She had quite risen now and stood before him like an accusing angel. And he, who was seldom taken unawares, and was very hard to hurt, leaned back and suffered, slowly turning his head from side to side against the back of the high carved chair.
"Confess that it is true!" she cried, in concentrated tones. "Can you not even find courage for that? You are not the King now, you are your brother's murderer, and the murderer of the man I loved, whose wife I should have been to-morrow. Look at me, and confess that I have told the truth. I am a Spanish woman, and I would not see my country branded before the world with the shame of your royal murders, and if you will confess and save my father, I will keep your secret for my country's sake. But if not—then you must either kill me here, as you slew him, or by the God that made you and the mother that bore you, I will tell all Spain what you are, and the men who loved Don John of Austria shall rise and take your blood for his blood, though it be blood royal, and you shall die, as you killed, like the coward you are!"
The King's eyes were closed, and still his great pale head moved slowly from side to side; for he was suffering, and the torture of mind he had made Mendoza bear was avenged already. But he was silent.
"Will you not speak?" asked the young girl, with blazing eyes. "Then find some weapon and kill me here before I go, for I shall not wait till you find many words."
She was silent, and she stood upright in the act to go. He made no sound, and she moved towards the door, stood still, then moved again and then again, pausing for his answer at each step. He heard her, but could not bring himself to speak the words she demanded of him. She began to walk quickly. Her hand was almost on the door when he raised himself by the arms of his chair, and cried out to her in a frightened voice:—
"No, no! Stay here—you must not go—what do you want me to say?"
She advanced a step again, and once more stood still and met his scared eyes as he turned his face towards her.
"Say, 'You have spoken the truth,'" she answered, dictating to him as if she were the sovereign and he a guilty subject.
She waited a moment and then moved as if she would go out.
"Stay—yes—it is true—I did it—for God's mercy do not betray me!"
He almost screamed the words out to her, half rising, his body bent, his face livid in his extreme fear. She came slowly back towards him, keeping her eyes upon him as if he were some dangerous wild animal that she controlled by her look alone.
"That is not all," she said. "That was for me, that I might hear the words from your own lips. There is something more."
"What more do you want of me?" asked Philip, in thick tones, leaning back exhausted in his chair.
"My father's freedom and safety," answered Dolores. "I must have an order for his instant release. He can hardly have reached his prison yet. Send for him. Let him come here at once, as a free man."
"That is impossible," replied Philip. "He has confessed the deed before the whole court—he cannot possibly be set at liberty without a trial. You forget what you are asking—indeed you forget yourself altogether too much."
He was gathering his dignity again, by force of habit, as his terror subsided, but Dolores was too strong for him.
"I am not asking anything of your Majesty; I am dictating terms to my lover's murderer," she said proudly.
"This is past bearing, girl!" cried Philip hoarsely. "You are out of your mind—I shall call servants to take you away to a place of safety. We shall see what you will do then. You shall not impose your insolence upon me any longer."
Dolores reflected that it was probably in his power to carry out the threat, and to have her carried off by the private door through which Perez had gone out. She saw in a flash how great her danger was, for she was the only witness against him, and if he could put her out of the way in a place of silence, he could send her father to trial and execution without risk to himself, as he had certainly intended to do. On the other hand, she had been able to terrify him to submission a few moments earlier. In the instant working of her woman's mind, she recollected how his fright had increased as she had approached the door by which she had entered. His only chance of accomplishing her disappearance lay in having her taken away by some secret passage, where no open scandal could be possible.
Before she answered his last angry speech, she had almost reached the main entrance again.
"Call whom you will," she said contemptuously. "You cannot save yourself. Don Ruy Gomez is on the other side of that door, and there are chamberlains and guards there, too. I shall have told them all the truth before your men can lay hands on me. If you will not write the order to release my father, I shall go out at once. In ten minutes there will be a revolution in the palace, and to-morrow all Spain will be on fire to avenge your brother. Spain has not forgotten Don Carlos yet! There are those alive who saw you give Queen Isabel the draught that killed her—with your own hand. Are you mad enough to think that no one knows those things, that your spies, who spy on others, do not spy on you, that you alone, of all mankind, can commit every crime with impunity?"
"Take care, girl! Take care!"
"Beware—Don Philip of Austria, King of Spain and half the world, lest a girl's voice be heard above yours, and a girl's hand loosen the foundation of your throne, lest all mankind rise up to-morrow and take your life for the lives you have destroyed! Outside this door here, there are men who guess the truth already, who hate you as they hate Satan, and who loved your brother as every living being loved him—except you. One moment more—order my father to be set free, or I will open and speak. One moment! You will not? It is too late—you are lost!"
Her hand went out to open, but Philip was already on his feet, and with quick, clumsy steps he reached the writing-table, seized the pen Perez had thrown down, and began to scrawl words rapidly in his great angular handwriting. He threw sand upon it to dry the ink, and then poured the grains back into the silver sandbox, glanced at the paper and held it out to Dolores without a word. His other hand slipped along the table to a silver bell, used for calling his private attendants, but the girl saw the movement and instinctively suspected his treachery. He meant her to come to the table, when he would ring the bell and then catch her and hold her by main force till help came. Her faculties were furiously awake under the strain she bore, and outran his slow cunning.
"If you ring that bell, I will open," she said imperiously. "I must have the paper here, where I am safe, and I must read it myself before I shall be satisfied."
"You are a terrible woman," said the King, but she did not like his smile as he came towards her, holding out the document.
She took it from his hand, keeping her eyes on his, for something told her that he would try to seize her and draw her from the door while she was reading it. For some seconds they faced each other in silence, and she knew by his determined attitude that she was right, and that it would not be safe to look down. She wondered why he did not catch her in his arms as she stood, and then she realized that her free hand was on the latch of the door, and that he knew it. She slowly turned the handle, and drew the door to her, and she saw his face fall. She moved to one side so that she could have sprung out if he had tried violence, and then at last she allowed her eyes to glance at the paper. It was in order and would be obeyed; she saw that, at a glance, for it said that Don Diego de Mendoza was to be set at liberty instantly and unconditionally.
"I humbly thank your Majesty, and take my leave," she said, throwing the door wide open and curtseying low.
A chamberlain who had seen the door move on its hinges stepped in to shut it, for it opened inward. The King beckoned him in, and closed it, but before it was quite shut, he heard Dolores' voice.
"Don Ruy Gomez," she was saying, "this is an order to set my father at liberty unconditionally and at once. I do not know to whom it should be given. Will you take it for me and see to it?"
"I will go to the west tower myself," he said, beginning to walk with her. "Such good news is even better when a friend brings it."
"Thank you. Tell him from me that he is safe, for his Majesty has told me that he knows the whole truth. Will you do that? You have been very kind to me to-night, Prince—let me thank you with all my heart now, for we may not meet again. You will not see me at court after this, and I trust my father will take us back to Valladolid and live with us."
"That would be wise," answered Ruy Gomez. "As for any help I have given you, it has been little enough and freely given. I will not keep your father waiting for his liberty. Good-night, Dona Dolores."
* * * * *
All that had happened from the time when Don John had fallen in his room to the moment when Dolores left her sister on the terrace had occupied little more than half an hour, during which the King had descended to the hall, Mendoza had claimed the guilt of Don John's murder, and the two had gone out under the protection of the guards. As soon as Dolores was out of hearing, Inez rose and crept along the terrace to Don John's door. In the confusion that had ensued upon the announcement of his death no one had thought of going to him; every one took it for granted that some one else had done what was necessary, and that his apartments were filled with physicians and servants. It was not the first time in history that a royal personage had thus been left alone an hour, either dead or dying, because no one was immediately responsible, and such things have happened since.
Inez stole along the terrace and found the outer door open, as the dwarf had left it when he had carried Dolores out in his arms. She remembered that the voices she had heard earlier had come from rooms on the left of the door, and she felt her way to the entrance of the bedchamber, and then went in without hesitation. Bending very low, so that her hands touched the floor from time to time, she crept along, feeling for the body she expected to find. Suddenly she started and stood upright in an instant. She had heard a deep sigh in the room, not far off.
She listened intently, but even her ears could detect no sound after that. She was a little frightened, not with any supernatural fear, for the blind, who live in the dark for ever, are generally singularly exempt from such terrors, but because she had thought herself alone with the dead man, and did not wish to be discovered.
"Who is here?" she asked quickly, but there was no answer out of the dead stillness.
She stood quite still a few seconds and then crept forward again, bending down and feeling before her along the floor. A moment later her hand touched velvet, and she knew that she had found what she sought. With a low moan she fell upon her knees and felt for the cold hand that lay stretched out upon the marble pavement beyond the thick carpet. Her hand followed the arm, reached the shoulder and then the face. Her fingers fluttered lightly upon the features, while her own heart almost stood still She felt no horror of death, though she had never been near a dead person before; and those who were fond of her had allowed her to feel their features with her gentle hands, and she knew beauty through her touch, by its shape. Though her heart was breaking, she had felt that once, before it was too late, she must know the face she had long loved in dreams. Her longing satisfied, her grief broke out again, and she let herself fall her length upon the floor beside Don John, one arm across his chest, her head resting against the motionless shoulder, her face almost hidden against the gathered velvet and silk of his doublet. Once or twice she sobbed convulsively, and then she lay quite still, trying with all her might to die there, on his arm, before any one came to disturb her. It seemed very simple, just to stop living and stay with him for ever.
Again she heard a sound of deep-drawn breath—but it was close to her now, and her own arm moved with it on his chest—the dead man had moved, he had sighed. She started up wildly, with a sharp cry, half of paralyzing fear, and half of mad delight in a hope altogether impossible. Then, he drew his breath again, and it issued from his lips with a low groan. He was not quite dead yet, he might speak to her still, he could hear her voice, perhaps, before he really died. She could never have found courage to kiss him, even then she could have blushed scarlet at the thought, but she bent down to his face, very close to it, till her cheek almost touched his as she spoke in a very trembling, low voice.
"Not yet—not yet—come back for one moment, only for one little moment! Oh, let it be God's miracle for me!"
She hardly knew what she said, but the miracle was there, for she heard his breath come again and again, and as she stared into her everlasting night, strange flashes, like light, shot through her brain, her bosom trembled, and her hands stiffened in the spasm of a delirious joy.
"Come back!" she cried again. "Come back!" Her hands shook as they felt his body move.
His voice came again, not in a word yet, but yet not in a groan of pain. His eyes, that had been half open and staring, closed with a look of rest, and colour rose slowly in his cheeks. Then he felt her breath, and his strength returned for an instant, his arms contracted and clasped her to him violently.
"Dolores!" he cried, and in a moment his lips rained kisses on her face, while his eyes were still closed.
Then he sank back again exhausted, and her arm kept his head from striking the marble floor. The girl's cheek flushed a deep red, as she tried to speak, and her words came broken and indistinct.
"I am not Dolores," she managed to say. "I am Inez—"
But he did not hear, for he was swooning again, and the painful blush sank down again, as she realized that he was once more unconscious. She wondered whether the room were dark or whether there were lights, or whether he had not opened his eyes when he had kissed her. His head was very heavy on her arm. With her other hand she drew off the hood she wore and rolled it together, and lifting him a little she made a pillow of it so that he rested easily. He had not recognized her, and she believed he was dying, he had kissed her, and all eternity could not take from her the memory of that moment. In the wild confusion of her thoughts she was almost content that he should die now, for she had felt what she had never dared to feel in sweetest dreams, and it had been true, and no one could steal it away now, nor should any one ever know it, not even Dolores herself. The jealous thought was there, in the whirlwind of her brain, with all the rest, sudden, fierce, and strong, as if Don John had been hers in life, and as if the sister she loved so dearly had tried to win him from her. He was hers in death, and should be hers for ever, and no one should ever know. It did not matter that he had taken her for another, his kisses were her own. Once only had a man's lips, not her father's, touched her cheek, and they had been the lips of the fairest, and best, and bravest man in the world, her idol and her earthly god. He might die now, and she would follow him, and in the world beyond God would make it right somehow, and he, and she, and her sister would all be but one loving soul for ever and ever. There was no reasoning in all that—it was but the flash of wild thoughts that all seemed certainties.
But Don John of Austria was neither dead nor dying. His brother's sword had pierced his doublet and run through the outer flesh beneath his left arm, as he stood sideways with his right thrust forward. The wound was a mere scratch, as soldiers count wounds, and though the young blood had followed quickly, it had now ceased to flow. It was the fall that had hurt him, not the stab. The carpet had slipped from under his feet, and he had fallen backwards to his full length, as a man falls on ice, and his head had struck the marble floor so violently that he had lain half an hour almost in a swoon, like a dead man at first, with neither breath nor beating of the heart to give a sign of life, till after Dolores had left him; and then he had sighed back to consciousness by very slow degrees, because no one was there to help him, to raise his head a few inches from the floor, to dash a little cold water into his face.
He stirred uneasily now, and moved his hands again, and his eyes opened wide. Inez felt the slight motion and heard his regular breathing, and an instinct told her that he was conscious, and not in a dream as he had been when he had kissed her.
"I am Inez," she said, almost mechanically, and not knowing why she had feared that he should take her for her sister. "I found your Highness here—they all think that you are dead."
"Dead?" There was surprise in his voice, and his eyes looked at her and about the room as he spoke, though he did not yet lift his head from the hood on which it lay. "Dead?" he repeated, dazed still. "No—I must have fallen. My head hurts me."
He uttered a sharp sound as he moved again, more of annoyance than of suffering, as strong men do who unexpectedly find themselves hurt or helpless, or both. Then, as his eyes fell upon the open door of the inner room, he forgot his pain instantly and raised himself upon his hand with startled eyes.
"Where is Dolores?" he cried, in utmost anxiety. "Where have they taken her? Did she get out by the window?"
"She is safe," answered Inez, hardly knowing what she said, for he turned pale instantly and had barely heard her answer, when he reeled as he half sat and almost fell against her.
She held him as well as she could, but the position was strained and she was not very strong. Half mad now, between fear lest he should die in her arms and the instinctive belief that he was to live, she wished with all her heart that some one would come and help her, or send for a physician. He might die for lack of some simple aid she did not know how to give him. But he had only been dizzy with the unconscious effort he had made, and presently he rested on his own hand again.
"Thank God Dolores is safe!" he said, in a weak voice. "Can you help me to get to a chair, my dear child? I must have been badly stunned. I wonder how long I have been here. I remember—"
He paused and passed one hand over his eyes. The first instinct of strong persons who have been unconscious is to think aloud, and to try and recall every detail of the accident that left them unconscious.
"I remember—the King was here—we talked and we quarrelled—oh!"
The short exclamation ended his speech, as complete recollection returned, and he knew that the secret must be kept, for his brother's sake. He laid one head on the slight girl's shoulder to steady himself, and with his other he helped himself to kneel on one knee.
"I am very dizzy," he said. "Try and help me to a chair, Inez."
She rose swiftly, holding his hand, and then putting one arm round him under his own. He struggled to his feet and leaned his weight upon her, and breathed hard. The effort hurt him where the flesh was torn.
"I am wounded, too," he said quietly, as he glanced at the blood on his vest. "But it is nothing serious, I think."
With the instinct of the soldier hurt in the chest, he brushed his lips with the small lace ruffle of his sleeve, and looked at it, expecting to see the bright red stains that might mean death. There was nothing.
"It is only a scratch," he said, with an accent of indifference. "Help me to the chair, my dear."
"Where?" she asked. "I do not know the room."
"One forgets that you are blind," he answered, with a smile, and leaning heavily upon her, he led her by his weight, till he could touch the chair in which he had sat reading Dolores' letter when the King had entered an hour earlier.
He sat down with a sigh of relief, and stretched first one leg and then the other, and leaned back with half-closed eyes.
"Where is Dolores?" he asked at last. "Why did she go away?"
"The jester took her away, I think," answered Inez. "I found them together on the terrace. She was trying to come back to you, but he prevented her. They thought you were dead."
"That was wise of him." He spoke faintly still, and when he opened his eyes, the room swam with him. "And then?"
"Then I told her what had happened at court; I had heard everything from the gallery. And Dolores went down alone. I could not understand what she was going to do, but she is trying to save our father."
"Your father!" Don John looked at her in surprise, forgetting his hurt, but it was as if some one had struck his head again, and he closed his eyes. "What has happened?" he asked faintly. "Try and tell me. I do not understand."
"My father thought he had killed you," answered Inez, in surprise. "He came into the great hall when the King was there, and he cried out in a loud voice that he had killed you, unarmed."
"Your father?" He forgot his suffering altogether now. "Your father was not even in the room when—when I fell! And did the King say nothing? Tell me quickly!"
"There was a great uproar, and I ran away to find Dolores. I do not know what happened afterwards."
Don John turned painfully in his chair and lifted his hand to the back of his head. But he said nothing at first, for he was beginning to understand, and he would not betray the secret of his accident even to Inez.
"I knew he could not have done it! I thought he was mad—he most have been! But I also thought your Highness was dead."
"Dear child!" Don John's voice was very kind. "You brought me to life. Your father was not here. It was some one else who hurt me. Do you think you could find Dolores or send some one to tell her—to tell every one that I am alive? Say that I had a bad fall and was stunned for a while. Never mind the scratch—it is nothing—do not speak of it. If you could find Adonis, he could go."
He groaned now, for the pain of speaking was almost intolerable. Inez put out her hand towards him.
"Does it hurt very much?" she asked, with a sort of pathetic, childlike sympathy.
"Yes, my head hurts, but I shall not faint. There is something to drink by the bed, I think—on this side. If you could only find it. I cannot walk there yet, I am so giddy."
"Some one is coming!" exclaimed Inez, instead of answering him. "I hear some one on the terrace. Hark!" she listened with bent head. "It is Adonis. I know his step. There he is!"
Almost as she spoke the last words the dwarf was in the doorway. He stood still, transfixed with astonishment.
"Mercy of heaven!" he exclaimed devoutly. "His Highness is alive after all!"
"Yes," said Inez, in a glad tone. "The Prince was only stunned by the fall. Go and tell Dolores—go out and tell every one—bring every one here to me!"
"No!" cried Don John. "Try and bring Dona Dolores alone, and let no one else know. The rest can wait."
"But your Highness needs a physician," protested the dwarf, not yet recovered from his astonishment. "Your Highness is wounded, and must therefore be bled at once. I will call the Doctor Galdos—"
"I tell you it is nothing," interrupted Don John. "Do as I order you, and bring Dona Dolores. Give me that drink there, first—from the little table. In a quarter of an hour I shall be quite well again. I have been as badly stunned before when my horse has fallen with me at a barrier."
The jester swung quickly to the table, in his awkward, bow-legged gait, and brought the beaker that stood there. Don John drank eagerly, for his lips were parched with pain.
"Go!" he said imperatively. "And come back quickly."
"I will go," said Adonis. "But I may not come back quickly, for I believe that Dona Dolores is with his Majesty at this moment, or with her father, unless the three are together. Since it has pleased your Highness not to remain dead, it would have been much simpler not to die at all, for your Highness's premature death has caused trouble which your Highness's premature resurrection may not quickly set right."
"The sooner you bring Dona Dolores, the sooner the tremble will be over," said Don John. "Go at once, and do your best."
Adonis rolled away, shaking his head and almost touching the floor with his hands as he walked.
"So the Last Trumpet is not merely another of those priests' tales!" he muttered. "I shall meet Don Carlos on the terrace, and the Emperor in the corridor, no doubt! They might give a man time to confess his sins. It was unnecessary that the end of the world should come so suddenly!"
The last words of his jest were spoken to himself, for he was already outside when he uttered them, and he had no intention of wasting time in bearing the good news to Dolores. The difficulty was to find her. He had been a witness of the scene in the hall from the balcony, and he guessed that when she left the hall with Ruy Gomez she would go either to her father or the King. It would not be an easy matter to see her, and it was by no means beyond the bounds of possibility that he might be altogether hindered from doing so, unless he at once announced to every one he met the astounding fact that Don John was alive after all. He was strongly tempted to do that, without waiting, for it seemed by far the most sensible thing to do in the disturbed state of the court; but it was his business to serve and amuse many masters, and his office, if not his life, depended upon obeying each in turn and finding the right jest for each. He placed the King highest, of course, among those he had to please, and before he had gone far in the corridor he slackened his pace to give himself time to think over the situation. Either the King had meant to kill Don John himself, or he had ordered Mendoza to do so. That much was clear to any one who had known the secret of Don Carlos' death, and the dwarf had been one of the last who had talked with the unfortunate Prince before that dark tragedy. And on this present night he had seen everything, and knew more of the thoughts of each of the actors in the drama than any one else, so that he had no doubt as to his conclusions. If, then, the King had wished to get rid of Don John, he would be very much displeased to learn that the latter was alive after all. It would not be good to be the bearer of that news, and it was more than likely that Philip would let Mendoza go to the scaffold for the attempt, as he long afterwards condemned Antonio Perez to death for the murder of Escobedo, Don John's secretary, though he himself had ordered Perez to do that deed; as he had already allowed the ecclesiastic Doctor Cazalla to be burned alive, though innocent, rather than displease the judges who had condemned him. The dwarf well knew that there was no crime, however monstrous, of which Philip was not capable, and of the righteous necessity of which he could not persuade himself if he chose. Nothing could possibly be more dangerous than to stand between him and the perpetration of any evil he considered politically necessary, except perhaps to hinder him in the pursuit of his gloomy and secret pleasures. Adonis decided at once that he would not be the means of enlightening the King on the present occasion. He most go to some one else. The second person in command of his life, and whom he dreaded most after Philip himself, was the Princess of Eboli.
He knew her secret, too, as he had formerly known how she had forged the letters that brought about the deaths of Don Carlos and of Queen Isabel; for the Princess ruled him by fear, and knew that she could trust him as long as he stood in terror of her. He knew, therefore, that she had not only forgiven Don John for not yielding to her charm in former days, but that she now hoped that he might ascend the throne in Philip's stead, by fair means or foul, and that the news of his death must have been a destructive blow to her hopes. He made up his mind to tell her first that he was alive, unless he could get speech with Dolores alone, which seemed improbable. Having decided this, he hastened his walk again.
Before he reached the lower story of the palace he composed his face to an expression of solemnity, not to say mourning, for he remembered that as no one knew the truth but himself, he must not go about with too gay a look. In the great vestibule of the hall he found a throng of courtiers, talking excitedly in low tones, but neither Dolores nor Ruy Gomez was there. He sidled up to a tall officer of the guards who was standing alone, looking on.
"Could you inform me, sir," he asked, "what became of Dona Dolores de Mendoza when she left the hall with the Prince of Eboli?"
The officer looked down at the dwarf, with whom he had never spoken before, but who, in his way, was considered to be a personage of importance by the less exalted members of the royal household. Indeed, Adonis was by no means given to making acquaintance at haphazard with all those who wished to know him in the hope that he might say a good word for them when the King was in a pleasant humour.
"I do not know, Master Adonis," answered the magnificent lieutenant, very politely. "But if you wish it, I will enquire."
"You are most kind and courteous, sir," answered the dwarf ceremoniously. "I have a message for the lady."
The officer turned away and went towards the King's apartments, leaving the jester in the corner. Adonis knew that he might wait some time before his informant returned, and he shrank into the shadow to avoid attracting attention. That was easy enough, so long as the crowd was moving and did not diminish, but before long he heard some one speaking within the hall, as if addressing a number of persons at once, and the others began to leave the vestibule in order to hear what was passing. Though the light did not fall upon him directly, the dwarf, in his scarlet dress, became a conspicuous object. Yet he did not dare to go away, for fear of missing the officer when the latter should return. His anxiety to escape observation was not without cause, since he really wished to give Don John's message to Dolores before any one else knew the truth. In a few moments he saw the Princess of Eboli coming towards him, leaning on the arm of the Duke of Medina Sidonia. She came from the hall as if she had been listening to the person who was still speaking near the door, and her handsome face wore a look of profound dejection and disappointment. She had evidently seen the dwarf, for she walked directly towards him, and at half a dozen paces she stopped and dismissed her companion, who bowed low, kissed the tips of her fingers, and withdrew.
Adonis drew down the corners of his mouth, bent his head still lower, and tried to look as unhappy as possible, in imitation of the Princess's expression. She stood still before him, and spoke briefly in imperious tones.
"What is the meaning of all this?" she asked. "Tell me the truth at once. It will be the better for you."
"Madam," answered Adonis, with all the assurance he could muster, "I think your Excellency knows the truth much better than I."
The Princess bent her black brows and her eyes began to gleam angrily. Titian would not have recognized in her stern face the smiling features of his portrait of her—of the insolently beautiful Venus painted by order of King Philip when the Princess was in the height of his favour.
"My friend," she said, in a mocking tone, "I know nothing, and you know everything. At the present moment your disappearance from the court will not attract even the smallest attention compared with the things that are happening. If you do not tell me what you know, you will not be here to-morrow, and I will see that you are burned alive for a sorcerer next week. Do you understand? Now tell me who killed Don John of Austria, and why. Be quick, I have no time to lose."
Adonis made up his mind very suddenly that it would be better to disobey Don John than the angry woman who was speaking to him.
"Nobody killed him," he answered bluntly.
The Princess was naturally violent, especially with her inferiors, and when she was angry she easily lost all dignity. She seized the dwarf by the arm and shook him.
"No jesting!" she cried. "He did not kill himself—who did it?"
"Nobody," repeated Adonis doggedly, and quite without fear, for he knew how glad she would be to know the truth. "His Highness is not dead at all—"
"You little hound!" The Princess shook him furiously again and threatened to strike him with her other hand.
He only laughed.
"Before heaven, Madam," he said, "the Prince is alive and recovered, and is sitting in his chair. I have just been talking with him. Will you go with me to his Highness's apartment? If he is not there, and safe, burn me for a heretic to-morrow."
The Princess's hands dropped by her sides in sheer amazement, for she saw that the jester was in earnest.
"He had a scratch in the scuffle," he continued, "but it was the fall that killed him, his resurrection followed soon afterwards—and I trust that his ascension may be no further distant than your Excellency desires."
He laughed at his blasphemous jest, and the Princess laughed too, a little wildly, for she could hardly control her joy.
"And who wounded him?" she asked suddenly. "You know everything, you must know that also."
"Madam," said the dwarf, fixing his eyes on hers, "we both know the name of the person who wounded Don John, very well indeed, I regret that I should not be able to recall it at this moment. His Highness has forgotten it too, I am sure."
The Princess's expression did not change, but she returned his gaze steadily during several seconds, and then nodded slowly to show that she understood. Then she looked away and was silent for a moment.
"I am sorry I was rough with you, Adonis," she said at last, thoughtfully. "It was hard to believe you at first, and if the Prince had been dead, as we all believed, your jesting would have been abominable. There,"—she unclasped a diamond brooch from her bodice—"take that, Adonis—you can turn it into money."
The Princess's financial troubles were notorious, and she hardly ever possessed any ready gold.
"I shall keep it as the most precious of my possessions," answered the dwarf readily.
"No," she said quickly. "Sell it. The King—I mean—some one may see it if you keep it."
"It shall be sold to-morrow, then," replied the jester, bending his head to hide his smile, for he understood what she meant.
"One thing more," she said; "Don John did not send you down to tell this news to the court without warning. He meant that I should know it before any one else. You have told me—now go away and do not tell others."
Adonis hesitated a moment. He wished to do Don John's bidding if he could, but he knew his danger, and that he should be forgiven if, to save his own head, he did not execute the commission. The Princess wished an immediate answer, and she had no difficulty in guessing the truth.
"His Highness sent you to find Dona Dolores," she said. "Is that not true?"
"It is true," replied Adonis. "But," he added, anticipating her wish out of fear, "it is not easy to find Dona Dolores."
"It is impossible. Did you expect to find her by waiting in this corner! Adonis, it is safer for you to serve me than Don John, and in serving me you will help his interests. You know that. Listen to me—Dona Dolores must believe him dead till to-morrow morning. She must on no account find out that he is alive."
At that moment the officer who had offered to get information for the dwarf returned. Seeing the latter in conversation with such a great personage, he waited at a little distance.
"If you have found out where Dona Dolores de Mendoza is at this moment, my dear sir," said Adonis, "pray tell the Princess of Eboli, who is very anxious to know."
The officer bowed and came nearer.
"Dona Dolores de Mendoza is in his Majesty's inner apartment," he said.
* * * * *
Dolores and Ruy Gomez had passed through the outer vestibule, and he left her to pursue his way towards the western end of the Alcazar, which was at a considerable distance from the royal apartments. Dolores went down the corridor till she came to the niche and the picture before which Don John had paused to read the Princess of Eboli's letter after supper. She stopped a moment, for she suddenly felt that her strength was exhausted and that she must rest or break down altogether. She leaned her weight against the elaborately carved railing that shut off the niche like a shrine, and looked at the painting, which was one of Raphael's smaller masterpieces, a Holy Family so smoothly and delicately painted that it jarred upon her at that moment as something untrue and out of all keeping with possibility. Though most perfectly drawn and coloured, the spotlessly neat figures with their airs of complacent satisfaction seemed horribly out of place in the world of suffering she was condemned to dwell in, and she fancied, somewhat irreverently and resentfully, that they would look as much out of keeping with their surroundings in a heaven that must be won by the endurance of pain. Their complacent smiles seemed meant for her anguish, and she turned from the picture in displeasure, and went on.
She was going back to her sister on the terrace, and she was going to kneel once more beside the dear head of the man she had loved, and to say one last prayer before his face was covered for ever. At the thought she felt that she needed no rest again, for the vision drew her to the sorrowful presence of its reality, and she could not have stopped again if she had wished to. She must go straight on, on to the staircase, up the long flight of steps, through the lonely corridors, and out at hist to the moonlit terrace where Inez was waiting. She went forward in a dream, without pausing. Since she had freed her father she had a right to go back to her grief. But as she went along, lightly and quickly, it seemed beyond her own belief that she should have found strength for what she had done that night. For the strength of youth is elastic and far beyond its own knowledge. Dolores had reached the last passage that led out upon the terrace, when she heard hurrying footsteps behind her, and a woman in a cloak slipped beside her, walking very easily and smoothly. It was the Princess of Eboli. She had left the dwarf, after frightening him into giving up his search for Dolores, and she was hastening to Don John's rooms to make sure that the jester had not deceived her or been himself deceived in some way she could not understand.
Dolores had lost her cloak in the hall, and was bareheaded, in her court dress. The Princess recognized her in the gloom and stopped her.
"I have looked for you everywhere," she said. "Why did you run away from me before?"
"It was my blind sister who was with you," answered Dolores, who knew her voice at once and had understood from her father what had happened. "Where are you going now?" she asked, without giving the Princess time to put a question.
"I was looking for you. I wish you to come and stay with me to-night—"
"I will stay with my father. I thank you for your kindness, but I would not on any account leave him now."
"Your father is in prison—in the west tower—he has just been sent there. How can you stay with him?"
"You are well informed," said Dolores quietly. "But your husband is just now gone to release him. I gave Don Ruy Gomez the order which his Majesty had himself placed in my hands, and the Prince was kind enough to take it to the west tower himself. My father is unconditionally free."
The Princess looked fixedly at Dolores while the girl was speaking, but it was very dark in the corridor and the lamp was flickering to go out in the night breeze. The only explanation of Mendoza's release lay in the fact that the King was already aware that Don John was alive and in no danger. In that case Dolores knew it, too. It was no great matter, though she had hoped to keep the girl out of the way of hearing the news for a day or two. Dolores' mournful face might have told her that she was mistaken, if there had been more light; but it was far too dark to see shades of colour or expression.
"So your father is free!" she said. "Of course, that was to be expected, but I am glad that he has been set at liberty at once."
"I do not think it was exactly to be expected," answered Dolores, in some surprise, and wondering whether there could have been any simpler way of getting what she had obtained by such extraordinary means.
"He might have been kept under arrest until to-morrow morning, I suppose," said the Princess quietly. "But the King is of course anxious to destroy the unpleasant impression produced by this absurd affair, as soon as possible."
"Absurd!" Dolores' anger rose and overflowed at the word. "Do you dare to use such a word to me to-night?"
"My dear Dolores, why do you lose your temper about such a thing?" asked the Princess, in a conciliatory tone. "Of course if it had all ended as we expected it would, I never should use such a word—if Don John had died—"
"What do you mean?" Dolores held her by the wrist in an instant and the maddest excitement was in her voice.
"What I mean? Why—" the Princess stopped short, realizing that Dolores might not know the truth after all. "What did I say?" she asked, to gain time. "Why do you hold my hand like that?"
"You called the murder of Don John an absurd affair, and then you said, 'if Don John had died'—as if he were not lying there dead in his room, twenty paces from where you stand! Are you mad? Are you playing some heartless comedy with me? What does it all mean?"
The Princess was very worldly wise, and she saw at a glance that she must tell Dolores the truth. If she did not, the girl would soon learn it from some one else, but if she did, Dolores would always remember who had told her the good news.
"My dear," she said very gently, "let my wrist go and let me take your arm. We do not understand each other, or you would not be so angry with me. Something has happened of which you do not know—"
"Oh, no! I know the whole truth!" Dolores interrupted her, and resisted being led along in a slow walk. "Let me go to him!" she cried. "I only wish to see him once more—"
"But, dearest child, listen to me—if I do not tell you everything at once, it is because the shock might hurt you. There is some hope that he may not die—"
"Hope! Oh no, no, no! I saw him lying dead—"
"He had fainted, dear. He was not dead—"
"Not dead?" Dolores' voice broke. "Tell me—tell me quickly." She pressed her hand to her side.
"No. He came to himself after you had left him—he is alive. No—listen to me—yes, dear, he is alive and not much hurt. The wound was a scratch, and he was only stunned—he is well—to-morrow he will be as well as ever—ah, dear, I told you so!"
Dolores had borne grief, shame, torment of mind that night, as bravely as ever a woman bore all three, but the joy of the truth that he lived almost ended her life then and there. She fell back upon the Princess's arm and threw out her hands wildly, as if she were fighting for breath, and the lids of her eyes quivered violently and then were quite still, and she uttered a short, unnatural sound that was more like a groan of pain than a cry of happiness.
The Princess was very strong, and held her, steadying herself against the wall, thinking anything better than to let her slip to the floor and lie swooning on the stone pavement. But the girl was not unconscious, and in a moment her own strength returned.
"Let me go!" she cried wildly. "Let me go to him, or I shall die!"
"Go, child—go," said the Princess, with an accent of womanly kindness that was rare in her voice. But Dolores did not hear it, for she was already gone.
Dolores saw nothing in the room, as she entered, but the eyes of the man she loved, though Inez was still beside him. Dolores threw herself wildly into his arms and hid her face, crying out incoherent words between little showers of happy tears; and her hands softly beat upon his shoulders and against his neck, and stole up wondering to his cheeks and touched his hair, as she drew back her head and held him still to look at him and see that he was whole. She had no speech left, for it was altogether beyond the belief of any sense but touch itself that a man should rise unhurt from the dead, to go on living as if nothing not common had happened in his life, to have his strength at once, to look into her eyes and rain kisses on the lids still dark with grief for his death. Sight could not believe the sight, hearing could not but doubt the sound, yet her hands held him and touched him, and it was he, unhurt saving for a scratch and a bruise. In her overwhelming happiness, she had no questions, and the first syllables that her lips could shape made broken words of love, and of thanks to Heaven that he had been saved alive for her, while her hands still fluttered to his face and beat gently and quickly on his shoulders and his arms, as if fearing lest he should turn to incorporeal light, without substance under her touch, and vanish then in air, as happiness does in a dream, leaving only pain behind.
But at last she threw back her head and let him go, and her hands brushed away the last tears from her grey eyes, and she looked into his face and smiled with parted lips, drinking the sight of him with her breath and eyes and heart. One moment so, and then they kissed as only man and woman can when there has been death between them and it is gone not to come back again.
Then memory returned, though very slowly and broken in many places, for it seemed to her as if she had not been separated from him a moment, and as if he must know all she had done without hearing her story in words. The time had been so short since she had kissed him last, in the little room beyond: there had been the minutes of waiting until the King had come, and then the trying of the door, and then the quarrel, that had lasted a short ten minutes to end in Don John's fall; then the half hour during which he had lain unconscious and alone till Inez had come at the moment when Dolores had gone down to the throne room; and after that the short few minutes in which she had met her father, and then her interview with the King, which had not lasted long, and now she was with him again; and it was not two hours since they had parted—a lifetime of two hours.
"I cannot believe it!" she cried, and now she laughed at last. "I cannot, I cannot! It is impossible!"
"We are both alive," he answered. "We are both flesh and blood, and breathing. I feel as if I had been in an illness or in a sleep that had lasted very long."
"And I in an awful dream." Her face grew grave as she thought of what was but just passed. "You must know it all—surely you know it already—oh, yes! I need not tell it all."
"Something Inez has told me," he replied, "and some things I guess, but I do not know everything. You must try and tell me—but you should not be here—it is late. When my servants know that I am living, they will come back, and my gentlemen and my officers. They would have left me here all night, if I had been really dead, lest being seen near my body should send them to trial for my death." He laughed. "They were wise enough in their way. But you cannot stay here."
"If the whole court found me here, it would not matter," answered Dolores. "Their tongues can take nothing from my name which my own words have not given them to feed on."
"I do not understand," he said, suddenly anxious. "What have you said? What have you done?"
Inez came near them from the window, by which she had been standing. She laid a hand on Dolores' arm.
"I will watch," she said. "If I hear anything, I will warn you, and you can go into the small room again."
She went out almost before either of them could thank her. They had, indeed, forgotten her presence in the room, being accustomed to her being near them; but she could no longer bear to stay, listening to their loving words that made her loneliness so very dark. And now, too, she had memories of her own, which she would keep secret to the end of her life,—beautiful and happy recollections of that sweet moment when the man that seemed dead had breathed and had clasped her in his arms, taking her for the other, and had kissed her as he would have kissed the one he loved. She knew at last what a kiss might be, and that was much; but she knew also what it was to kneel by her dead love and to feel his life come back, breath by breath and beat by beat, till he was all alive; and few women have felt that or can guess how great it is to feel. It was better to go out into the dark and listen, lest any one should disturb the two, than to let her memories of short happiness be marred by hearing words that were not meant for her.
"She found you?" asked Dolores, when she was gone.
"Yes, she found me. You had gone down, she said, to try and save your father. He is safe now!" he laughed.
"She found you alive." Dolores lingered on the words. "I never envied her before, I think; and it is not because if I had stayed I should have suffered less, dear." She put up her hands upon his shoulders again. "It is not for that, but to have thought you dead and to have seen you grow alive again, to have watched your face, to have seen your eyes wake and the colour come back to your cheeks and the warmth to your dear hands! I would have given anything for that, and you would rather that I should have been there, would you not?" She laughed low and kissed away the answer from his lips. "If I had stayed beside you, it would have been sooner, love. You would have felt me there even in your dream of death, and you would have put out your hand to come back to me. Say that you would! You could not have let me lie there many minutes longer breaking my heart over you and wanting to die, too, so that we might be buried together. Surely my kisses would have brought you back!"
"I dreamed they did, as mine would you."
"Sit down beside me," she said presently. "It will be very hard to tell—and it cannot be very long before they come. Oh, they may find me here! It cannot matter now, for I told them all that I had been long in your room to-night."
"Told them all? Told whom? The King? What did you say?" His face was grave again.
"The King, the court, the whole world. But it is harder to tell you." She blushed and looked away. "It was the King that wounded you—I heard you fall."
"Scratched me. I was only stunned for a while."
"He drew his sword, for I heard it. You know the sound a sword makes when it is drawn from a leathern sheath? Of course—you are a soldier! I have often watched my father draw his, and I know the soft, long pull. The King drew quickly, and I knew you were unarmed, and besides—you had promised me that you would not raise your hand against him."
"I remember that my sword was on the table in its scabbard. I got it into my hand, sheathed as it was, to guard myself. Where is it? I had forgotten that. It must be somewhere on the floor."
"Never mind—your men will find it. You fell, and then there was silence, and presently I heard my father's voice saying that he had killed you defenceless. They went away. I was half dead myself when I fell there beside you on the floor. There—do you see? You lay with your head towards the door and one arm out. I shall see you so till I die, whenever I think of it. Then—I forget. Adonis must have found me there, and he carried me away, and Inez met me on the terrace and she had heard my father tell the King that he had murdered you—and it was the King who had done it! Do you understand?"
"I see, yes. Go on!" Don John was listening breathlessly, forgetting the pain he still suffered from time to time.
"And then I went down, and I made Don Ruy Gomez stand beside me on the steps, and the whole court was there—the Grandees and the great dukes—Alva, Medina Sidonia, Medina Cali, Infantado, the Princess of Eboli—the Ambassadors, everyone, all the maids of honour, hundreds and hundreds—an ocean of faces, and they knew me, almost all of them."
"What did you say?" asked Don John very anxiously. "What did you tell them all? That you had been here?"
"Yes—more than that, much more. It was not true, but I hoped they would believe it I said—" the colour filled her face and she caught her breath. "Oh, how can I tell you? Can you not guess what I said?"
"That we were married already, secretly?" he asked. "You might have said that."
"No. Not that—no one would have believed me. I told them," she paused and gathered her strength, and then the words came quickly, ashamed of being heard—"I told them that I knew my father had no share in the crime, because I had been here long to-night, in this room, and even when you were killed, and that I was here because I had given you all, my life, my soul, my honour, everything."
"Great God!" exclaimed Don John starting. "And you did that to save your father?"
She had covered her face with her hands for a moment. Then suddenly she rose and turned away from him, and paced the floor.
"Yes. I did that. What was there for me to do? It was better that I should be ruined and end in a convent than that my father should die on the scaffold. What would have become of Inez?"
"What would have become of you?" Don John's eyes followed her in loving wonder.
"It would not have mattered. But I had thrown away my name for nothing. They believed me, I think, but the King, to spare himself, was determined that my father should die. We met as he was led away to prison. Then I went to the King himself—and when I came away I had my father's release in my hand. Oh, I wish I had that to do again! I wish you had been there, for you would have been proud of me, then. I told him he had killed you, I heard him confess it, I threatened to tell the court, the world, all Spain, if he would not set my father free. But the other—can you forgive me, dear?"
She stood before him now, and the colour was fainter in her cheeks, for she trusted him with all her heart, and she put out her hands.
"Forgive you? What? For doing the bravest thing a woman ever did?"
"I thought you would know it in heaven and understand," she said. "It is better that you know it on earth—but it was hard to tell."
He held her hands together and pressed them to his lips. He had no words to tell her what he thought. Again and again he silently kissed the firm white fingers folded in his own.
"It was magnificent," he said at last. "But it will be hard to undo, very hard."
"What will it ever matter, since we know it is not true?" she asked. "Let the world think what it will, say what it likes—"
"The world shall never say a slighting word of you," he interrupted. "Do you think that I will let the world say openly what I would not hear from the King alone between these four walls? There is no fear of that, love. I will die sooner."
"Oh, no!" she cried, in sudden fear. "Oh, do not speak of death again to-night! I cannot bear the word!"
"Of life, then, of life together,—of all our lives in peace and love! But first this must be set right. It is late, but this must be done now—at once. There is only one way, there is only one thing to be done."
He was silent for a moment, and his eyes looked quickly to the door and back to Dolores' face.
"I cannot go away," she cried, nestling to him. "You will not make me go? What does it matter?"
"It matters much. It will matter much more hereafter." He was on his feet, and all his energy and graceful strength came back as if he had received no hurt. "There is little time left, but what there is, is ours. Inez!" He was at the door. "Is no one there upon the terrace? Is there no servant, no sentry? Ho, there! Who are you? Come here, man! Let me see your face! Adonis?"
Inez and the dwarf were in the door. Dolores was behind him, looking out, not knowing what he meant to do. He had his hand on the dwarf's arm in his haste. The crooked creature looked up, half in fear.
"Quick! Go!" cried Don John. "Get me a priest, a monk, a bishop,—anything that wears a frock and can speak Latin. Bring him here. Threaten his life, in my name, if you like. Tell him Don John of Austria is in extreme need, and must have a priest. Quick, man! Fly! Your life and fortune are in your legs! Off, man! Off!"
Adonis was already gone, rolling through the gloom with swinging arms, more like a huge bat than anything human, and at a rate of speed none would have guessed latent in his little twisted legs. Don John drew back within the door.
"Stay within," he said to Dolores, gently pressing her backwards into the room. "I will let no one pass till the priest comes; and then the world may come, too, and welcome,—and the court and the King, and the devil and all his angels!" He laughed aloud in his excitement.
"You have not told me," Dolores began, but her eyes laughed in his.
"But you know without words," he answered. "When that is done which a priest can do in an instant, and no one else, the world is ours, with all it holds, in spite of men and women and Kings!"
"It is ours already," she cried happily. "But is this wise, love? Are you not too quick?"
"Would you have me slow when you and your name and my honour are all at stake on one quick throw? Can we play too quickly at such a game with fate? There will be time, just time, no more. For when the news is known, it will spread like fire. I wonder that no one comes yet."
He listened, and Inez' hearing was ten times more sensitive than his, but there was no sound. For besides Dolores and Inez only the dwarf and the Princess of Eboli knew that Don John was living; and the Princess had imposed silence on the jester and was in no haste to tell the news until she should decide who was to know it first and how her own advantage could be secured. So there was time, and Adonis swung himself along the dim corridor and up winding stairs that be knew, and roused the little wizened priest who lived in the west tower all alone, and whose duty it was to say a mass each morning for any prisoner who chanced to be locked up there; and when there was no one in confinement he said his mass for himself in the small chapel which was divided from the prison only by a heavy iron grating. The jester sometimes visited him in his lonely dwelling and shocked and delighted him with alternate tales of the court's wickedness and with harmless jokes that made his wizened cheeks pucker and wrinkle into unaccustomed smiles. And he had some hopes of converting the poor jester to a pious life. So they were friends. But when the old priest heard that Don John of Austria was suddenly dying in his room and that there was no one to shrive him,—for that was the tale Adonis told,—he trembled from head to foot like a paralytic, and the buttons of his cassock became as drops of quicksilver and slipped from his weak fingers everywhere except into the buttonholes, so that the dwarf had to fasten them for him in a furious hurry, and find his stole, and set his hat upon his head, and polish away the tears of excitement from his cheeks with his own silk handkerchief. Yet it was well done, though so quickly, and he had a kind old face and was a good priest.
But when Adonis had almost carried him to Don John's door, and pushed him into the room, and when he saw that the man he supposed to be dying was standing upright, holding a most beautiful lady by the hand, he drew back, seeing that he had been deceived, and suspecting that he was to be asked to do something for which he had no authority. The dwarf's long arm was behind him, however, and he could not escape.
"This is the priest of the west tower, your Highness," said Adonis. "He is a good priest, but he is a little frightened now."
"You need fear nothing," said Don John kindly. "I am Don John of Austria. This lady is Dona Maria Dolores de Mendoza. Marry us without delay. We take each other for man and wife."
"But—" the little priest hesitated—"but, your Highness—the banns—or the bishop's license—"
"I am above banns and licenses, my good sir," answered Don John, "and if there is anything lacking in the formalities, I take it upon myself to set all right to-morrow. I will protect you, never fear. Make haste, for I cannot wait. Begin, sir, lose no time, and take my word for the right of what you do."
"The witnesses of this," faltered the old man, seeing that he must yield, but doubtful still.
"This lady is Dona Inez de Mendoza," said Don John, "and this is Miguel de Antona, the court jester. They are sufficient."
So it chanced that the witnesses of Don John of Austria's secret marriage were a blind girl and the King's fool.
The aged priest cleared his throat and began to say the words in Latin, and Don John and Dolores held their clasped hands before him, not knowing what else to do, and each looked into the other's eyes and saw there the whole world that had any meaning for them, while the priest said things they but half understood, but that made the world's difference to them, then and afterwards.
It was soon done, and he raised his trembling hand and blessed them, saying the words very softly and clearly and without stumbling, for they were familiar, and meant much; and having reached them, his haste was over. The dwarf was on his knees, his rough red head bent reverently low, and on the other side Inez knelt with joined hands, her blind eyes turned upward to her sister's face, while she prayed that all blessings of life and joy might be on the two she loved so well, and that they might have for ever and unbroken the infinite happiness she had felt for one instant that night, not meant for her, but dearer to her than all memories or hopes.
Then as the priest's words died away in the silent room, there was a sound of many feet and of many voices on the terrace outside, coming nearer and nearer to the door, very quickly; and the priest looked round in terror, not knowing what new thing was to come upon him, and wishing with all his heart that he were safe in his tower room again and out of all harm's way. But Don John smiled, while he still held Dolores' hand, and the dwarf rose quickly and led the priest into the study where Dolores had been shut up so long, and closed the door behind him.
That was hardly done when the outer door was opened wide, and a clear, formal voice was heard speaking outside.
"His Majesty the King!" cried the chamberlain who walked before Philip.
Dolores dropped Don John's hand and stood beside him, growing a little pale; but his face was serene and high, and he smiled quietly as he went forward to meet his brother. The King advanced also, with outstretched arms, and he formally embraced Don John, to exhibit his joy at such an unexpected recovery.
Behind him came in torch-bearers and guards and many of the court who had joined the train, and in the front rank Mendoza, grim and erect, but no longer ashy pale, and Ruy Gomez with him, and the Princess of Eboli, and all the chief Grandees of Spain, filling the wide bedchamber from side to side with a flood of rich colour in which the little constellations of their jewels shone here and there with changing lights.
Out of respect for the King they did not speak, and yet there was a soft sound of rejoicing in the room, and their very breathing was like a murmur of deep satisfaction. Then the King spoke, and all at once the silence was profound.
"I wished to be the first to welcome my dear brother back to life," he said. "The court has been in mourning for you these two hours, and none has mourned you more deeply and sorrowfully than I. We would all know the cause of your Highness's accident, the meaning of our friend Mendoza's strange self-accusation, and of other things we cannot understand without a word from you."
The chair in which Don John had sat to read Dolores' letter was brought forward, and the King took his seat in it, while the chief officers of the household grouped themselves round him. Don John remained standing, facing him and all the rest, while Dolores drew back a little into the shadow not far from him. The King's unmoving eyes watched him closely, even anxiously.
"The story is short, Sire, and if it is not all clear, I shall crave your Majesty's pardon for being silent on certain points which concern my private life. I was alone this evening in my room here, after your Majesty had left supper, and I was reading. A man came to visit me then whom I have known and trusted long. We were alone, we have had differences before, to-night sharp words passed between us. I ask your Majesty's permission not to name that man, for I would not do him an injury, though it should cost me my life."
His eyes were fixed on the King, who slowly nodded his assent. He had known that he could trust his brother not to betray him, and he wondered what was to come next. Don John smiled a little as he went on.
"There were sharp words," he said, "and being men, steel was soon out, and I received this scratch here—a mere nothing. But as chance would have it I fell backward and was so stunned that I seemed dead. And then, as I learn, my friend Mendoza there came in, either while we fought, or afterwards, and understood—and so, as I suppose, in generous fear for my good name, lest it should be told that I had been killed in some dishonest brawl, or for a woman's sake—my friend Mendoza, in the madness of generosity, and because my love for his beautiful daughter might give the tale some colour, takes all the blame upon himself, owns himself murderer, loses his wits, and well-nigh loses his head, too. So I understand the matter, Sire."
He paused a moment, and again the King slowly nodded, but this time he smiled also, and seemed much pleased.
"For what remains," Don John continued, "that is soon explained. This brave and noble lady whom you found here, you all know. I have loved her long and faithfully, and with all my heart. Those who know me, know that my word is good, and here before your Majesty, before man and before Heaven, I solemnly swear upon my most sacred word that no harm has ever come near her, by me, or by another. Yet, in the hope of saving her father's life, believing and yet not believing that he might have hurt me in some quarrel, she went among you, and told you the tale you know. I ask your Majesty to say that my word and oath are good, and thereby to give your Majesty's authority to what I say. And if there is any man here, or in Spain, among your Majesty's subjects, who doubts the word I give, let him say so, for this is a grave matter, and I wish to be believed before I say more."
A third time the King nodded, and this time not ungraciously, since matters had gone well for him.
"For myself," he said, "I would take your word against another man's oath, and I think there is no one bold enough to question what we both believe."
"I thank your Majesty. And moreover, I desire permission to present to your Majesty—"
He took Dolores' hand and drew her forward, though she came a little unwillingly, and was pale, and her deep grey eyes gazed steadily at the King's face.
"—My wedded wife," said Don John, completing the sentence.
"Your wife!" exclaimed the King, in great surprise. "Are you married already?"
"Wedded man and wife, Sire," answered Don John, in tones that all could hear.
"And what does Mendoza say to this?" asked Philip, looking round at the veteran soldier.
"That his Highness has done my house a great honour, your Majesty; and I pray that my daughter and I be not needlessly separated hereafter."
His glance went to Dolores' triumphant eyes almost timidly, and then rested on her face with a look she had never seen in his, save on that evening, but which she always found there afterwards. And at the same time the hard old man drew Inez close to him, for she had found him among the officers, and she stood by him and rested her arm on his with a new confidence.
Then, as the King rose, there was a sound of glad voices in the room, as all talked at once and each told the other that an evil adventure was well ended, and that Don John of Austria was the bravest and the handsomest and the most honourable prince in the world, and that Maria Dolores de Mendoza had not her equal among women for beauty and high womanly courage and perfect devotion.
But there were a few who were ill pleased; for Antonio Perez said nothing, and absently smoothed his black hair with his immaculate white hand, and the Princess of Eboli was very silent, too, for it seemed to her that Don John's sudden marriage, and his reconciliation with his brother, had set back the beginning of her plan beyond the bounds of possible accomplishment; and she was right in that, and the beginning of her resentment against Don John for having succeeded in marrying Dolores in spite of every one was the beginning of the chain that led her to her own dark fate. For though she held the cards long in her hands after that, and played for high stakes, as she had done before, fortune failed her at the last, and she came to unutterable ruin.
It may be, too, that Don John's splendid destiny was measured on that night, and cut off beforehand, though his most daring fights were not yet fought, nor his greatest victories won. To tell more here would be to tell too much, and much, too, that is well told elsewhere. But this is true, that he loved Dolores with all his heart; that the marriage remained a court secret; and that she bore him one fair daughter, and died, and the child grew up under another reign, a holy nun, and was abbess of the convent of Las Huelgas whither Dolores was to have gone on the morning after that most eventful night.