ALTHOUGH to-morrow was to end all Amine’s hopes and fears—all her short happiness—her suspense and misery—yet Amine slept until her last slumber in this world was disturbed by the unlocking and unbarring of the doors of her cell, and the appearance of the head gaoler with a light. Amine started up—she had been dreaming of her husband—of happiness! She awoke to the sad reality. There stood the gaoler, with a dress in his hand, which he desired she would put on. He lighted a lamp for her, and left her alone. The dress was of black serge, with white stripes.
Amine put on the dress, and threw herself down on the bed, trying, if possible, to recall the dream from which she had been awakened, but in vain. Two hours passed away, and the gaoler again entered, and summoned her to follow him. Perhaps one of the most appalling customs of the Inquisition is, that after accusation, whether the accused parties confess their guilt or not, they return to their dungeons, without the least idea of what may have been their sentence, and when summoned on the morning of the execution they are equally kept in ignorance.
The prisoners were all summoned by the gaolers from the various dungeons, and led into a large hall, where they found their fellow-sufferers collected.
In this spacious, dimly-lighted hall, were to be seen about two hundred men, standing up, as if for support, against the walls, all dressed in the same black and white serge; so motionless, so terrified were they, that if it had not been for the rolling of their eyes, as they watched the gaolers, who passed and repassed, you might have imagined them to be petrified. It was the agony of suspense, worse than the agony of death. After a time, a wax candle, about five feet long, was put into the hands of each prisoner, and then some were ordered to put on over their dress the Sanbenitos—others the Samarias! Those who received these dresses, with flames painted on them, gave themselves up for lost; and it was dreadful to perceive the anguish of each individual as the dresses were, one by one brought forward, and with the heavy drops of perspiration on his brows, he watched with terror lest one should be presented to him. All was doubt, fear, and horror!
But the prisoners in this hall were not those who were to suffer death. Those who wore the Sanbenitos had to walk in the procession, and receive but slight punishment; those who wore the Samarias had been condemned, but had been saved from the consuming fire, by an acknowledgment of their offence; the flames painted on their dresses were reversed, and signified that they were not to suffer; but this the unfortunate wretches did not know, and the horrors of a cruel death stared them in the face!
Another hall, similar to the one in which the men had been collected, was occupied by female culprits. The same ceremonies were observed—the same doubt fear and agony, were depicted upon every countenance. But there was a third chamber, smaller than the other two, and this chamber was reserved for those who had been sentenced and who were to suffer at the stake. It was into this chamber that Amine was led, and there she found seven other prisoners, dressed in the same manner as herself: two only were Europeans, the other five were negro slaves. Each of these had his confessor with him, and was earnestly listening to his exhortation. A monk approached Amine, but she waved him away with her hand: he looked at her, spat on the floor, and cursed her. The head gaoler now made his appearance with the dresses for those who were in this chamber; these were Samarias, only different from the others, inasmuch as the flames were painted on them upwards instead of down. These dresses were of grey stuff, and loose, like a waggoner’s frock; at the lower part of them, both before and behind, was painted the likeness of the wearer that is the face only, resting upon a burning fagot, and surrounded with flames and demons. Under the portrait was written the crime for which the party suffered. Sugar-loaf caps, with flames painted on them, were also brought and put on their heads, and the long wax candles were placed into their hands.
Amine, and the others condemned, being arrayed in these dresses, remained in the chambers for some hours before it was time for the procession to commence, for they had been all summoned up by the gaolers at about two o’clock in the morning.
The sun rose brilliantly, much to the joy of the members of the Holy Office, who would not have had the day obscured on which they were to vindicate the honour of the Church, and to prove how well they acted up to the mild doctrines of the Saviour—those of charity, good-will, forbearing one another forgiving one another. God of Heaven! And not only did those of the Holy Inquisition rejoice, but thousands and thousands more, who had flocked from all parts to witness the dreadful ceremony, and to hold a jubilee—many, indeed, actuated by fanatical superstition, but more attended from thoughtlessness and the love of pageantry. The streets and squares through which the procession was to pass were filled at an early hour. Silks, tapestries, and cloth of gold and silver, were hung over the balconies, and out of the windows, in honour of the procession. Every balcony and window was thronged with ladies and cavaliers in their gayest attire, all waiting anxiously to see the wretches paraded before they suffered; but the world is fond of excitement, and where is anything so exciting to a superstitious people as an auto-da-fe?
As the sun rose, the heavy bell of the cathedral tolled, and all the prisoners were led down to the grand hall, that the order of the procession might be arranged. At the large entrance-door, on a raised one sat the Grand Inquisitor, encircled by many of the most considerable nobility and gentry of Goa. By the Grand Inquisitor stood his secretary, and as the prisoners walked past the throne and their names were mentioned, the secretary, after each, called out the names of one of those gentlemen, who immediately stepped forward, and took his station by the prisoner. These people are termed god-fathers; their duty is to accompany and be answerable for the prisoner, who is under their charge, until the ceremony is over. It is reckoned a high honour conferred on those whom the Grand Inquisitor appoints to this office.
At last the procession commenced. First was raised on high the standard of the Dominican order of monks, for the Dominican order were the founders of the Inquisition, and claimed this privilege by prescriptive right. After the banner, the monks themselves followed, in two lines. And what was the motto of their banner?—“Justitia et Misericordia!” Then followed the culprits, to the number of three hundred, each with his godfather by his side, and his large wax candle lighted in his hand. Those whose offences have been most venial walk first; all are bareheaded and barefooted. After this portion; who wore only the dress of black and white serge, came those who carried the Sanbenitos; then those who wore the Samarias, with the flames reversed. Here there was a separation in the procession, caused by a large cross, with the carved image of our Saviour nailed to it, the face of the image carried forward. This was intended to signify, that those in advance of the crucifix, and upon whom the Saviour looked down, were not to suffer; and that those who were behind, and upon whom his back was turned, were cast away, to perish for ever, in this world and the next. Behind the crucifix followed the seven condemned; and, as the greatest criminal, Amine walked the last. But the procession did not close here. Behind Amine were five effigies, raised high on poles, clothed in the same dresses, painted with flames and demons. Behind each effigy was borne a coffin, containing a skeleton; the effigies were of those who had died in their dungeon, or expired under the torture, and who had been tried and condemned after their death, and sentenced to be burnt. These skeletons had been dug up and were to suffer the same sentence as, had they still been living beings, they would have undergone. The effigies were to be tied to the stakes, and the bones were to be consumed. Then followed the members of the Inquisition; the familiars, monks, priests, and hundreds of penitents in black dresses, which concealed their faces, all with the lighted tapers in their hands.
It was two hours before the procession, which had paraded through almost every important street in Goa, arrived at the cathedral in which the further ceremonies were to be gone through. The barefooted culprits could now scarcely walk, the small sharp flints having so wounded their feet, that their tracks up the steps of the cathedral were marked with blood.
The grand altar of the cathedral was hung with black cloth, and lighted up with thousands of tapers. On one side of it was a throne for the Grand Inquisitor, on the other, a raised platform for the Viceroy of Goa, and his suite. The centre aisle had benches for the prisoners and their godfathers; the other portions of the procession falling off to the right and left to the side aisles, and mixing for the time with the spectators. As the prisoners entered the cathedral, they were led into their seats, those least guilty sitting nearest to the altar, and those who were condemned to suffer at the stake being placed the farthest from it.
The bleeding Amine tottered to her seat, and longed for the hour which was to sever her from a Christian world. She thought not of herself, nor of what she was to suffer: she thought but of Philip; of his being safe from these merciless creatures—of the happiness of dying first, and of meeting him again in bliss.
Worn with long confinement, with suspense and anxiety, fatigued and suffering from her painful walk, and the exposure to the burning sun, after so many months’ incarceration in a dungeon, she no longer shone radiant with beauty; but still there was something even more touching in her care-worn yet still perfect features. The object of universal gaze, she walked with her eyes cast down, and nearly closed; but occasionally, when she did look up, the fire that flashed from them spoke the proud soul within, and many feared and wondered, while more pitied that one so young, and still so lovely, should be doomed to such an awful fate. Amine had not taken her seat in the cathedral more than a few seconds, when, overpowered by her feelings and by fatigue she fell back in a swoon.
Did no one step forward to assist her? to raise her up, and offer her restoratives? No—not one. Hundreds would have done so, but they dared not: she was an outcast, excommunicated, abandoned, and lost; and should any one, moved by compassion for a suffering fellow-creature, have ventured to raise her up he would have been looked upon with suspicion, and most probably have been arraigned, and have had to settle the affair of conscience with the Holy Inquisition.
After a short time two of the officers of the Inquisition went to Amine and raised her again in her seat, and she recovered sufficiently to enable her to retain her posture.
A sermon was then preached by a Dominican monk, in which he portrayed the tender mercies, the paternal love of the Holy Office. He compared the Inquisition to the ark of Noah, out of which all the animals walked after the deluge, but with this difference highly in favour of the Holy Office, that the animals went forth from the ark no better than they went in, whereas those who had gone into the Inquisition with all the cruelty of disposition, and with the hearts of wolves, came out as mild and patient as lambs.
The public accuser then mounted the pulpit, and read from it all the crimes of those who had been condemned, and the punishments which they were to undergo. Each prisoner, as his sentence was read, was brought forward to the pulpit by the officers to hear it, standing up, with his wax candle lighted in his hand. As soon as the sentences of all those whose lives had been spared were read the Grand Inquisitor put on his priestly robes, and followed by several others, took off from them the ban of excommunication (which they were supposed to have fallen under), by throwing holy water on them with a small broom.
As soon as this portion of the ceremony was over, those who were condemned to suffer, and the effigies of those who had escaped by death, were brought up one by one, and their sentences read; the winding up of the condemnation of all was in the same words, “that the Holy Inquisition found it impossible, on account of the hardness of their hearts and the magnitude of their crimes, to pardon them. With great concern it handed them over to secular justice to undergo the penalty of the laws; exhorting the authorities at the same time to show clemency and mercy towards the unhappy wretches, and if they must suffer death, that at all events it might be without the spilling of blood.” What mockery was this apparent intercession not to shied blood, when, to comply with their request, they substituted the torment and agony of the stake!
Amine was the last who was led forward to the pulpit, which was fixed against one of the massive columns of the centre aisle, close to the throne occupied by the Grand inquisitor. “You, Amine Vanderdecken,” cried the public accuser. At this moment an unusual bustle was heard in the crowd under the pulpit, there was struggling and expostulation, and the officers raised their wands for silence and decorum—but it continued.
“You, Amine Vanderdecken, being accused—“
Another violent struggle; and from the crowd darted a young man, who rushed to where Amine was standing, and caught her in his arms.
“Philip! Philip!” screamed Amine falling on his bosom; as he caught her, the cap of flames fell off her head and rolled along the marble pavement. “My Amine—my wife—my adored one—is it thus we meet? My lord, she is innocent. Stand off, men,” continued he to the officers of the Inquisition, who would have torn them asunder: “stand off, or your lives shall answer for it.”
This threat to the officers, and the defiance of all rules, were not to be borne; the whole cathedral was in a state of commotion, and the solemnity of the ceremony was about to be compromised. The Viceroy and his followers had risen from their chairs to observe what was passing, and the crowd was pressing on, when the Grand Inquisitor gave his directions, and other officers hastened to the assistance of the two who had led Amine forward, and proceeded to disengage her from Philip’s arms. The struggle was severe. Philip appeared to be endued with the strength of twenty men; and it was some minutes before they could succeed in separating him and when they had so done, his struggles were dreadful.
Amine, also, held by two of the familiars, shrieked, as she attempted once more, but in vain, to rush into her husband’s arms. At last, by a tremendous effort, Philip released himself; but as soon as he was released, he sank down helpless on the pavement; the exertion had caused the bursting of a blood-vessel, and he lay without motion.
“Oh God! Oh God! they have killed him! monsters—murderers!—let me embrace him but once more!” cried Amine, frantically.
A priest now stepped forward—it was Father Mathias—with sorrow in his countenance; he desired some of the bystanders to carry out Philip Vanderdecken, and Philip, in a state of insensibility, was borne away from the sight of Amine, the blood streaming from his mouth.
Amine’s sentence was read—she heard it not, her brain was bewildered. She was led back to her seat, and then it was that all her courage, all her constancy and fortitude gave way; and during the remainder of the ceremony, she filled the cathedral with her wild hysterical sobbing; all entreaties or threats being wholly lost upon her.
All was now over except the last and most tragical scene of the drama. The culprits who had been spared were led back to the Inquisition by their godfathers, and those who had been sentenced were taken down to the banks of the river to suffer. It was on a large open space, on the left of the custom-house, that this ceremony was to be gone through. As in the cathedral raised thrones were prepared for the Grand Inquisitor and the who, in state headed the procession, followed by an immense concourse of people. Thirteen stakes had been set up, eight for the living, or the dead. The executioners were sitting on, or standing by, the piles of wood and faggots, waiting for their victims. Amine could not walk she was at first supported by the familiars, and then carried by them, to the stake which had been assigned for her. When they put her on her feet opposite to it, her courage appeared to revive, she walked boldly up, folded her arms and leant against it.
The executioners now commenced their office: the chains were passed round Amine’s body—the wood and faggots piled around her. The same preparations had been made with all the other culprits, and the confessors stood by the side of each victim. Amine waved her hand indignantly to those who approached her, when Father Mathias, almost breathless, made his appearance from the crowd, through which he had forced his way.
“Amine Vanderdecken—unhappy woman! had you been counselled by me this would not have been. Now it is too late, but not too late to save your soul. Away then with this obstinacy—this hardness of heart; call upon the blessed Saviour, that he may receive your spirit—call upon his wound’s for mercy. It is the eleventh hour, but not too late. Amine,” continued the old man with tears, “I implore you, I conjure you. At least, may this load of trouble be taken from my heart.”
“‘Unhappy woman!’ you say?” replied she, “say rather, ‘unhappy priest:’ for Amine’s sufferings will soon be over, while you must still endure the torments of the damned. Unhappy was the day when my husband rescued you from death. Still more unhappy the compassion which prompted him to offer you an asylum and a refuge. Unhappy the knowledge of you from the first day to the last. I leave you to your conscience—if conscience you retain—nor would I change this cruel death for the pangs which you in your future life will suffer. Leave me—I die in the faith of my forefathers, and scorn a creed that warrants such a scene as this.”
“Amine Vanderdecken,” cried the priest on his knees, clasping his hands in agony.
“Leave me, Father.”
“There is but a minute left—for the love of God—“
“I tell you then, leave me—that minute is my own.”
Father Mathias turned away in despair, and the tears coursed down the old man’s cheeks. As Amine said, his misery was extreme.
The head executioner now inquired of the confessors whether the culprits died in the true faith? If answered in the affirmative, a rope was passed round their necks and twisted to the stake, so that they were strangled before the fire was kindled. All the other culprits had died in this manner; and the head executioner inquired of Father Mathias, whether Amine had a claim to so much mercy. The old priest answered not, but shook his head.
The executioner turned away. After a moment’s pause, Father Mathias followed him, and seized him by the arm saying, in a faltering voice, “Let her not suffer long.”
The Grand Inquisitor gave the signal, and the fires were all lighted at the same moment. In compliance with the request of the priest, the executioner had thrown a quantity of wet straw upon Amine’s pile, which threw up a dense smoke before it burst into flames.
“Mother! mother! I come to thee!” were the last words heard from Amine’s lips.
The flames soon raged furiously, ascending high above the top of the stake to which she had been chained. Gradually they sunk down; and only when the burning embers covered the ground, a few fragments of bones hanging on the chain were all that remained of the once peerless and high-minded Amine.