AMONG the countless romantic chronicles of heroism which form the basis of the popular literature of Spain, there are none more multiplied or more interesting than those relating to the Cid Don Rodrigo. His valorous services against the Moorish oppressors of his country were never forgotten by its grateful people; and every campaign, every act of his life became the theme of a chronicle or a ballad. It is scarcely remarkable that one so noted for his dauntless demeanour through life should have been a good and dutiful son in his youth; nor that one of his most celebrated deeds was prompted by the dictates of filial duty.
His father, Don Diego Lainez, was one of the most valiant knights of King Fernando of Castille. The king valued the old man, and loved to distinguish him with his special favour; but when he chose him for the governor of the young prince his son, he did it not so much to secure him the wisest counsellor of his kingdom as to honour the old man before his people.
Now at King Fernando's court there was a noble, the Conde Lozano, as valiant and celebrated as Don Diego, but far from possessing his virtues.
Conde Lozano no sooner heard of Don Diego's elevation than his heart was filled with rage and envy, which blinded his reason. Without stopping to consider the folly and wickedness of the action, he hastened to meet the venerable Don Diego, and loaded him with vituperation. Don Diego, with Christian moderation, strove to appease him.
Conde Lozano had a daughter who had all her life been the playmate of Don Diego's son Rodrigo. Nothing could be more devoted than the love of the two children for each other; and their union had been long looked upon by both as only waiting their coming of due age for its celebration.
This consideration Don Diego at last resorted to, thinking that the Conde had only to be reminded of such a tie to staunch his indignation. But it was far otherwise. "Indeed no," he replied with bitter irony, "now that his father has received such a distinguished position, the youth ought to have very different ideas. There is nothing to which he may not aspire now; and his flight shall certainly not be cut short by being tied to my poor daughter."
"It is not his father's position that can make any difference in his prospects," firmly responded Don Diego; "he must win his own claim to honour by defending his country against its invaders, as all his ancestors have done."
The Conde was in that state of unreasonable humour which takes offence at every word.
"His ancestors, indeed!" he exclaimed. "Why do you remind me of them? Have they done more than I?"
"All Spain speaks of their valour."
"Then Spain unjustly lavishes on them praise due to me!"
"The king acknowledges it in the honour he has conferred on my person!"
"It is your old age, not your merit, that moved him; had he thought of merit, he would have given the office to me!"
"The best proof of where he considered merit to be, is seen by looking where he conferred the reward!"
"You mean to say, that I have no merit!" cried the Count, now losing all command of himself; and before Don Diego could show him that was not what he had said, he dealt him a blow on the face, and at the same time threw his sword on the ground, to show that it was a premeditated affront, and he had done it rather than afford him the satisfaction of a fair fight.
It is hardly possible in these days to realize the full extent of such an insult. In the semi-barbarous code which a life of continual warfare kept up, nothing but the life-blood of the offender could wipe out such a stain. Rodrigo came in while his father was yet chafing under the affront, which was not only regarded as personal, but as an injury to his whole house and lineage. It needed only to tell young Rodrigo, to rouse his choler, for the blood of his ancestors flowed warm within him, and young as he was, he knew that upon him devolved the duty of asserting the honour of his house. His father had no need to urge him. "You shall see, father, that I am not unworthy of the blood I inherit from you."
"But there is one thing I have to tell you; yet one thing, which is like to cool your courage more than the fear of essaying your first arms against a tried warrior. Know that he who, with the five darts of his right hand, struck through the grey beard of my old age, was none other than----"
"Tell me but his name, and I will smite him, whoever it may be!" interposed the impetuous youth.
"He was none other than Xiména's father!"
The shock, so unexpected, was almost more than Rodrigo could bear. The mantling colour fled from his cheek. What were now to become of all the hopes of his young life? Either he must suffer the affront to remain a stain on the honour of his house, or he must avenge it, and for ever give up Xiména. No! his father's honour was before any other consideration. Whatever it might cost him, he must, must assert that. And he hesitated no longer.
The Conde Lozano received him with all his superciliousness, asked him what he wanted with him, called him a "plucky little boy," and bid him do what his "dad" had told him, "like a good child."
Rodrigo felt too deeply the force of his wrongs and sufferings to have any heart to bandy words with him; he had come to demand satisfaction, and, by his knightly honour, the Conde could not refuse.
So they went out into the open, and drew their swords, leaving it to God to declare the right, for indeed, "the battle is not to the strong;" and so the sword of the stripling prevailed that day, and the bold, proud man fell vanquished at his feet.
The lifeless body of her father was brought in to Xiména. Helpless and filled with horror, she hastened to the presence of the king, to demand justice, little dreaming it was her Rodrigo she was denouncing. The king, equally ignorant of Rodrigo's part in the matter, readily promised it, and gave orders for the arrest of the offender. But in the meantime Don Diego came in to denounce himself as the instigator of the deed. In his own manly way, he detailed the provocation he had received and the prowess of his son, and offered his own grey head in reparation, if the king judged that blood so shed called for justice.
The king refused to decide a matter of so great moment without his council, and put off considering the case till it should meet; meantime Diego was suffered to go at large, on parole that he would not leave Burgos.
The knight immediately sought out his gallant boy, whom he found trying to make his peace with and console Xiména; but Xiména would not be comforted. Only when he told her how miserable he was, she consented to listen to him; and then he reasoned with her, and asked her, Spaniard as he was, what could he have done otherwise? Had he preferred his own love for her to his father's honour, would she have smiled on him then? Would she not have spurned him with contempt? She could not deny that. She admired his filial love and bravery; but her loss was fresh upon her, and she could not bear to see the sword which had executed her father hanging by his side.
Then it was Don Diego came in; and the meeting between the aged sire, proud of his noble son, and the son who had preferred filial duty before every other consideration, was a touching one; but fate required it should be brief. Don Diego was obliged to tear himself from his arms, and advise his leaving Burgos immediately; for, he said, "prudent and pious as you are, it is well you should not be taken; for when a man is taken and placed on trial, there is at least an idea of guilt passes upon him. It is better, my son, to avoid even this." And so he sent him to the wars and told him to come back conqueror of the Moors, and the brightness of his fame should thus disperse the cloud which now hung over him.
Rodrigo was loth to part from Xiména without a sign of reconciliation; but his father urged his immediate departure, and his filial piety again prevailed. "I hear and obey," he meekly answered, and so he went to fight the Moors.
A year and a day had passed away, and Count Lozano was quite forgotten, when all Burgos was set rejoicing at the deliverance which a young knight had effected over the Moors.
The king was keeping high court, when one day the venerable Don Diego came before him, bringing the standards which the young knight, his son Rodrigo, had taken. He told of how he had overcome hardship and peril, had cleared the roads of marauders, had fought his way up to Celin, the Moorish King of Mérida, had called him to meet him in single combat, had overcome him, and set free five Christian kings whom he held in cruel chains.
The narrative was received with joyful acclamations, the trumpets sounded, and, at a sign from the king, admission was given to the youthful hero, who threw himself at the monarch's feet. Fernando raised him in his arms, and presented him with honour to his court. His pardon was assured, and old Don Diego was radiant with joy.
Suddenly, however, there was a commotion in the assembly; Xiména demanded audience of the king. She had come to ask whether any amount of honourable service could neutralize a sentence of death incurred--and if not, why was Rodrigo treated with honour, instead of being imprisoned as a criminal?
Now, Fernando could have explained to her the motives on which he had acted--could have bid her remember how it was Conde Lozano who had called down on himself the retribution he had suffered--could have pointed out the dangers that surrounded the kingdom, and the need in which it stood of men of fearless mind, such as Rodrigo; but, with the wisdom of a Solomon, he took a line which was better than argument. "If such is your will, maiden," he replied, "I have nothing to say. You are the only living representative of the deceased Conde: if you maintain your charge against him, it is not for me to withstand it. Guards, lead Don Rodrigo to prison!"
Don Diego, with all his fortitude, could not keep himself from falling on his son's neck in an agony of despair. Rodrigo himself was shaken by his father's grief. And all the nobles gave signs of compassion at the misfortune of one so young and brave.
Xiména had kept herself proud and erect while the gladsome welcome had sounded in her ears as an injury to Conde Lozano's memory. But when she saw the scene of mourning around her, despair took possession of her too, and she fell into Urraca the Infanta's arms.
"It is because you would not take my advice, and look at him," whispered Urraca. "Had you looked on his noble face, you never could have done it."
"I knew it, and therefore I dared not look," she replied.
"Look at him now," pleaded Urraca.
The guards were leading him out, and his head was bent to the ground; but at that moment their eyes met, and both felt that he must not die.
That night he was in his prison. She could not rest in her chamber: the guard had respect for her orders, for she was an earl's daughter, and he let her stand behind an arch where she could hear him talking with his faithful esquire.
"Think no more of Xiména," said the esquire: "she loves you not."
"Nay, say not so," he answered. "Wrong her not. I know she loved me, and she could not change; therefore she loves me yet. As she was to me when I encountered the Conde, so was I to her when she denounced me to the king; and in what she has done to honour her father's memory, she has shown her true nobility."
"It may be very grand," said the esquire, "but it is yet hard you should have to die."
"Hard! Of what use would life be to me if Xiména will not be mine? I have only one use for it; and if she requires it of me, it is a joy to yield it up at her behest."
When Xiména heard him express so much devotion for her, and judge her so justly and tenderly, she could bear to hear no more, lest her tears should betray her. She withdrew to her chamber, but could not sleep; but when her tired eyelids, weary with watching, closed, there seemed to come a sweet, soft voice, as of an angel, which spoke of pardon and forgiveness, and of mercy more sweet than justice. And before her eyes there floated visions of terrible Moorish hordes encompassing her native land, spreading fire and sword over its smiling plains; and there rode out against them a single youth, clad in bright armour, and wherever he raised his flashing sword the ranks of the enemy gave way and fled before him.
And when the morning light came in, and chased these phantasms away, she rose and went to the king, and asked the liberation of him whose condemnation she had sought yesterday.
Then the king saw that his stratagem had answered well, and that he had done right to trust to her woman's heart. So he ordered Rodrigo to be brought forth, and pronounced him free. And then he joined their hands and gave them to each other, and told them they were worthy of each other, for each had preferred a father's honour before the love of their own heart; and now it was his royal will that they should forget the past, and live for each other in the future.