The Theologian's Tale - The Wayside Inn - Part First



    In the heroic days when Ferdinand
    And Isabella ruled the Spanish land,
    And Torquemada, with his subtle brain,
    Ruled them, as Grand Inquisitor of Spain,
    In a great castle near Valladolid,
    Moated and high and by fair woodlands hid,
    There dwelt as from the chronicles we learn,
    An old Hidalgo proud and taciturn,
    Whose name has perished, with his towers of stone,
    And all his actions save this one alone;
    This one, so terrible, perhaps 't were best
    If it, too, were forgotten with the rest;
    Unless, perchance, our eyes can see therein
    The martyrdom triumphant o'er the sin;
    A double picture, with its gloom and glow,
    The splendor overhead, the death below.

    This sombre man counted each day as lost
    On which his feet no sacred threshold crossed;
    And when he chanced the passing Host to meet,
    He knelt and prayed devoutly in the street;
    Oft he confessed; and with each mutinous thought,
    As with wild beasts at Ephesus, he fought.
    In deep contrition scourged himself in Lent,
    Walked in processions, with his head down bent,
    At plays of Corpus Christi oft was seen,
    And on Palm Sunday bore his bough of green.
    His sole diversion was to hunt the boar
    Through tangled thickets of the forest hoar,
    Or with his jingling mules to hurry down
    To some grand bull-fight in the neighboring town,
    Or in the crowd with lighted taper stand,
    When Jews were burned, or banished from the land.
    Then stirred within him a tumultuous joy;
    The demon whose delight is to destroy
    Shook him, and shouted with a trumpet tone,
    Kill! kill! and let the Lord find out his own!"

    And now, in that old castle in the wood,
    His daughters, in the dawn of womanhood,
    Returning from their convent school, had made
    Resplendent with their bloom the forest shade,
    Reminding him of their dead mother's face,
    When first she came into that gloomy place,--
    A memory in his heart as dim and sweet
    As moonlight in a solitary street,
    Where the same rays, that lift the sea, are thrown
    Lovely but powerless upon walls of stone.
    These two fair daughters of a mother dead
    Were all the dream had left him as it fled.
    A joy at first, and then a growing care,
    As if a voice within him cried, "Beware
    A vague presentiment of impending doom,
    Like ghostly footsteps in a vacant room,
    Haunted him day and night; a formless fear
    That death to some one of his house was near,
    With dark surmises of a hidden crime,
    Made life itself a death before its time.
    Jealous, suspicious, with no sense of shame,
    A spy upon his daughters he became;
    With velvet slippers, noiseless on the floors,
    He glided softly through half-open doors;
    Now in the room, and now upon the stair,
    He stood beside them ere they were aware;
    He listened in the passage when they talked,
    He watched them from the casement when they walked,
    He saw the gypsy haunt the river's side,
    He saw the monk among the cork-trees glide;
    And, tortured by the mystery and the doubt
    Of some dark secret, past his finding out,
    Baffled he paused; then reassured again
    Pursued the flying phantom of his brain.
    He watched them even when they knelt in church;
    And then, descending lower in his search,
    Questioned the servants, and with eager eyes
    Listened incredulous to their replies;
    The gypsy? none had seen her in the wood!
    The monk? a mendicant in search of food!

    At length the awful revelation came,
    Crushing at once his pride of birth and name;
    The hopes his yearning bosom forward cast,
    And the ancestral glories of the vast,
    All fell together, crumbling in disgrace,
    A turret rent from battlement to base.
    His daughters talking in the dead of night
    In their own chamber, and without a light,
    Listening, as he was wont, he overheard,
    And learned the dreadful secret, word by word;
    And hurrying from his castle, with a cry
    He raised his hands to the unpitying sky,
    Repeating one dread word, till bush and tree
    Caught it, and shuddering answered, "Heresy!"

    Wrapped in his cloak, his hat drawn o'er his face,
    Now hurrying forward, now with lingering pace,
    He walked all night the alleys of his park,
    With one unseen companion in the dark,
    The Demon who within him lay in wait,
    And by his presence turned his love to hate,
    Forever muttering in an undertone,
    "Kill! kill! and let the Lord find out his own!"

    Upon the morrow, after early Mass,
    While yet the dew was glistening on the grass,
    And all the woods were musical with birds,
    The old Hidalgo, uttering fearful words,
    Walked homeward with the Priest, and in his room
    Summoned his trembling daughters to their doom.
    When questioned, with brief answers they replied,
    Nor when accused evaded or denied;
    Expostulations, passionate appeals,
    All that the human heart most fears or feels,
    In vain the Priest with earnest voice essayed;
    In vain the father threatened, wept, and prayed;
    Until at last he said, with haughty mien,
    "The Holy Office, then, must intervene!"

    And now the Grand Inquisitor of Spain,
    With all the fifty horsemen of his train,
    His awful name resounding, like the blast
    Of funeral trumpets, as he onward passed,
    Came to Valladolid, and there began
    To harry the rich Jews with fire and ban.
    To him the Hidalgo went, and at the gate
    Demanded audience on affairs of state,
    And in a secret chamber stood before
    A venerable graybeard of fourscore,
    Dressed in the hood and habit of a friar;
    Out of his eyes flashed a consuming fire,
    And in his hand the mystic horn he held,
    Which poison and all noxious charms dispelled.
    He heard in silence the Hidalgo's tale,
    Then answered in a voice that made him quail:
    "Son of the Church! when Abraham of old
    To sacrifice his only son was told,
    He did not pause to parley nor protest
    But hastened to obey the Lord's behest.
    In him it was accounted righteousness;
    The Holy Church expects of thee no less!"

    A sacred frenzy seized the father's brain,
    And Mercy from that hour implored in vain.
    Ah! who will e'er believe the words I say?
    His daughters he accused, and the same day
    They both were cast into the dungeon's gloom,
    That dismal antechamber of the tomb,
    Arraigned, condemned, and sentenced to the flame,
    The secret torture and the public shame.

    Then to the Grand Inquisitor once more
    The Hidalgo went, more eager than before,
    And said: "When Abraham offered up his son,
    He clave the wood wherewith it might be done.
    By his example taught, let me too bring
    Wood from the forest for my offering!"
    And the deep voice, without a pause, replied:
    "Son of the Church! by faith now justified,
    Complete thy sacrifice, even as thou wilt;
    The Church absolves thy conscience from all guilt!"

    Then this most wretched father went his way
    Into the woods, that round his castle lay,
    Where once his daughters in their childhood played
    With their young mother in the sun and shade.
    Now all the leaves had fallen; the branches bare
    Made a perpetual moaning in the air,
    And screaming from their eyries overhead
    The ravens sailed athwart the sky of lead.
    With his own hands he lopped the boughs and bound
    Fagots, that crackled with foreboding sound,
    And on his mules, caparisoned and gay
    With bells and tassels, sent them on their way.

    Then with his mind on one dark purpose bent,
    Again to the Inquisitor he went,
    And said: "Behold, the fagots I have brought,
    And now, lest my atonement be as naught,
    Grant me one more request, one last desire,--
    With my own hand to light the funeral fire!"
    And Torquemada answered from his seat,
    "Son of the Church!    Thine offering is complete;
    Her servants through all ages shall not cease
    To magnify thy deed.    Depart in peace!"

    Upon the market-place, builded of stone
    The scaffold rose, whereon Death claimed his own.
    At the four corners, in stern attitude,
    Four statues of the Hebrew Prophets stood,
    Gazing with calm indifference in their eyes
    Upon this place of human sacrifice,
    Round which was gathering fast the eager crowd,
    With clamor of voices dissonant and loud,
    And every roof and window was alive
    With restless gazers, swarming like a hive.

    The church-bells tolled, the chant of monks drew near,
    Loud trumpets stammered forth their notes of fear,
    A line of torches smoked along the street,
    There was a stir, a rush, a tramp of feet,
    And, with its banners floating in the air,
    Slowly the long procession crossed the square,
    And, to the statues of the Prophets bound,
    The victims stood, with fagots piled around.
    Then all the air a blast of trumpets shook,
    And louder sang the monks with bell and book,
    And the Hidalgo, lofty, stern, and proud,
    Lifted his torch, and, bursting through the crowd,
    Lighted in haste the fagots, and then fled,
    Lest those imploring eyes should strike him dead!

    O pitiless skies! why did your clouds retain
    For peasants' fields their floods of hoarded rain?
    O pitiless earth! why open no abyss
    To bury in its chasm a crime like this?

    That night a mingled column of fire and smoke
    Prom the dark thickets of the forest broke,
    And, glaring o'er the landscape leagues away,
    Made all the fields and hamlets bright as day.
    Wrapped in a sheet of flame the castle blazed,
    And as the villagers in terror gazed,
    They saw the figure of that cruel knight
    Lean from a window in the turret's height,
    His ghastly face illumined with the glare,
    His hands upraised above his head in prayer,
    Till the floor sank beneath him, and he fell
    Down the black hollow of that burning well.

    Three centuries and more above his bones
    Have piled the oblivious years like funeral stones;
    His name has perished with him, and no trace
    Remains on earth of his afflicted race;
    But Torquemada's name, with clouds o'ercast,
    Looms in the distant landscape of the Past,
    Like a burnt tower upon a blackened heath,
    Lit by the fires of burning woods beneath!


    Thus closed the tale of guilt and gloom,
    That cast upon each listener's face
    Its shadow, and for some brief space
    Unbroken silence filled the room.
    The Jew was thoughtful and distressed;
    Upon his memory thronged and pressed
    The persecution of his race,
    Their wrongs and sufferings and disgrace;
    His head was sunk upon his breast,
    And from his eyes alternate came
    Flashes of wrath and tears of shame.

    The student first the silence broke,
    As one who long has lain in wait
    With purpose to retaliate,
    And thus he dealt the avenging stroke.
    "In such a company as this,
    A tale so tragic seems amiss,
    That by its terrible control
    O'ermasters and drags down the soul
    Into a fathomless abyss.
    The Italian Tales that you disdain,
    Some merry Night of Straparole,
    Or Machiavelli's Belphagor,
    Would cheer us and delight us more,
    Give greater pleasure and less pain
    Than your grim tragedies of Spain!"

    And here the Poet raised his hand,
    With such entreaty and command,
    It stopped discussion at its birth,
    And said: "The story I shall tell
    Has meaning in it, if not mirth;
    Listen, and hear what once befell
    The merry birds of Killingworth!"


facebook share button twitter share button google plus share button tumblr share button reddit share button email share button

Create a library and add your favorite stories. Get started by clicking the "Add" button.
Add The Theologian's Tale - The Wayside Inn - Part First to your own personal library.

Return to the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Home Page, or . . . Read the next poem; The Theologian's Tale - The Wayside Inn - Part Second

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.