The Torture By Hope


Many years ago, as evening was closing in, the venerable Pedro Arbuez

d'Espila, sixth prior of the Dominicans of Segovia, and third Grand

Inquisitor of Spain, followed by a _fra redemptor_, and preceded by two

familiars of the Holy Office, the latter carrying lanterns, made their

way to a subterranean dungeon. The bolt of a massive door creaked, and

they entered a mephitic _in-pace_, where the dim light revealed between

rings fastened to the wall a bloodstained rack, a brazier, and a jug.

On a pile of straw, loaded with fetters and his neck encircled by an

iron carcan, sat a haggard man, of uncertain age, clothed in rags.

This prisoner was no other than Rabbi Aser Abarbanel, a Jew of Arragon,

who--accused of usury and pitiless scorn for the poor--had been daily

subjected to torture for more than a year. Yet "his blindness was as

dense as his hide," and he had refused to abjure his faith.

Proud of a filiation dating back thousands of years, proud of his

ancestors--for all Jews worthy of the name are vain of their blood--he

descended Talmudically from Othoniel and consequently from Ipsiboa, the

wife of the last judge of Israel, a circumstance which had sustained

his courage amid incessant torture. With tears in his eyes at the

thought of this resolute soul rejecting salvation, the venerable Pedro

Arbuez d'Espila, approaching the shuddering rabbi, addressed him as


"My son, rejoice: your trials here below are about to end. If in the

presence of such obstinacy I was forced to permit, with deep regret,

the use of great severity, my task of fraternal correction has its

limits. You are the fig tree which, having failed so many times to bear

fruit, at last withered, but God alone can judge your soul. Perhaps

Infinite Mercy will shine upon you at the last moment! We must hope so.

There are examples. So sleep in peace to-night. Tomorrow you will be

included in the _auto da fe_: that is, you will be exposed to the

_quemadero_, the symbolical flames of the Everlasting Fire: it burns,

as you know, only at a distance, my son; and Death is at least two

hours (often three) in coming, on account of the wet, iced bandages,

with which we protect the heads and hearts of the condemned. There will

be forty-three of you. Placed in the last row, you will have time to

invoke God and offer to Him this baptism of fire, which is of the Holy

Spirit. Hope in the Light, and rest."

With these words, having signed to his companions to unchain the

prisoner, the prior tenderly embraced him. Then came the turn of the

_fra redemptor_, who, in a low tone, entreated the Jew's forgiveness

for what he had made him suffer for the purpose of redeeming him; then

the two familiars silently kissed him. This ceremony over, the captive

was left, solitary and bewildered, in the darkness.

* * * * *

Rabbi Aser Abarbanel, with parched lips and visage worn by suffering,

at first gazed at the closed door with vacant eyes. Closed? The word

unconsciously roused a vague fancy in his mind, the fancy that he had

seen for an instant the light of the lanterns through a chink between

the door and the wall. A morbid idea of hope, due to the weakness of

his brain, stirred his whole being. He dragged himself toward the

strange _appearance_. Then, very gently and cautiously, slipping one

finger into the crevice, he drew the door toward him. Marvelous! By an

extraordinary accident the familiar who closed it had turned the huge

key an instant before it struck the stone casing, so that the rusty

bolt not having entered the hole, the door again rolled on its hinges.

The rabbi ventured to glance outside. By the aid of a sort of luminous

dusk he distinguished at first a semicircle of walls indented by

winding stairs; and opposite to him, at the top of five or six stone

steps, a sort of black portal, opening into an immense corridor, whose

first arches only were visible from below.

Stretching himself flat he crept to the threshold. Yes, it was really a

corridor, but endless in length. A wan light illumined it: lamps

suspended from the vaulted ceiling lightened at intervals the dull hue

of the atmosphere--the distance was veiled in shadow. Not a single door

appeared in the whole extent! Only on one side, the left, heavily

grated loopholes, sunk in the walls, admitted a light which must be

that of evening, for crimson bars at intervals rested on the flags of

the pavement. What a terrible silence! Yet, yonder, at the far end of

that passage there might be a doorway of escape! The Jew's vacillating

hope was tenacious, for it was _the last_.

Without hesitating, he ventured on the flags, keeping close under the

loopholes, trying to make himself part of the blackness of the long

walls. He advanced slowly, dragging himself along on his breast,

forcing back the cry of pain when some raw wound sent a keen pang

through his whole body.

Suddenly the sound of a sandaled foot approaching reached his ears. He

trembled violently, fear stifled him, his sight grew dim. Well, it was

over, no doubt. He pressed himself into a niche and, half lifeless with

terror, waited.

It was a familiar hurrying along. He passed swiftly by, holding in his

clenched hand an instrument of torture--a frightful figure--and

vanished. The suspense which the rabbi had endured seemed to have

suspended the functions of life, and he lay nearly an hour unable to

move. Fearing an increase of tortures if he were captured, he thought

of returning to his dungeon. But the old hope whispered in his soul

that divine _perhaps_, which comforts us in our sorest trials. A

miracle had happened. He could doubt no longer. He began to crawl

toward the chance of escape. Exhausted by suffering and hunger,

trembling with pain, he pressed onward. The sepulchral corridor seemed

to lengthen mysteriously, while he, still advancing, gazed into the

gloom where there _must_ be some avenue of escape.

Oh! oh! He again heard footsteps, but this time they were slower, more

heavy. The white and black forms of two inquisitors appeared, emerging

from the obscurity beyond. They were conversing in low tones, and

seemed to be discussing some important subject, for they were

gesticulating vehemently.

At this spectacle Rabbi Aser Abarbanel closed his eyes: his heart beat

so violently that it almost suffocated him; his rags were damp with the

cold sweat of agony; he lay motionless by the wall, his mouth wide

open, under the rays of a lamp, praying to the God of David.

Just opposite to him the two inquisitors paused under the light of the

lamp--doubtless owing to some accident due to the course of their

argument. One, while listening to his companion, gazed at the rabbi!

And, beneath the look--whose absence of expression the hapless man did

not at first notice--he fancied he again felt the burning pincers

scorch his flesh, he was to be once more a living wound. Fainting,

breathless, with fluttering eyelids, he shivered at the touch of the

monk's floating robe. But--strange yet natural fact--the inquisitor's

gaze was evidently that of a man deeply absorbed in his intended reply,

engrossed by what he was hearing; his eyes were fixed--and seemed to

look at the Jew _without seeing him_.

In fact, after the lapse of a few minutes, the two gloomy figures

slowly pursued their way, still conversing in low tones, toward the

place whence the prisoner had come; HE HAD NOT BEEN SEEN! Amid the

horrible confusion of the rabbi's thoughts, the idea darted through

his brain: "Can I be already dead that they did not see me?" A hideous

impression roused him from his lethargy: in looking at the wall

against which his face was pressed, he imagined he beheld two fierce

eyes watching him! He flung his head back in a sudden frenzy of

fright, his hair fairly bristling! Yet, no! No. His hand groped over

the stones: it was the _reflection_ of the inquisitor's eyes, still

retained in his own, which had been refracted from two spots on the


Forward! He must hasten toward that goal which he fancied (absurdly, no

doubt) to be deliverance, toward the darkness from which he was now

barely thirty paces distant. He pressed forward faster on his knees,

his hands, at full length, dragging himself painfully along, and soon

entered the dark portion of this terrible corridor.

Suddenly the poor wretch felt a gust of cold air on the hands resting

upon the flags; it came from under the little door to which the two

walls led.

Oh, Heaven, if that door should open outward. Every nerve in the

miserable fugitive's body thrilled with hope. He examined it from top

to bottom, though scarcely able to distinguish its outlines in the

surrounding darkness. He passed his hand over it: no bolt, no lock! A

latch! He started up, the latch yielded to the pressure of his thumb:

the door silently swung open before him.

"HALLELUIA!" murmured the rabbi in a transport of gratitude as,

standing on the threshold, he beheld the scene before him.

The door had opened into the gardens, above which arched a starlit

sky, into spring, liberty, life! It revealed the neighboring fields,

stretching toward the sierras, whose sinuous blue lines were relieved

against the horizon. Yonder lay freedom! Oh, to escape! He would

journey all night through the lemon groves, whose fragrance reached

him. Once in the mountains and he was safe! He inhaled the delicious

air; the breeze revived him, his lungs expanded! He felt in his

swelling heart the _Veni foras_ of Lazarus! And to thank once more the

God who had bestowed this mercy upon him, he extended his arms,

raising his eyes toward Heaven. It was an ecstasy of joy!

Then he fancied he saw the shadow of his arms approach him--fancied

that he felt these shadowy arms inclose, embrace him--and that he was

pressed tenderly to some one's breast. A tall figure actually did

stand directly before him. He lowered his eyes--and remained

motionless, gasping for breath, dazed, with fixed eyes, fairly

driveling with terror.

Horror! He was in the clasp of the Grand Inquisitor himself, the

venerable Pedro Arbuez d'Espila, who gazed at him with tearful eyes,

like a good shepherd who had found his stray lamb.

The dark-robed priest pressed the hapless Jew to his heart with so

fervent an outburst of love, that the edges of the monochal haircloth

rubbed the Dominican's breast. And while Aser Abarbanel with

protruding eyes gasped in agony in the ascetic's embrace, vaguely

comprehending that _all the phases of this fatal evening were only a

prearranged torture, that of_ HOPE, the Grand Inquisitor, with an

accent of touching reproach and a look of consternation, murmured in

his ear, his breath parched and burning from long fasting:

"What, my son! On the eve, perchance, of salvation--you wished to leave