A few hours after Amine had been in the dungeon, the jailors entered: without speaking to her they let down her soft silky hair, and cut it close off. Amine, with her lip curled in contempt, and without resistance and expostulation, allowed them to do their work. They finished, and she was again left to her solitude.
The next day the jailors entered her cell, and ordered her to bare her feet, and follow them. She looked at them, and they at her. “If you do not, we must,” observed one of the men, who was moved by her youth and beauty. Amine did as she was desired, and was led into the Hall of Justice, where she found only the Grand Inquisitor and the Secretary.
The Hall of Justice was a long room with lofty windows on each side, and also at the end opposite to the door through which she had been led in. In the centre, on a raised dais, was a long table covered with a cloth of alternate blue and fawn coloured stripes; and at the end opposite to where Amine was brought in, was raised an enormous crucifix, with a carved image of our Saviour. The jailor pointed to a small bench, and intimated to Amine that she was to sit down.
After a scrutiny of some moments, the secretary spoke:—
“What is your name?”
“Of what country?”
“My husband is of the Low Countries; I am from the East.”
“What is your husband?”
“The captain of a Dutch Indiaman.”
“How came you here?”
“His vessel was wrecked, and we were separated.”
“Whom do you know here?”
“What property have you?”
“None; it is my husband’s.”
“Where is it?”
“In the custody of Father Mathias.”
“Are you aware why you are brought here?”
“How should I be?” replied Amine, evasively; “tell me what I am accused of?”
“You must know whether you have done wrong or not. You had better confess all your conscience accuses you of.”
“My conscience does not accuse me of doing anything.”
“Then you will confess nothing?”
“By your own showing, I have nothing to confess.”
“You say you are from the East: are you a Christian?”
“I reject your creed.”
“You are married to a Catholic?”
“Yes a true Catholic.”
“Who married you?”
“Father Seysen, a Catholic, priest.”
“Did you enter into the bosom of the Church?—did he venture to marry you without your being baptised?”
“Some ceremony did take place which I consented to.”
“It was baptism, was it not?”
“I believe it was so termed.”
“And now you say that you reject the creed?”
“Since I have witnessed the conduct of those who profess it, I do. At the time of my marriage I was disposed towards it.”
“What is the amount of your property in the Father Mathias’s hands.”
“Some hundreds of dollars—he knows exactly.”
The Grand Inquisitor rang a bell; the jailors entered, and Amine was led back to her dungeon.
“Why should they ask so often about my money?” mused Amine; “if they require it, they may take it. What is their power? What would they do with me? Well, well, a few days will decide.” A few days;—no, no, Amine; years, perhaps would have passed without decision, but that in our months from the date of your incarceration, the auto-da-fe, which had not been celebrated for upwards of three years, was to take place, and there was not a sufficient number of those who were to undergo the last punishment to render the ceremony imposing. A few more were required for the stake, or you would not have escaped from those dungeons so soon. As it was, a month of anxiety and suspense, almost insupportable, had to be passed away before Amine was again summoned to the Hall of Justice.
Amine, at the time we have specified, was again introduced to the Hall of Justice, and was again asked if she would confess. Irritated at her long confinement and the injustice of the proceedings, she replied, “I have told you once for all, that I have nothing to confess; do with me as you will, but be quick.”
“Will torture oblige you to confess?”
“Try me,” replied Amine, firmly, “try me, cruel men, and if you gain but one word from me, then call me craven. I am but a woman, but I dare you—I defy you.”
It was seldom that such expressions fell upon the ears of her judges, and still more seldom that a countenance was lighted up with such determination. But the torture was never applied until after the accusation had been made and answered.
“We shall see,” said the Grand Inquisitor; “take her away.”
Amine was led back to her cell. In the mean time, Father Mathias had had several conferences with the Inquisitor. Although in his wrath he had accused Amine, and had procured the necessary witnesses against her, he now felt uneasy and perplexed. His long residence with her—her invariable kindness till the time of his dismissal—his knowledge that she had never embraced the faith—her boldness and courage—nay, her beauty and youth—all worked strongly in her favour. His only object now was to persuade her to confess that she was wrong, induce her to embrace the faiths, and save her. With this view he had obtained permission from the Holy Office to enter her dungeon and reason with her,—a special favour which, for many reasons, they could not well refuse him. It was on the third day after her second examination, that the bolts were removed at an unusual hour, and Father Mathias entered the cell, which was again barred, and he was left alone with Amine. “My child! my child!” exclaimed Father Mathias, with sorrow in his countenance.
“Nay, father, this is mockery. It is you who brought me here—leave me.”
“I brought you here, ’tis true; but I would now remove you, if you will permit me, Amine.”
“Most willingly; I’ll follow you.”
“Nay, nay; there is much to talk over, much to be done. This is not a dungeon from which people can escape so easily.”
“Then tell me what have you to say; and what is it must be done?”
“But stop; before you say one word, answer me one question as you hope for bliss. Have you heard aught of Philip?”
“Yes, I have. He is well.”
“And where is he?”
“He will soon be here.”
“God, I thank thee! shall I see him, father?”
“That must depend upon yourself.”
“Upon myself? Then tell me, quickly, what would they have me do?”
“Confess your sins—your crimes.”
“What sins?—what crimes?”
“Have you not dealt with evil beings, invoked the spirits, and gained the assistance of those who are not of this world?”
Amine made no reply.
“Answer me. Do you not confess?”
“I do not confess to have done anything wrong.”
“This is useless. You were seen by me and others. What will avail your denial? Are you aware of the punishment which most surely awaits you, if you do not confess, and become a member of our Church?”
“Why am I to become a member of your Church? Do you then punish those who refuse?”
“No; had you not already consented to receive baptism, you would not have been asked to become so; but, having been baptised, you must now become a member, or be supposed to fall back into heresy.”
“I knew not the nature of your baptism at that time.”
“Granted; but you consented to it.”
“Be it so. But pray, what may be the punishment, if I refuse?”
“You will be burnt alive at the stake; nothing can save you. Hear me, Amine Vanderdecken: when next summoned, you must confess all; and, asking pardon, request to be received into the Church; then will you be saved, and you will—“
“Again be clasped in Philip’s arms.”
“My Philip—my Philip!—you indeed press me hard; but, father, if I confess I am wrong, when I feel that I am not—“
“Feel that you are not!”
“Yes. I invoked my mother’s assistance; she gave it me in a dream. Would a mother have assisted her daughter if it were wrong?”
“It was not your mother, but a fiend who took the likeness.”
“It was my mother. Again you ask me to say that I believe that which I cannot.”
“That which you cannot! Amine Vanderdecken, be not obstinate.”
“I am not obstinate, good father. Have you not offered me what is to me beyond all price, that I should again be in the arms of my husband? Can I degrade myself to a lie?—not for life, or liberty, or even for my Philip.”
“Amine Vanderdecken, if you will confess your crime before you are accused, you will have done much; after your accusation has been made, it will be of little avail.”
“It will not be done, either before or after, father. What I have done I have done, but a crime it is not to me and mine—with you it may be, but I am not of yours.”
“Recollect also that you peril your husband, for having wedded with a sorceress. Forget not; to-morrow I will see you again.”
“My mind is troubled,” replied Amine. “Leave me, father, it will be a kindness.”
Father Mathias quitted the cell, pleased with the last words of Amine. The idea of her husband’s danger seemed to have startled her.
Amine threw herself down on the mattress in the corner of the cell, and hid her face.
“Burnt alive!” exclaimed she after a time, sitting up and passing her hands over her forehead. “Burnt alive! and these are Christians. This, then was the cruel death foretold by that creature, Schriften—foretold—yes, and therefore must be—it is my destiny—I cannot save myself. If I confess then, I confess that Philip is wedded to a sorceress, and he will be punished too. No, never—never; I can suffer; ’tis cruel—’tis horrible to think of,—but ’twill soon be over. God of my fathers, give me strength against these wicked men, and enable me to hear all, for my dear Philip’s sake.”
The next evening, Father Mathias again made his appearance. He found Amine calm and collected: she refused to listen to his advice or follow his injunctions. His last observation, that “her husband would be in peril if she was found guilty of sorcery,” had steeled her heart, and she had determined that neither torture nor the stake should make her confess the act. The priest left the cell, sick at heart; he now felt miserable at the idea of Amine’s perishing by so dreadful a death; accused himself of precipitation, and wished that he had never seen Amine, whose constancy and courage, although in error, excited his admiration and his pity. And then he thought of Philip, who had treated him so kindly—how could he meet him? And if he asked for his wife, what answer could he give?
Another fortnight passed, when Amine was again summoned to the Hall of Judgment, and again asked if she confessed her crimes. Upon her refusal, the accusations against her were read. She was accused by Father Mathias with practising forbidden arts, and the depositions of the boy Pedro and the other witnesses were read. In his zeal, Father Mathias also stated that he had found her guilty of the same practices at Terneuse; and, moreover, that in the violent storm, when all expected to perish, she had remained calm and courageous and told the captain that they would be saved; which could only have been known by an undue spirit of prophecy, given by evil spirits. Amine’s lip curled in derision when she heard the last accusation. She was asked if she had any defence to make.
“What defence can be offered,” replied she, “to such accusations as these? Witness the last—because I was not so craven as the Christians, I am accused of sorcery. The old dotard! but I will expose him. Tell me, if one knows that sorcery is used, and conceals or allows it, is he not a participator and equally guilty?”
“He is,” replied the Inquisitor, anxiously awaiting the result.
“Then I denounce—“ and Amine was about to reveal that Philip’s mission was known, and not forbidden by Fathers Mathias and Seysen; when, recollecting that Philip would be implicated, she stopped.
“Denounce whom?” inquired the Inquisitor.
“No one,” replied Amine, folding her arms and dropping her head.
Amine made no answer.
“The torture will make you speak.”
“Never!” replied Amine. “Never! Torture me to death, if you choose; I prefer it to a public execution!”
The Inquisitor and the secretary consulted a short time. Convinced that Amine would adhere to her resolution and requiring her for public execution, they abandoned the idea of the torture.
“Do you confess?” inquired the Inquisitor.
“No,” replied Amine, firmly.
“Then take her away.”
The night before the auto-da-fe, Father Mathias again entered the cell of Amine, but all his endeavours to convert her were useless.
“To-morrow will end it all, father,” replied Amine; “leave me—I would be alone.”