"Slight are the outward signs of evil thought: Within, within—'twas there the spirit wrought. Love shows all changes: hate, ambition, guile, Betray no further than the bitter smile."
Our readers must imagine that nearly a year and a half has elapsed since the conclusion of our last chapter. During that interval the outward life of Marie had passed in a calm, even stream; which, could she have succeeded in entirely banishing thoughts of the past, would have been unalloyed enjoyment. Her marriage, as we hinted in our fourth chapter, had been solemnized in public, with all the form and ceremony of the Catholic Church, and with a splendor incumbent on the high rank and immense wealth of the bridegroom. In compliance with Marie's wishes, however, she had not yet been presented to the Queen; delicate health (which was the fact, for a terrible fever had succeeded the varied emotions of her wedding day) and her late bereavement, was her husband's excuse to Isabella for her non-appearance—an excuse graciously accepted; the rather that the Queen of Castile was then much engrossed with political changes and national reforms, than from any failing of interest in Don Ferdinand's bride.
Changed as was her estate, from her lovely home in the Vale of Cedars, where she had dwelt as the sole companion of an ailing parent, to the mistress of a large establishment in one of the most populous cities of Castile; the idolized wife of the Governor of the town—and, as such, the object of popular love and veneration, and called upon, frequently, to exert influence and authority—still Marie did not fail performing every new duty with a grace and sweetness binding her more and more closely to the doting heart of her husband. For her inward self, Marie was calm—nay, at intervals, almost happy. She had neither prayed nor struggled in vain, and she felt as if her very prayer was answered in the fact that Arthur Stanley had been appointed to some high and honorable post in Sicily, and they were not therefore likely yet to meet again. The wife of such a character as Morales could not have continued wretched unless perversely resolved so to be. But his very virtues, while they inspired the deepest reverence towards him, engendered some degree of fear. Could she really have loved him as—he believed she did—this feeling would not have had existence; but its foundation was the constant thought that she was deceiving him—the remorse, that his fond confidence was so utterly misplaced—the consciousness, that there was still something to conceal, which, if discovered, must blight his happiness for ever, and estrange him from her, were it only for the past deceit. Had his character been less lofty—his confidence in her less perfect—his very love less fond and trusting—she could have borne her trial better; but to one true, ingenuous, open as herself, what could be more terrible than the unceasing thought that she was acting a part—and to her husband? Often and often she longed, with an almost irresistible impulse, to fling herself at his feet, and beseech him not to pierce her heart with such fond trust; but the impulse was forcibly controlled. What would such confession avail her now?—or him, save to wound?
Amongst the many Spaniards of noble birth who visited Don Ferdinand's, was one Don Luis Garcia, whose actual rank and office no one seemed to know; and yet, in affairs of church or state, camp or council, he was always so associated, that it was impossible to discover to which of these he was allied; in fact, there was a mystery around him, which no one could solve. Notwithstanding his easy—nay, it was by some thought fascinating manners, his presence generally created a restraint, felt intuitively by all, yet comprehended by none. That there is such, an emotion as antipathy mercifully placed within us, often as a warning, we do most strenuously believe; but we seldom trace and recognize it as such, till circumstances reveal its truth.
The real character of Don Luis, and the office he held, our future pages will disclose; suffice it here to state, that there was no lack of personal attractions or mental graces, to account for the universal, yet unspoken and unacknowledged dislike which he inspired. Apparently in the prime of life, he yet seemed to have relinquished all the pleasures and even the passions of life. Austere, even rigid, in those acts of piety and personal mortifications enjoined by his religion—voluntary fasts, privations, nights supposed to be past in vigil and in penance; occasional rich gifts to patron saints, and their human followers; an absence of all worldly feeling, even ambition; some extraordinary deeds of benevolence—all rendered him an object of actual veneration to the priests and monks with which the goodly city of Segovia abounded; and even the populace declared him faultless, as a catholic and a man, even while their inward shuddering belied the words.
Don Ferdinand Morales alone was untroubled with these contradictory emotions. Incapable of hypocrisy himself, he could not imagine it in others: his nature seemed actually too frank and true for the admission even of a prejudice. Little did he dream that his name, his wealth, his very favor with the Queen, his influence with her subjects, had already stamped him, in the breast of the man to whom his house and heart alike were open, as an object of suspicion and espial; and that ere a year had passed over his wedded life, these feelings were ripened, cherished—changed from the mere thought of persecution, to palpable resolve, by personal and ungovernable hate.
Don Luis had never known love; not even the fleeting fancy, much less the actual passion, of the sensualist, or the spiritual aspirings of true affection. Of the last, in fact, he was utterly incapable. No feeling, with him, was of an evanescent nature: under the cold austerity of the ordinary man, lay coals of living fire. It mattered not under what guise excited—hate, revenge, ambition, he was capable of all. At love, alone, he had ever laughed—exulting in his own security.
The internal condition of Spain, as we have before said, had been, until the accession of Isabella and Ferdinand, one of the grossest license and most fearful immorality. Encouraged in the indulgence of every passion, by the example of the Court, no dictates of either religion or morality ever interfered to protect the sanctity of home; unbridled desires were often the sole cause of murderous assaults; and these fearful crimes continually passing unpunished, encouraged the supposition that men's passions were given to be their sole guide, before which, honor, innocence, and virtue fell powerless.
The vigorous proceedings of Ferdinand and Isabella had already remedied these terrible abuses. Over the public safety and reform they had some power; but over the hearts of individuals they had none; and there were still some with whom past license was far more influencing than present restraint and legal severity; still some who paused at no crime so that the gratification of their passions was ensured; and foremost amongst these, though by his secret office pledged to the annihilation of all domestic and social ties, as regarded his own person, was Don Luis Garcia.
For rather more than a year, Don Ferdinand Morales had enjoyed the society of his young wife uninterruptedly, save by occasional visits, of brief duration, to Valladolid and Leon, where Isabella alternately held her court. He was now, however, summoned to attend the sovereigns, on a visit to Ferdinand's paternal dominions, an office which would cause his absence for a much longer interval. He obeyed with extreme reluctance—nor did Marie feel the separation less. There was, in some measure, a feeling of security in his presence, which, whenever he was absent, gave place to fearful tremblings as to what might transpire to shake her faith in her, ere he returned.
Resolved that not the very faintest breath of scandal should touch his wife, Marie, during the absence of Morales, always kept herself secluded. This time her retirement was stricter than ever; and great, then, was her indignation and astonishment, when about a fortnight before her husband's expected return, and in direct contradiction to her commands, Don Luis Garcia was admitted to her presence; and nothing but actual flight, for which she was far too proud and self-possessed, could have averted the private interview which followed. The actual words which passed we know not, but, after a very brief interval of careless converse on the part of Garcia—something he said earnestly, and in the tones of pitying sympathy, which caused the cheek and lips of Marie to blanch to marble, and her whole frame to shiver, and then grow rigid, as if turned to stone. Could it be that the fatal secret, which she believed was known only to herself and Arthur, that she had loved another ere she wedded Ferdinand, had been penetrated by the man towards whom she had ever felt the most intense abhorrence? and that he dared refer to it as a source of sympathy—as a proof that he could feel for her more than her unsuspecting husband? Why was speech so frozen up within her, that she could not, for the moment, answer, and give him back the lie? But that silence of deadly terror lasted not long: he had continued to speak; at first she was unconscious of his change of tone, words, and even action; but when his actual meaning flashed upon her, voice, strength, energy returned in such a burst of womanly indignation, womanly majesty, that Garcia himself, skilled in every art of evil as he was, quailed beneath it, and felt that he was powerless, save by violence and revenge.
While that terrible interview lasted, the wife of Morales had not failed; but when once more alone, the most deadly terror took possession of her. She had, indeed, so triumphed as to banish Garcia, defeated, from her presence; but fearful threats of vengeance were in that interview divulged—allusions to some secret power, over which he was the head, armed with authority even greater than that of the sovereign's—mysteriously spoken, but still almost strangely intelligible, that in her betrayal or her silence lay the safety or the danger of her husband—all compelled the conviction that her terror and her indignation at the daring insult must be buried deep in her own breast; even while the supposition that Don Luis knew all the past (though how, her wildest imagination could not discover), and that therefore she was in his power, urged her yet more to a full confession to her husband. Better if his heart must be wrung by her, than by a foe; and yet she shrunk in anguish from the task.
She was, however, deceived as to the amount of Garcia's knowledge of her past life. Accustomed to read human nature under all its varied phases—employing an unusually acute penetration so to know his fellows as to enable him, when needed, to create the greatest amount of misery—he had simply perceived that Marie's love for her husband was of a different nature to his for her, and that she had some secret to conceal. On this he had based his words: his suspicions were, unhappily, confirmed by the still, yet expressive agony they had occasioned. Baffled, as in some measure he had been, his internal rage that he should have so quailed before a woman, naturally increased the whirlwind of contending passions: but schooled by his impenetrable system of hypocrisy to outward quietness and control, he waited, certain that circumstances would either of themselves occur, or be so guided by him as to give him ample means of triumph and revenge.
"You would have thought the very windows spake; So many greedy looks of young and old Through casements darted their desiring eyes."
In an apartment, whose pale, green hangings, embroidered with richly-colored flowers, and whose furniture and ornaments, all of delicate material and refined taste, marked it as a meet boudoir for gentle blood, sat Marie and her husband. She occupied her favorite seat—a cushion at his feet, and was listening with interest to his animated history of the Sovereign's welcome to Saragossa, the popular ferment at their appearance, the good they had accomplished, and would still accomplish, as their judicious plans matured. It was clear, he said, that they had resolved the sovereign power should not be merely nominal, as it had been. By making himself proclaimed and received as grand master of the three great orders of knighthood—Saint Iago, Compostella, and Alcantara—the immense influence of those associations must succumb to, and be guided by, Ferdinand alone; the power of the nobles would thus be insensibly diminished, and the mass of the kingdom—the PEOPLE—as a natural consequence, become of more importance, their position more open to the eyes of the sovereigns, and their condition, physically and morally, ameliorated and improved.
"I feel and acknowledge this, dearest; though one of the class whose power must be diminished to accomplish it;" he continued, "I am too anxious for the internal prosperity of my country to quarrel with any measures which minds so enlightened as its present sovereigns may deem requisite. But this is but a grave theme for thee, love. Knowest thou that her Grace reproached me with not bringing thee to join the Arragonese festivities? When Donna Emilie spoke of thee, and thy gentle worth and feminine loveliness, as being such as indeed her Grace would love, my Sovereign banished me her presence as a disloyal cavalier for so deserting thee; and when I marked how pale and thin thou art, I feel that she was right; I should have borne thee with me."
"Or not have left me. Oh, my husband, leave me not again!" she replied, with sudden and involuntary emotion, which caused him to throw his arm round her, and fondly kiss her brow.
"Not for the court, dearest; but that gentle heart must not forget thou art a warrior's wife, and as such, for his honor's sake, must sometimes bear the pang of parting. Nay, thou tremblest, and art still paler! Ere such summons come, thou wilt have learned to know and love thy Queen, and in her protecting favor find some solace, should I be called to war."
"War! talk they of war again? I thought all was now at peace?"
"Yes, love, in our sovereign's hereditary dominions; but there can be no lasting peace while some of the fairest territory of Spain still dims the supremacy of Castile, and bows down to Moorish masters. It is towards Grenada King Ferdinand looks, yearning for the day when, all internal commotions healed, he can head a gallant army to compel subjection; and sad as it will be to leave thee, sweet, thou wilt forgive thy soldier if he say, would that the day were come!"
"And will not their present extent of kingdom suffice the sovereigns? When they recall their former petty domains, and compare them with the present, is it not enough?"
Morales smiled. "Thou speakest as a very woman, gentle one, to whom the actual word 'ambition' is unknown. Why, the very cause thou namest urges our sovereigns to the conquest of these Moors. They are the blot upon a kingdom otherwise as fair and great as any other European land. They thirst to raise it in the scale of kingdoms—to send down their names to posterity, as the founders of the Spanish monarchy—the builders and supporters of a united throne, and so leave their children an undivided land. Surely this is a glorious project, one which every Spanish warrior must rejoice to aid. But fear not a speedy summons, love; much must be accomplished first. Isabella will visit this ancient city ere then, and thou wilt learn to love and reverence her as I do."
"In truth, my husband, thou hast made me loyal as thyself; but say they not she is severe, determined, stern?"
"To the guilty, yes; even the weak crafty will not stand before her repelling glance: but what hast thou to fear, my love? Penetrative as she is, seeming to read the heart through the countenance, she can read nought in thee save qualities to love. I remember well the eagle glance she fixed on King Ferdinand's young English favorite, Senor Stanley, the first time he was presented to her. But she was satisfied, for he ranks as deservedly high in her favor as in her husband's. Thou hast heard me speak of this young Englishman, my Marie?"
Her face was at that moment turned from him, or he might have started at its sudden flush; but she assented by a sign.
"He was so full of joyousness and mirth, that to us of graver nature it seemed almost below his dignity as man; and now they tell me he is changed so mournfully; grave, sad, silent, maturity seems to have descended upon him ere he has quite passed boyhood; or he has some secret sorrow, too sacred to be revealed. There is some talk of his recall from Sicily, he having besought the king for a post of more active and more dangerous service. Ferdinand loves such daring spirits, and therefore no doubt will grant his boon. Ha! Alberic, what is it?" he continued, eagerly, as a page entered, and delivered a packet secured with floss silk, and sealed with the royal signet, adding that it had been brought by an officer of the royal guard, attended by some men at arms. "Give him welcome suited to his rank, boy: I will but peruse these, and attend him instantly."
The page withdrew, and Don Ferdinand, hastily cutting the silk, was speedily so engrossed in his despatches, as to forget for the time even the presence of his wife; and well it was so; for it enabled her with a strong effort to conquer the deadly sickness Morale's careless words had caused—the pang of dread accompanying every thought of Arthur's return to Spain—to still the throbbing pulse and quivering lip, and, outwardly unmoved, meet his joyous glance once more.
"'Tis as I thought and hoped," he said, with animation: "the sovereigns hold their court for some months in this city; coeval, in antiquity, associations, and loyalty, with Valladolid and Leon, Isabella, with her characteristic thought for all her subjects, has decided on making it occasionally the seat of empire alternately with them, and commissions me, under her royal seal, to see the castle fittingly prepared. Listen, love, what her Grace writes further—'Take heed, my good lord, and hide not in a casket the brightest gem which we have heard adorns thy home. We would ourselves judge the value of thy well-hoarded jewel—not that we doubt its worth; for it would be strange, indeed, if he who hath ever borne off the laurel wreath from the competitors for glory, should not in like manner seek and win the prize of beauty. In simple language, let Donna Marie be in attendance.' And so thou shalt, love; and by thy gentle virtues and modest loveliness, add increase of honor to thy husband. Ha! what says Gonzalo de Lara?" he added, as his eye glanced over another paper—"'Tumults in Sicily—active measures—Senor Stanley—enough on which to expend his chivalric ardor, and evince his devotedness to Ferdinand; but Sicily quieted—supposed the king will still grant his request—assign him some post about his person, be at hand for military service against the Moors.' Good! then the war is resolved on. We must bestir ourselves, dearest, to prepare fit reception for our royal guests; there is but brief time."
He embraced and left her as he spoke; and for several minutes Marie remained without the power even to rise from her seat: one pang conquered, another came. Arthur's recall appeared determined; would it be so soon that he would join this sovereigns before they reached Segovia? She dared not think, save to pray, with wild and desperate fervor, that such might not be.
Magnificent, indeed, were Don Ferdinand's preparations for the banquet with which he intended to welcome his sovereigns to Segovia. The castle was to be the seat of their residence, and the actual locale of their court; but it was at his own private dwelling he resolved, by a sumptuous entertainment, to evince how deeply and reverentially he felt the favor with which he was regarded by both monarchs, more especially by Isabella, his native Sovereign.
In the many struggles which were constantly occurring between the Spaniards and Moors, the former had become acquainted with the light yet beautiful architecture and varied skill in all the arts peculiar to the latter, and displayed their improved taste in both public and private buildings. Morales, in addition to natural taste, possessed great affluence, which enabled him to evince yet greater splendor in his establishment than was usual to his countrymen.
There was one octangular room, the large panels forming the walls of which were painted, each forming a striking picture of the principal events in the history of Spain, from the descent of Don Palayo, and the mountaineers of Asturias, who struck the first blow for Spanish freedom, to the accession of Ferdinand and Isabella. The paintings were not detached pictures, but drawn and colored on the wall itself, which had been previously prepared for the reception of the colors by a curious process, still in use among the Orientals.[A] The colors, when dry, were rubbed, till the utmost brilliancy was attained; and this, combined as it was with a freedom and correctness of drawing, produced an effect as striking then as it would be novel to modern eyes. One side, divided into three compartments, contained in one a touching likeness of the young Alfonso. His figure, rather larger than life, was clothed in armor, which shone as inlaid with gold. His head was bare, and his bright locks flowed over his shoulders as he wore them in life. His brilliant eye, his lofty brow, and peculiarly sweet expression of mouth, had been caught by the limner, and transferred to his painting in all their original beauty. Round him were grouped some of the celebrated cavaliers of his party; and the back-ground, occupied by troops not in regular battalions, but as impelled by some whelming feeling of national excitement, impossible to be restrained. Answering to this was a full length of the infanta Isabella I., in the act of refusing the crown offered by the confederates. The centre compartment represented the union of Castile and Arragon by the nuptials of their respective sovereigns in the cathedral church of Valladolid. Over these pictures were suspended golden lamps, inlaid with gems; so that, day or night, the effect should remain the same. Opposite the dais, huge folding-doors opened on an extensive hall, where the banquets were generally held, and down which Don Ferdinand intended to range the tables for his guests of lesser rank, leaving the octangular apartment for the royal tables, and those of the most distinguished nobles; the one, however, so communicating with the other, as to appear one lengthened chamber. On the right hand of the dais, another large door opened on a withdrawing-room, the floor of which was of marble, curiously tinted; and the walls hung with Genoa velvet, ruby-colored, and bordered by a wide fringe of gold. Superb vases of alternate crystal and frosted silver, on pedestals of alabaster and of aqua-marine, were ranged along the walls, the delicate beauty of their material and workmanship coming out well against the rich coloring of the hangings behind. The roof, a lofty dome, displayed the light Arabesque workmanship, peculiar to Moorish architecture, as did the form and ornaments of the windows. This apartment opened into another, much smaller, each side of which, apparently formed of silver plate, reflected as mirrors every object; and the pillars supporting the peculiarly light roof of the same glittering material. Some parts of the extensive gardens Morales intended to illuminate; and others, for the effect of contrast, to be left in deepest shadow.
[Footnote A: See Art Union Journal, August, 1845.]
Nothing was omitted which could do honor to the royal guests, or cast a reproach upon the magnificent hospitality of their hosts. The preparations were but just completed, when an advance guard arrived at Segovia with the tidings of the rapid approach of the sovereigns; and Morales, with a gallant troop of his own retainers, and a procession of the civil and military officers of Segovia, hastened to meet and escort them to the town.
With an uncontrollable impulse, Marie had followed the example of almost every female in Segovia, and, wrapt in her shrouding veil, had stationed herself, with some attendants at a casement overlooking the long line of march. The city itself presented one scene of gladsome bustle and excitment: flags were suspended from every "turret, dome, and tower," rich tapestries hung over balconies, which were filled with females of every rank and grade, vying in the richness and elegance of their apparel, and their coquettish use of the veil and fan, so as to half-hide and half-display their features, more or less beautiful—for beautiful as a nation, the Spanish women undoubtedly are. Bells were ringing from every church; ever and anon came a burst of warlike music, as detached troops galloped in the town, welcomed with shouts as the officer at their head was recognized. Even the priests themselves, with their sober dresses and solemn countenances, seemed touched with the universal excitement, relaxing into smiles and hearty greeting with the laymen they encountered. As the hours waned, popular excitement increased. It was the first visit of Isabella to the city; and already had her character been displayed in such actions as to kindle the warmest love towards the woman, in addition to the enthusiastic loyalty towards the Queen.
At length the rumor rose that the main body was approaching—in little more than a hour the sovereigns would pass the gates, and excitement waxed wilder and wilder, and impatience was only restrained by the interest excited towards the gallant bodies of cavalry, which now in slow and measured march approached, forming the commencement of a line, which for three hours continued to pour within the city in one unbroken strain.
Even Marie herself, pre-occupied as she was in the dread search for one object, could not glance down on the moving multitude beneath her without in some degree sharing the enthusiasm of her countrymen. There were gallant warriors of every age, from the old man to the beardless youth; chargers, superb in form and rich in decoration; a field of spears glittering in the broad sunshine, some bearing the light gay pennoncelle, others absolutely bending beneath the heavy folds of banners, which the light breeze at times extended so as to display their curious heraldic bearings, and then sunk heavily around their staffs. Esquires bearing their masters' shields, whose spotless fields flung back a hundred-fold the noonday sun—plumes so long and drooping, as to fall from the gilded crest till they rested on the shoulder—armor so bright as to dazzle the eyes of the beholders, save when partly concealed under the magnificent surcoats and mantles, amongst which the richest velvets, slashed with gold or silver, distinguished the highest nobles. Pageantry like this mingled with such stirring sounds as the tramp of the noble horse, curveting, prancing, rearing, as if disdaining the slow order of march—the thrilling blast of many trumpets, the long roll, or short, sharp call of the drum; and the mingled notes of martial instruments, blending together in wild yet stirring harmony, would be sufficient even in this prosaic age to bid the heart throb and the cheek burn, recognizing it, as perhaps we should, merely as the symbol, not the thing. What, then, must it have been, when men felt such glittering pageant and chivalric seeming, the realities of life?
At length came the principal group; the pressure of the crowds increased, and human hearts so throbbed, that it seemed as if they could not breathe, save in the stunning shouts, bidding the very welkin ring. Surrounded by a guard of honor, composed indiscriminately of Castilians and Arragonese, mounted on a jet black steed, which pawed the ground, and shook his graceful head, as conscious of his princely burden, magnificently attired, but in the robes of peace, with a circlet of gold and gems enwreathing his black velvet cap, his countenance breathing this day but the kindly emotions of his more youthful nature, unshadowed by the wile and intrigue of after-years, King Ferdinand looked the mighty monarch, whose talents raised his country from obscurity, and bade her stand forth among the first of European nations. But tumultuary as were the shouts with which he was recognized, they were faint in comparison to those which burst forth at sight of the Princess at his side. Isabella had quitted her litter on re-entering her own dominions, and now rode a cream-colored charger, which she managed with the grace and dignity of one well accustomed to the exercise, alike in processions of peace and scenes of war.
The difference of age between the sovereigns was not perceivable,[A] for the grave and thoughtful character of Ferdinand gave him rather the appearance of seniority; while the unusual fairness of Isabella's complexion, her slight and somewhat small stature, produced on her the contrary effect. The dark gray eye, the rich brown hair and delicate skin of the Queen of Castile deprived her, somewhat remarkably, of all the characteristics of a Spaniard, but, from their very novelty attracted the admiration of her subjects. Beautiful she was not; but her charm lay in the variable expression of her features. Peculiarly and sweetly feminine, infused, as Washington Irving observes, with "a soft, tender melancholy," as was their general expression, they could yet so kindle into indignant majesty, so flash with reproach or scorn, that the very color of the eye became indistinguishable, and the boldest and the strongest quailed beneath the mighty and the holy spirit, which they could not but feel, that frail woman form enshrined.
[Footnote A: Isabella was eight or ten years Ferdinand's senior.]
Round the sovereigns were grouped, in no regular order of march, but forming a brilliant cortege, many of the celebrated characters of their reign—men, not only of war, but of literature and wisdom, whom both monarchs gloried in distinguishing above their fellows, seeking to exalt the honor of their country, not only in extent of dominion, but by the shining qualities of her sons. It was to this group the strained gaze of Marie turned, and became riveted on the Queen, feeling strangely and indefinably a degree of comfort as she gazed; to explain wherefore, even to herself, was impossible; but she felt as if she no longer stood alone in the wide world, whose gaze she dreaded; a new impulse rose within her, urging her, instead of remaining indifferent, as she thought she should, to seek and win Isabella's regard. She gazed and gazed, till she could have fancied her very destiny was in some way connected with the Queen's visit to Segovia—that some mysterious influences were connecting her, insignificant as she was, with Isabella's will. She strove with the baseless vision; but it would gain ground, folding up her whole mind in its formless imaginings. The sight of her husband, conversing eagerly with the sovereign, in some degree startled her back to the present scene. His cheek was flushed with exercise and excitement; his large dark eyes glittering, and a sunny smile robbing his mouth of its wonted expression of sternness. On passing his mansion he looked eagerly up, and with proud and joyous greeting doffed his velvet cap, and bowed with as earnest reverence as if he had still to seek and win her. The chivalry of Don Ferdinand Morales was proved, yet more after marriage than before.
It was over: the procession had at length passed: she had scanned every face and form whose gallant bearing proclaimed him noble; but Arthur Stanley was not amongst them, and inexpressibly relieved, Marie Morales sunk down on a low seat, and covering her face with her hands, lifted up her whole soul in one wild—yet how fervent!—burst of thanksgiving.
"Yet was I calm. I knew the time My breast would thrill before thy look; But now, to tremble were a crime: We met, and not a nerve was shook."
The excitement of the city did not subside with the close of the procession. The quiet gravity and impressive appearance of age, which had always marked Segovia, as a city more of the past than present, gave place to all the bustling animation peculiar to a provincial residence of royalty. Its central position gave it advantages over Valladolid, the usual seat of the monarchs of Castile and Leon, to sovereigns who were seeking the internal peace and prosperity of their subjects, and were resolved on reforming abuses in every quarter of their domains. The deputation from the city was graciously received; their offering—a golden vase filled with precious stones—accepted, and the seal put to their loyal excitement by receiving from Isabella's own lips, the glad information that she had decided on making Segovia her residence for the ensuing year, and that she trusted the loyalty which the good citizens of Segovia had so warmly proffered would be proved, by their endeavors in their own households to reform the abuses which long years of misrule and misery had engendered. She depended on them, her people, to aid her with heart and hand, and bade them remember, no individual was so insignificant as to remove his shoulder from the wheel on plea of uselessness. She trusted to her citizen subjects to raise the internal glory of her kingdom, as she did to her nobles to guard their safety, elevate her chivalry, and by their untarnished honor and stainless valor, present an invincible front to foreign foes. Isabella knew human nature well; the citizens returned to their houses bound for ever to her service.
Don Luis Garcia had joined the train of Morales when he set forth to meet the sovereigns. His extraordinary austerity and semblance of lowly piety, combined as they were with universal talent, had been so much noised abroad as to reach the ears of Ferdinand and Isabella; and Morales, ever eager to promote the interests of a countryman, took the earliest opportunity of presenting him to them. He was graciously enough received: but, though neither spoke it, an indefinable feeling of disappointment took possession of their minds, the wherefore they knew not. Don Luis had conversed well, both as to the matter and the manner; but neither Ferdinand nor Isabella felt the smallest inclination to advance him to any post about themselves. In virtue of his supposed rank, however, he of course mingled with the courtly crowd, which on the appointed evening thronged the mansion of Don Ferdinand.
Tremblingly as Marie looked forward to that evening, she spared no pains to gratify her husband in the choice of her toilet. Sorrow had never made her indifferent, and she sought to please him even in the most trifling occurrences of life. Her beautiful hair still lay in soft, glossy bands against the delicate cheeks, and was gathered up behind in a massive plait, forming, as it were, a diadem at the back of the exquisitely shaped head, from which fell a white veil—rather, perhaps, a half mantle, as it shaded the shoulders, not the face—of silver tissue, so delicately woven as to resemble lace, save in its glittering material. A coronet of diamonds was wreathed in and out the plait, removing all semblance of heaviness from the headgear, and completely divesting it of gaudiness. Her robe, of blue brocade, so closely woven with silver threads as to glisten in the light of a hundred lamps almost like diamonds, had no ornament save the large pearls which looped up the loose sleeves above the elbow, buttoned the bodice or jacket down the front, and richly embroidered the wide collar, which, thrown back, disclosed the wearer's delicate throat and beautiful fall of the shoulders, more than her usual attire permitted to be visible. The tiny white silk slipper, embroidered in pearl, a collaret and bracelets of the same beautiful ornament, of very large size, completed her costume.
Not even the presence of royalty could restrain the burst of undisguised admiration which greeted Marie, as, led forward by her eager husband, she was presented to the sovereigns, and knelt to do them homage. Ferdinand himself gazed on her a moment astonished; then with animated courtesy hastily raised her, and playfully chid the movement as unmeet from a hostess to her guests.
A strange moisture had risen to the eyes of the Queen as she first beheld Marie. It might have been that marvellous perfection of face and form which caused the emotion; for if all perfection, even from man's hand, is affecting even to tears, what must be the work of God? It might have been that on that young, sweet face, to the Queen's mental eye, a dim shadow from the formless realms of the future hovered—that, stealing from that outward form of loveliness, she beheld its twin sister, sorrow. Whatever it might have been, kind and gentle as Isabella's manner ever was, especially to her own sex, to Marie it was kinder and gentler still.
How false is the charge breathed from man's lips, that woman never admires woman!—that we are incapable of the lofty feeling of admiration of our own sex either for beautiful qualities or beauteous form! There is no object in creation more lovely, more fraught with intensest interest (if, indeed, we are not so wholly wrapt in the petty world of self as to have none for such lofty sympathies) than a young girl standing on the threshold of a new existence; beautiful, innocent, and true; offspring as yet of joy and hope alone, but before whom stretches the dim vista of graver years, and the yearning thoughts, unspoken griefs, and buried feelings, which even in the happiest career must still be woman's lot. There may be many who can see no charm and feel no interest in girlhood's beauty: but not in such is woman's best and holiest nature; and therefore not by such should she be judged.
"We will not chide thee, Senor, for thy jealous care of this most precious gem," said Isabella, addressing Don Ferdinand, while her eye followed Marie, who, re-assured by the Queen's manner, had conquered her painful timidity, and was receiving and returning with easy grace and natural dignity the greetings and gallantries of her guests: "she is too pure, too precious to meet the common eye, or breathe a courtly atmosphere."
Don Ferdinand's eye glistened. "And yet I fear her not," he rejoined: "she is as true, as loving, as she is loved and lovely."
"I doubt it not: nay, 'tis the spotless purity of soul breathing in that sweet face, which I would not behold tainted, by association with those less pure. No: let her rest within the sanctuary of thy heart and hearth, Don Ferdinand. We do not command her constant attendance on our person, as we had intended."
Conscious of the inexpressible relief which this assurance would be to his wife, Morales eagerly and gratefully expressed his thanks; and the Queen passed on, rejoicing in the power of so easily conferring joy.
We may not linger on the splendor of this scene, or attempt description of the varied and picturesque groups filling the gorgeous suite of rooms, pausing at times to admire the decorations of the domed chamber, or passing to and fro in the hall of mirrors, gayly reflected from the walls and pillars. The brilliant appearance of the extensive gardens; their sudden and dazzling illuminations as night advanced; their curious temples, and sparkling fountains sending up sheets of silver in the still air and darkening night, and falling in myriads of diamonds on innumerable flowers, whose brilliant coloring, illuminated by small lamps, concealed beneath their foliage, shone forth like gems; the groups of Moorish slaves, still as statues in their various attitudes; the wild, barbaric music, startling, yet delighting all who listened, and causing many an eager warrior to grasp his sword, longing even at such a moment to exchange that splendid scene for the clash and stir of war—we must leave all to the imagination of our readers, and bid them follow us to the banquet hall, where, summoned by the sound of the gong, the numerous guests sat down to tables, groaning beneath the profuse hospitality of their host, and the refined magnificence of the display.
All the warrior stirred the soul of the King, as, on taking his seat at the dais, he glanced round and beheld the glorious triumphs of his country so strikingly portrayed. But Isabella saw but one picture, felt but one thought; and Marie never forgot the look she fixed on the breathing portrait of Alfonso, nor the tone with which she inquired—
"Hadst thou ever a brother, Marie?"
"Never, royal Madam."
"Then thou canst not enter into the deep love I bore yon princely boy, nor the feeling that picture brings. Marie, I would cast aside my crown, descend my throne without one regretful murmur, could I but hold him to my heart once more, as I did the night he bade me his glad farewell. It was for ever! Thy husband speaks of him sometimes?"
"Often, often, my gracious liege, till his lip has quivered and his eye has glistened!"
Isabella pressed her hand, and with even more than her wonted graciousness, turned to receive from the hand of her host the gemmed goblet of wine, which, in accordance with established custom, Don Ferdinand knelt down to present, having first drunk of it himself.
Inspiringly sounded the martial music during the continuance of the banquet. Brightly sparkled the brimming goblets of the far-famed Spanish wine. Lightly round the table ran the gay laugh and gayer jest. Soft and sweet were the whispers of many a gallant cavalier to his fair companion; for, in compliment to Isabella, the national reserve of the daughters of Spain was in some degree laid aside and a free intercourse with their male companions permitted. Each, indeed, wore the veil, which could be thrown off, forming a mantle behind, or drawn close to conceal every feature, as coquettish fancy willed; nor were the large fans wanting, with which the Spanish woman is said to hold as long and desperate a flirtation as the coquette of other lands can do with the assistance of voice and eye. Isabella's example had, however, already created reformation in her female train, and the national levity and love of intrigue, had in a great degree diminished.
The animation of the scene was at its height when suddenly the music ceased, a single gong was heard to sound, and Alberic, the senior page, brought tidings of the arrival of new guests; and his master, with native courtesy, hastened down the hall to give them welcome.
Marie had not heard, or, perhaps, had not heeded the interruption in the music; for, fascinated by the manner and conversation of the Queen, she had given herself up for the time wholly to its influence, to the forgetfulness even of her inward self. The sound of many footsteps and a rejoicing exclamation from the King, excited the attention at once of Isabella and her hostess. Marie glanced down the splendid hall; and well was it for her that she was standing behind the Queen's seat, and somewhat deep in shadow. Momentary as was all visible emotion, its effect was such as must have caused remark and wonder had it been perceived: on herself, that casual glance, was as if she had received some invisibly dealt, yet fearful blow. Her brain reeled, her eyes swam, a fearful, stunning sound awoke within her ears, and such failing of bodily power as compelled her, spite of herself, to grasp the Queen's chair for support. But how mighty—how marvellous is the power of will and mind! In less than a minute every failing sense was recalled, every slackened nerve restrung, and, save in the deadly paleness of lip, as well as cheek, not a trace of that terrible conflict remained.
Aware that it was at a gay banquet he was to meet the King, Arthur Stanley had arranged his dress with some care. We need only particularize his sword, which was remarkable for its extreme simplicity, the hilt being of the basket shape, and instead of being inlaid with precious stones, as was the general custom of this day, was composed merely of highly burnished steel. He had received it from his dying father: and it was his pride to preserve it unsullied, as it had descended to him. He heeded neither laughter at its uncouth plainness, nor even the malicious sneer as to the poor Englishman's incapacity to purchase a handsomer one; rejecting every offer of a real Toledo, and declaring that he would prove both the strength and brightness of English steel, so that none should gainsay it.
"Welcome, Don Arthur! welcome, Senor Stanley! By St. Francis, I shall never learn thy native title, youth!" exclaimed the monarch, frankly, as he extended his hand, which Stanley knelt to salute. "Returned with fresher laurels, Stanley? Why, man, thou wilt make us thy debtor in good earnest!"
"Nay, my gracious liege: that can never be!" replied Stanley, earnestly. "Grateful I am, indeed, when there is opportunity to evince fidelity and valor in your Grace's service; but believe me, where so much has been and is received, not a life's devotion on my part can remove the impression, that I am the debtor still."
"I believe thee, boy! I do believe thee! I would mistrust myself ere I mistrusted thee. We will hear of thy doings to-morrow. Enough now to know we are well satisfied with thy government in Sicily, and trust our native subject who succeeds thee will do his part as well. Away to thy seat, and rejoice that thou hast arrived ere this gay scene has closed. Yet stay: our lovely hostess hath not yet given thee welcome. Where is the Senora? Isabella, hast thou spirited her hence? She was here but now."
"Nay, good my Lord: she has vanished unwittingly," replied Isabella, as she turned towards the spot where Marie had been standing. "Don Ferdinand, we must entreat thee to recall her!"
"It needs not, royal Madam: I am here:" and Marie stepped forward from the deep shade of the falling drapery behind the royal seats which had concealed her, and stood calmly, almost proudly erect beside the Queen, the full light falling on her face and form. But there was little need for light to recognize her: the voice was sufficient; and even the vivid consciousness of where he stood, the hundred curious eyes upon him, could not restrain the sudden start—the bewildered look. Could that be Marie? Could that be the wife of Ferdinand Morales? If she were the one, how could she be the other, when scarcely eighteen months previous, she had told him that which, if it were true, must equally prevent her union with Morales as with himself? In what were they different save in the vast superiority of wealth and rank? And in the chaos of bewildering emotions, so trustful was he in the truth of her he loved, that, against the very evidence of his own senses, he for the moment disbelieved in the identity of the wife of Morales with the Marie Henriquez of the Cedar Vale. Perhaps it was well he did so, for it enabled him to still the tumultuous throbbing of his every pulse as her voice again sounded in his ear, saying he was welcome, most welcome as her husband's friend, and to retire without any apparent emotion to his seat.
He had merely bowed reverentially in reply. In any other person the silence itself would have caused remark: but for the last three years Stanley's reserve and silence in the company of women had been such, that a departure from his general rule even in the present case would have been more noticed than his silence. Thoughts of painful, almost chaotic bewilderment indeed, so chased each other across his mind as to render the scene around him indistinct, the many faces and eager voices like the phantasma of a dream. But the pride of manhood roused him from the sickening trance, and urged him to enter into the details, called for by his companions in arms, of the revolt of the Sicilians, with even more than usual animation.
One timid glance Marie had hazarded towards her husband, and it was met by such a look and smile of love and pride that she was re-assured to perform the duties of the evening unfalteringly to the end. Alas! she little knew that her momentary emotion and that of Arthur had alike been seen, commented upon, and welcomed with fiend-like glee, as the connecting link of an until then impalpable plot, by one individual in that courtly crowd, whose presence, hateful as it was, she had forgotten in the new and happier thoughts which Isabella's presence and notice had occasioned.
And who was there, the mere spectator of this glittering pageant, but would have pronounced that there, at least, all was joy, and good-will, and trust, and love? Who, even did they acknowledge the theory that one human heart, unveiled, would disperse this vain dream of seeming unalloyed enjoyment, would yet have selected the right individual for the proof, or would not have shrunk back awed and saddened had the truth been told? Surely it is well for the young, the hopeful, and the joyous, that in such scenes they see but life's surface—not its depths.
The festive scene lasted some time longer, nor did it conclude with the departure of the King and Queen: many still lingered, wandering at their own will about the rooms and gardens, and dispersing gradually, as was then the custom, without any set farewell.
Her attendance no longer required by the Queen, and aware that her presence was not needed by her guests, Marie sought the gardens; her fevered spirit and aching head yearning to exchange the dazzling lights and close rooms for the darkness and refreshing breeze of night. Almost unconsciously she had reached some distance from the house, and now stood beside a beautiful statue of a-water-nymph, overlooking a deep still pool, so clear and limpid, that when the moon cast her light upon it, it shone like a sheet of silver, reflecting every surrounding object. There were many paths that led to it, concealed one from the other by gigantic trees and overhanging shrubs. It was a favorite spot with. Marie, and she now stood leaning against the statue, quite unconscious that tears were falling faster and faster from her eyes, and mingling with the waters at her feet.
"Marie!" exclaimed the voice of Stanley at that moment: "Canst thou be Marie? so false, so—" but his words were checked, for the terror, the tumult of feeling, while it impelled her to start from him, deprived her of all power; and a rapid movement on his part alone prevented her from falling in the deep pool beneath their feet. It was but a moment: she withdrew herself from his supporting arms, and stood erect before him, though words she had none.
"Speak to me!" reiterated Arthur, his voice sounding hollow and changed; "I ask but one word. My very senses seem to play me false, and mock me with thy outward semblance to one I have so loved. Her name, too, was Marie; her voice soft and thrilling as thine own: and yet, yet, I feel that 'tis but semblance—'tis but mockery—the phantasy of a disordered brain. Speak, in mercy! Say that it is but semblance—that thou art not the Marie I have so loved."
"It is true—I am that Marie. I have wronged thee most cruelly, most falsely," she answered, in a tone low and collected indeed, but expressive of intense suffering. "It is too late now, either to atone or to explain. Leave me, Senor Stanley: I am another's!"
"Too late to explain? By heaven but thou shalt!" burst fiercely and wrathfully from Stanley. "Is it not enough, that thou hast changed my whole nature into gall, made truth itself a lie, purity a meaningless word, but thou wilt shroud thyself under the specious hood of duty to another, when, before heaven, thou wast mine alone. Speak!"
"Ay, I will speak—implore thee by the love thou didst once bear me, Arthur, leave me now! I can hear no more to-night."
"On condition thou wilt see me in private once again. Marie, thou darest not refuse me this! Thou canst not have so fallen as to give no reason for this most foul wrong—fancied weak, futile as it may be. We part now, but we meet again!" And with a strong effort at control he strode hastily from her.
The moon at that moment breaking from thick clouds, darted her full light upon the pool, till it shone like an illuminated mirror amidst the surrounding darkness; and though Arthur had disappeared, its clear surface distinctly reflected the outline of another closely shrouded figure. Marie turned in terror, and beheld, gleaming with the triumph of a fiend, the hated countenance of Don Luis Garcia. One look told her that he Lad seen all, heard all; but she had no power to speak or move. Keeping his basilisk gaze fixed on her, he withdrew backwards into the deep shade till he had entirely disappeared.
Summoning all her energy, Marie fled back towards the house, and at the moment she reached it, Don Ferdinand crossed the deserted hall.
"Marie, dearest, here and alone? Pale, too, and trembling! In heaven's name, what hath chanced?"
A moment more, and she would have flung herself at his feet and told him all—all, and beseeching his forgiveness, conjure him to shield her from Arthur, from herself; but as she looked up in his face, and met its beaming animation, its manly reflection of the pure gratification that evening had bestowed, how could she, how dared she be the one to dash it with woe? And, overpowered with this fearful contention of feeling, she threw her arms around him as he bent tenderly over her, and burying her head in his bosom, burst into tears.
"Thou art exhausted, mine own love! It has been too exciting, too wearying a scene for thee. Why, what a poor, weak girl thou art! How fortunate for thee that thy Queen demands not thy constant attendance, and that thy husband is not ambitious to behold thee shining in the court, as thy grace and beauty might! I am too glad to feel thee all, all my own. Smile on me, love, and then to thy couch. A few hours' quiet rest, and thou wilt be thyself again." And he bore her himself with caressing gentleness to her apartment.
"Then Roderick from the Douglas broke, As flashes flame through sable smoke, Kindling its wreaths long, dark, and low. To one broad blaze of ruddy glow; So the deep anguish of despair Burst in fierce jealousy to air."
SIR WALTER SCOTT.
"Sure, now, Pedro, the poor young Senor cannot be entirely in his right mind; he does nothing but tramp, tramp, tramp, the whole night long, and mutters so fiercely to himself, and such dark words, it would make one tremble were they not belied by His sweet face and sad smile," was the observation of old Juana Lopez to her husband some ten days after Arthur Stanley had been domiciled in their dwelling. The old man muttered something about his being a foreigner from the Wild Island, where they had all been busy cutting one another's throats, and what could she expect otherwise?"
"Expect? why that he must have become Spanish born and bred since he has been in King Ferdinand's service so long, and was such a boy when he left England."
"Stuff, woman; there's no taking the foreign blood out of him, try as you will," growled the old man, who in common with many of his class, was exceedingly annoyed that a foreigner should possess so much of the King's confidence, and not a little displeased that his dwelling should have been fixed on for the young officer's quarters. "It would not have been Isabella, God bless her! to have chosen such a minion; she tolerates him for Ferdinand's sake; but they will find him out one day. Saint Iago forbid the evil don't fall first."
"Now that is all prejudice, Viego Pedro, and you know it. Bless his beautiful face! there is no thought of evil there, I'd stake my existence. He is tormented in his mind about something, poor youth; but his eyes are too bright and his smile too sad for any thing evil."
"Hold your foolish tongue: you women think if a man is better looking than his fellows, he is better in every respect—poor fools as ye are; but as for this Englisher, with such a white skin and glossy curls, and blue eyes—why I'd be ashamed to show myself amongst men—pshaw—the woman's blind."
"Nay, Viego Pedro, prejudice has folded her kerchief round your eyes, not mine," retorted the old dame; and their war of words concerning the merits and demerits of their unconscious lodger continued, till old Pedro grumbled himself off, and his more light-hearted helpmate busied herself in preparing a tempting meal for her guest, which, to her great disappointment, shared the fate of many others, and left his table almost untouched.
To attempt description of Stanley's feelings would be as impossible as tedious; yet some few words must be said. His peculiarly enthusiastic, perhaps romantic disposition, had caused him to cling tenaciously to the memory of Marie, even after the revelation of a secret which to other men would have seemed to place an impassable barrier between them. To Arthur, difficulties in pursuit of an object only rendered its attainment the more intensely desired. Perhaps his hope rested on the conviction not so much of his own faithful love as on the unchangeable nature of hers. He might have doubted himself, but to doubt her was impossible. Conscious himself that, wrong as it might be, he could sacrifice every thing for her—country, rank, faith itself, even the prejudice of centuries, every thing but honor—an ideal stronger in the warrior's mind than even creed—he could not and would not believe that her secret was to her sacred as his honor to him, and that she could no more turn renegade from the fidelity which that secret comprised, than he could from his honor. She had spoken of but one relation, an aged father; and he felt in his strong hopefulness, that it was only for that father's sake she had striven to conquer her love, and had told him they might never wed, and that when that link was broken he might win her yet.
Loving and believing thus, his anguish in beholding her the wife of another may be imagined. The more he tried to think, the more confused and mystifying his thoughts became. Every interview which he had with her, and more especially that in the Vale of Cedars, was written in indelible characters on his heart and brain; and while beholding her as the wife of Morales contradicted their every word, still it could not blot them from his memory; and he would think, and think, in the vain search for but one imaginary reason, however faint, however unsatisfactory, for her conduct, till his brain turned, and his senses reeled. It was not the mere suffering of unrequited love; it was the misery of having been deceived; and then, when racked and tortured by the impossibility of discovering some cause for this deceit, her secret would flash across him, and the wild thought arise that both he and Don Ferdinand were victims to the magic and the sorcery, by means of which alone her hated race could ever make themselves beloved.
Compelled as he was to mingle with the Court as usual, these powerful emotions were of course always under strong restraint, except when in the solitude of his own quarters. That when there he should give them vent, neither conscious of, nor caring for the remarks they excited from his host and hostess, was not very remarkable; perhaps he was scarcely aware how powerfully dislike towards Don Ferdinand shared his thoughts with his vain suggestions as to the cause of Marie's falsity. The reason for this suddenly aroused dislike he could not indeed have defined, except that Morales had obtained without difficulty a treasure, to obtain which he had offered to sacrifice so much. So fourteen days passed, and though firmly resolved to have one more interview with Marie, no opportunity had presented itself, nor in fact could he feel that he had as yet obtained the self-command necessary for the cold, calm tone which he intended to assume. It happened that once or twice the King had made Arthur his messenger to Don Ferdinand; but since the night of the entertainment he had never penetrated farther than the audience chamber, there performed his mission briefly, and departed. Traversing the principal street of Segovia one morning, he was accosted somewhat too courteously, he thought, for their slight acquaintance, by Don Luis Garcia.
"And whither so early, Senor Stanley?" he inquired so courteously that it could not give offence, particularly as it followed other queries of a graceful greeting, and was not put forth abruptly.
"To the mansion of Don Ferdinand Morales," replied the young Englishman, frankly.
"Indeed! from the King?"
Stanley answered in the affirmative, too deeply engrossed with his own thoughts, to attend much to his companion, whose interrogations he would undoubtedly in a more natural mood have felt inclined to resent.
"Don Ferdinand Morales ranks as high in the favor of the people as of the King—a marvellous conjunction of qualities, is it not, Senor Stanley?" continued Garcia, after walking by his side some minutes in silence. "A Monarch's favorite is seldom that of his subjects; but Morales is unusually deserving. I wonder not at the love he wins."
"Neither Ferdinand nor Isabella bestows favors on the undeserving," briefly, almost sternly answered Stanley, with an unconscious change of tone and manner, which did not escape his companion.
"And he is so singularly fortunate, every thing he touches seems to turn to gold—an universal idol, possessed too of such wealth and splendor, and, above all, with such a being to share them with him. Fortune has marked him favored in all things. Didst ever behold a creature equal in loveliness to Donna Marie, Senor Stanley?"
A momentary, and to any other but Don Luis, incomprehensible emotion, passed over the countenance of Stanley at these words; but though it was instantly recalled, and indifference both in expression of countenance and voice resumed, it passed not unobserved; and Don Luis, rejoicing in the pain he saw he was inflicting, continued an eloquent panegyric on the wife of Morales, the intense love she bore her husband, and the beautiful unity and harmony of their wedded life, until they parted within a short distance of the public entrance to Don Ferdinand's mansion, towards which Stanley turned.
Don Luis looked after his retreating form, and folding his arms in his mantle, bent down his head, assuming an attitude which to passers-by expressed the meek humility of his supposed character. There was a wild gleam of triumph, in his eyes which he knew, and therefore they were thus bent down, and there were thoughts in his heart which might thus be worded:—"I have it all, all. Waiting has done better for me than acting; but now the watch is over, and the coil is laid. There have been those who, standing on the loftiest pinnacle, have fallen by a touch to earth; none knew the how or wherefore." And shrouding himself closer in his wrapping mantle, he walked rapidly on till he reached a side entrance into the gardens, which stretched for many acres around Don Ferdinand's mansion. Here again he paused, looked cautiously around him, then swiftly entered, and softly closed the door behind him.
Already agitated by the effort to retain calmness during Garcia's artful words, it was no light matter for Stanley to compose himself for his interview with Morales. Vain was the gentle courtesy of the latter, vain his kindly words, vain his confidential reception of the young Englishman, to remove from Arthur's heart the wild torrent of passion called forth by Garcia's allusion to Marie's intense love for her husband. To any one but Morales, his abrupt and unconnected replies, his strange and uncourteous manners, must have excited irritation; but Don Ferdinand only saw that the young man was disturbed and pained, and for this very reason exerted his utmost kindliness of words and manner to draw him from, himself. They parted after an interval of about half an hour, Morales to go to the castle as requested; Arthur to proceed, as he thought, to the environs of the city. But in vain did he strive with himself. The window of the room in which he had met Don Ferdinand looked into the garden, and there, slowly pacing a shaded path, he had recognized the figure of Marie. The intense desire to speak with her once more, and so have the fatal mystery solved, became too powerful for control. Every feeling of honor and delicacy perished before it, and hardly knowing what he did, he retraced his steps, entered unquestioned, passed through the hall to the gardens beyond, and in less than ten minutes after he had parted from her husband, stood in the presence of Marie.
"If she be false, oh, then Heaven mock itself! I'll not believe it."
Don Ferdinand had scarcely quitted his mansion ere fleet steps resounded behind him, and turning, he beheld Don Luis Garcia, who greeted him with such a marked expression, both in voice and face, of sadness, that Morales involuntarily paused, and with much commiseration inquired what had chanced.
"Nothing of personal misfortune, my friend; but there are times when the spirit is tortured by a doubtful duty. To preserve silence is undoubtedly wrong, and may lead to wrong, yet greater; and yet, to speak, is so painfully distressing to my peace-loving disposition, that I am tossed for ever on conflicting impulses, and would gladly be guided by another."
"If you would be guided by my counsel, my good friend, I must entreat a clearer statement," replied Morales, half smiling. "You have spoken so mysteriously, that I cannot even guess your meaning. I cannot imagine one so straightforward and strong-minded as yourself hesitating and doubtful as to duty, of whatever nature."
"Not if it concerned myself: but in this case I must either continue to see wrong done, with the constant dread of its coming to light, without my interference; or inflict anguish where I would gladly give but joy; and very probably, in addition, have my tale disbelieved, and myself condemned, though for that matter, personal pain is of no consequence, could I but pursue the right."
"But how stands this important case, my good friend?"
"Thus: I have been so unfortunate as to discover that one is false, whom her doting husband believes most true—that the lover of her youth has returned, and still holds her imagination chained—that she meets him in secret, and has appointed another clandestine interview, from which who may tell the evil that may ensue? I would prevent this interview—would recall her to her better nature, or put her husband on his guard: but how dare I do this—how interfere thus closely between man and wife? Counsel me, my friend, in pity!"
"If you have good foundation for this charge, Don Luis, it is your duty to speak out," replied Morales, gravely.
"And to whom?"
"To the lawful guardian of this misguided one—her husband."
"But how can I excite his anguish—how turn his present heaven of joy to a very hell of woe, distrust, suspicion?"
"Does the leech heed his patient's anguish when probing a painful wound, or cutting away the mortified flesh? His office is not enviable, but it is necessary, and; if feelingly performed, we love him not the less. Speak out. Don Luis, openly, frankly, yet gently, to the apparently injured husband. Do more: counsel him to act as openly, as gently with his seemingly guilty wife; and that which now appears so dark, may be proved clear, and joy dawn again for both, by a few words of mutual explanation. But there must be no mystery on your part—no either heightening or smoothing what you may have learnt. Speak out the simple truth; insinuate nought, for that love is worthless, that husband false to his sacred charge, if he believes in guilt ere he questions the accused."
Don Luis looked on the open countenance before him for a few minutes without reply, thinking, not if he should spare him, but if his plans might not be foiled, did Morales himself act as he had said. But the pause was not long: never had he read human countenance aright, if Arthur Stanley were not at that moment with Marie. He laid his hand on Don Ferdinand's arm, and so peculiar was the expression on his countenance, so low and plaintively musical the tone in which be said, "God give you strength, my poor friend," that the rich color unconsciously forsook the cheek of the hardy warrior, leaving him pallid as death; and so sharp a thrill passed through his heart, that it was with difficulty he retained his feet; but Morales was not merely physically, he was mentally brave. With a powerful, a mighty effort of will, he called life, energy, courage back, and said, sternly and unfalteringly, "Don Luis Garcia, again I say, speak out! I understand you; it is I who am the apparently injured husband. Marie! Great God of heaven! that man should dare couple her pure name with ignominy! Marie! my Marie! the seemingly guilty wife! Well, put forth your tale: I am not the man to shrink from my own words. Speak truth, and I will hear you; and—and, if I can, not spurn you from me as a liar! Speak out!"
Don Luis needed not a second bidding: he had remarked, seen, and heard quite enough the evening of Don Ferdinand's banquet, to require nothing more than the simple truth, to harrow the heart of his hearer, even while Morales disbelieved his every word. Speciously, indeed, he turned his own mere suspicions as to Marie's unhappiness, and her early love for Arthur, into realities, founded on certain information, but with this sole exception—he told but the truth. Without moving a muscle, without change of countenance, or uttering a syllable of rejoinder, Don Ferdinand listened to Garcia's recital, fixing his large piercing eye on his face, with a gaze that none but one so hardened in hypocrisy could have withstood. Once only Morales's features contracted for a single instant, as convulsed by some spasm. It was the recollection of Marie's passionate tears, the night of the festival; and yet she had shed them on his bosom. How could she be guilty? And the spasm passed.
"I have heard you, Don Luis," he said, so calmly, as Garcia ceased, that the latter started. "If there be truth in this strange tale, I thank you for imparting it: if it be false—if you have dared pollute my ears with one word that has no foundation, cross not my path again, lest I be tempted to turn and crush you as I would a loathsome reptile, who in very wantonness has stung me."
He turned from him rapidly, traversed the brief space, and disappeared within his house. Don Luis looked after him with a low, fiendish laugh, and plunged once more into the gardens.
"Is the Senora within?" Inquired Don Ferdinand, encountering his wife's favorite attendant at the entrance of Marie's private suit of rooms; and though his cheek was somewhat pale, his voice was firm as usual. The reply was in the negative; the Senora was in the gardens. "Alone? Why are you not with her as usual, Manuella?"
"I was with her, my Lord; she only dismissed me ten minutes ago."
Without rejoinder, Don Ferdinand turned in the direction she had pointed out. It was a lovely walk, in the most shaded parts of the extensive grounds, walled by alternate orange and lemon trees; some with the blossom, germ, and fruit all on one tree; others full of the paly fruit; and others, again, as wreathed with snow, from the profusion of odoriferous flowers. An abrupt curve led to a grassy plot, from which a sparkling fountain sent up its glistening showers, before a luxurious bower, which Morales's tender care had formed of large and healthy slips, cut from the trees of the Vale of Cedars, and flowery shrubs and variegated moss from the same spot; and there he had introduced his Marie, calling it by the fond name of "Home!" As he neared the curve, voices struck on his ear—Marie's and another's. She was not alone! and that other!—could it be?—nay, it was—there was neither doubt nor hesitation—it was his—his—against whom Don Luis had warned him. Was it for this Marie had dismissed her attendant? It could not be; it was mere accident, and Don Ferdinand tried to go forward to address them as usual; but the effort even for him was too much, and he sunk down on a rustic bench near him, and burying his head in his hands, tried to shut out sight and sound till power and calmness would return. But though he could close his eyes on all outward things, he could not deaden hearing; and words reached him which, while he strove not to hear, seemed to be traced by a dagger's point upon his heart, and from very physical agony deprived him of strength to move.
"And thou wilt give me no reason—idle, weak as it must be—thou wilt refuse me even an excuse for thy perjury?" rung on the still air, in the excited tones of Arthur Stanley. "Wealth, beauty, power—ay, they are said to be omnipotent with thy false sex; but little did I dream that it could be so with thee; and in six short months—nay, less time, thou couldst conquer love, forget past vows, leap over the obstacle thou saidst must part us, and wed another! 'Twas short space to do so much!" And he laughed a bitter, jibing laugh.
"It was short, indeed!" faintly articulated Marie; "but long enough to bear."
"To bear!" he answered; "nay, what hadst thou to bear? The petted minion of two mighty sovereigns, the idol of a nation—came, and sought, and won—how couldst thou resist him? What were my claims to his—an exile and a foreigner, with nought but my good sword, and a love so deep, so faithful (his voice softened), that it formed my very being? But what was love to thee before ambition? Oh, fool, fool that I was, to believe a woman's tongue—to dream that truth could dwell in those sweet-sounding words—those tears, that seemed to tell of grief in parting, bitter as my own—fool, to believe thy specious tale! There could be no cause to part us, else wherefore art thou Morales's wife? Thou didst never love me! From the first deceived, thou calledst forth affection, to triumph in thy power, and wreck the slender joys left to an exile! And yet I love thee—oh, God, how deeply!"
"Arthur!" answered Marie, and her bloodless lips so quivered, they could scarcely frame the word—"wrong I have done thee, grievous wrong; but oh! blast not my memory with injuries I have not inflicted. Look back; recall our every interview. Had I intended to deceive, to call forth the holiest feelings of the human heart, to make them a mock and scorn, to triumph in a power, of whose very existence till thou breathed love I was unconscious—should I have said our love was vain—was so utterly hopeless, we could never be other than strangers—should I have conjured thee to leave—aye, and to forget me, had I not felt that I loved too well, and trembled for myself yet more than for thee? Oh, Arthur, Arthur, do not add to the bitterness of this moment by unjust reproaches! I have injured thee enough by my ill-fated beauty, and too readily acknowledged love: but more I have not done. From the first I said that there was a fate around us—thine I might never be!"
"Then wherefore wed Morales? Is he not as I am, and therefore equally unmeet mate for thee—if, indeed, thy tale be true? Didst thou not tell me, when I implored thee to say if thy hand was pledged unto another, that such misery was spared thee—thou wert free, and free wouldst remain while thy heart was mine?"
"Ay," faltered Marie, "thou rememberest all too well."
"Then didst thou not deceive? Art thou not as perjured now as I once believed thee true—as false as thou art lovely? How couldst thou love, if so soon it was as nought?"
"Then believe me all thou sayest," replied Marie, more firmly—"believe me thus false and perjured, and forget me, Senor Stanley; crush even my memory from thy heart, and give not a thought to one so worthless! Mystery as there was around me when we first met, there is a double veil around me now, which I may not lift even to clear myself with thee. Turn thy love into the scorn which my perjury deserves, and leave me."
"I will not!" burst impetuously from Arthur, as he suddenly flung himself at her feet. "Marie, I will not leave thee thus; say but that some unforeseen circumstances, not thine own will, made thee the wife of this proud Spaniard; say but that neither thy will nor thy affections were consulted, that no word of thine could give him hope he was beloved—that thou lovest me still; say but this, and I will bless thee!"
"Ask it not, Senor Stanley. The duty of a wife would be of itself sufficient to forbid such words; with me gratitude and reverence render that duty more sacred still. Wouldst thou indeed sink me so low as, even as a wife, to cease to respect me? Rise, Senor Stanley! such posture is unsuited to thee or me; rise, and leave me; we must never meet alone again."
Almost overpowered with contending emotions, as he was, there was a dignity, the dignity of truth in that brief appeal, which Arthur vainly struggled to resist. She had not attempted a single word of exoneration, and yet his reproaches rushed back into his own heart as cruel and unjust, and answer he had none. He rose mechanically, and as he turned aside to conceal the weakness, a deep and fearful imprecation suddenly broke from him; and raising her head, Marie beheld her husband.
Every softened feeling fled from Stanley's breast; the passionate anger which Marie's words had calmed towards herself, now burst fourth unrestrained towards Morales. His sudden appearance bringing the conviction that he had played the spy upon their interview, roused his native irritation almost into madness. His sword flew from its scabbard, and in fearful passion he exclaimed—"Tyrant and coward! How durst thou play the spy? Is it not enough that thou hast robbed me of a treasure whose value thou canst never know? for her love was mine alone ere thou earnest between us, and by base arts and cruel force compelled her to be thine. Ha! wouldst thou avoid me? refuse to cross my sword! Draw, or I will proclaim thee coward in the face of the whole world!"
With a faint cry, Marie had thrown herself between them; but strength failed with the effort, and she would have fallen had not Morales upheld her with his left arm. But she had not fainted; every sense felt wrung into unnatural acuteness Except to support her, Morales had made no movement; his tall figure was raised to its fullest height, and his right arm calmly uplifted as his sole protection against Arthur. "Put up your sword," he said firmly, and fixing his large dark eyes upon his irritated adversary, with a gaze far more of sorrow than of anger, "I will not fight thee. Proclaim me what thou wilt. I fear neither thy sword nor thee. Go hence, unhappy boy; when this chafed mood is past, thou wilt repent this rashness, and perchance find it harder to forgive thyself than I shall to forgive thee. Go; thou art overwrought. We are not equals now."
Stanley involuntarily dropped the point of his sword. "I obey thee," he said, in that deep concentrated tone, which, betrays strong passion yet more than violent words; "obey thee, because I would not strike an undefended foe; but we shall meet again in a more fitting place and season. Till then, hear me, Don Ferdinand! We have hitherto been as companions in arms, and as friends, absent or together; from this moment the tie is broken, and for ever. I am thy foe! one who hath sworn to take thy life, or lose his own. I will compel thee to meet me! Ay, shouldst thou shun me, to the confines of the world I will track and find thee. Coward and spy! And yet men think thee noble!"
A bitter laugh of scorn concluded these fatal words. He returned his sword violently to its sheath; the tread of his armed heel was heard for a few seconds, and then all was silent.
Morales neither moved nor spoke, and Marie lifted her head to look on his face in terror. The angry words of Arthur had evidently fallen either wholly unheeded, or perhaps unheard. There was but one feeling expressed on those chiseled features, but one thought, but one conviction; a low, convulsive sob broke from her, and she fainted in his arms.
"Why, when my life on that one hope, cast, Why didst thou chain my future to her past? Why not a breath to say she loved before?"
"Oh leave me not! or know Before thou goest, the heart that wronged thee so But wrongs no more."
In the first painful moments of awakening sense, Marie was only conscious of an undefined yet heavy weight on heart and brain; but as strength returned she started up with a faint cry, and looked wildly round her. The absence of Morales, the conviction that he had left her to the care of others, that for the first time he had deserted her couch of pain, lighted up as by an electric flash the marvellous links of memory, and the whole of that morning's anguish, every word spoken, every feeling endured, rushed back upon her with such overwhelming force as for the moment to deprive her of the little strength she had regained. Why could she not die? was the despairing thought that followed. What had she to live for, when it was her ill fate to wreck the happiness of all who loved her? and yet in that moment of agony she never seemed to have loved her husband more. It was of him she thought far more than of Arthur, whose angry words and fatal threat rung again and again in her ears.
"My Lord had only just left when you recovered consciousness, Senora," gently remarked her principal attendant, whose penetration had discovered the meaning of Marie's imploring look and passive silence, so far at least that it was Don Ferdinand she sought, and that his absence pained her. "He tarried till life seemed returning, and then reluctantly departed for the castle, where he had been summoned, he said, above an hour before."
"To the castle!" repeated Marie internally. "Ay, he will do his duty, though his heart be breaking. He will take his place and act his part, and men will report him calm, wise, collected, active as his wont, and little dream his wife, his treasured wife, has bowed his lofty spirit to the dust, and laid low his light of home. Tell me when he returns," she said aloud, "and bid all leave me but yourself."
Two hours passed, and Marie lay outwardly still and calm, neither speaking nor employed. But at the end of that time she started up hastily, resumed the robe which had been cast aside, and remained standing, as intently listening to some distant sound. Several minutes elapsed, and though she had sunk almost unconsciously on the seat Manuella proffered, it was not till full half an hour that she spoke.
"The Senor has returned," she said calmly; "bid Alberic hither."
The page came, and she quietly inquired if any strangers had entered with his master.
"No, Senora, he is alone."
"Has he long returned?"
"Almost half an hour, Senora. He went directly to his closet, desiring that he might not be disturbed."
Ten minutes more, and Marie was standing in her husband's presence, but unobserved. For the first time in his whole life had her light step approached him unheard. For two hours he had borne a degree of mental suffering which would either have crushed or roused any other man into wildest fury—borne it with such an unflinching spirit, that in neither look nor manner, nor even tone, had he departed from his usual self, or given the slightest occasion for remark. But the privacy of his closet obtained, the mighty will gave way, and the stormy waves rolled over him, deadening every sense and thought and feeling, save the one absorbing truth, that he had never been beloved. Father and child had deceived him; for now every little word, every trifling occurrence before his marriage in the Vale of Cedars rushed back on his mind, and Henriquez imploring entreaty under all circumstances to love and cherish her was explained.