That night Fonseca sent for me again.
‘I have made inquiries,’ he said. ’I have even warned the officers of justice for the first time for many years, and they are hunting de Garcia as bloodhounds hunt a slave. But nothing can be heard of him. He has vanished and left no trace. To-night I write to Cadiz, for he may have fled there down the river. One thing I have discovered, however. The Senora Isabella was caught by the watch, and being recognised as having escaped from a convent, she was handed over to the executories of the Holy Office, that her case may be investigated, or in other words, should her fault be proved, to death.’
‘Can she be rescued?’
’Impossible. Had she followed my counsel she would never have been taken.’
‘Can she be communicated with?’
’No. Twenty years ago it might have been managed, now the Office is stricter and purer. Gold has no power there. We shall never see or hear of her again, unless, indeed, it is at the hour of her death, when, should she choose to speak with me, the indulgence may possibly be granted to her, though I doubt it. But it is not likely that she will wish to do so. Should she succeed in hiding her disgrace, she may escape; but it is not probable. Do not look so sad, nephew, religion must have its sacrifices. Perchance it is better for her to die thus than to live for many years dead in life. She can die but once. May her blood lie heavy on de Garcia’s head!’
‘Amen!’ I answered.
THOMAS BECOMES RICH
For many months we heard no more of de Garcia or of Isabella de Siguenza. Both had vanished leaving no sign, and we searched for them in vain. As for me I fell back into my former way of life of assistant to Fonseca, posing before the world as his nephew. But it came about that from the night of my duel with the murderer, my master’s health declined steadily through the action of a wasting disease of the liver which baffled all skill, so that within eight months of that time he lay almost bedridden and at the point of death. His mind indeed remained quite clear, and on occasions he would even receive those who came to consult him, reclining on a chair and wrapped in his embroidered robe. But the hand of death lay on him, and he knew that it was so. As the weeks went by he grew more and more attached to me, till at length, had I been his son, he could not have treated me with a greater affection, while for my part I did what lay in my power to lessen his sufferings, for he would let no other physician near him.
At length when he had grown very feeble he expressed a desire to see a notary. The man he named was sent for and remained closeted with him for an hour or more, when he left for a while to return with several of his clerks, who accompanied him to my master’s room, from which I was excluded. Presently they all went away, bearing some parchments with them.