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In The Palace Of The King - A Love Story Of Old Madrid
by F. Marion Crawford
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She was silent for a few moments, turning her face away from him. His heart sank.

"No, dear," he said sadly, "you do not trust me enough for that—I see it—what woman could?"

Her hand trembled and started in his, then pressed it hard, and she turned her face quite to him.

"You are wrong," she said, with a tremor in her voice. "I love you as no man was ever loved by any woman, far beyond all that all words can say, and I shall love you till I die, and after that, for ever—even if I can never be your wife. I love you as no one loves in these days, and when I say that it is as you love me, I mean a thousand fold for every word. I am not the child you left nearly two years ago. I am a woman now, for I have thought and seen much since then—and I love you better and more than then. God knows, there is enough to see and to learn in this court—that should be hidden deep from honest women's sight! You and I shall have a heaven on this earth, if God grants that we may be joined together—for I will live for you, and serve you, and smooth all trouble out of your way—and ask nothing of you but your love. And if we cannot marry, then I will live for you in my heart, and serve you with my soul, and pray Heaven that harm may never touch you. I will pray so fervently that God must hear me. And so will you pray for me, as you would fight for me, if you could. Remember, if you will, that when you are in battle for Spain, your sword is drawn for Spain's honour, and for the honour of every Christian Spanish woman that lives—and for mine, too!"

The words pleased him, and his free hand was suddenly clenched.

"You would make cowards fight like wolves, if you could speak to them like that!" he said.

"I am not speaking to cowards," she answered, with a loving smile. "I am speaking to the man I love, to the best and bravest and truest man that breathes—and not to Don John of Austria, the victorious leader, but to you, my heart's love, my life, my all, to you who are good and brave and true to me, as no man ever was to any woman. No—" she laughed happily, and there were tears in her eyes—"no, there are no words for such love as ours."

"May I be all you would have me, and much more," he said fervently, and his voice shook in the short speech.

"I am giving you all I have, because it is not belief, it is certainty. I know you are all that I say you are, and more too. And I trust you, as you mean it, and as you need my trust to save me. Take me where you will. Hide me in your own room if you must, and bolt and bar it if need be. I shall be as safe with you as I should be with my mother in heaven. I put my hands between yours."

Again he heard her sweet low laughter, full of joy and trust, and she laid her hands together between his and looked into his eyes, straight and clear. Then she spoke softly and solemnly.

"Into your hands I put my life, and my faith, and my maiden honour, trusting them all to you alone in this world, as I trust them to God."

Don John held her hands tightly for a moment, still looking into her eyes as if he could see her soul there, giving itself to his keeping. But he swore no great oath, and made no long speech; for a man who has led men to deeds of glory, and against whom no dishonourable thing was ever breathed, knows that his word is good.

"You shall not regret that you trust me, and you will be quite safe," he said.

She wanted no more. Loving as she did, she believed in him without promises, yet she could not always believe that he quite knew how she loved him.

"You are dearer to me than I knew," he said presently, breaking the silence that followed. "I love you even more, and I thought it could never be more, when I found you here a little while ago—because you do really trust me."

"You knew it," the said, nestling to him. "But you wanted me to tell you. Yes—we are nearer now."

"Far nearer—and a world more dear," he answered. "Do you know? In all these months I have often and often again wondered how we should meet, whether it would be before many people, or only with your sister Inez there—or perhaps alone. But I did not dare hope for that."

"Nor I. I have dreamt of meeting you a hundred times—and more than that! But there was always some one in the way. I suppose that if we had found each other in the court and had only been able to say a few words, it would have been a long time before we were quite ourselves together—but now, it seems as if we had never been parted at all, does it not?"

"As if we could never be parted again," he answered softly.

For a little while there was silence, and though there was to be a great gathering of the court, that night, all was very still where the lovers sat at the window, for the throne room and the great halls of state were far away on the other side of the palace, and the corridor looked upon a court through which few persons had to pass at night. Suddenly from a distance there came the rhythmical beat of the Spanish drums, as some detachment of troops marched by the outer gate. Don John listened.

"Those are my men," he said. "We must go, for now that they are below I can send my people on errands with orders to them, until I am alone. Then you must come in. At the end of my apartments there is a small room, beyond my own. It is furnished to be my study, and no one will expect to enter it at night. I must put you there, and lock the door and take the key with me, so that no one can go in while I am at court—or else you can lock it on the inside, yourself. That would be better, perhaps," he added rather hurriedly.

"No," said the girl quietly. "I prefer that you should have the key. I shall feel even safer. But how can I get there without being seen? We cannot go so far together without meeting some one."

He rose, and she stood up beside him.

"My apartments open upon the broad terrace on the south side," he said. "At this time there will be only two or three officers there, and my two servants. Follow me at a little distance, with your hood over your face, and when you reach the sentry-box at the corner where I turn off, go in. There will be no sentinel there, and the door looks outward. I shall send away every one, on different errands, in five minutes. When every one is gone I will come for you. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly." She nodded, as if she had made quite sure of what he had explained. Then she put up her hands, as if to say good-by. "Oh, if we could only stay here in peace!" she cried.

He said nothing, for he knew that there was still much danger, and he was anxious for her. He only pressed her hands and then led her away. They followed the corridor together, side by side, to the turning. Then he whispered to her to drop behind, and she let him go on a dozen paces and followed him. The way was long, and ill lighted at intervals by oil lamps hung from the vault by small chains; they cast a broad black shadow beneath them, and shed a feeble light above. Several times persons passed them, and Dolores' heart beat furiously. A court lady, followed by a duenna and a serving-woman, stopped with a winning smile, and dropped a low courtesy to Don John, who lifted his cap, bowed, and went on. They did not look at Dolores. A man in a green cloth apron and loose slippers, carrying five lighted lamps in a greasy iron tray, passed with perfect indifference, and without paying the least attention to the victor of Granada. It was his business to carry lamps in that part of the palace—he was not a human being, but a lamplighter. They went on, down a short flight of broad steps, and then through a wider corridor where the lights were better, though the night breeze was blowing in and made them flicker and flare.

A corporal's guard of the household halberdiers came swinging down at a marching step, coming from the terrace beyond. The corporal crossed his halberd in salute, but Don John stopped him, for he understood at once that a sentry had been set at his door.

"I want no guard," he said. "Take the man away."

"The General ordered it, your Highness," answered the man, respectfully.

"Request your captain to report to the General that I particularly desire no sentinel at my door. I have no possessions to guard except my reputation, and I can take care of that myself." He laughed good-naturedly.

The corporal grinned—he was a very dark, broad-faced man, with high cheek bones, and ears that stuck out. He faced about with his three soldiers, and followed Don John to the terrace—but in the distance he had seen the hooded figure of a woman.

Not knowing what to do, for she had heard the colloquy, Dolores stood still a moment, for she did not care to pass the soldiers as they came back. Then she turned and walked a little way in the other direction, to gain time, and kept on slowly. In less than a minute they returned, bringing the sentinel with them. She walked slowly and counted them as they went past her—and then she started as if she had been stung, and blushed scarlet under her hood, for she distinctly heard the big corporal laugh to himself when he had gone by. She knew, then, how she trusted the man she loved.

When the soldiers had turned the corner and were out of sight, she ran back to the terrace and hid herself in the stone sentry-box just outside, still blushing and angry. On the side of the box towards Don John's apartment there was a small square window just at the height of her eyes, and she looked through it, sure that her face could not be seen from without. She looked from mere curiosity, to see what sort of men the officers were, and Don John's servants; for everything connected with him or belonging to him in any way interested her most intensely. Two tall captains came out first, magnificent in polished breastplates with gold shoulder straps and sashes and gleaming basket-hilted swords, that stuck up behind them as their owners pressed down the hilts and strutted along, twisting their short black moustaches in the hope of meeting some court lady on their way. Then another and older man passed, also in a soldier's dress, but with bent head, apparently deep in thought. After that no one came for some time—then a servant, who pulled something out of his pocket and began to eat it, before he was in the corridor.

Then a woman came past the little window. Dolores saw her as distinctly as she had seen the four men. She came noiselessly and stealthily, putting down her foot delicately, like a cat. She was a lady, and she wore a loose cloak that covered all her gown, and on her head a thick veil, drawn fourfold across her face. Her gait told the girl that she was young and graceful—something in the turn of the head made her sure that she was beautiful, too—something in the whole figure and bearing was familiar. The blood sank from Dolores' cheeks, and she felt a chill slowly rising to her heart. The lady entered the corridor and went on quickly, turned, and was out of sight.

Then all at once, Dolores laughed to herself, noiselessly, and was happy again, in spite of her danger. There was nothing to disturb her, she reflected. The terrace was long, there were doubtless other apartments beyond Don John's, though she had not known it. The lady had indeed walked cautiously, but it might well be that she had reasons for not being seen there, and that the further rooms were not hers. The Alcazar was only an old Moorish castle, after all, restored and irregularly enlarged, and altogether very awkwardly built, so that many of the apartments could only be reached by crossing open terraces.

When Don John came to get her in the sentry-box, Dolores' momentary doubt was gone, though not all her curiosity. She smiled as she came out of her hiding-place and met his eyes—clear and true as her own. She even hated herself for having thought that the lady could have come from his apartment at all. The light was streaming from his open door as he led her quickly towards it. There were three windows beyond it, and there the terrace ended. She looked at the front as they were passing, and counted again three windows between the open door and the corner where the sentry-box stood.

"Who lives in the rooms beyond you?" she asked quickly.

"No one—the last is the one where you are to be." He seemed surprised.

They had reached the open door, and he stood aside to let her go in.

"And on this side?" she asked, speaking with a painful effort.

"My drawing-room and dining-room," he answered.

She paused and drew breath before she spoke again, and she pressed one hand to her side under her cloak.

"Who was the lady who came from here when all the men were gone?" she asked, very pale.

* * * * *



CHAPTER V

Don John was a man not easily taken off his guard, but he started perceptibly at Dolores' question. He did not change colour, however, nor did his eyes waver; he looked fixedly into her face.

"No lady has been here," he answered quietly.

Dolores doubted the evidence of her own senses. Her belief in the man she loved was so great that his words seemed at first to have destroyed and swept away what must have been a bad dream, or a horrible illusion, and her face was quiet and happy again as she passed him and went in through the open entrance. She found herself in a vestibule from which doors opened to the right and left. He turned in the latter direction, leading the way into the room.

It was his bedchamber. Built in the Moorish manner, the vaulting began at the height of a man's head, springing upward in bold and graceful curves to a great height. The room was square and very large, and the wall below the vault was hung with very beautiful tapestries representing the battle of Pavia, the surrender of Francis the First, and a sort of apotheosis of the Emperor Charles, the father of Don John. There were two tall windows, which were quite covered by curtains of a dark brocade, in which the coats of Spain and the Empire were woven in colours at regular intervals; and opposite them, with the head to the wall, stood a vast curtained bedstead with carved posts twice a man's height. The vaulting had been cut on that side, in order that the foot of the bed might stand back against the wall. The canopy had coats of arms at the four corners, and the curtains were of dark green corded silk, heavily embroidered with gold thread in the beautiful scrolls and arabesques of the period of the Renascence. A carved table, dark and polished, stood half way between the foot of the bedstead and the space between the windows, where a magnificent kneeling-stool with red velvet cushions was placed under a large crucifix. Half a dozen big chairs were ranged against the long walls on each side of the room, and two commodious folding chairs with cushions of embossed leather were beside the table. Opposite the door by which Dolores had entered, another communicated with the room beyond. Both were carved and ornamented with scroll work of gilt bronze, but were without curtains. Three or four Eastern, rugs covered the greater part of the polished marble pavement, which here and there reflected the light of the tall wax torches that stood on the table in silver candlesticks, and on each side of the bed upon low stands. The vault above the tapestried walls was very dark blue, and decorated with gilded stars in relief. Dolores thought the room gloomy, and almost funereal. The bed looked like a catafalque, the candles like funeral torches, and the whole place breathed the magnificent discomfort of royalty, and seemed hardly intended for a human habitation.

Dolores barely glanced at it all, as her companion locked the first door and led her on to the next room. He knew that he had not many minutes to spare, and was anxious that she should be in her hiding-place before his servants came back. She followed him and went in. Unlike the bedchamber, the small study was scantily and severely furnished. It contained only a writing-table, two simple chairs, a straight-backed divan covered with leather, and a large chest of black oak bound with ornamented steel work. The window was curtained with dark stuff, and two wax candles burned steadily beside the writing-materials that were spread out ready for use.

"This is the room," Don John said, speaking for the first time since they had entered the apartments.

Dolores let her head fall back, and began to loosen her cloak at her throat without answering him. He helped her, and laid the long garment upon the divan. Then he turned and saw her in the full light of the candles, looking at him, and he uttered an exclamation.

"What is it?" she asked almost dreamily.

"You are very beautiful," he answered in a low voice. "You are the most beautiful woman I ever saw."

The merest girl knows the tone of a man whose genuine admiration breaks out unconsciously in plain words, and Dolores was a grown woman. A faint colour rose in her cheek, and her lips parted to smile, but her eyes were grave and anxious, for the doubt had returned, and would not be thrust away. She had seen the lady in the cloak and veil during several seconds, and though Dolores, who had been watching the men who passed, had not actually seen her come out of Don John's apartments, but had been suddenly aware of her as she glided by, it seemed out of the question that she should have come from any other place. There was neither niche nor embrasure between the door and the corridor, in which the lady could have been hidden, and it was hardly conceivable that she should have been waiting outside for some mysterious purpose, and should not have fled as soon as she heard the two officers coming out, since she evidently wished to escape observation. On the other hand, Don John had quietly denied that any woman had been there, which meant at all events that he had not seen any one. It could mean nothing else.

Dolores was neither foolishly jealous nor at all suspicious by nature, and the man was her ideal of truthfulness and honour. She stood looking at him, resting one hand on the table, while he came slowly towards her, moving almost unconsciously in the direction of her exquisite beauty, as a plant lifts itself to the sun at morning. He was near to her, and he stretched out his arms as if to draw her to him. She smiled then, for in his eyes she forgot her trouble for a moment, and she would have kissed him. But suddenly his face grew grave, and he set his teeth, and instead of taking her into his arms, he took one of her hands and raised it to his lips, as if it had been the hand of his brother's wife, the young Queen.

"Why?" she asked in surprise, and with a little start.

"You are here under my protection," he answered. "Let me have my own way."

"Yes, I understand. How good you are to me!" She paused, and then went on, seating herself upon one of the chairs by the table as she spoke. "You must leave me now," she said. "You must lock me in and keep the key. Then I shall know that I am safe; and in the meantime you must decide how I am to escape—it will not be easy." She stopped again. "I wonder who that woman was!" she exclaimed at last.

"There was no woman here," replied Don John, as quietly and assuredly as before.

He was leaning upon the table at the other side, with both hands resting upon it, looking at her beautiful hair as she bent her head.

"Say that you did not see her," she said, "not that she was not here, for she passed me after all the men, walking very cautiously to make no noise; and when she was in the corridor she ran—she was young and light-footed. I could not see her face."

"You believe me, do you not?" asked Don John, bending over the table a little, and speaking very anxiously.

She turned her face up instantly, her eyes wide and bright.

"Should I be here if I did not trust you and believe you?" she asked almost fiercely. "Do you think—do you dare to think—that I would have passed your door if I had supposed that another woman had been here before me, and had been turned out to make room for me, and would have stayed here—here in your room—if you had not sent her away? If I had thought that, I would have left you at your door forever. I would have gone back to my father. I would have gone to Las Huelgas to-morrow, and not to be a prisoner, but to live and die there in the only life fit for a broken-hearted woman. Oh, no! You dare not think that,—you who would dare anything! If you thought that, you could not love me as I love you,—believing, trusting, staking life and soul on your truth and faith!"

The generous spirit had risen in her eyes, roused not against him, but by all his question might be made to mean; and as she met his look of grateful gladness her anger broke away, and left only perfect love and trust behind it.

"A man would die for you, and wish he might die twice," he answered, standing upright, as if a weight had been taken from him and he were free to breathe.

She looked up at the pale, strong features of the young fighter, who was so great and glorious almost before the down had thickened on his lip; and she saw something almost above nature in his face,—something high and angelic, yet manly and well fitted to face earthly battles. He was her sun, her young god, her perfect image of perfection, the very source of her trust. It would have killed her to doubt him. Her whole soul went up to him in her eyes; and as he was ready to die for her, she knew that for him she would suffer every anguish death could hold, and not flinch.

Then she looked down, and suddenly laughed a little oddly, and her finger pointed towards the pens and paper.

"She has left something behind," she said. "She was clever to get in here and slip out again without being seen."

Don John looked where she pointed, and saw a small letter folded round the stems of two white carnations, and neatly tied with a bit of twisted silk. It was laid between the paper and the bronze inkstand, and half hidden by the broad white feather of a goose-quill pen, that seemed to have been thrown carelessly across the flowers. It lay there as if meant to be found, only by one who wrote, and not to attract too much attention.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, in a rather singular tone, as he saw it, and a boyish blush reddened his face.

Then he took the letter and drew out the two flowers by the blossoms very carefully. Dolores watched him. He seemed in doubt as to what he should do; and the blush subsided quickly, and gave way to a look of settled annoyance. The carnations were quite fresh, and had evidently not been plucked more than an hour. He held them up a moment and looked at them, then laid them down again and took the note. There was no writing on the outside. Without opening it he held it to the flame of the candle, but Dolores caught his wrist.

"Why do you not read it?" she asked quickly.

"Dear, I do not know who wrote it, and I do not wish to know anything you do not know also."

"You have no idea who the woman is?" Dolores looked at him wonderingly.

"Not the very least," he answered with a smile.

"But I should like to know so much!" she cried. "Do read it and tell me. I do not understand the thing at all."

"I cannot do that." He shook his head. "That would be betraying a woman's secret. I do not know who it is, and I must not let you know, for that would not be honourable."

"You are right," she said, after a pause. "You always are. Burn it."

He pushed the point of a steel erasing-knife through the piece of folded paper and held it over the flame. It turned brown, crackled and burst into a little blaze, and in a moment the black ashes fell fluttering to the table.

"What do you suppose it was?" asked Dolores innocently, as Don John brushed the ashes away.

"Dear—it is very ridiculous—I am ashamed of it, and I do not quite know how to explain it to you." Again he blushed a little. "It seems strange to speak of it—I never even told my mother. At first I used to open them, but now I generally burn them like this one."

"Generally! Do you mean to say that you often find women's letters with flowers in them on your table?"

"I find them everywhere," answered Don John, with perfect simplicity. "I have found them in my gloves, tied into the basket hilt of my sword—often they are brought to me like ordinary letters by a messenger who waits for an answer. Once I found one on my pillow!"

"But"—Dolores hesitated—"but are they—are they all from the same person?" she asked timidly. Don John laughed, and shook his head.

"She would need to be a very persistent and industrious person," he answered. "Do you not understand?"

"No. Who are these women who persecute you with their writing? And why do they write to you? Do they want you to help them?"

"Not exactly that;" he was still smiling. "I ought not to laugh, I suppose. They are ladies of the court sometimes, and sometimes others, and I—I fancy that they want me to—how shall I say?—to begin by writing them letters of the same sort."

"What sort of letters?"

"Why—love letters," answered Don John, driven to extremity in spite of his resistance.

"Love letters!" cried Dolores, understanding at last. "Do you mean to say that there are women whom you do not know, who tell you that they love you before you have ever spoken to them? Do you mean that a lady of the court, whom you have probably never even seen, wrote that note and tied it up with flowers and risked everything to bring it here, just in the hope that you might notice her? It is horrible! It is vile! It is shameless! It is beneath anything!"

"You say she was a lady—you saw her. I did not. But that is what she did, whoever she may be."

"And there are women like that—here, in the palace! How little I know!"

"And the less you learn about the world, the better," answered the young soldier shortly.

"But you have never answered one, have you?" asked Dolores, with a scorn that showed how sure she was of his reply.

"No." He spoke thoughtfully. "I once thought of answering one. I meant to tell her that she was out of her senses, but I changed my mind. That was long ago, before I knew you—when I was eighteen."

"Ever since you were a boy!"

The look of wonder was not quite gone from her face yet, but she was beginning to understand more clearly, though still very far from distinctly. It did not occur to her once that such things could be temptations to the brilliant young leader whom every woman admired and every man flattered, and that only his devoted love for her had kept him out of ignoble adventures since he had grown to be a man. Had she seen that, she would have loved him even better, if it were possible. It was all, as she had said, shameless and abominable. She had thought that she knew much of evil, and she had even told him so that evening, but this was far beyond anything she had dreamt of in her innocent thoughts, and she instinctively felt that there were lower depths of degradation to which a woman could fall, and of which she would not try to guess the vileness and horror.

"Shall I burn the flowers, too?" asked Don John, taking them in his hand.

"The flowers? No. They are innocent and fresh. What have they to do with her? Give them to me."

He raised them to his lips, looking at her, and then held them out. She took them, and kissed them, as he had done, and they both smiled happily. Then she fastened them in her hair.

"No one will see me to-night but you," she said. "I may wear flowers in my hair like a peasant woman!"

"How they make the gold gleam!" he exclaimed, as he looked. "It is almost time that my men came back," he said sadly. "When I go down to the court, I shall dismiss them. After the royal supper I shall try and come here again and see you. By that time everything will be arranged. I have thought of almost everything already. My mother will provide you with everything you need. To-morrow evening I can leave this place myself to go and see her, as I always do."

He always spoke of Dona Magdalena Quixada as his mother—he had never known his own.

Dolores rose from her seat, for he was ready to go.

"I trust you in everything," she said simply. "I do not need to know how you will accomplish it all—it is enough to know that you will. Tell Inez, if you can—protect her if my father is angry with her."

He held out his hand to take hers, and she was going to give it, as she had done before. But it was too little. Before he knew it she had thrown her arms round his neck, and was kissing him, with little cries and broken words of love. Then she drew back suddenly.

"I could not help it," she said. "Now lock me in. No—do not say good-by—even for two hours!"

"I will come back as soon as I can," he answered, and with a long look he left her, closed the door and locked it after him, leaving her alone.

She stood a few moments looking at the panels as if her sight could pierce them and reach him on the other side, and she tried to hold the last look she had seen in his eyes. Hardly two minutes had elapsed before she heard voices and footsteps in the bedchamber. Don John spoke in short sentences now and then to his servants, and his voice was commanding though it was kindly. It seemed strange to be so near him in his life; she wondered whether she should some day always be near him, as she was now, and nearer; she blushed, all alone. So many things had happened, and he and she had found so much to say that nothing had been said at all of what was to follow her flight to Villagarcia. She was to leave for the Quixadas' house before morning, but Quixada and his wife could not protect her against her father, if he found out where she was, unless she were married. After that, neither Mendoza nor any one else, save the King himself, would presume to interfere with the liberty of Don John of Austria's wife. All Spain would rise to protect her—she was sure of that. But they had said nothing about a marriage and had wasted time over that unknown woman's abominable letter. Since she reasoned it out to herself, she saw that in all probability the ceremony would take place as soon as Don John reached Villagarcia. He was powerful enough to demand the necessary permission of the Archbishop, and he would bring it with him; but no priest, even in the absence of a written order, would refuse to marry him if he desired it. Between the real power he possessed and the vast popularity he enjoyed, he could command almost anything.

She heard his voice distinctly just then, though she was not listening for it. He was telling a servant to bring white shoes. The fact struck her because she had never seen him wear any that were not black or yellow. She smiled and wished that she might bring him his white shoes and hang his order of the Golden Fleece round his neck, and breathe on the polished hilt of his sword and rub it with soft leather. She had seen Eudaldo furbish her father's weapons in that way since she had been a child.

It had all come so suddenly in the end. Shading her eyes from the candles with her hand, she rested one elbow on the table, and tried to think of what should naturally have happened, of what must have happened if the unknown voice among the courtiers had not laughed and roused her father's anger and brought all the rest. Don John would have come to the door, and Eudaldo would have let him in—because no one could refuse him anything and he was the King's brother. He would have spent half an hour with her in the little drawing-room, and it would have been a constrained meeting, with Inez near, though she would presently have left them alone. Then, by this time, she would have gone down with the Duchess Alvarez and the other maids of honour, and by and by she would have followed the Queen when she entered the throne room with the King and Don John; and she might not have exchanged another word with the latter for a whole day, or two days. But now it seemed almost certain that she was to be his wife within the coming week. He was in the next room.

"Do not put the sword away," she heard him say. "Leave it here on the table."

Of course; what should he do with a sword in his court dress? But if he had met her father in the corridor, coming to her after the supper, he would have been unarmed. Her father, on the contrary, being on actual duty, wore the sword of his rank, like any other officer of the guards, and the King wore a rapier as a part of his state dress.

She was astonished at the distinctness with which she heard what was said in the next room. That was doubtless due to the construction of the vault, as she vaguely guessed. It was true that Don John spoke very clearly, but she could hear the servants' subdued answers almost as well, when she listened. It seemed to her that he took but a very short time to dress.

"I have the key of that room," he said presently. "I have my papers there. You are at liberty till midnight. My hat, my gloves. Call my gentlemen, one of you, and tell them to meet me in the corridor."

She could almost hear him drawing on his gloves. One of the servants went out.

"Fadrique," said Don John, "leave out my riding-cloak. I may like to walk on the terrace in the moonlight, and it is cold. Have my drink ready at midnight and wait for me. Send Gil to sleep, for he was up last night."

There was a strange pleasure in hearing his familiar orders and small directions and in seeing how thoughtful he was for his servants. She knew that he had always refused to be surrounded by valets and gentlemen-in-waiting, and lived very simply when he could, but it was different to be brought into such close contact with his life. There was a wonderful gentleness in his ways that contrasted widely with her father's despotic manner and harsh tone when he gave orders. Mendoza believed himself the type and model of a soldier and a gentleman, and he maintained that without rigid discipline there could be no order and no safety at home or in the army. But between him and Don John there was all the difference that separates the born leader of men from the mere martinet.

Dolores listened. It was clear that Don John was not going to send Fadrique away in order to see her again before he went down to the throne room, though she had almost hoped he might.

On the contrary, some one else came. She heard Fadrique announce him.

"The Captain Don Juan de Escobedo is in waiting, your Highness," said the servant. "There is also Adonis."

"Adonis!" Don John laughed, not at the name, for it was familiar to him, but at the mere mention of the person who bore it and who was the King's dwarf jester, Miguel de Antona, commonly known by his classic nickname. "Bring Adonis here—he is an old friend."

The door opened again, and Dolores heard the well-known voice of the hunchback, clear as a woman's, scornful and full of evil laughter,—the sort of voice that is heard instantly in a crowd, though it is not always recognizable. The fellow came in, talking loud.

"Ave Caesar!" he cried from the door. "Hail, conqueror! All hail, thou favoured of heaven, of man,—and of the ladies!"

"The ladies too?" laughed Don John, probably amused by the dwarfs antics. "Who told you that?"

"The cook, sir. For as you rode up to the gate this afternoon a scullery maid saw you from the cellar grating and has been raving mad ever since, singing of the sun, moon, and undying love, until the kitchen is more like a mad-house than this house would be if the Day of Judgment came before or after Lent."

"Do you fast in Lent, Adonis?"

"I fast rigidly three times a day, my lord conqueror,—no, six, for I eat nothing either just before or just after my breakfast, my dinner, and my supper. No monk can do better than that, for at those times I eat nothing at all."

"If you said your prayers as often as you fast, you would be in a good way," observed Don John.

"I do, sir. I say a short grace before and after eating. Why have you come to Madrid, my lord? Do you not know that Madrid is the worst, the wickedest, the dirtiest, vilest, and most damnable habitation devised by man for the corruption of humanity? Especially in the month of November? Has your lordship any reasonable reason for this unreason of coming here, when the streets are full of mud, and men's hearts are packed like saddle-bags with all the sins they have accumulated since Easter and mean to unload at Christmas? Even your old friends are shocked to see so young and honest a prince in such a place!"

"My old friends? Who?"

"I saw Saint John the Conqueror graciously wave his hand to a most highly respectable old nobleman this afternoon, and the nobleman was so much shocked that he could not stir an arm to return the salutation! His legs must have done something, though, for he seemed to kick his own horse up from the ground under him. The shock must have been terrible. As for me, I laughed aloud, which made both the old nobleman and Don Julius Caesar of Austria exceedingly angry. Get before me, Don Fadrique! I am afraid of the terror of the Moors,—and no shame to me either! A poor dwarf, against a man who tears armies to shreds,—and sends scullery maids into hysterics! What is a poor crippled jester compared with a powerful scullery maid or an army of heathen Moriscoes? Give me that sword, Fadrique, or I am a dead man!"

But Don John was laughing good-naturedly.

"So it was you, Adonis? I might have-known your voice, I should think."

"No one ever knows my voice, sir. It is not a voice, it is a freak of grammar. It is masculine, feminine, and neuter in gender, singular by nature, and generally accusative, and it is optative in mood and full of acute accents. If you can find such another voice in creation, sir, I will forfeit mine in the King's councils."

Adonis laughed now, and Dolores remembered the laughter she had heard from the window.

"Does his Majesty consult you on matters of state?" inquired Don John. "Answer quickly, for I must be going."

"It takes twice as long to tell a story to two men, as to tell it to one,—when you have to tell them different stories,"

"Go, Fadrique," said Don John, "and shut the door."

The dwarf, seeing the servant gone, beckoned Don John to the other side of the room.

"It is no great secret, being only the King's," he said. "His Majesty bids me tell your Serene Highness that he wishes to speak with you privately about some matters, and that he will come here soon after supper, and begs you to be alone."

"I will be here—alone."

"Excellent, sir. Now there is another matter of secrecy which is just the contrary of what I have told you, for it is a secret from the King. A lady laid a letter and two white carnations on your writing-table. If there is any answer to be taken, I will take it."

"There is none," answered Don John sternly, "Tell the lady that I burned the letter without reading it. Go, Adonis, and the next time you come here, do not bring messages from women. Fadrique!"

"Your Highness burned the letter without reading it?"

"Yes. Fadrique!"

"I am sorry," said the dwarf, in a low voice.

No more words were spoken, and in a few moments there was deep silence, for they were all gone, and Dolores was alone, locked into the little room.

* * * * *



CHAPTER VI

The great throne room of the palace was crowded with courtiers long before the time when the King and Queen and Don John of Austria were to appear, and the entries and halls by which it was approached were almost as full. Though the late November air was keen, the state apartments were at summer heat, warmed by thousands of great wax candles that burned in chandeliers, and in huge sconces and on high candelabra that stood in every corner. The light was everywhere, and was very soft and yellow, while the odour of the wax itself was perceptible in the air, and helped the impression that the great concourse was gathered in a wide cathedral for some solemn function rather than in a throne room to welcome a victorious soldier. Vast tapestries, dim and rich in the thick air, covered the walls between the tall Moorish windows, and above them the great pointed vaulting, ornamented with the fantastically modelled stucco of the Moors, was like the creamy crests of waves lashed into foam by the wind, thrown upright here, and there blown forward in swift spray, and then again breaking in the fall to thousands of light and exquisite shapes; and the whole vault thus gathered up the light of the candles into itself and shed it downward, distributing it into every corner and lighting every face in a soft and golden glow.

At the upper end, between two great doors that were like the gateways of an eastern city, stood the vacant throne, on a platform approached by three broad steps and covered with deep red cloth; and there stood magnificent officers of the guard in gilded corslets and plumed steel caps, and other garments of scarlet and gold, with their drawn swords out. But Mendoza was not there yet, for it was his duty to enter with the King's own guard, preceding the Majorduomo. Above the throne, a huge canopy of velvet, red and yellow, was reared up around the royal coat of arms.

To the right and left, on the steps, stood carved stools with silken cushions—those on the right for the chief ministers and nobles of the kingdom, those on the left for the great ladies of the court. These would all enter in the King's train and take their places. For the throng of courtiers who filled the floor and the entries there were no seats, for only a score of the highest and greatest personages were suffered to sit in the royal presence. A few, who were near the windows, rested themselves surreptitiously on the high mouldings of the pilasters, pushing aside the curtains cautiously, and seeming from a distance to be standing while they were in reality comfortably seated, an object of laughing envy and of many witticisms to their less fortunate fellow-courtiers. The throng was not so close but that it was possible to move in the middle of the hall, and almost all the persons there were slowly changing place, some going forward to be nearer the throne, others searching for their friends among their many acquaintances, that they might help the tedious hour to pass more quickly.

Seen from the high gallery above the arch of the great entrance the hall was a golden cauldron full of rich hues that intermingled in streams, and made slow eddies with deep shadows, and then little waves of light that turned upon themselves, as the colours thrown into the dyeing vat slowly seethe and mix together in rivulets of dark blue and crimson, and of splendid purple that seems to turn black in places and then is suddenly shot through with flashes of golden and opalescent light. Here and there also a silvery gleam flashed in the darker surface, like a pearl in wine, for a few of the court ladies were dressed all in white, with silver and many pearls, and diamonds that shed little rays of their own.

The dwarf Adonis had been there for a few moments behind the lattice which the Moors had left, and as he stood there alone, where no one ever thought of going, he listened to the even and not unmusical sound that came up from the great assembly—the full chorus of speaking voices trained never to be harsh or high, and to use chosen words, with no loud exclamations, laughing only to please and little enough out of merriment; and they would not laugh at all after the King and Queen came in, but would only murmur low and pleasant flatteries, the change as sudden as when the musician at the keys closes the full organ all at once and draws gentle harmonies from softer stops.

The jester had stood there, and looked down with deep-set, eager eyes, his crooked face pathetically sad and drawn, but alive with a swift and meaning intelligence, while the thin and mobile lips expressed a sort of ready malice which could break out in bitterness or turn to a kindly irony according as the touch that moved the man's sensitive nature was cruel or friendly. He was scarcely taller than a boy of ten years old, but his full-grown arms hung down below his knees, and his man's head, with the long, keen face, was set far forward on his shapeless body, so that in speaking with persons of ordinary stature he looked up under his brows, a little sideways, to see better. Smooth red hair covered his bony head, and grew in a carefully trimmed and pointed beard on his pointed chin. A loose doublet of crimson velvet hid the outlines of his crooked back and projecting breastbone, and the rest of his dress was of materials as rich, and all red. He was, moreover, extraordinarily careful of his appearance, and no courtier had whiter or more delicately tended hands or spent more time before the mirror in tying a shoulder knot, and in fastening the stiffened collar of white embroidered linen at the fashionable angle behind his neck.

He had entered the latticed gallery on his way to Don John's apartments with the King's message. A small and half-concealed door, known to few except the servants of the palace, opened upon it suddenly from a niche in one of the upper corridors. In Moorish days the ladies of the harem had been wont to go there unseen to see the reception of ambassadors of state, and such ceremonies, at which, even veiled, they could never be present.

He only stayed a few moments, and though his eyes were eager, it was by habit rather than because they were searching for any one in the crowd. It pleased him now and then to see the court world as a spectacle, as it delights the hard-worked actor to be for once a spectator at another's play. He was an integral part of the court himself, a man of whom most was often expected when he had the least to give, to whom it was scarcely permitted to say anything in ordinary language, but to whom almost any license of familiar speech was freely allowed. He was not a man, he was a tradition, a thing that had to be where it was from generation to generation; wherever the court had lived a jester lay buried, and often two and three, for they rarely lived an ordinary lifetime. Adonis thought of that sometimes, when he was alone, or when he looked down at the crowd of delicately scented and richly dressed men and women, every one called by some noble name, who would doubtless laugh at some jest of his before the night was over. To their eyes the fool was a necessary servant, because there had always been a fool at court; he was as indispensable as a chief butler, a chief cook, or a state coachman, and much more amusing. But he was not a man, he had no name, he had no place among men, he was not supposed to have a mother, a wife, a home, anything that belonged to humanity. He was well lodged, indeed, where the last fool had died, and richly clothed as the other had been, and he fed delicately, and was given the fine wines of France to drink, lest his brain should be clouded by stronger liquor and he should fail to make the court laugh. But he knew well enough that somewhere in Toledo or Valladolid the next court jester was being trained to good manners and instructed in the art of wit, to take the vacant place when he should die. It pleased him therefore sometimes to look down at the great assemblies from the gallery and to reflect that all those magnificent fine gentlemen and tenderly nurtured beauties of Spain were to die also, and that there was scarcely one of them, man or woman, for whose death some one was not waiting, and waiting perhaps with evil anxiety and longing. They were splendid to see, those fair women in their brocades and diamonds, those dark young princesses and duchesses in velvet and in pearls. He dreamed of them sometimes, fancying himself one of those Djin of the southern mountains of whom the Moors told blood-curdling tales, and in the dream he flew down from the gallery on broad, black wings and carried off the youngest and most beautiful, straight to his magic fortress above the sea.

They never knew that he was sometimes up there, and on this evening he did not wait long, for he had his message to deliver and must be in waiting on the King before the royal train entered the throne room. After he was gone, the courtiers waited long, and more and more came in from without. Now and then the crowd parted as best it might, to allow some grandee who wore the order of the Golden Fleece or of some other exalted order, to lead his lady nearer to the throne, as was his right, advancing with measured steps, and bowing gravely to the right and left as he passed up to the front among his peers. And just behind them, on one aide, the young girls, of whom many were to be presented to the King and Queen that night, drew together and talked in laughing whispers, gathering in groups and knots of three and four, in a sort of irregular rank behind their mothers or the elder ladies who were to lead them to the royal presence and pronounce their names. There was more light where they were gathered, the shadows were few and soft, the colours tender as the tints of roses in a garden at sunset, and from the place where they stood the sound of young voices came silvery and clear. That should have been Inez de Mendoza's place if she had not been blind. But Inez had never been willing to be there, though she had more than once found her way to the gallery where the dwarf had stood, and had listened, and smelled the odour of the wax candles and the perfumes that rose with the heated air.

It was long before the great doors on the right hand of the canopy were thrown open, but courtiers are accustomed from their childhood to long waiting, and the greater part of their occupation at court is to see and to be seen, and those who can do both and can take pleasure in either are rarely impatient. Moreover, many found an opportunity of exchanging quick words and of making sudden plans for meeting, who would have found it hard to exchange a written message, and who had few chances of seeing each other in the ordinary course of their lives; and others had waited long to deliver a cutting speech, well studied and tempered to hurt, and sought their enemies in the crowd with the winning smile a woman wears to deal her keenest thrust. There were men, too, who had great interests at stake and sought the influence of such as lived near the King, flattering every one who could possibly be of use, and coolly overlooking any who had a matter of their own to press, though they were of their own kin. Many officers of Don John's army were there, too, bright-eyed and bronzed from their campaigning, and ready to give their laurels for roses, leaf by leaf, with any lady of the court who would make a fair exchange—and of these there were not a few, and the time seemed short to them. There were also ecclesiastics, but not many, in sober black and violet garments, and they kept together in one corner and spoke a jargon of Latin and Spanish which the courtiers could not understand; and all who were there, the great courtiers and the small, the bishops and the canons, the stout princesses laced to suffocation and to the verge of apoplexy, and fanning themselves desperately in the heat, and their slim, dark-eyed daughters, cool and laughing—they were all gathered together to greet Spain's youngest and greatest hero, Don John of Austria, who had won back Granada from the Moors.

As the doors opened at last, a distant blast of silver trumpets rang in from without, and the full chorus of speaking voices was hushed to a mere breathing that died away to breathless silence during a few moments as the greatest sovereign of the age, and one of the strangest figures of all time, appeared before his court. The Grand Master of Ceremonies entered first, in his robe of office, bearing a long white staff. In the stillness his voice rang out to the ends of the hall:

"His Majesty the King! Her Majesty the Queen!"

Then came a score of halberdiers of the guard, picked men of great stature, marching in even steps, led by old Mendoza himself, in his breastplate and helmet, sword in hand; and he drew up the guard at one side in a rank, making them pass him so that he stood next to the door.

After the guards came Philip the Second, a tall and melancholy figure; and with him, on his left side, walked the young Queen, a small, thin figure in white, with sad eyes and a pathetic face—wondering, perhaps, whether she was to follow soon those other queens who had walked by the same King to the same court, and had all died before their time—Mary of Portugal, Mary of England, Isabel of Valois.

The King was one of those men who seem marked by destiny rather than by nature, fateful, sombre, almost repellent in manner, born to inspire a vague fear at first sight, and foreordained to strange misfortune or to extraordinary success, one of those human beings from whom all men shrink instinctively, and before whom they easily lose their fluency of speech and confidence of thought. Unnaturally still eyes, of an uncertain colour, gazed with a terrifying fixedness upon a human world, and were oddly set in the large and perfectly colourless face that was like an exaggerated waxen mask. The pale lips did not meet evenly, the lower one protruding, forced, outward by the phenomenal jaw that has descended to this day in the House of Austria. A meagre beard, so fair that it looked faded, accentuated the chin rather than concealed it, and the hair on the head was of the same undecided tone, neither thin nor thick, neither long nor short, but parted, and combed with the utmost precision about the large but very finely moulded ears. The brow was very full as well as broad, and the forehead high, the whole face too large, even for a man so tall, and disquieting in its proportions. Philip bent his head forward a little when at rest; when he looked about him it moved with something of the slow, sure motion of a piece of mechanism, stopping now and then, as the look in the eyes solidified to a stare, and then, moving again, until curiosity was satisfied and it resumed its first attitude, and remained motionless, whether the lips were speaking or not.

Very tall and thin, and narrow chested, the figure was clothed all in cream-coloured silk and silver, relieved only by the collar of the Golden Fleece, the solitary order the King wore. His step was ungraceful and slow, as if his thin limbs bore his light weight with difficulty, and he sometimes stumbled in walking. One hand rested on the hilt of his sword as he walked, and even under the white gloves the immense length of the fingers and the proportionate development of the long thumb were clearly apparent. No one could have guessed that in such a figure there could be much elasticity or strength, and yet, at rare moments and when younger, King Philip displayed such strength and energy and quickness as might well have made him the match of ordinary men. As a rule his anger was slow, thoughtful, and dangerous, as all his schemes were vast and far-reaching.

With the utmost deliberation, and without so much as glancing at the courtiers assembled, he advanced to the throne and sat down, resting both hands on the gilded arms of the great chair; and the Queen took her place beside him. But before he had settled himself, there was a low sound of suppressed delight in the hall, a moving of heads, a brightening of women's eyes, a little swaying of men's shoulders as they tried to see better over those who stood before them; and voices rose here and there above the murmur, though not loudly, and were joined by others. Then the King's waxen face darkened, though the expression did not change and the still eyes did not move, but as if something passed between it and the light, leaving it grey in the shadow. He did not turn to look, for he knew that his brother had entered the throne room and that every eye was upon him.

Don John was all in dazzling white—white velvet, white satin, white silk, white lace, white shoes, and wearing neither sword nor ornament of any kind, the most faultless vision of young and manly grace that ever glided through a woman's dream.

His place was on the King's right, and he passed along the platform of the throne with an easy, unhesitating step, and an almost boyish smile of pleasure at the sounds he heard, and at the flutter of excitement that was in the air, rather to be felt than otherwise perceived. Coming up the steps of the throne, he bent one knee before his brother, who held out his ungloved hand for him to kiss—and when that was done, he knelt again before the Queen, who did likewise. Then, bowing low as he passed back before the King, he descended one step and took the chair set for him in the place that was for the royal princes.

He was alone there, for Philip was again childless at his fourth marriage, and it was not until long afterwards that a son was born who lived to succeed him; and there were no royal princesses in Madrid, so that Don John was his brother's only near blood relation at the court, and since he had been acknowledged he would have had his place by right, even if he had not beaten the Moriscoes in the south and won back Granada.

After him came the high Ministers of State and the ambassadors in a rich and stately train, led in by Don Antonio Perez, the King's new favourite, a man of profound and evil intelligence, upon whom Philip was to rely almost entirely during ten years, whom he almost tortured to death for his crimes, and who in the end escaped him, outlived him, and died a natural death, in Paris, when nearly eighty. With these came also the court ladies, the Queen's Mistress of the Robes, and the maids of honour, and with the ladies was Dona Ana de la Cerda, Princess of Eboli and Melito and Duchess of Pastrana, the wife of old Don Ruy Gomez de Silva, the Minister. It was said that she ruled her husband, and Antonio Perez and the King himself, and that she was faithless to all three.

She was not more than thirty years of age at that time, and she looked younger when seen in profile. But one facing her might have thought her older from the extraordinary and almost masculine strength of her small head and face, compact as a young athlete's, too square for a woman's, with high cheekbones, deep-set black eyes and eyebrows that met between them, and a cruel red mouth that always curled a little just when she was going to speak, and showed extraordinarily perfect little teeth, when the lips parted. Yet she was almost beautiful when she was not angry or in a hurtful mood. The dark complexion was as smooth as a perfect peach, and tinged with warm colour, and her eyes could be like black opals, and no woman in Spain or Andalusia could match her for grace of figure and lightness of step.

Others came after in the long train. Then, last of all, at a little distance from the rest, the jester entered, affecting a very dejected air. He stood still a while on the platform, looking about as if to see whether a seat had been reserved for him, and then, shaking his head sadly, he crouched down, a heap of scarlet velvet with a man's face, just at Don John's feet, and turning a little towards him, so as to watch his eyes. But Don John would not look at him, and was surprised that he should put himself there, having just been dismissed with a sharp reprimand for bringing women's messages.

The ceremony, if it can be called by that name, began almost as soon as all were seated. At a sign from the King, Don Antonio Perez rose and read out a document which he had brought in his hand. It was a sort of throne speech, and set forth briefly, in very measured terms, the results of the long campaign against the Moriscoes, according high praise to the army in general, and containing a few congratulatory phrases addressed to Don John himself. The audience of nobles listened attentively, and whenever the leader's name occurred, the suppressed flutter of enthusiasm ran through the hall like a breeze that stirs forest leaves in summer; but when the King was mentioned the silence was dead and unbroken. Don John sat quite still, looking down a little, and now and then his colour deepened perceptibly. The speech did not hint at any reward or further distinction to be conferred on him.

When Perez had finished reading, he paused a moment, and the hand that held the paper fell to his side. Then he raised his voice to a higher key.

"God save his Majesty Don Philip Second!" be cried. "Long live the King!"

The courtiers answered the cheer, but moderately, as a matter of course, and without enthusiasm, repeating it three times. But at the last time a single woman's voice, high and clear above all the rest, cried out other words.

"God save Don John of Austria! Long live Don John of Austria!"

The whole multitude of men and women was stirred at once, for every heart was in the cheer, and in an instant, courtiers though they were, the King was forgotten, the time, the place, and the cry went up all at once, full, long and loud, shaming the one that had gone before it.

King Philip's hands strained at the arms of his great chair, and he half rose, as if to command silence; and Don John, suddenly pale, had half risen, too, stretching out his open hand in a gesture of deprecation, while the Queen watched him with timidly admiring eyes, and the dark Princess of Eboli's dusky lids drooped to hide her own, for she was watching him also, but with other thoughts. For a few seconds longer, the cheers followed each other, and then they died away to a comparative silence. The dwarf rocked himself, his head between his knees, at Don John's feet.

"God save the Fool!" he cried softly, mimicking the cheer, and he seemed to shake all over, as he sat huddled together, swinging himself to and fro.

But no one noticed what he said, for the King had risen to his feet as soon as there was silence. He spoke in a muffled tone that made his words hard to understand, and those who knew him best saw that he was very angry. The Princess of Eboli's red lips curled scornfully as she listened, and unnoticed she exchanged a meaning glance with Antonio Perez; for he and she were allies, and often of late they had talked long together, and had drawn sharp comparisons between the King and his brother, and the plan they had made was to destroy the King and to crown Don John of Austria in his place; but the woman's plot was deeper, and both were equally determined that Don John should not marry without their consent, and that if he did, his marriage should not hold, unless, as was probable, his young wife should fall ill and die of a sickness unknown to physicians.

All had risen with the King, and he addressed Don John amidst the most profound silence.

"My brother," he said, "your friends have taken upon themselves unnecessarily to use the words we would have used, and to express to you their enthusiasm for your success in a manner unknown at the court of Spain. Our one voice, rendering you the thanks that are your due, can hardly give you great satisfaction after what you have heard just now. Yet we presume that the praise of others cannot altogether take the place of your sovereign's at such a moment, and we formally thank you for the admirable performance of the task entrusted to you, promising that before long your services shall be required for an even more arduous undertaking. It is not in our power to confer upon you any personal distinction or public office higher than you already hold, as our brother, and as High Admiral of Spain; but we trust the day is not far distant when a marriage befitting your rank may place you on a level with kings."

Don John had moved a step forward from his place and stood before the King, who, at the end of his short speech, put his long arms over his brother's shoulders, and proceeded to embrace him in a formal manner by applying one cheek to his and solemnly kissing the air behind Don John's head, a process which the latter imitated as nearly as he could. The court looked on in silence at the ceremony, ill satisfied with Philip's cold words. The King drew back, and Don John returned to his place. As he reached it the dwarf jester made a ceremonious obeisance and handed him a glove which he had dropped as he came forward. As he took it he felt that it contained a letter, which made a slight sound when his hand crumpled it inside the glove. Annoyed by the fool's persistence, Don John's eyes hardened as he looked at the crooked face, and almost imperceptibly he shook his head. But the dwarf was as grave as he, and slightly bent his own, clasping his hands in a gesture of supplication. Don John reflected that the matter must be one of importance this time, as Adonis would not otherwise have incurred the risk of passing the letter to him under the eyes of the King and the whole court.

Then followed the long and tedious procession of the court past the royal pair, who remained seated, while all the rest stood up, including Don John himself, to whom a master of ceremonies presented the persons unknown to him, and who were by far the more numerous. To the men, old and young, great or insignificant, he gave his hand with frank cordiality. To the women he courteously bowed his head. A full hour passed before it was over, and still he grasped the glove with the crumpled letter in his hand, while the dwarf stood at a little distance, watching in case it should fall; and as the Duchess Alvarez and the Princess of Eboli presented the ladies of Madrid to the young Queen, the Princess often looked at Don John and often at the jester from beneath her half-dropped lids. But she did not make a single mistake of names nor of etiquette, though her mind was much preoccupied with other matters.

The Queen was timidly gracious to every one; but Philip's face was gloomy, and his fixed eyes hardly seemed to see the faces of the courtiers as they passed before him, nor did he open his lips to address a word to any of them, though some were old and faithful servants of his own and of his father's.

In his manner, in his silence, in the formality of the ceremony, there was the whole spirit of the Spanish dominion. It was sombrely magnificent, and it was gravely cruel; it adhered to the forms of sovereignty as rigidly as to the outward practices of religion; its power extended to the ends of the world, and the most remote countries sent their homage and obeisance to its head; and beneath the dark splendour that surrounded its gloomy sovereigns there was passion and hatred and intrigue. Beside Don John of Austria stood Antonio Perez, and under the same roof with Dolores de Mendoza dwelt Ana de la Cerda, Princess of Eboli, and in the midst of them all Miguel de Antona, the King's fool.

* * * * *



CHAPTER VII

When the ceremony was over, and every one on the platform and steps of the throne moved a little in order to make way for the royal personages, making a slight momentary confusion, Adonis crept up behind Don John, and softly touched his sleeve to attract his attention. Don John looked round quickly, and was annoyed to see the dwarf there. He did not notice the fact that Dona Ana de la Cerda was watching them both, looking sideways without turning her head.

"It is a matter of importance," said the jester, in a low voice. "Read it before supper if you can."

Don John looked at him a moment, and turned away without answering, or even making a sign that he understood. The dwarf met Dona Ana's eyes, and grew slowly pale, till his face was a yellow mask; for he feared her.

The door on the other side of the throne was opened, and the King and Queen, followed by Don John, and preceded by the Master of Ceremonies, went out. The dwarf, who was privileged, went after them with his strange, rolling step, his long arms hanging down and swinging irregularly, as if they did not belong to his body, but were only stuffed things that hung loose from his shoulders.

As on all such state occasions, there were separate suppers, in separate apartments, one for the King, and one for the ministers of state and the high courtiers; thirdly, a vast collation was spread in a hall on the other side of the throne room for the many nobles who were but guests at the court and held no office nor had any special privileges. It was the custom at that time that the supper should last an hour, after which all reentered the throne room to dance, except the King and Queen, who either retired to the royal apartments, or came back for a short time and remained standing on the floor of the hall, in order to converse with a few of the grandees and ambassadors.

The royal party supped in a sombre room of oval shape, dark with tapestries and splendid with gold. The King and Queen sat side by side, and Don John was placed opposite them at the table, of which the shape and outline corresponded on a small scale with those of the room. Four or five gentlemen, whose office it was, served the royal couple, receiving the dishes and wines from the hands of the chief butler; and he, with two other servants in state liveries, waited on Don John. Everything was most exactly ordered according to the unchangeable rules of the most formal court in Europe, not even excepting that of Rome.

Philip sat in gloomy silence, eating nothing, but occasionally drinking a little Tokay wine, brought with infinite precaution from Hungary to Madrid. As be said nothing, neither the Queen nor Don John could speak, it being ordained that the King must be the first to open his lips. The Queen, however, being young and of a good constitution in spite of her almost delicate appearance, began to taste everything that was set before her, glancing timidly at her husband, who took no notice of her, or pretended not to do so. Don John, soldier-like, made a sparing supper of the first thing that was offered to him, and then sat silently watching the other two. He understood very well that his brother wished to see him in private, and was annoyed that the Queen should make the meal last longer than necessary. The dwarf understood also, and smiled to himself in the corner where he stood waiting in case the King should wish to be amused, which on that particular evening seemed far from likely. But sometimes he turned pale and his lips twisted a little as if he were suffering great pain; for Don John had not yet read the letter that was hidden in his glove; and Adonis saw in the dark corners of the room the Princess of Eboli's cruel half-closed eyes, and he fancied he heard her deep voice, that almost always spoke very sweetly, telling him again and again that if Don John did not read her letter before he met the King alone that night, Adonis should before very long cease to be court jester, and indeed cease to be anything at all that 'eats and drinks and sleeps and wears a coat'—as Dante had said. What Dona Ana said she would do, was as good as done already, both then and for nine years from that time, but thereafter she paid for all her deeds, and more too. But this history is not concerned with those matters, being only the story of what happened in one night at the old Alcazar of Madrid.

King Philip sat a little bent in his chair, apparently staring at a point in space, and not opening his lips except to drink. But his presence filled the shadowy room, his large and yellowish face seemed to be all visible from every part of it, and his still eyes dominated everything and every one, except his brother. It was as if the possession of some supernatural and evil being were stealing slowly upon all who were there; as if a monstrous spider sat absolutely motionless in the midst of its web, drawing everything within reach to itself by the unnatural fascination of its lidless sight—as if the gentlemen in waiting were but helpless flies, circling nearer and nearer, to be caught at last in the meshes, and the Queen a bright butterfly, and Don John a white moth, already taken and soon to be devoured. The dwarf thought of this in his corner, and his blood was chilled, for three queens lay in their tombs in three dim cathedrals, and she who sat at table was the fourth who had supped with the royal Spider in his web. Adonis watched him, and the penetrating fear he had long known crept all through him like the chill that shakes a man before a marsh fever, so that he had to set his teeth with all his might, lest they should chatter audibly. As he looked, he fancied that in the light of the waxen torches the King's face turned by degrees to an ashy grey, and then more slowly to a shadowy yellow again, as he had seen a spider's ugly body change colour when the flies came nearer, and change again when one was entangled in the threads. He thought that the faces of all the people in the room changed, too, and that he saw in them the look that only near and certain death can bring, which is in the eyes of him who goes out with bound hands, at dawn, amongst other men who will see the rising sun shine on his dead face. That fear came on the dwarf sometimes, and he dreaded always lest at that moment the King should call to him and bid him sing or play with words. But this had never happened yet. There were others in the room, also, who knew something of that same terror, though in a less degree, perhaps because they knew Philip less well than the jester, who was almost always near him. But Don John sat quietly in his place, no more realizing that there could be danger than if he had been charging the Moors at the head of his cavalry, or fighting a man hand to hand with drawn swords.

But still the fear grew, and even the gentlemen and the servants wondered, for it had never happened that the King had not at last broken the silence at supper, so that all guessed trouble near at hand, and peril for themselves. The Queen grew nervous and ceased to eat. She looked from Philip to Don John, and more than once seemed about to speak, but recollected herself and checked the words. Her hand shook and her thin young nostrils quivered now and then. Evil was gathering in the air, and she felt it approaching, though she could not tell whence it came. A sort of tension took possession of every one, like what people feel in southern countries when the southeast wind blows, or when, almost without warning, the fresh sea-breeze dies away to a dead calm and the blackness rises like a tide of pitch among the mountains of the coast, sending up enormous clouds above it to the pale sky, and lying quite still below; and the air grows lurid quickly, and heavy to breathe and sultry, till the tempest breaks in lightning and-thunder and drenching rain.

In the midst of the brewing storm the dwarf saw only the Spider in its web, illuminated by the unearthly glare of his own fear, and with it the frightened butterfly and the beautiful silver moth, that had never dreamed of danger. He shrank against the hangings, pressing backwards till he hurt his crooked back against the stone wall behind the tapestry, and could have shrieked with fear had not a greater fear made him dumb. He felt that the King was going to speak to him, and that he should not be able to answer him. A horrible thought suddenly seized him, and he fancied that the King had seen him slip the letter into Don John's glove, and would ask for it, and take it, and read it—and that would be the end. Thrills of torment ran through him, and he knew how it must feel to lie bound on the rack and to hear the executioner's hands on the wheel, ready to turn it again at the judge's word. He had seen a man tortured once, and remembered his face. He was sure that the King must have seen the letter, and that meant torment and death, and the King was angry also because the court had cheered Don John. It was treason, and he knew it—yet it would have been certain death, too, to refuse to obey Dona Ana. There was destruction on either side, and he could not escape. Don John had not read the writing yet, and if the King asked for it, he would probably give it to him without a thought, unopened, for he was far too simple to imagine that any one could accuse him of a treasonable thought, and too boyishly frank to fancy that his brother could be jealous of him—above all, he was too modest to suppose that there were thousands who would have risked their lives to set him on the throne of Spain. He would therefore give the King the letter unopened, unless, believing it to be a love message from some foolish woman, he chose to tear it up unread. The wretched jester knew that either would mean his own disgrace and death, and he quivered with agony from head to foot.

The lights moved up and down before his sight, the air grew heavier, the royal Spider took gigantic proportions, and its motionless eyes were lurid with evil It was about to turn to him; he felt it turning already, and knew that it saw him in his corner, and meant to draw him to it, very slowly. In a moment he should fall to the floor a senseless heap, out of deadly fear—it would be well if his fear really killed him, but he could not even hope for that. His hands gripped the hangings on each side of him as he shrank and crushed his deformity against the wall. Surely the King was taming his head. Yes—he was right. He felt his short hair rising on his scalp and unearthly sounds screamed in his ears. The terrible eyes were upon him now, but he could not move hand or foot—if he had been nailed to the wall to die, he could not have been so helpless.

Philip eyed him with cold curiosity, for it was not an illusion, and he was really looking steadily at the dwarf. After a long time, his protruding lower lip moved two or three times before he spoke. The jester should have come forward at his first glance, to answer any question asked him. Instead, his colourless lips were parted and tightly drawn back, and his teeth were chattering, do what he could to close them. The Queen and Don John followed the King's gaze and looked at the dwarf in surprise, for his agony was painfully visible.

"He looks as if he were in an ague," observed Philip, as though he were watching a sick dog.

He had spoken at last, and the fear of silence was removed. An audible sigh of relief was heard in the room.

"Poor man!" exclaimed the Queen. "I am afraid he is very ill!"

"It is more like—" began Don John, and then he checked himself, for he had been on the point of saying that the dwarfs fit looked more like physical fear than illness, for he had more than once seen men afraid of death; but he remembered the letter in his glove and thought the words might rouse Philip's suspicions.

"What was your Serene Highness about to say?" enquired the King, speaking coldly, and laying stress on the formal title which he had himself given Don John the right to use.

"As your Majesty says, it is very like the chill of a fever," replied Don John.

But it was already passing, for Adonis was not a natural coward, and the short conversation of the royal personages had broken the spell that held him, or had at least diminished its power. When he had entered the room he had been quite sure that no one except the Princess had seen him slip the letter into Don John's glove. That quieting belief began to return, his jaw became steady, and he relaxed his hold on the tapestries, and even advanced half a step towards the table.

"And now he seems better," said the King, in evident surprise. "What sort of illness is this, Fool? If you cannot explain it, you shall be sent to bed, and the physicians shall practise experiments upon your vile body, until they find out what your complaint is, for the advancement of their learning."

"They would advance me more than their science, Sire," answered Adonis, in a voice that still quaked with past fear, "for they would send me to paradise at once and learn nothing that they wished to know."

"That is probable," observed Don John, thoughtfully, for he had little belief in medicine generally, and none at all in the present case.

"May it please your Majesty," said Adonis, taking heart a little, "there are musk melons on the table."

"Well, what of that?" asked the King.

"The sight of melons on your Majesty's table almost kills me," answered the dwarf.

"Are you so fond of them that you cannot bear to see them? You shall have a dozen and be made to eat them all. That will cure your abominable greediness."

"Provided that the King had none himself, I would eat all the rest, until I died of a surfeit of melons like your Majesty's great-grandsire of glorious and happy memory, the Emperor Maximilian."

Philip turned visibly pale, for he feared illness and death as few have feared either.

"Why has no one ever told me that?" he asked in a muffled and angry voice, looking round the room, so that the gentlemen and servants shrank back a little.

No one answered his question, for though the fact was true, it had been long forgotten, and it would have been hard for any of those present to realize that the King would fear a danger so far removed. But the dwarf knew him well.

"Let there be no more melons," said Philip, rising abruptly, and still pale.

Don John had suppressed a smile, and was taken unawares when the King rose, so that in standing up instantly, as was necessary according to the rules, his gloves slipped from his knees, where he had kept them during supper, to the floor, and a moment passed before he realized that they were not in his hand. He was still in his place, for the King had not yet left his own, being engaged in saying a Latin grace in a low tone, He crossed himself devoutly, and an instant later Don John stooped down and picked up what he had dropped. Philip could not but notice the action, and his suspicions were instantly roused.

"What have you found?" he asked sharply, his eyes fixing themselves again.

"My gloves, Sire. I dropped them."

"And are gloves such precious possessions that Don John of Austria must stoop to pick them up himself?"

Adonis began to tremble again, and all his fear returned, so that he almost staggered against the wall. The Queen looked on in surprise, for she had not been Philip's wife many months. Don John was unconcerned, and laughed in reply to the question.

"It chances that after long campaigning these are the only new white gloves Don John of Austria possesses," he answered lightly.

"Let me see them," said the King, extending his hand, and smiling suddenly.

With some deliberation Don John presented one of the gloves to his brother, who took it and pretended to examine it critically, still smiling. He turned it over several times, while Adonis looked on, gasping for breath, but unnoticed.

"The other," said Philip calmly.

Adonis tried to suppress a groan, and his eyes were fixed on Don John's face. Would he refuse? Would he try to extract the letter from the glove under his brother's eyes? Would he give it up?

Don John did none of those things, and there was not the least change of colour in his cheek. Without any attempt at concealment he took the letter from its hiding-place, and held out the empty glove with his other hand. The King drew back, and his face grew very grey and shadowy with anger.

"What have you in your other hand?" he asked in a voice indistinct with passion.

"A lady's letter, Sire," replied Don John, unmoved.

"Give it to me at once!"

"That, your Majesty, is a request I will not grant to any gentleman in Spain."

He undid a button of his close-fitting doublet, thrust the letter into the opening and fastened the button again, before the King could speak. The dwarf's heart almost stood still with joy,—he could have crawled to Don John's feet to kiss the dust from his shoes. The Queen smiled nervously, between fear of the one man and admiration for the other.

"Your Serene Highness," answered Philip, with a frightful stare, "is the first gentleman of Spain who has disobeyed his sovereign."

"May I be the last, your Majesty," said Don John, with a courtly gesture which showed well enough that he had no intention of changing his mind.

The King turned from him coldly and spoke to Adonis, who had almost got his courage back a second time.

"You gave my message to his Highness, Fool?" he asked, controlling his voice, but not quite steadying it to a natural tone.

"Yes, Sire."

"Go and tell Don Antonio Perez to come at once to me in my own apartments."

The dwarf bent till his crooked back was high above his head, and he stepped backwards towards the door through which the servants had entered and gone out. When he had disappeared, Philip turned and, as if nothing had happened, gave his hand to the Queen to lead her away with all the prescribed courtesy that was her due. The servants opened wide the door, two gentlemen placed themselves on each side of it, the chief gentleman in waiting went before, and the royal couple passed out, followed at a little distance by Don John, who walked unconcernedly, swinging his right glove carelessly in his hand as he went. The four gentlemen walked last. In the hall beyond, Mendoza was in waiting with the guards.

A little while after they were all gone, Adonis came back from his errand, with his rolling step, and searched for the other glove on the floor, where the King had dropped it. He found it there at once and hid it in his doubtlet. No one was in the room, for the servants had disappeared as soon as they could. The dwarf went quickly to Don John's place, took a Venetian goblet full of untasted wine that stood there and drank it at a draught. Then he patted himself comfortably with his other hand and looked thoughtfully at the slices of musk melon that lay in the golden dish flanked by other dishes full of late grapes and pears.

"God bless the Emperor Maximilian!" he said in a devout tone. "Since he could not live for ever, it was a special grace of Providence that his death should be by melons."

Then he went away again, and softly closed the door behind him, after looking back once more to be sure that no one was there after all, and perhaps, as people sometimes do on leaving a place where they have escaped a great danger, fixing its details unconsciously in his memory, with something almost akin to gratitude, as if the lifeless things had run the risk with them and thus earned their lasting friendship. Thus every man who has been to sea knows how, when his vessel has been hove to in a storm for many hours, perhaps during more than one day, within a few miles of the same spot, the sea there grows familiar to him as a landscape to a landsman, so that when the force of the gale is broken at last and the sea subsides to a long swell, and the ship is wore to the wind and can lay her course once more, he looks astern at the grey water he has learned to know so well and feels that he should know it again if he passed that way, and he leaves it with a faint sensation of regret. So Adonis, the jester, left the King's supper-room that night, devoutly thanking Heaven that the Emperor Maximilian had died of eating too many melons more than a hundred and fifty years ago.

Meanwhile, the King had left the Queen at the door of her apartments, and had dismissed Don John in angry silence by a gesture only, as he went on to his study. And when there, he sent away his gentlemen and bade that no one should disturb him, and that only Don Antonio Perez, the new favourite, should be admitted. The supper had scarcely lasted half an hour, and it was still early in the evening when he found himself alone and was able to reflect upon what had happened, and upon what it would be best to do to rid himself of his brother, the hero and idol of Spain.

He did not admit that Don John of Austria could be allowed to live on, unmolested, as if he had not openly refused to obey an express command and as if he were not secretly plotting to get possession of the throne. That was impossible. During more than two years, Don John's popularity, not only with the people, but with the army, which was a much more serious matter, had been steadily growing; and with it and even faster than it, the King's jealousy and hatred had grown also, till it had become a matter of common discussion and jest among the soldiers when their officers were out of hearing.

But though it was without real cause, it was not without apparent foundation. As Philip slowly paced the floor of his most private room, with awkward, ungainly steps, stumbling more than once against a cushion that lay before his great armchair, he saw clearly before him the whole dimensions of that power to which he had unwillingly raised his brother. The time had been short, but the means used had been great, for they had been intended to be means of destruction, and the result was tremendous when they turned against him who used them. Philip was old enough to have been Don John's father, and he remembered how indifferent he had been to the graceful boy of twelve, whom they called Juan Quixada, when he had been brought to the old court at Valladolid and acknowledged as a son of the Emperor Charles. Though he was his brother, Philip had not even granted him the privilege of living in the palace then, and had smiled at the idea that he should be addressed as "Serene Highness." Even as a boy, he had been impatient to fight; and Philip remembered how he was always practising with the sword or performing wild feats of skill and strength upon half-broken horses, except when he was kept to his books by Dona Magdalena Quixada, the only person in the world whom he ever obeyed without question. Every one had loved the boy from the first, and Philip's jealousy had begun from that; for he, who was loved by none and feared by all, craved popularity and common affection, and was filled with bitter resentment against the world that obeyed him but refused him what he most desired.

Little more than ten years had passed since the boy had come, and he had neither died a natural death nor fallen in battle, and was grown up to young manhood, and was by far the greatest man in Spain. He had been treated as an inferior, the people had set him up as a god. He had been sent out to command expeditions that be might fail and be disgraced; but he had shown deeper wisdom than his elders, and had come back covered with honour; and now he had been commanded to fight out the final battle of Spain with the Moriscoes, in the hope that he might die in the fight, since he could not be dishonoured, and instead he had returned in triumph, having utterly subdued the fiercest warriors in Europe, to reap the ripe harvest of his military glory at an age when other men were in the leading-strings of war's school, and to be acclaimed a hero as well as a favourite by a court that could hardly raise a voice to cheer for its own King. Ten years had done all that. Ten more, or even five, might do the rest. The boy could not be without ambition, and there could be no ambition for him of which the object should be less than a throne. And yet no word had been breathed against him,—his young reputation was charmed, as his life was. In vain Philip had bidden Antonio Perez and the Princess of Eboli use all their wits and skill to prove that he was plotting to seize the crown. They answered that he loved a girl of the court, Mendoza's daughter, and that besides war, for war's sake, he cared for nothing in the world but Dolores and his adopted mother.

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