My Escape from the Auto de Fe at Valladolid - Chapter 13 - 14
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 Fé (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 Doña Rosa de Riello so he can assure her that he is not dead.

Don Fernando discovers a plot to betray and arrest his betrothed and comes up with a plan to make contact with her. His intention is to gain her trust, as the buhonero (peddler) that he is disguised as. On a pretext, he establishes contact, and begins making himself indispensable to the Dona Rosa and her maid Ana.

He accompanies them to an inn which the two women have rented on their preparation to leave the city. He bribes the inn keeper to alert him when the women leave so that he can follow them and keep an eye on them, knowing that it will not be easy to escape 300 miles through Spain when the Dona Rosa is already under suspicion of being a heretic.

The next morning he learns of the women's departure and he, still disguised as a peddler, hastens to follow them, catching up around midday only to arrive just as the Captain of the Guard arrives to arrest them.  When the Captain is not paying attention, Don Fernando jumps on his back and wrestles him to the ground. He dashes his head against a stone making him unconscious to allow his beloved and him time to escape.

I Enter My Lady’s Service

Chapter 13

What strange folk women are! During the few minutes of my furious encounter with the sturdy Captain, the Dona Rosa and her maid stood stolidly looking on–just as if the fight had been an entertainment instead of the grim life-and-death struggle that it really was! And it was not until I had tied the Captain’s hands and feet, and had confiscated his warrant and his pistols and had gagged him to ensure his silence, it was not until then that the women evinced any personal concern in the affair! Rising, hot and infuriated from the struggle, I approached Ana and asked her to help me lift and drag the Captain from the roadway. Between us we pulled the unconscious Captain from the road and deposited him under the trees near the farm, where we were sure he would be found and secured before nightfall. I knew that I ran a tremendous risk in thus leaving the life in his body, and I was sorely tempted to put him to death. Had I yielded to that temp­tation we should have been spared much anxiety and our escape from Spain would have been comparatively easy. But if I had killed him, even in self-defense, I should have had an everlasting burden on my conscience. For, after all, the Captain was only discharging his duty as he understood it, and, even though he was a slave to bigotry and our inveterate foe, he was nonetheless a courteous and an honourable gentleman.

No, I have never taken human life, thank God, and though the Captain dogged our footsteps for several weeks afterwards, I have never regretted that when he was completely in my power I permitted him to live.

The Dona Rosa now drew near to me and I at once knelt to do her homage.

Señor,” said she, “I owe my present safety to the chivalry of one who is unknown to me. I do not remember that I ever showed you kindness. Why, then, have you risked your life and liberty for me?”

Señora,” I replied in vague, but perfect truthfulness, “last Saturday I was, myself, in imminent peril of death in the Church of Arroya de la Encomienda, and there, unknown to anyone but to him and me, Don Fernando de la Mina, by a great self-sacrifice, preserved for me my life and liberty. Do you wonder, Señora, that I was grateful to Don Fernando, and that I there and then swore that I would henceforth place my life and service at his command? Don Fernando accepted my vow, and there upon he directed me to go at once and seek the Dona Rosa de Riello, and place my life and duty at her command. And, now, in compliance with Don Fernando’s last request I crave your Excellency’s acceptance of my humble service.”

I remained kneeling in the roadway as I spoke and the Dona Rosa, after listening earnestly to my appeal, now extended her hand toward me in token of her acceptance of my service and there, as I knelt in the roadway–there from my heart–I pledged my life and duty to my mistress just as joyfully as, three years ago, I had pledged my eternal love to her. Then I kissed her hand and rose from the dusty road a new and happier man.

But, as I rose, I perceived that my beloved was looking intently into my face–her countenance betoken a surprised and almost superstitious fear–and I knew that she had again detected in my unguarded countenance that strange likeness to Don Fernando de la Mina, a likeness that, despite my shaggy beard and poor attire, I could not completely efface. But her transient look of surprise soon faded away, as the absolute certainty of my death recurred to her mind and now, once more, the returning sad look of the lonely woman was all too eloquent of her sorrowful thought, “the light has gone out from my earthly life–the dead do not return!” Oh! How my heart yearned to reveal the wondrous truth to my beloved–but for her own dear sake I dared not.

But now, quickly regaining her self-possession and realizing the need of instant flight, Dona Rosa at once proceeded to explain her plans to me. She had, she said, already provided herself and Ana with French costumes, and, now that I was to join the company, she explained that it would be necessary that I also should be appropriately disguised. She directed me therefore, first to have my beard pointed–an operation that Ana at once performed upon me in the roadway, much to our amusement. Then my mistress informed me that I must go into Cabezon and there leave at the Fonda the two mules that she had hired at Valladolid and, after that I must purchase suitable clothing for myself, while she and Ana would ride the Captain’s horse northward along the Burgos road and change their dresses en route. Then, as a French lady and her maid traveling home to Paris, they would wait for me, their courier-servant, to overtake them early next morning at the Fonda de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, where they intended to lodge at the little town of Duenasaeros, about twelve miles to the north of Cabezon.

As soon as they had departed I began to pack my little mule with their luggage and then I proceeded with it to Cabezon. As soon as I arrived in the town I went to the Fonda and there delivered the two hired mules. Then, from a Jew in the plaza, I purchased a faded but very serviceable doublet and hose, a soft hat, a pair of shoes, a long cloak and a rapier–all of which I rolled up into a rough bundle. Then, as a buhonero, I led my mule out from Cabezon and back again in the direction of Valladolid, as if it were my intention to return to the city.

My return journey soon brought me back to the scene  of my recent fight with the Captain. There among the trees I changed my clothes and hid my rags and peddler’s tackle in the undergrowth. Then, dressed as a respectable courier and leading my little mule, heavily laden with my lady’s luggage, I prepared to retrace my steps in the wake of my French mistress and her maid.

 Fool’s Errand for the Captain

Chapter 14

For some fell reason, however, I hesitated to depart from the scene of my recent encounter with the Captain. A strange fascination compelled me to linger there and–as it were–to re-act in fancy the desperate struggle I had had with my powerful foe. A curious restraint was upon me, and, as is unusual in such circumstances, either curiosity or the impulse of my conscience compelled me once more to seek my victim and ascertain how he was faring.

I knew that it was a foolish and a risky thing to do, but the urge upon me was irresistible, and so I cautiously penetrated into the copse from tree to tree until I reached the spot where Ana and I had left the unconscious Captain.

Yes! There he lay, his massive body moving over from side to side. Evidently he had recovered consciousness and was now striving to wriggle his wrists free from the handkerchief with which I had tied them together behind his back. The scene fascinated me and, forgetting all else, I stood there for several moments watching his efforts, when, suddenly, to my intense dismay, he succeeded in freeing hands. He rose to his feet, tore the gag and bandage from his mouth, and then, lurching forward to prevent himself from falling, he turned right round and looked me squarely in the face!

Instantly I raised my hat, saying that I had heard a strange noise and had just come into the copse from the roadway to investigate the cause. Was he injured? I inquired. Had thieves molested him? Could I render him any assistance?

He replied that he was the Captain of the Inquisition Guard and had been badly treated by enemies of the law, and he desired me to release his ankles from the stout piece of harness rope with which I had securely bound him a couple of hours before. This done, he asked me if I had seen a stray horse wandering upon the road, and had I seen a couple of countrywomen with two laden mules?

I replied that I was a journeyman silversmith employed at Valladolid and had come from the city that afternoon in order to spend a short holiday with my parents who resided at Cabezon. No, indeed, I had not seen a stray horse on the road, but now that I came to think of it, I remembered that, about an hour ago I passed two countrywomen about five miles or so from Valladolid. They were riding their mules towards the city and had a great deal of luggage strapped upon a large chestnut horse which they were drawing after them by the rein. “They seemed to be a curious cavalcade,” I said, “and I wondered wherever they could be going to in such an unusual fashion. And further ... “

But the Captain would not allow me to delay him “further.” He hastily thanked me for my valuable information, for which he promised to reward me, and then set off at a good round pace, walking toward Valladolid.

I stood in the fading light and watched his burly form safely disappear into the darkness. Then, mounting my mule, I returned to Cabezon and passed unnoticed through the town and then proceeded northward through the night to Duenasaeros, where, at the first glint of dawn, I was ringing the bell at the Fonda de la Nuestra Senora del Rosario, and inquiring for a French lady and her maid just as the Dona Rosa and Ana were descending into the patio to wait for me.

Quickly I told my mistress of the fool’s errand upon which I had sent the Captain of the Inquisition Guard. My narrative amused her immensely and I was delighted to perceive that my astuteness had won from her an increased trust and appreciation of my devotion. Bidding me now seek refreshment and rest, she sent me to the servants’ quarters at the Fonda and commanded me to attend her again in the patio at three o’clock.

When I rejoined her that afternoon she welcomed me kindly and then explained that, in order to acquit myself as a courier, I must learn to speak in the French tongue. “And,” continued my beloved, with a winsome air of profound erudition, “as it will be necessary for you to learn to speak French as quickly as possible, I shall now begin to instruct you in that language.”

Her naive and presumptuous announcement was a choice piece of unconscious humour on the part of my beloved, for it was I who had taught her all the French she knew!

So with sweet ingenuousness my French mistress now seated herself complacently upon the padded leather settle in the patio corner and bade her willing pupil be seated on the little stool at her feet. Then, with a patronizing air of profound wisdom, she began to recite to me a few simple words and phrases in French and very, very slowly empha­sized their correct pronunciation. “Ecoutez,” said my lady, “Oui Monsieur, Bonjour Madame, Dépêchez vous,” etc., etc., etc.

Appearing to marvel at my mistress’s linguistic powers, and secretly tingling with suppressed merriment, I repeated the phrases one by one and mastered them all with a phenomenal rapidity and precision that would have aroused the suspicions of even the most accomplished teacher.

But the Dona Rosa—bless her sweet simplicity—the Dona Rosa was delighted with her success–and so was I!

And thus for several hours, on four successive days, she and I mutually enjoyed those delightful periods of intercourse and conversation.

I did not learn much French, it is true, but my artless teacher unconsciously allowed me to acquire some very much more desirable knowledge–knowledge, too, that was far more precious to me, for, as the lessons proceeded from day to day, I learned with deepening joy that a gracious sympathy was ripening apace between the teacher and her pupil. I could not fail to notice that the Dona Rosa found an ever-increasing pleasure in my company, as I gradually discarded the ignorance and awkwardness of a peasant and assumed once more the scholarship and easy behavior of a gentleman.

TO BE CONTINUED...

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