My Escape from the Auto de Fe at Valladolid - Chapter 7 - 9
Summary: October 1559 * Don Fernando de la Mina A story founded on historic fact, retold by Pastor Timms.
 
 

Summary: Don Fernando de la Mina, a nobleman of Spain, is arrested for his sympathy with the Protestant faith. Sentenced to death, he miraculously escapes during a thunderstorm, and happens upon a poor peddler in a hut who has been killed by the storm. Quickly changing clothes with the peddler, Fernando narrowly escapes his pursuers. Upon finding the poor peddler dressed in Fernando's clothes, his pursuers presume Fernando to have been stricken by divine justice and his body taken for burial.

Disguised as a peddler, Fernando makes his way back to the city of Simancas to attend the Auto de Fe (Act of Faith), where his coffin is brought along with several Protestant sympathizers that are to be publicly executed. Fernando hopes to obtain mercy from the King by revealing himself before the crowd, and to find his beloved, the Dona Rosa de Riello so he can assure her that he is not dead.

He quickly realizes there will be no mercy from the King, and that he will not be able to reveal himself to his betrothed at this time. Rosa leaves the scene of martyrdom, believing Fernando to have died and Fernando watches her leave without being able to give her the good news. His life is still in danger and he must find a way for both himself and his beloved to escape.

The Temptation of Don Juan de Lario

Chapter 7

For several moments after the departure of my beloved and her maid, I continued to stand listlessly in the Plazuela del Hospicio. At last I resolved to return to my squalid quarters at the Venta de la Reina. But just as I passed across the square two men entered it: Father Lorenzo, a distant priestly cousin of mine, and Don Juan de Lario.

The two men walked toward me side by side, one garbed in solemn black with a curled-brimmed hat and a flowing cassock; and the other ornately attired in a rose velvet doublet and cinnamon hose. The latter was Don Juan, my cousin, and he was also the cousin of Father Lorenzo. His estates joined my beloved's and mine at Simancas. He, too, like myself, had accepted the Reformed Faith under the guidance of Don Carlos de Seso (who had married his sister), and he and I had always been close friends and neighbors together.

The two men crossed the little square and entered the vino-the little wine shop-at the comer. Instinctively I followed them and, as they seated themselves near the entrance, I passed by them and went right into the further end of the shop.

Now it so happened that the wind set in toward me and from where they sat, and-although they spoke quietly-I was able to overhear every word of their conversation.

"No! No!" said the priest. "No, no, Juan. It is useless for you to appeal to, what you call, my 'natural affection.' The obligations of family relationship ceased for me the moment I became a son of the Holy Catholic Church. My vows, my earthly interests, and my hopes of Heaven safe­guard me from such weakness and false pity. The secrets of the Holy Office, which I keep inviolate, and the authority of the Church, which I unswervingly obey, forbid me to say more than I have already told you, and I repeat that every traitor-note, every traitor-who communicates the poisonous heresy of that Anti-Christ Luther will be exter­minated in the fires of the Inquisition. The Holy Church and the Secular Powers are irresistibly allied to that end. You heard what His Most Catholic Majesty said to the accursed Don Carlos de Seso, this morning-"

"No, I did not," replied Don Juan, "for I did not attend the Auto de Fe."

"That fact," replied the priest, "is well known to the Holy Office, and it is your absence from the Auto de Fe, and your past association with de Seso, that have brought you under suspicion of heresy. Yet," he continued, "yet, despite your defection, and your contemptuous neglect of this Most Holy Sacrament-for Sacrament it is-the Church graciously offers you a complete pardon if you will secretly inform the Holy Office of the heresy and the source of the heresy of the Dona Rosa de Riello. And now, my dear Juan"-and here a gleam of wondrous kindness shone upon the priest's countenance as he reached across the table and tenderly touched the young man's arm­ - "Acuérdate primo hermano mio, let me urge you for the last time to confess and recant your past heresy; throw yourself upon the mercy of the Church and I will secure for you full absolution and readmission into the safety and the blessedness of the Holy Catholic Faith. Remember, my son, that if you refuse to obey the Church in this matter, you will imperil your present and your eternal welfare. You will be tortured and condemned, your body will be given to the flames and your property will be confiscated, your name shall go down to posterity in perpetual infamy, and your soul in Hell shall be denied the saving rites of the Christian Church. Now, you must make up your mind speedily-indeed, you must decide on confession or contumacy before midnight tomorrow, for at midnight tomorrow you will be arraigned before the Holy Inquisition. I have warned you! Now do not be deceived, there is no chance of escape. You are watched night and day."

From the dark corner where I sat sipping my wine I watched Don Juan's face, and saw him wince, as well he might, under that terrible threat. But I did not despise him for his fear, or even for his seeming dalliance with a hideous temptation-a temptation to save his own life, his property and good name, at the price of a treachery that would destroy the life of my beloved and all our hopes of happiness in this world.

How patient that priest was! He waited and waited for a reply. But Don Juan continued to sit in silence for at least a quarter of an hour. Then, at last, the young man rose without a word, paid for the wine and went out into the Plazuela alone. Father Lorenzo watched him go, then he, too, arose and departed, leaving me perplexed and fearful for the safety of my beloved. What should I do? What could I do? One certainty fixed itself in my mind. My beloved would be informed against before midnight tomorrow.

If I attempted to write to her, my letter would be intercepted, for she, too, was being watched! Beside this, writing was now impossible for me. Never could a buhoñero in Spain even write so much as his own name, and if I incautiously called for pen and ink at the wine shop, or even at the Venta, suspicion would immediately fall upon me and I should be watched-for the common people at that time were only too glad of any opportunity to inform against a foe or a stranger, in order to ingratiate themselves with the powerful priests and secure as the reward of their treachery a fourth part of the condemned victim's confiscated property. Heresy, or even the semblance of heresy, was such a dangerous thing in those perilous times of excited fanaticism.

Love Contends with Loyalty

Chapter 8

But how could I communicate with the Doña Rosa? Every avenue of approach seemed closed to me. But the need was urgent. It was imperative that I should, at once, inform her of the danger that threatened her.

For some time I continued to sit in the wine shop pondering how I could let her know what I had just heard. As I sat and pondered, I happened to look unconsciously out through the open doorway of the Vino and into the sunlit square beyond, and there, in the further corner of the Plazuela, I noticed a crowd of peasants standing round an old man who sat at a table in the shade of one of the arches. He was the escribano, the professional writer and reader of letters-for you must know that the ignorant multitudes of Spain can neither read nor write, and must needs employ someone to do their correspondence.

Quickly I paid for my wine and went out toward the escribano, and waited there in the crowd until he was free to serve me. Then I directed him to write a letter for me to "The Señora Ana, maid to the Doña Rosa de Riello," and say: "Señora, the buhoñero whom you honored by your kindness at Valladolid today desires to return to you a very valuable trinket that you lost as you entered the galera in the Plazuela del Hospicio. The buhonero will be at Simancas tomorrow at noon and will wait for you there with the trinket outside the Fonda de la Rosa."

I signed this missive with a cross, but underneath the cross I added my secret cifra-a flourished F. M. with which I had always concluded my letters to the Doña Rosa. This I did in the hope that Ana would surely show the unex­pected message to her mistress. However, the messenger whom I dispatched with my letter returned in the evening with only this bald reply: "The mistress Ana said, 'Tell the buhoñero that I will meet him tomorrow at noon."'

So next morning I rode my mule to Simancas and there I found the faithful Ana waiting for me outside the Fonda de la Rosa. Inviting her into the quiet shade of the puerta, I inquired: "Did you show my letter to the Doña Rosa?"

"No," she replied, "I destroyed it immediately lest it should be seen by one of the servants. My mistress desires that her visit to Valladolid shall remain unknown to anyone but me." Then, turning abruptly to the matter in hand, she asked: "Have you brought the trinket?"

Guardedly I inquired: "Did you lose one?"

To this direct question she required with perfect frank­ness: "I do not know for certain, but I may have lost one, and, if you will describe the trinket you have found, I will claim it if it belongs to my mistress."

"Oh, no!" said I. "If it belongs to your mistress you must surely know what it is like. I will help you, if I may.

Will you describe to me the jewels that, perhaps, you might have lost?"

And, without any hesitation, she began to enumerate first, several rings and ornaments (many of which had been my personal gifts to my beloved), and then proceed to describe some of the valuable old heirlooms which I remembered to have seen so often at the Castillete de Riello.

This ingenuous admission showed me clearly that the Doña Rosa had already contemplated flight, and that she and Ana had visited Valladolid yesterday for the wise purpose of conveying her portable valuables away from Riello in order to deposit them in a secret place of safety somewhere in or near Valladolid.

I now had to admit that none of the jewels she enumerated was the one that I had discovered. This seemed to relieve Ana's mind and she, thereupon, prepared to bid me farewell. But I quietly detained her and, speaking very low, said: "Señora, I am certain that the trinket in my keeping is a priceless and essential possession of the Doña Rosa de Riello. Yesterday, immediately after your departure from Valladolid, I discovered in the Plazuela del Hospicio a talisman that can serve and save her alone. Its possession will avert from her impending disaster and death."

Then I repeated to Ana the conversation that I had overheard yesterday between Father Lorenzo and Don Juan de Lorio in the wine shop, and I impressed upon her the necessity of the Doña Rosa's immediate escape from imminent arrest.

Ana, that good, noble, loyal old servant and friend, received my confidence with evident caution and betrayed no fear or great concern. She thanked me and bade me farewell, but would not reveal to me anything concerning my beloved's present circumstances or intentions.

Then she turned to depart, but, as she turned she gave a quick second glance at my anxious and unguarded face, and I felt conscious that she, like her mistress, was strangely impressed by my resemblance to one whom they knew to be dead. Again she looked searchingly at me, feeling safe to do so in her certain knowledge of Don Fernando's death. Then, with a sense of surprise and pleasure revealed upon her dear old homely face, she spoke with a kindlier, but still guarded, confidence, and said: "If you really desire to help my mistress it might, perhaps, be well if you keep yourself in touch with us. You seem to be honest and of gentle behaviour-but you are poor! If you will faithfully serve my mistress she will reward you generously. To that end I should wish you to return with me to the Castillete de Riello in order that you may personally present your talisman to the Doña Rosa."

This trap was cleverly devised, my son! I know the subtle workings of the Spanish mind. Once inside the Castillete and, were I friend or foe, I should be absolutely in their power! But, oh! How my heart leaped at the prospect of again seeing my beloved and helping her to safety and happiness!

The Castillete de Riello

Chapter 9

With the deference due to Ana from a mere buhoñero, I followed her at a respectful distance, walking with my mule along the Tordessillas road and then down the long avenue of chestnut trees that forms the private entrance to the old Castillete de Riello. How I strained my eyes to seek my beloved in the gardens or at any of the windows! But no such happy vision blessed my expectations. Nor, when we reached the house, was there any sight or sound of her. I followed Ana through the familiar patio and into my lady's parlor, then into the servants' quarters, but the Doña Rosa was nowhere to be found.

The whole place seemed to be haunted, as though it were under some evil spell. Instead of the quiet, ordered industry common to the Castillete there was now fitful loud talking and confusion everywhere. The farm laborers and the servants of the household were crowded in the kitchen, some shouting, some speaking in frightened, agitated whispers, and as we entered they all shrank away from us in fear. But the moment they recognized Ana they came toward her and cried: "Oh, Mistress Ana, the officers of the Holy Inquisition are searching the house! Don Juan came here in haste at noon-he spoke hurriedly to our mistress, and since then we have not been able to find her anywhere."

"O! no!" thought I. "So my noble young cousin has scorned the priest's traitorous temptation to betray the Dona Rosa and instead, has bravely come to forewarn my beloved of her danger. The officers have arrived here and are searching for evidence that will assist their midnight examination of Don Juan and, perhaps, help them to wring from their victim admissions that will establish the heresy of the Doña Rosa!"

I looked round upon the laborers and the servants of the Riello household as they stood there in the hall. Genuine love and fear were expressed on every countenance. The women wept and the men stood sullen and savage. Perceiving their loyalty I determined to utilize it. So, speaking first to one and then another, I gradually roused the latent courage of the men, and proposed that the eight of us should surprise and overpower the four officers of the Inquisition-bind them and secure them in one of the lofts, in order to give the Doña Rosa time to make her escape.

Before I had finished stating my plans, the men, by dint of paltry breed and ignorance, began to hesitate. The little pluck and unselfishness that I had been able to stimulate within them quickly subsided before their superstitious fears, and presently, when the searchers of the Holy Office descended into the patio, the poor craven loons shrank away one by one into the recesses of the dimly lighted kitchen.

Oh how I cursed their cowardice! But, hoping still to rally them, I dragged the long heavy kitchen table to one side of the doorway, and the meal chest to the other, and then drew the curtain across the window so that when the officers should come into the room, single file, as they needs must, and then grope their way forward in the dark­ness, we should have them trapped and hampered in a narrow space, where we could surprise and overcome them by sheer weight and numbers. But, just as the officers approached the kitchen door, Ana gripped my arm and said: "Don't attempt resistance. It is hopeless-and quite unnecessary, for the Doña Rosa has already escaped, and is now quite safe from arrest or detection."

Then she led away through the small service door into a narrow lane that skirts the older portion of the Castillete. Here she bade me assist her to mount my mule and run beside her into the high road until we reached the beginning of a rough cart-track that led to one of the Riello farms. There she hastily dismounted and bade me hold the mule and await her return.

As Ana departed in the deepening shade the grim humour of the situation gradually dawned on me, and I began to laugh merrily to myself as I thought how I, an erst­while nobleman of Spain, was now acting as a servile lackey to my lady's maid! And, with that strange revulsion of feeling that sometimes accompanies distress, I laughed again and again at this ludicrous perversion of fortune until at last, the return of sober sense compelled me once more to recognize the stem reality that poverty, ignominy, rags, and degrada­tion had now come into my life as final and irrevocable facts.

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