The Dead Rider by Anonymous

At the time when the king, Don Fernando, peaceably ruled the kingdom of Castile, there was at Salamanca, a noble and ancient city of that kingdom, a grey friar, called Maestro Diego of Revolo, who, being no less famous in the Thomist than the Scotist doctrines, was deservedly chosen, with no mean salary, to be a lecturer at the schools of the famous university of the above-mentioned city. This man obtained the greatest fame throughout the whole kingdom, and sometimes gave the most pious and useful sermons. Being young, handsome, and rather of a warm and inflammable constitution, it happened one day, that whilst he was in the pulpit he cast his eyes on a beautiful young lady, named Catherine, the wife of one of the principal cavaliers in the town, whose name was Roderigo Dangiagia. At first sight of this lady our hero was vanquished, for Cupid had shot a keen dart in his already contaminated heart. Descending from the pulpit, he dismissed all theological reasonings and sophistical arguments, and gave his whole soul to the thought of that divine object, and although he knew the high rank of the lady, whose wife she was, and what a mad undertaking it would be, and tried to persuade himself not to venture, yet he sometimes thought, where love asserts its empire it cares not for rank, for if that was the case princes would not so often course on our lands, therefore love must have that same privilege with us. "No one foresees the wounds love inflicts, they come suddenly and unexpectedly; therefore, if Cupid, whose arrows are resistless, has found me unarmed and incapable of resistance, it must be that I am fairly conquered, and as his vassal I will enter the lists, and if I am to die, I shall be freed from this torture, and in the next world my spirit will proudly glory in having placed its affections on so high an object." Thus saying, without recurring to former nugatory arguments, he, with burning tears, took pen, ink, and paper, and wrote an elegant epistle to his beloved; first extolling her as more than divine, and speaking of her immortal charms; then telling her she had so captivated him that he must either obtain her favours or die; and, lastly, as he knew he could not presume, from her high rank, to be admitted in her house, yet he most earnestly entreated that she would condescend to appoint a time and place, when he might secretly visit her, or at least permit him to be her devoted servant, as he had chosen her for the only mistress of his life, adding numberless tender expressions; he, lastly, kissed the letter over and over, sealed it, and gave it to a little friar of his, telling him whom to carry it to, and at the same time giving him his directions. Away went the friar according to order, and when arrived at the house, he found the lady surrounded by her women. Making a profound obeisance, he said, "My master, Madam, sends his most dutiful respects to you, and entreats you to give him a little of your finest flour to make hosts with, as you will find better explained in that little letter." The lady, who was sagacious enough, on seeing the letter, pretty nearly guessed at the purport of it. Upon reading it, although very virtuous and honest, yet she could not help being a little pleased at his falling in love with her, and knowing herself to be so very great a beauty, she delighted in perusing it, and hearing her charms so praised, being one of those who strongly feel that innate passion of females—the love of praise—and who place their whole fame, honour, and glory in being loved and exalted for their beauty, and who would rather be considered handsome, though wanting in chastity, than ugly, though with the highest reputation. The lady, however, having an extraordinary dislike to friars (and not without reason), determined, not only not to condescend to his wishes, but not even to favour him with an answer. She likewise made up her mind, for this time, not to mention it to her husband, and turning to the little friar, without seeming in the least agitation, "tell thy master," said she, "that the master of my flour will have it entirely to himself, and therefore he must get some elsewhere, and as to the letter, it requires no answer, but that should he wish for one, he must let me know, because when my husband comes home I will direct him to answer it as it ought," The friar, though he received so severe an answer, was not discouraged; on the contrary, his love and ardent desire were the more increased, and instead of withdrawing himself from this undertaking, as his convent was close to her house, he so pursued her every where, that she could not go to her window without meeting his eyes; to church, or out of the house, but he was ever at her heels; insomuch, that not only the neighbours, but the very town took notice of it: upon which she then reflected it was no longer proper to conceal it from her husband, who, if he should hear of it from another quarter, would conceive a very bad opinion of her virtue, and more serious consequences might ensue. Thus determined, she one night related the whole transaction to her husband. He, who was not less courageous than honourable, was so dreadfully enraged that he had nearly gone and set the whole convent in a blaze, and thus destroyed the whole brotherhood; yet growing a little cooler, after praising the conduct of his wife, he desired her to let the gallant know, he might come the following night, and introduce him in the best manner she could in the house, at a particular hour, in order that he might revenge his honour, without exposing his wife to any rudeness, and leave the rest to him. The lady felt rather embarrassed, considering the consequences that might follow, yet to obey the will of her lord, she engaged to do so, and as the little friar was continually coming on the same errand, she said to him one day, "commend me to your master and tell him that the tender affection he professes to me, and the burning tears which he writes me word he constantly sheds in thinking of me, have at last softened my heart towards him, and made me sensible of his love, and that as fortune would have it, Messer Roderigo being gone this morning into the country, and being likely to remain till next day, that he must come as soon as the clock struck three, as secretly as possible; that I will admit him, but that I particularly desire he would bring no one with him, not even his most intimate friend." The little monk, happy beyond measure, brought this good news to his master, who thought himself the happiest fellow in the world, and every moment of the intermediate time appeared to him whole ages. The hour coming at last, dressing and perfuming himself in order that he might not smell of the friar, and providing himself with a large store of sweetmeats, &c. he went to the lady's house; there finding the door open, went in, and was led in the dark by a little girl to the dining-room where he expected the lady would kindly receive him, instead of which he found the husband and a faithful servant of his; they having seized him, very coolly strangled him. Master Diego being dead, the cavalier repented that he had so disgraced himself, by killing a contemptible friar; but seeing that repentance was unavailing, and being in fear of the king's displeasure, he determined to get the corpse out of the house, and carry him to his convent. The servant taking him on his shoulders, they went towards the garden of the convent, and having got in, they soon carried him to the privy, where there being but one seat left, the rest being totally destroyed, as it often happens in convents, where every place is more like a cavern or den of thieves, than the habitation of the servants to the Deity, they placed the body on it and there left him, and went home. As Messer Diego sat there in that natural attitude, a young and stout friar having occasion, in the middle of the night, to go to the privy, he lighted a taper and ran to the place where the defunct Diego sat; being recognised by the young friar, and not suspecting he was dead, he withdrew, waiting till he would have come away. Now there had been a monastical jealousy, envy, and hatred between these two, so that being much pressed, and seeing he did not move, he said to himself, "This fellow certainly sits there to spite me, and shews, even in this mean act, his contempt for me; but I declare I will wait as long as I can, and though I might go somewhere else, if he does not quit the place I'll make him." Diego, who long since had crossed the Styx, of course never moved. "By heavens," said the young friar at last, unable to wait any longer, "I will not bear with this insult," so saying, he picked up a large stone, threw it at the deceased's breast, and tumbled him backwards without his moving a limb. The friar perceiving the strength of the blow, and seeing him fall, suspected he had killed him; after waiting in hopes of seeing him rise, between fear and hope, he got closer to him: looking at him with the taper, he perceived he was really dead, and conceiving that their former enmity being known, he would be suspected to have killed him, he was on the point of hanging himself, yet, thinking better of it, he resolved to carry him out of the convent, and lay him down in the street to avoid any suspicion falling upon him. While he was deliberating upon this, the public and scandalous courtship of the master to Donna Catarina occurred to his mind; upon which he said to himself, "where can I carry him more easily, and with less suspicion attached to me than before Messer Roderigo's door; besides, its being nearer at hand, it will certainly be believed that the fellow going to court his wife, he had got some one to kill him?" Having fixed on this course, he, with some difficulty, at last brought him to the very door, from whence, but a few hours before, he had entered alive and in high spirits. This being done without any one seeing him, he ran as fast as his legs would carry him to the convent; he thought he was pretty safe from suspicion, but yet considered it would be better to absent himself for a few days; he therefore went immediately to the prior and said, "Reverend Father, the other day, for want of mules, I left the greater part of our gatherings at Medina, at the house of one of our fraternity; I therefore, with your holy permission, would like to take the mare of the convent, and, with God's help, I hope to return the day after to-morrow." The prior not only gave him permission, but greatly praised his forecast. The young friar having obtained leave, prepared his little travelling materials, and having the mare, was anxiously waiting for the dawn to set off. Messer Roderigo, who had scarcely closed his eyes all night thinking upon the events that had occurred, and still a little afraid of the consequences, got up, and sent his servant to inquire about the convent, and find out whether the friars had discovered the deceased Diego; the servant, on going out, found Diego right before the door, looking as if holding an argument, the which caused him no small fright, as such things generally do; he ran up to call his master, and scarcely having the power of articulation, shewed him the dead body of Messer Diego. The cavalier stared with astonishment and fear, yet comforting himself in the idea of the justness of his case, he determined quietly to wait the issue, and, turning round to the dead man, he said, "thou art then determined, dead or alive, to haunt my house, but to spite me; whoever brought thee here, thou shalt not have the power of returning again except on a beast, as thou wert once thyself in the world," so saying, he ordered his servant to get from a neighbouring stable a stallion which he kept for breeding. The servant went immediately and brought the stallion, with saddle and bridle, and, as the cavalier had intended, put good Master Diego on his back; sticking him upright, and binding him tight, they put a lance in his hand on the rest, as if they were sending him to the tilt; thus equipped, they led him to the church gates, tied the horse there and went home. Scarcely had this been done than the young friar, thinking it was time to begin his journey, unlocking the gates, then mounting his mare, was stalking out, when, to his great terror, he beheld Master Diego equipped as before mentioned, and who with his lance seemed to threaten him with instant death. He was near falling dead with affright, from thinking that his spirit had returned into its terrestrial abode, and was perhaps intending thus to pursue him every where. While he was thus fixed to the spot, the stallion, whose instinct told him he had a female beside him, began to move, and, neighing, tried to get at her, which added to the poor friar's alarm; however, wishing to drive the mare on her way, as she turned her rump towards the stallion, she fell a kicking. The friar, who was not one of the best riders, was nearly thrown, and unwilling to meet with another shock like the first, he pressed and spurred the flanks of his mare, holding fast the pummel of the saddle, and letting loose the bridle, he suffered the mare to go where and as she pleased. The stallion, seeing his prey gallop off, struggling and foaming, broke the slight rope that bound him, and stoutly pursued her; the poor quaking friar, hearing his enemy close behind, turned his head and saw him with his lance fixed like a fierce justler; seized with deadly fright he began crying out, "Help, help!" At this outcry, and the stamping of those furious horses, the people all came looking out at the doors and windows, for it was now broad day-light. Every one was ready to die with laughing, seeing the chase of the two friars thus mounted, who both looked more dead than alive; the mare leaped from one side of the road to the other, and the enraged stallion after her, and of course the poor friar was often in danger of being wounded, as may well be imagined.

The crowds followed close, holloing and hooting; some threw stones, others sticks at the stallion; every one endeavoured to part them, not indeed through pity for the friars, but from curiosity to know who they were, for their race was so swift that they could not recognise them; they, however, luckily ran towards one of the city gates, where they were stopped, and the quick and the dead were both taken and recognised, to the great astonishment of all the multitude. They were both brought on horseback to the convent, and received with great grief by the friars; they buried the dead, and the living ordered for torture. The poor fellow, when bound, rather than suffer torture, confessed he had killed him on account of what has been previously related; they, however, could not account for his being mounted as he was. In consequence of his confession the young friar was not put to the rack, but was to be confined in a dark dungeon until he could be sent to the minister of state, that he might be stripped of his orders by the bishop of the place, and to the lord chief justice to condemn him, and execute him as a murderer according to law. King Fernando did perchance arrive at Salamanca at that time; the story having been related to him, although a very chaste prince, and much distressed at the sequel, and the loss of so great a man, he could not refrain from laughing heartily, when with his barons, at the very ludicrous adventure. Near the time when the friar was to be executed, Messer Roderigo, who felt some compunction at what had happened, and still more for the fate of the innocent friar, and that his silence on the subject certainly would occasion his death, being a favourite with the king, determined on divulging the whole truth, even at the peril of his own life; therefore, presenting himself before the king and his barons, he said, "My liege, the unjust and rigid sentence pronounced against the innocent friar, induces me to explain the circumstances of the accident, and if it please your majesty to pardon him who has most justly killed Messer Diego, I will bring him forth instantly, and he will truly relate what has happened." The king, who by nature was inclined to mercy, and anxious to know the truth, most generously promised a pardon, upon which the cavalier minutely related every circumstance, produced the letter of Diego, and the king having previously heard the friar's story, and perceiving it to agree with Don Roderigo's, he summoned the judge and friar before him, and after relating every thing before the barons and the people, immediately ordered the poor friar to be released and forgiven, being cleared from the crime and all imputation of guilt. The happy friar went merrily back to his convent, thanking his stars.