Read Torquemada Online

Authors: Howard Fast



Howard Fast



habit of a Dominican friar walked along a street in Segovia. His name was Thomas de Torquemada, and there were few people in Segovia who did not know him by sight. He had the reputation of being a righteous man and his reputation as such went far beyond the limits of Segovia.

It was late afternoon, and the sunlight was still hard and bright. The shadows had hard edges and the light itself was hard and brittle. On this particular street there was an unbroken stretch of white, windowless walls, and though he had seen these walls a thousand times before, the sight of them now pricked at Torquemada's fancy and made him wonder whether a street in the Holy City might not have walls as white and gleaming.

On this street there was no one at all. But on the next street that Torquemada came to, a group of half-naked children played in the dust. When they looked up and saw Torquemada, they crossed themselves and fled. This evidence of fear on their part touched him and hurt him more than most people would imagine, and though his high-boned face did not change, he winced inwardly. There were times when Thomas de Torquemada attempted to understand or to explain to himself the manner in which he was held and regarded by the people in the town. He was never wholly successful in this and, of late, he practised it less frequently.

Torquemada came to the central square of Segovia and walked across it. It was the end of the siesta time and the only one there was a drunken, red-nosed old watchman who had taken his siesta in the dirt by the fountain and who now sat up and greeted Torquemada with an open, yawning mouth and an ugly whiskered face. In Torquemada's sight, the face of this man crawled with ugliness and with the memory of sin. Sometimes it seemed to Torquemada that he could look at a man's face and see sin as a splash of purple paint. Now, in the hot sunlight, the streets and the walls of the town rippled and moved and came alive in answer to Torquemada's sudden, fierce thought of sin. He stifled this thought, knowing that if he allowed it to enlarge itself and to dominate him, it would spoil his entire afternoon. He had no desire to have his afternoon spoiled.

He came soon to the eastern boundaries of Segovia, where the mansions of the rich and the powerful families stood. These great homes, one after another, sat within their own garden walls. There were seven of them in a row and the third from the edge of the town was the house of Alvero de Rafel.

As Torquemada came to the gate in the wall that surrounded the home of the Rafels, he paused and breathed the smell of their rose garden and let his irritation quiet itself and disappear. He was particularly sensitive this afternoon to impressions, to sounds, smells, motions and even to the waves in the air set up by the heat; and now the sight and smell of a rose garden and of a dark and beautiful girl kneeling in this rose garden blessed him, he felt, as a benediction. The sight covered him with vanity and gave him pride in the manner of his existence. He knew that this was a sinful feeling and he bore it with guilt; but nevertheless he felt renewed and he smiled at the girl as she rose and saw him and greeted him.

In the meanwhile Julio, the old footman of the Rafels, had come to open the gate. Torquemada thanked him politely for this but, like so many of the simple people in Segovia, Julio avoided his glance. Not so with Catherine de Rafel, who ran to him and embraced him, and said to him,

“I welcome you, dear Father.”

Torquemada held the girl next to him in response to a need – a very great need. He felt her warm and pliable form against him, and he promised himself that he would do penance for that. He would go to confession and he would light candles, but meanwhile he felt enlarged and gratified. He looked down upon Catherine from his tall, lean height and touched her hair. That was his privilege. He had known this dark, beautiful girl since the day of her birth. She was now twenty-two years old. He was as much her father as her real father in blood, and there was no reason why he should not embrace her and touch her hair and even lay a finger upon her cheek – knowing that each action was an action of innocence. He had to articulate this and he replied.

“To me you are purity and goodness in the flesh. I don't suppose I could make you understand how often I hunger for that. Goodness is the food that my soul wants but one does not find it in large supply in Segovia, so I look at you with great joy, dear Catherine.”

“Good Father.” Catherine smiled. “You know women so little. No, you mustn't take offence,” she added, watching his face change. “I mean that there is one part of a woman you don't know. A woman's soul you know three hundred times better than I would ever know it. I make no sense, do I? I am glad to see you. Take the roses I cut.”

She gave him her basket of fresh-cut roses and asked whether they should go inside. Torquemada studied her for a long moment and then nodded, a slight smile playing across his face and giving him an unusual charm. Catherine often noticed how pleasant it could be when hard-faced and morose people smiled. If you respected such people their smile was a gift and it had great power.

Now she took Torquemada's arm and led him into the house. They entered the gallery which was connected with the garden by a Moorish archway. All of the houses in Segovia at that time had a Moorish influence, but the Rafel house was large and old and had been built entirely by the Moors. The floors were of blue tile, and the walls of fine African plaster. The gallery was a great room some forty feet long and twenty feet wide. One whole side of this room consisted of Moorish archways and lovely sustaining columns that twisted sinuously and beautifully. Through these columns one saw the pretty prospect of the rose garden. Maria de Rafel, Catherine's mother, had drapes made for the entire length of this side of the room. When the drapes were closed, the room became a contained place in itself – but when the drapes were drawn back, as they were now, room and garden blended together, the big-leafed African ivy invading the house from the garden and twining itself around the columns. Within the long gallery, the furnishings were simple enough. There was a fireplace in the very middle of the wall and around it were six big armchairs. At the far end of the room, when one entered from the garden, there was a long refectory table and around it were eight tall, straight-backed chairs. On the floor there was a golden rug from Morocco and on the wall portraits of Alvero de Rafel, of Maria, his wife, and of Lomas, his wife's father – all of them painted by the artist Consaloes.

Maria, Catherine's mother, was alone in the room when Catherine and Torquemada entered; and she looked up with pleasure, laid aside the embroidery she was working on and rose. Maria was forty-two years old and still beautiful, shapely and desirable, and she smiled easily to make Torquemada welcome. Thus it was always at the house of Rafel. He felt welcome, he felt wanted, he felt cherished. The fact that a man is a priest does not kill his desire to be cherished, and Torquemada had that sense of his own courtliness, his own dignity – so indispensable to a Spanish gentleman – as he walked towards Maria de Rafel with his hands held out.

“My dear Señora Maria,” he said.

Then he took her hands and bowed and kissed her right hand and then her left hand. There was no gentleman in Segovia who could have done it with more grace and ease, a fact that mother and daughter noticed and appreciated.

Maria, who was a rather precise person, resumed her seat, took up her embroidery again and, working with concentration and precision on the tiny stitches, said to Torquemada, “I dreamed of an avenging angel last night. Now listen, good Prior. He stood in front of me, so proud and angry that I thought my heart would break with fear. Oh, where is the shield of my Lord God and Christ, His Son? I mean this is exactly what I asked myself in the dream, and a moment later, the good Thomas stood between us. He sheltered me and here you are in the flesh. Do you know that eleven days have gone by since we saw you last? However, my dream told me that you would be here today.”

Catherine sat down in the chair next to her mother but Torquemada remained standing and expressed his thanks and his appreciation. “However,” he said, “I am not sure that this reliance on dreams is entirely Christian, yet today I shall not question it. I am overcome by warmth. Since I have been appointed Inquisitor I find little enough warmth from those I knew.”

“Because they don't know you as we do,” Catherine said.

“You are both of you comforting women and this house is a light, a warm haven. Why did I allow eleven days to go by? This is penance. If I punish others, I must punish myself even more.”

“I will not listen to talk of punishment,” Maria interrupted, “certainly not here. You know, Father Thomas, that if you praise our house you must bring charity to it, only charity, and charity and punishment are not exactly the same thing – won't you agree, Father Thomas?”

“I agree and I beg your forgiveness.”

“And so,” Maria continued, “you will stay and dine with us.”

Torquemada shook his head. “Ah – I am afraid not, I must leave for Seville tonight. By the King's command. This however is not a statement of pride. I have no love for Seville.”

“But you see,” Maria said excitedly, “fate or coincidence is very much with us, and unlike you, good Father, I believe that a dream can be a very Christian thing indeed. Now consider. Alvero also leaves for Seville tonight. You leave by the King's command, he leaves by the Queen's command.”

“Then we can travel together.” Torquemada nodded. “The roads are dangerous these days, more dangerous than you would believe, madam, but with Alvero riding at my right hand what should I fear, whom should I fear?”

“Whom indeed,” Catherine said, “and since Juan rides with him, there is more than safety— How do I dare to talk this way?” She blushed and bowed her head to cover her confusion, and her mother said to Torquemada.

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