In the upper story all was still now. She and Dolores had known where Don John was to be lodged in the palace nearly a month before he had returned, and they had been there more than once, when no one was on the terrace, and Dolores had made her touch the door and the six windows, three on each side of it. She could get there without difficulty, provided that no one stopped her.
She went a little way in the right direction and then hesitated. There was more danger to Dolores than to herself if she should be recognized, and, after all, if Dolores was near Don John she was safer than she could be anywhere else. Inez could not help her very much in any way if she found her there, and it would be hard to find her if she had met Mendoza at first and if he had placed her in the keeping of a third person. She imagined what his astonishment would have been had he found the real Dolores in her court dress a few moments after Inez had been delivered over to the Princess disguised in Dolores' clothes, and she almost smiled. But then a great loneliness and a sense of helplessness came over her, and she turned back and went out upon the deserted terrace again and sat down upon the old stone seat, listening for the screech owl and the fluttering of the bats that flew aimlessly in and out, attracted by the light and then scared away by it again because the moon was at the full.
Inez had never before then wandered about the palace at night, and though darkness and daylight were one to her, there was something in the air that frightened her, and made her feel how really helpless she was in spite of her almost superhuman hearing and her wonderful sense of touch. It was very still—it was never so still by day. It seemed as if people must be lying in wait for her, holding their breath lest she should hear even that. She had never felt blind before; she had never so completely realized the difference between her life and the lives of others. By day, she could wander where she pleased on the upper story—it was cheerful, familiar; now and then some one passed and perhaps spoke to her kindly, as every one did who knew her; and then there was the warm sunlight at the windows, and the cool breath of the living day in the corridors. The sounds guided her, the sun warmed her, the air fanned her, the voices of the people made her feel that she was one of them. But now, the place was like an empty church, full of tombs and silent as the dead that lay there. She felt horribly lonely, and cold, and miserable, and she would have given anything to be in bed in her own room. She could not go there. Eudaldo would not understand her return, after being told that she was to stay with the Princess, and she would be obliged to give him some explanation. Then her voice would betray her, and there would be terrible trouble. If only she had kept her own cloak to cover Dolores' frock, she could have gone back and the servant would have thought it quite natural Indeed, by this time he would be expecting her. It would be almost better to go in after all, and tell him some story of her having mistaken her sister's skirt for her own, and beg him to say nothing. She could easily confuse him a little so that he would not really understand—and then in a few minutes she could be in her own room, safe and in bed, and far away from the dismal place where she was sitting and shivering as she listened to the owls.
She rose and began to walk towards her father's quarters. But suddenly she felt that it was cowardly to go back without accomplishing the least part of her purpose, and without even finding out whether Dolores was in safety after all. There was but one chance of finding her, and that lay in searching the neighbourhood of Don John's lodging. Without hesitating any longer, she began to find her way thither at once. She determined that if she were stopped, either by her father or the Princess, she would throw back her head and show her face at once. That would be the safest way in the end.
She reached Don John's windows unhindered at last. She had felt every corner, and had been into the empty sentry-box; and once or twice, after listening a long time, she had called Dolores in a very low tone. She listened by the first window, and by the second and third, and at the door, and then beyond, till she came to the last. There were voices there, and her heart beat quickly for a moment. It was impossible to distinguish the words that were spoken, through the closed window and the heavy curtains, but the mere tones told her that Don John and Dolores were there together. That was enough for her, and she could go back to her room; for it seemed quite natural to her that her sister should be in the keeping of the man she loved,—she was out of harm's way and beyond their father's power, and that was all that was necessary. She would go back to her room at once, and explain the matter of her dress to Eudaldo as best she might. After all, why should he care what she wore or where she had been, or whether in the Princess's apartments she had for some reason exchanged gowns with Dolores. Perhaps he would not even notice the dress at all.
She meant to go at once, but she stood quite still, her hands resting on the low sill of the window, while her forehead pressed against the cold round panes of glass. Something hurt her which she could not understand, as she tried to fancy the two beautiful young beings who were within,—for she knew what beauty they had, and Dolores had described Don John to her as a young god. His voice came to her like strains of very distant sweet music, that connect themselves to an unknown melody in the fancy of him who faintly hears. But Dolores was hearing every word he said, and it was all for her; and Dolores not only heard, but saw; and seeing and hearing, she was loved by the man who spoke to her, as dearly as she loved him.
Then utter loneliness fell upon the blind girl as she leaned against the window. She had expected nothing, she had asked nothing, even in her heart; and she had less than nothing, since never on earth, nor in heaven hereafter, could Don John say a loving word to her. And yet she felt that something had been taken from her and given to her sister,—something that was more to her than life, and dearer than the thought of sight to her blindness. She had taken what had not been given her, in innocent girlish thoughts that were only dreams, and could hurt no one. He had always spoken gently to her, and touched her hand kindly; and many a time, sitting alone in the sun, she had set those words to the well-remembered music of his voice, and she had let the memory of his light touch on her fingers thrill her strangely to the very quick. It had been but the reflection of a reflection in her darkness, wherein the shadow of a shadow seemed as bright as day. It had been all she had to make her feel that she was a part of the living, loving world she could never see. Somehow she had unconsciously fancied that with a little dreaming she could live happy in Dolores' happiness, as by a proxy, and she had never called it love, any more than she would have dared to hope for love in return. Yet it was that, and nothing else,—the love that is so hopeless and starving, and yet so innocent, that it can draw the illusion of an airy nourishment from that which to another nature would be the fountain of all jealousy and hatred.
But now, without reason and without warning, even that was taken from her, and in its place something burned that she did not know, save that it was a bad thing, and made even blackness blacker. She heard their voices still. They were happy together, while she was alone outside, her forehead resting against the chill glass, and her hands half numb upon the stone; and so it would always be hereafter. They would go, and take her life with them, and she should be left behind, alone for ever; and a great revolt against her fate rose quickly in her breast like a flame before the wind, and then, as if finding nothing to consume, sank down again into its own ashes, and left her more lonely than before. The voices had ceased now, or else the lovers were speaking very low, fearing, perhaps, that some one might be listening at the window. If Inez had heard their words at first, she would have stopped her ears or gone to a distance, for the child knew what that sort of honour meant, and had done as much before. But the unformed sound had been good to hear, and she missed it. Perhaps they were sitting close and, hand in hand, reading all the sweet unsaid things in one another's eyes. There must be silent voices in eyes that could see, she thought. She took little thought of the time, yet it seemed long to her since they had spoken. Perhaps they had gone to another room. She moved to the next window and listened there, but no sound came from within. Then she heard footfalls, and one was her father's. Two men were coming out by the corridor, and she had not time to reach the sentry-box. With her hands out before her, she went lightly away from the windows to the outer side of the broad terrace, and cowered down by the balustrade as she ran against it, not knowing whether she was in the moonlight or the shade. She had crossed like a shadow and was crouching there before Mendoza and the King came out. She knew by their steady tread, that ended at the door, that they had not noticed her; and as the door closed behind them, she ran back to the window again and listened, expecting to hear loud and angry words, for she could not doubt that the King and her father had discovered that Dolores was there, and had come to take her away. The Princess must have told Mendoza that Dolores had escaped. But she only heard men's voices speaking in an ordinary tone, and she understood that Dolores was concealed. Almost at once, and to her dismay, she heard her father's step in the hall, and now she could neither pass the door nor run across the terrace again. A moment later the King called him from within. Instantly she slipped across to the other side, and listened again. They were shaking a door,—they were in the very act of finding Dolores. Her heart hurt her. But then the noise stopped, as if they had given up the attempt, and presently she heard her father's step again. Thinking that he would remain in the hall until the King called him,—for she could not possibly guess what had happened,—she stood quite still.
The door opened without warning, and he was almost upon her before she knew it. To hesitate an instant was out of the question, and for the second time that night she fled, running madly to the corridor, which was not ten steps from where she had been standing, and as she entered it the light fell upon her from the swinging lamp, though she did not know it.
Old as he was, Mendoza sprang forward in pursuit when he saw her figure in the dimness, flying before him, but as she reached the light of the lamp he stopped himself, staggering one or two steps and then reeling against the wall. He had recognized Dolores' dress and hood, and there was not the slightest doubt in his mind but that it was herself. In that same dress he had seen her in the late afternoon, she had been wearing it when he had locked her into the sitting-room, and, still clad in it, she must have come out with the Princess. And now she was running before him from Don John's lodging. Doubtless she had been in another room and had slipped out while he was trying the door within.
He passed his hand over his eyes and breathed hard as he leaned against the wall, for her appearance there could only mean one thing, and that was ruin to her and disgrace to his name—the very end of all things in his life, in which all had been based upon his honour and every action had been a tribute to it.
He was too much stunned to ask himself how the lovers had met, if there had been any agreement between them, but the frightful conviction took hold of him that this was not the first time, that long ago, before Don John had led the army to Granada, Dolores had found her way to that same door and had spent long hours with her lover when no one knew. Else she could not have gone to him without agreement, at an instant's notice, on the very night of his return.
Despair took possession of the unhappy man from that moment. But that the King was with Don John, Mendoza would have gone back at that moment to kill his enemy and himself afterwards, if need be. He remembered his errand then. No doubt that was the very room where Dolores had been concealed, and she had escaped from it by some other way, of which her father did not know. He was too dazed to think connectedly, but he had the King's commands to execute at once. He straightened himself with a great effort, for the weight of his years had come upon him suddenly and bowed him like a burden. With the exertion of his will came the thirst for the satisfaction of blood, and he saw that the sooner he returned with the key, the sooner he should be near his enemy. But the pulses came and went in his throbbing temples, as when a man is almost spent in a struggle with death, and at first he walked uncertainly, as if he felt no ground under his feet.
By the time he had gone a hundred yards he had recovered a sort of mechanical self-possession, such as comes upon men at very desperate times, when they must not allow themselves to stop and think of what is before them. They were pictures, rather than thoughts, that formed themselves in his brain as he went along, for he saw all the past years again, from the day when his young wife had died, he being then already in middle age, until that afternoon. One by one the years came back, and the central figure in each was the fair-haired little child, growing steadily to be a woman, all coming nearer and nearer to the end he had seen but now, which was unutterable shame and disgrace, and beyond which there was nothing. He heard the baby voice again, and felt the little hands upon his brow, and saw the serious grey eyes close to his own; and then the girl, gravely lovely—and her far-off laugh that hardly ever rippled through the room when he was there; and then the stealing softness of grown maidenhood, winning the features one by one, and bringing back from death to life the face he had loved best, and the voice with long-forgotten tones that touched his soul's quick, and dimmed his sight with a mist, so that he grew hard and stern as he fought within him against the tenderness he loved and feared. All this he saw and heard and felt again, knowing that each picture must end but in one way, in the one sight he had seen and that had told his shame—a guilty woman stealing by night from her lover's door. Not only that, either, for there was the almost certain knowledge that she had deceived him for years, and that while he had been fighting so hard to save her from what seemed but a show of marriage, she had been already lost to him for ever and ruined beyond all hope of honesty.
They were not thoughts, but pictures of the false and of the true, that rose and glowed an instant and then sank like the inner darkness of his soul, leaving only that last most terrible one of all behind them, burned into his eyes till death should put out their light and bid him rest at last, if he could rest even in heaven with such a memory.
It was too much, and though he walked upright and gazed before him, he did not know his way, and his feet took him to his own door instead of on the King's errand. His hand was raised to knock before he understood, and it fell to his side in a helpless, hopeless way, when he saw where he was. Then he turned stiffly, as a man turns on parade, and gathered his strength and marched away with a measured tread. For the world and what it held he would not have entered his dwelling then, for he felt that his daughter was there before him, and that if he once saw her face he should not be able to hold his hand. He would not see her again on earth, lest he should take her life for what she had done.
He was more aware of outward things after that, though he almost commanded himself to do what he had to do, as he would have given orders to one of his soldiers. He went to the chief steward's office and demanded the key of the room in the King's name. But it was not forthcoming, and the fact that it could not be found strengthened his conviction that Don John had it in his keeping. Yet, for the sake of form, he insisted sternly, saying that the King was waiting for it even then. Servants were called and examined and threatened, but those who knew anything about it unanimously declared that it had been left in the door, while those who knew nothing supported their fellow-servants by the same unhesitating assertion, till Mendoza was convinced that he had done enough, and turned his back on them all and went out with a grey look of despair on his face.
He walked rapidly now, for he knew that he was going back to meet his enemy, and he was trying not to think what he should do when he should see Don John before him and at arm's length, but defended by the King's presence from any sudden violence. He knew that in his heart there was the wild resolve to tell the truth before his master and then to take the payment of blood with one thrust and destroy himself with the next, but though he was half mad with despair, he would not let the thought become a resolve. In his soldier's nature, high above everything else and dominating his austere conscience of right and wrong, as well as every other instinct of his heart, there was the respect of his sovereign and the loyalty to him at all costs, good or bad, which sent self out of sight where his duty to the King was concerned.
* * * * *
When he had sent away Mendoza, the King remained standing and began to pace the floor, while Don John stood by the table watching him and waiting for him to speak. It was clear that he was still angry, for his anger, though sometimes suddenly roused, was very slow to reach its height, and slower still to subside; and when at last it had cooled, it generally left behind it an enduring hatred, such as could be satisfied only by the final destruction of the object that had caused it. That lasting hate was perhaps more dangerous than the sudden outburst had been, but in moments of furious passion Philip was undoubtedly a man to be feared.
He was evidently not inclined to speak until he had ascertained that no one was listening in the next room, but as he looked from time to time at Don John his still eyes seemed to grow almost yellow, and his lower lip moved uneasily. He knew, perhaps, that Mendoza could not at once find the servant in whose keeping the key of the door was supposed to be, and he grew impatient by quick degrees until his rising temper got the better of his caution. Don John instinctively drew himself up, as a man does who expects to be attacked. He was close to the table, and remained almost motionless during the discussion that followed, while Philip paced up and down, sometimes pausing before his brother for a moment, and then turning again to resume his walk. His voice was muffled always, and was hard to hear; now and then it became thick and indistinct with rage, and he cleared his throat roughly, as if he were angry with it, too. At first he maintained the outward forms of courtesy in words if not in tone, but long before his wrath had reached its final climax he forgot them altogether.
"I had hoped to speak with you in privacy, on matters of great importance. It has pleased your Highness to make that impossible by your extraordinary behaviour."
Don John raised his eyebrows a little incredulously, and answered with perfect calmness.
"I do not recollect doing anything which should seem extraordinary to your Majesty."
"You contradict me," retorted Philip. "That is extraordinary enough, I should think. I am not aware that it is usual for subjects to contradict the King. What have you to say in explanation?"
"Nothing. The facts explain themselves well enough."
"We are not in camp," said Philip. "Your Highness is not in command here, and I am not your subordinate. I desire you to remember whom you are addressing, for your words will be remembered."
"I never said anything which I wished another to forget," answered Don John proudly.
"Take care, then!" The King spoke sullenly, and turned away, for he was slow at retort until he was greatly roused.
Don John did not answer, for he had no wish to produce such a result, and moreover he was much more preoccupied by the serious question of Dolores' safety than by any other consideration. So far the King had said nothing which, but for some derogation from his dignity, might not have been said before any one, and Don John expected that he would maintain the same tone until Mendoza returned. It was hard to predict what might happen then. In all probability Dolores would escape by the window and endeavour to hide herself in the empty sentry-box until the interview was over. He could then bring her back in safety, but the discussion promised to be long and stormy, and meanwhile she would be in constant danger of discovery. But there was a worse possibility, not even quite beyond the bounds of the probable. In his present mood, Philip, if he lost his temper altogether, would perhaps be capable of placing Don John under arrest. He was all powerful, he hated his brother, and he was very angry. His last words had been a menace, or had sounded like one, and another word, when Mendoza returned, could put the threat into execution. Don John reflected, if such thought could be called reflection, upon the situation that must ensue, and upon the probable fate of the woman he loved. He wondered whether she were still in the room, for hearing that the door was to be opened, she might have thought it best to escape at once, while her father was absent from the terrace on his errand. If not, she could certainly go out by the window as soon as she heard him coming back. It was clearly of the greatest importance to prevent the King's anger from going any further. Antonio Perez had recognized the same truth from a very different point of view, and had spent nearly three-quarters of an hour in flattering his master with the consummate skill which he alone possessed. He believed that he had succeeded when the King had dismissed him, saying that he would not see Don John until the morning. Five minutes after Perez was gone, Philip was threading the corridors, completely disguised in a long black cloak, with the ever-loyal Mendoza at his heels. It was not the first time that he had deceived his deceivers.
He paced the room in silence after he had last spoken. As soon as Don John realized that his liberty might be endangered, he saw that he must say what he could in honour and justice to save himself from arrest, since nothing else could save Dolores.
"I greatly regret having done anything to anger your Majesty," he said, with quiet dignity. "I was placed in a very difficult position by unforeseen circumstances. If there had been time to reflect, I might have acted otherwise."
"Might have acted otherwise!" repeated Philip harshly. "I do not like those words. You might have acted otherwise than to defy your sovereign before the Queen! I trusted you might, indeed!"
He was silent again, his protruding lip working angrily, as if he had tasted something he disliked. Don John's half apology had not been received with much grace, but he saw no way open save to insist that it was genuine.
"It is certainly true that I have lived much in camps of late," he answered, "and that a camp is not a school of manners, any more than the habit of commanding others accustoms a man to courtly submission."
"Precisely. You have learned to forget that you have a superior in Spain, or in the world. You already begin to affect the manners and speech of a sovereign—you will soon claim the dignity of one, too, I have no doubt. The sooner we procure you a kingdom of your own, the better, for your Highness will before long become an element of discord in ours."
"Rather than that," answered Don John, "I will live in retirement for the rest of my life."
"We may require it of your Highness," replied Philip, standing still and facing his brother. "It may be necessary for our own safety that you should spend some time at least in very close retirement—very!" He almost laughed.
"I should prefer that to the possibility of causing any disturbance in your Majesty's kingdom."
Nothing could have been more gravely submissive than Don John's tone, but the King was apparently determined to rouse his anger.
"Your deeds belie your words," he retorted, beginning to walk again. "There is too much loyalty in what you say, and too much of a rebellious spirit in what you do. The two do not agree together. You mock me."
"God forbid that!" cried Don John. "I desire no praise for what I may have done, but such as my deeds have been they have produced peace and submission in your Majesty's kingdom, and not rebellion—"
"And is it because you have beaten a handful of ill-armed Moriscoes, in the short space of two years, that the people follow you in throngs wherever you go, shouting for you, singing your praises, bringing petitions to you by hundreds, as if you were King—as if you were more than that, a sort of god before whom every one must bow down? Am I so simple as to believe that what you have done with such leisure is enough to rouse all Spain, and to make the whole court break out into cries of wonder and applause as soon as you appear? If you publicly defy me and disobey me, do I not know that you believe yourself able to do so, and think your power equal to mine? And how could that all be brought about, save by a party that is for you, by your secret agents everywhere, high and low, forever praising you and telling men, and women, too, of your graces, and your generosities, and your victories, and saying that it is a pity so good and brave a prince should be but a leader of the King's armies, and then contrasting the King himself with you, the cruel King, the grasping King, the scheming King, the King who has every fault that is not found in Don John of Austria, the people's god! Is that peace and submission? Or is it the beginning of rebellion, and revolution, and civil war, which is to set Don John of Austria on the throne of Spain, and send King Philip to another world as soon as all is ready?"
Don John listened in amazement. It had never occurred to him any one could believe him capable of the least of the deeds Philip was attributing to him, and in spite of his resolution his anger began to rise. Then, suddenly, as if cold water had been dashed in his face, he remembered that an hour had not passed since he had held Dolores in his arms, swearing to do that of which he was now accused, and that her words only had held him back. It all seemed monstrous now. As she had said, it had been only a bad dream and he had wakened to himself again. Yet the thought of rebellion had more than crossed his mind, for in a moment it had taken possession of him and had seemed to change all his nature from good to bad. In his own eyes he was rebuked, and he did not answer at once.
"You have nothing to say!" exclaimed Philip scornfully. "Is there any reason why I should not try you for high treason?"
Don John started at the words, but his anger was gone, and he thought only of Dolores' safety in the near future.
"Your Majesty is far too just to accuse an innocent man who has served you faithfully," he answered.
Philip stopped and looked at him curiously and long, trying to detect some sign of anxiety if not of fear. He was accustomed to torture men with words well enough, before he used other means, and he himself had not believed what he had said. It had been only an experiment tried on a mere chance, and it had failed. At the root of his anger there was only jealousy and personal hatred of the brother who had every grace and charm which he himself had not.
"More kind than just, perhaps," he said, with a slight change of tone towards condescension. "I am willing to admit that I have no proofs against you, but the evidence of circumstances is not in your favour. Take care, for you are observed. You are too much before the world, too imposing a figure to escape observation."
"My actions will bear it. I only beg that your Majesty will take account of them rather than listen to such interpretation as may be put upon them by other men."
"Other men do nothing but praise you," said Philip bluntly. "Their opinion of you is not worth having! I thought I had explained that matter sufficiently. You are the idol of the people, and as if that were not enough, you are the darling of the court, besides being the women's favourite. That is too much for one man to be—take care, I say, take care! Be at more pains for my favour, and at less trouble for your popularity."
"So far as that goes," answered Don John, with some pride, "I think that if men praise me it is because I have served the King as well as I could, and with success. If your Majesty is not satisfied with what I have done, let me have more to do. I shall try to do even the impossible."
"That will please the ladies," retorted Philip, with a sneer. "You will be overwhelmed with correspondence—your gloves will not hold it all"
Don John did not answer, for it seemed wiser to let the King take this ground than return to his former position.
"You will have plenty of agreeable occupation in time of peace. But it is better that you should be married soon, before you become so entangled with the ladies of Madrid as to make your marriage impossible."
"Saving the last clause," said Don John boldly, "I am altogether of your Majesty's opinion. But I fear no entanglements here."
"No—you do not fear them. On the contrary, you live in them as if they were your element."
"No man can say that," answered Don John.
"You contradict me again. Pray, if you have no entanglements, how comes it that you have a lady's letter in your glove?"
"I cannot tell whether it was a lady's letter or a man's."
"Have you not read it?"
"And you refused to show it to me on the ground that it was a woman's secret?"
"I had not read it then. It was not signed, and it might well have been written by a man."
Don John watched the King's face. It was for from improbable, he thought, that the King had caused it to be written, or had written it himself, that he supposed his brother to have read it, and desired to regain possession of it as soon as possible. Philip seemed to hesitate whether to continue his cross-examination or not, and he looked at the door leading into the antechamber, suddenly wondering why Mendoza had not returned. Then he began to speak again, but he did not wish, angry though he was, to face alone a second refusal to deliver the document to him. His dignity would have suffered too much.
"The facts of the case are these," he said, as if he were recapitulating what had gone before in his mind. "It is my desire to marry you to the widowed Queen of Scots, as you know. You are doing all you can to oppose me, and you have determined to marry the dowerless daughter of a poor soldier. I am equally determined that you shall not disgrace yourself by such an alliance."
"Disgrace!" cried Don John loudly, almost before the word had passed the King's lips, and he made half a step forward. "You are braver than I thought you, if you dare use that word to me!"
Philip stepped back, growing livid, and his hand was on his rapier. Don John was unarmed, but his sword lay on the table within his reach. Seeing the King afraid, he stepped back.
"No," he said scornfully, "I was mistaken. You are a coward." He laughed as he glanced at Philip's hand, still on the hilt of his weapon and ready to draw it.
In the next room Dolores drew frightened breath, for the tones of the two men's voices had changed suddenly. Yet her heart had leapt for joy when she had heard Don John's cry of anger at the King's insulting word. But Don John was right, for Philip was a coward at heart, and though he inwardly resolved that his brother should be placed under arrest as soon as Mendoza returned, his present instinct was not to rouse him further. He was indeed in danger, between his anger and his fear, for at any moment he might speak some bitter word, accustomed as he was to the perpetual protection of his guards, but at the next his brother's hands might be on his throat, for he had the coward's true instinct to recognize the man who was quite fearless.
"You strangely forget yourself," he said, with an appearance of dignity. "You spring forward as if you were going to grapple with me, and then you are surprised that I should be ready to defend myself."
"I barely moved a step from where I stand," answered Don John, with profound contempt. "I am unarmed, too. There lies my sword, on the table. But since you are the King as well as my brother, I make all excuses to your Majesty for having been the cause of your fright."
Dolores understood what had happened, as Don John meant that she should. She knew also that her position was growing more and more desperate and untenable at every moment; yet she could not blame her lover for what he had said. Even to save her, she would not have had him cringe to the King and ask pardon for his hasty word and movement, still less could she have borne that he should not cry out in protest at a word that insulted her, though ever so lightly.
"I do not desire to insist upon our kinship," said Philip coldly. "If I chose to acknowledge it when you were a boy, it was out of respect for the memory of the Emperor. It was not in the expectation of being called brother by the son of a German burgher's daughter."
Don John did not wince, for the words, being literally true and without exaggeration, could hardly be treated as an insult, though they were meant for one, and hurt him, as all reference to his real mother always did.
"Yes," he said, still scornfully. "I am the son of a German burgher's daughter, neither better nor worse. But I am your brother, for all that, and though I shall not forget that you are King and I am subject, when we are before the world, yet here, we are man and man, you and I, brother and brother, and there is neither King nor prince. But I shall not hurt you, so you need fear nothing. I respect the brother far too little for that, and the sovereign too much."
There was a bad yellow light in Philip's face, and instead of walking towards Don John and away from him, as he had done hitherto, he began to pace up and down, crossing and recrossing before him, from the foot of the great canopied bed to one of the curtained windows, keeping his eyes upon his brother almost all the time.
"I warned you when I came here that your words should be remembered," he said. "And your actions shall not be forgotten, either. There are safe places, even in Madrid, where you can live in the retirement you desire so much, even in total solitude."
"If it pleases your Majesty to imprison Don John of Austria, you have the power. For my part, I shall make no resistance."
"Who shall, then?" asked the King angrily. "Do you expect that there will be a general rising of the people to liberate you, or that there will be a revolution within the palace, brought on by your party, which shall force me to set you free for reasons of state? We are not in Paris that you should expect the one, nor in Constantinople where the other might be possible. We are in Spain, and I am master, and my will shall be done, and no one shall cry out against it. I am too gentle with you, too kind! For the half of what you have said and done, Elizabeth of England would have had your life to-morrow—yes, I consent to give you a chance, the benefit of a doubt there is still in my thoughts about you, because justice shall not be offended and turned into an instrument of revenge. Yes—I am kind, I am clement. We shall see whether you can save yourself. You shall have the chance."
"What chance is that?" asked Don John, growing very quiet, for he saw the real danger near at hand again.
"You shall have an opportunity of proving that a subject is at liberty to insult his sovereign, and that the King is not free to speak his mind to a subject. Can you prove that?"
"Then you can be convicted of high treason," answered Philip, his evil mouth curling. "There are several methods of interrogating the accused," he continued. "I daresay you have heard of them."
"Do you expect to frighten me by talking of torture?" asked Don John, with a smile at the implied suggestion.
"Witnesses are also examined," replied the King, his voice thickening again in anticipation of the effect he was going to produce upon the man who would not fear him. "With them, even more painful methods are often employed. Witnesses may be men or women, you know, my dear brother—" he pronounced the word with a sneer—"and among the many ladies of your acquaintance—"
"There are very few."
"It will be the easier to find the two or three, or perhaps the only one, whom it will be necessary to interrogate—in your presence, most probably, and by torture."
"I was right to call you a coward," said Don John, slowly turning pale till his face was almost as white as the white silks and satins of his doublet.
"Will you give me the letter you were reading when I came here?"
"Not to save yourself from the executioner's hands?"
"Not to save—" Philip paused, and a frightful stare of hatred fixed his eyes on his brother. "Will you give me that letter to save Dolores de Mendoza from being torn piecemeal?"
By instinct Don John's hand went to the hilt of his sheathed sword this time, as he cried out in rage, and sprang forward. Even then he would have remembered the promise he had given and would not have raised his hand to strike. But the first movement was enough, and Philip drew his rapier in a flash of light, fearing for his life. Without waiting for an attack he made a furious pass at his brother's body. Don John's hand went out with the sheathed sword in a desperate attempt to parry the thrust, but the weapon was entangled in the belt that hung to it, and Philip's lunge had been strong and quick as lightning.
With a cry of anger Don John fell straight backwards, his feet seeming to slip from under him on the smooth marble pavement, and with his fall, as he threw out his hands to save himself, the sword flew high into the air, sheathed as it was, and landed far away. He lay at full length with one arm stretched out, and for a moment the hand twitched in quick spasms. Then it was quite still.
At his feet stood Philip, his rapier in his hand, and blood on its fine point. His eyes shone yellow in the candlelight, his jaw had dropped a little, and he bent forwards, looking intently at the still, white face.
He had longed for that moment ever since he had entered his brother's room, though even he himself had not guessed that he wanted his brother's life. There was not a sound in the room as he looked at what he had done, and two or three drops of blood fell one by one, very slowly, upon the marble. On the dazzling white of Don John's doublet there was a small red stain. As Philip watched it, he thought it grew wider and brighter.
Beyond the door, Dolores had fallen upon her knees, pressing her hands to her temples in an agony beyond thought or expression. Her fear had risen to terror while she listened to the last words that had been exchanged, and the King's threat had chilled her blood like ice, though she was brave. She had longed to cry out to Don John to give up her letter or the other, whichever the King wanted—she had almost tried to raise her voice, in spite of every other fear, when she had heard Don John's single word of scorn, and the quick footsteps, the drawing of the rapier from its sheath, the desperate scuffle that had not lasted five seconds, and then the dull fall which meant that one was hurt.
It could only be the King,—but that was terrible enough,—and yet, if the King had fallen, Don John would have come to the door the next instant. All was still in the room, but her terror made wild noises in her ears. The two men might have spoken now and she could not have heard them,—nor the opening of a door, nor any ordinary sound. It was no longer the fear of being heard, either, that made her silent. Her throat was parched and her tongue paralyzed. She remembered suddenly that Don John had been unarmed, and how he had pointed out to Philip that his sword lay on the table. It was the King who had drawn his own, then, and had killed his unarmed brother. She felt as if something heavy were striking her head as the thoughts made broken words, and flashes of light danced before her eyes. With her hands she tried to press feeling and reason and silence back into her brain that would not be quieted, but the certainty grew upon her that Don John was killed, and the tide of despair rose higher with every breath.
The sensation came upon her that she was dying, then and there, of a pain human nature could not endure, far beyond the torments Philip had threatened, and the thought was merciful, for she could not have lived an hour in such agony,—something would have broken before then. She was dying, there, on her knees before the door beyond which her lover lay suddenly dead. It would be easy to die. In a moment more she would be with him, for ever, and in peace. They would find her there, dead, and perhaps they would be merciful and bury her near him. But that would matter little, since she should be with him always now. In the first grief that struck her, and bruised her, and numbed her as with material blows, she had no tears, but there was a sort of choking fire in her throat, and her eyes burned her like hot iron.
She did not know how long she knelt, waiting for death. She was dying, and there was no time any more, nor any outward world, nor anything but her lover's dead body on the floor in the next room, and his soul waiting for hers, waiting beside her for her to die also, that they might go together. She was so sure now, that she was wondering dreamily why it took so long to die, seeing that death had taken him so quickly. Could one shaft be aimed so straight and could the next miss the mark? She shook all over, as a new dread seized her. She was not dying,—her life clung too closely to her suffering body, her heart was too young and strong to stand still in her breast for grief. She was to live, and bear that same pain a lifetime. She rocked herself gently on her knees, bowing her head almost to the floor.
She was roused by the sound of her father's voice, and the words he was speaking sent a fresh shock of horror through her unutterable grief, for they told her that Don John was dead, and then something else so strange that she could not understand it.
Philip had stood only a few moments, sword in hand, over his brother's body, staring down at his face, when the door opened. On the threshold stood old Mendoza, half-stunned by the sight he saw. Philip heard, stood up, and drew back as his eyes fell upon the old soldier. He knew that Mendoza, if no one else, knew the truth now, beyond any power of his to conceal it. His anger had subsided, and a sort of horror that could never be remorse, had come over him for what he had done. It must have been in his face, for Mendoza understood, and he came forward quickly and knelt down upon the floor to listen for the beating of the heart, and to try whether there was any breath to dim the brightness of his polished scabbard. Philip looked on in silence. Like many an old soldier Mendoza had some little skill, but he saw the bright spot on the white doublet, and the still face and the hands relaxed, and there was neither breath nor beating of the heart to give hope. He rose silently, and shook his head. Still looking down he saw the red drops that had fallen upon the pavement from Philip's rapier, and looking at that, saw that the point was dark. With a gesture of excuse he took the sword from the King's hand and wiped it quite dry and bright upon his own handkerchief, and gave it back to Philip, who sheathed it by his side, but never spoke.
Together the two looked at the body for a full minute and more, each silently debating what should be done with it. At last Mendoza raised his head, and there was a strange look in his old eyes and a sort of wan greatness came over his war-worn face. It was then that he spoke the words Dolores heard.
"I throw myself upon your Majesty's mercy! I have killed Don John of Austria in a private quarrel, and he was unarmed."
Philip understood well enough, and a faint smile of satisfaction flitted through the shadows of his face. It was out of the question that the world should ever know who had killed his brother, and he knew the man who offered to sacrifice himself by bearing the blame of the deed. Mendoza would die, on the scaffold if need be, and it would be enough for him to know that his death saved his King. No word would ever pass his lips. The man's loyalty would bear any proof; he could feel horror at the thought that Philip could have done such a deed, but the King's name must be saved at all costs, and the King's divine right must be sustained before the world. He felt no hesitation from the moment when he saw clearly how this must be done. To accuse some unknown murderer and let it be supposed that he had escaped would have been worse than useless; the court and half Spain knew of the King's jealousy of his brother, every one had seen that Philip had been very angry when the courtiers had shouted for Don John; already the story of the quarrel about the glove was being repeated from mouth to mouth in the throne room, where the nobles had reassembled after supper. As soon as it was known that Don John was dead, it would be believed by every one in the palace that the King had killed him or had caused him to be murdered. But if Mendoza took the blame upon himself, the court would believe him, for many knew of Dolores' love for Don John, and knew also how bitterly the old soldier was opposed to their marriage, on the ground that it would be no marriage at all, but his daughter's present ruin. There was no one else in the palace who could accuse himself of the murder and who would be believed to have done it without the King's orders, and Mendoza knew this, when he offered his life to shield Philip's honour. Philip knew it, too, and while he wondered at the old man's simple devotion, he accepted it without protest, as his vast selfishness would have permitted the destruction of all mankind, that it might be satisfied and filled.
He looked once more at the motionless body at his feet, and once more at the faithful old man. Then he bent his head with condescending gravity, as if he were signifying his pleasure to receive kindly, for the giver's sake, a gift of little value.
"So be it," he said slowly.
Mendoza bowed his head, too, as if in thanks, and then taking up the long dark cloak which the King had thrown off on entering, he put it upon Philip's shoulders, and went before him to the door. And Philip followed him without looking back, and both went out upon the terrace, leaving both doors ajar after them. They exchanged a few words more as they walked slowly in the direction of the corridor.
"It is necessary that your Majesty should return at once to the throne room, as if nothing had happened," said Mendoza. "Your Majesty should be talking unconcernedly with some ambassador or minister when the news is brought that his Highness is dead."
"And who shall bring the news?" asked Philip calmly, as if he were speaking to an indifferent person.
"I will, Sire," answered Mendoza firmly.
"They will tear you in pieces before I can save you," returned Philip, in a thoughtful tone.
"So much the better. I shall die for my King, and your Majesty will be spared the difficulty of pardoning a deed which will be unpardonable in the eyes of the whole world."
"That is true," said the King meditatively. "But I do not wish you to die, Mendoza," he added, as an afterthought. "You must escape to France or to England."
"I could not make my escape without your Majesty's help, and that would soon be known. It would then be believed that I had done the deed by your Majesty's orders, and no good end would have been gained."
"You may be right. You are a very brave man, Mendoza—the bravest I have ever known. I thank you. If it is possible to save you, you shall be saved."
"It will not be possible," replied the soldier, in a low and steady voice. "If your Majesty will return at once to the throne room, it may be soon over. Besides, it is growing late, and it must be done before the whole court."
They entered the corridor, and the King walked a few steps before Mendoza, covering his head with the hood of his cloak lest any one should recognize him, and gradually increasing his distance as the old man fell behind. Descending by a private staircase, Philip reentered his own apartments by a small door that gave access to his study without obliging him to pass through the antechamber, and by which he often came and went unobserved. Alone in his innermost room, and divested of his hood and cloak, the King went to a Venetian mirror that stood upon a pier table between the windows, and examined his face attentively. Not a trace of excitement or emotion was visible in the features he saw, but his hair was a little disarranged, and he smoothed it carefully and adjusted it about his ears. From a silver box on the table he took a little scented lozenge and put it into his mouth. No reasonable being would have suspected from his appearance that he had been moved to furious anger and had done a murderous deed less than twenty minutes earlier. His still eyes were quite calm now, and the yellow gleam in them had given place to their naturally uncertain colour. With a smile of admiration for his own extraordinary powers, he turned and left the room. He was enjoying one of his rare moments of satisfaction, for the rival he had long hated and was beginning to dread was never to stand in his way again nor to rob him of the least of his attributes of sovereignty.
* * * * *
Dolores had not understood her father's words. All that was clear to her was that Don John was dead and that his murderers were gone. Had there been danger still for herself, she could not have felt it; but there was none now as she laid her hand upon the key to enter the bedchamber. At first the lock would not open, as it had been injured in some way by being so roughly shaken when Mendoza had tried it. But Dolores' desperate fingers wound themselves upon the key like little ropes of white silk, slender but very strong, and she wrenched at the thing furiously till it turned. The door flew open, and she stood motionless a moment on the threshold. Mendoza had said that Don John was dead, but she had not quite believed it.
He lay on his back as he had fallen, his feet towards her, his graceful limbs relaxed, one arm beside him, the other thrown back beyond his head, the colourless fingers just bent a little and showing the nervous beauty of the hand. The beautiful young face was white as marble, and the eyes were half open, very dark under the waxen lids. There was one little spot of scarlet on the white satin coat, near the left breast. Dolores saw it all in the bright light of the candles, and she neither moved nor closed her fixed eyes as she gazed. She felt that she was at the end of life; she stood still to see it all and to understand. But though she tried to think, it was as if she had no mind left, no capacity for grasping any new thought, and no power to connect those that had disturbed her brain with the present that stared her in the face. An earthquake might have torn the world open under her feet at that moment, swallowing up the old Alcazar with the living and the dead, and Dolores would have gone down to destruction as she stood, unconscious of her fate, her eyes fixed upon Don John's dead features, her own life already suspended and waiting to follow his. It seemed as if she might stand there till her horror should stop the beating of her own heart, unless something came to rouse her from the stupor she was in.
But gradually a change came over her face, her lids drooped and quivered, her face turned a little upward, and she grasped the doorpost with one hand, lest she should reel and fall. Then, knowing that she could stand no longer, instinct made a last effort upon her; its invisible power thrust her violently forward in a few swift steps, till her strength broke all at once, and she fell and lay almost upon the body of her lover, her face hidden upon his silent breast, one hand seeking his hand, the other pressing his cold forehead.
It was not probable that any one should find her there for a long time. The servants and gentlemen had been dismissed, and until it was known that Don John was dead, no one would come. Even if she could have thought at all, she would not have cared who saw her lying there; but thought was altogether gone now, and there was nothing left but the ancient instinct of the primeval woman mourning her dead mate alone, with long-drawn, hopeless weeping and blinding tears.
They came, too, when she had lain upon his breast a little while and when understanding had wholly ceased and given way to nature. Then her body shook and her breast heaved strongly, almost throwing her upon her side as she lay, and sounds that were hardly human came from her lips; for the first dissolving of a woman's despair into tears is most like the death agony of those who die young in their strength, when the limbs are wrung at the joints and the light breaks in the upturned eyes, when the bosom heaves and would take in the whole world at one breath, when the voice makes sounds of fear that are beyond words and worse to hear than any words could be.
Her weeping was wild at first, measureless and violent, broken by sharp cries that hurt her heart like jagged knives, then strangled to a choking silence again and again, as the merciless consciousness that could have killed, if it had prevailed, almost had her by the throat, but was forced back again with cruel pain by the young life that would not die, though living was agony and death would have been as welcome as air.
Then her loud grief subsided to a lower key, and her voice grew by degrees monotonous and despairing as the turning tide on a quicksand, before bad weather,—not diminished, but deeper drawn within itself; and the low moan came regularly with each breath, while the tears flowed steadily. The first wild tempest had swept by, and the more enduring storm followed in its track.
So she lay a long time weeping; and then strong hands were upon her, lifting her up and dragging her away, without warning and without word. She did not understand, and she fancied herself in the arms of some supernatural being of monstrous strength that was tearing her from what was left of life and love. She struggled senselessly, but she could find no foothold as she was swept through the open door. She gasped for breath, as one does in bad dreams, and bodily fear almost reached her heart through its sevenfold armour of such grief as makes fear ridiculous and turns mortal danger to an empty show. The time had seemed an age since she had fallen upon dead Don John—it had measured but a short few minutes; it seemed as if she were being dragged the whole length of the dim palace as the strong hands bore her along, yet she was only carried from the room to the terrace; and when her eyes could see, she knew that she was in the open air on a stone seat in the moonlight, the cool night breeze fanning her face, while a gentle hand supported her head,—the same hand that had been so masterfully strong a moment earlier. A face she knew and did not dread, though it was unlike other faces, was just at the same height with her own, though the man was standing beside her and she was seated; and the moonlight made very soft shadows in the ill-drawn features of the dwarf, so that his thin and twisted lips were kind and his deep-set eyes were overflowing with human sympathy. When he understood that she saw him and was not fainting, he gently drew away his hand and let her head rest against the stone parapet.
She was dazed still, and the tears veiled her sight. He stood before her, as if guarding her, ready in case she should move and try to leave him. His long arms hung by his sides, but not quite motionless, so that he could have caught her instantly had she attempted to spring past him; and he was wise and guessed rightly what she would do. Her eyes brightened suddenly, and she half rose before he held her again.
"No, no!" she said desperately. "I must go to him—let me go—let me go back!"
But his hands were on her shoulders in an instant, and she was in a vise, forced back to her seat.
"How dare you touch me!" she cried, in the furious anger of a woman beside herself with grief. "How dare you lay hands on me!" she repeated in a rising key, but struggling in vain against his greater strength.
"You would have died, if I had left you there," answered the jester. "And besides, the people will come soon, and they would have found you there, lying on his body, and your good name would have gone forever."
"My name! What does a name matter? Or anything? Oh, let me go! No one must touch him—no hands that do not love him must come near him—let me get up—let me go in again!"
She tried to force the dwarf from her—she would have struck him, crushed him, thrown him from the terrace, if she could. She was strong, too, in her grief; but his vast arms were like iron bars, growing from his misshapen body. His face was very grave and kind, and his eyes more tender than they had ever been in his life.
"No," he said gently. "You must not go. By and by you shall see him again, but not now. Do not try, for I am much stronger than you, and I will not let you go back into the room."
Then her strength relaxed, and she turned to the stone parapet, burying her face in her crossed arms, and her tears came again. For this the jester was glad, knowing that tears quench the first white heat of such sorrows as can burn out the soul and drive the brain raving mad, when life can bear the torture. He stood still before her, watching her and guarding her, but he felt that the worst was past, and that before very long he could lead her away to a place of greater safety. He had indeed taken her as far as he could from Don John's door, and out of sight of it, where the long terrace turned to the westward, and where it was not likely that any one should pass at that hour. It had been the impulse of the moment, and he himself had not recovered from the shock of finding Don John's body lifeless on the floor. He had known nothing of what had happened, but lurking in a corner to see the King pass on his way back from his brother's quarters, he had made sure that Don John was alone, and had gone to his apartment to find out, if he could, how matters had fared, and whether he himself were in further danger or not. He meant to escape from the palace, or to take his own life, rather than be put to the torture, if the King suspected him of being involved in a conspiracy. He was not a common coward, but he feared bodily pain as only such sensitive organizations can, and the vision of the rack and the boot had been before him since he had seen Philip's face at supper. Don John was kind, and would have warned him if he were in danger, and so all might have been well, and by flight or death he might have escaped being torn limb from limb. So he had gone boldly in, and had found the door ajar and had entered the bedchamber, and when he had seen what was there, he would have fled at once, for his own safety, not only because Don John's murder was sure to produce terrible trouble, and many enquiries and trials, in the course of which he was almost sure to be lost, but also for the more immediate reason that if he were seen near the body when it was discovered, he should certainly be put to the question ordinary and extraordinary for his evidence.
But he was not a common coward, and in spite of his own pardonable terror, he thought first of the innocent girl whose name and fame would be gone if she were found lying upon her murdered lover's body, and so far as he could, he saved her before he thought of saving himself, though with infinite difficulty and against her will.
Half paralyzed by her immeasurable grief, she lay against the parapet, and the great sobs came evenly, as if they were counted, shaking her from her head to her waist, and just leaving her a breathing space between each one and the next. The jester felt that he could do nothing. So long as she had seemed unconscious, he had tried to help her a little by supporting her head with his hand and arm, as tenderly as if she had been his own child. So long as she did not know what he was doing, she was only a human being in distress, and a woman, and deep down in the jester's nature there was a marvellous depth of pity for all things that suffered—the deeper and truer because his own sufferings in the world were great. But it was quite different now that she knew where she was and recognized him. She was no longer a woman now, but a high-born lady, one of the Queen's maids of honour, a being infinitely far removed above his sphere, and whose hand he was not worthy to touch. He would have dared to be much more familiar with the King himself than with this young girl whom fate had placed in his keeping for a moment. In the moonlight he watched her, and as he gazed upon her graceful figure and small head and slender, bending arms, it seemed to him that she had come down from an altar to suffer in life, and that it had been almost sacrilege to lay his hands upon her shoulders and keep her from doing her own will. He almost wondered how he had found courage to be so rough and commanding. He was gentle of heart, though it was his trade to make sharp speeches, and there were wonderful delicacies of thought and feeling far down in his suffering cripple's nature.
"Come," he said softly, when he had waited a long time, and when he thought she was growing more quiet. "You must let me take you away, Dona Maria Dolores, for we cannot stay here."
"Take me back to him," she answered. "Let me go back to him!"
"No—to your father—I cannot take you to him. You will be safe there."
Dolores sprang to her feet before the dwarf could prevent her.
"To my father? oh, no, no, no! Never, as long as I live! I will go anywhere, but not to him! Take your hands from me—do not touch me! I am not strong, but I shall kill you if you try to take me to my father!"
Her small hands grasped the dwarfs wrists and wrung them with desperate energy, and she tried to push him away, so that she might pass him. But he resisted her quietly, planting himself in a position of resistance on his short bowed legs, and opposing the whole strength of his great arms to her girlish violence. Her hands relaxed suddenly in despair.
"Not to my father!" she pleaded, in a broken voice. "Oh, please, please—not to my father!"
The jester did not fully understand, but he yielded, for he could not carry her to Mendoza's apartments by force.
"But what can I do to put you in a place of safety?" he asked, in growing distress. "You cannot stay here."
While he was speaking a light figure glided out from the shadows, with outstretched hands, and a low voice called Dolores' name, trembling with terror and emotion. Dolores broke from the dwarf and clasped her sister in her arms.
"Is it true?" moaned Inez. "Is it true? Is he dead?" And her voice broke.
* * * * *
The courtiers had assembled again in the great throne room after supper, and the stately dancing, for which the court of Spain was even then famous throughout Europe, had begun. The orchestra was placed under the great arch of the central window on a small raised platform draped with velvets and brocades that hung from a railing, high enough to conceal the musicians as they sat, though some of the instruments and the moving bows of the violins could be seen above it.
The masked dancing, if it were dancing at all, which had been general in the days of the Emperor Maximilian, and which had not yet gone out of fashion altogether at the imperial court of Vienna, had long been relegated to the past in Spain, and the beautiful "pavane" dances, of which awkward travesties survive in our day, had been introduced instead. As now, the older ladies of the court withdrew to the sides of the hall, leaving the polished floor free for those who danced, and sets formed themselves in the order of their rank from the foot of the throne dais to the lower end. As now, too, the older and graver men congregated together in outer rooms; and there gaming-tables were set out, and the nobles lost vast sums at games now long forgotten, by the express authorization of the pious Philip, who saw that everything which could injure the fortunes of the grandees must consolidate his own, by depriving them of some of that immense wealth which was an ever-ready element of revolution. He did everything in his power to promote the ruin of the most powerful grandees in the kingdom by encouraging gaming and all imaginable forms of extravagance, and he looked with suspicion and displeasure upon those more prudent men who guarded their riches carefully, as their fathers had done before them. But these were few, for it was a part of a noble's dignity to lose enormous sums of money without the slightest outward sign of emotion or annoyance.
It had been announced that the King and Queen would not return after supper, and the magnificent gravity of the most formal court in the world was a little relaxed when this was known. Between the strains of music, the voices of the courtiers rose in unbroken conversation, and now and then there was a ripple of fresh young laughter that echoed sweetly under the high Moorish vault, and died away just as it rose again from below.
Yet the dancing was a matter of state, and solemn enough, though it was very graceful. Magnificent young nobles in scarlet, in pale green, in straw colour, in tender shades of blue, all satin and silk and velvet and embroidery, led lovely women slowly forward with long and gliding steps that kept perfect time to the music, and turned and went back, and wound mazy figures with the rest, under the waxen light of the waxen torches, and returned to their places with deep curtsies on the one side, and sweeping obeisance on the other. The dresses of the women were richer by far with gold and silver, and pearls and other jewels, than those of the men, but were generally darker in tone, for that was the fashion then. Their skirts were straight and barely touched the floor, being made for a time when dancing was a part of court life, and when every one within certain limits of age was expected to dance well. There was no exaggeration of the ruffle then, nor had the awkward hoop skirt been introduced in Spain. Those were the earlier days of Queen Elizabeth's reign, before Queen Mary was imprisoned; it was the time, indeed, when the rough Bothwell had lately carried her off and married her, after a fashion, with so little ceremony that Philip paid no attention to the marriage at all, and deliberately proposed to make her Don John's wife. The matter was freely talked of on that night by the noble ladies of elder years who gossiped while they watched the dancing.
That was indeed such a court as had not been seen before, nor was ever seen again, whether one count beauty first, or riches and magnificence, or the marvel of splendid ceremony and the faultless grace of studied manners, or even the cool recklessness of great lords and ladies who could lose a fortune at play, as if they were throwing a handful of coin to a beggar in the street.
The Princess of Eboli stood a little apart from the rest, having just returned to the ball-room, and her eyes searched for Dolores in the crowd, though she scarcely expected to see her there. It would have been almost impossible for the girl to put on a court dress in so short a time, though since her father had allowed her to leave her room, she could have gone back to dress if she had chosen. The Princess had rarely been at a loss in her evil life, and had seldom been baffled in anything she had undertaken, since that memorable occasion on which her husband, soon after her marriage, had forcibly shut her up in a convent for several months, in the vain hope of cooling her indomitable temper. But now she was nervous and uncertain of herself. Not only had Dolores escaped her, but Don John had disappeared also, and the Princess had not the least doubt but that the two were somewhere together, and she was very far from being sure that they had not already left the palace. Antonio Perez had informed her that the King had promised not to see Don John that night, and for once she was foolish enough to believe the King's word. Perez came up to her as she was debating what she should do. She told him her thoughts, laughing gaily from time to time, as if she were telling him some very witty story, for she did not wish those who watched them to guess that the conversation was serious. Perez laughed, too, and answered in low tones, with many gestures meant to deceive the court.
"The King did not take my advice," he said. "I had scarcely left him, when he went to Don John's apartments."
"How do you know that?" asked the Princess, with some anxiety.
"He found the door of an inner room locked, and he sent Mendoza to find the key. Fortunately for the old man's feelings it could not be found! He would have had an unpleasant surprise."
"Because his daughter was in the room that was locked," laughed Perez.
"When? How? How long ago was that?"
"Half an hour—not more."
"That is impossible. Half an hour ago Dolores de Mendoza was with me."
"Then there was another lady in the room." Perez laughed again. "Better two than one," he added.
"You are wrong," said the Princess, and her face darkened. "Don John has not so much as deigned to look at any other woman these two years."
"You should know that best," returned the Secretary, with a little malice in his smile.
It was well known in the court that two or three years earlier, during the horrible intrigue that ended in the death of Don Carlos, the Princess of Eboli had done her best to bring Don John of Austria to her feet, and had failed notoriously, because he was already in love with Dolores. She was angry now, and the rich colour came into her handsome dark face.
"Don Antonio Perez," she said, "take care! I have made you. I can also unmake you."
Perez assumed an air of simple and innocent surprise, as if he were quite sure that he had said nothing to annoy her, still less to wound her deeply. He believed that she really loved him and that he could play with her as if his own intelligence far surpassed hers. In the first matter he was right, but he was very much mistaken in the second.
"I do not understand," he said. "If I have done anything to offend you, pray forgive my ignorance, and believe in the unchanging devotion of your most faithful slave."
His dark eyes became very expressive as he bowed a little, with a graceful gesture of deprecation. The Princess laughed lightly, but there was still a spark of annoyance in her look.
"Why does Don John not come?" she asked impatiently. "We should have danced together. Something must have happened—can you not find out?"
Others were asking the same question in surprise, for it had been expected that Don John would enter immediately after the supper. His name was heard from end to end of the hall, in every conversation, wherever two or three persons were talking together. It was in the air, like his popularity, everywhere and in everything, and the expectation of his coming produced a sort of tension that was felt by every one. The men grew more witty, the younger women's eyes brightened, though they constantly glanced towards the door of the state apartments by which Don John should enter, and as the men's conversation became more brilliant the women paid less attention to it, for there was hardly one of them who did not hope that Don John might notice her before the evening was over,—there was not one who did not fancy herself a little in love with him, as there was hardly a man there who would not have drawn his sword for him and fought for him with all his heart. Many, though they dared not say so, secretly wished that some evil might befall Philip, and that he might soon die childless, since he had destroyed his only son and only heir, and that Don John might be King in his stead. The Princess of Eboli and Perez knew well enough that their plan would be popular, if they could ever bring it to maturity.
The music swelled and softened, and rose again in those swaying strains that inspire an irresistible bodily longing for rhythmical motion, and which have infinite power to call up all manner of thoughts, passionate, gentle, hopeful, regretful, by turns. In the middle of the hall, more than a hundred dancers moved, swayed, and glided in time with the sound, changed places, and touched hands in the measure, tripped forward and back and sideways, and met and parted again without pause, the colours of their dresses mingling to rich unknown hues in the soft candlelight, as the figure brought many together, and separating into a hundred elements again, when the next steps scattered them again; the jewels in the women's hair, the clasps of diamonds and precious stones at throat, and shoulder, and waist, all moved with an intricate motion, in orbits that crossed and recrossed in the tinted sea of silk, and flashed all at once, as the returning burden of the music brought the dancers to stand and turn at the same beat of the measure. Yet it was all unlike the square dancing of these days, which is either no dancing at all, but a disorderly walk, or else is so stiffly regular and awkward that it makes one think of a squad of recruits exercising on the drill ground. There was not a motion, then, that lacked grace, or ease, or a certain purpose of beauty, nor any, perhaps, that was not a phrase in the allegory of love, from which all dancing is, and was, and always must be, drawn. Swift, slow, by turns, now languorous, now passionate, now full of delicious regret, singing love's triumph, breathing love's fire, sighing in love's despair, the dance and its music were one, so was sight intermingled with sound, and motion a part of both. And at each pause, lips parted and glance sought glance in the light, while hearts found words in the music that answered the language of love. Men laugh at dancing and love it, and women, too, and no one can tell where its charm is, but few have not felt it, or longed to feel it, and its beginnings are very far away in primeval humanity, beyond the reach of theory, unless instinct may explain all simply, as it well may. For light and grace and sweet sound are things of beauty which last for ever, and love is the source of the future and the explanation of the past; and that which can bring into itself both love and melody, and grace and light, must needs be a spell to charm men and women.
There was more than that in the air on that night, for Don John's return had set free that most intoxicating essence of victory, which turns to a mad fire in the veins of a rejoicing people, making the least man of them feel himself a soldier, and a conqueror, and a sharer in undying fame. They had loved him from a child, they had seen him outgrow them in beauty, and skill, and courage, and they had loved him still the more for being the better man; and now he had done a great deed, and had fulfilled and overfilled their greatest expectations, and in an instant he leapt from the favourite's place in their hearts to the hero's height on the altar of their wonder, to be the young god of a nation that loved him. Not a man, on that night, but would have sworn that Don John was braver than Alexander, wiser than Charlemagne, greater than Caesar himself; not a man but would have drawn his sword to prove it on the body of any who should dare to contradict him,—not a mother was there, who did not pray that her sons might be but ever so little like him, no girl of Spain but dreamt she heard his soft voice speaking low in her ear. Not often in the world's story has a man so young done such great things as he had done and was to do before his short life was ended; never, perhaps, was any man so honoured by his own people, so trusted, and so loved.
They could talk only of him, wondering more and more that he stayed away from them on such a night, yet sure that he would come, and join the dancing, for as he fought with a skill beyond that of other swordsmen, so he danced with the most surpassing grace. They longed to see him, to look into his face, to hear his voice, perhaps to touch his hand; for he was free of manner and gentle to all, and if he came he would go from one to another, and remember each with royal memory, and find kind words for every one. They wanted him among them, they felt a sort of tense desire to see him again, and even to shout for him again, as the vulgar herd did in the streets,—as they themselves had done but an hour ago when he had stood out beside the throne. And still the dancers danced through the endless measures, laughing and talking at each pause, and repeating his name till it was impossible not to hear it, wherever one might be in the hall, and there was no one, old or young, who did not speak it at least once in every five minutes. There was a sort of intoxication in its very sound, and the more they heard it, the more they wished to hear it, coupled with every word of praise that the language possessed. From admiration they rose to enthusiasm, from enthusiasm to a generous patriotic passion in which Spain was the world and Don John was Spain, and all the rest of everything was but a dull and lifeless blank which could have no possible interest for natural people.
Young men, darkly flushed from dancing, swore that whenever Don John should be next sent with an army, they would go, too, and win his battles and share in his immortal glory; and grand, grey men who wore the Golden Fleece, men who had seen great battles in the Emperor's day, stood together and talked of him, and praised God that Spain had another hero of the Austrian house, to strike terror to the heart of France, to humble England at last, and to grasp what little of the world was not already gathered in the hollow of Spain's vast hand.
Antonio Perez and the Princess of Eboli parted and went among the courtiers, listening to all that was to be heard and feeding the fire of enthusiasm, and met again to exchange glances of satisfaction, for they were well pleased with the direction matters were taking, and the talk grew more free from minute to minute, till many, carried away by a force they could not understand and did not seek to question, were openly talking of the succession to the throne, of Philip's apparent ill health, and of the chance that they might before long be doing service to his Majesty King John.
The music ceased again, and the couples dispersed about the hall, to collect again in groups. There was a momentary lull in the talk, too, as often happens when a dance is just over, and at that moment the great door beside the throne was opened, with a noise that attracted the attention of all; and all believed that Don John was returning, while all eyes were fixed upon the entrance to catch the first glimpse of him, and every one pronounced his name at once in short, glad tones of satisfaction.
"Don John is coming! It is Don John of Austria! Don John is there!"
It was almost a universal cry of welcome. An instant later a dead silence followed as a chamberlain's clear voice announced the royal presence, and King Philip advanced upon the platform of the throne. For several seconds not a sound broke the stillness, and he came slowly forward followed by half a dozen nobles in immediate attendance upon him. But though he must have heard his brother's name in the general chorus of voices as soon as the door had been thrown open, he seemed by no means disconcerted; on the contrary, he smiled almost affably, and his eyes were less fixed than usual, as he looked about him with something like an air of satisfaction. As soon as it was clear that he meant to descend the steps to the floor of the hall, the chief courtiers came forward, Ruy Gomez de Silva, Prince of Eboli, Alvarez de Toledo, the terrible Duke of Alva, the Dukes of Medina Sidonia and of Infantado, Don Antonio Perez the chief Secretary, the Ambassadors of Queen Elizabeth of England and of France, and a dozen others, bowing so low that the plumes of their hats literally touched the floor beside them.
"Why is there no dancing?" asked Philip, addressing Ruy Gomez, with a smile.
The Minister explained that one of the dances was but just over.
"Let there be more at once," answered the King. "Let there be dancing and music without end to-night. We have good reason to keep the day with rejoicing, since the war is over, and Don John of Austria has come back in triumph."
The command was obeyed instantly, as Ruy Gomez made a sign to the leader of the musicians, who was watching him intently in expectation of the order. The King smiled again as the long strain broke the silence and the conversation began again all through the hall, though in a far more subdued tone than before, and with much more caution. Philip turned to the English Ambassador.
"It is a pity," he said, "that my sister of England cannot be here with us on such a night as this. We saw no such sights in London in my day, my lord."
"There have been changes since then, Sire," answered the Ambassador. "The Queen is very much inclined to magnificence and to great entertainments, and does not hesitate to dance herself, being of a very vital and pleasant temper. Nevertheless, your Majesty's court is by far the most splendid in the world."
"There you are right, my lord!" exclaimed the King. "And for that matter, we have beauty also, such as is found nowhere else."
The Princess of Eboli was close by, waiting for him to speak to her, and his eyes fixed themselves upon her face with a sort of cold and snakelike admiration, to which she was well accustomed, but which even now made her nervous. The Ambassador was not slow to take up the cue of flattery, for Englishmen still knew how to flatter in Elizabeth's day.
"The inheritance of universal conquest," he said, bowing and smiling to the Princess. "Even the victories of Don John of Austria must yield to that."
The Princess laughed carelessly. Had Perez spoken the words, she would have frowned, but the King's eyes were watching her.
"His Highness has fled from the field without striking a blow," she said. "We have not seen him this evening." As she spoke she met the King's gaze with a look of enquiry.
"Don John will be here presently, no doubt," he said, as if answering a question. "Has he not been here at all since supper?"
"No, Sire; though every one expected him to come at once."
"That is strange," said Philip, with perfect self-possession. "He is fond of dancing, too—no one can dance better than he. Have you ever known a man so roundly gifted as my brother, my lord?"
"A most admirable prince," answered the Ambassador, gravely and without enthusiasm, for he feared that the King was about to speak of his brother's possible marriage with Queen Mary of Scots.
"And a most affectionate and gentle nature," said Philip, musing. "I remember from the time when he was a boy that every one loved him and praised him, and yet he is not spoiled. He is always the same. He is my brother—how often have I wished for such a son! Well, he may yet be King. Who should, if not he, when I am gone?"
"Your Majesty need not anticipate such a frightful calamity!" cried the Princess fervently, though she was at that moment weighing the comparative advantage of several mortal diseases by which, in appearance at least, his exit from the world might be accelerated.
"Life is very uncertain, Princess," observed the King. "My lord," he turned to the English Ambassador again, "do you consider melons indigestible in England? I have lately heard much against them."
"A melon is a poor thing, of a watery constitution, your Majesty," replied the Ambassador glibly. "There can be but little sustenance in a hollow piece of water that is sucked from a marsh and enclosed in a green rind. To tell the truth, I hear it ill spoken of by our physicians, but I cannot well speak of the matter, for I never ate one in my life, and please God I never will!"
"Why not!" enquired the King, who took an extraordinary interest in the subject. "You fear them, then! Yet you seem to be exceedingly strong and healthy."
"Sire, I have sometimes drunk a little water for my stomach's sake, but I will not eat it."
The King smiled pleasantly.
"How wise the English are!" he said. "We may yet learn much of them."
Philip turned away from the Ambassador and watched the dance in silence. The courtiers now stood in a wide half circle to the right and left of him as he faced the hall, and the dancers passed backwards and forwards across the open space. His slow eyes followed one figure without seeing the rest. In the set nearest to him a beautiful girl was dancing with one of Don John's officers. She was of the rarest type of Andalusian beauty, tall, pliant, and slenderly strong, with raven's-wing hair and splendidly languorous eyes, her creamy cheek as smooth as velvet, and a mouth like a small ripe fruit. As she moved she bent from the waist as easily and naturally as a child, and every movement followed a new curve of beauty from her white throat to the small arched foot that darted into sight as she stepped forward now and then, to disappear instantly under the shadow of the gold-embroidered skirt. As she glanced towards the King, her shadowy lids half hid her eyes and the long black lashes almost brushed her cheek. Philip could not look away from her.
But suddenly there was a stir among the courtiers, and a shadow came between the King and the vision he was watching. He started a little, annoyed by the interruption and at being rudely reminded of what had happened half an hour earlier, for the shadow was cast by Mendoza, tall and grim in his armour, his face as grey as his grey beard, and his eyes hard and fixed. Without bending, like a soldier on parade, he stood there, waiting by force of habit until Philip should speak to him. The King's brows bent together, and he almost unconsciously raised one hand to signify that the music should cease. It stopped in the midst of a bar, leaving the dancers at a standstill in their measure, and all the moving sea of light and colour and gleaming jewels was arrested instantly in its motion, while every look was turned towards the King. The change from sound to silence, from motion to immobility, was so sudden that every one was startled, as if some frightful accident had happened, or as if an earthquake had shaken the Alcazar to its deep foundation.
Mendoza's harsh voice spoke out alone in accents that were heard to the end of the hall.
"Don John of Austria is dead! I, Mendoza, have killed him unarmed."
It was long before a sound was heard, before any man or woman in the hall had breath to utter a word. Philip's voice was heard first.
"The man is mad," he said, with undisturbed coolness. "See to him, Perez."
"No, no!" cried Mendoza. "I am not mad. I have killed Don John. You shall find him in his room as he fell, with the wound in his breast."
One moment more the silence lasted, while Philip's stony face never moved. A single woman's shriek rang out first, long, ear-piercing, agonized, and then, without warning, a cry went up such as the old hall had never heard before. It was a bad cry to hear, for it clamoured for blood to be shed for blood, and though it was not for him, Philip turned livid and shrank back a step. But Mendoza stood like a rock, waiting to be taken.
In another moment furious confusion filled the hall. From every side at once rose women's cries, and the deep shouts of angry men, and high, clear yells of rage and hate. The men pushed past the ladies of the court to the front, and some came singly, but a serried rank moved up from behind, pushing the others before them.
"Kill him! Kill him at the King's feet! Kill him where he stands!"
And suddenly something made blue flashes of light high over the heads of all; a rapier was out and wheeled in quick circles from a pliant wrist. An officer of Mendoza's guard had drawn it, and a dozen more were in the air in an instant, and then daggers by scores, keen, short, and strong, held high at arm's length, each shaking with the fury of the hand that held it.
Some one had screamed out the wild cry of the Spanish soldiers—'Blood! Blood!'—and the young men took it up in a mad yell, as they pushed forwards furiously, while the few who stood in front tried to keep a space open round the King and Mendoza.
The old man never winced, and disdained to turn his head, though he heard the cry of death behind him, and the quick, soft sound of daggers drawn from leathern sheaths, and the pressing of men who would be upon him in another moment to tear him limb from limb with their knives.
Tall old Ruy Gomez had stepped forwards to stem the tide of death, and beside him the English Ambassador, quietly determined to see fair play or to be hurt himself in preventing murder.
"Back!" thundered Ruy Gomez, in a voice that was heard. "Back, I say! Are you gentlemen of Spain, or are you executioners yourselves that you would take this man's blood? Stand back!"
"Sangre! Sangre!" echoed the hall.
"Then take mine first!" shouted the brave old Prince, spreading his short cloak out behind him with his hands to cover Mendoza more completely.
But still the crowd of splendid young nobles surged up to him, and back a little, out of sheer respect for his station and his old age, and forwards again, dagger in hand, with blazing eyes.
"Sangre! Sangre! Sangre!" they cried, blind with fury.
But meanwhile, the guards filed in, for the prudent Perez had hastened to throw wide the doors and summon them. Weapons in hand and ready, they formed a square round the King and Mendoza and Ruy Gomez, and at the sight of their steel caps and breastplates and long-tasselled halberds, the yells of the courtiers subsided a little and turned to deep curses and execrations and oaths of vengeance. A high voice pierced the low roar, keen and cutting as a knife, but no one knew whose it was, and Philip almost reeled as he heard the words.
"Remember Don Carlos! Don John of Austria is gone to join Don Carlos and Queen Isabel!"
Again a deadly silence fell upon the multitude, and the King leaned on Perez' arm. Some woman's hate had bared the truth in a flash, and there were hundreds of hands in the hall that were ready to take his life instead of Mendoza's; and he knew it, and was afraid.