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In The Palace Of The King - A Love Story Of Old Madrid
by F. Marion Crawford
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CHAPTER XV

The agonized cry that had been first heard in the hall had come from Inez's lips. When she had fled from her father, she had regained her hiding-place in the gallery above the throne room. She would not go to her own room, for she felt that rest was out of the question while Dolores was in such danger; and yet there would have been no object in going to Don John's door again, to risk being caught by her father or met by the King himself. She had therefore determined to let an hour pass before attempting another move. So she slipped into the gallery again, and sat upon the little wooden bench that had been made for the Moorish women in old times; and she listened to the music and the sound of the dancers' feet far below, and to the hum of voices, in which she often distinguished the name of Don John. She had heard all,—the cries when it was thought that he was coming, the chamberlain's voice announcing the King, and then the change of key in the sounds that had followed. Lastly, she had heard plainly every syllable of her father's speech, so that when she realized what it meant, she had shrieked aloud, and had fled from the gallery to find her sister if she could, to find Don John's body most certainly where it lay on the marble floor, with the death wound at the breast. Her instinct—she could not have reasoned then—told her that her father must have found the lovers together, and that in sudden rage he had stabbed Don John, defenceless.

Dolores' tears answered her sister's question well enough when the two girls were clasped in one another's arms at last. There was not a doubt left in the mind of either. Inez spoke first. She said that she had hidden in the gallery.

"Our father must have come in some time after the King," she said, in broken sentences, and almost choking. "Suddenly the music stopped. I could hear every word. He said that he had done it,—that he had murdered Don John,—and then I ran here, for I was afraid he had killed you, too."

"Would God he had!" cried Dolores. "Would to Heaven that I were dead beside the man I love!"

"And I!" moaned Inez pitifully, and she began to sob wildly, as Dolores had sobbed at first.

But Dolores was silent now, as if she had shed all her tears at once, and had none left. She held her sister in her arms, and soothed her almost unconsciously, as if she had been a little child. But her own thoughts were taking shape quickly, for she was strong; and after the first paroxysm of her grief, she saw the immediate future as clearly as the present. When she spoke again she had the mastery of her voice, and it was clear and low.

"You say that our father confessed before the whole court that he had murdered Don John?" she said, with a question. "What happened then? Did the King speak? Was our father arrested? Can you remember?"

"I only heard loud cries," sobbed Inez. "I came to you—as quickly as I could—I was afraid."

"We shall never see our father again—unless we see him on the morning when he is to die."

"Dolores! They will not kill him, too?" In sudden and greater fear than before, Inez ceased sobbing.

"He will die on the scaffold," answered Dolores, in the same clear tone, as if she were speaking in a dream, or of things that did not come near her. "There is no pardon possible. He will die to-morrow or the next day."

The present truth stood out in all its frightful distinctness. Whoever had done the murder—since Mendoza had confessed it, he would be made to die for it,—of that she was sure. She could not have guessed what had really happened; and though the evidence of the sounds she had heard through the door would have gone to show that Philip had done the deed himself, yet there had been no doubt about Mendoza's words, spoken to the King alone over Don John's dead body, and repeated before the great assembly in the ball-room. If she guessed at an explanation, it was that her father, entering the bedchamber during the quarrel, and supposing from what he saw that Don John was about to attack the King, had drawn and killed the Prince without hesitation. The only thing quite clear was that Mendoza was to suffer, and seemed strangely determined to suffer, for what he had or had not done. The dark shadow of the scaffold rose before Dolores' eyes.

It had seemed impossible that she could be made to bear more than she had borne that night, when she had fallen upon Don John's body to weep her heart out for her dead love. But she saw that there was more to bear, and dimly she guessed that there might be something for her to do. There was Inez first, and she must be cared for and placed in safety, for she was beside herself with grief. It was only on that afternoon by the window that Dolores had guessed the blind girl's secret, which Inez herself hardly suspected even now, though she was half mad with grief and utterly broken-hearted.

Dolores felt almost helpless, but she understood that she and her sister were henceforth to be more really alone in what remained of life than if they had been orphans from their earliest childhood. The vision of the convent, that had been unbearable but an hour since, held all her hope of peace and safety now, unless her father could be saved from his fate by some miracle of heaven. But that was impossible. He had given himself up as if he were determined to die. He had been out of his mind, beside himself, stark mad, in his fear that Don John might bring harm upon his daughter. That was why he had killed him—there could be no other reason, unless he had guessed that she was in the locked room, and had judged her then and at once, and forever. The thought had not crossed her mind till then, and it was a new torture now, so that she shrank under it as under a bodily blow; and her grasp tightened violently upon her sister's arm, rousing the half-fainting girl again to the full consciousness of pain.

It was no wonder that Mendoza should have done such a deed, since he had believed her ruined and lost to honour beyond salvation. That explained all. He had guessed that she had been long with Don John, who had locked her hastily into the inner room to hide her from the King. Had the King been Don John, had she loved Philip as she loved his brother, her father would have killed his sovereign as unhesitatingly, and would have suffered any death without flinching. She believed that, and there was enough of his nature in herself to understand it.

She was as innocent as the blind girl who lay in her arms, but suddenly it flashed upon her that no one would believe it, since her own father would not, and that her maiden honour and good name were gone for ever, gone with her dead lover, who alone could have cleared her before the world. She cared little for the court now, but she cared tenfold more earnestly for her father's thought of her, and she knew him and the terrible tenacity of his conviction when he believed himself to be right. He had proved that by what he had done. Since she understood all, she no longer doubted that he had killed Don John with the fullest intention, to avenge her, and almost knowing that she was within hearing, as indeed she had been. He had taken a royal life in atonement for her honour, but he was to give his own, and was to die a shameful death on the scaffold, within a few hours, or, at the latest, within a few days, for her sake.

Then she remembered how on that afternoon she had seen tears in his eyes, and had heard the tremor in his voice when he had said that she was everything to him, that she had been all his life since her mother had died—he had proved that, too; and though he had killed the man she loved, she shrank from herself again as she thought what he must have suffered in her dishonour. For it was nothing else. There was neither man nor woman nor girl in Spain who would believe her innocent against such evidence. The world might have believed Don John, if he had lived, because the world had loved him and trusted him, and could never have heard falsehood in his voice; but it would not believe her though she were dying, and though she should swear upon the most sacred and true things. The world would turn from her with an unbelieving laugh, and she was to be left alone in her dishonour, and people would judge that she was not even a fit companion for her blind sister in their solitude. The King would send her to Las Huelgas, or to some other distant convent of a severe order, that she might wear out her useless life in grief and silence and penance as quickly as possible. She bowed her head. It was too hard to bear.

Inez was more quiet now, and the two sat side by side in mournful silence, leaning against the parapet. They had forgotten the dwarf, and he had disappeared, waiting, perhaps, in the shadow at a distance, in case he might be of use to them. But if he was within hearing, they did not see him. At last Inez spoke, almost in a whisper, as if she were in the presence of the dead.

"Were you there, dear?" she asked. "Did you see?"

"I was in the next room," Dolores answered. "I could not see, but I heard. I heard him fall," she added almost inaudibly, and choking.

Inez shuddered and pressed nearer to her sister, leaning against her, but she did not begin to sob again. She was thinking.

"Can we not help our father, at least?" she asked presently. "Is there nothing we can say, or do? We ought to help him if we can, Dolores—though he did it."

"I would save him with my life, if I could. God knows, I would! He was mad when he struck the blow. He did it for my sake, because he thought Don John had ruined my good name. And we should have been married the day after to-morrow! God of heaven, have mercy!"

Her grief took hold of her again, like a material power, shaking her from head to foot, and bowing her down upon herself and wringing her hands together, so that Inez, calmer than she, touched her gently and tried to comfort her without any words, for there were none to say, since nothing mattered now, and life was over at its very beginning. Little by little the sharp agony subsided to dull pain once more, and Dolores sat upright. But Inez was thinking still, and even in her sorrow and fright she was gathering all her innocent ingenuity to her aid.

"Is there no way?" she asked, speaking more to herself than to her sister. "Could we not say that we were there, that it was not our father but some one else? Perhaps some one would believe us. If we told the judges that we were quite, quite sure that he did not do it, do you not think—but then," she checked herself—"then it could only have been the King."

"Only the King himself," echoed Dolores, half unconsciously, and in a dreamy tone.

"That would be terrible," said Inez. "But we could say that the King was not there, you know—that it was some one else, some one we did not know—"

Dolores rose abruptly from the seat and laid her hand upon the parapet steadily, as if an unnatural strength had suddenly grown up in her. Inez went on speaking, confusing herself in the details she was trying to put together to make a plan, and losing the thread of her idea as she attempted to build up falsehoods, for she was truthful as their father was. But Dolores did not hear her.

"You can do nothing, child," she said at last, in a firm tone. "But I may. You have made me think of something that I may do—it is just possible—it may help a little. Let me think."

Inez waited in silence for her to go on, and Dolores stood as motionless as a statue, contemplating in thought the step she meant to take if it offered the slightest hope of saving her father. The thought was worthy of her, but the sacrifice was great even then. She had not believed that the world still held anything with which she would not willingly part, but there was one thing yet. It might be taken from her, though her father had slain Don John of Austria to save it, and was to die for it himself. She could give it before she could be robbed of it, perhaps, and it might buy his life. She could still forfeit her good name of her own free will, and call herself what she was not. In words she could give her honour to the dead man, and the dead could not rise up and deny her nor refuse the gift. And it seemed to her that when the people should hear her, they would believe her, seeing that it was her shame, a shame such as no maiden who had honour left would bear before the world. But it was hard to do. For honour was her last and only possession now that all was taken from her.

It was not the so-called honour of society, either, based on long-forgotten traditions, and depending on convention for its being—not the sort of honour within which a man may ruin an honest woman and suffer no retribution, but which decrees that he must take his own life if he cannot pay a debt of play made on his promise to a friend, which allows him to lie like a cheat, but ordains that he must give or require satisfaction of blood for the imaginary insult of a hasty word—the honour which is to chivalry what black superstition is to the true Christian faith, which compares with real courage and truth and honesty, as an ape compares with a man. It was not that, and Dolores knew it, as every maiden knows it; for the honour of woman is the fact on which the whole world turns, and has turned and will turn to the end of things; but what is called the honour of society has been a fiction these many centuries, and though it came first of a high parentage, of honest thought wedded to brave deed, and though there are honourable men yet, these are for the most part the few who talk least loudly about honour's code, and the belief they hold has come to be a secret and a persecuted faith, at which the common gentleman thinks fit to laugh lest some one should presume to measure him by it and should find him wanting.

Dolores did not mean to hesitate, after she had decided what to do. But she could not avoid the struggle, and it was long and hard, though she saw the end plainly before her and did not waver. Inez did not understand and kept silence while it lasted.

It was only a word to say, but it was the word which would be repeated against her as long as she lived, and which nothing she could ever say or do afterwards could take back when it had once been spoken—it would leave the mark that a lifetime could not efface. But she meant to speak it. She could not see what her father would see, that he would rather die, justly or unjustly, than let his daughter be dishonoured before the world. That was a part of a man's code, perhaps, but it should not hinder her from saving her father's life, or trying to, at whatever cost. What she was fighting against was something much harder to understand in herself. What could it matter now, that the world should think her fallen from her maiden estate? The world was nothing to her, surely. It held nothing, it meant nothing, it was nothing. Her world had been her lover, and he lay dead in his room. In heaven, he knew that she was innocent, as he was himself, and he would see that she was going to accuse herself that she might save her father. In heaven, he had forgiven his murderer, and he would understand. As for the world and what it said, she knew that she must leave it instantly, and go from the confession she was about to make to the convent where she was to die, and whence her spotless soul would soon be wafted away to join her true lover beyond the earth. There was no reason why she should find it hard to do, and yet it was harder than anything she had ever dreamed of doing. But she was fighting the deepest and strongest instinct of woman's nature, and the fight went hard.

She fancied the scene, the court, the grey-haired nobles, the fair and honourable women, the brave young soldiers, the thoughtless courtiers, the whole throng she was about to face, for she meant to speak before them all, and to her own shame. She was as white as marble, but when she thought of what was coming the blood sprang to her face and tingled in her forehead, and she felt her eyes fall and her proud head bend, as the storm of humiliation descended upon her. She could hear beforehand the sounds that would follow her words, the sharp, short laugh of jealous women who hated her, the murmur of surprise among the men. Then the sea of faces would seem to rise and fall before her in waves, the lights would dance, her cheeks would burn like flames, and she would grow dizzy. That would be the end. Afterwards she could go out alone. Perhaps the women would shrink from her, no man would be brave enough to lead her kindly from the room. Yet all that she would bear, for the mere hope of saving her father. The worst, by far the worst and hardest to endure, would be something within herself, for which she had neither words nor true understanding, but which was more real than anything she could define, for it was in the very core of her heart and in the secret of her soul, a sort of despairing shame of herself and a desolate longing for something she could never recover.

She closed her tired eyes and pressed her hand heavily upon the stone coping of the parapet. It was the supreme effort, and when she looked down at Inez again she knew that she should live to the end of the ordeal without wavering.

"I am going down to the throne room," she said, very quietly and gently. "You had better go to our apartment, dear, and wait for me there. I am going to try and save our father's life—do not ask me how. It will not take long to say what I have to say, and then I will come to you."

Inez had risen now, and was standing beside her, laying a hand upon her arm.

"Let me come, too," she said. "I can help you, I am sure I can help you."

"No," answered Dolores, with authority. "You cannot help me, dearest, and it would hurt you, and you must not come."

"Then I will stay here," said Inez sorrowfully. "I shall be nearer to him," she added under her breath.

"Stay here—yes. I will come back to you, and then—then we will go in together, and say a prayer—his soul can hear us still—we will go and say good-by to him—together."

Her voice was almost firm, and Inez could not see the agony in her white face. Then Dolores clasped her in her arms and kissed her forehead and her blind eyes very lovingly, and pressed her head to her own shoulders and patted it and smoothed the girl's dark hair.

"I will come back," she said, "and, Inez—you know the truth, my darling. Whatever evil they may say of me after to-night, remember that I have said it of myself for our father's sake, and that it is not true."

"No one will believe it," answered Inez. "They will not believe anything bad of you."

"Then our father must die."

Dolores kissed her once more and made her sit down, then turned and went away. She walked quickly along the corridors and descended the second staircase, to enter the throne room by the side door reserved for the officers of the household and the maids of honour. She walked swiftly, her head erect, one hand holding the folds of her cloak pressed to her bosom, and the other, nervously clenched, and hanging down, as if she were expecting to strike a blow.

She reached the door, and for a moment her heart stopped beating, and her eyes closed. She heard many loud voices within, and she knew that most of the court must still be assembled. It was better that all the world should hear her—even the King, if he were still there. She pushed the door open and went in by the familiar way, letting the dark cloak that covered her court dress fall to the ground as she passed the threshold. Half a dozen young nobles, grouped near the entrance, made way for her to pass.

When they recognized her, their voices dropped suddenly, and they stared after her in astonishment that she should appear at such a time. She was doubtless in ignorance of what had happened, they thought. As for the throng in the hall, there was no restraint upon their talk now, and words were spoken freely which would have been high treason half an hour earlier. There was the noise, the tension, the ceaseless talking, the excited air, that belong to great palace revolutions.

The press was closer near the steps of the throne, where the King and Mendoza had stood, for after they had left the hall, surrounded and protected by the guards, the courtiers had crowded upon one another, and those near the further door and outside it in the outer apartments had pressed in till there was scarcely standing room on the floor of the hall. Dolores found it hard to advance. Some made way for her with low exclamations of surprise, but others, not looking to see who she was, offered a passive resistance to her movements.

"Will you kindly let me pass?" she asked at last, in a gentle tone, "I am Dolores de Mendoza."

At the name the group that barred her passage started and made way, and going through she came upon the Prince of Eboli, not far from the steps of the throne. The English Ambassador, who meant to stay as long as there was anything for him to observe, was still by the Prince's side. Dolores addressed the latter without hesitation.

"Don Ruy Gomez," she said, "I ask your help. My father is innocent, and I can prove it. But the court must hear me—every one must hear the truth. Will you help me? Can you make them listen?"

Ruy Gomez looked down at Dolores' pale and determined features in courteous astonishment.

"I am at your service," he answered. "But what are you going to say? The court is in a dangerous mood to-night."

"I must speak to all," said Dolores. "I am not afraid. What I have to say cannot be said twice—not even if I had the strength. I can save my father—"

"Why not go to the King at once?" argued the Prince, who feared trouble.

"For the love of God, help me to do as I wish!" Dolores grasped his arm, and spoke with an effort. "Let me tell them all, how I know that my father is not guilty of the murder. After that take me to the King if you will."

She spoke very earnestly, and he no longer opposed her. He knew the temper of the court well enough, and was sure that whatever proved Mendoza innocent would be welcome just then, and though he was far too loyal to wish the suspicion of the deed to be fixed upon the King, he was too just not to desire Mendoza to be exculpated if he were innocent.

"Come with me," he said briefly, and he took Dolores by the hand, and led her up the first three steps of the platform, so that she could see over the heads of all present.

It was no time to think of court ceremonies or customs, for there was danger in the air. Ruy Gomez did not stop to make any long ceremony. Drawing himself up to his commanding height, he held up his white gloves at arm's length to attract the attention of the courtiers, and in a few moments there was silence. They seemed an hour of torture to Dolores. Ruy Gomez raised his voice.

"Grandees! The daughter of Don Diego de Mendoza stands here at my side to prove to you that he is innocent of Don John of Austria's death!"

The words had hardly left his lips when a shout went up, like a ringing cheer. But again he raised his hand.

"Hear Dona Maria Dolores de Mendoza!" he cried.

Then he stepped a little away from Dolores, and looked towards her. She was dead white, and her lips trembled. There was an almost glassy look in her eyes, and still she pressed one hand to her bosom, and the other hung by her side, the fingers twitching nervously against the folds of her skirt. A few seconds passed before she could speak.

"Grandees of Spain!" she began, and at the first words she found strength in her voice so that it reached the ends of the hall, clear and vibrating. The silence was intense, as she proceeded.

"My father has accused himself of a fearful crime. He is innocent. He would no more have raised his hand against Don John of Austria than against the King's own person. I cannot tell why he wishes to sacrifice his life by taking upon himself the guilt. But this I know. He did not do the deed. You ask me how I know that, how I can prove it? I was there, I, Dolores de Mendoza, his daughter, was there unseen in my lover's chamber when he was murdered. While he was alive I gave him all, my heart, my soul, my maiden honour; and I was there to-night, and had been with him long. But now that he is dead, I will pay for my father's life with my dishonour. He must not die, for he is innocent. Grandees of Spain, as you are men of honour, he must not die, for he is one of you, and this foul deed was not his."

She ceased, her lids drooped till her eyes were half closed and she swayed a little as she stood. Roy Gomez made one long stride and held her, for he thought she was fainting. But she bit her lips, and forced her eyes to open and face the crowd again.

"That is all," she said in a low voice, but distinctly, "It is done. I am a ruined woman. Help me to go out."

The old Prince gently led her down the steps. The silence had lasted long after she had spoken, but people were beginning to talk again in lower tones. It was as she had foreseen it. She heard a scornful woman's laugh, and as she passed along, she saw how the older ladies shrank from her and how the young ones eyed her with a look of hard curiosity, as if she were some wild creature, dangerous to approach, though worth seeing from a distance.

But the men pressed close to her as she passed, and she heard them tell each other that she was a brave woman who could dare to save her father by such means, and there were quick applauding words as she passed, and one said audibly that he could die for a girl who had such a true heart, and another answered that he would marry her if she could forget Don John. And they did not speak without respect, but in earnest, and out of the fulness of their admiration.

At last she was at the door, and she paused to speak before going out.

"Have I saved his life?" she asked, looking up to the old Prince's kind face. "Will they believe me?"

"They believe you," he answered. "But your father's life is in the King's hands. You should go to his Majesty without wasting time. Shall I go with you? He will see you, I think, if I ask it."

"Why should I tell the King?" asked Dolores. "He was there—he saw it all—he knows the truth."

She hardly realized what she was saying.

* * * * *



CHAPTER XVI

Ruy Gomez was as loyal, in his way, as Mendoza himself, but his loyalty was of a very different sort, for it was tempered by a diplomatic spirit which made it more serviceable on ordinary occasions, and its object was altogether a principle rather than a person. Mendoza could not conceive of monarchy, in its abstract, without a concrete individuality represented by King Philip; but Ruy Gomez could not imagine the world without the Spanish monarchy, though he was well able to gauge his sovereign's weaknesses and to deplore his crimes. He himself was somewhat easily deceived, as good men often are, and it was he who had given the King his new secretary, Antonio Perez; yet from the moment when Mendoza had announced Don John's death, he had been convinced that the deed had either been done by Philip himself or by his orders, and that Mendoza had bravely sacrificed himself to shield his master. What Dolores had said only confirmed his previous opinion, so far as her father's innocence was at stake. As for her own confession, he believed it, and in spite of himself he could not help admiring the girl's heroic courage. Dolores might have been in reality ten times worse than she had chosen to represent herself; she would still have been a model of all virtue compared with his own wife, though he did not know half of the Princess's doings, and was certainly ignorant of her relations with the King.

He was not at all surprised when Dolores told him at the door that Philip knew the truth about the supposed murder, but he saw how dangerous it might be for Dolores to say as much to others of the court. She wished to go away alone, as she had come, but he insisted on going with her.

"You must see his Majesty," he said authoritatively. "I will try to arrange it at once. And I entreat you to be discreet, my dear, for your father's sake, if not for any other reason. You have said too much already. It was not wise of you, though it showed amazing courage. You are your father's own daughter in that—he is one of the bravest men I ever knew in my life."

"It is easy to be brave when one is dead already!" said Dolores, in low tones.

"Courage, my dear, courage!" answered the old Prince, in a fatherly tone, as they went along. "You are not as brave as you think, since you talk of death. Your life is not over yet."

"There is little left of it. I wish it were ended already."

She could hardly speak, for an inevitable and overwhelming reaction had followed on the great effort she had made. She put out her hand and caught her companion's arm for support. He led her quickly to the small entrance of the King's apartments, by which it was his privilege to pass in. They reached a small waiting-room where there were a few chairs and a marble table, on which two big wax candles were burning. Dolores sank into a seat, and leaned back, closing her eyes, while Ruy Gomez went into the antechamber beyond and exchanged a few words with the chamberlain on duty. He came back almost immediately.

"Your father is alone with the King," he said. "We must wait."

Dolores scarcely heard what he said, and did not change her position nor open her eyes. The old man looked at her, sighed, and sat down near a brazier of wood coals, over which he slowly warmed his transparent hands, from time to time turning his rings slowly on his fingers, as if to warm them, too. Outside, the chamberlain in attendance walked slowly up and down, again and again passing the open door, through which he glanced at Dolores' face. The antechamber was little more than a short, broad corridor, and led to the King's study. This corridor had other doors, however, and it was through it that the King's private rooms communicated with the hall of the royal apartments.

As Ruy Gomez had learned, Mendoza was with Philip, but not alone. The old officer was standing on one side of the room, erect and grave, and King Philip sat opposite him, in a huge chair, his still eyes staring at the fire that blazed in the vast chimney, and sent sudden flashes of yellow through the calm atmosphere of light shed by a score of tall candles. At a table on one side sat Antonio Perez, the Secretary. He was provided with writing-materials and appeared to be taking down the conversation as it proceeded. Philip asked a question from time to time, which Mendoza answered in a strange voice unlike his own, and between the questions there were long intervals of silence.

"You say that you had long entertained feelings of resentment against his Highness," said the King, "You admit that, do you?"

"I beg your Majesty's pardon. I did not say resentment. I said that I had long looked upon his Highness's passion for my daughter with great anxiety."

"Is that what he said, Perez?" asked Philip, speaking to the Secretary without looking at him. "Read that."

"He said: I have long resented his Highness's admiration for my daughter," answered Perez, reading from his notes.

"You see," said the King. "You resented it. That is resentment. I was right. Be careful, Mendoza, for your words may be used against you to-morrow. Say precisely what you mean, and nothing but what you mean."

Mendoza inclined his head rather proudly, for he detested Antonio Perez, and it appeared to him that the King was playing a sort of comedy for the Secretary's benefit. It seemed an unworthy interlude in what was really a solemn tragedy.

"Why did you resent his Highness's courtship of your daughter?" enquired Philip presently, continuing his cross-examination.

"Because I never believed that there could be a real marriage," answered Mendoza boldly. "I believed that my child must become the toy and plaything of Don John of Austria, or else that if his Highness married her, the marriage would soon be declared void, in order that he might marry a more important personage."

"Set that down," said the King to Perez, in a sharp tone. "Set that down exactly. It is important." He waited till the Secretary's pen stopped before he went on. His next question came suddenly.

"How could a marriage consecrated by our holy religion ever be declared null and void?"

"Easily enough, if your Majesty wished it," answered Mendoza unguardedly, for his temper was slowly heating.

"Write down that answer, Perez. In other words, Mendoza, you think that I have no respect for the sacrament of marriage, which I would at any time cause to be revoked to suit my political purposes. Is that what you think?"

"I did not say that, Sire. I said that even if Don John married my daughter—"

"I know quite well what you said," interrupted the King suavely. "Perez has got every word of it on paper."

The Secretary's bad black eyes looked up from his writing, and he slowly nodded as he looked at Mendoza. He understood the situation perfectly, though the soldier was far too honourable to suspect the truth.

"I have confessed publicly that I killed Don John defenceless," he said, in rough tones. "Is not that enough?"

"Oh, no!" Philip almost smiled, "That is not enough. We must also know why you committed such on abominable crime. You do not seem to understand that in taking your evidence here myself, I am sparing you the indignity of an examination before a tribunal, and under torture—in all probability. You ought to be very grateful, my dear Mendoza."

"I thank your Majesty," said the brave old soldier coldly.

"That is right. So we know that your hatred of his Highness was of long standing, and you had probably determined some time ago that you would murder him on his return." The King paused a moment and then continued. "Do you deny that on this very afternoon you swore that if Don John attempted to see your daughter, you would kill him at once?"

Mendoza was taken by surprise, and his haggard eyes opened wide as he stared at Philip.

"You said that, did you not?" asked the King, insisting upon the point. "On your honour, did you say it?"

"Yes, I said that," answered Mendoza at last. "But how did your Majesty know that I did?"

The King's enormous under lip thrust itself forward, and two ugly lines of amusement were drawn in his colourless cheeks. His jaw moved slowly, as if he were biting something of which he found the taste agreeable.

"I know everything," he said slowly. "I am well served in my own house. Perez, be careful. Write down everything. We also know, I think, that your daughter met his Highness this evening. You no doubt found that out as others did. The girl is imprudent. Do you confess to knowing that the two had met this evening?"

Mendoza ground his teeth as if he were suffering bodily torture. His brows contracted, and as Perez looked up, he faced him with such a look of hatred and anger that the Secretary could hot meet his eyes. The King was a sacred and semi-divine personage, privileged to ask any question he chose and theoretically incapable of doing wrong, but it was unbearable that this sleek black fox should have the right to hear Diego de Mendoza confess his daughter's dishonour. Antonio Perez was not an adventurer of low birth, as many have gratuitously supposed, for his father had held an honourable post at court before him; but he was very far from being the equal of one who, though poor and far removed from the head of his own family, bore one of the most noble names in Spain.

"Let your Majesty dismiss Don Antonio Perez," said Mendoza boldly. "I will then tell your Majesty all I know."

Perez smiled as he bent over his notes, for he knew what the answer would be to such a demand. It came sharply.

"It is not the privilege of a man convicted of murder to choose his hearers. Answer my questions or be silent. Do you confess that you knew of your daughter's meeting with Don John this evening?"

Mendoza's lips set themselves tightly under his grey beard, and he uttered no sound. He interpreted the King's words literally.

"Well, what have you to say?"

"Nothing, Sire, since I have your Majesty's permission to be silent."

"It does not matter," said Philip indifferently. "Note that he refuses to answer the question, Perez. Note that this is equivalent to confessing the fact, since he would otherwise deny it. His silence is & reason, however, for allowing the case to go to the tribunal to be examined in the usual way—the usual way," he repeated, looking hard at Mendoza and emphasizing the words strongly.

"Since I do not deny the deed, I entreat your Majesty to let me suffer for it quickly. I am ready to die, God knows. Let it be to-morrow morning or to-night. Your Majesty need only sign the warrant for my execution, which Don Antonio Perez has, no doubt, already prepared."

"Not at all, not at all," answered the King, with horrible coolness. "I mean that you shall have a fair and open trial and every possible opportunity of justifying yourself. There must be nothing secret about this. So horrible a crime must be treated in the most public manner. Though it is very painful to me to refer to such a matter, you must remember that after it had pleased Heaven, in its infinite justice, to bereave me of my unfortunate son, Don Carlos, the heir to the throne, there were not wanting ill-disposed and wicked persons who actually said that I had caused his life to be shortened by various inhuman cruelties. No, no! we cannot have too much publicity. Consider how terrible a thing it would be if any one should dare to suppose that my own brother had been murdered with my consent! You should love your country too much not to fear such a result; for though you have murdered my brother in cold blood, I am too just to forget that you have proved your patriotism through a long and hitherto honourable career. It is my duty to see that the causes of your atrocious action are perfectly clear to my subjects, so that no doubt may exist even in the most prejudiced minds. Do you understand? I repeat that if I have condescended to examine you alone, I have done so only out of a merciful desire to spare an old soldier the suffering and mortification of an examination by the tribunal that is to judge you. Understand that."

"I understand that and much more besides," answered Mendoza, in low and savage tones.

"It is not necessary that you should understand or think that you understand anything more than what I say," returned the King coldly. "At what time did you go to his Highness's apartments this evening?"

"Your Majesty knows."

"I know nothing of it," said the King, with the utmost calm. "You were on duty after supper. You escorted me to my apartments afterwards. I had already sent for Perez, who came at once, and we remained here, busy with affairs, until I returned to the throne room, five minutes before you came and confessed the murder; did we not, Perez?"

"Most certainly, Sire," answered the Secretary gravely. "Your Majesty must have been at work with me an hour, at least, before returning to the throne room."

"And your Majesty did not go with me by the private staircase to Don John of Austria's apartment?" asked Mendoza, thunderstruck by the enormous falsehood.

"With you?" cried the King, in admirably feigned astonishment. "What madness is this? Do not write that down, Perez. I really believe the man is beside himself!"

Mendoza groaned aloud, for he saw that he had been frightfully deceived. In his magnificent generosity, he had assumed the guilt of the crime, being ready and willing to die for it quickly to save the King from blame and to put an end to his own miserable existence. But he had expected death quickly, mercifully, within a few hours. Had he suspected what Philip had meant to do,—that he was to be publicly tried for a murder he had not committed, and held up to public hatred and ignominy for days and perhaps weeks together, while a slow tribunal dragged out its endless procedure,—neither his loyalty nor his desire for death could have had power to bring his pride to such a sacrifice. And now he saw that he was caught in a vise, and that no accusation he could bring against the King could save him, even if he were willing to resort to such a measure and so take back his word. There was no witness for him but himself. Don John was dead, and the infamous Perez was ready to swear that Philip had not left the room in which they had been closeted together. There was not a living being to prove that Mendoza had not gone alone to Don John's apartments with the deliberate intention of killing him. He had, indeed, been to the chief steward's office in search of a key, saying that the King desired to have it and was waiting; but it would be said that he had used the King's authority to try and get the key for himself because he knew that his daughter was hidden in the locked room. He had foolishly fancied that the King would send for him and see him alone before he died, that his sovereign would thank him for the service that was costing his life, would embrace him and send him to his death for the good of Spain and the divine right of monarchy. Truly, he had been most bitterly deceived.

"You said," continued Philip mercilessly, "that you killed his Highness when he was unarmed. Is that true?"

"His Highness was unarmed," said Mendoza, almost through his closed teeth, for he was suffering beyond words.

"Unarmed," repeated the King, nodding to Perez, who wrote rapidly. "You might have given him a chance for his life. It would have been more soldier-like. Had you any words before you drew upon him? Was there any quarrel?"

"None. We did not speak to each other." Mendoza tried to make Philip meet his eyes, but the King would not look at him.

"There was no altercation," said the King, looking at Perez. "That proves that the murder was premeditated. Put it down—it is very important. You could hardly have stabbed him in the back, I suppose. He must have turned when he heard you enter. Where was the wound?"

"The wound that killed his Highness will be found near the heart."

"Cruel!" Philip looked down at his own hands, and he shook his head very sadly. "Cruel, most cruel," he repeated in a low tone.

"I admit that it was a very cruel deed," said Mendoza, looking at him fixedly. "In that, your Majesty is right."

"Did you see your daughter before or after you had committed the murder?" asked the King calmly.

"I have not seen my daughter since the murder was committed."

"But you saw her before? Be careful, Perez. Write down every word. You say that you saw your daughter before you did it."

"I did not say that," answered Mendoza firmly.

"It makes very little difference," said the King, "If you had seen her with his Highness, the murder would have seemed less cold-blooded, that is all. There would then have been something like a natural provocation for it."

There was a low sound, as of some one scratching at the door. That was the usual way of asking admittance to the King's room on very urgent matters. Perez rose instantly, the King nodded to him, and he went to the door. On opening, someone handed him a folded paper on a gold salver. He brought it to Philip, dropped on one knee very ceremoniously, and presented it. Philip took the note and opened it, and Perez returned to his seat at once.

The King unfolded the small sheet carefully. The room was so full of light that he could read it when he sat, without moving. His eyes followed the lines quickly to the end, and returned to the beginning, and he read the missive again more carefully. Not the slightest change of expression was visible in his face, as he folded the paper neatly again in the exact shape in which he had received it. Then he remained silent a few moments. Perez held his pen ready to write, moving it mechanically now and then as if he were writing in the air, and staring at the fire, absorbed in his own thoughts, though his ear was on the alert.

"You refuse to admit that you found your daughter and Don John together, then?" The King spoke with an interrogation.

"I did not find them together," answered Mendoza. "I have said so." He was becoming exasperated under the protracted cross-examination.

"You have not said so. My memory is very good, but if it should fail we have everything written down. I believe you merely refused to answer when I asked if you knew of their meeting—which meant that you did know of it. Is that it, Perez?"

"Exactly so, Sire." The Secretary had already found the place among his notes.

"Do you persistently refuse to admit that you had positive evidence of your daughter's guilt before the murder?"

"I will not admit that, Sire, for it would not be true."

"Your daughter has given her evidence since," said the King, holding up the folded note, and fixing his eyes at last on his victim's face. If it were possible, Mendoza turned more ashy pale than before, and he started perceptibly at the King's words.

"I shall never believe that!" he cried in a voice which nevertheless betrayed his terror for his child.

"A few moments before this note was written," said Philip calmly, "your daughter entered the throne room, and addressed the court, standing upon the steps of the throne—a very improper proceeding and one which Ruy Gomez should not have allowed. Your daughter Dolores—is that the girl's name? Yes. Your daughter Dolores, amidst the most profound silence, confessed that she—it is so monstrous that I can hardly bring myself to say it—that she had yielded to the importunities of his late Highness, that she was with him in his room a long time this evening, and that, in fact, she was actually in his bedchamber when he was murdered."

"It is a lie!" cried Mendoza vehemently. "It is an abominable lie—she was not in the room!"

"She has said that she was," answered Philip. "You can hardly suppose a girl capable of inventing such damning evidence against herself, even for the sake of saving her own father. She added that his Highness was not killed by you. But that is puerile. She evidently saw you do it, and has boldly confessed that she was in the room—hidden somewhere, perhaps, since you absolutely refuse to admit that you saw her there. It is quite clear that you found the two together and that you killed his Highness before your daughter's eyes. Why not admit that, Mendoza? It makes you seem a little less cold-blooded. The provocation was great—"

"She was not there," protested Mendoza, interrupting the King, for he hardly knew what he was doing.

"She was there, since she confesses to have been in the room. I do not tolerate interruption when I am speaking. She was there, and her evidence will be considered. Even if you did not see her, how can you be sure that your daughter was not there? Did you search the room? Did you look behind the curtains?"

"I did not." The stern old man seemed to shrink bodily under the frightful humiliation to which he was subjected.

"Very well, then you cannot swear that she was not in the room. But you did not see her there. Then I am sorry to say that there can have been no extenuating circumstances. You entered his Highness's bedchamber, you did not even speak to him, you drew your sword and you killed him. All this shows that you went there fully determined to commit the crime. But with regard to its motive, this strange confession of your daughter's makes that quite clear. She had been extremely imprudent with Don John, you were aware of the fact, and you revenged yourself in the most brutal way. Such vengeance never can produce any but the most fatal results. You yourself must die, in the first place, a degrading and painful death on the scaffold, and you die leaving behind you a ruined girl, who must bury herself in a convent and never be seen by her worldly equals again. And besides that, you have deprived your King of a beloved brother, and Spain of her most brilliant general. Could anything be worse?"

"Yes. There are worse things than that, your Majesty, and worse things have been done. It would have been a thousand times worse if I had done the deed and cast the blame of it on a man so devoted to me that he would bear the guilt in my stead, and a hundred thousand times worse if I had then held up that man to the execration of mankind, and tortured him with every distortion of evidence which great falsehoods can put upon a little truth. That would indeed have been far worse than anything I have done. God may find forgiveness for murderers, but there is only hell for traitors, and the hell of hells is the place of men who betray their friends."

"His mind is unsettled, I fear," said the King, speaking to Perez. "These are signs of madness."

"Indeed I fear so, Sire," answered the smooth Secretary, shaking his head solemnly. "He does not know what he says."

"I am not mad, and I know what I am saying, for I am a man under the hand of death." Mendoza's eyes glared at the King savagely as he spoke, and then at Perez, but neither could look at him, for neither dared to meet his gaze. "As for this confession my daughter has made, I do not believe in it. But if she has said these things, you might have let me die without the bitterness of knowing them, since that was in your power. And God knows that I have staked my life freely for your Majesty and for Spain these many years, and would again if I had it to lose instead of having thrown it away. And God knows, too, that for what I have done, be it good or bad, I will bear whatsoever your Majesty shall choose to say to me alone in the way of reproach. But as I am a dying man I will not forgive that scribbler there for having seen a Spanish gentleman's honour torn to rags, and an old soldier's last humiliation, and I pray Heaven with my dying breath, that he may some day be tormented as he has seen me tormented, and worse, till he shall cry out for mercy—as I will not!"

The cruelly injured man's prayer was answered eight years from that day, and even now Perez turned slowly pale as he heard the words, for they were spoken with all the vehemence of a dying man's curse. But Philip was unmoved. He was probably not making Mendoza suffer merely for the pleasure of watching his pain, though others' suffering seems always to have caused him a sort of morbid satisfaction. What he desired most was to establish a logical reason for which Mendoza might have committed the crime, lest in the absence of sound evidence he himself should be suspected of having instigated it. He had no intention whatever of allowing Mendoza to be subjected to torture during the trial that was to ensue. On the contrary, he intended to prepare all the evidence for the judges and to prevent Mendoza from saying anything in self-defence. To that end it was necessary that the facts elicited should be clearly connected from first cause to final effect, and by the skill of Antonio Perez in writing down only the words which contributed to that end, the King's purpose was now accomplished. He heard every word of Mendoza's imprecation and thought it proper to rebuke him for speaking so freely.

"You forget yourself, sir," he said coldly. "Don Antonio Perez is my private Secretary, and you must respect him. While you belonged to the court his position was higher and more important than your own; now that you stand convicted of an outrageous murder in cold blood, you need not forget that he is an innocent man. I have done, Mendoza. You will not see me again, for you will be kept in confinement until your trial, which can only have one issue. Come here."

He sat upright in his chair and held out his hand, while Mendoza approached with unsteady steps, and knelt upon one knee, as was the custom.

"I am not unforgiving," said the King. "Forgiveness is a very beautiful Christian virtue, which we are taught to exercise from our earliest childhood. You have cut off my dearly loved brother in the flower of his youth, but you shall not die believing that I bear you any malice. So far as I am able, I freely forgive you for what you have done, and in token I give you my hand, that you may have that comfort at the last."

With incredible calmness Philip took Mendoza's hand as he spoke, held it for a moment in his, and pressed it almost warmly at the last words. The old man's loyalty to his sovereign had been a devotion almost amounting to real adoration, and bitterly as he had suffered throughout the terrible interview, he well-nigh forgot every suffering as he felt the pressure of the royal fingers. In an instant he had told himself that it had all been but a play, necessary to deceive Perez, and to clear the King from suspicion before the world, and that in this sense the unbearable agony he had borne had served his sovereign. He forgot all for a moment, and bending his iron-grey head, he kissed the thin and yellow hand fervently, and looked up to Philip's cold face and felt that there were tears of gratitude in his own eyes, of gratitude at being allowed to leave the world he hated with the certainty that his death was to serve his sovereign idol.

"I shall be faithful to your Majesty until the end," he said simply, as the King withdrew his fingers, and he rose to his feet.

The King nodded slowly, and his stony look watched Mendoza with a sort of fixed curiosity. Even he had not known that such men lived.

"Call the guards to the door, Perez," he said coldly. "Tell the officer to take Don Diego Mendoza to the west tower for to-night, and to treat him with every consideration."

Perez obeyed. A detachment of halberdiers with an officer were stationed in the short, broad corridor that led to the room where Dolores was waiting. Perez gave the lieutenant his orders.

Mendoza walked backwards to the door from the King's presence, making three low bows as he went. At the door he turned, taking no notice of the Secretary, marched out with head erect, and gave himself up to the soldiers.

* * * * *



CHAPTER XVII

The halberdiers closed round their old chief, but did not press upon him. Three went before him, three behind, and one walked on each side, and the lieutenant led the little detachment. The men were too much accustomed to seeing courtiers in the extremes of favour and disfavour to be much surprised at the arrest of Mendoza, and they felt no great sympathy for him. He had always been too rigidly exacting for their taste, and they longed for a younger commander who should devote more time to his own pleasure and less to inspecting uniforms and finding fault with details. Yet Mendoza had been a very just man, and he possessed the eminently military bearing and temper which always impose themselves on soldiers. At the present moment, too, they were more inclined to pity him than to treat him roughly, for if they did not guess what had really taken place, they were quite sure that Don John of Austria had been murdered by the King's orders, like Don Carlos and Queen Isabel and a fair number of other unfortunate persons; and if the King had chosen Mendoza to do the deed, the soldiers thought that he was probably not meant to suffer for it in the end, and that before long he would be restored to his command. It would, therefore, be the better for them, later, if they showed him a certain deference in his misfortune. Besides, they had heard Antonio Perez tell their officer that Mendoza was to be treated with every consideration.

They marched in time, with heavy tread and the swinging gait to right and left that is natural to a soldier who carries for a weapon a long halberd with a very heavy head. Mendoza was as tall as any of them, and kept their step, holding his head high. He was bareheaded, but was otherwise still in the complete uniform he wore when on duty on state occasions.

The corridor, which seemed short on account of its breadth and in comparison with the great size of the halls in the palace, was some thirty paces long and lighted by a number of chandeliers that hung from the painted vault. The party reached the door of the waiting room and halted a moment, while one of the King's footmen opened the doors wide. Don Ruy Gomez and Dolores were waiting within. The servant passed rapidly through to open the doors beyond. Ruy Gomez stood up and drew his chair aside, somewhat surprised at the entrance of the soldiers, who rarely passed that way. Dolores opened her eyes at the sound of marching, but in the uncertain light of the candles she did not at first see Mendoza, half hidden as he was by the men who guarded him. She paid little attention, for she was accustomed to seeing such detachments of halberdiers marching through the corridors when the sentries were relieved, and as she had never been in the King's apartments she was not surprised by the sudden appearance of the soldiers, as her companion was. But as the latter made way for them he lifted his hat, which as a Grandee he wore even in the King's presence, and he bent his head courteously as Mendoza went by. He hoped that Dolores would not see her father, but his own recognition of the prisoner had attracted her attention. She sprang to her feet with a cry. Mendoza turned his head and saw her before she could reach him, for she was moving forward. He stood still, and the soldiers halted instinctively and parted before her, for they all knew their commander's daughter.

"Father!" she cried, and she tried to take his hand.

But he pushed her away and turned his face resolutely towards the door before him.

"Close up! Forward—march!" he said, in his harsh tone of command.

The men obeyed, gently forcing Dolores aside. They made two steps forward, but Ruy Gomez stopped them by a gesture, standing in their way and raising one hand, while he laid the other on the young lieutenant's shoulder. Ruy Gomez was one of the greatest personages in Spain; he was the majorduomo of the palace, and had almost unlimited authority. But the officer had his orders directly from the King and felt bound to carry them out to the letter.

"His Majesty has directed me to convey Don Diego de Mendoza to the west tower without delay," he said. "I beg your Excellency to let us proceed."

Ruy Gomez still held him by the shoulder with a gentle pressure.

"That I will not," he said firmly; "and if you are blamed for being slow in the execution of your duty, say that Ruy Gomez de Silva hindered you, and fear nothing. It is not right that father and daughter should part as these two are parting."

"I have nothing to say to my daughter," said Mendoza harshly; but the words seemed to hurt him.

"Don Diego," answered Ruy Gomez, "the deed of which you have accused yourself is as much worse than anything your child has done as hatred is worse than love. By the right of mere humanity I take upon myself to say that you shall be left here a while with your daughter, that you may take leave of one another." He turned to the officer. "Withdraw your men, sir," he said. "Wait at the door. You have my word for the security of your prisoner, and my authority for what you do. I will call you when it is time."

He spoke in a tone that admitted of no refusal, and he was obeyed. The officers and the men filed out, and Ruy Gomez closed the door after them. He himself recrossed the room and went out by the other way into the broad corridor. He meant to wait there. His orders had been carried out so quickly that Mendoza found himself alone with Dolores, almost as by a surprise. In his desperate mood he resented what Ruy Gomez had done, as an interference in his family affairs, and he bent his bushy brows together as he stood facing Dolores, with folded arms. Four hours had not passed since they had last spoken together alone in his own dwelling; there was a lifetime of tragedy between that moment and this.

Dolores had not spoken since he had pushed her away. She stood beside a chair, resting one hand upon it, dead white, with the dark shadow of pain under her eyes, her lips almost colourless, but firm, and evenly closed. There were lines of suffering in her young face that looked as if they never could be effaced. It seemed to her that the worst conflict of all was raging in her heart as she watched her father's face, waiting for the sound of his voice; and as for him, he would rather have gone back to the King's presence to be tormented under the eyes of Antonio Perez than stand there, forced to see her and speak to her. In his eyes, in the light of what he had been told, she was a ruined and shameless woman, who had deceived him day in, day out, for more than two years. And to her, so far as she could understand, he was the condemned murderer of the man she had so innocently and truly loved. But yet, she had a doubt, and for that possibility, she had cast her good name to the winds in the hope of saving his life. At one moment, in a vision of dread, she saw his armed hand striking at her lover—at the next she felt that he could never have struck the blow, and that there was an unsolved mystery behind it all. Never were two innocent human beings so utterly deceived, each about the other.

"Father," she said, at last, in a trembling tone, "can you not speak to me, if I can find heart to hear you?"

"What can we two say to each other?" he asked sternly. "Why did you stop me? I am ready to die for killing the man who ruined you. I am glad. Why should I say anything to you, and what words can you have for me? I hope your end may come quickly, with such peace as you can find from your shame at the last. That is what I wish for you, and it is a good wish, for you have made death on the scaffold look easy to me, so that I long for it. Do you understand?"

"Condemned to death!" she cried out, almost incoherently, before he had finished speaking. "But they cannot condemn you—I have told them that I was there—that it was not you—they must believe me—O God of mercy!"

"They believe you—yes. They believe that I found you together and killed him. I shall be tried by judges, but I am condemned beforehand, and I must die." He spoke calmly enough. "Your mad confession before the court only made my conviction more certain," he said. "It gave the reason for the deed—and it burned away the last doubt I had. If they are slow in trying me, you will have been before the executioner, for he will find me dead—by your hand. You might have spared me that—and spared yourself. You still had the remnant of a good name, and your lover being dead, you might have worn the rag of your honour still. You have chosen to throw it away, and let me know my full disgrace before I die a disgraceful death. And yet you wish to speak to me. Do you expect my blessing?"

Dolores had lost the power of speech. Passing her hand now and then across her forehead, as though trying to brush away a material veil, she stood half paralyzed, staring wildly at him while he spoke. But when she saw him turn away from her towards the door, as if he would go out and leave her there, her strength was loosed from the spell, and she sprang before him and caught his wrists with her hands.

"I am as innocent as when my mother bore me," she said, and her low voice rang with the truth. "I told the lie to save your life. Do you believe me now?"

He gazed at her with haggard eyes for many moments before he spoke.

"How can it be true?" he asked, but his voice shook in his throat. "You were there—I saw you leave his room—"

"No, that you never saw!" she cried, well knowing how impossible it was, since she had been locked in till after he had gone away.

"I saw your dress—not this one—what you wore this afternoon."

"Not this one? I put on this court dress before I got out of the room in which you had locked me up. Inez helped me—I pretended that I was she, and wore her cloak, and slipped away, and I have not been back again. You did not see me."

Mendoza passed his hand over his eyes and drew back from her. If what she said were true, the strongest link was gone from the chain of facts by which he had argued so much sorrow and shame. Forgetting himself and his own near fate, he looked at the court dress she wore, and a mere glance convinced him that it was not the one he had seen.

"But—" he was suddenly confused—"but why did you need to disguise yourself? I left the Princess of Eboli with you, and I gave her permission to take you away to stay with her. You needed no disguise."

"I never saw her. She must have found Inez in the room. I was gone long before that."

"Gone—where?" Mendoza was fast losing the thread of it all—in his confusion of ideas he grasped the clue of his chief sorrow, which was far beyond any thought for himself. "But if you are innocent—pray God you may be, as you say—how is it possible—oh, no! I cannot believe it—I cannot! No woman could do that—no innocent girl could stand out before a multitude of men and women, and say what you said—"

"I hoped to save your life. I had the strength. I did it."

Her clear grey eyes looked into his, and his doubt began to break away before the truth.

"Make me believe it!" he cried, his voice breaking. "Oh, God! Make me believe it before I die!"

"It is true," she cried, in a low, strong voice that carried belief to his breast in spite of such reasoning as still had some power over him. "It is true, and you shall believe it; and if you will not, the man you have killed, the man I loved and trusted, the dead man who knows the whole truth as I know it, will come back from the dead to prove it true—for I swear it upon his soul in heaven, and upon yours and mine that will not be long on earth—as I will swear it in the hour of your death and mine, since we must die!"

He could not take his eyes from hers that held him, and suddenly in the pure depths he seemed to see her soul facing him without fear, and he knew that what she said was true, and his tortured heart leapt up at the good certainty.

"I believe you, my child," he said at last, and then his grey lids half closed over his eyes and he bent down to her, and put his arm round her.

But she shuddered at the touch of his right hand, and though she knew that he was a condemned man, and that she might never see him again, she could not bear to receive his parting kiss upon her forehead.

"Oh, father, why did you kill him?" she asked, turning her head away and moving to escape from his hold.

But Mendoza did not answer. His arm dropped by his side, and his face grew white and stony. She was asking him to give up the King's secret, to keep which he was giving his life. He felt that it would be treason to tell even her. And besides, she would not keep the secret—what woman could, what daughter would? It must go out of the world with him, if it was to be safe. He glanced at her and saw her face ravaged by an hour's grief. Yet she would not mourn Don John the less if she knew whose hand had done the deed. It could make but a little difference to her, though to himself that difference would be great, if she knew that he died innocent.

And then began a struggle fierce and grim, that tore his soul and wounded his heart as no death agony could have hurt him. Since he had judged her unjustly, since it had all been a hideous dream, since she was still the child that had been all in all to him throughout her life, since all was changed, he did not wish to die, he bore the dead man no hatred, it was no soothing satisfaction to his outraged heart to know him dead of a sword wound in the breast, far away in the room where they had left him, there was no fierce regret that he had not driven the thrust himself. The man was as innocent as the innocent girl, and he himself, as innocent as both, was to be led out to die to shield the King—no more. His life was to be taken for that only, and he no longer set its value at naught nor wished it over. He was the mere scapegoat, to suffer for his master's crime, since crime it was and nothing better. And since he was willing to bear the punishment, or since there was now no escape from it, had he not at least the human right to proclaim his innocence to the only being he really loved? It would be monstrous to deny it. What could she do, after all, even if she knew the truth? Nothing. No one would dare to believe her if she accused the King. She would be shut up in a convent as a mad woman, but in any case, she would certainly disappear to end her life in some religious house as soon as he was dead. Poor girl—she had loved Don John with all her heart—what could the world hold for her, even if the disgrace of her father's death were not to shut her out of the world altogether, as it inevitably must. She would not live long, but she would live in the profoundest sorrow. It would be an alleviation, almost the greatest possible, to know that her father's hand was not stained by such a deed.

The temptation to speak out was overwhelming, and he knew that the time was short. At any moment Ruy Gomez might open the door, and bid him part from her, and there would be small chance for him of seeing her again. He stood uncertain, with bent head and folded arms, and she watched him, trying to bring herself to touch his hand again and bear his kiss.

His loyalty to the King, that was like a sort of madness, stood between him and the words he longed to say. It was the habit of his long soldier's life, unbending as the corslet he wore and enclosing his soul as the steel encased his body, proof against every cruelty, every unkindness, every insult. It was better to die a traitor's death for the King's secret than to live for his own honour. So it had always seemed to him, since he had been a boy and had learned to fight under the great Emperor. But now he knew that he wavered as he had never done in the most desperate charge, when life was but a missile to be flung in the enemy's face, and found or not, when the fray was over. There was no intoxication of fury now, there was no far ring of glory in the air, there was no victory to be won. The hard and hideous fact stared him in the face, that he was to die like a malefactor by the hangman's hand, and that the sovereign who had graciously deigned to accept the sacrifice had tortured him for nearly half an hour without mercy in the presence of an inferior, in order to get a few facts on paper which might help his own royal credit. And as if that were not enough, his own daughter was to live after him, believing that he had cruelly murdered the man she most dearly loved. It was more than humanity could bear.

His brow unbent, his arms unfolded themselves, and he held them out to Dolores with a smile almost gentle.

"There is no blood on these hands, my little girl," he said tenderly. "I did not do it, child. Let me hold you in my arms once, and kiss you before I go. We are both innocent—we can bless one another before we part for ever."

The pure, grey eyes opened wide in amazement. Dolores could hardly believe her ears, as she made a step towards him, and then stopped, shrinking, and then made one step more. Her lips moved and wondering words came to him, so low that he could hardly understand, save that she questioned him.

"You did not do it!" she breathed. "You did not kill him after all? But then—who—why?"

Still she hesitated, though she came slowly nearer, and a faint light warmed her sorrowful face.

"You must try to guess who and why," he said, in a tone as low as her own. "I must not tell you that."

"I cannot guess," she answered; but she was close to him now, and she had taken one of his hands softly in both her own, while she gazed into his eyes. "How can I understand unless you tell me? Is it so great a secret that you must die for it, and never tell it? Oh, father, father! Are you sure—quite sure?"

"He was dead already when I came into the room," Mendoza answered. "I did not even see him hurt."

"But then—yes—then"—her voice sank to a whisper—"then it was the King!"

He saw the words on her lips rather than heard them, and she saw in his face that she was right. She dropped his hand and threw her arms round his neck, pressing her bosom to his breastplate; and suddenly her love for him awoke, and she began to know how she might have loved him if she had known him through all the years that were gone.

"It cannot be that he will let you die!" she cried softly. "You shall not die!" she cried again, with sudden strength, and her light frame shook his as if she would wrench him back from inevitable fate.

"My little girl," he answered, most tenderly clasping her to him, and most thoughtfully, lest his armour should hurt her, "I can die happy now, for I have found all of you again."

"You shall not die! You shall not die!" she cried. "I will not let you go—they must take me, too—"

"No power can save me now, my darling," he answered. "But it does not matter, since you know. It will be easy now."

She could only hold him with her small hands, and say over and over again that she would not let him go.

"Ah! why have you never loved me before in all these years?" he cried. "It was my fault—all my fault."

"I love you now with all my heart," she answered, "and I will save you, even from the King; and you and I and Inez will go far away, and you two shall comfort me and love me till I go to him."

Mendoza shook his head sadly, looking over her shoulder as he held her, for he knew that there was no hope now. Had he known, or half guessed, but an hour or two ago, he would have turned on his heel from the door of Don John's chamber, and he would have left the King to bear the blame or shift it as he could.

"It is too late, Dolores. God bless you, my dear, dear child! It will soon be over—two days at most, for the people will cry out for the blood of Don John's murderer; and when they see mine they will be satisfied. It is too late now. Good-by, my little girl, good-by! The blessing of all heaven be on your dear head!"

Dolores nestled against him, as she had never done before, with the feeling that she had found something that had been wanting in her life, at the very moment when the world, with all it held for her, was slipping over the edge of eternity.

"I will not leave you," she cried again. "They shall take me to your prison, and I will stay with you and take care of you, and never leave you; and at last I shall save your life, and then—"

The door of the corridor opened, and she saw Ruy Gomez standing in the entrance, as if he were waiting. His face was calm and grave as usual, but she saw a profound pity in his eyes.

"No, no!" she cried to him, "not yet—one moment more!"

But Mendoza turned his head at her words, looking over his shoulder, and he saw the Prince also.

"I am ready," he said briefly, and he tried to take Dolores' hands from his neck. "It is time," he said to her. "Be brave, my darling! We have found each other at last. It will not be long before we are together for ever."

He kissed her tenderly once more, and loosed her hold, putting her two hands together and kissing them also.

"I will not say good-by," she said. "It is not good-by—it shall not be. I shall be with you soon."

His eyes lingered upon hers for a moment, and then he broke away, setting his teeth lest he should choke and break down. He opened the door and presented himself to the halberdiers. Dolores heard his familiar voice give the words of command.

"Close up! Forward, march!"

The heavy tramp she knew so well began at once, and echoed along the outer entries, growing slowly less distinct till it was only a distant and rumbling echo, and then died away altogether. Her hand was still on the open door, and Ruy Gomez was standing beside her. He gently drew her away, and closed the door again. She let him lead her to a chair, and sat down where she had sat before. But this time she did not lean back exhausted, with half-closed eyes,—she rested her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand, and she tried to think connectedly to a conclusion. She remembered all the details of the past hours one by one, and she felt that the determination to save her father had given her strength to live.

"Don Ruy Gomez," she said at last, looking up to the tall old nobleman, who stood by the brazier warming his hands again, "can I see the King alone?"

"That is more than I can promise," answered the Prince. "I have asked an audience for you, and the chamberlain will bring word presently whether his Majesty is willing to see you. But if you are admitted, I cannot tell whether Perez will be there or not. He generally is. His presence need make no difference to you. He is an excellent young man, full of heart. I have great confidence in him,—so much so that I recommended him to his Majesty as Secretary. I am sure that he will do all he can to be of use to you."

Dolores looked up incredulously, and with a certain wonder at the Prince's extreme simplicity. Yet he had been married ten years to the clever woman who ruled him and Perez and King Philip, and made each one believe that she was devoted to him only, body and soul. Of the three, Perez alone may have guessed the truth, but though it was degrading enough, he would not let it stand in the way of his advancement; and in the end it was he who escaped, leaving her to perish, the victim of the King's implacable anger, Dolores could not help shaking her head in answer to the Prince of Eboli's speech.

"People are very unjust to Perez," he said. "But the King trusts him. If he is there, try to conciliate him, for he has much influence with his Majesty."

Dolores said nothing, and resuming her attitude, returned to her sad meditations, and to the study of some immediate plan. But she could think of no way. Her only fixed intention was to see the King himself. Ruy Gomez could do no more to help her than he had done already, and that indeed was not little, since it was to his kindly impulse that she owed her meeting with her father.

"And if Perez is not inclined to help Don Diego," said the Prince, after a long pause which had not interrupted the slow progression of, his kindly thought, "I will request my wife to speak to him. I have often noticed that the Princess can make Perez do almost anything she wishes. Women are far cleverer than men, my dear—they have ways we do not understand. Yes, I will interest my wife in the affair. It would be a sad thing if your father—"

The old man stopped short, and Dolores wondered vaguely what he had been going to say. Ruy Gomez was a very strange compound of almost childlike and most honourable simplicity, and of the experienced wisdom with regard to the truth of matters in which he was not concerned, which sometimes belongs to very honourable and simple men.

"You do not believe that my father is guilty," said Dolores, boldly asserting what she suspected.

"My dear child," answered Ruy Gomez, twisting his rings on his fingers as he spread his hands above the coals in the brazier, "I have lived in this court for fifty years, and I have learned in that time that where great matters are at stake those who do not know the whole truth are often greatly deceived by appearances. I know nothing of the real matter now, but it would not surprise me if a great change took place before to-morrow night. A man who has committed a crime so horrible as the one your father confessed before us all rarely finds it expedient to make such a confession, and a young girl, my dear, who has really been a little too imprudently in love with a royal Prince, would be a great deal too wise to make a dramatic statement of her fault to the assembled Grandees of Spain."

He looked across at Dolores and smiled gently. But she only shook her head gravely in answer, though she wondered at what he said, and wondered, too, whether there might not be a great many persons in the court who thought as he did. She was silent, too, because it hurt her to talk when she could not draw breath without remembering that what she had lived for was lying dead in that dim room on the upper story.

The door opened, and a chamberlain entered the room.

"His Majesty is pleased to receive Dona Dolores de Mendoza, in private audience," he said.

Ruy Gomez rose and led Dolores out into the corridor.

* * * * *



CHAPTER XVIII

Dolores had prepared no speech with which to appeal to the King, and she had not counted upon her own feelings towards him when she found herself in the room where Mendoza had been questioned, and heard the door closed behind her by the chamberlain who had announced her coming. She stood still a moment, dazzled by the brilliant lights after having been so long in the dimmer waiting room. She had never before been in the King's study, and she had fancied it very different from what it really was when she had tried to picture to herself the coming interview. She had supposed the room small, sombre, littered with books and papers, and cold; it was, on the contrary, so spacious as to be almost a hall, it was brightly illuminated and warmed by the big wood fire. Magnificent tapestries covered the walls with glowing colour, and upon one of these, in barbaric bad taste, was hung a single great picture by Titian, Philip's favourite master. Dolores blushed as she recognized in the face of the insolent Venus the features of the Princess of Eboli. Prom his accustomed chair, the King could see this painting. Everywhere in the room there were rich objects that caught and reflected the light, things of gold and silver, of jade and lapis lazuli, in a sort of tasteless profusion that detracted from the beauty of each, and made Dolores feel that she had been suddenly transported out of her own element into another that was hard to breathe and in which it was bad to live. It oppressed her, and though her courage was undiminished, the air of the place seemed to stifle her thought and speech.

As she entered she saw the King in profile, seated in his great chair at some distance from the fire, but looking at it steadily. He did not notice her presence at first. Antonio Perez sat at the table, busily writing, and he only glanced at Dolores sideways when he heard the door close after her. She sank almost to the ground as she made the first court curtsey before advancing, and she came forward into the light. As her skirt swept the ground a second time, Philip looked slowly round, and his dull stare followed her as she came round in a quarter of a wide circle and curtsied a third time immediately in front of him.

She was very beautiful, as she stood waiting for him to speak, and meeting his gaze fearlessly with a look of cold contempt in her white face such as no living person had ever dared to turn to him, while the light of anger burned in her deep grey eyes. But for the presence of the Secretary, she would have spoken first, regardless of court ceremony. Philip looked at her attentively, mentally comparing her with his young Queen's placidly dull personality and with the Princess of Eboli's fast disappearing and somewhat coarse beauty. For the Princess had changed much since Titian had painted his very flattering picture, and though she was only thirty years of age, she was already the mother of many children. Philip stared steadily at the beautiful girl who stood waiting before him, and he wondered why she had never seemed so lovely to him before. There was a half morbid, half bitter savour in what he felt, too,—he had just condemned the beauty's father to death, and she must therefore hate him with all her heart. It pleased him to think of that; she was beautiful and he stared at her long.

"Be seated, Dona Dolores," he said at last, in a muffled voice that was not harsh. "I am glad that you have come, for I have much to say to you."

Without lifting his wrist from the arm of the chair on which it rested, the King moved his hand, and his long forefinger pointed to a low cushioned stool that was placed near him. Dolores came forward unwillingly and sat down. Perez watched the two thoughtfully, and forgot his writing. He did not remember that any one excepting the Princess of Eboli had been allowed to be seated in the King's study. The Queen never came there. Perez' work exempted him in private, of course, from much of the tedious ceremonial upon which Philip insisted. Dolores sat upon the edge of the stool, very erect, with her hands folded on her knees.

"Dona Dolores is pale," observed the King. "Bring a cordial, Perez, or a glass of Oporto wine."

"I thank your Majesty," said the young girl quickly. "I need nothing."

"I will be your physician," answered Philip, very suavely. "I shall insist upon your taking the medicine I prescribe."

He did not turn his eyes from her as Perez brought a gold salver and offered Dolores the glass. It was impossible to refuse, so she lifted it to her lips and sipped a little.

"I thank your Majesty," she said again. "I thank you, sir," she said gravely to Perez as she set down the glass, but she did not raise her eyes to his face as she spoke any more than she would have done if he had been a footman.

"I have much to say to you, and some questions to ask of you," the King began, speaking very slowly, but with extreme suavity.

He paused, and coughed a little, but Dolores said nothing. Then he began to look at her again, and while he spoke he steadily examined every detail of her appearance till his inscrutable gaze had travelled from her headdress to the points of her velvet slippers, and finally remained fixed upon her mouth in a way that disturbed her even more than the speech he made. Perez had resumed his seat.

"In my life," he began, speaking of himself quite without formality, "I have suffered more than most men, in being bereaved of the persons to whom I have been most sincerely attached. The most fortunate and successful sovereign in the world has been and is the most unhappy man in his kingdom. One after another, those I have loved have been taken from me, until I am almost alone in the world that is so largely mine. I suppose you cannot understand that, my dear, for my sorrows began before you were born. But they have reached their crown and culmination to-day in the death of my dear brother."

He paused, watching her mouth, and he saw that she was making a superhuman effort to control herself, pressing the beautiful lips together, though they moved gainfully in spite of her, and visibly lost colour.

"Perez," he said after a moment, "you may go and take some rest. I will send for you when I need you."

The Secretary rose, bowed low, and left the room by a small masked door in a corner. The King waited till he saw it close before he spoke again. His tone changed a little then and his words came quickly, as if he felt here constraint.

"I feel," he said, "that we are united by a common calamity, my dear. I intend to take you under my most particular care and protection from this very hour. Yes, I know!" he held up his hand o deprecate any interruption, for Dolores seemed about to speak. "I know why you come to me, you wish to intercede for your father. That is natural, and you are right to come to me yourself, for I would rather hear your voice than that of another speaking for you, and I would rather grant any mercy in my power to you directly than to some personage of the court who would be seeking his own interest as much as yours."

"I ask justice, not mercy, Sire," said Dolores, in a firm, low voice, and the fire lightened in her eyes.

"Your father shall have both," answered Philip, "for they are compatible."

"He needs no mercy," returned the young girl, "for he has done no harm. Your Majesty knows that as well as I."

"If I knew that, my dear, your father would not be under arrest. I cannot guess what you know or do not know—"

"I know the truth." She spoke so confidently that the King's expression changed a little.

"I wish I did," he answered, with as much suavity as ever. "But tell me what you think you know about this matter. You may help me to sift it, and then I shall be the better able to help you, if such a thing be possible. What do you know?"

Dolores leaned forward toward him from her seat, almost rising as she lowered her voice to a whisper, her eyes fixed on his face.

"I was close behind the door your Majesty wished to open," she said. "I heard every word; I heard your sword drawn and I heard Don John fall—and then it was some time before I heard my father's voice, taking the blame upon himself, lest it should be said that the King had murdered his own brother in his room, unarmed. Is that the truth, or not?"

While she was speaking, a greenish hue overspread Philip's face, ghastly in the candlelight. He sat upright in his chair, his hands straining on its arms and pushing, as if he would have got farther back if he could. He had foreseen everything except that Dolores had been in the next room, for his secret spies had informed him through Perez that her father had kept her a prisoner during the early part of the evening and until after supper.

"When you were both gone," Dolores continued, holding him under her terrible eyes, "I came in, and I found him dead, with the wound in his left breast, and he was unarmed, murdered without a chance for his life. There is blood upon my dress where it touched his—the blood of the man I loved, shed by you. Ah, he was right to call you coward, and he died for me, because you said things of me that no loving man would bear. He was right to call you coward—it was well said—it was the last word he spoke, and I shall not forget it. He had borne everything you heaped upon himself, your insults, your scorn of his mother, but he would not let you cast a slur upon my name, and if you had not killed him out of sheer cowardice, he would have struck you in the face. He was a man! And then my father took the blame to save you from the monstrous accusation, and that all might believe him guilty he told the lie that saved you before them all. Do I know the truth? Is one word of that not true?"

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