Forward! He must hasten toward that goal which he fancied (absurdly, no doubt) to be deliverance, toward the darkness from which he was now barely thirty paces distant. He pressed forward faster on his knees, his hands, at full length, dragging himself painfully along, and soon entered the dark portion of this terrible corridor.
Suddenly the poor wretch felt a gust of cold air on the hands resting upon the flags; it came from under the little door to which the two walls led.
Oh, Heaven, if that door should open outward. Every nerve in the miserable fugitive’s body thrilled with hope. He examined it from top to bottom, though scarcely able to distinguish its outlines in the surrounding darkness. He passed his hand over it: no bolt, no lock! A latch! He started up, the latch yielded to the pressure of his thumb: the door silently swung open before him.
“Halleluia!” murmured the rabbi in a transport of gratitude as, standing on the threshold, he beheld the scene before him.
The door had opened into the gardens, above which arched a starlit sky, into spring, liberty, life! It revealed the neighboring fields, stretching toward the sierras, whose sinuous blue lines were relieved against the horizon. Yonder lay freedom!
Oh, to escape! He would journey all night through the lemon groves, whose fragrance reached him. Once in the mountains and he was safe! He inhaled the delicious air; the breeze revived him, his lungs expanded! He felt in his swelling heart the the Veni foras of Lazarus! And to thank once more the God who had bestowed this mercy upon him, he extended his arms, raising his eyes toward Heaven. It was an ecstasy of joy!
Then he fancied he saw the shadow of his arms approach him— fancied that he felt these shadowy arms inclose, embrace him—and that he was pressed tenderly to someone’s breast. A tall figure actually did stand directly before him. He lowered his eyes—and remained motionless, gasping for breath, dazed, with fixed eyes, fairly driveling with terror.
Horror! He was in the clasp of the Grand Inquisitor himself, the venerable Pedro Arbuez d’Espila, who gazed at him with tearful eyes, like a good shepherd who had found his stray lamb.
The dark-robed priest pressed the hapless Jew to his heart with so fervent an outburst of love, that the edges of the monachal haircloth rubbed the Dominican’s breast. And while Aser Abarbanel with protruding eyes gasped in agony in the ascetic’s embrace, vaguely comprehending that all the phases of this fatal evening were only a prearranged torture, that q/Hope, the Grand Inquisitor, with an accent of touching reproach and a look of consternation, murmured in his ear, his breath parched and burning from long fasting:
“What, my son! On the eve, perchance, of salvation—you wished to leave us?”