A 'Price One Penny' Edition

July 26, 1845

Up: The Mysteries of the Inquisition. Previous: July 19, 1845 Next: August 2, 1845

The Chamber of Penitence

Peter Arbuez could not divest himself of the painful impression which, in spite of his atrocious disposition, the scene of the dying moments of the mother of his child in the Chamber of Torture made upon him; and for some days he fancied that the terrible spectacle of that event,—at the moment when the poor creature was about to be bound to the rack and when she shrieked for her infant,—was ever being enacted before him. But this sensation soon wore off, and he prepared himself for fresh crimes. Thus was it that the advice of Don Joseph was not thrown away upon him. One evening, a week after the incidents related in the preceding chapter, the governor’s daughter found herself alone, upon her knees, in one of the little towers that formed the four angles of the inquisitorial palace.

A small round stool stood near her: upon this she supported her elbows, and her pale countenance reclined upon her delicate hands.

The cell, in which Dolorez now found herself, was only ten feet in diameter. It was completely round: and the vaulted roof, as well as the walls, presented to the eyes nothing save an uniform surface of white. A small aperture in the highest part of the vaulted ceiling afforded admission to a light which fell fully upon the floor, and which diverged not at any angle nor spread its rays around; so that the eye soon became wearied with gazing upon that column of monotonous lustre.

Dolorez, overcome by fatigue, disgust, and anguish, had even become wearied with the single seat which had been allowed her; and she therefore knelt upon the floor, hoping by a change of position to vanquish, or at least mitigate, the sombre despair into which the eternal monotony of that frightful sojourn had plunged her.

Broken down, as it were, by the numerous trials to which she was subjected, that poor girl, so young and yet so morally strong, implored God to grant her courage to support her misery. She clung to life—for the sake of her father—for the sake of her lover; and as those who love sincerely never despair, it seemed to her as if hope still remained so long as Don Stephen de Vargas lived.

Night surprised her in these mournful but tender meditations. By degrees, the vertical and fatiguing column of light which shone in upon her, yielded to obscurity, as a lamp whose oil is exhausted: twilight gradually stole upon the hemisphere, and at length heralded in the night. Dolorez could not then perceive the shape or features of her cell: she seemed as if she were in the middle of a vast plain.

“Oh! how welcome is this darkness!” she exclaimed: “no longer to behold that wall so white, eternally white,—that circular and uniform wall which blinds me!”

As she uttered these words, a strong light was thrown into the dungeon; and the young damsel, again bewildered, closed her eyes involuntarily.

“It is I—fear not!” said a friendly voice.

Dolorez opened her eyes: it was Joseph.

“Oh! how can I express my gratitude, excellent Joseph, for this visit?” cried the maiden, pressing the hand of the young priest with impassioned fervour.

“I could not come before,” answered Joseph: “I am fearful of awaking the suspicions of the Grand Inquisidor.”

“Oh!” ejaculated Dolorez, with a gest of horror, “how can you serve that man?”

“I am compelled,” replied Joseph, with a profound and convincing accent.

“I understand,” said Dolorez, after a few moments’ pause; “there must indeed be some powerful fatality that enchains you to the destiny of Peter Arbuez,—you who are so good, so noble, so generous! Oh! no—never could you otherwise have consented to become, even in appearance, the accomplice of that monster!”

“You speak truly, Dolorez—Oh! God knows how truly,” answered the favourite with a bitter smile.

“Yes—you must have powerful motives thus to act, and some terrible misfortune must have presided over the destiny of your life! Thus is it, Don Joseph, that when I think of thee, and ponder upon the meekness and resignation with which you bear your heavy cross—Oh! then I feel myself weak and contemptible; for, I dare not deny the truth, there are moments when I yield to despair, and when it seems as if my reason would abandon me.”

“Poor child!” said Joseph, throwing a melancholy glance around him.

“But it is this place that kills me—kills me,” repeated Dolorez. “To have but just enough of air to sustain life,—to be unable to move three steps without coming in contact with a wall,—and then to behold that wall uniform and white, and fancy that it is turning round and round,—Oh! this is indeed horrible. Then when I endeavour to sleep, there is a perpetual humming sound in my ears, which keeps me awake. I think that I shall go mad, Don Joseph, if this frightful imprisonment be continued many days longer.”

The young priest was alarmed at the extreme agitation of Dolorez; and he perceived that the effect of incarceration in that dungeon must be terrible indeed, when it could produce such an excitement in the mind of a maiden so resigned and courageous as the daughter of Don Manuel Argoso.

“I will come and see you as frequently as I am able,” said Joseph. “Sustain your courage—God will not abandon you!”

“Alas! there are moments when I am too courageous—when I reason with myself, and examine my position in all its bearings; and then I see that this fearful imprisonment can only end in torture and death.”

“No,” said Joseph: “do not entertain those ideas.”

“Oh! I am accustomed to gaze upon my future fate, that it may not rob me of all my courage when the hour comes!” said Dolorez. “When I appear before the Grand Inquisidor of Seville, I will throw all his infamy in his face—I will expose him as the monster who dishonours and ruins entire families; and we will then see if the blood of a courageous victim will possess no fertilizing qualities for the liberty of Spain.”

“Devoted and brave girl!” exclaimed Don Joseph: “even this last resource will not be left you. Your case will never be called before the tribunal. Rather would the Grand Inquisidor leave you to languish for the remainder of your existence in this cell!”

“Oh! heaven protect me!” cried Dolorez; “can it be possible that I should be buried alive? No—no—you did not say that, did you, Don Joseph? Even you now speak falsely: you calumniate the Inquisition!”

“No, lady,” said Joseph in a mournful tone: “I never spoke falsely to you; and no tale of the Inquisition, however horrible, could possibly be a calumny!”

“Alas! why does not our sovereign—the royal Charles, whom his people represent as so great and potent,—why does not he exterminate these abuses?”

“The Inquisition is stronger than the king,” answered the Dominican: “the concentrated force of one individual cannot compete with the strength of thousands: and yet our monarch is just; and if he were to be made aware of all the horrors which are perpetrated by the Inquisition, there is no doubt that he would apply some remedy.”

“I see that there is no hope for me: I must resign myself to the fate that is in store for me,” said Dolorez, now completely overcome.

“No—no, despair not!” exclaimed Joseph. “Should my life become the sacrifice, I will restore you to liberty. But the moment is not yet come. Stephen de Vargas and John of Avila are at Madrid!”

“I feel grateful for all that you and they have done, and all that you are doing for me.”

“And it is probable that they will obtain your father’s pardon,” said Joseph.

“His pardon, did you say?” ejaculated Dolorez. “Have you not already told me that the Inquisition is more powerful than the king;”

“But, in order to please the king at times, the Inquisition knows how to surrender up a victim in obedience to the royal mercy.”

“Do you think Stephen will return soon?” asked Dolorez, after a pause.

“In a week perhaps,” answered Joseph. “I shall hear of his arrival the moment he sets foot in Seville; and God grant that I may have good news to communicate to you. I entertain great hopes of the influence of John of Avila with the king.”

This is perhaps the place to explain how Joseph had learnt the fact of the journey of Don Stephen de Vargas and the Apostle. It will be remembered that Joseph had given Joachim, the alguazil, orders to watch the proceedings of Don Stephen, and render him an account thereof. John of Avila had moreover charged Joachim to communicate to Dolorez (who was then living with Juanna) their departure for Madrid, in order to reassure her concerning the fate of her father. Unfortunately, in the generous-hearted maiden’s anxiety to save that well-beloved father, she had not the patience to await the issue of events; and her imprudence had thrown her into the dungeons of the Holy Office.

“I must now leave you,” said Joseph, seeing that the prisoner was somewhat calmed, “let us be prudent, and we shall yet succeed!”

“Oh! go not yet,” cried Dolorez: “I shall relapse into those horrible alarms which oppress me—and I shall go mad!”

Joseph reasoned with her upon the necessity of caution; and Dolorez listened with profound attention. She was about to reply, when a low knock was heard at the door of the cell.

“Come in,” said Joseph, suddenly assuming the air of a confessor in the presence of a penitent. It was the gaoler who brought the straw mattress, blankets, and wooden frame-work which were to constitute Dolorez’ bed.

“The prisoner is submissive,” said Joseph: “you can leave her bed here during the day.”

“Your Reverence shall be obeyed,” answered the man.

“Adieu, sister,” said Joseph; and as he took leave of Dolorez he hastily whispered, “I will soon visit you again.”

He left the room; and Dolorez, now involved in total darkness, knelt by the side of the bed and derived comfort from fervent prayer.


Return we now to Don Stephen de Vargas and the holy Apostle, John of Avila. It was on a pleasant morning in the month of May, that the two travellers beheld from an eminence the royal city of Madrid, whose thousand spires and whose noble cupolas of Saint Isidorus and Saint Francis seemed to touch the cloudless sky above.100 In a short time they crossed the Toledo bridge—an admirable Roman monument thrown over the Mançanarez, that mournful-looking river which meanders through a plain more mournful still.101 When they reached the School of the Torreadorez102 they paused to rest themselves and enjoy the view obtained from that spot. But, alas! where were the signs of the civilising influence of a great capital? where was the rich culture, where the abundant crop? All around the Spanish metropolis, girdling it as with a belt, was the nakedness of the desert.

“Oh! sorrowful and gloomy region!” ejaculated John of Avila: “the very land appears to be accursed!”

“Yes,” said Don Stephen; “and who can doubt that here we perceive, at Seville, the influence of the Inquisition? A dead silence pervades the sovereign city before us: is that the life of a great nation?”

They now pursued their way, and reached the Toledo Gate. This principal entrance into Madrid, which is now a beautiful monument of stone, was at that time nothing more than a wooden gate-way formed with huge folding doors, and resembled the entrance of a barn rather than of a metropolis.

Don Stephen de Vargas and John of Avila were soon traversing the great square in the immediate vicinity of the palace. The royal abode itself was an immense and superb edifice, extending its long wings to a considerable distance on either side; and from its height overlooking the entire capital of Spain.

This immense building of granite, constructed in the shape of a square, had its four stories pierced with innumerable windows, and was invested with an aspect at once simple, noble, and imposing. Large sculptured balconies ornamented the upper part of the edifice. Entrance was obtained at different points by three large gates, beneath colonnades of the Corinthian order of architecture. The entire appearance of the palace was grand and royal.

“At length we have arrived at the wished-for point,” said Don Stephen, stopping a moment to contemplate the magnificent building before him.

“May God grant us success!” ejaculated John of Avila, devoutly.

They advanced towards the principal gate of the royal dwelling. It was guarded by numerous sentinels; and a movement was evidently taking place within, for the people went out and in without molestation.

“Let us enter,” said the Apostle, “and see what is going forward.”

Having passed the first gate, they beheld an immense crowd of persons upon the grand staircase, forming two lines, and all with curiosity depicted upon their countenances.

“The king is going out for a ride,” said the Apostle: “but he is not coming yet, as the guard of honour is not drawn up in the square.”

But as he yet spoke, two regiments of Walloon guards103 and Spanish men-at-arms defiled opposite the palace, and, with bands playing, proceeded to occupy the colonnades on each side of the principal gateway.

Stephen and John of Avila entered the court of honour. It was a vast square paved with the finest marble, indented with sculptured flowers, in order to prevent the hoofs of the horses from slipping upon the immense arena. Statues of the most celebrated Roman emperors embellished the colonnades. Altogether, the square and the palace were well worthy of being a dwelling for so great a prince as Charles the Fifth.

While the two travellers were yet admiring that magnificent work of architecture, the sounds of music and the bustle of moving crowds increased within and without the palace. Then came a rapid roll of wheels, and several splendid carriages, drawn each by six mules, entered majestically into the marble square.

The crowd augmented. Stephen and John of Avila experienced considerable trouble in forcing for themselves a passage up to the steps of the grand stair-case.

Suddenly a profound silence ensued on the part of the multitude, the music of the regimental bands however still continuing.

Then an officer came forth from the suite of state apartments that opened on the landing at the top of the principal stair-case, and in a loud tone announced “THE KING!”

Preceded by officers of his household, and escorted by four halberdiers, that great monarch, who made the whole world tremble, now advanced. He wore with peculiar grace the costume of the epoch; and, although he was not very tall,104 his demeanour was noble and imposing.

John of Avila regarded him with great attention: it was the first time he had ever seen Charles the Fifth so near.

“The king’s appearance is not very formidable,” whispered Don Stephen; but the Apostle made no reply, for he was better skilled in human physiognomies than his young companion.105

The monarch advanced gently down the stairs; and at every step he stopped to receive the petitions which the crowd handed to him.

At length he reached the bottom of the grand stair-case; and then John of Avila extended his arms toward him in an imploring and suppliant manner. The sight of that monk, whose fine countenance and sacred garb inspired respect, filled the people with such veneration, that they made way for him to advance towards the king, at whose feet he fell.

Charles, in surprise, raised him kindly, saying, “What can I do for you, holy father?”

“Pardon—pardon for one of your most faithful servitors!” cried the Apostle. “But will your Majesty permit me to tell my tale without witnesses?”

“Come to-morrow,” said the king, graciously, at the same time presenting his hand to Don Stephen de Vargas to kiss.

“This young man is with me,” observed the Apostle.

“Let the young man, then, accompany you to-morrow, holy father. We will do justice to your demand.”

“God will bless your Majesty!” replied John of Avila, humbly.

“Fail not to-morrow,” repeated the king, who then passed on to the end of the colonnade where his state carriage was waiting.

At that moment the troops presented arms, the king entered the vehicle, and the people dispersed—happy at having kissed the hand or obtained a view of him whom they looked upon as the image of God upon earth!

cupolas of Saint Isidorus and Saint Francis Both San Isidro Church and San Francisco el Grande Basilica in Madrid are topped with cupolas. However, the latter’s was only built in the eighteenth century.
Toledo bridge It was built in the mid-seventeenth century, hence it is anachronistic in the text. However, it is a stone arch bridge, which may warrant its characterization as Roman.
School of the Torreadorez The French text reads ‘the slaughter-house, or school of bullfighters’ (French text p. 309, editor’s translation). Madrid’s slaughter-house was at the time located next to the Puerta de Toledo, at the entrance of the city. There is no evidence of a bullfighting school nearby, nor anywhere in Madrid at the time. Indeed, the first school dedicated to training bullfighters opened in 1830 in Seville.
Walloon Guards This regiment was actually raised in 1702 by Philip V. Charles V had previously created a Walloon infantry regiment, an elite unit recruited in the French-speaking portion of today’s Belgium, tasked with the interior security of Spain and the maintenance of public order.
not very tall Otto Habsburg remarks in Charles Quint that the Emperor’s armours testify to his small stature (Hachette, 1967, p. 325).
physiognomies Physiognomy is ‘The study of the features of the face, or of the form of the body generally, as being supposedly indicative of character; the art of judging character from such study’ (OED). Recognised by ancient Greek philosophers, it fell into disrepute in the Middle Ages when practised by vagabonds and mountebanks. It was then revived and popularised in the eighteenth century by Johann Kaspar Lavater and gained large currency in the following century.
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