THE RETURN OF FRAY LUIS
By J. V. BRYANT
to sell goatsmilk cheeses at the corner of the square, heard it among the first and cried it aloud to all corners, waving a lumpy little cheese wrapped in dried bean-leaves (it was December) as if it were a flag of triumph.
She had made no confession for the four years that Fray Luis de Leon had been in prison. Before he was taken away she came to him every month, refusing the ministrations of a country priest. " Go to him, indeed. The unshaven loon, no better than a goatherd," Micaela had said with scorn. In the quiet of the shadowy church in Salamanca she could tell Fray Luis of her temptations, her loneliness, the evil things that her tongue would say in spite of all her trying. There was nothing he did not understand, no reproof more painful to bear than his silence.
But once, when she had finished a terrible story, about the stealthy milking of a neighbour's goat when she could not otherwise make up the tale of cheeses for Esteban the grocer by a given day, and her terror that heaven would give the goat a voice and the will to 'accuse her openly, Fray Luis de Leon had laughed, a sudden uproarious laugh, that echoed strangely in the vaulted roof.
No wonder the young men came from near and far, from France and Ireland and Italy, and filled the great hall in the University to hear him lecture. Not that he jested then.
He wished to kindle the whole world with the fire of his mysticism. None, if he could prevent it, should ever subscribe to the devil-prompted idea that Intellect and Spirit were foes. Only when they were wedded in the service of God could man truly go forward. The truth was patient of ques- tioning, its dignity not outraged by search. That was why he would have them all study Plato. He himself carried a great blown volume of Plato to lectures every day.
But there were jealous enemies. The " unshaven loon went secretly to the chief of them, Leon de Castro, professor of Greek. De Castro had overheard a student say that Luis de Leon knew more of Plato than he—Fray Luis, a theologian ! Together they informed the Holy Office that Fray Luis encouraged doubt and applauded scepticism. Worst of all, he had translated the Song of Solomon into Castilian ! The only defence he could have offered, that it was a lyrical poem, entirely pagan and no part of the Bible, was the one he could not make. The alguazils came at dead of night to take him ; they were afraid of the Salamanca Men, whose hands were as quick as their minds.
That was a black morning. The hall was crowded, as always, an hour before he was to begin ; a swaying forest of dark heads, with here a red-headed Irishman jolting his way through the Spanish words, or an Englishman defiantly unashamed of his atheist queen, and there a German angelically fair. Suddenly there was a commotion at the door and a sound of loud sobbing. It was old Mother Juana, his housekeeper, to tell that Fray Luis, saint of God, had been wrenched from their midst in the night and taken to prison, there to answer charges of heresy.
Heresy ! How could a saint be a heretic ? Was he not to lift the torch of his mind and light the ways that had been dark till then ? Had he ever harmed a living creature, body or soul ? Was not his poetry among the glories of Spain ? But soon profound misgiving assailed them. Innocent or not he was in the hands of the Inquisition, and all knew what that meant. Voices died down, and men looked carefully at their companions as the throng dispersed. Discussion went on in every house in Salamanca that night and for many a night after, but behind closed shutters and bolted doors.
It was a long time before any news of Fray Luis filtered out. His cell, they heard, had a window-aperture, unglazed, and air came in though it was the hotter breath of narrow streets. The gaoler, prudently harsh when official eyes were oh him, was kind to Fray Luis, would now and again open the cell-door and stealthily drop a bunch of grapes or a string of ripe figs inside. Tomas de Fresnedo had bribed him as well. That was how Luis de Leon had a lantern at night, darkened on all sides but one ; had parchment and quills and ink.
All these things had to be smuggled away in great haste at the time of the second questioning. The first had been by day. But now the three came soft-footed and after:midnight- the most feared of all the Inquisition, a Cardinal with pale carved face and tongue that seemed to flicker like a snake's, and two others famed for bitterness. They questioned him for hours, but they could not trip him. Salamanca heard and rejoiced. Joaquin Lujan, who had deprived himself of two bull-fights in order to help Tomas with the bribing, went gaily to the third.
Then a year dragged by, and another. Rumours flew about. • Fray Luis - hid died there in' the dungeon. No, they' had found him guilty of high treason, as well, he *mild be beheaded in public, and a fiesta would follow, to 'celebrate the State's 'release from an enemy. The first gaoler had been exchanged for a sterner one who had left Fray Luis-to starve unpitied. Each report filled Salamanca with disthaY. They had almost given up hope, when he was suddenly set free: It was all over. He had emerged triumphant from every test; He had defeated the casuists and was coming holm*. After a day giired bp to rest, and prayers 'Of gratitude' foi hii deliierance, he'ivOuld lectUre again in the University on Thursday:- All day on Wednesday the churches were fUll Of thanksgivers. In the taverns wine flowed freely. YOung men and old drank 'together to the health of their abstemious master. The air was alive with relief, and anticipation too.
For it was said that on the morrow he would make a memorable speech. Some hoped that the tables would be turned. He, proved innocent, would in turn attack his persecutors. They 'would never dare to touch him again ; indignation at his treatment had burned in all the cities of . Europe and not least in Rome. Their castigation and his defence, it would indeed be something to remember.
That night many men crossed the Douro in the farther parts of Leon. The road from Madrid was alive with convoys. Long before noon the streets about the. University were seething with , people. Micaela had come in from the country without any cheeses to sell. She needed both her hands. She had clamped herself to the pillar at the gate of the University, the. nearest of hundreds of women, many carrying children., All the men who could edge themselves in were already in the great hall. They could hear the shout- ing outside rise in. an unbearable crescendo as Fray Luis looking extremely surprised, so that ripples of laughter mingled with the cheers, approached the.University and passed through the gates on his way; to the hall. The throng surged after_him as he made his , way to the high desk and chair that ,lead never been moved in all the four years. Fray Luis de Leon turned to confront an audience such as even he had never= seen before. They rose to their feet, cheering, singing, dis:, entangling elbows in order to wave, Pity and fury. _mingled with delight in their faces as they saw how thin he had grown., .
He lifted one hand a little in a gesture they remembered well. The day he had spoken that wonderful poem whose-verse hurried .along with the marching feet of the Saracens whose invasion it told, falling into it without warning to 'illustrate his lecture on the attacking powers of darkness, the enthusiasm of his hearers had overleaped. all bounds. Then, too, he had been obliged to lift that thin right hand before they allowed him to continue.
Now they could see the great leather-cOvered book he had• been carrying. He laid it on the desk before letting his gaze travel, inidrainatically; univaveringly,. ', over his audience and began to speak: The words were loiv# first, but So slotil uttered that everyone heard them. • • Gentlemen. As we were saying yesterday--,7:- !!.