of Don Sebastian
by William Somerset Maugham
Xiormonez is the most inaccessible place in Spain. Only one train
arrives there in the course of the day, and that arrives at two o'clock
in the morning; only one train leaves it, and that starts an hour
before sunrise. No one has ever been able to discover what happens to
the railway officials during the intermediate one-and-twenty hours. A
German painter I met there, who had come by the only train, and had
been endeavouring for a fortnight to get up in time to go away, told me
that he had frequently gone to the station in order to clear up the
mystery, but had never been able to do so; yet, from his inquiries, he
was inclined to suspectthat was as far as he would commit himself,
being a cautious manthat they spent the time in eating garlic and
smoking execrable cigarettes. The guide-books tell you that Xiormonez
possesses the eyebrows of Joseph of Arimathea, a cathedral of the
greatest quaintness, and battlements untouched since their erection in
the fourteenth century. And they strongly advise you to visit it, but
recommend you before doing so to add Keating's insect powder to your
other toilet necessaries.
I was travelling to Madrid in an express train which had been
rushing along at the pace of sixteen miles an hour, when suddenly it
stopped. I leant out of the window, asking where we were.
'Xiormonez!' answered the guard.
'I thought we did not stop at Xiormonez.'
'We do not stop at Xiormonez,' he replied impassively.
'But we are stopping now!'
'That may be; but we are going on again.'
I had already learnt that it was folly to argue with a Spanish
guard, and, drawing back my head, I sat down. But, looking at my watch,
I saw that it was only ten. I should never again have a chance of
inspecting the eyebrows of Joseph of Arimathea unless I chartered a
special train, so, seizing the opportunity and my bag, I jumped out.
The only porter told me that everyone in Xiormonez was asleep at
that hour, and recommended me to spend the night in the waiting-room,
but I bribed him heavily; I offered him two pesetas, which is nearly
fifteenpence, and, leaving the train to its own devices, he shouldered
my bag and started off.
Along a stony road we walked into the dark night, the wind blowing
cold and bitter, and the clouds chasing one another across the sky. In
front, I could see nothing but the porter hurrying along, bent down
under the weight of my bag, and the wind blew icily. I buttoned up my
coat. And then I regretted the warmth of the carriage, the comfort of
my corner and my rug; I wished I had peacefully continued my journey to
MadridI was on the verge of turning back as I heard the whistling of
the train. I hesitated, but the porter hurried on, and fearing to lose
him in the night, I sprang forwards. Then the puffing of the engine,
and on the smoke the bright reflection of the furnace, and the train
steamed away; like Abd-er-Rahman, I felt that I had flung my scabbard
into the flames.
Still the porter hurried on, bent down under the weight of my bag,
and I saw no light in front of me to announce the approach to a town.
On each side, bordering the road, were trees, and beyond them darkness.
And great black clouds hastened after one another across the heavens.
Then, as we walked along, we came to a rough stone cross, and lying on
the steps before it was a woman with uplifted hands. And the wind blew
bitter and keen, freezing the marrow of one's bones. What prayers had
she to offer that she must kneel there alone in the night? We passed
another cross standing up with its outstretched arms like a soul in
pain. At last a heavier night rose before me, and presently I saw a
great stone arch. Passing beneath it, I found myself immediately in the
The street was tortuous and narrow, paved with rough cobbles; and it
rose steeply, so that the porter bent lower beneath his burden,
panting. With the bag on his shoulders he looked like some hunchbacked
gnome, a creature of nightmare. On either side rose tall houses, lying
crooked and irregular, leaning towards one another at the top, so that
one could not see the clouds, and their windows were great, black
apertures like giant mouths. There was not a light, not a soul, not a
soundexcept that of my own feet and the heavy panting of the porter.
We wound through the streets, round corners, through low arches, a long
way up the steep cobbles, and suddenly down broken steps. They hurt my
feet, and I stumbled and almost fell, but the hunchback walked along
nimbly, hurrying ever. Then we came into an open space, and the wind
caught us again, and blew through our clothes, so that I shrank up,
shivering. And never a soul did we see as we walked on; it might have
been a city of the dead. Then past a tall church: I saw a carved porch,
and from the side grim devils grinning down upon me; the porter dived
through an arch, and I groped my way along a narrow passage. At length
he stopped, and with a sigh threw down the bag. He beat with his fists
against an iron door, making the metal ring. A window above was thrown
open, and a voice cried out. The porter answered; there was a
clattering down the stairs, an unlocking, and the door was timidly held
open, so that I saw a woman, with the light of her candle throwing a
strange yellow glare on her face.
And so I arrived at the hotel of Xiormonez.
My night was troubled by the ghostly crying of the watchman:
'Protect us, Mary, Queen of Heaven; protect us, Mary!' Every hour it
rang out stridently as soon as the heavy bells of the cathedral had
ceased their clanging, and I thought of the woman kneeling at the
cross, and wondered if her soul had found peace.
In the morning I threw open the windows and the sun came dancing in,
flooding the room with gold. In front of me the great wall of the
cathedral stood grim and grey, and the gargoyles looked savagely across
the square.... The cathedral is admirable; when you enter you find
yourself at once in darkness, and the air is heavy with incense; but,
as your eyes become accustomed to the gloom, you see the black forms of
penitents kneeling by pillars, looking towards an altar, and by the
light of the painted windows a reredos, with the gaunt saints of an
early painter, and aureoles shining dimly.
But the gem of the Cathedral of Xiormonez is the Chapel of the Duke
de Losas, containing, as it does, the alabaster monument of Don
Sebastian Emanuel de Mantona, Duque de Losas, and of the very
illustrious Señora Doña Sodina de Berruguete, his wife. Like everything
else in Spain, the chapel is kept locked up, and the guide-book tells
you to apply to the porter at the palace of the present duke. I sent a
little boy to fetch that worthy, who presently came back, announcing
that the porter and his wife had gone into the country for the day, but
that the duke was coming in person.
And immediately I saw walking towards me a little, dark man, wrapped
up in a big capa, with the red and blue velvet of the lining
flung gaudily over his shoulder. He bowed courteously as he approached,
and I perceived that on the crown his hair was somewhat more than thin.
I hesitated a little, rather awkwardly, for the guide-book said that
the porter exacted a fee of one peseta for opening the chapelone
could scarcely offer sevenpence-halfpenny to a duke. But he quickly put
an end to all doubt, for, as he unlocked the door, he turned to me and
'The fee is one franc.'
As I gave it him he put it in his pocket and gravely handed me a
little printed receipt. Baedeker had obligingly informed me that
the Duchy of Losas was shorn of its splendour, but I had not understood
that the present representative added to his income by exhibiting the
bones of his ancestors at a franc a head....
We entered, and the duke pointed out the groining of the roof and
the tracery of the windows.
'This chapel contains some of the finest Gothic in Spain,' he said.
When he considered that I had sufficiently admired the architecture,
he turned to the pictures, and, with the fluency of a professional
guide, gave me their subjects and the names of the artists.
'Now we come to the tombs of Don Sebastian, the first Duke of Losas,
and his spouse, Doña Sodinanot, however, the first duchess.'
The monument stood in the middle of the chapel, covered with a great
pall of red velvet, so that no economical tourist should see it through
the bars of the gate and thus save his peseta. The duke removed the
covering and watched me silently, a slight smile trembling below his
little, black moustache.
The duke and his wife, who was not his duchess, lay side by side on
a bed of carved alabaster; at the corners were four twisted pillars,
covered with little leaves and flowers, and between them bas-reliefs
representing Love, and Youth, and Strength, and Pleasure, as if, even
in the midst of death, death must be forgotten. Don Sebastian was in
full armour. His helmet was admirably carved with a representation of
the battle between the Centaurs and the Lapithæ; on the right arm-piece
were portrayed the adventures of Venus and Mars, on the left the
emotions of Vulcan; but on the breast-plate was an elaborate
Crucifixion, with soldiers and women and apostles. The visor was
raised, and showed a stern, heavy face, with prominent cheek bones,
sensual lips and a massive chin.
'It is very fine,' I remarked, thinking the duke expected some
'People have thought so for three hundred years,' he replied
He pointed out to me the hands of Don Sebastian.
'The guide-books have said that they are the finest hands in Spain.
Tourists especially admire the tendons and veins, which, as you
perceive, stand out as in no human hand would be possible. They say it
is the summit of art.'
And he took me to the other side of the monument, that I might look
at Doña Sodina.
'They say she was the most beautiful woman of her day,' he said,
'but in that case the Castilian lady is the only thing in Spain which
has not degenerated.'
She was, indeed, not beautiful: her face was fat and broad, like her
husband's; a short, ungraceful nose, and a little, nobbly chin; a thick
neck, set dumpily on her marble shoulders. One could not but hope that
the artist had done her an injustice.
The Duke of Losas made me observe the dog which was lying at her
'It is a symbol of fidelity,' he said.
'The guide-book told me she was chaste and faithful.'
'If she had been,' he replied, smiling, 'Don Sebastian would perhaps
never have become Duque de Losas.'
'It is an old history which I discovered one day among some family
I pricked up my ears, and discreetly began to question him.
'Are you interested in old manuscripts?' said the duke. 'Come with
me and I will show you what I have.'
With a flourish of the hand he waved me out of the chapel, and,
having carefully locked the doors, accompanied me to his palace. He
took me into a Gothic chamber, furnished with worn French furniture,
the walls covered with cheap paper. Offering me a cigarette, he opened
a drawer and produced a faded manuscript.
'This is the document in question,' he said. 'Those crooked and
fantastic characters are terrible. I often wonder if the writers were
able to read them.'
'You are fortunate to be the possessor of such things,' I remarked.
He shrugged his shoulders.
'What good are they? I would sooner have fifty pesetas than this
An offer! I quickly reckoned it out into English money. He would
doubtless have taken less, but I felt a certain delicacy in bargaining
with a duke over his family secrets....
'Do you mean it? May Ier'
He sprang towards me.
'Take it, my dear sir, take it. Shall I give you a receipt?'
And so, for thirty-one shillings and threepence, I obtained the only
authentic account of how the frailty of the illustrious Señora Doña
Sodina was indirectly the means of raising her husband to the highest
dignities in Spain.
Don Sebastian and his wife had lived together for fifteen years,
with the entirest happiness to themselves and the greatest admiration
of their neighbours. People said that such an example of conjugal
felicity was not often seen in those degenerate days, for even then
they prated of the golden age of their grandfathers, lamenting their
own decadence.... As behoved good Castilians, burdened with such a line
of noble ancestors, the fortunate couple conducted themselves with all
imaginable gravity. No strange eye was permitted to witness a caress
between the lord and his lady, or to hear an expression of endearment;
but everyone could see the devotion of Don Sebastian, the look of
adoration which filled his eyes when he gazed upon his wife. And people
said that Doña Sodina was worthy of all his affection. They said that
her virtue was only matched by her piety, and her piety was patent to
the whole world, for every day she went to the cathedral at Xiormonez
and remained long immersed in her devotions. Her charity was exemplary,
and no beggar ever applied to her in vain.
But even if Don Sebastian and his wife had not possessed these
conjugal virtues, they would have been in Xiormonez persons of note,
since not only did they belong to an old and respected family, which
was rich as well, but the gentleman's brother was archbishop of the
See, who, when he graced the cathedral city with his presence, paid the
greatest attention to Don Sebastian and Doña Sodina. Everyone said that
the Archbishop Pablo would shortly become a cardinal, for he was a
great favourite with the king, and with the latter His Holiness the
Pope was then on terms of quite unusual friendship.
And in those days, when the priesthood was more noticeable for its
gallantry than for its good works, it was refreshing to find so
high-placed a dignitary of the Church a pattern of Christian virtues,
who, notwithstanding his gorgeous habit of life, his retinue, his
palaces, recalled, by his freedom from at least two of the seven deadly
sins, the simplicity of the apostles, which the common people have
often supposed the perfect state of the minister of God.
Don Sebastian had been affianced to Doña Sodina when he was a boy of
ten, and before she could properly pronounce the viperish sibilants of
her native tongue. When the lady attained her sixteenth year, the pair
were solemnly espoused, and the young priest Pablo, the bridegroom's
brother, assisted at the ceremony. In these days the union would have
been instanced as a triumphant example of the success of the mariage
de convenance, but at that time such arrangements were so usual
that it never occurred to anyone to argue for or against them. Yet it
was not customary for a young man of two-and-twenty to fall madly in
love with the bride whom he saw for the first time a day or two before
his marriage, and it was still less customary for the bride to give
back an equal affection. For fifteen years the couple lived in harmony
and contentment, with nothing to trouble the even tenor of their lives;
and if there was a cloud in their sky, it was that a kindly Providence
had vouchsafed no fruit to the union, notwithstanding the prayers and
candles which Doña Sodina was known to have offered at the shrine of
more than one saint in Spain who had made that kind of miracle
particularly his own.
But even felicitous marriages cannot last for ever, since if the
love does not die the lovers do. And so it came to pass that Doña
Sodina, having eaten excessively of pickled shrimps, which the abbess
of a highly respected convent had assured her were of great efficacy in
the begetting of children, took a fever of the stomach, as the
chronicle inelegantly puts it, and after a week of suffering was called
to the other world, from which, as from the pickled shrimps, she had
always expected much. There let us hope her virtues have been rewarded,
and she rests in peace and happiness.
When Don Sebastian walked from the cathedral to his house after the
burial of his wife, no one saw a trace of emotion on his face, and it
was with his wonted grave courtesy that he bowed to a friend as he
passed him. Sternly and briefly, as usual, he gave orders that no one
should disturb him, and went to the room of Doña Sodina; he knelt on
the praying-stool which Doña Sodina had daily used for so many years,
and he fixed his eyes on the crucifix hanging on the wall above it. The
day passed, and the night passed, and Don Sebastian never movedno
thought or emotion entered him; being alive, he was like the dead; he
was like the dead that linger on the outer limits of hell, with never a
hope for the future, dull with the despair that shall last for ever and
ever and ever. But when the woman who had nursed him in his childhood
lovingly disobeyed his order and entered to give him food, she saw no
tear in his eye, no sign of weeping.
'You are right!' he said, painfully rising from his knees. 'Give me
Listlessly taking the food, he sank into a chair and looked at the
bed on which had lately rested the corpse of Doña Sodina; but a kindly
nature relieved his unhappiness, and he fell into a weary sleep.
When he awoke, the night was far advanced; the house, the town were
filled with silence; all round him was darkness, and the ivory crucifix
shone dimly, dimly. Outside the door a page was sleeping; he woke him
and bade him bring light.... In his sorrow, Don Sebastian began to look
at the things his wife had loved; he fingered her rosary, and turned
over the pages of the half-dozen pious books which formed her library;
he looked at the jewels which he had seen glittering on her bosom; the
brocades, the rich silks, the cloths of gold and silver that she had
delighted to wear. And at last he came across an old breviary which he
thought she had losthow glad she would have been to find it, she had
so often regretted it! The pages were musty with their long
concealment, and only faintly could be detected the scent which Doña
Sodina used yearly to make and strew about her things. Turning over the
pages listlessly, he saw some crabbed writing; he took it to the
light'To-night, my beloved, I come.' And the handwriting was
that of Pablo, Archbishop of Xiormonez. Don Sebastian looked at it
long. Why should his brother write such words in the breviary of Doña
Sodina? He turned the pages and the handwriting of his wife met his eye
and the words were the same'To-night, my beloved, I come'as
if they were such delight to her that she must write them herself. The
breviary dropped from Don Sebastian's hand.
The taper, flickering in the draught, threw glaring lights on Don
Sebastian's face, but it showed no change in it. He sat looking at the
fallen breviary, and, in his mind, at the love which was dead. At last
he passed his hand over his forehead.
'And yet,' he whispered, 'I loved thee well!'
But as the day came he picked up the breviary and locked it in a
casket; he knelt again at the praying-stool and, lifting his hands to
the crucifix, prayed silently. Then he locked the door of Doña Sodina's
room, and it was a year before he entered it again.
That day the Archbishop Pablo came to his brother to offer
consolation for his loss, and Don Sebastian at the parting kissed him
on either cheek.
The people of Xiormonez said that Don Sebastian was heart-broken,
for from the date of his wife's interment he was not seen in the
streets by day. A few, returning home from some riot, had met him
wandering in the dead of the night, but he passed them silently by. But
he sent his servants to Toledo and Burgos, to Salamanca, Cordova, even
to Paris and Rome; and from all these places they brought him
booksand day after day he studied in them, till the common folk asked
if he had turned magician.
So passed eleven months, and nearly twelve, till it wanted but five
days to the anniversary of the death of Doña Sodina. Then Don Sebastian
wrote to his brother the letter which for months he had turned over in
'Seeing the instability of all human things, and the
length of our exile upon earth, I have considered that it is
for brothers to remain so separate. Therefore I implore
are my only relative in this world, and heir to all my goods
estatesto visit me quickly, for I have a presentiment that
is not far off, and I would see you before we are parted by
The archbishop was thinking that he must shortly pay a visit to his
cathedral city, and, as his brother had desired, came to Xiormonez
immediately. On the anniversary of Doña Sodina's interment, Don
Sebastian entertained Archbishop Pablo to supper.
'My brother,' said he, to his guest, 'I have lately received from
Cordova a wine which I desire you to taste. It is very highly prized in
Africa, whence I am told it comes, and it is made with curious art and
Glass cups were brought, and the wine poured in. The archbishop was
a connoisseur, and held it between the light and himself, admiring the
sparkling clearness, and then inhaled the odour.
'It is nectar,' he said.
At last he sipped it.
'The flavour is very strange.'
He drank deeply. Don Sebastian looked at him and smiled as his
brother put down the empty glass. But when he was himself about to
drink, the cup fell between his hands and the steward's, breaking into
a hundred fragments, and the wine spilt on the floor.
'Fool!' cried Don Sebastian, and in his anger struck the servant.
But being a man of peace, the archbishop interposed.
'Do not be angry with him; it was an accident. There is more wine in
'No, I will not drink it,' said Don Sebastian, wrathfully. 'I will
drink no more to-night.'
The archbishop shrugged his shoulders.
When they were alone, Don Sebastian made a strange request.
'My brother, it is a year to-day that Sodina was buried, and I have
not entered her room since then. But now I have a desire to see it.
Will you come with me?'
The archbishop consented, and together they crossed the long
corridor that led to Doña Sodina's apartment, preceded by a boy with
Don Sebastian unlocked the door, and, taking the taper from the
page's hand, entered. The archbishop followed. The air was chill and
musty, and even now an odour of recent death seemed to pervade the
Don Sebastian went to a casket, and from it took a breviary. He saw
his brother start as his eye fell on it. He turned over the leaves till
he came to a page on which was the archbishop's handwriting, and handed
it to him.
'Oh God!' exclaimed the priest, and looked quickly at the door. Don
Sebastian was standing in front of it. He opened his mouth to cry out,
but Don Sebastian interrupted him.
'Do not be afraid! I will not touch you.'
For a while they looked at one another silently; one pale, sweating
with terror, the other calm and grave as usual. At last Don Sebastian
'Did shedid she love you?'
'Oh, my brother, forgive her. It was long agoand she repented
bitterly. And II!'
'I have forgiven you.'
The words were said so strangely that the archbishop shuddered. What
did he mean?
Don Sebastian smiled.
'You have no cause for anxiety. From now it is finished. I will
forget.' And, opening the door, he helped his brother across the
threshold. The archbishop's hand was clammy as a hand of death.
When Don Sebastian bade his brother good-night, he kissed him on
The priest returned to his palace, and when he was in bed his
secretary prepared to read to him, as was his wont, but the archbishop
sent him away, desiring to be alone. He tried to think; but the wine he
had drunk was heavy upon him, and he fell asleep. But presently he
awoke, feeling thirsty; he drank some water.... Then he became
strangely wide-awake, a feeling of uneasiness came over him as of some
threatening presence behind him, and again he felt the thirst. He
stretched out his hand for the flagon, but now there was a mist before
his eyes and he could not see, his hand trembled so that he spilled the
water. And the uneasiness was magnified till it became a terror, and
the thirst was horrible. He opened his mouth to call out, but his
throat was dry, so that no sound came. He tried to rise from his bed,
but his limbs were heavy and he could not move. He breathed quicker and
quicker, and his skin was extraordinarily dry. The terror became an
agony; it was unbearable. He wanted to bury his face in the pillows to
hide it from him; he felt the hair on his head hard and dry, and it
stood on end! He called to God for help, but no sound came from his
mouth. Then the terror took shape and form, and he knew that behind him
was standing Doña Sodina, and she was looking at him with terrible,
reproachful eyes. And a second Doña Sodina came and stood at the end of
the bed, and another came by her side, and the room was filled with
them. And his thirst was horrible; he tried to moisten his mouth with
spittle, but the source of it was dry. Cramps seized his limbs, so that
he writhed with pain. Presently a red glow fell upon the room and it
became hot and hotter, till he gasped for breath; it blinded him, but
he could not close his eyes. And he knew it was the glow of hell-fire,
for in his ears rang the groans of souls in torment, and among the
voices he recognised that of Doña Sodina, and thenthen he heard his
own voice. And, in the livid heat, he saw himself in his episcopal
robes, lying on the ground, chained to Doña Sodina, hand and foot. And
he knew that as long as heaven and earth should last, the torment of
hell would continue.
When the priests came in to their master in the morning, they found
him lying dead, with his eyes wide open, staring with a ghastly
brilliancy into the unknown. Then there was weeping and lamentation,
and from house to house the people told one another that the archbishop
had died in his sleep. The bells were set tolling, and as Don
Sebastian, in his solitude, heard them, referring to the chief
ingredient of that strange wine from Cordova, he permitted himself the
only jest of his life.
'It was Belladonna that sent his body to the worms; and it
was Belladonna that sent his soul to hell.'
The chronicle does not state whether the thought of his brother's
heritage had ever entered Don Sebastian's head; but the fact remains
that he was sole heir, and the archbishop had gathered the loaves and
fishes to such purpose during his life that his death made Don
Sebastian one of the wealthiest men in Spain. The simplest actions in
this world, oh Martin Tupper! have often the most unforeseen results.
Now, Don Sebastian had always been ambitious, and his changed
circumstances made him realise more clearly than ever that his merit
was worthy of a brilliant arena. The times were propitious, for the old
king had just died, and the new one had sent away the army of priests
and monks which had turned every day into a Sunday; people said that
God Almighty had had His day, and that the heathen deities had come to
rule in His stead. From all corners of Spain gallants were coming to
enjoy the sunshine, and everyone who could make a compliment or a
graceful bow was sure of a welcome.
So Don Sebastian prepared to go to Madrid. But before leaving his
native town he thought well to appease a possibly vengeful Providence
by erecting in the cathedral a chapel in honour of his patron saint;
not that he thought the saints would trouble themselves about the death
of his brother, even though the causes of it were not entirely natural,
but Don Sebastian remembered that Pablo was an archbishop, and the fact
caused him a certain anxiety. He called together architects and
sculptors, and ordered them to erect an edifice befitting his dignity;
and being a careful man, as all Spaniards are, thought he would serve
himself as well as the saint, and bade the sculptors make an image of
Doña Sodina and an image of himself, in order that he might use the
chapel also as a burial-place.
To pay for this, Don Sebastian left the revenue of several of his
brother's farms, and then, with a peaceful conscience, set out for the
At Madrid he laid himself out to gain the favour of his sovereign,
and by dint of unceasing flattery soon received much of the king's
attention; and presently Philip deigned to ask his advice on petty
matters. And since Don Sebastian took care to advise as he saw the king
desired, the latter concluded that the courtier was a man of stamina
and ability, and began to consult him on matters of state. Don
Sebastian opined that the pleasure of the prince must always come
before the welfare of the nation, and the king was so impressed with
his sagacity that one day he asked his opinion on a question of
precedenceto the indignation of the most famous councillors in the
But the haughty soul of Don Sebastian chafed because he was only one
among many favourites. The court was full of flatterers as assiduous
and as obsequious as himself; his proud Castilian blood could brook no
companions.... But one day, as he was moodily waiting in the royal
antechamber, thinking of these things, it occurred to him that a
certain profession had always been in great honour among princes, and
he remembered that he had a cousin of eighteen, who was being educated
in a convent near Xiormonez. She was beautiful. With buoyant heart he
went to his house and told his steward to fetch her from the convent at
once. Within a fortnight she was at Madrid.... Mercia was presented to
the queen in the presence of Philip, and Don Sebastian noticed that the
royal eye lighted up as he gazed on the bashful maiden. Then all the
proud Castilian had to do was to shut his eyes and allow the king to
make his own opportunities. Within a week Mercia was created maid of
honour to the queen, and Don Sebastian was seized with an indisposition
which confined him to his room.
The king paid his court royally, which is, boldly; and Doña Mercia
had received in the convent too religious an education not to know that
it was her duty to grant the king whatever it graciously pleased him to
When Don Sebastian recovered from his illness, he found the world at
his feet, for everyone was talking of the king's new mistress, and it
was taken as a matter of course that her cousin and guardian should
take a prominent part in the affairs of the country. But Don Sebastian
was furious! He went to the king and bitterly reproached him for thus
dishonouring him.... Philip was a humane and generous-minded man, and
understood that with a certain temperament it might be annoying to have
one's ward philander with a king, so he did his best to console the
courtier. He called him his friend and brother; he told him he would
always love him, but Don Sebastian would not be consoled. And nothing
would comfort him except to be made High Admiral of the Fleet. Philip
was charmed to settle the matter so simply, and as he delighted in
generosity when to be generous cost him nothing, he also created Don
Sebastian Duke of Losas, and gave him, into the bargain, the hand of
the richest heiress in Spain.
And that is the end of the story of the punctiliousness of Don
Sebastian. With his second wife he lived many years, beloved of his
sovereign, courted by the world, honoured by all, till he was visited
by the Destroyer of Delights and the Leveller of the Grandeur of this
Towards evening, the Duke of Losas passed my hotel, and, seeing me
at the door, asked if I had read the manuscript.
'I thought it interesting,' I said, a little coldly, for, of course,
I knew no Englishman would have acted like Don Sebastian.
He shrugged his shoulders.
'It is not half so interesting as a good dinner.'
At these words I felt bound to offer him such hospitality as the
hotel afforded. I found him a very agreeable messmate. He told me the
further history of his family, which nearly became extinct at the end
of the last century, since the only son of the seventh duke had,
unfortunately, not been born of any duchess. But Ferdinand, who was
then King of Spain, was unwilling that an ancient family should die
out, and was, at the same time, sorely in want of money; so the titles
and honours of the house were continued to the son of the seventh duke,
and King Ferdinand built himself another palace.
'But now,' said my guest, mournfully shaking his head, 'it is
finished. My palace and a few acres of barren rock are all that remain
to me of the lands of my ancestors, and I am the last of the line.'
But I bade him not despair. He was a bachelor and a duke, and not
yet forty. I advised him to go to the United States before they put a
duty on foreign noblemen; this was before the war; and I recommended
him to take Maida Vale and Manchester on his way. Personally, I gave
him a letter of introduction to an heiress of my acquaintance at
Hampstead; for even in these days it is not so bad a thing to be
Duchess of Losas, and the present duke has no brother.