My Escape from the Auto de Fe at Valladolid - Chapter 15 - 16
Summary: October 1559 * Don Fernando de la Mina A story founded on historic fact, retold by Pastor Timms.


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 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.

Knowing that the Dona Rosa is under suspicion of being a heretic, they make their escape from the city Valladolid and head to Navarre (a territory of France). On the way, the Captain of the Guard finds them and tries to arrest them but thanks to Don Fernando's quick thinking, he is quickly made unconscious and the group  continues to the next city where Don Fernando, now accepted as the Dona Rosa's faithful servant, disguises himself as a French courtier to match the two women's disguise as a French lady and her maid returning to Paris.

The company takes shelter in a northern town for several days .


Danger at Duenasaeros

But the fourth evening of our pleasant stay at the little town of Duenasaeros was a very critical period in our adventures.

During that day a stranger joined me in the servants’ room. He was a fat and rather reticent fellow and proclaimed himself to be a laybrother of the Convento de Miraflores at Burgos and servant of a priest who, he said, was due to arrive at the Fonda that evening. And sure enough about seven o’clock the gate bell rang. The laybro­ther thereupon rose slowly from his seat beside me and went out from our room into the patio in order to receive his superior. As he passed out I looked through the half­-open doorway and perceived that the priest who was arriving at the Fonda was none other than Father Lorenzo! He whom I had overheard speaking with my cousin, Don Juan de Lario, in the wine shop at Valladolid a week before!

Instantly I suspected the purpose of his visit. The Captain of the Inquisition Guard, on his return to Valladolid four days before, had, of course, soon discovered the deception I played upon him on the evening of our fight, and now, having failed to trace the two countrywomen at either Valladolid or Cabezon, he and the priest were pushing their inquiries further northward to Duenasaeros. The priest would seek for clues among the traveling guests at the various Fondas en route (the lay­brother learning all he could among the servants), while the Captain would search the roads and hold himself in readiness to effect our arrest at any moment.

Now, you must know that the servants' room at the Fonda (as is usual at Spanish inns) was set in from the patio just at the further end of the courtyard. It was a small and rather dark room and was lighted by a window that overlooked the corner of the patio and through this window we servants could see the table where the supper was now being laid, and, by listening very carefully, as servants generally do, we could hear most of the conversa­tion of our masters in the patio. My lady, I could see, was already seated at table and the priest was now descending down the open stairway from his bedroom.

Presently, through the window, I overheard Father Lorenzo say, in our beautiful Castellano, "Buenas noches, Senora," to which my beloved aptly replied, in the French tongue, "Bon soir, Monseigneur."

Then said the priest, accommodating himself to my lady's assumed tongue and speaking in most execrable French: "I hear, Madame, that you are returning to your home in Paris! I have a great many clerical friends there, and I should like to inquire who is your Father Confessor in Paris?"

"Father Ambrose, of St. Denis," replied the Dona Rosa with wonderful readiness.

"And to whom," persisted the priest, "to whom did he entrust your spiritual welfare at Valladolid, eh? Do you remember?"

"No," replied Madame, who was evidently beginning to be disconcerted by the cunning priest's persistency, "I do not remember at the moment, Father, but I daresay I can tell you when I refer to my tablets after supper. But why do you ask?"

Why did he ask indeed! The reason was all too obvious–at least it was obvious enough to me! So without staying to hear anymore, I hurried up to Ana's room, and, after telling all I had heard I bade her pack the luggage and valuables and these I at once carried down to the stables. Then I returned to Ana's room once more and bade her tell our mistress to plead indisposition and retire to her room immediately after supper.

Down in the stable the genial ostler now helped me to load my mule and, when he had pocketed the silver piece that I had given him for his trouble, we began chatting together familiarly and confidentially as fellow servants should. Said he, pointing across the patio to Father Lorenzo, who sat writing a letter at the further end of the supper table: "Some of these priests seem to think that servants like us ought never to be tired! It is past eight o'clock and, would you believe it, just before you came into the stable the Father came and bade me get ready to ride to Valladolid and deliver a letter to the Captain of the Inquisition Guard. Twenty miles! Why, I shan’t be there till midnight!”

“No,” thought I, “you won’t. But if  you deliver your letter at midnight, the Captain will be here with his warrant by the morning.”

So I quickly saddled the Captain’s horse, and then went up to the women’s room and told them to put on their cloaks and leave a light burning in their room, and then go and hide themselves in the bedroom, which was fortunately just at the top of the stairs. As soon as the women were safely hidden in my bedroom, I descended very slowly and solemnly into the patio and there, gravely approaching the priest, I said: “Father, the French lady to whom you spoke at supper-time is lying in her bedroom very seriously ill, and she desires to see you.”

Now, Father Lorenzo, like every earnest priest, Roman or Protestant, was true to his sacred trust, and, cruel bigot though he was, he was ever ready to sacrifice himself in the cause of charity or suffering. As I approached him he turned his head and scrutinized me sternly. But when he saw my distressed look and heard my anxious appeal, he listened to my request with patience and sympathy. He immediately laid down his pen, then he pounced his unfinished letter with sand, folded it in his wallet, and prepared to follow me up the staircase intent only on ministering priestly solace to a suffering soul–and I almost hated myself for deceiving so sincere and kindly a man! But three innocent lives were at stake.

Respectfully I preceded him up the stairs and along the gallery and there I very, very slowly opened the door of Madame’s empty room. Father Lorenzo, who was taken quite off his guard stepped unsuspectingly into the dimly lighted chamber–and I followed him! But just as I came near to the niche in the wall where the lighted bronze lamp stood, I carefully stumbled over something in the darkness and overthrew the lighted lamp upon the brick floor.

Profoundly humble in my whispered excuses, I begged that the Father would not venture to move in the darkness until I had brought another lighted lamp up from the kitchen. Then, groping my way to the door, I passed out and quietly secured it after me. Then I walked quickly along the gallery to my own bedroom and there, hastily gathering the women, I fled with them down the stairs and across the deserted patio into the stable. There, with the assistance of the ostler and me, the Dona Rosa and her maid mounted the Captain’s large chestnut horse, while I bestrode my patient little mule.

We then bade a hasty adios to the friendly ostler and hurried out through the back stable exit, before the priest could realize my purpose or raise an alarm to prevent our escape.

Had I delayed my maneuver even a couple of minutes the priest would have finished his letter and dispatched it by the ostler and then, in his absence, it would have been impossible for us to leave the Fonda that night, and we should assuredly have been arrested when the Captain arrived with his warrant in the morning!


Suspicion among Friends

It was now nearly nine o’clock and a calm, cold night as we rode from the back exit of the warm stable into the Calle Vera Crux, and thence out upon the great north road that links Valladolid with Burgos. There on the open road beneath the starlit purple sky we three fugitives pressed on in silence hour after hour. Right through the night we rode, until a thin green thread of light on the eastern horizon heralded the dawn of day and warned us to leave the highway and pass into a less-frequented country road.

Cheered by the rising sun and gradually feeling more and more secure from immediate pursuit, we now began to talk about our recent perilous experience. But it was only Ana and I who talked and not the Dona Rosa. My lady remained strangely silent for quite a long time. She had evidently been thinking rather critically during the night, and now she suddenly turned to me and asked, with an air of marked suspicion: "Senor, how was it that you an uneducated buhonero, so readily understood the questions that you overheard Father Lorenzo ask me at supper time? He spoke in French, and he spoke very rapidly too! You could not have become sufficiently proficient in the language to understand it so well with only four days’ tuition!"

This question was an embarrassing one and caused me to think awhile before I could answer it discreetly. Then, turning to her with an engaging smile I replied: "Senora, when I had the honour of addressing you in the Plazuela del Hospicio a few days ago, I was, in very truth a buhonero and nothing better than a buhonero—with only my rags and a peddler's pack as my sole possessions in the whole wide world. But, Senora, I should like you to know that before I fell to that low estate I had enjoyed a modicum of wealth and learning and had mixed with men and women in exalted stations of life. But, during the past few months I have suffered the severest and strangest vicissitudes of fortune. May it please you to know that six months ago, before disaster overtook me, I was a Spanish nobleman's confidential secretary! I held all his secrets and knew his inmost thoughts. He and I were identical in our aims and dispositions. It was I who wrote all his correspondence. Sometimes I wrote in Latin to his Lutheran friends in Germany, and sometimes in French to his brother at the Court of the Prince of Conde in Paris."

"Secretary!" interrupted Ana, "then why did you employ the public escribano to write that note you sent to me—and why, if you can write, why did you sign that letter with a cross?"

"Senora," I replied, addressing myself to the Dona Rosa, "Senora, I have learned discretion in a very hard school. Six months ago the nobleman whom I served was destroyed by the religious vengeance that now threatens you, and the same catastrophe that ruined him has also ruined and degraded me even to the condition of the poor buhonero whom you honoured by receiving into your service. Senora, in grateful fulfillment of Don Fernando de la Mina's behest, of which I have already told you, I have pledged my life and all that I have to the service of the Dona Rosa de Riello, and I hope to prove myself worthy of her confidence and to win advancement in my mistress's esteem equally with your Excellency's advancing fortunes."

The Dona Rosa listened to my proud speech with evident surprise, and with some slight show of indignation too, and she was just on the point of asking further awkward questions when our conversation was happily interrupted by the approach of a couple of countrywomen who passed across the road immediately in front of us. These women were laughing and singing and were followed by a group of talkative men and boys. They were, all of them, just about to start their day's work at the large olive farm which we ourselves were now approaching.

A man in the field, nearby, was leading an ox into the crushing shed. He opened the high barnlike doors and drove the ox through them, and then yoked the beast to the millbar and started him off upon his daily tramp round and round the crushing vat. Presently, some women entered the shed and proceeded to refill the vat with a fresh supply of olives and to adjust the panshons that received the oil which was now beginning to flow into them from the vents in the vat. And there everywhere around us the daily work of the farm began. Far away in the gardens on the rising ground men, women, and children were beating the trees with long rods. Some were up in the trees shaking the branches and some were picking up and basketing the olives that fell to the ground, while others were carrying heavy loads of the fruit toward the crushing mill.

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