Page images
PDF
EPUB

however, not to seek his chamber until he should solicit my presence; and I therefore waited until about eleven o'clock, when he entered my apartment still bearing his ancient oaken chest, but habited in a manner entirely different from his wornout soldier's raiment of the preceeding day. He now appeared in a cloth dress of coarse white cloth, fastened with a large buff girdle and a broad iron buckle ; and covered with a round cap that fitted tightly to his head. Before him hung a short and rough brown apron much spotted with blood, which was greatly changed in colour from the length of time it had remained there; and the additional sleeves which were put on over his vest, were stained in a similar manner. Upon one shoulder rested the box, his constant companion, and in the other hand he carried an ancient dark-coloured high-crowned hat, while on his legs were loose calf-skin breeches, and light brown stockings, with the large square boots of the 17th century. I had now a fair opportunity of studying the countenance of this man, comparatively in a state of rest. It was much furrowed, and was of a very dark olive-colour, with the red blood of his cheeks and an angry flush upon his broad bald forehead glowing through it ; with his black grizzled hair, some portions of which appeared from beneath his cap, hanging down in flakes upon his shoulders. Above his · deeply-sunken eyes, very thick bushy brows of the same hue, gave to them a yet darker shade ; and at the lower part of his face, large curling mustaches, and a full, pointed beard, almost obscured his lips, which seemed ever to wear a scornful smile. There was in the whole of his features, something that one would shudder at without precisely knowing why; for his eyes occasionally looked lighted up with malice, and a stern foreign aspect gave all the characters of revenge to his swarthy visage. As he entered the apartment I saluted him—"A good morning to thee, mine ancient friend, let me hope that the nightseason has fully answered that end for which our Maker first created it :-the resuscitation of our flagged souls, the strengthening of our wearied bodies, the filling of our hearts with fresh life, and the disposing of our tongues to gratitude from the union of all these blessings. Hath it been so with thee?"

“ Yes” replied my guest, setting down his chest and seating himself opposite to me—“I feel braced for the trials and duties of the day, with a strength which I know well is not mine own; a calmness which for the these last sixty years has been unknown to me.-But now, thou benevolent priest, call up all thine attention to the history which I am about to relate :-awaken all thy Christian charity to pity and pray for one whom all others of thy profession have held accursed to perdition.”

“We should beware,” said I, • as erring men ourselves, how we pursue any crime with execrations ; since in so doing we too frequently involve the man with his sins, and forget liberality

of setiment whilst we are condemning aberrations from virtue. This too is productive of another evil; for they who delight in the denunciation of sin are frequently permitted to fall into it themselves, to teach them that they likewise are mortal. For thy history then, relate it, and be sure of my sympathy and of my prayers.”

“As it is certain,” began the stranger, “ that my birth would be a foul stain even to the best or most glorious of cities, I will say only that I am of Spain, that my name is Ignacio Riaza, and that my unhappy parents were called Luis and Raquel Riaza from the place of their birth, a town about twenty Spanish miles northward of the capital. I call them unfortunate, in having a son who from his earliest years was pledged to vice, so deeply pledged, that Eliséo Estrellado, or Elisha the star-enlightened, an eminent astrologer of Madrid, when he erected my nativity, refused to explain it because its configurations shewed such a malignant soul. As I grew up these planetary predictions were abundantly fulfilled, for a fierce and cruel disposition which procured for me the surname of Sanguijuela, or the Bloodsucker, shewed that Mars had a powerful ascendancy in my mind. The most ferocious have, however, felt the influence of affection, and it is possible if I had allowed myself to be guided by the gentle Encracia Rosadella, my first and only sincere love, I might have been—but no matter, I must on. My fierce impetuous disposition carried me into the army while yet quite a youth, where all the vices which are common to the most abandoned soldiery were mine.--I gamed to such excess, that it was in vain to apply for more aid to those friends who had even then assisted me almost beyond their means; but yet I deemed avarice held back their hands, and permitted myself to be persuaded by a wretched creature, one Carlota Rezelso, for whom I had left my former amiable Encracia, to try upon my heart-broken parents the effects of how shall I say it ?-of the secret poison! They who propose a crime usually find the means to execute it :-and the detestable Carlota brought me acquainted with an old hag, usually called Madre Juana la Envenenador, or Mother Jane the Poisoner, who furnished me with a bottle of her fiendish preparation. Even though I had gone thus far in guilt, blood was not yet hanging upon my soul - and I would fain have shrank back from the horrid precipice before me :-my debts, however, were large my creditors clamorous,--the pay of my fellowsoldiers which I had drawn, as a petty officer, was embezzled.Rezelso, whom I have sometimes deemed to be a fiend in human form, knew all this, and constantly urged me forward by alternately depicting to me discovery and ruin ; and the success which might arise from a quick performance of the deed. I cannot relate to you a thousandth part of what I felt even previous to my preparing the draught ; time seemed to fly with me unobserved, and I know only that it was given !-As it was made to a very powerful degree of strength, its action was too visible and too rapid for our crime to remain a secret, The blue livid bodies were soon discovered ; and to this hour I deem that it was by Rezelso's evidence, that these murders were attributed to me !-Yet was I well avenged; for, to avoid the consequence of of her own share in this horrible transaction, which I made fully known, the hag who furnished it, herself swallowed a portion of the same poison ! All my other offences became now detected :I was tried aud condemned, publicly excommunicated in the churches, and cast into a most loathsome dungeon to await my release by execution.

It happened at this time, that Lorenzo Verdugo, the chief public executioner, fell sick and died of the prison-plague, at a period when the state most required his services, in consequence of a conspiracy which had lately been discovered. No one, not already stained with blood, could be prevailed upon to accept the office-till, at length, the principal Judges of the Criminal Court, gave orders that it should be offered to me, together with my forfeited life ; and this was done on the night before that day when I myself was to have been executed. The miseries which I had met with, even in my short career, notwithstanding they were the natural consequences of my own crimes, had inspired me with a boundless hatred to mankind ; and I accepted, with à fiendish joy, the restoration of my liberty on condition of becoming head executioner of the city. Yet there were those who could not rejoice even at the saving of my life upon such terms :-my ever kind and gentle Encracia, who had wept over all my sorrows, and who yet had borne up her tender frame to visit me in my condemned prison, upon seeing me pass her dwelling to the first performance of my sanguinary duty, gave a wild shriek—and expired! I have sometimes wondered how my form hath held together, stained as it is with crime, and weakened by such awful visitations ; but all at this time seemed to me only additional excitements to wade deeper in human blood in the new office to which I was appointed. I will not harrow up your soul by telling the histories-nor indeed can I well call them to mind-of those many victims which have died by my hand ; I feel guiltless of all of them, for they fell for crimes exciting no compassion ;-but there is one execution which neither time nor tears can wash away, where he whose blood was shed, was condemned because he was too angel-like to live in such depraved times, and where the trial and the sentence were began without authority, carried on without justice, and executed without mercy. It will hardly be credited, that at the time of which I speak, I was scarcely twenty years of age, and I had reigned about two years over death, when a British trooper, who spoke the Spanish tongue, sought my dwelling, and proposed to

[merged small][ocr errors]

me a voyage to England, where he stated that a person of high rank was to be beheaded, and the government wished for an executioner who was at once eminent and unknown. No country on earth could be more detestable to me than my own, and I therefore readily consented, provided my liberty were procured. This was done at no inconsiderable price in gold ; I departed with the trooper, and we arrived in England towards the latter end of January, 1649. All knowledge of the person whom I was to execute was carefully kept from me ; but I was introduced to one who was called Lieutenant-General, a tall and somewhat stout man, of a long, full, and rather reddish countenance, with dark flowing hair, especially on the back of his head, and small and retired eyes, the brows of which were contracted together. There was a great degree of stern serenity in his features, and his voice was harsh, though his language was full of fervour. He was habited in a slight cloth dress with a short linen collar, and a steel cuirass before it, while thick quilted cuishes, armed in front with iron plates, and large brown boots with massive spurs, were upon his legs : a powerful sword hung from a cross belt by his side. It was midnight when I was conducted into this person's presence, and before the doors of the chamber in which he was, a trooper passed backwards and forwards with his carabine bent. To him a watchward was given before he admitted us; and when we entered, we discovered a large and antique oak-lined chamber, which was lighted up by a bright fire burning on the earth, and the flame of a silver lamp which stood upon a carved wooden table, together with papers, proclamations, a small clasped bible, and two horse pistols. You will perhaps wonder how all these particulars live in my mind amidst the many terrible features which compose my life ;and how, being a Spaniard, I have been enabled thus to relate them to you in your own language : but from that night I was received into an English troop of horse, where I continued for many years, in which your tongue was made as familiar to me as my own. For the rest, -all my life, since I first visited this country, has been employed in reflecting upon the scenes which I have acted in it, till 1 have brought to memory even the most trivial particular of them, But time wears, and I must forward : - The trooper who brought me over from Spain, took the General apart and spake to him privately, and then returning acted as interpreter between us. · Art thou,' said the General, he who shall execute this deed of justice for us?' I replied in the affirmative, . . Is thy hand sure with a sharp weapon ?' returned he, ' for we must have no marring of the work,' he added, looking with somewhat of a smile on the trooper, whom I had frequently suspected to be a leader in disguise.--I bowed an assent. Then so far,' he cotinued, 'the Lord is with us, But thou must disguise thee,-for when this act shall be past, I will not trust thee from me ;-thou shalt not go again out from us to be a spy unto other nations, but I will have thee for one of mine own guard, if thou knowest aught of war.' To this I replied that I had formerly served in the Spanish army, and expressing his satisfaction, he consigned me to the trooper, giving him directions relative to my quarters. When five days had passed from my arrival in England,

-during which time I was kept in perfect solitude, attended only by the trooper who brought me food, and who daily let me out to walk into a high walled solitary court-yard, for air and exercise.—On the evening of the sixth I was ordered to be in readiness to quit my present lodgings at midnight, and to prepare for the performance of my duty on the following morning. It was now long since I had sympaihized in any human passions, or felt an attachment to any human spot ; but from that solitary apartment, I had been witness to a scene which had again awakened some of the better feelings of my natúre. About the middle of the preceding day. it seemed to me as though I heard some 'one sighing, weeping, and praying in the next apartment, and upon searching the wainscot I discovered a small space through which I could survey him unobserved. In this chamber, which was fitted up in a somewhat more costly manner than my own, I discovered a tall handsome man of about fifty years of age, with beautifnl long black hair, and a face in which majesty, sorrow, and interesting piety were exquisitely blended. He was dressed in a close but rich habit, with a jewel suspended by a light blue ribband about his neck, and a sort of coronet cáp was placed upon the table near him. He was slowly pacing about the room, and as if engaged in active devotion, his ejaculations were frequent and fervid, while his fine dark brown eyes and mild countenance were often turned to heaven with an air of grief mingled with resignation. While I was feeling, almost for the first time in my life, pity and interest for a fellow-creature, the door of his apartment opened and I saw the trooper, whom I have already mentioned, lead in a young woman and a lovely child, who both in face and appearance, greatly resembled the person I had before been looking at. Their brief interview was tender in the extreme ; tears, embraces, kisses, and forcible and affectionate language of parting evidently passed between them, though at that time your tongue was almost wholly unknown to me. They were allowed but a very short time to remain together, for the trooper soon led them out, and the stranger whom I closely watched for the remainder of the day, returned to his devotions, in which he was sometimes assisted by an ecclesiastic, who shortly afterwards came to him. The manner in which I had been brought to England, and the secrecy in which I had been kept there, caused it to burst upon my mind that I had beheld my victim, King Charles of England, in the stranger I have spoken of;—for the war then raging in Britain was well known in Spain. This thought shook

« PreviousContinue »