The Best Mystery and Detective Stories HTML version

The Torture by Hope
Many years ago, as evening was closing in, the venerable Pedro Arbuez d'Espila, sixth
prior of the Dominicans of Segovia, and third Grand Inquisitor of Spain, followed by a
fra redemptor, and preceded by two familiars of the Holy Office, the latter carrying
lanterns, made their way to a subterranean dungeon. The bolt of a massive door creaked,
and they entered a mephitic in-pace, where the dim light revealed between rings fastened
to the wall a bloodstained rack, a brazier, and a jug. On a pile of straw, loaded with fetters
and his neck encircled by an iron carcan, sat a haggard man, of uncertain age, clothed in
This prisoner was no other than Rabbi Aser Abarbanel, a Jew of Arragon, who—accused
of usury and pitiless scorn for the poor—had been daily subjected to torture for more than
a year. Yet "his blindness was as dense as his hide," and he had refused to abjure his
Proud of a filiation dating back thousands of years, proud of his ancestors—for all Jews
worthy of the name are vain of their blood—he descended Talmudically from Othoniel
and consequently from Ipsiboa, the wife of the last judge of Israel, a circumstance which
had sustained his courage amid incessant torture. With tears in his eyes at the thought of
this resolute soul rejecting salvation, the venerable Pedro Arbuez d'Espila, approaching
the shuddering rabbi, addressed him as follows:
"My son, rejoice: your trials here below are about to end. If in the presence of such
obstinacy I was forced to permit, with deep regret, the use of great severity, my task of
fraternal correction has its limits. You are the fig tree which, having failed so many times
to bear fruit, at last withered, but God alone can judge your soul. Perhaps Infinite Mercy
will shine upon you at the last moment! We must hope so. There are examples. So sleep
in peace to-night. Tomorrow you will be included in the auto da fé: that is, you will be
exposed to the quémadero, the symbolical flames of the Everlasting Fire: it burns, as you
know, only at a distance, my son; and Death is at least two hours (often three) in coming,
on account of the wet, iced bandages, with which we protect the heads and hearts of the
condemned. There will be forty-three of you. Placed in the last row, you will have time to
invoke God and offer to Him this baptism of fire, which is of the Holy Spirit. Hope in the
Light, and rest."
With these words, having signed to his companions to unchain the prisoner, the prior
tenderly embraced him. Then came the turn of the fra redemptor, who, in a low tone,
entreated the Jew's forgiveness for what he had made him suffer for the purpose of
redeeming him; then the two familiars silently kissed him. This ceremony over, the
captive was left, solitary and bewildered, in the darkness.