noble duke, who flattered her by his homage, had seen her before she had thrown herself away on me, he would have eagerly sought her hand. Infatuated by these absurd notions, and seduced by some well-timed presents which flattered her vanity, she yielded to the secret assiduities of his grace.
Although they corresponded frequently, I had not for some time the slightest suspicion of their communications; but, at last, my eyes were unfortunately opened to my disgrace. One day I returned from hunting somewhat earlier than usual, and went directly to the apartment of my wife, who expected nothing less than to see me. She had just received a letter from her paramour, and was at the moment preparing a reply. She could not disguise her emotion at my unexpected coming; and as I perceived on the table paper and ink, I trembled,—for the truth rushed on my mind with the speed of all unwelcome conclusions. I commanded her to shew me what she was writing, which she refused; so that I was compelled to use violence in order to satisfy my jealous curiosity, and drew from her bosom, in spite of her resistance, a letter which was to the following effect:—
"Must I for ever languish in the despair of seeing thee again? Hast thou then cruelty enough to call sweet hopes into my heart, and let the short-lived blisses perish from delay? Don Juan leaves thee daily for the chase, or to repair to Toledo: would not Love then snatch these happy opportunities with eager joy? Think of the passion which consumes my life! Pity me, lady! and remember that if the happiness is great we hope to share, the greater is the torment which bars us its possession."
As I read this epistle, my blood boiled with fury. My hand sought the hilt of my stiletto, and my first inclination was to plunge it in the unfaithful breast of her who had betrayed me; but a moment's reflection told me that I should thus revenge but half my shame, and that another victim was demanded to appease my wrath. I therefore controlled myself, and, dissimulating as well as I was able, said to my wife: Madam, you have done wrong in listening to the Duke; the splendour of his rank should not have been sufficient to dazzle you. However, youth finds delight in the trappings of nobility; and I am willing to believe that your guilt extends no further, and that my honour is still in safe keeping with you. I forgive, then, your want of discretion; but it is on condition that you return to the paths of duty, and that henceforth, sensible to the affection which animates my bosom, you will think it enough to deserve it.
I did not wait for a reply, but left the apartment; as much to give her an opportunity of collecting herself, as to seek that solitude in which alone my mind could free itself from the anger which inflamed me. If I did not regain my tranquillity, I at least affected an air of composure during that and the following day; and on the third, pretending to have business of importance which called me to Toledo, I told my wife that I was obliged to leave her for some time, and that I did so in full confidence of her virtue and good conduct.
I set out; but, instead of going to Toledo, as soon as night came to assist my project, I returned home secretly, and concealed myself in the room of a trusty servant, whence I could observe any one who entered the house. I had no doubt that the duke was informed of my absence, and that he would not fail to make the most of so desirable a circumstance. How I longed to surprise them together! I promised myself an ample vengeance.
Nevertheless, I was deceived in my expectations. Instead of remarking any preparations for the reception of an expected lover, I on the contrary perceived that the doors were scrupulously closed against every body; and three days having passed without the appearance of the duke, or any of his people, I began to think that my wife had repented of her fault, and that she had broken off all connection with her seducer.
As this opinion took possession of my mind, my desire of revenge dissipated; until, at last, yielding to those emotions of affection for my wife which anger had only suspended, I hastened to her apartment, and, embracing her with transport, exclaimed: Madam, I restore you my esteem and my love. I come to tell you that I have not been to Toledo, but that I pretended to have gone there only to test your discretion. You can forgive this deception in a husband whose jealousy was not entirely without foundation. I feared lest your mind, seduced by too brilliant illusions, should be incapable of a return to virtue; but, thank Heaven! you have seen your error, and I trust that our felicity may henceforth be unbroken.
My wife appeared affected at these words, and, while tears fell from her eyes, exclaimed: Unhappy have I been, to give you reason to suspect my fidelity! In vain do I detest myself for having so justly excited your anger against me! In vain is it that, since I saw you, my eyes have unceasingly o'erflowed with tears; my grief and my remorse are alike unavailing; I can never regain the confidence I have lost. I restore it to you, I replied, interrupting her, afflicted by the sorrow which she displayed—I restore it to you; you have repented of the past; and I will, too gladly, forget it.
I kept my word; and, from that moment, my love for her was as great and as confiding as ever. I began again to taste those joys which had been so cruelly interrupted; they came to me, indeed, with redoubled zest; for my wife, as though she had been anxious to efface from my recollection all traces of the injury she had done me, took greater pains to please me. I thought I found more warmth in her caresses; in short, I almost rejoiced at the event which had told me how much was still left for me to love.
Shortly after our reconciliation I was seized with illness. Although my ailment was not alarming, it is inconceivable how deeply it appeared to afflict my wife. All day she was by my side; and at night, as I was in a separate room, she never failed to visit me frequently, that she might convince herself of the progress of my recovery: her whole care appeared devoted to me, and all her anxiety to anticipate my every want; it seemed as though her own life depended solely on mine. You may suppose that I was not insensible to all this show of tenderness, and I was never weary of expressing to her my gratitude for her attentions. However, Signor Mendoza, they were not so sincere as I imagined.
My health was beginning to improve, when, one night, my valet-de-chambre came to awaken me. Signor, said he, with emotion, I am sorry to disturb your repose; but I am too much interested in your honour to conceal from you what is at this moment passing beneath your roof. The Duke of Naxera is with my mistress.
I was so astounded by this information, that I looked for some time at my servant without being able to speak; and the more I thought of what he told me, the more difficulty I found in believing it. No! Fabio, at last I said to him; no, it is impossible that my wife can be capable of such infamy! You must be mistaken. Signor, replied Fabio; would to Heaven that I could think so! But my eyes are not easily deceived. Ever since you have been ill, I have suspected that the duke was introduced almost nightly into my lady's apartment. This evening, I concealed myself, to confirm or dispel my suspicions; but I have but too good reason to know that they were not unfounded.
I hesitated no longer; but arose, and putting on my dressing gown, armed myself with my sword, and went in a perfect phrenzy towards my wife's chamber, Fabio following with a light. As we entered the room, the alarmed duke, who was sitting on the bed, rose, and taking a pistol from his girdle, aimed at me and fired; but thanks to his confusion, he missed me. I rushed on him, and in a moment thrust my sword into his heart. Then turning to my wife, who was already more dead than alive: and you! said I, infamous wretch, receive the reward of your perfidy. And so saying, I plunged my sword, still reeking with the blood of her paramour, into her bosom.Illustration: I plunged my sword, still reeking with the blood of her paramour, into her bosom.
I am sensible of the crime my fury induced me to commit; and I acknowledge, Signor Don Fabricio, that a faithless spouse may be sufficiently punished without taking her life; but where is the man who, under such excitement, could have preserved the cool temperament of the judge? Picture to yourself this perfidious woman attending me in sickness; imagine, if you can, all that display of affection which she lavished upon me; think of all the circumstances,—of the enormity of her deception, and then say if her death weighs heavily against a husband animated with rage, to whom all this comes suddenly as lightning from the cloud.
My tragical history is finished in a few words. My vengeance thus fully satiated, I dressed hastily, certain that I had no time to lose; for I knew well that the duke's relations would search for me in every corner of Spain, and that, as the power of my own family would be but as a feather in the scale to turn their wrath, there was no safety for me but in a foreign country. I therefore chose two of my best horses, and taking with me all the jewels and money I possessed, I left my house before daybreak, followed by the servant of whose fidelity I had recently been so well assured, and took the road to Valencia with the intention of sailing in the first vessel which should steer for Italy. It thus happened that, passing yesterday near the wood in which you were, I met Donna Theodora, and, at her entreaty, followed to assist in separating yourself and Don Alvaro.
When the Toledan had ended this narrative, Don Fabricio said to him: Signor Don Juan, you have justly avenged yourself on the Duke de Naxera. Be not alarmed as to anything his relations can do; you shall stay, if you please, with me, until an opportunity offers for your passage into Italy. My uncle is governor of Valencia; you will therefore be more secure from danger here than elsewhere, and you will remain with one who would be united with you henceforth in bonds of strictest friendship.
Zarata replied to Mendoza in terms which expressed his grateful sense of the former's kindness, and at once accepted the proffered asylum. And now it is, Signor Don Cleophas, continued Asmodeus, that I shall exhibit to you the power of sympathy: such was the inclination which drew these two young cavaliers towards each other, that, in a few days, there existed between them a friendship not surpassed by that of Orestes and Pylades. With dispositions alike formed for virtue, they possessed a similarity of tastes which was certain to render that which pleased Don Fabricio equally agreeable to Don Juan—their characters were identical; in short, they were formed for each other. Don Fabricio, especially, was charmed with the deportment of his new friend; and lost no opportunity of endeavouring to exalt him in the estimation of the Donna Theodora.
This lady now received them frequently at her house; but, though her doors were open at the bidding of Mendoza, her heart was still inaccessible to his attentions. Mortified to find his love thus slighted, he could not forbear complaining of her indifference to his friend, who endeavoured to console him with the assurance that the most insensible of women might be won to feeling at the last, and that nothing was wanting to lovers but patience to await for the favourable moment: he bade him then to keep up his courage, and to hope that, sooner or later, his mistress would yield to his assiduity and affection. This advice, though philosophical enough, was insufficient to assure the timid Mendoza, who began to despair of success with the widow of Cifuentes; and the anxiety of suspense so preyed upon his spirits, that Don Juan could not behold him without feelings of compassion. Alas! poor Don Juan was himself ere long more to be pitied than his friend.
Whatever reason the Toledan had to be disgusted with the sex, after the abominable treachery he had met with, he could not long look upon the Donna Theodora without loving her. Far, however, from yielding to a passion which he felt to be an injury to Mendoza, he struggled with all his might to vanquish it; and convinced that this was only to be accomplished by flying from the bright eyes which had kindled the flame, he wisely resolved to shun the lady who possessed them. Consequently, whenever Don Fabricio asked his company to his mistress's house, he managed to find some pretext to excuse himself from going with him.
On the other hand, Mendoza never went to see the Donna Theodora, but she asked him why he no longer was accompanied by Don Juan. One day, when, for the hundredth time, she put this question to her lover, the latter answered, smiling, that his friend had his reasons for absenting himself. And what reasons, then, can he have for flying me? said Donna Theodora. Why, madam, replied Mendoza; yesterday, when I pressed him, as usual, to come with me, and expressed some surprise at his refusal to do so, he confided to me a secret, which I must reveal in order to justify him in your eyes. He told me that he had formed a liaison in Valencia; and, that as he had not long to stay in this town, every moment was precious to him.
I cannot exactly admit the validity of his excuse, replied the widow of Cifuentes, blushing; it is not permitted to lovers that they should abandon their friends. Don Fabricio, who observed the colour which tinged the cheeks of the Donna Theodora, thought that self-love alone had caused the blush, and that, like all pretty women, she could not bear to be neglected, even by a person who was indifferent to her. He was, however, deceived. A deeper feeling than wounded vanity inspired the emotion she displayed. She loved: but for fear that Mendoza should discover her sentiments, she changed the subject, and, during the conversation that followed, affected a gaiety which would have deceived him, had he not already deceived himself.
As soon as Donna Theodora was alone, she abandoned herself to reflection. Then, for the first time, she felt all the strength of the attachment she had conceived for Don Juan; and, little thinking how deeply that feeling was shared by its object,—Oh Love! she cried; cruel and unjust art thou, who delightest to kindle passion in the hearts of those who care not for each other! I love not Don Fabricio, and he adores me; I languish for Don Juan, and his heart is possessed by another. Ah! Mendoza, reproach me not with my indifference for thee; thy friend has indeed avenged thee.
As she spoke, grief filled her eyes with tears, and jealousy possessed her breast; but Hope, who loves to soothe the sorrows of despairing lovers, took refuge in her mind, and filled it with bright images of joys to come. It suggested to her that her rival could not be very formidable, and that Don Juan was less the captive of her charms than the object of her favours, and that the ties which bound them could not therefore be difficult to break. She resolved, however, to judge for herself, and at once to see the Toledan. With this view she sent word that she wished to speak with him: he came; and, when they were alone, she thus addressed him:
I could never have believed that love could make a gallant man forgetful of his duties to a lady; nevertheless, Don Juan, since it has possessed you, you have become a stranger to my house. I think I have a right to upbraid you for this neglect; I am unwilling, however, to believe that you have yourself resolved to shun me, and will suppose that your mistress has forbidden your coming here. Tell me, Don Juan, that it is so, and I will excuse you. I know a lover is not master of his will, and that he dares not disobey the woman to whom he has resigned it.
Madam, replied the Toledan, I confess that my conduct may reasonably surprise you; but, in pity, ask me not to justify myself: content yourself with hearing from my lips that I shun you not without good cause. Whatever may be that cause, interrupted Donna Theodora, visibly affected, I request you will not conceal it. Well, madam, replied Don Juan, you shall be obeyed; but be not angry if you learn from me more than you would wish to know.
Don Fabricio, he continued, has doubtless related to you the adventure which compelled me to quit Castile. In flying from Toledo, my heart filled with hatred against womankind, I bade defiance to the sex ever to touch that heart again. With this disposition, I approached Valencia; I met you, and, what perhaps none have ever sustained before, I met your eyes without yielding to their influence. I saw you again and again with impunity; but, alas! dearly have I paid for my pride of heart. You have conquered! Your beauty, your mind,—all your charms were turned against a rebel to your sway; in a word, I feel for you now all the love that you were formed by nature to inspire.
This, madam, is what has driven me from your sight. The mistress, to whom they told you I was devoted, exists but in the imagination of Mendoza; and it was to prevent in him a suspicion of the truth, which my constant refusals to accompany him here might have engendered, that I conjured her into life.
This confession, unexpected as it was by Donna Theodora, could not fail to fill her bosom with delight, nor could she conceal it from the Toledan. It is true she took no great pains to do so, and that, instead of regarding him with indignation for his presumption, her eyes beamed with tenderness as she said: You have revealed to me your secret, Don Juan; it is fair that I should discover mine to you: Listen!
Regardless of the overtures of Alvaro Ponza, and little affected by the addresses of Mendoza, I lived in tranquil joy, when chance brought you to the wood where we met. Agitated as I was by the scene which then was passing, I was nevertheless struck by the gentle and respectful manner in which you offered me your services; and the frankness and courage which you displayed in separating the two furious rivals for my love, inspired me with the most favourable opinion of your character. The means by which you proposed to terminate their disputes, indeed, displeased me, and it was with repugnance that I resolved to choose between the combatants; but, I believe I must not disguise from you, that yourself in great part contributed to increase the difficulty of my decision. At the moment when, compelled by necessity, my tongue proclaimed the name of Don Fabricio, I felt that my heart had already declared in favour of the unknown. From that day, which, after what you have just avowed, I may call a happy one, your virtues have constantly augmented the esteem you then inspired.
Why should I affect to hide these feelings from you? I confess them with no greater candour than I told Mendoza that I loved him not. A woman whose misfortune is to love a being whom she may not hope to wed, may bury in her heart the passion which consumes it; but when her bosom's lord is one who nourishes an equal tenderness for her, silence were weakness, and dissimulation shame. Yes, I am indeed happy that your love is mine, and I render thanks to Heaven, which I trust has destined us for each other.
Having thus spoken, the lady waited for Don Juan's answer, and to give him an opportunity of expressing all the gratitude which she naturally thought the declaration she had made must inspire; but her lover, instead of appearing enchanted by the confession he had just listened to, remained sad and thoughtful.
What means this silence? she at length exclaimed. What! when for you, Zarata, I forget my sex's pride; and, what another would have deemed a fate to envy, shew you a heart all filled with love for you,—can you repel the bliss which such a heart bestows;—be coldly silent to its fond disclosure, and look with grief when all things promise joy? Alas! Don Juan, my kindness for you has a strange effect, indeed.
And what other, madam, can it have upon a heart like mine? replied the Toledan, mournfully. The greater kindness you avow for me, the greater is the misery I suffer. You are not ignorant of all I owe to Don Fabricio; you know the tender friendship which unites us: can I then build my happiness upon the ruins of his dearest hopes? You are too scrupulous, resumed the Donna Theodora: I have promised to Mendoza nothing. I can bestow my love, nor merit his reproaches; and you may well accept it, nor yet do him a wrong. I acknowledge that the sorrows of your friend may cause you some unhappiness; but, Don Juan, can that o'erbalance in your mind the destiny which waits you?
Yes, Madam, replied the Toledan, with respectful firmness; a friend like Don Fabricio has greater weight with me than you can well imagine. Could you possibly conceive the tenderness, the strength of that feeling which binds us to each other, you would pity me indeed. Mendoza has no secrets now with me; my interests have become his own; the slightest matter which concerns myself commands his strict regard: in a word, madam, I share his soul with you.
Ah! if you wished me to profit by your kindness, you should have disclosed it ere those ties were formed which bind me now to him. Delighted to have won your affections, I should then have seen in Don Fabricio but a rival; and my heart, steeled against the friendship which he offered to me, would have escaped its bonds; I should then have been free from all obligation towards him: but, madam, it is now too late. I have received all the services it was in his power to render me; I have indulged all the feelings which those services induced; gratitude and esteem now unite to reduce me to the cruel necessity of renouncing the inestimable prize you present for my acceptance.
While the Toledan was speaking thus, tears fell fast from the eyes of Donna Theodora; and, as he concluded, she hid her face in her handkerchief to conceal her distress. Don Juan was of course affected; his constancy began to evaporate, and he felt that his stay was dangerous. Adieu, madam, he continued, while sighs impeded his utterance,—adieu! I must fly to preserve my honour; your tears overcome me—all else I could withstand. I leave you for ever; and go, far hence, to deplore the loss of that happiness which my friendship for Don Fabricio inexorably demands as a sacrifice. And as he finished, he hastily retired, with as much resolution as just enabled him to do so.
After his departure, the widow of Cifuentes was distracted by a thousand conflicting emotions. She felt ashamed at having declared her love to a man whom its bright temptation had not won; but, unable to doubt his affection for her person, and assured that his refusal of her hand originated in no other feeling than an unexampled constancy for his friend, she was sufficiently reasonable to admire so rare an instance of virtue. Nevertheless, as it is in the nature of men, and more particularly in the nature of women, to feel annoyed when all things do not happen as they wish, she resolved to go into the country on the morrow, in order to dissipate her grief, or rather to augment it; for Solitude is nurse to Love, and strengthens the young passion while he strives to hush its cries.Illustration: For Solitude is nurse to Love, and strengthens the young passion while he strives to hush its cries.
Meanwhile, Don Juan, not finding Mendoza on his return, shut himself in his own apartment, and gave way to the affliction he had restrained during his interview with Donna Theodora; for, after what he had sacrificed to friendship, he felt himself at liberty to indulge in grief for its loss. It was not long however before Mendoza came to break on his retirement, and judging by his friend's appearance that he was ill, he displayed so much uneasiness that Don Juan was obliged to plead a want of rest, in order to account for his altered looks. Mendoza left him to repose; but he went out with so much grief depicted on his countenance, that the Toledan was still more afflicted by his sympathy. Oh Heaven! he exclaimed, why is it that the most tender friendship should bring to me nothing but misfortune?
On the following day, Don Fabricio was yet in bed, when they came to inform him that Donna Theodora had set out, with all her establishment, for her seat at Villareal, and that it was unlikely she would shortly return to Valencia. This information caused him less inquietude on account of his severance from the object of his devotion, than because a mystery had been made to him of her departure. Without being able to determine on its cause, a gloomy presentiment pervaded his mind as to its effect on his happiness.
He instantly arose, that he might seek his friend, as much to converse with him on the subject which occupied his mind, as to inquire the state of Zarata's health; but, before he had completed his toilet, Don Juan entered his room, saying: I come to dissipate whatever apprehension you may entertain for me; I feel myself again restored to health. The good news you tell me, replied Mendoza, consoles me somewhat for the unwelcome intelligence I have just received. Ah! what is that? asked the Toledan anxiously. Why, replied Don Fabricio, after having dismissed his attendants, Donna Theodora has gone this morning into the country, where they expect she will remain for some time. This sudden resolution astonishes me.
Why has it been concealed? What think you, Don Juan? Have I not cause to be alarmed? Zarata took good care not to communicate his real thoughts upon the subject, but endeavoured to persuade Mendoza that Donna Theodora might change her residence without giving him any reason for alarm. Don Fabricio, however, unconvinced by the arguments of his friend, interrupted him, saying: That is all very well, Zarata; but you cannot remove my fears of having imprudently done or said something which has displeased the Donna Theodora; and it is to punish my indiscretion that she leaves me without deigning even to inform me of my fault.
I will not, however, remain in uncertainty. Let us hasten, Don Juan, to follow her; I will at once order our horses. I would advise you, said the Toledan, to seek her alone; if it be as you think, witnesses are worse than needless. Don Juan cannot be unwelcome, replied Mendoza; Donna Theodora is aware that you know all that passes in my heart: she esteems you; and far from being in my way, you will assist me to appease her anger against me.
No, no, Fabricio, replied the Toledan, my presence will avail you nothing. Take my advice, and go alone, I conjure you! Again no, my dear Don Juan, interrupted Mendoza, we will go together; I expect this kindness of your friendship. What tyranny! exclaimed the Toledan, with evident vexation; why ask you of my friendship what that very feeling should deny you most?
These words, which Don Fabricio could not comprehend, and the tone in which they were uttered, surprised him greatly. He looked at his friend for some time without speaking. At last, he said to him gravely: Don Juan what mean you? What horrible suspicion breaks upon my mind? Ah! it is too much, to wound me by your terrible constraint! Speak! Whence arises this unwillingness to accompany me to Donna Theodora?
I would have concealed it from you, replied the Toledan; but, since you compel me to disclose the truth, I will dissimulate no longer. Let us, my dear Mendoza, no more rejoice in the similarity of our dispositions; it is but too perfect: the shafts which wounded you, have neither spared your friend. Donna Theodora. . . . What! you my rival? interrupted Don Fabricio, turning pale as death. From the instant that my love for the widow of Cifuentes became apparent to myself, replied Don Juan, I strove to stifle the passion. I have, as you know, sedulously avoided her sight: I at least triumphed over my feelings, if I could not destroy them.
Yesterday, however, Donna Theodora sent word that she desired to see me. I went to her; when she asked me why I seemed to shun her. I endeavoured to excuse myself as well as I was able; but, as my excuses did not satisfy her, I was compelled at last to avow the real cause of my absence. I imagined that, after this declaration, she would have approved the motives of my apparent neglect; but my unlucky star had decreed—shall I tell you? yes, Mendoza, it is useless attempting to deceive you,—I found Theodora disposed to favour my love.
Although Don Fabricio was one of the mildest and most reasonable of men, yet, at this confession, he was seized with a fury beyond his control; and, again interrupting his friend, he exclaimed: Hold! Don Juan, plunge at once your dagger in my breast; but continue not this fatal recital. What! not contented with avowing your passion for her whom I adore, must you tell me too that your love is returned? By Heaven! this is a strange confidence you dare to venture on with me. You put our friendship to a test indeed. But what say I! our friendship? You have broken it, in nourishing the traitorous feelings you have just imparted.
Oh! how have I been deceived! I thought you generous even to excess, and find you basely false; stooping to win the heart of her whose love were insult to your friend. This is indeed an unexpected blow; and falls with double weight, since coming from the hand . . . Do me more justice, in his turn interrupted the Toledan; reflect with patience ere you speak: I am not the traitor which you deem me. Hear me! You will repent the injuries you heap upon your friend.
Don Juan then related all that had passed between the widow of Cifuentes and himself, the tender confession she had made to him of love, and all the arguments she used to win him to indulge his own. He repeated to him then his firm reply; and, as he spoke of the determination he displayed, the wrath of Don Fabricio yielded by degrees. In short, added Don Juan, friendship conquered love; and I rejected that of Donna Theodora, despite her tears. But, Gods, those tears! what trouble filled my soul at sight of them! I cannot recollect them now without trembling at the danger I encountered. I began to feel myself relent; and, for a few moments, Mendoza, my heart indeed betrayed you. I did not, however, yield to my weakness, but escaped those dangerous tears by hasty flight. Still it is not enough to have gone safely through the past,—the future must be feared. I shall therefore hasten my departure from Valencia; I will no more behold the lovely Theodora. And now, will Don Fabricio accuse his friend of ingratitude and perfidy?
No! replied Mendoza, embracing the Toledan; my eyes are opened, and I find him faithful as my heart could wish. Pardon those unjust reproaches to a jealous lover, who in a moment finds himself deprived of all his hopes. Alas! should I have expected that the Donna Theodora could have long beheld you, and have failed to love?—that she could resist the influence of those attractions which at once so drew you to myself? No! and I embrace my friend again. I attribute my misfortunes but to destiny; and, far from feeling hatred to yourself, my affection is increased by your noble conduct. What! can you renounce for me possession of the lovely Theodora,—can you yield for friendship's sake so great a prize, and shall I be insensible of the sacrifice? Can you conquer the passion which consumes you, and shall I make no endeavour so to vanquish mine? No! I will not be outdone in generosity of soul. Obey, Don Juan, the dictate of your heart; espouse the object of our mutual affections; my heart may groan in secret if it will; be it so! Mendoza intreats you to consult your own.
In vain do you intreat me, replied Zarata: I love her but too dearly, as I have told you; but, Mendoza, your happiness shall never be the price of mine. And the happiness of Donna Theodora, said Don Fabricio, shall that then count for nothing? Let not false delicacy weigh with us now: her passion for yourself has ended all my hopes. What though, for me, you shunned those fatal eyes, to lead in distant lands a life of woe,—what would it serve me now? She loves me not, and never will; Heaven reserved that bliss for you alone. From the moment that she saw you, her heart declared for you; nature prompted the emotion: in a word, you alone can render her happy. Receive then the heart she offers with her hand; crown her desires and your own; leave me to my fate; and make not three persons miserable, when the wretchedness of one alone is all that destiny requires.
Asmodeus was here obliged to suspend his narration, and listen to the Student, who said to him: Well, all that you tell me is sufficiently surprising; but are there really such amiable people upon earth? I never met within this nether world but friends who strive, not for such mistresses as you depict the Donna Theodora, but for the arrantest coquettes. What! a lover to renounce the being he adores, by whom his love is shared, and all lest he should render some poor friend unhappy? That may do well for some romancer's pen, which fain would picture men the creatures they should be, for fear of telling them the things they are. I own, with you, Asmodeus replied, the virtue that I tell you of is rare; but still, my dear Cleophas, it exists; not in romances only, but in the principles of man's own nature. It is true that, since the deluge, I have seen but two examples of the like, and this is one; but, let us return to our history.
The two friends continued still their amicable strife, and, as each was still unwilling to yield the palm of generosity to the other, their amorous sentiments remained suspended, during several days. They ceased to talk of Donna Theodora, each seemed afraid to breathe her very name; but, while Friendship triumphed over Love in the city of Valencia, Love, as though he would revenge the insult offered to his power, reigned with tyranny without its walls, and was there obeyed without scruple.
Donna Theodora was all this time in the solitude of Villareal, which was not far distant from the sea. There, abandoning herself to her passion for Don Juan, she dreamt of its reward; and nuptial visions floated in her mind, despite the friendship the Toledan had recently displayed for Don Fabricio, his too much loved rival.
One day, while the glorious splendour of the setting sun chained her to the margin of its bed, she perceived a boat which made towards the shore. As it approached, she saw that it contained seven or eight men, whose aspect was far from prepossessing; and as they came still nearer, she observed that their faces were covered with masks, and that they were armed.
Trembling with fear, for it was not easy to divine any good object for this unlooked—for descent, she turned hastily towards her home. Looking from time to time behind her as she fled she saw them land; and, as they instantly appeared to be endeavouring to overtake her, she began to run with all her might. But as she was not as swift of foot as Atalanta, and as the masks were light and fleet, they came up with her, just as she had reached the entrance of her grounds, and seized her.
The shrieks of the Donna Theodora, and a girl who accompanied her, were loud enough however to attract the attention of some servants without the house; and these giving the alarm to those within, the whole establishment, to a man, turned out armed with clubs and pitchforks. But in the meantime, two of the most robust among the masqueraders had taken the lady and her damsel in their arms, and bore them towards the boat, while the remainder remained to give battle to the domestics, who, albeit not paid for fighting, did their utmost. The combat was long, but swords carried the day against pitchforks, and the gentlemen in dominos were fast regaining the vessel to join their prize. It was time indeed they did so; for ere their embarkation was completed, four or five cavaliers were to be distinguished on the road from Valencia, riding at their topmost speed, and apparently anxious to be in time for the rescue of the Donna Theodora. The ravishers saw them; and made such good haste to get out to sea, that the cavaliers arrived too late to attain the accomplishment of their object.
These cavaliers were Don Fabricio and Don Juan. Mendoza had received a letter, only a few hours before, informing him, on good authority, that Don Alvaro was in the island of Majorca; that he had equipped a sort of sloop, and that with some twenty scoundrels who had nothing to lose, he intended to carry off the widow of Cifuentes on the first occasion of her visiting her seat at Villareal. On this, the Toledan and himself, with their personal attendants, had set out immediately from Valencia, in order to inform Donna Theodora of the projected attempt. They had, unfortunately, arrived just in time to discern on the sea-shore a number of persons who appeared to be engaged in mortal strife; and, suspecting that it might be as they feared, had hastened with all expedition to oppose the infamous design of Don Alvaro. But, with all their haste, they arrived but to witness the abduction they had especially come to prevent.
In the meanwhile, Alvaro Ponza, joyful at his success, was hurrying from the coast with his prey, and was observed to join a small armed vessel which was awaiting him in the distance. Words cannot convey an idea of the grief of the two friends; the air rang with imprecations against Don Alvaro: their grief and rage, however, were alike unavailing. The domestics of the Donna Theodora, excited by so laudable an example, were not sparing of their lamentations; the shore resounded with cries: fury, desolation, and despair reigned where all before had been tranquil joy, or the sweet grief of love. The rape of the beauteous Helen herself did not excite at the court of Sparta an equal consternation.