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said, since his imprisonment by the Holy Office. This obdurate man marched along erect and silently, without either sigh or groan, to the sacrifice, having first cast his taper in scorn amongst the populace, who would fain have torn him in pieces for this act of contempt, but for the consideration that he was going to make a more adequate expiation.
As for the other person who did not join in the clamorous outcries of the rest, this was a female, young and beautiful, and indeed, the wife of the unfortunate Rovinello, though that circumstance was unknown to the generality of the spectators. Her luxuriant hair had all been cut off, and she wore the same cap and robe of humiliation with the others, but in going barefoot, her tender small white feet were tipped with bloody red, like the morning daisies, through trampling on the rugged flinty-hearted stones. Thus she marched beside the Atheist, not a whit more desponding than he, but with a better hope, looking often upward towards the merciful skies, which contained the spirit of her beloved Rovinello. The multitude beheld her meekness and devout submission, for so it seemed to them, with great satisfaction, nor did the friars omit to point her out frequently, for the edification of the bystanders.
And now, being come to the appointed spot, which was a convenient open space, the usual preparations were made for the burning. In the middle of the area stood four goodly stakes, which as well as the faggots had been smeared over with pitch and tar, that they might blaze the fiercer. The Chief Inquisitor, with the brethren of the Holy Office, were comfortably seated in front, to overlook the spectacle, and on either side, the court, and the nobility according to their degree; meanwhile the common rabble got such places as they could, some of them even being hoisted up on the shoulders of their fellows. And truly it was a goodly sight to look round on such a noble assemblage, in their robes of state, the very common people having their holiday suits on, and piety and contentment shining together on every countenance.
After sundry tedious formalities, the abominable Atheist, being the chiefest heretic, was placed foremost, immediately under the eyes of the Grand Inquisitor, who desired nothing so much as the glory of his conversion. The priests of the Holy Office therefore used a thousand arguments to persuade him of his errors; but the desperate man refused to listen to their discourse, replying, when opportunity offered, only by the most scornful expressions. Thus, although there were three friars constantly exhorting him at one time, namely, two Carmelites and a Benedictine, they might as soon have persuaded the north wind to blow southward, as the current of his impiety to take another Course.
In order to save him from the guilt of further blasphemies, the Grand Inquisitor made a sign for the faggots (the priests having first duly blessed them) to be heaped around his feet, hoping by this preparation to terrify him into recantation, whereas the unshrinking heretic looked on with the greatest composure. Observing that he smiled, the Grand Inquisitor demanded the cause of his mirth—for they were near enough to hold a conference together.
"I am thinking," said he, "how yonder baldpated monks, who are flinching from the heat of the sun, will be able to bear the fiery circles of glory which they promise themselves about their crowns."
At this scoffing answer, his case seeming truly desperate, and his heresy incurable, the fire was ordered to be applied without further delay to the faggots, which kindling up briskly, the scornful countenance of the infidel was soon covered over by a thick cloud of smoke. As soon as the flames reached his flesh, a sharp cry of anguish was heard through the upper vapour, and a priest stepping close in to the stake, inquired if the criminal yet repented of his damnable errors.
"I called out," said he, "only for a little of your holy water."
The friar, overjoyed at this triumph, stepped back with all haste to get some of the sanctified element, and began to sprinkle him.
"Nay," quoth the relapsing heretic; "I meant it only to be bestowed on these scorching faggots.1'
At this fresh contempt the wood was stirred briskly up again, and sent forth redoubled volumes of fire and smoke, so that it was evident he would soon be consumed. The .flames lapping him quickly all round, and driving the smoke into the upper region, the burning figure could plainly be distinguished in the midst, now thoroughly dead, the wretched man having been stifled in the beginning of the fire. Notwithstanding, on a sudden there was a loud shout from the people, "He