It is almost unthinkable that in the 17th century, in the midst of the Counter-Reformation era in Spain and the universal submission to the Catholic dogma, a writer would dare to deal with a subject as charged as the rape of a young lady, and to imply that it is a phenomenon of clear social injustice that serves the dominant social and religious system. This writer is no other than Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the author of the masterpiece “Don Quixote of La Mancha”, who published in 1613 a collection of 12 short novellas that were a complete innovation in the literature of his time, and heralded the characteristics of the genre for the following centuries. Indeed, Cervantes—as he himself made sure to emphasize—was the first to write in the Spanish language such short novellas, which also constituted an innovation outside of Spain. But the essential innovation went beyond merely style and structure. According to their titles, the novellas claim to be “exemplary,” to have morals, but not only do they not serve as an example for proper social and moral behavior, but they also do not point specifically to the moral principles the reader ought to follow as a lesson from the stories. Cervantes asks his reader to be an active participant, “to know how to observe closely,” as the author himself explains in the collection’s forward, and arrive at his own conclusions. In this respect, the novella “The Power of Blood” is perhaps the most intriguing and problematic among them all. In a straightforward manner, it tells of the rape of a young woman who belongs to the lowest class of nobility (“hidalgo”), and her helplessness as a woman, as well as the helplessness of her family, in the battle to bring punishment to the rapist, who belongs to the highest rung of nobility—the class of knights, and to right the injustice through the law; a possibility that did not exist at the time of the story. The only solution is silence: to bury the secret and to continue to act in accordance with the conventions dictated by society and the church. Cervantes not only brings the reader into the crime scene and turns him into a witness to the act of rape and to the attacker’s apathy and cruelty, but he also chooses to end the novella in a way that raises wonder and even rejection in the reader. However, the reader who grants Cervantes’s request and knows how to decipher the sharp irony, will understand the piercing criticism of the hypocritical and brutal society that does not leave the victim any other solution but marriage (a miserable one, as the text suggests) to the assailant. What appears in the first reading as a “happy end,” is a far cry from it, if one knows how to “observe closely,” as Cervantes instructs us.
Translated by: Walter K. Kelly
One night, after a sultry summer’s day, an old hidalgo of Toledo walked out to take the air by the river’s side, along with his wife, his little boy, his daughter aged sixteen, and a female servant. Eleven o’clock had struck: it was a fine clear night: they were the only persons on the road; and they sauntered leisurely along, to avoid paying the price of fatigue for the recreation provided for the Toledans in their valley or on the banks of their river. Secure as he thought in the careful administration of justice in that city, and the character of its well-disposed inhabitants, the good hidalgo was far from thinking that any disaster could befall his family. But as misfortunes commonly happen when they are least looked for, so it chanced with this family, who were that night visited, in the midst of their innocent enjoyment, by a calamity which gave them cause to weep for many a year.
There was in that city a young cavalier, about two-and-twenty years of age, whom wealth, high birth, a wayward disposition, inordinate indulgence, and profligate companions impelled to do things which disgraced his rank. This young cavalier—whose real name we shall, for good reasons, conceal under that of Rodolfo—was abroad that night with four of his companions, insolent young roisterers like himself, and happened to be coming down a hill as the old hidalgo and his family were ascending it. The two parties, the sheep and the wolves, met each other. Rodolfo and his companions, with their faces muffled in their cloaks, stared rudely and insolently at the mother, the daughter, and the servant-maid. The old hidalgo indignantly remonstrated; they answered him with mocks and jeers, and passed on. But Rodolfo had been struck by the great beauty of Leocadia, the hidalgo’s daughter, and presently he began to entertain the idea of enjoying it at all hazards. In a moment he communicated his thoughts to his companions, and in the next moment they resolved to turn back and carry her off to please Rodolfo; for the rich who are open-handed always find parasites ready to encourage their bad propensities; and thus to conceive this wicked design, to communicate it, approve it, resolve on ravishing Leocadia, and to carry that design into effect was the work of a moment.
They drew their swords, hid their faces in the flaps of their cloaks, turned back, and soon came in front of the little party, who had not yet done giving thanks to God for their escape from those audacious men. Rodolfo laid hold on Leocadia, caught her up in his arms, and ran off with her, whilst she was so overcome with surprise and terror, that far from being able to defend herself or cry out, she had not even sense or sight left to see her ravisher, or know whither he was carrying her. Her father shouted, her mother shrieked, her little brother cried, the servant-maid tore her own face and hair; but the shouts and shrieks were disregarded, the wailings moved no pity, the clawing and scratching was of no avail; for all was lost upon the loneliness of the spot, the silence of the night, and the cruel hearts of the ravishers. Finally, the one party went off exulting, and the other was left in desolation and woe.
Rodolfo arrived at his own house without any impediment, and Leocadia’s parents reached theirs heart-broken and despairing. They were afraid to appeal for justice to the laws, lest thereby they should only publish their daughter’s disgrace; besides, though well born they were poor, and had not the means of commanding influence and favour; and above all, they knew not the name of their injurer, or of whom or what to complain but their luckless stars. Meanwhile Rodolfo had Leocadia safe in his custody, and in his own apartment. It was in a wing of his father’s house, of which he had the keys, a great imprudence on the part of any parent. When Leocadia fainted in his arms, he had bandaged her eyes, in order that she might not notice the streets through which she passed, or the house into which he took her; and before she recovered her senses, he effected his guilty purpose.
Apathy and disgust commonly follow satiated lust. Rodolfo was now impatient to get rid of Leocadia, and made up his mind to lay her in the street, insensible as she was. He had set to work with that intention, when she came to herself, saying, “Where am I? Woe is me! What darkness is this? Am I in the limbo of my innocence, or the hell of my sins? Who touches me? Am I in bed? Mother! dear father! do you hear me? Alas, too well I perceive that you cannot hear me, and that I am in the hands of enemies. Well would it be for me if this darkness were to last for ever, and my eyes were never more to see the light! Whoever thou art,” She exclaimed, suddenly seizing Rodolfo’s hand, “if thy soul is capable of pity, grant me one prayer: having deprived me of honour, now deprive me of life. Let me not survive my disgrace! In mercy kill me this moment! It is the only amends I ask of you for the wrong you have done me.”
Confused by the vehemence of her reproaches, Rodolfo knew not what to say or do, and answered not a word. This silence so astonished Leocadia, that she began to fancy she was dreaming, or haunted by a phantom; but the hands she grasped were of flesh and blood. She remembered the violence with which she had been torn from her parents, and she became but too well aware of the real nature of her calamity. After a passionate burst of tears and groans, “Inhuman youth!” she continued, “for your deeds assure me that your years are few, I will forgive the outrage you have done me, on the sole condition that you promise and vow to conceal your crime in perpetual silence, as profound as this darkness in which you have perpetrated it. This is but a small recompense for so grievous a wrong; but it is the greatest which I can ask, or you can grant me. I have never seen your face, nor ever desire to see it. It is enough for me to remember the injury I have sustained, without having before my mind’s eye the image of my ravisher. My complaints shall be addressed only to Heaven: I would not have them heard by the world, which judges not according to the circumstances of each case, but according to its own preconceived notions. You may wonder to hear me speak thus, being so young. I am surprised at it myself; and I perceive that if great sorrows are sometimes dumb, they are sometimes eloquent. Be this as it may, grant me the favour I implore: it will cost you little. Put me at once into the street, or at least near the great church; for I shall know my way thence to the house of my parents. But you must also swear not to follow me, or make any attempts to ascertain my name or that of my family, who if they were as wealthy as they are noble, would not have to bear patiently such insult in my person. Answer me, and if you are afraid of being known by your voice, know, that except my father and my confessor, I have never spoken with any man in my life, and that I should never be able to tell who you were, though you were to speak ever so long.”
The only reply Rodolfo made to the unhappy Leocadia was to embrace her, and attempt a repetition of his offence; but she defended herself with hands, feet, and teeth, and with a strength he could not have supposed her capable of exerting. “Base villain,” she cried, “you took an infamous advantage of me when I had no more power to resist than a stock or a stone; but now that I have recovered my senses, you shall kill me before you shall succeed. You shall not have reason to imagine, from my weak resistance, that I pretended only to faint when you effected my ruin.” In fine, she defended herself with such spirit and vigour as completely damped Rodolfo’s ardour. Without saying a word he left the room, locked the door behind him, and went in quest of his companions, to consult them as to what he should do.
Finding herself left alone, Leocadia got out of bed, and groped about the room, and along the walls, feeling for a door or window through which she might make her escape. She found the door, but it was locked outside. She succeeded in opening the window; and the moonlight shone in so brightly, that she could distinguish the colour of some damask hangings in the room. She saw that the bed was gilded, and so rich, that it seemed that of a prince rather than of a private gentleman. She counted the chairs and the cabinets, observed the position of the door, and also perceived some pictures hanging on the walls, but was not able to distinguish the subjects. The window was large, and protected by a stout iron grating: it looked out on a garden, surrounded by high walls, so that escape in that direction was as impossible as by the door.
Everything she observed in this sumptuous apartment showed her that its master was a person of quality, and of extraordinary wealth. Among other things on which she cast her eyes was a small crucifix of solid silver, standing on a cabinet near the window. She took it, and hid it in the sleeve of her gown, not out of devotion, nor yet with a felonious intention, but with a very proper and judicious design. Having done this, she shut the window as before, and returned to the bed, to see what would be the end of an affair which had begun so badly. In about half an hour, as it seemed to her, the door was opened; some one came in, blindfolded her, and taking her by the arm, without a word spoken, led her out of the room, which she heard him lock behind him.
This person was Rodolfo, who though he had gone to look for his friends, had changed his mind in that respect, not thinking it advisable to acquaint them with what had passed between him and the girl. On the contrary, he resolved to tell them, that repenting of his violence, and moved by her tears, he had only carried her half-way towards his house, and then let her go. Having come to this resolution, he hastened back to remove Leocadia before daylight appeared, which would compel him to keep her in his room all the following day. He led her then to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, and there, in a feigned voice, speaking half Portuguese and half Spanish, he told her she might go home without fear, for she should not be followed; and he was already out of sight before she had taken the bandage from her eyes.
Leocadia looked all round her: she was quite alone: no one was in sight; but suspecting that she might be followed at a distance, she stopped every now and then on her way home, which was not far, and looked behind her. To baffle any spies that might perchance be watching her, she entered a house which she found open; and by and by she went from it to her own, where she found her parents stupefied with grief. They had not undressed, or thought of taking any rest. When they saw her, they ran to her with open arms, and welcomed her with tears. Choking with emotion, Leocadia made a sign to her parents that she wished to be alone with them. They retired with her, and she gave them a succinct account of all that had befallen her. She described the room in which she had been robbed of her honour, the window, the grating, the garden, the cabinets, the bed, the damask hangings, and, last of all, she showed them the crucifix which she had carried off, and before which the three innocent victims renewed their tears, imprecated Heaven’s vengeance on the insolent ravisher, and prayed that he might be miraculously punished. She told her parents, that although she had no wish to know the name of him at whose hands she had received such cruel wrong, yet if they thought fit to make such a discovery, they might do so by means of the crucifix, by directing the sacristans of the several parishes in the city to announce from the pulpits that whoever had lost such an image would find it in the hands of a certain monk whom he should name. By this means, they would discover their enemy in the person of the owner of the crucifix.
“That would be very well, my child,” replied her father, “if your plan were not liable to be frustrated by ordinary cunning; but no doubt this image has been already missed by its owner, and he will have set it down for certain that it was taken out of the room by the person he locked up there. To give him notice that the crucifix was in the hands of a certain monk would only serve to make known the person who deposited it in such keeping, but not to make the owner declare himself; for the latter might send another person for it, and furnish him with all the particulars by which he should identify it. Thus you see we should only damage ourselves without obtaining the information we sought; though to be sure we might employ the same artifice on our side, and deposit the image with the monk through a third hand. What you had best do, my child, is to keep it, and pray to it, that since it was a witness to your undoing, it will deign to vindicate your cause by its righteous judgment. Bear in mind, my child, that an ounce of public dishonour outweighs a quintal of secret infamy; and since, by the blessing of God, you can live in honour before the public eye, let it not distress you so much to be dishonoured in your ownself in secret. Real dishonour consists in sin, and real honour in virtue. There are three ways of offending God; by thought, word, and deed; but since neither in thought, nor in word, nor in deed have you offended, look upon yourself as a person of unsullied honour, as I shall always do, who will never cease to regard you with the affection of a father.”
Thus did this humane and right-minded father comfort his unhappy daughter; and her mother embracing her again did all she could to soothe her feelings. In spite of all their tenderness her anguish was too poignant to be soon allayed; and from that fatal night, she continued to live the life of a recluse under the protection of her parents.
Rodolfo meanwhile having returned home, and having missed the crucifix, guessed who had taken it, but gave himself no concern about it. To a person of his wealth such a loss was of no importance; nor did his parents make any inquiry about it, when three days afterwards, on his departure for Italy, one of his mother’s women took an inventory of all the effects he left in his apartment. Rodolfo had long contemplated a visit to Italy; and his father, who himself had been there, encouraged him in that design, telling him that no one could be a finished gentleman without seeing foreign countries. For this and other reasons, Rodolfo readily complied with the wishes of his father, who gave him ample letters of credit on Barcelona, Genoa, Rome, and Naples. Taking with him two of his companions, he set out on his travels, with expectations raised to a high pitch, by what he had been told by some soldiers of his acquaintance, concerning the good cheer in the hostelries of Italy and France, and the free and easy life enjoyed by the Spaniards in their quarters. His ears were tickled with the sound of such phrases as these: ecco li buoni polastri, picioni, presuto, salcicie, and all the other fine things of the sort, which soldiers are fond of calling to mind when they return from those parts to Spain. In fine, he went away with as little thought or concern about what had passed between him and the beautiful Leocadia as though it had never happened. She meanwhile passed her life with her parents in the strictest retirement, never letting herself be seen, but shunning every eye lest it should read her misfortune in her face. What she had thus done voluntarily at first, she found herself, in a few months, constrained to do by necessity; for she discovered that she was pregnant, to the grievous renewal of her affliction.
Time rolled on: the hour of her delivery arrived: it took place in the utmost secrecy, her mother taking upon her the office of midwife: and she gave birth to a son, one of the most beautiful ever seen. The babe was conveyed, with the same secrecy, to a village, where he remained till he was four years old, when his grandfather brought him, under the name of nephew, to his own house, where he was reared, if not in affluence, at least most virtuously. The boy, who was named Luis after his grandfather, was remarkably handsome, of a sweet docile disposition; and his manners and deportment, even at that tender age, were such as showed him to be the son of some noble father. His grandfather and grandmother were so delighted with his grace, beauty, and good behaviour, that they came at last to regard their daughter’s mischance as a happy event, since it had given them such a grandson. When the boy walked through the streets, blessings were showered upon him by all who saw him—blessings upon his beauty, upon the mother that bore him, upon the father that begot him, upon those who brought him up so well. Thus admired by strangers, as well as by all who knew him, he grew up to the age of seven, by which time he could already read Latin and his mother tongue, and write a good round hand; for it was the intention of his grandparents to make him learned and virtuous, since they could not make him rich, learning and virtue being such wealth as thieves cannot steal, or fortune destroy.
One day, when the boy was sent by his grandfather with a message to a relation, he passed along a street in which there was a great concourse of horsemen. He stopped to look at them; and to see them the better, he moved from his position, and crossed the street. In doing so, he was not rapid enough to avoid a fiery horse, which its rider could not pull up in time, and which knocked Luis down, and trampled upon him. The poor child lay senseless on the ground, bleeding profusely from his head. A moment after the accident had happened, an elderly gentleman threw himself from his horse with surprising agility, took the boy out of the arms of a person who had raised him from the ground, and carried him to his own house, bidding his servants go fetch a surgeon.
Many gentlemen followed him, greatly distressed at the sad accident which had befallen the general favourite; for it was soon on everybody’s lips that the sufferer was little Luis. The news speedily reached the ears of his grandparents and his supposed cousin, who all hurried in wild dismay to look for their darling. The gentleman who had humanely taken charge of him being of eminent rank, and well known, they easily found their way to his house, and arrived there just as Luis was under the surgeon’s hands. The master and mistress begged them not to cry, or raise their voices in lamentation; for it would do the little patient no good. The surgeon, who was an able man, having dressed the wound with great care and skill, saw that it was not so deadly as he had at first supposed. In the midst of the dressing, Luis came to his senses, and was glad to see his relations, who asked him how he felt. “Pretty well,” he said, only his head and his body pained him a good deal. The surgeon desired them not to talk to him, but leave him to repose. They did so, and the grandfather then addressed himself to the master of the house, thanking him for the kindness he had shown to his nephew. The gentleman replied that there was nothing to thank him for; the fact being, that when he saw the boy knocked down, his first thought was that he saw under the horses’ heels the face of a son of his own, whom he tenderly loved. It was this that impelled him to take the boy up, and carry him to his own house, where he should remain all the time he was in the surgeon’s hands, and be treated with all possible care. The lady of the house spoke to the same effect, and with no less kindness and cordiality.
The grandfather and grandmother were surprised at meeting with so much sympathy on the part of strangers; but far greater was the surprise of their daughter, who, on looking round her, after the surgeon’s report had somewhat allayed her agitation, plainly perceived that she was in the very room to which she had been carried by her ravisher. The damask hangings were no longer there; but she recognised it by other tokens. She saw the grated window that opened on the garden: it was then closed on account of the little patient; but she asked if there was a garden on the outside, and was answered in the affirmative. The bed she too well remembered was there; and, above all, the cabinet, on which had stood the image she had taken away, was still on the same spot. Finally, to corroborate all the other indications, and confirm the truth of her discovery beyond all question, she counted the steps of the staircase leading from the room to the street, and found the number exactly what she had expected; for she had had the presence of mind to count them on the former occasion, when she descended them blindfold. On her return home, she imparted her discovery to her mother, who immediately made inquiries as to whether the gentleman in whose house her grandson lay ever had a son. She found he had one son, Rodolfo—as we call him—who was then in Italy; and on comparing the time he was said to have been abroad with that which had elapsed since her daughter’s ravishment, she found them to agree very closely. She made all this known to her husband; and it was finally settled between the three that they should not move in the matter for the present, but wait till the will of Heaven had declared itself respecting the little patient.
Luis was out of danger in a fortnight; in a month he rose from his bed; and during all that time he was visited daily by his mother and grandmother, and treated by the master and mistress of the house as if he was their own child. Doña Estafania, the kind gentleman’s wife, often observed, in conversation with Leocadia, that the boy so strongly resembled a son of hers who was in Italy, she never could look at him without thinking her son was actually before her. One day, when Doña Estafania repeated this remark, no one being present but herself and Leocadia, the latter thought it a good opportunity to open her mind to the lady, in the manner previously concerted between herself and her parents.
“Señora,” she said, “when my parents heard of the terrible accident that had befallen their nephew, they felt as if the sky had fallen upon their heads. For them it was losing the light of their eyes, and the staff of their age, to lose their nephew, their love for whom far surpasses that which parents commonly bear towards their sons. But, as the proverb says, with the disease God sends the remedy. The boy found his recovery in this house; and I found in it reminiscences of events I shall never forget as long as I live. I, señora, am noble, for so are my parents, and so were all my ancestors, who, though but moderately endowed with the gifts of fortune, always happily maintained their honour where-ever they lived.”
Doña Estafania listened attentively to Leocadia, and was astonished to hear her speak with an intelligence beyond her years, for she did not think her more than twenty; and without interrupting her by a single word, she heard her relate her whole story, how she had been forcibly carried into that chamber, what had been done to her there, and by what tokens she had been able to recognise it again. In confirmation of all this, she drew forth from her bosom the crucifix she had taken away with her, and thus addressed it: “Lord, who wast witness of the violence done to me, be thou the judge of the amends which are my due. I took thee from off this cabinet, that I might continually remind thee of my wrong, not in order to pray to thee for vengeance, which I do not invoke, but to beseech thee to inspire me with some counsel which may enable me to bear it with patience.” Then turning to Doña Estafania, “This boy, señora,” she said, “towards whom you have manifested the extreme of your great kindness and compassion, is your own grandson. It was by the merciful providence of Heaven that he was run over, in order that being taken to your house, I should find him in it, as I hope to find there, if not the remedy most appropriate to my misfortune, at least the means of alleviating it.” Thus saying, and pressing the crucifix to her breast, she fell fainting into the arms of Doña Estafania, who as a gentlewoman, to whose sex pity is as natural as cruelty is to man, instantly pressed her lips to those of the fainting girl, shedding over her so many tears that there needed no other sprinkling of water to recover Leocadia from her swoon.
Whilst the two were in this situation, Doña Estafania’s husband entered the room, leading little Luis by the hand. On seeing his wife all in tears, and Leocadia fainting, he eagerly inquired the cause of so startling a spectacle. The boy having embraced his mother, calling her his cousin, and his grandmother, calling her his benefactress, repeated his grandfather’s question. “I have great things to tell you, señor,” said Doña Estafania to her husband, “the cream and substance of which is this: the fainting girl before you is your daughter, and that boy is your grandson. This truth which I have learned from her lips is confirmed by his face, in which we have both beheld that of our son.”
“Unless you speak more fully, señora, I cannot understand you,” replied her husband.
Just then Leocadia came to herself, and embracing the cross seemed changed into a sea of tears, and the gentleman remained in utter bewilderment, until his wife had repeated to him, from beginning to end, Leocadia’s whole story; and he believed it, through the blessed dispensation of Heaven, which had confirmed it by so many convincing testimonies. He embraced and comforted Leocadia, kissed his grandson, and that same day he despatched a courier to Naples, with a letter to his son, requiring him to come home instantly, for his mother and he had concluded a suitable match for him with a very beautiful lady. They would not allow Leocadia and her son to return any more to the house of her parents, who, overjoyed at her good fortune, gave thanks for it to Heaven with all their hearts.
The courier arrived at Naples; and Rodolfo, eager to become possessed of so beautiful a wife as his father had described, took advantage of the opportunity offered by four galleys which were ready to sail for Spain; and two days after the receipt of the letter he embarked with his two comrades, who were still with him. After a prosperous run of twelve days, he reached Barcelona, whence he posted in seven to Toledo, and entered his father’s house, dressed in the very extreme of fashionable bravery. His parents were beyond measure rejoiced at his safe arrival, after so long an absence; and Leocadia was filled with indescribable emotions, as she beheld him, herself unseen, from a secret place in which she had been stationed by Doña Estafania’s contrivance. Rodolfo’s two comrades proposed to take leave of him at once, and retire to their own homes; but Estafania would not suffer them to depart, for their presence was needful for the execution of a scheme she had in her head.
It was nearly night when Rodolfo arrived; and whilst preparations were making for supper, Estafania took her son’s companions aside, believing that they were two of the three whom Leocadia mentioned as having been with Rodolfo on the night of her abduction. She earnestly entreated them to tell her, if they remembered that her son had carried off a young woman, on such a night, so many years ago; for the honour and the peace of mind of all his relations depended on their knowing the truth of that matter. So persuasive were her entreaties, and so strong her assurances that no harm whatever could result to them from the information she sought, they were induced to confess that one summer’s night, the same she had mentioned, themselves and another friend being out on a stroll with Rodolfo, they had been concerned in the abduction of a girl whom Rodolfo carried off, whilst the rest of them detained her family, who made a great outcry, and would have defended her if they could. They added that Rodolfo told them, on the following day, that he had carried the girl to his own apartment; and this was all they knew of the matter.
All doubts which could possibly have remained on the case having been removed by this confession, Estafania determined to pursue her scheme. Shortly before supper she took her son in private into a room, where she put the portrait of a lady into his hands, saying, “Here is something to give you an appetite for your supper, Rodolfo; this is the portrait of your bride; but I must tell you that what she wants in beauty is more than made up for in virtue. She is of good family, and tolerably wealthy; and since your father and I have made choice of her, you may be assured she will suit you very well.”
“Well,” said Rodolfo, staring at the portrait, “if the painter of this portrait has flattered the original as much as painters usually do, then beyond all doubt the lady must be the very incarnation of ugliness. Truly, my lady mother, if it is just and right that sons should obey their parents in all things, it is no less proper that parents should have regard to the inclinations of their sons; and since matrimony is a bond not to be loosed till death, they ought to take care that it shall press as smoothly and equably as possible. Virtue, good birth, prudence, and the gifts of fortune, are all very good things, and may well gladden the heart of whoever may have the lot to obtain this lady for a wife; but that her ugliness can ever gladden the eyes of her spouse, appears to me an impossibility. I am a bachelor to be sure, but I perfectly comprehend the coincidence there should be between the sacrament of marriage and the just and due delight mutually enjoyed by the married pair, and that if that be wanting, the object of marriage is frustrated; for to imagine that an ugly face which one must have before his eyes at all hours, in the hall, at table, and in bed, I say once more that is impossible. For God’s sake, my lady mother, give me a wife who would be an agreeable companion, not one who will disgust me, so that we may both bear evenly, and with mutual good-will, the yoke imposed on us by Heaven, instead of pulling this way and that way, and fretting each other to death. If this lady is well-born, discreet, and rich as you say, she will easily find a husband of a different humour from mine. Some look for noble blood in a wife, some for understanding, others for money, and others again for beauty, and of the latter class I am one. As for high birth, thank Heaven and my ancestors I am well enough off in that respect; as for understanding, provided a woman is neither a dolt nor a simpleton, there is no need of her having a very subtle wit; in point of wealth, I am amply provided by my parents; but beauty is what I covet, with no other addition than virtue and good breeding. If my wife brings me this, I will thank Heaven for the gift, and make my parents happy in their old age.”
Estafania was delighted to hear Rodolfo speak thus, for the sentiments he expressed were just such as best accorded with the success of the scheme she had in hand. She told him that she would endeavour to marry him in conformity with his inclination, and that he need not make himself uneasy, for there would be no difficulty in breaking off the match which seemed so distasteful to him. Rodolfo thanked her, and supper being ready they went to join the rest of the party at table. The father and mother, Rodolfo and his two companions had already seated themselves, when Doña Estafania said, in an off-hand way, “Sinner that I am, how well I behave to my guest! Go,” she said to a servant, “and ask the señora Doña Leocadia to honour our table with her presence, and tell her she need not stand on any punctilio, for all here are my sons and her servants.” All this was part of her scheme, with the whole of which Leocadia had been previously made acquainted.
The lady soon appeared, presenting a most charming spectacle of perfect beauty, set off by the most appropriate adornments. The season being winter, she was dressed in a robe and train of black velvet, with gold and pearl buttons; her girdle and necklace were of diamonds; her head was uncovered, and the shining braids and ringlets of her thick chestnut hair, spangled with diamonds, dazzled the eyes of the beholders. Her bearing was graceful and animated; she led her son by the hand, and before her walked two maids with wax-lights and silver candlesticks. All rose to do her reverence, as if something from heaven had miraculously appeared before them; but gazing on her, entranced with admiration, not one of them was able to address a single word to her. Leocadia bowed to them all with courteous dignity, and Estafania taking her by the hand led her to a seat next to herself and opposite to Rodolfo, whilst the boy was seated beside his grandfather. “Ah,” said Rodolfo to himself, as he gazed on the lovely being before him, “could I find but half that beauty in the wife my mother has chosen for me, I should think myself the happiest man in the world. Good God! what is it I behold? Is it some angel in human shape that sits before me?” Whilst his eyes were thus making his soul captive to the lovely image of Leocadia, she, on the other hand, finding herself so near to him who was dearer to her than the light of those eyes with which she furtively glanced at him from time to time, began to revolve in her mind what had passed between her and Rodolfo. The hopes her mother had given her of being his wife began to droop, and the fear came strong upon her that such bliss was not for one so luckless as herself. She reflected how near she stood to the crisis which was to determine whether she was to be blessed or unhappy for ever, and racked by the intensity of her emotions, she suddenly changed colour, her head dropped, and she fell forward in a swoon into the arms of the dismayed Estafania.
The whole party sprang up in alarm and hastened to her assistance, but no one showed more earnest sympathy than Rodolfo, who fell twice in his haste to reach her. They unlaced her, and sprinkled her face with cold water; but far from coming to her senses, the fulness of her congested bosom, her total insensibility, and the absence of all pulse gave such mortal indications, that the servants began imprudently to cry out that she was dead. This shocking news reached the ears of her parents, whom Doña Estafania had concealed in another room that they might make their appearance at the right moment. They now rushed into the supper room, and the parish priest, who was also with them, went up to the prostrate lady to see if she could by any signs make known that she repented of her sins in order that he might give her absolution; but instead of one fainting person he found two, for Rodolfo lay with his face on Leocadia’s bosom. His mother had left her to him as being her destined protector; but when she saw that he too was insensible, she was near making a third, and would have done so had he not come to himself. He was greatly confused at finding that he had betrayed such emotion; but his mother, who guessed his thoughts, said to him, “Do not be ashamed, my son, at having been so overcome by your feelings; you would have been so still more had you known what I will no longer conceal from you, though I had intended to reserve it for a more joyful occasion. Know then, son of my heart, that this fainting lady is your real bride: I say real, because she is the one whom your father and I have chosen for you, and the portrait was a pretence.”
When Rodolfo heard this, carried away by the vehemence of his passion, and on the strength of his title as a bridegroom disdaining all conventional proprieties, he clasped Leocadia in his arms, and with his lips pressed to hers, seemed as if he was waiting for her soul to issue forth that he might absorb and mingle it with his own. Just at the moment when the tears of the pitying beholders flowed fastest, and their ejaculations were most expressive of despair, Leocadia gave signs of recovery, and brought back gladness to the hearts of all. When she came to her senses, and, blushing to find herself in Rodolfo’s arms, would have disengaged herself, “No, señora,” he said, “that must not be; strive not to withdraw from the arms of him who holds you in his soul.” There needed no more than these words to complete her revival; and Doña Estafania having no further need of stratagem, requested the priest to marry her son to Leocadia on the spot. This was done; for the event took place at a time when the consent of the parties was sufficient for the celebration of a marriage, without any of the preliminary formalities which are now so properly required. I leave it to a more ingenious pen than mine to describe the gladness of all present; the embraces bestowed on Rodolfo by Leocadia’s parents; the thanks they offered to Heaven, and to his father and mother; the congratulations on both sides; the astonishment of Rodolfo’s companions who saw him so unexpectedly married to so charming a bride on the very night of his arrival; and above all, when they learned from the statement openly made by Doña Estafania, that Leocadia was the very person whose abduction her son had effected with their aid. Nor was Rodolfo less surprised than they; and the better to assure himself of so wonderful a fact, he begged Leocadia to give him some token which should make perfectly clear to him that which indeed he did not doubt, since it was authenticated by his parents.
“Once when I recovered from a swoon,” replied Leocadia, “I found myself, señor, in your arms without honour; but for that I have had full compensation, since on my recovery from my this day’s swoon I found myself in the same arms, but honoured. If this is not enough for you, let it suffice to mention a crucifix which no one could have purloined from you but myself, if it be true that you missed it in the morning, and that it is the same that is now in the hands of your mother, my lady.”
“You are mine, the lady of my soul, and shall be so as long as God grants me life,” cried Rodolfo; embracing her again, amidst a fresh shower of benedictions and congratulations from the rest of the party.
At last they sat down to a merry supper to the sound of music, for the performers, who had been previously engaged, were now arrived. Rodolfo saw his own likeness in his son’s face as in a mirror. The four grandparents wept for joy: there was not a corner of the house but was full of gladness; and though night was hurrying on with her swift black wings, it seemed to Rodolfo that she did not fly, but hobble on crutches, so great was his impatience to be alone with his beloved bride. The longed-for hour came at last: every one retired to rest: the whole house was buried in silence; but not so shall be the truth of this story, which will be kept alive in the memory of men by the many children and descendants of that illustrious house in Toledo, where that happy pair still live, and have, for many prosperous years, enjoyed the society of each other, their children, and their grandchildren, by the blessing of Heaven, and through the force of that blood which was seen shed on the ground by the valorous, illustrious, and Christian grandfather of the little Luis.
*This story is taken from “The Exemplary Novels” of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, George Bell and Sons, London, 1881.
Image: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1612-1682), “The Holy Family”
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