« PreviousContinue »
is praying! He is praying I11 and, lo! the scorched black carcase was seen plainly to lift its clasped hands towards the skies. Now the case was this, that the cords which confined his arms being burnt asunder by chance, before those which bound his wrists, his arms by the contraction of the sinews were drawn upwards, in the manner I have described— however, the multitude fancied quite otherwise, and the Atheist is affirmed to have become a convert to this very day.
A couple of wicked perverse Jews having been disposed of in the like way, (the rest of the criminals, save the female, being recusants who had been brought to the stake only for the sake of example)—there remained but the young Englishwoman to be dealt with. During the burning of the others, she had remained tied to the stake with the faggots about her feet, and the confessor Landino by her side, who promised himself much glory from her conversion, whereas she never condescended to listen to his harangues, but with eyes turned upward, and her mind absent, and in a better place, continued her secret prayers with much fortitude and devotion. The dreadful firebrand, which was made of three torches twisted into one, to typify the holy mystery, being brought in readiness to kindle the fire, Landino besought her to consider whether her tender body could endure such torments.
"By the help of God," she replied, "I will. The smoke of your last offering is already in the skies, and my spirit is fain to follow."
The Grand Inquisitor hearing this answer, delivered with such a resolute tone and look, made a sign to Landino to let him speak.
"Miserable child !" he cried, "do you believe that the souls of heretics enjoy, at the very first, that blessed ascension? Wretched, wretched creature, you will learn otherwise in purgatory !"—and he made a sign for the torch to be thrust into the pile.
"At least," interrupted Landino, "at least
VOL II. &
confess the tender mercy of the holy church thou contemnest, who thus, by this charitable purgation of thy body, redeems thy soul from everlasting perdition; by these flames temporary, absolves thee from flames eternal."
"My parents," replied the lady very meekly, "were both Protestants; and it seems most becoming, at this last hour of my life, to continue in that faith whereunto they bred me. As for your flaming charity, I pray God that it may not be repaid to you in kind, at the great day of judgment;1' with which answer she closed her eyes, and set herself stedfastly as if she would hear no more speeches.
The Confessor Landino, who heretofore had been unable to make any impression on her firmness, hereupon gave up all hope of prevailing over her quiet but constant spirit; but as for the Grand Inquisitor, he was quite beyond his patience. "Let her be burned!"' he cried; which command was performed without delay.
At the first sharp pang of the cruel flames, a sudden flush, as though of red-hot blood, mounted up into the marble cheeks of the unfortunate lady, and she drew her breath inwards with a very long shuddering sigh. The reflection of the increasing fire soon cast the same ruddy hue on the countenances of all the spectators, for the flames climbed with merciful rapidity up her loose feminine garments. Those who were nearest saw her head drop suddenly, as she choked upon her bosom; and then the cords burning through and through, the whole lifeless body tumbled forward into the embers, causing a considerable flutter of dust and smoke; and when it cleared away, there was nothing to be seen but a confused heap of ashes and dying embers.
Thus perished that lovely, unhappy English gentlewoman, in her prime of youth, far away from all that regarded her with love, and with few that looked on her with any degree of pity. And now the people were about to depart with mutual congratulations, when suddenly there arose a great bustle towards the quarter of the Grand Inquisitor, and in a few moments the Countess Bovinello, in deep mourning, was seen kneeling at his feet. Her face was quite haggard and dreadful to look upon, and her dress so disordered as to make her seem like a maniac, but her gestures were still more franticlike. Whatever her suit might be, the Inquisitor seemed much ruffled, and got up to depart; but she seized hold of his gown and detained him, whilst she continued to plead with great earnestness.
"You are too late !* he said, and withal he pointed his wand of office to the heap of black ashes that stood before him.
The Countess, letting go her hold, went and gazed for a minute on the cinders; then stooping down and gathering up a handful of the dust, she. returned, and before he was aware, strewed some on the head of the Inquisitor, and the remainder upon her own.