(Come on, imagination, lend
Me now your finest subtlety. )
There lives in Salamanca, sir,
A gentleman of noble fame
And family. His forbears were
Herreras, Don Pedro is his name.
Heaven has given him a daughter,
A second heaven, with suns for eyes
And cheeks as rosy as the water
On the horizon at sunrise.
To keep it brief, I'll say this much
Only, no more: that Nature, sir,
Took every blessing fit for such
A young age, and gave them all to her.
But Fortune, when she sees some one
So blest, is Nature's enemy,
And to oppose what Nature had done,
Gave her the gift of poverty.
Moreover, though her family
Was far less rich than noble, there
Were three in line for the legacy,
Two brothers born ahead of her.
I saw her in her coach one night,
Riding toward the river. If on-
ly it were Italy, it might
Have been the coach of Phaëton—
But it was Spain. Who ever said
That Cupid's shafts were tipped with flame?
What I felt then was ice instead—
A chill that pierced me all the same.
Why do we think of them as hot—
These passions and these feelings, if
Under their spell the soul is caught
And held, the body frozen stiff?
In brief, I had to see her there,
And seeing her, love had to make
Me blind, I had to follow her,
I was so rapt; and it would take
A heart of bronze to judge me for't.
By day I walked her street, by night
Lived at her gate. I had resort
To go-betweens and notes. I'd write
Her of my passion, till at last
From pity or affection, she
Responded; for Love's laws bind fast
Even among divinity.
The more affection that I showed
To her, the more she did requite
It—till at last on me she bestowed
The heaven of her room one night.
And as my burning passions, restrain-
ing all my scruples, sought to ease
My aching heart's enormous pain
And find with her, love's sweet release,
I heard her father coming to
Her room. What called him there?—it was
Not something that he used to do;
What was it? It was Fortune cross-
ing me that night. Alarmed, but bold—
Oh woman!—she pushed my almost dead
Body, unmoving, frozen, cold,
Behind the curtains of her bed.
In came Don Pedro, and she to hide
Her face, now drained of color, flung
Her arms about him, and bravely tried
To feign delight even as she clung
To him. They sat together, side
By side, and he explained how she
Might benefit by being allied
To the Monroyes family
By marriage. She, with equal parts
Of candor and of caution, said
Enough to comfort both our hearts—
For I could hear her from the bed.
The two said their goodnights, and then
Just as her father headed out
Her bedroom door, the moment when
The old man's foot was just about
To cross her threshold—cursèd be
The inventor of—damned and amen!—
The chiming pocket-watch! You see,
Mine began striking midnight then.
Don Pedro heard it, turned and said,
"What is a watch doing over there?"
"That watch? why, it was forwarded
To me," she answered, "for repair—
By Don Diego Ponce, my
Cousin, you know, because out where
He lives, he says, there's a scant supply
Of watches and watchmakers there."
"Give it to me," her father said,
"And I'll take care of it." She came
Running quite swiftly toward the bed—
Did Sancha—that was my lady's name—
To fetch the watch away from me,
And prevent her father from doing so,
Before it simultaneously
Came into his head that he should go.
I reached for it, and was about
To hand it over, when once again
Chance intervened. As I pulled it out,
My pistol tangled in the chain—
I had the pistol out, you see—
The chain caught in the trigger, the gun
Fired as the hammer fell, and she
Fell, too, at the sound; this seemed to stun
The old man, he began to roar;
And I seeing these sunlike eyes
Eclipsed, heav'n fall'n to the floor,
Was sure that she, my life, my prize,
The goal of all my actions, lay dead—
A victim of the atrocity
Committed by those balls of lead
That flew at her so suddenly
Out of my pistol's mouth. In rage,
Racked with despair, I drew my blade;
I was prepared now to engage
A thousand men. His two sons stayed
Me from escaping—they were twin
Brave lions, armed, and with them stood
An army of their servants in
The hall, opposing me. I could
Have whipped them all—quite easily—
So sharp were both my fury and my blade—
But human strength can never be
Victorious, once Fate has made
Its dire decree. For just as I
Was fighting past them coming in,
My swordbelt was entangled by
A metal hook—it must have been
The knocker on the bedroom door!
I'd have to turn my back to free
Myself, and be a target for
Their wall of swords. That instant she—
My Sancha—woke, regained her sense,
And fearing what the end might be
Of this unfortunate turn of events,
She pulled so mightily on me
And pushed so hard upon the door,
That in I tumbled, sword and all,
Safe in her room, and what is more,
She locked my enemies in the hall.
We both piled up a barricade
Of bureaus, chests, and trunks to bar
The door—hoping that wrath delayed
Might be some remedy. But far
More strength we would have needed, for
My foes, in fury, tore right through
The bedroom wall, and knocked the door
Clean off its iron hinges, too.
Now seeing that however much
I might delay it, nothing could
Prevent my foes from exacting such
A punishment as honor would
Demand of me, and seeing at
My side, beautiful Sancha, the love-
ly partner of my Fate, and that
Terror had plucked the roses of
Her cheeks, and seeing how through no
Fault of her own she tossed with me
Upon the storm of Chance, and blow
For blow did fight with Destiny—
So to reward her loyalty,
To spare her any further dread,
To escape a certain death for me,
And kill all further conflict dead,
I had no choice, sir, but to yield—
And ask whether this bloody fray
Between us might not best be healed
By union of our bloods that day.
They saw the risk of continuing,
And knew quite well my quality,
And after a little squabbling
Among themselves, agreed with me.
Her father brought the Bishop the news
And then returned victorious
With his permission for us to use
Any priest at all to marry us.
So that was done, and mortal war
Concluded in the sweetest peace,
And you have gained a daughter-in-law
Unmatched on earth, or the seven seas.
And yet we all agreed that you
Should not be told of it. For your
Assent had not been given; then too,
There was the fact that she was poor.
But now at last you have to know—
Then tell me, would you have it so?
Which would be better—to have me dead
Or living, and so nobly wed?