THE HISTORICAL NIGHTS' ENTERTAINMENT, SECOND SERIES
By Rafael Sabatini
To David Whitelaw
My Dear David,
Since the narratives collected here as well as in the preceding volume under the title of the Historical Nights Entertainment—narratives originally published in The Premier Magazine, which you so ably edit—owe their being to your suggestion, it is fitting that some acknowledgment of the fact should be made. To what is hardly less than a duty, allow me to add the pleasure of dedicating to you, in earnest of my friendship and esteem, not merely this volume, but the work of which this volume is the second.
London, June, 1919.
The kindly reception accorded to the first volume of the Historical Nights Entertainment, issued in December of 1917, has encouraged me to prepare the second series here assembled.
As in the case of the narratives that made up the first volume, I set out again with the same ambitious aim of adhering scrupulously in every instance to actual, recorded facts; and once again I find it desirable at the outset to reveal how far the achievement may have fallen short of the admitted aim.
On the whole, I have to confess to having allowed myself perhaps a wider latitude, and to having taken greater liberties than was the case with the essays constituting the previous collection. This, however, applies, where applicable, to the parts rather than to the whole.
The only entirely apocryphal narrative here included is the first—"The Absolution." This is one of those stories which, if resting upon no sufficient authority to compel its acceptance, will, nevertheless, resist all attempts at final refutation, having its roots at least in the soil of fact. It is given in the rather discredited Portuguese chronicles of Acenheiro, and finds place, more or less as related here, in Duarte Galvao's "Chronicle of Affonso Henriques," whence it was taken by the Portuguese historical writer, Alexandre Herculano, to be included in his "Lendas e Narrativas." If it is to be relegated to the Limbo of the ben trovato, at least I esteem it to afford us a precious glimpse of the naive spirit of the age in which it is set, and find in that my justification for including it.
The next to require apology is "His Insolence of Buckingham," but only in so far as the incident of the diamond studs is concerned. The remainder of the narrative, the character of Buckingham, the details of his embassy to Paris, and the particulars of his audacious courtship of Anne of Austria, rest upon unassailable evidence. I would have omitted the very apocryphal incident of the studs, but that I considered it of peculiar interest as revealing the source of the main theme of one of the most famous historical romances ever written—"The Three Musketeers." I give the story as related by La Rochefoucauld in his "Memoirs," whence Alexandre Dumas culled it that he might turn it to such excellent romantic account. In La Rochefoucauld's narrative it is the painter Gerbier who, in a far less heroic manner, plays the part assigned by Dumas to d'Artagnan, and it is the Countess of Carlisle who carries out the political theft which Dumas attributes to Milady. For the rest, I do not invite you to attach undue credit to it, which is not, however, to say that I account it wholly false.
In the case of "The Hermosa Fembra" I confess to having blended together into one single narrative two historical episodes closely connected in time and place. Susan's daughter was, in fact, herself the betrayer of her father, and it was in penitence for that unnatural act that she desired her skull to be exhibited as I describe. Into the story of Susan's daughter I have woven that of another New-Christian girl, who, like the Hermosa Fembra, her taken a Castilian lover—in this case a youth of the house of Guzman. This youth was driven into concealment in circumstances more or less as I describe them. He overheard the judaizing of several New-Christians there assembled, and bore word of it at once to Ojeda. The two episodes were separated in fact by an interval of three years, and the first afforded Ojeda a strong argument for the institution of the Holy Office in Seville. Between the two there are many points of contact, and each supplies what the other lacks to make an interesting narrative having for background the introduction of the Inquisition to Castile. The denouement I supply is entirely fictitious, and the introduction of Torquemada is quite arbitrary. Ojeda was the inquisitor who dealt with both cases. But if there I stray into fiction, at least I claim to have sketched a faithful portrait of the Grand Inquisitor as I know him from fairly exhaustive researches into his life and times.
The story of the False Demetrius is here related from the point of view of my adopted solution of what is generally regarded as a historical mystery. The mystery lies, of course, in the man's identity. He has been held by some to have been the unfrocked monk, Grishka Otropiev, by others to have been a son of Stephen Bathory, King of Poland. I am not aware that the theory that he was both at one and the same time has ever been put forward, and whilst admitting that it is speculative, yet I claim that no other would appear so aptly to fit all the known facts of his career or to shed light upon its mysteries.
Undoubtedly I have allowed myself a good deal of licence and speculation in treating certain unwitnessed scenes in "The Barren Wooing." But the theory that I develop in it to account for the miscarriage of the matrimonial plans of Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley seems to me to be not only very fully warranted by de Quadra's correspondence, but the only theory that will convincingly explain the events. Elizabeth, as I show, was widely believed to be an accessory to the murder of Amy Robsart. But in carefully following her words and actions at that critical time, as reported by de Quadra, my reading of the transaction is as given here. The most damning fact against Elizabeth was held to be her own statement to de Quadra on the eve of Lady Robert Dudley's murder to the effect that Lady Robert was "already dead, or very nearly so." This foreknowledge of the fate of that unfortunate lady has been accepted as positive evidence that the Queen was a party to the crime at Cumnor, which was to set her lover free to marry again. Far from that, however, I account it positive proof of Elizabeth's innocence of any such part in the deed. Elizabeth was far too crafty and clear-sighted not to realize how her words must incriminate her afterwards if she knew that the murder of Lady Robert was projected. She must have been merely repeating what Dudley himself had told her; and what he must have told her—and she believed—was that his wife was at the point of a natural death. Similarly, Dudley would not have told her this, unless his aim had been to procure his wife's removal by means which would admit of a natural interpretation. Difficulties encountered, much as I relate them—and for which there is abundant evidence—drove his too-zealous agents to rather desperate lengths, and thus brought suspicion, not only upon the guilty Dudley, but also upon the innocent Queen. The manner of Amy's murder is pure conjecture; but it should not be far from what actually took place. The possibility of an accident—extraordinarily and suspiciously opportune for Dudley as it would have been—could not be altogether ruled out but for the further circumstance that Lady Robert had removed everybody from Cumnor on that day. To what can this point—unless we accept an altogether incredible chain of coincidence—but to some such plotting as I here suggest?
In the remaining six essays in this volume the liberties taken with the absolute facts are so slight as to require no apology or comment.
London, June, 1919.
I. THE ABSOLUTION Affonso Henriques, First King of Portugal II. THE FALSE DEMETRIUS Boris Godunov and the Pretended Son of Ivan the Terrible III. THE HERMOSA FEMBRA An Episode of the Inquisition in Seville IV. THE PASTRY-COOK OF MADRIGAL The Story of the False Sebastian of Portugal V. THE END OF THE VERT GALANT The Assassination of Henry IV VI. THE BARREN WOOING The Murder of Amy Robsart VII. SIR JUDAS The Betrayal of Sir Walter Ralegh VIII. HIS INSOLENCE OF BUCKINGHAM George Villiers' Courtship of Anne of Austria IX. THE PATH OF EXILE The Fall of Lord Clarendon X. THE TRAGEDY OF HERRENHAUSEN Count Philip Koenigsmark and the Princess Sophia Dorothea XI. THE TYRANNICIDE Charlotte Corday and Jean Paul Marat
I. THE ABSOLUTION
Aftonso Henriques, first King of Portugal
In 1093 the Moors of the Almoravide dynasty, under the Caliph Yusuf, swept irresistibly upwards into the Iberian Peninsula, recapturing Lisbon and Santarem in the west, and pushing their conquest as far as the river Mondego.
To meet this revival of Mohammedan power, Alfonso VI. Of Castile summoned the chivalry of Christendom to his aid. Among the knights who answered the call was Count Henry of Burgundy (grandson of Robert, first Duke of Burgundy) to whom Alfonso gave his natural daughter Theresa in marriage, together with the Counties of Oporto and Coimbra, with the title of Count of Portugal.
That is the first chapter of the history of Portugal.
Count Henry fought hard to defend his southern frontiers from the incursion of the Moors until his death in 1114. Thereafter his widow Theresa became Regent of Portugal during the minority of their son, Affonso Henriques. A woman of great energy, resource and ambition, she successfully waged war against the Moors, and in other ways laid the foundations upon which her son was to build the Kingdom of Portugal. But her passionate infatuation for one of her knights—Don Fernando Peres de Trava—and the excessive honours she bestowed upon him, made enemies for her in the new state, and estranged her from her son.
In 1127 Alfonso VII. of Castile invaded Portugal, compelling Theresa to recognize him as her suzerain. But Affonso Henriques, now aged seventeen—and declared by the citizens of the capital to be of age and competent to reign—incontinently refused to recognize the submission made by his mother, and in the following year assembled an army for the purpose of expelling her and her lover from the country. The warlike Theresa resisted until defeated in the battle of San Mamede and taken prisoner.
* * * * *
He was little more than a boy, although four years were sped already since, as a mere lad of fourteen, he had kept vigil throughout the night over his arms in the Cathedral of Zamora, preparatory to receiving the honour of knighthood at the hands of his cousin, Alfonso VII. of Castile. Yet already he was looked upon as the very pattern of what a Christian knight should be, worthy son of the father who had devoted his life to doing battle against the Infidel, wheresoever he might be found. He was well-grown and tall, and of a bodily strength that is almost a byword to this day in that Portugal of which he was the real founder and first king. He was skilled beyond the common wont in all knightly exercises of arms and horsemanship, and equipped with far more learning—though much of it was ill-digested, as this story will serve to show—than the twelfth century considered useful or even proper in a knight. And he was at least true to his time in that he combined a fervid piety with a weakness of the flesh and an impetuous arrogance that was to bring him under the ban of greater excommunication at the very outset of his reign.
It happened that his imprisonment of his mother was not at all pleasing in the sight of Rome. Dona Theresa had powerful friends, who so used their influence at the Vatican on her behalf that the Holy Father—conveniently ignoring the provocation she had given and the scandalous, unmotherly conduct of which she had been guilty—came to consider the behaviour of the Infante of Portugal as reprehensibly unfilial, and commanded him to deliver Dona Theresa at once from duress.
This Papal order, backed by a threat of excommunication in the event of disobedience, was brought to the young prince by the Bishop of Coimbra, whom he counted among his friends.
Affonso Henriques, ever impetuous and quick to anger, flushed scarlet when he heard that uncompromising message. His dark eyes smouldered as they considered the aged prelate.
"You come here to bid me let loose again upon this land of Portugal that author of strife, to deliver over the people once more to the oppression of the Lord of Trava?" he asked. "And you tell me that unless by obeying this command I am false to the duty I owe this country, you will launch the curse of Rome against me? You tell me this?"
The bishop, deeply stirred, torn between his duty to the Holy See and his affection for his prince, bowed his head and wrung his hands. "What choice have I?" he asked, on a quavering note.
"I raised you from the dust." Thunder was rumbling in the prince's voice. "Myself I placed the episcopal ring upon your finger."
"My lord, my lord! Could I forget? All that I have I owe to you—save only my soul, which I owe to God; my faith, which I owe to Christ; and my obedience, which I owe to our Holy Father the Pope."
The prince considered him in silence, mastering his passionate, impetuous nature. "Go," he growled at last.
The prelate bowed his head, his eyes not daring to meet his prince's.
"God keep you, lord," he almost sobbed, and so went out.
But though stirred by his affection for the prince to whom he owed so much, though knowing in his inmost heart that Affonso Henriques was in the right, the Bishop of Coimbra did not swerve from his duty to Rome, which was as plain as it was unpalatable. Betimes next morning word was brought to Affonso Henriques in the Alcazar of Coimbra that a parchment was nailed to the door of the Cathedral, setting forth his excommunication, and that the Bishop—either out of fear or out of sorrow—had left the city, journeying northward towards Oporto.
Affonso Henriques passed swiftly from incredulity to anger; then almost as swiftly came to a resolve, which was as mad and harebrained as could have been expected from a lad in his eighteenth year who held the reins of power. Yet by its very directness and its superb ignoring of all obstacles, legal and canonical, it was invested with a certain wild sanity.
In full armour, a white cloak simply embroidered in gold at the edge and knotted at the shoulder, he rode to the Cathedral, attended by his half-brother Pedro Affonso, and two of his knights, Emigio Moniz and Sancho Nunes. There on the great iron-studded doors he found, as he had been warned, the Roman parchment pronouncing him accursed, its sonorous Latin periods set forth in a fine round clerkly hand.
He swung down from his great horse and clanked up the Cathedral steps, his attendants following. He had for witnesses no more than a few loiterers, who had paused at sight of their prince.
The interdict had so far attracted no attention, for in the twelfth century the art of letters was a mystery to which there were few initiates.
Affonso Henriques tore the sheepskin from its nails, and crumpled it in his hand; then he passed into the Cathedral, and thence came out presently into the cloisters. Overhead a bell was clanging by his orders, summoning the chapter.
To the Infante, waiting there in the sun-drenched close, came presently the canons, austere, aloof, majestic in their unhurried progress through the fretted cloisters, with flowing garments and hands tucked into their wide sleeves before them. In a semi-circle they arrayed themselves before him, and waited impassively to learn his will. Overhead the bell had ceased.
Affonso Henriques wasted no words.
"I have summoned you," he announced, "to command that you proceed to the election of a bishop."
A rustle stirred through the priestly throng. The canons looked askance at the prince and at one another. Then one of them spoke.
"Habemus episcopum," he said gravely, and several instantly made chorus: "We have a bishop."
The eyes of the young sovereign kindled. "You are wrong," he told them. "You had a bishop, but he is here no longer. He has deserted his see, after publishing this shameful thing." And he held aloft the crumpled interdict. "As I am a God-fearing, Christian knight, I will not live under this ban. Since the bishop who excommunicated me is gone, you will at once elect another in his place who shall absolve me."
They stood before him, silent and impassive, in their priestly dignity, and in their assurance that the law was on their side.
"Well?" the boy growled at them.
"Habemus episcopum," droned a voice again.
"Amen," boomed in chorus through the cloisters.
"I tell you that your bishop is gone," he insisted, his voice quivering now with anger, "and I tell you that he shall not return, that he shall never set foot again within my city of Coimbra. Proceed you therefore at once to the election of his successor."
"Lord," he was answered coldly by one of them, "no such election is possible or lawful."
"Do you dare stand before my face, and tell me this?" he roared, infuriated by their cold resistance. He flung out an arm in a gesture of terrible dismissal. "Out of my sight, you proud and evil men! Back to your cells, to await my pleasure. Since in your arrogant, stiff-necked pride you refuse to do my will, you shall receive the bishop I shall myself select."
He was so terrific in his rage that they dared not tell him that he had no power, prince though he might be, to make such an election, bowed to him, ever impassively, and with their hands still folded, unhurried as they had come, they now turned and filed past him in departure.
He watched them with scowling brows and tightened lips, Moniz and Nunes silent behind him. Suddenly those dark, watchful eyes of his were held by the last figure of all in that austere procession—a tall, gaunt young man, whose copper-coloured skin and hawk-featured face proclaimed his Moorish blood. Instantly, maliciously, it flashed through the prince's boyish mind how he might make of this man an instrument to humble the pride of that insolent clergy. He raised his hand, and beckoned the cleric to him.
"What is your name?" he asked him.
"I am called Zuleyman, lord," he was answered, and the name confirmed—where, indeed, no confirmation was necessary—the fellow's Moorish origin.
Affonso Henriques laughed. It would be an excellent jest to thrust upon these arrogant priests, who refused to appoint a bishop of their choice, a bishop who was little better than a blackamoor.
"Don Zuleyman," said the prince, "I name you Bishop of Coimbra in the room of the rebel who has fled. You will prepare to celebrate High Mass this morning, and to pronounce my absolution."
The Christianized Moor fell back a step, his face paling under its copper skin to a sickly grey. In the background, the hindmost members of the retreating clerical procession turned and stood at gaze, angered and scandalized by what they heard, which was indeed a thing beyond belief.
"Ah no, my lord! Ah no!" Don Zuleyman was faltering. "Not that!"
The prospect terrified him, and in his agitation he had recourse to Latin. "Domine, non sum dignus," he cried, and beat his breast.
But the uncompromising Affonso Henriques gave him back Latin for Latin.
"Dixi—I have spoken!" he answered sternly. "Do not fail me in obedience, on your life." And on that he clanked out again with his attendants, well-pleased with his morning's work.
As he had disposed with boyish, almost irresponsible rashness, and in flagrant contravention of all canon law, so it fell out. Don Zuleyman, wearing the bishop's robes and the bishop's mitre, intoned the Kyrie Eleison before noon that day in the Cathedral of Coimbra, and pronounced the absolution of the Infante of Portugal, who knelt so submissively and devoutly before him.
Affonso Henriques was very pleased with himself. He made a jest of the affair, and invited his intimates to laugh with him. But Emigio Moniz and the elder members of his council refused to laugh. They looked with awe upon a deed that went perilously near to sacrilege, and implored him to take their own sober view of the thing he had done.
"By the bones of St. James!" he cried. "A prince is not to be brow-beaten by a priest."
Such a view in the twelfth century was little short of revolutionary. The chapter of the Cathedral of Coimbra held the converse opinion that priests were not to be browbeaten by a prince, and set themselves to make Affonso Henriques realize this to his bitter cost. They dispatched to Rome an account of his unconscionable, high-handed, incredible sacrilege, and invited Rome to administer condign spiritual flagellation upon this errant child of Mother Church. Rome made haste to vindicate her authority, and dispatched a legate to the recalcitrant, audacious boy who ruled in Portugal. But the distance being considerable, and means of travel inadequate and slow, it was not until Don Zuleyman had presided in the See of Coimbra for a full two months that the Papal Legate made his appearance in Affonso Henriques' capital.
A very splendid Prince of the Church was Cardinal Corrado, the envoy dispatched by Pope Honorius II., full armed with apostolic weapons to reduce the rebellious Infante of Portugal into proper subjection.
His approach was heralded by the voice of rumour. Affonso Henriques heard of it without perturbation. His conscience at ease in the absolution which he had wrung from Mother Church after his own fashion, he was entirely absorbed in preparations for a campaign against the Moors which was to widen his dominions. Therefore when at length the thunderbolt descended, it fell—so far as he was concerned—from a sky entirely clear.
It was towards dusk of a summer evening when the legate, in a litter slung in line between two mules, entered Coimbra. He was attended by two nephews, Giannino and Pierluigi da Corrado, both patricians of Rome, and a little knot of servants. Empanoplied in his sacred office, the cardinal had no need of the protection of men-at-arms upon a journey through god-fearing lands.
He was borne straight to the old Moorish palace where the Infante resided, and came upon him there amid a numerous company in the great pillared hall. Against a background of battle trophies, livid weapons, implements of war, and suits of mail both Saracen and Christian, with which the bare walls were hung, moved a gaily-clad, courtly gathering of nobles and their women-folk, when the great cardinal, clad from head to foot in scarlet, entered unannounced.
Laughter rippled into silence. A hush descended upon the company, which stood now at gaze, considering the imposing and unbidden guest. Slowly the legate, followed by the two Roman youths, advanced down the hall, the soft pad of his slippered feet and the rustle of his silken robes being at first the only sound. On he came, until he stood before the shallow dais, where in a massively carved chair sat the Infante of Portugal, mistrustfully observing him. Affonso Henriques scented here an enemy, an ally of his mother's, the bearer of a fresh declaration of hostilities. Therefore of deliberate purpose he kept his seat, as if to stress the fact that here he was the master.
"Lord Cardinal," he greeted the legate, "be welcome to my land of Portugal."
The cardinal bowed stiffly, resentful of this reception. In his long journey across the Spains, princes and nobles had flocked to kiss his hand, and bend the knee before him, seeking his blessing. Yet this mere boy, beardless save for a silky down about his firm young cheeks, retained his seat and greeted him with no more submissiveness than if he had been the envoy of some temporal prince.
"I am the representative of our Holy Father," he announced, in a voice of stern reproof. "I am from Rome, with these my well-beloved nephews."
"From Rome?" quoth Affonso Henriques. For all his length of limb and massive thews he could be impish upon occasion. He was impish now. "Although no good has ever yet come to me from Rome, you make me hopeful. His Holiness will have heard of the preparations I am making for a war against the Infidel that shall carry the Cross where new stands the Crescent, and sends me perhaps, a gift of gold or assist me in this holy work."
The mockery of it stung the legate sharply. His sallow, ascetic face empurpled.
"It is not gold I bring you," he answered, "but a lesson in the faith which you would seem to have forgotten. I am come to teach you your Christian duty, and to require of you immediate reparation of the sacrilegious wrongs you have done. The Holy Father demands of you the instant re-instatement of the Bishop of Coimbra, whom you have driven out with threats of violence, and the degradation of the cleric you blasphemously appointed Bishop in his stead."
"And is that all?" quoth the boy, in a voice dangerously quiet.
"No." Fearless in his sense of right, the legate towered before him. "It is demanded of you further that you instantly release the lady, your mother, from the unjust confinement in which you hold her."
"That confinement is not unjust, as all here can witness," the Infante answered. "Rome may believe it, because lies have been carried to Rome. Dona Theresa's life was a scandal, her regency an injustice to my people. She and the infamous Lord of Trava lighted the torch of civil war in these dominions. Learn here the truth, and carry it to Rome. Thus shall you do worthy service."
But the prelate was obstinate and proud.
"That is not the answer that our Holy Father awaits."
"It is the answer that I send."
"Rash, rebellious youth, beware!" The cardinal's anger flamed up, and his voice swelled. "I come armed with spiritual weapons of destruction. Do not abuse the patience of Mother Church, or you shall feel the full weight of her wrath released against you."
Exasperated, Affonso Henriques bounded to his feet, his face livid now with passion, his eyes ablaze.
"Out! Away!" he cried. "Go, my lord, and go quickly, or as God watches us I will add here and now yet another sacrilege to those of which you accuse me."
The prelate gathered his ample robes about him. If pale, he was entirely calm once more. With stern dignity, he bowed to the angry youth, and so departed, but with such outward impassivity that it would have been difficult to say with whom lay the victory. If Affonso Henriques thought that night that he had conquered, morning was to shatter the illusion.
He was awakened early by a chamberlain at the urgent instances of Emigio Moniz, who was demanding immediate audience. Affonso Henriques sat up in bed, and bade him to be admitted.
The elderly knight and faithful counsellor came in, treading heavily. His swarthy face was overcast, his mouth set in stern lines under its grizzled beard.
"God keep you, lord," was his greeting, so lugubriously delivered as to sound like a pious, but rather hopeless, wish.
"And you, Emigio," answered him the Infante. "You are early astir. What is the cause?"
"III tidings, lord." He crossed the room, unlatched and flung wide a window. "Listen," he bade the prince.
On the still morning air arose a sound like the drone of some gigantic hive, or of the sea when the tide is making. Affonso Henriques recognized it for the murmur of the multitude.
"What does it mean?" he asked, and thrust a sinewy leg from the bed.
"It means that the Papal Legate has done all that he threatened, and something more. He has placed your city of Coimbra under a ban of excommunication. The churches are closed, and until the ban is lifted no priest Will be found to baptize, marry, shrive or perform any other Sacrament of Holy Church. The people are stricken with terror, knowing that they share the curse with you. They are massing below at the gates of the alcazar, demanding to see you that they may implore you to lift from them the horror of this excommunication."
Affonso Henriques had come to his feet by now, and he stood there staring at the old knight, his face blenched, his stout heart clutched by fear of these impalpable, blasting weapons that were being used against him.
"My God!" he groaned, and asked: "What must I do?"
Moniz was preternaturally grave. "It is of the first importance that the people should be pacified."
"There is one way only—by a promise that you will submit to the will of the Holy Father, and by penance seek absolution for yourself and your city."
A red flush swept into the young cheeks that had been so pale.
"What?" he cried, his voice a roar. "Release my mother, depose Zuleyman, recall that fugitive recreant who cursed me, and humble myself to seek pardon at the hands of this insolent Italian cleric? May my bones rot, may I roast for ever in hell-fire if I show myself such a craven! And do you counsel it, Emigio—do you really counsel that?" He was in a towering rage.
"Listen to that voice," Emigio answered him, and waved a hand to the open window. "How else will you silence it?"
Affonso Henriques sat down on the edge of the bed, and took his head in his hands. He was checkmated—and yet....
He rose and beat his hands together, summoning chamberlain and pages to help him dress and arm.
"Where is the legate lodged?" he asked Moniz.
"He is gone," the knight answered him. "He left at cock-crow, taking the road to Spain along the Mondego—so I learnt from the watch at the River Gate."
"How came they to open for him?"
"His office, lord, is a key that opens all doors at any hour of day or night. They dared not detain or delay him."
"Ha!" grunted the Infante. "We will go after him, then." And he made haste to complete his dressing. Then he buckled on his great sword, and they departed.
In the courtyard of the alcazar, he summoned Sancho Nunes and a half-dozen men-at-arms to attend him, mounted a charger and with Emigio Moniz at his side and the others following, he rode out across the draw-bridge into the open space that was thronged with the clamant inhabitants of the stricken city.
A great cry went up when he showed himself—a mighty appeal to him for mercy and the remission of the curse. Then silence fell, a silence that invited him to answer and give comfort.
He reined in his horse, and standing in his stirrups very tall and virile, he addressed them.
"People of Coimbra," he announced, "I go to obtain this city's absolution from the ban that has been laid upon it. I shall return before sunset. Till then do you keep the peace."
The voice of the multitude was raised again, this time to hail him as the father and protector of the Portuguese, and to invoke the blessing of Heaven upon his handsome head.
Riding between Moniz and Nunes, and followed by his glittering men-at-arms, he crossed the city and took the road along the river by which it was known that the legate had departed. All that morning they rode briskly amain, the Infante fasting, as he had risen, yet unconscious of hunger and of all else but the purpose that was consuming him. He rode in utter silence, his face set, his brows stern; and Moniz, watching him furtively the while, wondered what thoughts were stirring in that rash, impetuous young brain, and was afraid.
Towards noon at last they overtook the legate's party. They espied his mule-litter at the door of an inn in a little village some ten miles beyond the foothills of the Bussaco range. The Infante reined up sharply, a hoarse, fierce cry escaping him, akin to that of some creature of the wild when it espies its prey.
Moniz put forth a hand to seize his arm.
"My lord, my lord," he cried, fearfully. "What is your purpose?"
The prince looked him between the eyes, and his lips curled in a smile that was not altogether sweet.
"I am going to beg Cardinal Corrado to have compassion on me," he answered, subtly mocking, and on that he swung down from his horse, and tossed the reins to a man-at-arms.
Into the inn he clanked, Moniz and Nunes following closely. He thrust aside the vinter who, not knowing him, would have hindered him, great lord though he seemed, from disturbing the holy guest who was honouring the house. He strode on, and into the room where the Cardinal with his noble nephews sat at dinner.
At sight of him, fearing violence, Giannino and Pierluigi came instantly to their feet, their hands upon their daggers. But Cardinal da Corrado sat unmoved. He looked up, a smile of ineffable gentleness upon his ascetic face.
"I had hoped that you would come after me, my son," he said. "If you come a penitent, then has my prayer been heard."
"A penitent!" cried Affonso Henriques. He laughed wickedly, and plucked his dagger from its sheath.
Sancho Nunes, in terror, set a detaining hand upon his prince's arm.
"My lord," he cried in a voice that shook, "you will not strike the Lord's anointed—that were to destroy yourself for ever."
"A curse," said Affonso Henriques, "perishes with him that uttered it." He could reason loosely, you see, this hot-blooded, impetuous young cutter of Gordian knots. "And it imports above all else that the curse should be lifted from my city of Coimbra."
"It shall be, my son, as soon as you show penitence and a Christian submission to the Holy Father's will," said the undaunted Cardinal.
"God give me patience with you," Affonso Henriques answered him. "Listen to me now, lord Cardinal." And he leaned forward on his dagger, burying the point of it some inches into the deal table. "That you should punish me with the weapons of the Faith for the sins that you allege against me I can understand and suffer. There is reason in that, perhaps. But will you tell me what reasons there can be in punishing a whole city for an offence which, if it exists at all, is mine alone?—and in punishing it by a curse so terrible that all the consolations of religion are denied those true children of Mother Church, that no priestly office may be performed within the city, that men and women may not approach the altars of the Faith, that they must die unshriven with their sins upon them, and so be damned through all eternity? Where is the reason that urges this?"
The cardinal's smile had changed from one of benignity to one of guile.
"Why, I will answer you. Out of their terror they will be moved to revolt against you, unless you relieve them of the ban. Thus, Lord Prince, I hold you in check. You make submission or else you are destroyed."
Affonso Henriques considered him a moment. "You answer me indeed," said he, and then his voice swelled up in denunciation. "But this is statecraft, not religion. And when a prince has no statecraft to match that which is opposed to him, do you know what follows? He has recourse to force, Lord Cardinal. You compel me to it; upon your own head the consequences."
The legate almost sneered. "What is the force of your poor lethal weapons compared with the spiritual power I wield? Do you threaten me with death? Do you think I fear it?" He rose in a surge of sudden wrath, and tore open his scarlet robe. "Strike here with your poniard. I wear no mail. Strike if you dare, and by the sacrilegious blow destroy yourself in this world and the next."
The Infante considered him. Slowly he sheathed his dagger, smiling a little. Then he beat his hands together. His men-at-arms came in.
"Seize me those two Roman whelps," he commanded, and pointed to Giannino and Pierlulgi. "Seize them, and make them fast. About it!"
"Lord Prince!" cried the legate in a voice of appeal, wherein fear and anger trembled.
It was the note of fear that heartened Affonso Henriques. "About it!" he cried again, though needlessly, for already his men-at-arms were at grips with the Cardinal's nephews. In a trice the kicking, biting, swearing pair were overpowered, deprived of arms, and pinioned. The men looked to their prince for further orders. In the background Moniz and Nunes witnessed all with troubled countenances, whilst the Cardinal, beyond the table, white to the lips, demanded in a quavering voice to know what violence was intended, implored the Infante to consider, and in the same breath threatened him with dread consequences of this affront.
Affonso Henriques, unmoved, pointed through the window to a stalwart oak that stood before the inn.
"Take them out there, and hang them unshriven," he commanded.
The Cardinal swayed, and almost fell forward. He clutched the table, speechless with terror for those lads who were as the very apple of his eye, he who so fearlessly had bared his own breast to the steel.
The two comely Italian youths were dragged out writhing in their captors' hands.
At last the half-swooning legate found his voice. "Lord Prince," he gasped. "Lord Prince... you cannot do this infamy! You cannot! I warn you that... that..." The threat perished unuttered, slain by mounting terror. "Mercy! Have mercy, lord! as you hope for mercy!"
"What mercy do you practice, you who preach a gospel of mercy in the world, and cry for mercy now?" the Infante asked him.
"But this is an infamy! What harm have those poor children done? What concern is it of theirs that I have offended you in performing my sacred duty?"
Swift into that opening flashed the home-thrust of the Infante's answer.
"What harm have my people of Coimbra done? What concern is it of theirs that I have offended you? Yet to master me you did not hesitate to strike at them with the spiritual weapons that are yours. To master you I do not hesitate to strike at your nephews with the lethal weapons that are mine. When you shall have seen them hang you will understand the things that argument could not make clear to you. In the vileness of my act you will see a reflection of the vileness of your own, and perhaps your heart will be touched, your monstrous pride abated."
Outside, under the tree, the figures of the men-at-arms were moving. Expeditiously, and with indifference, they went about the preparations for the task entrusted to them.
The Cardinal writhed, and fought for breath. "Lord Prince, this must not be!" He stretched forth supplicating hands. "Lord Prince, you must release my nephews."
"Lord Cardinal, you must absolve my people."
"If... if you will first make submission. My duty... to the Holy See... Oh God! Will nothing move you?"
"When they have been hanged you will understand, and out of your own affliction learn compassion." The Infante's voice was so cold, his mien so resolute that the legate despaired of conquering his purpose. Abruptly he capitulated, even as the halters went about the necks of his two cherished lads.
"Stop!" he screamed. "Bid them stop! The curse shall be lifted."
Affonso Henriques opened the window with a leisureliness which to the legate seemed to belong to the realm of nightmare.
"Wait yet a moment," the Infante called to those outside, about whom by now a little knot of awe-stricken villagers had gathered. Then he turned again to Cardinal Corrado, who had sunk to his chair like a man exhausted, and sat now panting, his elbows on the table, his head in his hands. "Here," said the prince, "are the terms upon which you may have their lives: Complete absolution, and Apostolic benediction for my people and myself this very night, I on my side making submission to the Holy Father's will to the extent of releasing my mother from duress, with the condition that she leaves Portugal at once and does not return. As for the banished bishop and his successor, matters must remain as they are; but you can satisfy your conscience on that score by yourself confirming the appointment of Don Zuleyman. Come, my lord, I am being generous, I think. In the enlargement of my mother I afford you the means of satisfying Rome. If you have learnt your lesson from what I here proposed, your conscience should satisfy you of the rest."
"Be it so," the Cardinal answered hoarsely. "I will return with you to Coimbra and do your will."
Thereupon, without any tinge of mockery, but in completest sincerity in token that the feud between them was now completely healed, Affonso Henriques went down upon his knees, like the true and humble son of Holy Church he accounted himself, to ask a blessing at the Cardinal's hands.
II. THE FALSE DEMETRIUS
Boris Godunov and the Pretended Son of Ivan the Terrible
The news of it first reached him whilst he sat at supper in the great hall of his palace in the Kremlin. It came at a time when already there was enough to distract his mind; for although the table before him was spread and equipped as became an emperor's, the gaunt spectre of famine stalked outside in the streets of Moscow, and men and women were so reduced by it that cannibalism was alleged to be breaking out amongst them.
Alone, save for the ministering pages, sat Boris Godunov under the iron lamps that made of the table, with its white napery and vessels of gold and silver plate, an island of light in the gloom of that vast apartment. The air was fragrant with the scent of burning pine, for although the time of year was May, the nights were chill, and a great log-fire was blazing on the distant hearth. To him, as he sat there, came his trusted Basmanov with those tidings which startled him at first, seeming to herald that at last the sword of Nemesis was swung above his sinful head.
Basmanov, a flush tinting the prominent cheek-bones of his sallow face, an excited glitter in his long eyes, began by ordering the pages out of earshot, then leaning forward quickly muttered forth his news.
At the first words of it, the Tsar's knife clashed into his golden platter, and his short, powerful hands clutched the carved arms of his great gilded chair. Quickly he controlled himself, and then as he continued to listen he was moved to scorn, and a faint smile began to stir under his grizzled beard.
A man had appeared in Poland—such was the burden of Basmanov's story—coming none knew exactly whence, who claimed to be Demetrius, the son of Ivan Vassielivitch, and lawful Tsar of Russia—Demetrius, who was believed to have died at Uglich ten years ago, and whose remains lay buried in Moscow, in the Church of St. Michael. This man had found shelter in Lithuania, in the house of Prince Wisniowiecki, and thither the nobles of Poland were now flocking to do him homage, acknowledging him the son of Ivan the Terrible. He was said to be the living image of the dead Tsar, save that he was swarthy and black-haired, like the dowager Tsarina, and there were two warts on his face, such as it was remembered had disfigured the countenance of the boy Demetrius.
Thus Basmanov, adding that he had dispatched a messenger into Lithuania to obtain more precise confirmation of the story. That messenger—chosen in consequence of something else that Basmanov had been told—was Smirnoy Otrepiev.
The Tsar Boris sat back in his chair, his eyes on the gem encrusted goblet, the stem of which his fingers were mechanically turning. There was now no vestige of the smile on his round white face. It had grown set and thoughtful.
"Find Prince Shuiski," he said presently, "and send him to me here."
Upon the tale the boyar had brought him he offered now no comment.
"We will talk of this again, Basmanov," was all he said in acknowledgment that he had heard, and in dismissal.
But when the boyar had gone, Boris Godunov heaved himself to his feet, and strode over to the fire, his great head sunk between his massive shoulders. He was a short, thick-set, bow-legged man, inclining to corpulence. He set a foot, shod in red leather reversed with ermine, upon an andiron, and, leaning an elbow on the carved overmantel, rested his brow against his hand. His eyes stared into the very heart of the fire, as if they beheld there the pageant of the past, upon which his mind was bent.
Nineteen years were sped since Ivan the Terrible had passed away, leaving two sons, Feodor Ivanovitch, who had succeeded him, and the infant Demetrius. Feodor, a weakling who was almost imbecile, had married Irene, the daughter of Boris Godunov, whereby it had fallen out that Boris became the real ruler of Russia, the power behind the throne. But his insatiable ambition coveted still more. He must wear the crown as well as wield the sceptre; and this could not be until the Ruric dynasty which had ruled Russia for nearly seven centuries should be stamped out. Between himself and the throne stood his daughter's husband and their child, and the boy Demetrius, who had been dispatched with his mother, the dowager Tsarina, to Uglich. The three must be removed.
Boris began with the last, and sought at first to drive him out of the succession without bloodshed. He attempted to have him pronounced illegitimate, on the ground that he was the son of Ivan's seventh wife (the orthodox Church recognizing no wife as legitimate beyond the third). But in this he failed. The memory of the terrible Tsar, the fear of him, was still alive in superstitious Russia, and none dared to dishonour his son. So Boris had recourse to other and surer means. He dispatched his agents to Uglich, and presently there came thence a story that the boy, whilst playing with a knife, had been taken with a fit of epilepsy, and had fallen, running the blade into his throat. But it was not a story that could carry conviction to the Muscovites, since with it came the news that the town of Uglich had risen against the emissaries of Boris, charging them with the murder of the boy, and killing them out of hand.
Terrible had been the vengeance which Boris had exacted. Of the luckless inhabitants of the town two hundred were put to death by his orders, and the rest sent into banishment beyond the Ural Mountains, whilst the Tsarina Maria, Demetrius's mother, for having said that her boy was murdered at the instigation of Boris, was packed off to a convent, and had remained there ever since in close confinement.
That had been in 1591. The next to go was Feodor's infant son, and lastly—in 1598—Feodor himself, succumbing to a mysterious illness, and leaving Boris a clear path to the throne. But he ascended it under the burden of his daughter's curse. Feodor's widow had boldly faced her father, boldly accused him of poisoning her husband to gratify his remorseless ambitions, and on a passionate appeal to God to let it be done by him as he had done by others she had departed to a convent, swearing never to set eyes upon him again.
The thought of her was with him now, as he stood there looking into the heart of the fire; and perhaps it was the memory of her curse that turned his stout heart to water, and made him afraid where there could surely be no cause for fear. For five years now had he been Tsar of Russia, and in these five years he had taken such a grip of power as was not lightly to be loosened.
Long he stood there, and there he was found by the magnificent Prince Shuiski, whom he had bidden Basmanov to summon.
"You went to Uglich when the Tsarevitch Demetrius was slain," said Boris. His voice and mien were calm and normal. "Yourself you saw the body. There is no possibility that you could have been mistaken in it?"
"Mistaken?" The boyar was taken aback by the question. He was a tall man, considerably younger than Boris, who was in his fiftieth year. His face was lean and saturnine, and there was something sinister in the dark, close-set eyes under a single, heavy line of eyebrow.
Boris explained his question, telling him what he had learnt from Basmanov. Basil Shuiski laughed. The story was an absurd one. Demetrius was dead. Himself he had held the body in his arms, and no mistake was possible.
Despite himself, a sigh of relief fluttered from the lips of Boris. Shuiski was right. It was an absurd story, this. There was nothing to fear. He had been a fool to have trembled for a moment.
Nevertheless, in the weeks that followed, he brooded more and more over all that Basmanov had said. It was in the thought that the nobility of Poland was flocking to the house of Wisniowiecki to do honour to this false son of Ivan the Terrible, that Boris found the chief cause of uneasiness. There was famine in Moscow, and empty bellies do not make for loyalty. Then, too, the Muscovite nobles did not love him. He had ruled too sternly, and had curbed their power. There were men like Basil Shuiski who knew too much—greedy, ambitious men, who might turn their knowledge to evil account. The moment might be propitious to the pretender, however false his claim. Therefore Boris dispatched a messenger to Wisniowiecki with the offer of a heavy bribe if he would yield up the person of this false Demetrius.
But that messenger returned empty-handed. He had reached Bragin too late. The pretender had already left the place, and was safely lodged in the castle of George Mniszek, the Palatine of Sandomir, to whose daughter Maryna he was betrothed. If these were ill tidings for Boris, there were worse to follow soon. Within a few months he learned from Sandomir that Demetrius had removed to Cracow, and that there he had been publicly acknowledged by Sigismund III. of Poland as the son of Ivan Vassielivitch, the rightful heir to the crown of Russia. He heard, too, the story upon which this belief was founded. Demetrius had declared that one of the agents employed by Boris Godunov to procure his murder at Uglich had bribed his physician Simon to perform the deed. Simon had pretended to agree as the only means of saving him. He had dressed the son of a serf, who slightly resembled Demetrius, in garments similar to those worn by the young prince, and thereafter cut the lad's throat, leaving those who had found the body to presume it to be the prince's. Meanwhile, Demetrius himself had been concealed by the physician, and very shortly thereafter carried away from Uglich, to be placed in safety in a monastery, where he had been educated.
Such, in brief, was the story with which Demetrius convinced the court of Poland, and not a few who had known the boy at Uglich came forward now to identify with him the grown man, who carried in his face so strong a resemblance to Ivan the Terrible. That story which Boris now heard was soon heard by all Russia, and Boris realized that something must be done to refute it.
But something more than assurances—his own assurances—were necessary if the Muscovites were to believe him. And so at last Boris bethought him of the Tsarina Maria, the mother of the murdered boy. He had her fetched to Moscow from her convent, and told her of this pretender who was setting up a claim to the throne of Russia, supported by the King of Poland.
She listened impassively, standing before him in the black robes and conventual coif which his tyranny had imposed upon her. When he had done, a faint smile swept over the face that had grown so hard in these last twelve years since that day when her boy had been slain almost under her very eyes.
"It is a circumstantial tale," she said. "It is perhaps true. It is probably true."
"True!" He bounded from his seat. "True? What are you saying, woman? Yourself you saw the boy dead."
"I did, and I know who killed him."
"But you saw him. You recognized him for your own, since you set the people on to kill those whom you believed had slain him."
"Yes," she answered. And added the question: "What do you want of me now?"
"What do I want?" He was amazed that she should ask, exasperated. Had the conventual confinement turned her head? "I want your testimony. I want you to denounce this fellow for the impostor that he is. The people will believe you."
"You think they will?" Interest had kindled in her glance.
"What else? Are you not the mother of Demetrius, and shall not a mother know her own son?"
"You forget. He was ten years of age then—a child. Now he is a grown man of three-and-twenty. How can I be sure? How can I be sure of anything?"
He swore a full round oath at her. "Because you saw him dead."
"Yet I may have been mistaken. I thought I knew the agents of yours who killed him. Yet you made me swear—as the price of my brothers' lives—that I was mistaken. Perhaps I was more mistaken than we thought. Perhaps my little Demetrius was not slain at all. Perhaps this man's tale is true."
"Perhaps..." He broke off to stare at her, mistrustfully, searchingly. "What do you mean?" he asked her sharply.
Again that wan smile crossed the hard, sharp-featured face that once had been so lovely. "I mean that if the devil came out of hell and called himself my son, I should acknowledge him to your undoing."
Thus the pent-up hate and bitterness of years of brooding upon her wrongs broke forth. Taken aback, he quailed before it. His jaw dropped foolishly, and he stared at her with wide, unblinking eyes.
"The people will believe me, you say—they will believe that a mother should know her own son. Then are your hours of usurpation numbered."
If for a moment it appalled him, yet in the end, forewarned, he was forearmed. It was foolish of her to let him look upon the weapon with which she could destroy him. The result of it was that she went back to her convent under close guard, and was thereafter confined with greater rigour than hitherto.
Desperately Boris heard how the belief in Demetrius was gaining ground in Russia with the people. The nobles might still be sceptical, but Boris knew that he could not trust them, since they had no cause to love him. He began perhaps to realize that it is not good to rule by fear.
And then at last came Smirnoy Otrepiev back from Cracow, where he had been sent by Basmanov to obtain with his own eyes confirmation of the rumour which had reached the boyar on the score of the pretender's real identity.
The rumour, he declared, was right. The false Demetrius was none other than his own nephew, Grishka Otrepiev, who had once been a monk, but, unfrocked, had embraced the Roman heresy, and had abandoned himself to licentious ways. You realize now why Smirnoy had been chosen by Basmanov for this particular mission.
The news heartened Boris. At last he could denounce the impostor in proper terms, and denounce him he did. He sent an envoy to Sigismund III. to proclaim the fellow's true identity, and to demand his expulsion from the Kingdom of Poland; and his denunciation was supported by a solemn excommunication pronounced by the Patriarch of Moscow against the unfrocked monk, Grishka Otrepiev, who now falsely called himself Demetrius Ivanovitch.
But the denunciation did not carry the conviction that Boris expected. It was reported that the Tsarevitch was a courtly, accomplished man, speaking Polish and Latin, as well as Russian, skilled in horsemanship and in the use of arms, and it was asked how an unfrocked monk had come by these accomplishments. Moreover, although Boris, fore-warned, had prevented the Tsarina Maria from supporting the pretender out of motives of revenge, he had forgotten her two brothers; he had not foreseen that, actuated by the same motives, they might do that which he had prevented her from doing. This was what occurred. The brothers Nagoy repaired to Cracow publicly to acknowledge Demetrius their nephew, and to enrol themselves under his banner.
Against this Boris realized that mere words were useless. The sword of Nemesis was drawn indeed. His sins had found him out. Nothing remained him but to arm and go forth to meet the impostor, who was advancing upon Moscow with a great host of Poles and Cossacks.
He appraised the support of the Nagoys at its right value. They, too, had been at Uglich, and had seen the dead boy, almost seen him slain. Vengeance upon himself was their sole motive. But was it possible that Sigismund of Poland was really deceived, as well as the Palatine of Sandomir, whose daughter was betrothed to the adventurer, Prince Adam Wisniowiecki, in whose house the false Demetrius had first made his appearance, and all those Polish nobles who flocked to his banner? Or were they, too, moved by some ulterior motive which he could not fathom?
That was the riddle that plagued Boris Godunov what time—in the winter of 1604—he sent his armies to meet the invader. He sent them because, crippled now by gout, even the satisfaction of leading them was denied him. He was forced to stay at home in the gloomy apartments of the Kremlin, fretted by care, with the ghosts of his evil past to keep him company, and assure him that the hour of judgment was at hand.
With deepening rage he heard how town after town capitulated to the adventurer, and mistrusting Basmanov, who was in command, he sent Shuiski to replace him. In January of 1605 the armies met at Dobrinichi, and Demetrius suffered a severe defeat, which compelled him to fall back on Putioli. He lost all his infantry, and every Russian taken in arms on the pretender's side was remorselessly hanged as Boris had directed.
Hope began to revive in the heart of Boris; but as months passed and no decision came, those hopes faded again, and the canker of the past gnawed at his vitals and sapped his strength. And then there was ever present to his mind the nightmare riddle of the pretender's identity. At last, one evening in April, he sent for Smirnoy Otrepiev to question him again concerning that nephew of his. Otrepiev came in fear this time. It is not good to be the uncle of a man who is giving so much trouble to a great prince.
Boris glared at him from blood-injected eyes. His round, white face was haggard, his cheeks sagged, and his fleshly body had lost all its erstwhile firm vigour.
"I have sent for you to question you again," he said, "touching this lewd nephew of yours, this Grishka Otrepiev, this unfrocked monk, who claims to be Tsar of Muscovy. Are you sure, man, that you have made no mistake—are you sure?"
Otrepiev was shaken by the Tsar's manner, by the ferocity of his mien. But he made answer: "Alas, Highness! I could not be mistaken. I am sure."
Boris grunted, and moved his body irritably in his chair. His terrible eyes watched Otrepiev mistrustfully. He had reached the mental stage in which he mistrusted everything and everybody.
"You lie, you dog," he snarled savagely.
"Highness, I swear..."
"Lies!" Boris roared him down. "And here's the proof. Would Sigismund of Poland have acknowledged him had he been what you say? When I denounced him the unfrocked monk Grishka Otrepiev, would not Sigismund have verified the statement had it been true?"
"The brothers Nagoy, the uncles of the dead Demetrius..." Otrepiev was beginning, when again Boris interrupted him.
"Their acknowledgment of him came after Sigismund's, after—long after—my denunciation." He broke into oaths. "I say you lie. Will you stand there and pelter with me, man? Will you wait until the rack pulls you joint from joint before you speak the truth?"
"Highness!" cried Otrepiev, "I have served you faithfully these years."
"The truth, man; as you hope for life," thundered the Tsar, "the whole truth of this foul nephew of yours, if so be he is your nephew."
And Otrepiev spoke the whole truth at last in his great dread. "He is not my nephew."
"Not?" It was a roar of rage. "You dared lie to me?"
Otrepiev's knees were loosened by terror, and he went down upon them before the irate Tsar.
"I did not lie—not altogether. I told you a half-truth, Highness. His name is Grishka Otrepiev; it is the name by which he always has been known, and he is an unfrocked monk, all as I said, and the son of my brother's wife."
"Then... then..." Boris was bewildered. Suddenly he understood. "And his father?"
"Was Stephen Bathory, King of Poland. Grishka Otrepiev is King Stephen's natural son."
Boris seemed to fight for breath for a moment.
"This is true?" he asked, and himself answered the question. "Of course it is true. It is the light at last... at last. You may go."
Otrepiev stumbled out, thankful, surprised to escape so lightly. He could not know of how little account to Boris was the deception he had practiced in comparison with the truth he had now revealed, a truth that shed a fearful, dazzling light upon the dark mystery of the false Demetrius. The problem that so long had plagued the Tsar was solved at last.
This pretended Demetrius, this unfrocked monk, was a natural son of Stephen Bathory, and a Roman Catholic. Such men as Sigismund of Poland and the Voyvode of Sandomir were not deceived on the score of his identity. They, and no doubt other of the leading nobles of Poland, knew the man for what he was, and because of it supported him, using the fiction of his being Demetrius Ivanovitch to impose upon the masses, and facilitate the pretenders occupation of the throne of Russia. And the object of it was to set up in Muscovy a ruler who should be a Pole and a Roman Catholic. Boris knew the bigotry of Sigismund, who already had sacrificed a throne—that of Sweden—to his devout conscience, and he saw clearly to the heart of this intrigue. Had he not heard that a Papal Nuncio had been at Cracow, and that this Nuncio had been a stout supporter of the pretender's claim? What could be the Pope's concern in the Muscovite succession? Why should a Roman priest support the claim of a prince to the throne of a country devoted to the Greek faith?
At last all was clear indeed to Boris. Rome was at the bottom of this business, whose true aim was the Romanization of Russia; and Sigismund had fetched Rome into it, had set Rome on. Himself an elected King of Poland, Sigismund may have seen in the ambitious son of Stephen Bathory one who might perhaps supplant him on the Polish throne. To divert his ambition into another channel he had fathered—if he had not invented—this fiction that the pretender was the dead Demetrius.
Had that fool Smirnoy Otrepiev but dealt frankly with him from the first, what months of annoyance might he not have been spared; how easy it might have been to prick this bubble of imposture. But better late than never. To-morrow he would publish the true facts, and all the world should know the truth; and it was a truth that must give pause to those fools in this superstitious Russia, so devoted to the Orthodox Greek Church, who favoured the pretender. They should see the trap that was being baited for them.
There was a banquet in the Kremlin that night to certain foreign envoys, and Boris came to table in better spirits than he had been for many a day. He was heartened by the thought of what was now to do, by the conviction that he held the false Demetrius in the hollow of his hand. There to those envoys he would announce to-night what to-morrow he would announce to all Russia—tell them of the discovery he had made, and reveal to his subjects the peril in which they stood. Towards the close of the banquet he rose to address his guests, announcing that he had an important communication for them. In silence they waited for him to speak. And then, abruptly, with no word yet spoken, he sank back into his chair, fighting for breath, clawing the air, his face empurpling until suddenly the blood gushed copiously from his mouth and nostrils.
He was vouchsafed time in which to strip off his splendid apparel and wrap himself in a monk's robe, thus symbolizing the putting aside of earthly vanities, and then he expired.
It has been now and then suggested that he was poisoned. His death was certainly most opportune to Demetrius. But there is nothing in the manner of it to justify the opinion that it resulted from anything other than an apoplexy.
His death brought the sinister opportunist Shuiski back to Moscow to place Boris's son Feodor on the throne. But the reign of this lad of sixteen was very brief. Basmanov, who had gone back to the army, being now inspired by jealousy and fear of the ambitious Shuiski, went over at once to the pretender, and proclaimed him Tsar of Russia. Thereafter events moved swiftly. Basmanov marched on Moscow, entered it in triumph, and again proclaimed Demetrius, whereupon the people rose in revolt against the son of the usurper Boris, stormed the Kremlin, and strangled the boy and his mother.
Basil Shuiski would have shared their fate had he not bought his life at the price of betrayal. Publicly he declared to the Muscovites that the boy whose body he had seen at Uglich was not that of Demetrius, but of a peasant's son, who had been murdered in his stead.
That statement cleared the last obstacle from the pretender's path, and he advanced now to take possession of his throne. Yet before he occupied it, he showed the real principles that actuated him, proved how true had been Boris's conclusion. He ordered the arrest and degradation of the Patriarch who had denounced and excommunicated him, and in his place appointed Ignatius, Bishop of Riazan, a man suspected of belonging to the Roman communion.
On the 30th of June of that year 1605, Demetrius made his triumphal entry into Moscow. He went to prostrate himself before the tomb of Ivan the Terrible, and then to visit the Tsarina Maria, who, after a brief communion with him in private, came forth publicly to acknowledge him as her son.
Just as Shuiski had purchased his life by a falsehood, so did she purchase her enlargement from that convent where so long she had been a prisoner, and restoration to the rank that was her proper due. After all, she had cause for gratitude to Demetrius, who, in addition to restoring her these things, had avenged her upon the hated Boris Godunov.
His coronation followed in due season, and at last this amazing adventurer found himself firmly seated upon the throne of Russia, with Basmanov at his right hand to help and guide him. And at first all went well, and the young Tsar earned a certain measure of popularity. If his swarthy face was coarse-featured, yet his bearing was so courtly and gracious that he won his way quickly to the hearts of his people. For the rest he was of a tall, graceful figure, a fine horseman, and of a knightly address at arms.
But he soon found himself in the impossible position of having to serve two masters. On the one hand there was Russia, and the orthodox Russians whose tsar he was, and on the other there were the Poles, who had made him so at a price, and who now demanded payment. Because he saw that this payment would be difficult and fraught with peril to himself he would—after the common wont of princes who have attained their objects—have repudiated the debt. And so he was disposed to ignore, or at least to evade, the persistent reminders that reached him from the Papal Nuncio, to whom he had promised the introduction into Russia of the Roman faith.
But presently came a letter from Sigismund couched in different terms. The King of Poland wrote to Demetrius that word had reached him that Boris Godunov was still alive, and that he had taken refuge in England, adding that he might be tempted to restore the fugitive to the throne of Muscovy.
The threat contained in that bitter piece of sarcasm aroused Demetrius to a sense of the responsibilities he had undertaken, which were precisely as Boris Godunov had surmised. As a beginning he granted the Jesuits permission to build a church within the sacred walls of the Kremlin, whereby he gave great scandal. Soon followed other signs that he was not a true son of the Orthodox Greek Church; he gave offence by his indifference to public worship, by his neglect of Russian customs, and by surrounding himself with Roman Catholic Poles, upon whom he conferred high offices and dignities.
And there were those at hand ready to stir up public feeling against him, resentful boyars quick to suspect that perhaps they had been swindled. Foremost among these was the sinister turncoat Shuiski, who had not derived from his perjury all the profit he expected, who resented, above all, to see Basmanov—who had ever been his rival—invested with a power second only to that of the Tsar himself. Shuiski, skilled in intrigue, went to work in his underground, burrowing fashion. He wrought upon the clergy, who in their turn wrought upon the populace, and presently all was seething disaffection under a surface apparently calm.
The eruption came in the following May, when Maryna, the daughter of the Palatine of Sandomir, made her splendid entry into Moscow, the bride-elect of the young Tsar. The dazzling procession and the feasting that followed found little favour in the eyes of the Muscovites, who now beheld their city aswarm with heretic Poles.
The marriage was magnificently solemnized on the 18th of May, 1606. And now Shuiski applied a match to the train he had so skilfully laid. Demetrius had caused a timber fort to be built before the walls of Moscow for a martial spectacle which he had planned for the entertainment of his bride. Shuiski put it abroad that the fort was intended to serve as an engine of destruction, and that the martial spectacle was a pretence, the real object being that from the fort the Poles were to cast firebrands into the city, and then proceed to the slaughter of the inhabitants.
No more was necessary to infuriate an already exasperated populace. They flew to arms, and on the night of the 29th of May they stormed the Kremlin, led on by the arch-traitor Shuiski himself, to the cry of "Death to the heretic! Death to the impostor!"
They broke into the palace, and swarmed up the stairs into the Tsar's bedchamber, slaying the faithful Basmanov, who stood sword in hand to bar the way and give his master time to escape. The Tsar leapt from a balcony thirty feet to the ground, broke his leg, and lay there helpless, to be dispatched by his enemies, who presently discovered him.
He died firmly and fearlessly protesting that he was Demetrius Ivanovitch. Nevertheless, he was Grishka Otrepiev, the unfrocked monk.
It has been said that he was no more than an instrument in the hands of priestcraft, and that because he played his part badly he met his doom. But something more he was. He was an instrument indeed, not of priestcraft, but of Fate, to bring home to Boris Godunov the hideous sins that stained his soul, and to avenge his victims by personating one of them. In that personation he had haunted Boris as effectively as if he had been the very ghost of the boy murdered at Uglich, haunted and tortured, and finally broken him so that he died.
That was the part assigned him by Fate in the mysterious scheme of human things. And that part being played, the rest mattered little. In the nature of him and of his position it was impossible that his imposture should be other than ephemeral.
III. THE HERMOSA FEMBRA
An Episode of the Inquisition in Seville
Apprehension hung like a thundercloud over the city of Seville in those early days of the year 1481. It had been growing since the previous October, when the Cardinal of Spain and Frey Tomas de Torquemada, acting jointly on behalf of the Sovereigns—Ferdinand and Isabella—had appointed the first inquisitors for Castile, ordering them to set up a Tribunal of the Faith in Seville, to deal with the apostatizing said to be rampant among the New-Christians, or baptized Jews, who made up so large a proportion of the population.
Among the many oppressive Spanish enactments against the Children of Israel, it was prescribed that all should wear the distinguishing circlet of red cloth on the shoulder of their gabardines; that they should reside within the walled confines of their ghettos and never be found beyond them after nightfall, and that they should not practice as doctors, surgeons, apothecaries, or innkeepers. The desire to emancipate themselves from these and other restrictions upon their commerce with Christians and from the generally intolerable conditions of bondage and ignominy imposed upon them, had driven many to accept baptism and embrace Christianity.
But even such New-Christians as were sincere in their professions of faith failed to find in this baptism the peace they sought. Bitter racial hostility, though sometimes tempered, was never extinguished by their conversion.
Hence the alarm with which they viewed the gloomy, funereal, sinister pageant—the white-robed, black-mantled and hooded inquisitors, with their attendant familiars and barefoot friars—headed by a Dominican bearing the white Cross, which invaded the city of Seville one day towards the end of December and took its way to the Convent of St. Paul, there to establish the Holy Office of the Inquisition. The fear of the New-Christians that they were to be the object of the attentions of this dread tribunal had sufficed to drive some thousands of them out of the city, to seek refuge in such feudal lordships as those of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, the Marquis of Cadiz, and the Count of Arcos.
This exodus had led to the publication by the newly appointed inquisitors of the edict of 2nd January, in which they set forth that inasmuch as it had come to their knowledge that many persons had departed out of Seville in fear of prosecution upon grounds of heretical pravity, they commanded the nobles of the Kingdom of Castile that within fifteen days they should make an exact return of the persons of both sexes who had sought refuge in their lordships or jurisdictions; that they arrest all these and lodge them in the prison of the Inquisition in Seville, confiscating their property, and holding it at the disposal of the inquisitors; that none should shelter any fugitive under pain of greater excommunication and of other penalties by law established against abettors of heretics.
The harsh injustice that lay in this call to arrest men and women merely because they had departed from Seville before departure was in any way forbidden, revealed the severity with which the inquisitors intended to proceed. It completed the consternation of the New-Christians who had remained behind, and how numerous these were may be gathered from the fact that in the district of Seville alone they numbered a hundred thousand, many of them occupying, thanks to the industry and talent characteristic of their race, positions of great eminence. It even disquieted the well-favoured young Don Rodrigo de Cardona, who in all his vain, empty, pampered and rather vicious life had never yet known perturbation. Not that he was a New-Christian. He was of a lineage that went back to the Visigoths, of purest red Castilian blood, untainted by any strain of that dark-hued, unclean fluid alleged to flow in Hebrew veins. But it happened that he was in love with the daughter of the millionaire Diego de Susan, a girl whose beauty was so extraordinary that she was known throughout Seville and for many a mile around as la Hermosa Fembra; and he knew that such commerce—licit or illicitly conducted—was disapproved by the holy fathers. His relations with the girl had been perforce clandestine, because the disapproval of the holy fathers was matched in thoroughness by that of Diego de Susan. It had been vexatious enough on that account not to be able to boast himself the favoured of the beautiful and opulent Isabella de Susan; it was exasperating to discover now a new and more imperative reason for this odious secrecy.
Never sped a lover to his mistress in a frame of mind more aggrieved than that which afflicted Don Rodrigo as, tight-wrapped in his black cloak, he gained the Calle de Ataud on that January night.
Anon, however, when by way of a garden gate and an easily escaladed balcony he found himself in the presence of Isabella, the delight of her effaced all other considerations. Her father was from home, as she had told him in the note that summoned him; he was away at Palacios on some merchant's errand, and would not return until the morrow. The servants were all abed, and so Don Rodrigo might put off his cloak and hat, and lounge at his ease upon the low Moorish divan, what time she waited upon him with a Saracen goblet filled with sweet wine of Malaga. The room in which she received him was one set apart for her own use, her bower, a long, low ceilinged chamber, furnished with luxury and taste. The walls were hung with tapestries, the floor spread with costly Eastern rugs; on an inlaid Moorish table a tall, three-beaked lamp of beaten copper charged with aromatic oil shed light and perfume through the apartment.
Don Rodrigo sipped his wine, and his dark, hungry eyes followed her as she moved about him with vaguely voluptuous, almost feline grace. The wine, the heavy perfume of the lamp, and the beauty of her played havoc among them with his senses, so that he forgot for the moment his Castilian lineage and clean Christian blood, forgot that she derived from the accursed race of the Crucifiers. All that he remembered was that she was the loveliest woman in Seville, daughter to the wealthiest man, and in that hour of weakness he decided to convert into reality that which had hitherto been no more than an infamous presence. He would loyally fulfil the false, disloyal promises he had made. He would take her to wife. It was a sacrifice which her beauty and her wealth should make worth while. Upon that impulse he spoke now, abruptly:
"Isabella, when will you marry me?"
She stood before him, looking down into his weak, handsome face, her fingers interlacing his own. She merely smiled. The question did not greatly move her. Not knowing him for the scoundrel that he was, guessing nothing of the present perturbation of his senses, she found it very natural that he should ask her to appoint the day.
"It is a question you must ask my father," she answered him.
"I will," said he, "to-morrow, on his return." And he drew her down beside him.
But that father was nearer than either of them dreamed. At that very moment the soft thud of the closing housedoor sounded through the house. It brought her sharply to her feet, and loose from his coiling arms, with quickened breath and blanching face. A moment she hung there, tense, then sped to the door of the room, set it ajar and listened.
Up the stairs came the sound of footsteps and of muttering voices. It was her father, and others with him.
With ever-mounting fear she turned to Don Rodrigo, and breathed the question: "If they should come here?"
The Castilian stood where he had risen by the divan, his face paler now than its pale, aristocratic wont, his eyes reflecting the fear that glittered in her own. He had no delusion as to what action Diego de Susan would take upon discovering him. These Jewish dogs were quickly stirred to passion, and as jealous as their betters of the honour of their womenfolk. Already Don Rodrigo in imagination saw his clean red Christian blood bespattering that Hebrew floor, for he had no weapon save the heavy Toledo dagger at his girdle, and Diego de Susan was not alone.
It was, he felt, a ridiculous position for a Hidalgo of Spain. But his dignity was to suffer still greater damage. In another moment she had bundled him into an alcove behind the arras at the chamber's end, a tiny closet that was no better than a cupboard contrived for the storing of household linen. She had-moved with a swift precision which at another time might have provoked his admiration, snatching up his cloak and hat, and other evidences of his presence, quenching the lamp, and dragging him to that place of cramped concealment, which she remained to share with him.
Came presently movements in the room beyond, and the voice of her father:
"We shall be securest from intrusion here. It is my daughter's room. If you will give me leave, I will go down again to admit our other friends."
Those other friends, as Don Rodrigo gathered, continued to arrive for the next half-hour, until in the end there must have been some twenty of them assembled in that chamber. The mutter of voices had steadily increased, but so confused that no more than odd words, affording no clue to the reason of this gathering, had reached the hidden couple.
And then quite suddenly a silence fell, and on that silence beat the sharp, clear voice of Diego de Susan addressing them.
"My friends," he said, "I have called you hither that we may concert measures for the protection of ourselves and all New-Christians in Seville from the fresh peril by which we are menaced. The edict of the inquisitors reveals how much we have to fear. You may gather from it that the court of the Holy Office is hardly likely to deal in justice, and that the most innocent may find himself at any moment exposed to its cruel mercies. Therefore it is for us now to consider how to protect ourselves and our property from the unscrupulous activities of this tribunal. You are the principal New Christian citizens of Seville; you are wealthy, not only in property, but also in the goodwill of the people, who trust and respect, and at need will follow, you. If nothing less will serve, we must have recourse to arms; and so that we are resolute and united, my friends, we shall prevail against the inquisitors."
Within the alcove, Don Rodrigo felt his skin roughening with horror at this speech, which breathed sedition not only against the Sovereigns, but against the very Church. And with his horror was blent a certain increase of fear. If his situation had been perilous before, it was tenfold more dangerous now. Discovery, since he had overheard this treason, must mean his certain death. And Isabella, realizing the same to the exclusion of all else, clutched his arm and cowered against him in the dark.
There was worse to follow. Susan's address was received with a murmur of applause, and then others spoke, and several were named, and their presence thus disclosed. There was the influential Manuel Sauli, who next to Susan was the wealthiest man in Seville; there was Torralba, the Governor of Triana; Juan Abolafio, the farmer of the royal customs, and his brother Fernandez, the licentiate, and there were others—all of them men of substance, some even holding office under the Crown. Not one was there who dissented from anything that Susan had said; rather did each contribute some spur to the general resolve. In the end it was concerted that each of those present should engage himself to raise a proportion of the men, arms and money that would be needed for their enterprise. And upon that the meeting was dissolved, and they departed. Susan himself went with them. He had work to do in the common cause, he announced, and he would do it that very night in which it was supposed that he was absent at Palacios.
At last, when all had gone, and the house was still again, Isabella and her lover crept forth from their concealment, and in the light of the lamp which Susan had left burning each looked into the other's white, startled face. So shaken was Don Rodrigo with horror of what he had overheard, and with the terror of discovery, that it was with difficulty he kept his teeth from chattering.
"Heaven protect us!" he gasped. "What Judaizing was this?"
"Judaizing!" she echoed. It was the term applied to apostacy, to the relapse of New-Christians to Judaism, an offense to be expiated at the stake. "Here was no Judaizing. Are you mad, Rodrigo? You heard no single word that sinned against the Faith."
"Did I not? I heard treason enough to."
"No, nor treason either. You heard honourable, upright men considering measures of defence against oppression, injustice, and evil acquisitiveness masquerading in the holy garments of religion."
He stared askance at her for a moment, then his full lips curled into a sneer. "Of course you would seek to justify them," he said. "You are of that foul brood yourself. But you cannot think to cozen me, who am of clean Old-christian blood and a true son of Mother Church. These men plot evil against the Holy Inquisition. Is that not Judaizing when it is done by Jews?"
She was white to the lips, and a new horror stared at him from her great dark eyes; her lovely bosom rose and fell in tumult. Yet still she sought to reason with him.
"They are not Jews—not one of them. Why, Perez is himself in holy orders. All of them are Christians, and..."
"Newly-baptized!" he broke in, sneering viciously. "A defilement of that holy sacrament to gain them worldly advantages. That is revealed by what passed here just now. Jews they were born, the sons of Jews, and Jews they remain under their cloak of mock Christianity, to be damned as Jews in the end." He was panting now with fiery indignation; a holy zeal inflamed this profligate defiler. "God forgive me that ever I entered here. Yet I do believe that it was His will that I should come to overhear what is being plotted. Let me depart from hence."
With a passionate gesture of abhorrence he swung towards the door. Her clutch upon his arm arrested him.
"Whither do you go?" she asked trim sharply. He looked now into her eyes, and of all that they contained he saw only fear; he saw nothing of the hatred into which her love had been transmuted in that moment by his unsparing insults to herself, her race and her home, by the purpose which she clearly read in him.
"Whither?" he echoed, and sought to shake her off.
"Whither my Christian duty bids me."
It was enough for her. Before he could prevent or suspect her purpose, she had snatched the heavy Toledo blade from his girdle, and armed with it stood between the door and him.
"A moment, Don Rodrigo. Do not attempt to advance, or, as Heaven watches us, I strike, and it maybe that I shall kill you. We must talk awhile before you go."
Amazed, chapfallen, half-palsied, he stood before her, his fine religious zeal wiped out by fear of that knife in her weak woman's hand. Rapidly to-night was she coming into real knowledge of this Castilian gentleman, whom with pride she had taken for her lover. It was a knowledge that was to sear her presently with self-loathing and self-contempt. But for the moment her only consideration was that, as a direct result of her own wantonness, her father stood in mortal peril. If he should perish through the deletion of this creature, she would account herself his slayer.
"You have not considered that the deletion you intend will destroy my father," she said quietly.
"There is my Christian duty to consider," answered he, but without boldness now.
"Perhaps. But there is something you must set against it. Have you no duty as a lover—no duty to me?"
"No earthly duty can weigh against a spiritual obligation...."
"Ah, wait! Have patience. You have not well considered, that is plain. In coming here in secret you wronged my father. You will not trouble to deny it.
"Jointly we wronged him, you and I. Will you then take advantage of something learnt whilst you were hiding there like a thief from the consequences of what you did, and so do him yet this further wrong?"
"Must I wrong my conscience?" he asked her sullenly.
"Indeed, I fear you must."
"Imperil my immortal soul?" He almost laughed.
"You talk in vain."
"But I have something more than words for you." With her left hand she drew upon the fine gold chain about her neck, and brought forth a tiny jewelled cross. Passing the chain over her head, she held it out.
"Take this," she bade him. "Take it, I say. Now, with that sacred symbol in your hand, make solemn oath to divulge no word of what you have learnt here tonight, or else resign yourself to an unshriven death. For either you take that oath, or I rouse the servants and have you dealt with as one who has intruded here unbidden for an evil end." She backed away from him as she spoke, and threw wide the door. Then, confronting him from the threshold, she admonished him again, her voice no louder than a whisper. "Quick now! Resolve yourself. Will you die here with all your sins upon you, and so destroy for all eternity the immortal soul that urges you to this betrayal, or will you take the oath that I require?"
He began an argument that was like a sermon of the Faith. But she cut him short. "For the last time!" she bade him. "Will you decide?"
He chose the coward's part, of course, and did violence tomb fine conscience. With the cross in his hand he repeated after her the words of the formidable oath that she administered an oath which it must damn his immortal soul to break. Because of that, because she imagined that she had taken the measure of his faith, she returned him his dagger, and let him go at last. She imagined that she had bound him fast in irrefragable spiritual bonds.
And even on the morrow, when her father and all those who had been present at that meeting at Susan's house were arrested by order of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, she still clung to that belief. Yet presently a doubt crept in, a doubt that she must at all costs resolve. And so presently she called for her litter, and had herself carried to the Convent of St. Paul, where she asked to see Frey Alonso de Ojeda, the Prior of the Dominicans of Seville.
She was left to wait in a square, cheerless, dimly-lighted room pervaded by a musty smell, that had for only furniture a couple of chairs and a praying-stool, and for only ornament a great, gaunt crucifix hanging upon one of its whitewashed walls.