DOÑA Josefa Ramirez was the only child of noble parents of Valencia. She grew up in every virtue, and joined the wisdom of a Minerva to the beauty of a Venus. She was hardly eighteen before various noble youths were contending for her good graces; but of them all the only one she favoured was Don Pedro de Valenzuela, who, though of noble lineage, yet did not possess the fortune or position that her parents thought should entitle him who wedded with the descendant of the illustrious houses of Ramirez and Marmolejo.
Little Doña Josefa did not think of all this; she was much attached to her boyish playmate, and hoped that as her parents were very fond of her she would one day win their consent to receive his attentions; in the mean time, she thoughtlessly listened with great delight when he came and sang a love song under her windows, and even, I am afraid, sometimes came to the reja  to give him a coy look of thanks and encouragement.
One day, as the youthful Don Pedro de Valenzuela was thus pleasantly occupied, he had finished his song and was waiting to see if a pair of bright eyes would not come sparkling behind the reja, when, his thoughts being quite engrossed by this expectation, and his attention abstracted from every thing around him, he suddenly found himself attacked from behind by two men who were wrapt up in their cloaks and masked so that he could not recognize them, nor indeed had he time to think about it, for before he could even draw his sword they had stretched him dead upon the ground; he could only cry out Josefa's name, and expire.
Doña Josefa was thrilled with dread at the tone in which her name was uttered; it seemed to portend something dreadful, such as she had never known before. She flew to the window, and by what remained of the gloaming light, she saw her lover's body stretched lifeless on the ground, while the assassins had escaped without leaving a trace behind.
The terrible sight seemed to change Doña Josefa's nature: all her woman's weakness was quenched within her, and every thought bound up in the one determination of avenging the precious life which had been so cruelly sacrificed for love of her. She tore off her woman's gear with the indignation of an enraged lioness, and arrayed herself in a full cavalier's suit, with a montera  to cover her head and an ample cloak to hide her from scrutiny. Then she took a belt well furnished with arms, and a sword and blunderbuss to boot; and then a purse with two hundred doubloons; thus accoutred she wandered forth in quest of Don Pedro de Valenzuela's assassins, making her way in all haste out of Valencia, for she knew the assassins would not long have remained there.
Hiding herself in the mountains by day, and taking the most unfrequented paths by night, she wandered on till she came to Murcia, and there she resolved to take up her abode for some little time to rest, and also to learn what she might chance to hear.
Here, in her cavalier's dress, she walked about on the promenades, joined knots of speakers in the public plazas, and at night sat down at the card-tables and other places of resort, every where keeping her ears open to drink in any word any one might let fall about her lover's assassination. One night, as she was sitting at a table carelessly shuffling a pack of cards, she heard two gentlemen talking very earnestly, and some words they dropped made her strain all her attention to catch the thread of their discourse.
"Yes, they are gone on; I am sure of it; and some hours ago," asseverated the first speaker, as if he had been contradicted before.
"To be sure," rejoined the other, in a tone of yielding conviction; "it was not likely they should remain in the country. No doubt it is as you say."
"Excuse me," said Doña Josefa, approaching the speakers with a courtly bow, for she could restrain her curiosity no longer, "but I think you were speaking of some gentlemen of Seville.... I am of Seville, and----"
"Of Valencia," politely rejoined the gentleman, fairly caught in the trap. Had Josefa said she was of Valencia, his mouth would have been sealed for fear of betraying secrets.
"Oh, indeed, of Valencia!" she continued, assuming a tone of disappointment; and then, after a moment's pause, she added, as if indifferent, "I think you spoke as if concerned for some friends in trouble?"
"Oh, not friends," answered the person addressed, with a slight shudder; "we had but the most distant acquaintance with them; but they called on us yesterday to ask us to help them out of a difficulty."
"Ah! that is very often the way of the world," replied Doña Josefa, for she felt she must keep the conversation going till she could get all the information she wanted, though scarcely seeing how to bring it to the right point without exciting suspicions. "I'll warrant now it was a regular piece of Valencian roguery ; they came with some pitiful pretence, begging, I'll be bound; and I dare say at this moment are laughing at the ease with which their doleful story loosed your purse-strings; ha, ha, ha!"
The silvery laugh and biting tone of the young cavalier stung the Murcians to the quick; it seemed a point of honour to justify themselves from the censure of having been cajoled. The friend who had all this time remained silent, not quite liking the freedom, but now completely reassured by the noble bearing, fair smooth brow, and perhaps also by the sad but winning glance of the young stranger, here joined in.
"You have a fine knowledge of the world, young friend, and such wise words do not often come from lips on which the hair is not yet grown. Nevertheless there was no deception on this occasion: I never saw men more blasted with fear and shame."
"Ah!" pursued Josefa as carelessly as she could, for she saw she was now on the right track, "it is easy for a Valencian to assume a look of shame."
"But, man, these were not men used to shame; these were true men and gentlemen of blood--blood as blue as any blood in Spain."
"Pshaw! they told you so!" rejoined Josefa with an incredulous shrug, which she knew must bring out the names.
"Why it was no less than Don Leonardo and Don Gaspar Contreras!" broke in the other speaker.
"Don Leonardo and Don Gaspar Contreras!" ejaculated Josefa, this time hardly master of her contending emotions; yet knowing the importance of playing her part to the end, she added in a tone of thundering indignation,--
"And you can stand there and tell me that Don Leonardo and Don Gaspar Contreras came before you bowed with a look of shame,--to beg alms?"
"Even so, fair sir," rejoined the Murcians; "and if you still have doubts you can go to Valencia, and seek for them; you will not find them there."
"And pray, sir, why should I not find Don Leonardo and Don Gaspar Contreras in their noble palacio at Valencia?"
"Because they dare not show their faces there," replied one.
"Because they are at this moment riding for their lives to the sea coast, and you would be more likely to find them at Cartagena," exclaimed the other at the same moment.
Josefa had now learnt pretty well all she desired to know; nevertheless, to make quite sure of her facts, she sat down again, pushing chairs towards the Murcians, and continued in a more pacific and friendly tone,--
"You must excuse me, gentlemen, if the idea of coupling shame with the name of Contreras came upon me as so strange and unaccountable a conjunction, that I could not bring myself to accept it at first; but I am fain to take it on your honourable testimony. But pray tell me, what can have happened to bring this about? I have a cousin married to a Contreras, and whatever affects the honour of their house affects my own. It must have been some terrible necessity reduced them to this plight."
"The old story--jealousy working in ill-regulated minds!" answered the elder speaker. "It seems Valencia possesses some monster of beauty, which has turned the hearts of all her cavaliers."
"Doña Josefa Ramirez y Marmolejo!" interposed the younger Murcian apologetically, as though he thought it a reproach not to have the name of the beauty of the day on the tip of his lips.
"Well, the young lady, it seems, preferred to every one else of Valencia a certain Don Pedro de Valenzuela----"
Josefa had managed to preserve her composure, in spite of her emotion at hearing her attractions canvassed by the two strangers, but at mention of Don Pedro's name the blood fairly left her cheeks. To hide her embarrassment, she dropped her glove and stooped to pick it up, till she had summoned the colour back.
"The other gallants," continued the speaker, not heeding the interruption, "were the more nettled at this, that he was not of so high estate as they----"
Josefa could hardly refrain from exclaiming that he was better than all of them put together; but she coughed and bit her lip, and by a supreme effort kept the tears out of her eyes.
"And when they found they were slighted, while he was allowed to come and strum night after night at the reja, they grew furious. None were more indignant than the two cousins Leonardo and Gaspar de Contreras. One night, as they were passing casually by Doña Josefa's house, and saw Don Pedro standing under the window, basking in the smiles of the lady, while they had to wander by as unrecognized outcasts, their blood was up, and without reflection or premeditation, they set upon him there and then, without calling upon him to defend himself, and killed him like a----"
"But what ails you, fair sir?" ejaculated the speaker, as he observed poor Josefa making vain efforts to look indifferent, and trembling from head to foot.
"Nothing, sir, thank you," stammered Josefa bravely; "the wind is high to-night. With your permission I will e'en close this window." The moment's seclusion from the company, and the gasp of air thus gained, enabled her to appear once more a not too eager listener.
"I can now understand why the Contreras are running away like--dogs," she replied, not without some little display of feeling, for she burned to bandy back against the assassins the epithet which, though it had not been breathed, had so nearly been applied to her lover.
A very little more talk elicited that the cousins expected to find a ship sailing from Cartagena in three days; in the mean time they were making the best of their way to the coast. Worn out with the long tension of suppressed emotion, Josefa was glad to retire as soon as there was a break in the conversation.
Next morning she purchased a horse, fleet as the wind, and arrived the same night at Cartagena; and here she once more set to work to find out the retreat of the assassins. In this, fortune again favoured her. For having placed her horse in a stable, and hired a room in the principal inn for herself, she sat down beside an open window, while she thought upon the plan to pursue. As she sat here, her attention was arrested by a conversation going on between two men seated under a leafy parral , which effectually concealed her from their sight.
"Where are you going to-night, so finely arrayed?" inquired one of the voices.
"Where every one is going," responded the other; "to the house of Don Juan Mancilla, for he gives a right noble banquet in honour of two guests he has staying with him, natives of Valencia. He is to give a representation of a comedy, and many other fine things."
Doña Josefa held her breath, and leant further out of the window.
"Something I heard of their arrival yesterday morning," rejoined the first voice. "But why all this haste? Methinks the comedy would have been the better got up for one or two days' rehearsal."
"Ah, but you see, the Valencians take ship at half-past twelve this very night," replied the other; and then in a lower key, "They are even now running from Valencia for some charge of a duel there----"
"Hold, man, hold!" warily ejaculated the first voice; "who knows who may overhear you?"
Doña Josefa had overheard enough; her work now up to half-past twelve was but to learn the situation of Don Juan Mancilla's house, and the way thence to the harbour; no difficult task, for Don Juan Mancilla's was one of the first names in Cartagena; and near the landing-place she met a garrulous servant of the Contreras, who was easily led to speak of his masters' movements. Between the two points lay an alameda, or promenade, planted with poplars, such as adorns the outskirts of every Spanish town, affording a most convenient spot for the rencontre for which she had now with beating heart to lie in wait.
The tress which on that last sad night she had severed from her lover's fair young head, and which now alone remained of him who had been all to her, in her hand, she paced backwards and forwards under the pollard poplars, like a knight keeping watch before a sacred shrine. Her thoughts wrapt in the absorbing memories of the past, and the fantastic part fate had assigned to herself, she had taken no note of how the hours had sped by, and when the clocks chimed out the hour of mid-night, it came upon her as a sudden warning. Not many minutes more had elapsed, before she perceived two cavaliers advancing towards her, whom her eye, practised by long acquaintance, readily recognized as the game she had come so far to seek. Their loud talk, swaggering mien, lofty stature, and moreover the clanking of their swords as they walked, reminding that in Valencia the Contreras bore the reputation of the most accomplished fencers of all the country round, might have made a less resolute heart faint even then, and give up the enterprise. But Doña Josefa never flinched. With one foot firmly planted on the path, and resting on the other as a kind of prop, placed in position to support her against any attempt to thrust her aside, she stood firmly and calmly waiting their approach.
"Don Leonardo, and you, Don Gaspar Contreras!" she said, as soon as they had advanced within hearing, "know ye, who I am?"
"Another time, good friend," said Don Leonardo impatiently, and tried to pass on.
"We are pressed, and have but time to join our ship," said Don Gaspar; and he endeavoured, though not without courtesy, to make his way past her.
"You must hear me, Señores de Contreras," rejoined Doña Josefa in a hollow voice; "and when you have heard me, you will never want a ship more."
"Come, this is more than pleasantry!" exclaimed Don Leonardo, getting angry.
"Make way, good sir; you see we are pressed for time," said Don Gaspar, more conciliatingly; for he felt it was no time for picking a quarrel.
"It is no pleasantry, indeed!" Doña Josefa had replied almost before he spoke; "but most serious earnest. Señores de Contreras, again I ask, Do you know me?"
"What does this trifling mean?" exclaimed Don Leonardo, hotly, and at the same time putting his hand on his sword.
"It means," replied Josefa, calmly and solemnly--"It means that you are called to answer with your vile lives for the noble life of Don Pedro Valenzuela, whom you treacherously slew without so much as calling on him to draw. My sword is the sword of justice, not of the assassin; yet I call on you to defend yourselves, if you dare!"
"Good sir, you rave; we are not those you seek; and we know not who you are!" interposed Don Gaspar, putting his hand on Don Leonardo's sword-arm, for he had already drawn.
"I have twice asked you if you do not know me," answered Josefa. "Now, then, I tell you: I am Doña Josefa Ramirez y Marmolejo. Have I not a right to avenge the blood of Don Pedro Valenzuela?"
"Ho! ho! so brave anon, you would now make this pretence of womanhood a shield. Methinks your tongue knows not the timidity of woman, and that your arms are no woman's toys," blurted out Don Leonardo contemptuously, despite of Don Gaspar's warnings.
"Draw! Don Leonardo," commanded Josefa; "nor waste more time in words. I seek no quarter, nor--give any!"
"At you then!" exclaimed Don Leonardo, rendered furious by her impassibility, and breaking away from Don Gaspar's hold.
Josefa awaited his onset firmly, her drawn sword extended in her hand, like a statue of the avenging angel. Don Leonardo rushing at her, blind with rage, thrust himself right upon her rapier, which pierced him through and through; and, before he had time to utter a cry, he fell a lifeless corpse at Don Gaspar's feet.
Don Gaspar, who had no idea that there was any truth in Josefa's declaration of her sex, felt no inclination to measure his sword against so successful an antagonist; but, in order not to appear to avoid the fray ignominiously, bent down and busied himself with the effort to remove the body of his cousin.
"It is your turn now, Don Gaspar!" said the avenging angel calmly, having just withdrawn her sword from the breast of her prostrate victim. "Stand on guard, for your hour has come!"
This confident assertion, and the conviction that the encounter could not be escaped, excited Don Gaspar almost to the same pitch of indignation as Don Leonardo had displayed, notwithstanding that he was by nature less irascible.
"Think not to find so easy a victory a second time!" he exclaimed.
"It matters little," replied the lady calmly; "you have killed my life already, when you killed Don Pedro!"
While she was yet speaking, Don Gaspar had already rushed to the encounter; and she, standing with her trusty sword prepared to meet him, sent his body to measure the ground, and his soul to its account, after the same manner that she had served Don Leonardo.
Meantime the bandying of angry words and the clash of steel had not been unheard by the guests, who were even then traversing the alameda, as the banquet of Don Juan Mancilla broke up. Quickly as the contest had been carried through there was still time for many persons to assemble, and there was every chance of Josefa being caught and handed over to justice. All sank away, however, before the high and innocent glance of her flashing eyes and the noble mien, which stood surety hers had been no vulgar aim.
"The Sanctuary of S. Francis may yet be reached," whispered an old nobleman, who perceived at a glance that the young stranger belonged to his order, which he had rather not see subjected to the ordeal of a public inquisition. "Here, boy, follow me. Courage!" he added, as he observed she had hardly energy left to move from the spot; "we shall soon be there."
Doña Josefa, so courageous anon, felt palsied at the sight of the advancing strangers, and the apprehension of having all her motions and manoeuvres sifted in the vulgar sieve of public opinion. She knew what she had done could only be judged and appreciated by the few who had felt what she had felt. This very terror at last nerved her to take the old man's counsel; and so, wrapping her wide cloak around her, she followed at a little distance, delicacy prompting her to avoid appearing to belong to him, so that he might not be compromised through his good-nature. All those who were about at the time were men of similar position, who judged that the course adopted was the wisest, and so Josefa and her guide proceeded to their journey's end without molestation. Arrived at the church door, the old nobleman pointed to the entrance and passed on his way.
Josefa began to explain to an old Brother who kept the door the misadventure which had brought her thither, but it was more than she could do to conclude the narrative, her feeble powers were already overstrained, and she sank fainting at his feet. For several days she was carefully tended in the hospital; and one day, when the noise of the affair had blown over, and the knowledge that she had taken refuge in the Sanctuary had quieted the pursuit of justice, she sent a messenger to the inn to fetch the swift courser she had left there on arriving, and under favour of the darkness of the evening set out to return to Valencia.
She had travelled a considerable distance without accident, when suddenly she perceived three travellers coming towards her; the moon shone brightly, and her keen eyes, quickened by natural feminine apprehension, were not slow to make out that they were of the kind most unwelcome under the circumstances, though to meet any one was awkward enough.
She had no time to consider what she should do, for the strangers were advancing at a rapid pace; nor were they slow to declare their character. The chief called out to her before they had even come up, to 'stand and deliver.' The only circumstance in her favour was that they stood on the narrow ledge of a mountain path, the one closely packed behind the other as one man.
"It is idle to attempt to resist us, young gallant," cried the leader as he saw her draw her sword; "we are too many for one even as valiant as I dare say you fancy yourself; besides, there are more of us behind who will soon be up."
Doña Josefa uttered no boast, she took up a firm position; her fine well-tempered rapier extended in her hand received them on its point, and threaded them through as they came, one behind the other.
But, alack! the strong men, in the contortions of their last agony, overstepped the narrow footing of the path, and fell over the brink, carrying in their bodies the trusty sword which had stood her in such good stead.
"There are more of us behind who will soon be up!" she repeated to herself, as with dogged determination she still held up against her misfortunes, and proceeded on her way for a wind or two of the path without disturbing incidents. One more turn and there stood before her three more bandits in the same order as the last. She had her trabuco  ready to aim, and her aim was so steady, that before they had time to perceive her purpose, her ball had pierced through the three of them, and they were sent rolling over the precipice, to join the bodies of their companions below.
Whether Josefa thought that these exploits might bring her into fresh conflict with the arm of the law, or whether the fresh horrors gave a gloomy turn to her mind, and indisposed her for venturing home, I know not; but whatever her motive, she made up her mind at this point of the journey to continue her wanderings only as far as Barcelona, and there take ship to make a pilgrimage to Rome.
The sea was not much more propitious to poor Doña Josefa's fortunes than the land had been. The vessel on which she had embarked had not been two days out before it was attacked by Algerine Corsairs, who took every soul on board prisoners, and carried them off to Africa, where they were sold as slaves.
It fell to Josefa's lot to be bought by a rich renegade of Tunis, whom she served under the name of Pedro, a name she deemed she had a certain right to take. The renegade was much pleased with her soft discreet manners, and general superiority and uprightness of character; and soon advanced her to the post of steward over his household, having her first instructed in the Arabic tongue. Things went smoothly enough for some time; but when she had been in this service about three years, it happened that one day, when the master was gone out hunting, a maid-servant, who held a high place in the household, and whose forwardness the supposed Pedro had often noticed, came and made a free confession of an irrepressible affection for him, and entreated him to marry her. Josefa, much annoyed at the incident, could only answer that it was impossible: for she had not confidence in the girl to trust her with her secret.
The enraged girl, furious at the repulse, swore by Mahomet to be revenged; accordingly, no sooner was the master returned, than she went to him with every token of distress and indignation, and accused Pedro of abusing his power as steward of the house, and having sought to force her to marry him although she had resisted because he was a Christian, and the law of Mahomet forbade such an union.
The master, highly incensed at the perfidy of the slave he had treated with so much forbearance and indulgence, ordered him to be thrown into a dungeon and starved to death, without hearing any defence.
Such would indeed have been Josefa's fate, but that one of the slaves who respected her brought her daily the scanty means of subsistence she was able to secure. At the end of several days the master, coming to the dungeon to see what had befallen, was greatly provoked to find her not only alive but comparatively well, and took up a cord to administer summary chastisement.
This indignity was more than Josefa could endure; to avert it, she begged him to listen to her; told him she could easily prove the falsity of the accusation under which she was suffering, seeing she was a woman.
The master was delighted to hear the exculpation of his favourite slave, and immediately had her released and reinstated in her authority, and the shameless accuser consigned to the same prison.
From this time he continued to extend his favour and confidence towards her: of all the people about him who shared his pleasures and his riches, she was the only one to whom he could talk of the absorbing agony of his soul, the remorse for having renounced his religion and become a renegade. The result was that he one day announced to her that he had made arrangements for realizing the greater part of his fortune, which he divided in two parts, one of which he bestowed on her; with the other he had resolved to go to Rome in pilgrimage and endow a shrine, where he would pass the remainder of his days in prayer and penance.
He had found a merchant of his acquaintance who would take them in his ship to Alicante, whence he would start again for Rome, and Josefa would be free either to continue her journey thither or return to Valencia.
Josefa's desire of once more embracing her parents made her elect the latter course. Their plan was executed to the letter without hindrance.
Arrived once more at Valencia, Josefa was not slow to find her way to her father's palace. An old servant who had been in the house before she was born, and watched her grow up, opened the door, but did not recognize her, which she took for a presage that she might come unknown into her parents' presence also.
She found them seated side by side, and bewailing the loss of their only child.
"I have come to tell you," she broke in, "that your child is now in this very city; three years and a half she has been a captive slave in Tunis, though not serving as a slave, for she was absolute master of the household of her owner. And at the end of that time he gave her her liberty together with a large fortune in money."
"Oh, sir, tell us where is she!" ejaculated Don Juan Ramirez; "let our aged eyes rest on her again before we die, so shall we be consoled for our troubles!"
Then Doña Josefa threw off her disguise, and falling on her knees before them, entreated their pardon for all her errors and all the anxiety she had given them.
Having received that, she told them she had determined to pass the rest of her days in penitence in a convent, which she did with their hearty approval; and in this kind of life she spent many years, affording a lively and edifying example to all. And thus ended in peace the tragic adventures of Doña Josefa Ramirez y Marmolejo.