Three young men were walking through one of the quietest streets of Alcalā.
Their rich appointments and courteous demeanour marked them as belonging to the noble youths who studied at the University of Alcalā, which was as learned as Salamanca, and more fashionable, and gave a great air of dignity to the little town on the Henares, which, now in the height of its fame, consisted of streets of palaces, convents and colleges huddled together in massive splendour behind the old walls.
It was midsummer, the air was tremulous with heat, and low, purple black clouds rolled up from the plains towards Madrid; beneath them shot the last rays of the fierce sun that ended in a glow of dun light on the white walls and coloured shutters of the silent houses of the silent street through which the three youths were walking in leisurely fashion, two of them with their arms interlinked and talking together, the third a little in advance with his eyes on the ground and his arms folded on his chest.
At the corner of the street stood a handsome palace surrounded by a courtyard in which grew laurels and ilex. Before this the three stopped and gazed through the light yet strong iron railing that divided them from the mansion. A strange glowing light fell on the house that fully faced the west, and the domes and towers rose golden white against the deepening purple of the thundrous sky.
A little hot breeze, the forerunner of a storm, stirred the stiff boughs of the laurel and slightly shook the crimson drapery of an open upper window.
It was towards this window that the three young men looked, for it belonged to the apartment of the lady, Doņa Aņa Santofimia y Munatones, who was decided to be the most beautiful in Alcalā, and who was the object of the interest of every youth in the University, though none of them had ever spoken to her or seen her nearer than across the space of her father's courtyard.
Before her window was a balcony on which stood three pots of pink roses, now in full bloom, and a bowl of growing basil that cast its feathery shadow over the white wall.
More from habit than earnest feeling the three students lingered to catch a glimpse of the beauty.
Presently she appeared, lifting the crimson curtain, and holding a pair of gilt scissors, on which the strong light gleamed.
She wore a white skirt and a violet jacket fastened with green buttons; over her head was a muslin shawl with a silver fringe.
She came out on to the balcony and cut the withered leaves from the rose bushes, scattering them on the hot air, where they fluttered a second and sank.
Once she looked towards the gate where the three stood, but her face was expressionless. The sun was rapidly being absorbed by the oncoming storm; a low roll of thunder sounded and the dark clouds closed menacingly over the city.
The youth, who kept slightly away from the other two and who appeared to be the eldest, glanced at the sky and then turned away.
The others were about to follow him when they observed the lady to gather one of the pink roses, press it to her lips and hold it out towards them. They stood absolutely motionless and the third came back to his place and stared.
Doņa Aņa lifted the shawl from her face and hair and let it drop on to her shoulders; they saw the warm tinted dark oval of her face, the cloudy braids of her black hair and the two strings of coral beads round her throat.
First looking carefully to right and left she held up her ten fingers outstretched, then pointed to the gate and vanished, leaving the pink rose and the scissors on the balcony where they had fallen when she opened her hands. The three youths looked at each other with a quick jealousy, for each was utterly at a loss to know for whom the message could have been meant.
A thread of lightning broke the purple gloom and the rain began to fall in heavy drops.
"Come to my lodging," said the eldest youth, "the storm will have broken before you can reach yours."
The others assented, and the three walked rapidly through another more crowded street to a sumptuous house near the walls which they entered as the rain was splashing down in straight slashing spears of silver.
Clapping his hands to summon his servants the young host ordered supper, then followed his friends into a chamber decorated in the Moorish style in black and crimson.
As he closed the door behind him the three laughed together in the joy of youth engaged with an exciting adventure.
They were all remarkable in their persons, and, despite the great difference in their appearance, there was the likeness in all three to a common type.
The eldest was not yet twenty but tall and fully grown, beautifully proportioned and of an appearance of great vigour and energy.
His dark, thin countenance was unusually handsome, he had the olive skin, the waving black hair, the aquiline features, the large eyes and full lips of the extreme south, he was indeed half Italian, but Spanish blood and Spanish training had given him a sombre dignity and a weighty courtesy that did not belong to his father's people.
The regularity of his face was marred though not unpleasingly by the slight projection of his lower jaw, a peculiarity shared by his two companions, indeed it was this similarity that gave all three, different as they were, an air of resemblance.
This youth was dressed richly, though, for his age, rather heavily in black velvet, the short doublet fastened with tags of violet silk and crimson hose; his short black silk mantel was lined with scarlet and a short sword in a beautiful gilt scabbard hung at his side.
The other two were much of the same age and a year younger; in appearance, manner and bearing they were totally dissimilar.
One was slim, well made, graceful and alert, perfectly proportioned and robust; his countenance was singularly charming; his face was a long oval, his eyes grey, his hair tawny, his complexion a burnt rose tint, and over hair, face and neck a ruddy tint, warm as gold. His expression was joyous and proud, and a thousand possibilities lurked in the youthful fire of his glance.
His orange and ruby coloured garments were worn with a reckless air, and yet with a self conscious joy in the richness of them and the worldly grandeur of which they were the symbol.
The other was below the common height, slightly hunched in one shoulder, frail, sickly and thin; his pallid face was commonplace in feature, save for the projecting jaw that was more marked in him than in either of the others, and commonplace in expression save for an expression of unhappy bitterness in his pale roving eyes.
His plain black clothes were worn and neglected, but he wore under his limp and soiled ruff a gold chain strung with diamonds and rubies of extraordinary beauty. It was notable that he clung with a peevish and exacting affection to the fair youth and paid little regard to the other, that he had an intolerant and arrogant manner, and that his companions treated him with some ceremony.
He appeared now to be in a state of excitement, and rushing to the window he flung it open on to the blackness of the storm that was sweeping over Alcalā.
"Don Alessandro," he said imperiously, "what did Doņa Aņa mean?" His voice was shrill and disagreeable, and as he spoke his limbs twitched uncontrollably.
The dark young man answered in a soft even voice.
"She meant that one of us was to come to her gate to-night at ten," he said. "Surely that, Don Carlos."
"But which one?" was the irritable question.
Don Alessandro slightly raised his shoulders.
"How can one tell the choice of a woman?" he said.
A roll of thunder echoed in the hot air, and Don Carlos shrank back against the casement and snarled up at the sky.
The third youth, who had not spoken yet, now came forward.
"Shall we draw lots?" he suggested in a sweet voice. "Or can one prove a better claim than the others?"
"She is unknown to all of us, Don Juan," returned Don Alessandro, "and we have all sent her letters—"
"What cavalier in Alcalā has not?" said Don Juan lightly. "It is the fashion to be in love with Doņa Aņa."
A flash of lightning darted into the room and Don Carlos sprang from the window with a squeal like a frightened animal, in the following clap of thunder he put his hands to his ears, every nerve in his body ajar, and screamed aloud.
The other two looked away from him and from each other; he wiped the sweat from his narrow forehead and glanced furtively at them.
"Well, draw lots," he gasped, clutching his handkerchief convulsively in his long hands.
Don Juan put his black velvet cap on the table.
"No dice!" cried Don Carlos; he nervously stripped three rings from his fingers, two of plain chased gold and the third a square emerald, "that," he pointed to the jewel, "is Doņa Aņa—" he grinned cunningly at the others, tossed the three rings into the cap and shook them together. "Put in your hands," he commanded shrilly, "and see who gets the damsel!"
The other two exchanged a glance; Don Alessandro raised his brows and Don Juan smiled with his eyes: thunder and lightning again sent Don Carlos quivering and snarling into a chair; when it was over he was dead-coloured as ashes, and a slight froth stained his distorted lips.
"I have the first draw!" he cried, staggering to his feet and plunging his hand into the cap.
With a silly laugh he drew out the emerald.
"I have her!" he ejaculated, "I have won!"
A flush rose to Don Juan's dusky cheek: he turned away and looked out of the window over Alcalā which now lay wet beneath the rain now coming down with silver lightness, but Don Alessandro said suavely—
"Certainly, your highness has her."
Don Carlos looked at him with an ugly expression of suspicion and malice.
"No! you think I cheated," he said. "You always play the judge, my cousin. Don Juan, we will go home."
He spoke with his wonted insolence, for the last clap of thunder had been faint; it was plain that the little storm had either spent itself or was the mere messenger of one to come.
In any case it was over for the moment, and Don Carlos regained his courage; he thrust the rings on his fingers and caught hold of Don Juan's arm. "We will go," he announced.
"Will you not stay to supper?" asked the young host with formal courtesy.
"No!" returned Don Carlos ungraciously.
Juan laughed; there was no change in Alessandro's dark face.
"Farewell, my cousin," he said.
Carlos deigned no answer, he stamped his foot and dragged Juan away. When they reached the street they found it was still raining, though the black clouds were dividing over the purple flare of the sunset, and the domes and towers of Alcalā gleamed wet and golden in the last rays of the sun.
The two youths directed their steps towards their lodgings, which were in the archiepiscopal palace built by Cardinal Ximenes, now a captive at Valladolid.
Carlos clung tightly to his friend's arm, walking with feverish impatience and shivering in the rain. Juan, who treated him with tolerant good humour, sung a little song popular among the cavaliers at the University and took no heed of his muttered complaints.
When they gained the palace Carlos looked keenly up at the porter's lodge, which they had to pass as they entered the courtyard. In the sombre shade of the low doorway a young girl sat sorting yanks of new yarn and gazing out at the feeble rain.
Her face, her bare throat and arms glowed in the dusk, and the orange handkerchief she wore round her head fastened with gold pins had the bright quality of a jewel.
As the two young men passed she dropped her brown hands on to her black skirt and stared at them.
"It is the porter's daughter," whispered Carlos.
A dull red had come into his face and he shivered.
Juan gave her an indifferent glance; she rose and made a grave and humble reverence.
Her eyes followed them as they passed across the courtyard; as they entered the palace she put her hands to her full bosom and laughed silently, showing her strong white teeth.
"She is a beautiful woman," muttered Don Carlos.
"No, the porter's daughter."
They stood together in the shadows of the great hall, Carlos still holding Juan's arm.
"I play the guitar beneath her window sometimes," he muttered, "and she promised to meet me in the garden to-night."
Don Juan's muscles became slightly taut, he was silent; the twilight hid his face. For a space Carlos was silent also, then he said half angrily:
"What is Aņa Santofimia y Munatones to me?"
Juan stood alert but mute.
"I shall not go to-night," added Carlos fretfully.
"To the garden?" asked Juan cautiously.
"No—to Doņa Aņa's gate. Maybe there will be another storm. And the porter's daughter is a more beautiful woman, she is plump and red as the Madonna—"
"You won the toss," said Juan in a quiet tone.
"You go for me—tell her that I could not come—"
"She is not expecting you," broke from Don Juan in a fierce whisper—he covered this remark by saying aloud—
"She will be disappointed."
"Yes," assented Carlos, "but I cannot go."
He shook Juan off and went slowly upstairs.
"Jesus!" exclaimed Juan, crossing himself, "the good fortune!"
When Don Juan returned to the house of Santofimia y Munatones the thunderstorm had rolled back on its course and was again shaking the heavens.
The fierce flash and roll of it increased the young man's excitement; he waited trembling and tense before the great scrolled iron gate.
He was not in love with Doņa Aņa, but he was in love with life, and Doņa Aņa was a very beautiful part of life; also there was some danger in the adventure that made it wholly desirable.
He had brought three servants with him, who, armed on back and breast and carrying swords, kept guard in the dark streets a few paces from the gates.
It was a little past ten; now and then the domes and towers of Alcalā showed against the black heavens in the lightning gleam and the rain could be heard pattering among the oleander and syringa bushes; Don Juan felt it on his face when he looked up and on his bare hands with which he grasped the wet iron rails.
It was very hot; Juan did not remember to have ever noticed the heat so before—nor the darkness.
The small, shaded glow of a lantern wavered in the courtyard, then came nearer and disclosed the dripping boughs with their long, dark, glistening leaves and the white coif showing inside a woman's hood.
Then it came nearer still and darted its rays on to Don Juan.
The woman laughed under her breath. "So it is you," she said.
The rain was increasing, it fell like silver lances across the lantern light; Juan saw a chamber woman in a dark mantle and a linen cap who looked at him with half-curious, half-apprehensive eyes.
"You!" she repeated.
He did not answer; he remembered that he was only there indirectly, and he did not believe that Doņa Aņa's signal had been for him; it was out of the question that it had been for poor Carlos, but surely she had looked at Alessandro who was as fine a cavalier as any in Alcalā, nay, in Madrid.
But the woman undid the gate and Juan stepped in; he was no longer agitated, only curious; he had never known any women well save his two foster-mothers, Aņa de Medina, the wife of the Emperor's musician, and Doņa Magdalena de Ulloa, wife of the noble Luis Quixada. Juan loved this lady as if she had been indeed his mother. As he followed the woman and her feeble light through the dark courtyard he wondered if Doņa Aņa was like Doņa Magdalena. He thought she must be very different. The bushes brushed his shoulders with their strong wet leaves and the wet gravel crunched beneath his feet, but very slightly, for lie walked with the instinctive secretive lightness of his race, and his graceful tread was as light as a woman's footfall.
The maid unlatched a door in the side of the house.
"The master is away," she whispered; "but all the same, come quietly if you care for my lady's honour."
"I have as soft a step and as close a tongue as any in Spain," he answered.
She took his hand, for the stairs were most dark and winding, and gently led him.
They passed windows through which the lightning flashed; the thunder rolled without and seemed to shake to the heart of the house. Don Juan was lost in a maze of corridors and stairs; he could not have found his way out unguided.
He felt a slight contempt for all this woman's mystery, though lie knew it was necessary. Would she have received Don Alessandro so—or even Carlos? How many other knights had climbed these stairs? If he was the first it was a very great honour, but if he was even the second he would be sorry to have come.
Full of this sudden thought he took his hand away from his guide's and stopped on the dark landing.
"Why does your mistress receive me?" he asked. "Is she a creature of whims and fancies?"
The woman turned the lantern so that the beams fell full on his face.
"Jesus!" she cried angrily, "does my noble lady condescend to a cavalier who asks that? You should come humbly, for my mistress grants you an honour every knight in Alcalā has asked in vain."
"Ahč!" answered Juan, "she is peerless, take me to her—"
She flashed the lantern along the walls, then pulled aside a heavy brocade curtain and stepped into a room that gloomed with a full amber light.
"Mistress," she said, "the cavalier has come," and she blew out the lantern and took off her mantle.
The room had white walls, and the open windows looked on to a balcony where the rain was splashing. A black press and a black table stood against one wall, two black chairs and a prie-Dieu against another, the floor was of red and golden tiles, inlaid in fantastic patterns; in one corner were a spinning wheel and a basket of yarn.
A coffer stood open by an inner door that was curtained in dull yellow, and out of the coffer hung silks and wools and tapestries dyed bright colours.
On a long couch inlaid with mother-o'-pearl flowers Doņa Aņa lay with her head on scarlet cushions.
Her full skirts, of a thin white silk edged with gold, spread, all over the couch and touched the red and yellow floor.
Over her green silk jacket a large muslin shawl was folded; in her dusky hair was a high metal comb set with gold and coral and round her throat a string of gold beads. She was very wonderful.
As Juan entered she sat up and clasped her hands together on her lap. He took off his black beaver.
"Seņora," he said, "I kiss your hands."
She rose; the maid went to the window and drew the curtains.
"Who are you?" asked Doņa Aņa haughtily.
She was very wonderful.
As the lightning had shot and quivered into the heart of the dark house, so into the soul of Juan there sprang the new and vivid desire to be something, to do something, to have some achievement with which to answer the question of this proud creature.
His dusky fair skin burnt crimson with humility; he threw back his dun coloured mantle and went on one knee.
On the dull blue brocade of his doublet, and half concealed by the laced ends of his large white ruff, gleamed a heavy collar of links and flames in pure gold and steel, from the centre of which hung a golden fleece.
"The toison d'or!" muttered Doņa Aņa, recoiling a step.
He gave her his one title to distinction.
"I am the son of Carlos V," he said, and he laid his hand across the splendour on his breast, the symbol of the proudest order in Europe.
Doņa Aņa sat down on the end of the couch and covered her face with her two long, ringless hands.
"Jesus!" said the maid, "the rain will break the roses."
She cautiously opened the shutters and brought in a pot in each hand; the blooms hung limp and beaten, and the wet dropped from the leaves over the red and yellow floor.
Juan rose and stared at Doņa Aņa; the shawl had fallen from her head, and he saw that she had a blue velvet rose in the folds of her dark brown hair.
She dropped her hands and spoke; her voice was low and husky.
"Teresa," she said, "who is this you have brought me?"
The lightning darted through the open shutter as the maid brought in two more dripping pots of roses; she paused with them in her hands and gazed at Juan.
"Why, the cavalier at the gate," she answered. Then she saw the toison d'or. "Holy Lady!" she exclaimed.
"Did you not know me?" asked Juan.
"How was I to know any of the knights in Alcalā?" answered Doņa Aņa bitterly.
He knew she never went abroad save attended by three or four, but he had not imagined that she lived in such seclusion; it made the marvel of her more entrancing.
"Dios!" he cried, "perhaps you have had no letters, heard no serenades?"
"I have never had a letter in all my life," she answered, "and they make me sleep at the back overlooking the courtyard where I hear nothing but the fountain—and sometimes the nightingales."
Juan thought of all the go-betweens who had been bribed, of all the hired musicians who had played before the house of Santofimia y Munatones.
He laughed. Then grew grave.
"Seņora," he asked, "you never meant me to come? I will go."
He thought now with scorn of Don Carlos' jests and the light manner in which he had agreed to be the Infant's substitute. She looked up at him.
"Why did you think I meant you?" she asked.
The blood crimsoned to the edge of his rich gold hair, a new and exquisite sensation filled his heart. For she was looking straight at him and in her eyes was a gleam of something wild and marvellous; it seemed to him as if the amber light that glowed from the two lamps on the wall shone through her, and that she would dissolve and vanish in a sparkle of gold.
He could not tell her that he had come carelessly.
"Was your message to me?" he asked breathlessly.
She looked away.
"I did not know that you were a prince," she said evasively.
"Don Juan of Austria!" murmured the maid. With a white cloth she was wiping up the pools of wet the four pots of roses had left on the smooth floor.
"Who were the other two cavaliers?" asked Doņa Aņa.
"The taller is Don Alessandro, Prince of Parma, son of Octavio of Parma and Margaret, my father's daughter—"
"And the hunchback—he must go with you for your jesting."
"Jesus!" he crossed himself, "that is the Infant Don Carlos—the King's only son."
"Ahč!" cried the two women together.
"I should have known," added Doņa Aņa hastily, "but you have been only a short while in Alcalā."
Juan swiftly wondered what reception Carlos would have received; he was glad she had been spared the prince's wrath had she shown disgust; he knew what Carlos could be.
He sat down on one of the stiff, black chairs; he was aware that the maid was looking at him with curiosity, and Doņa Aņa with that wild glance of intensity that confused and agitated him.
"You sent for me?" he murmured.
"Yes." She put her hands to the coral beads round her throat. "I have seen you go past so often."
"Every knight in Alcalā is your servant," he said.
The thunder was dying away, the rain splashing with less insistence. Doņa Aņa leant forward, and her thin white silk skirt gave a little stiff rustle.
"You also wrote to me?" she asked. "You also serenaded me?"
"Yes," he answered, "yet I never knew how wonderful you were."
She fell back along the vermilion cushions and closed her eyes.
"Ahč!" she cried, "why did I do this? I am ill, I am possessed, my heart hurts, hurts. I suffer, suffer. Leave me, Don Juan, and forget me."
He rose and cause a step nearer; lie stared at the soft warm colour of her face against the vivid scarlet, the long ringlets confined by the glittering comb, the deep shade of her lashes, the quiver in her full lips, and the pulse beating in her round throat.
He saw that there was a soft down over her cheeks and that in her ears were long rough gold ornaments, fashioned like a head of wheat that hung and trembled on the scarlet cushions. He came to the top of the sofa and bent over her; her little jacket of stiff green silk strained at its cords over her heart, the full white skirts hid her shape down to the tiny buckled shoes.
"Seņora!" he said.
She opened her eyes and he saw that tears filled them as dew fills, the cup of a flower.
A reverence and a sadness such as he had never known before touched his heart.
"Aņa," he said.
She closed her eyes again and the tears over-brimmed and ran down her cheeks. "I never knew that you were a prince," she whispered.
He laid his hand on the toison d'or; he spoke the bitter truth he had never put into words before.
"I am a peasant too," he said.
Doņa Aņa did not answer; the departing thunder gave a last growl; the rain was over, but the water could be heard dripping from the coppice of the house.
The maid opened the shutters and showed a purple sky with black clouds rolling away from a full moon.
Don Juan seated himself on the end of the black couch; his young face was troubled and distracted.
"Till I was eleven," he said, "I lived at Liganes with the Emperor's musician, Francisquin Massi—I went barefoot across the fields to school dressed like a peasant—"
He turned his head, stiffly, for his collar and ruff came to his very ears.
"—then came a coach, to the great marvel of the villagers, and took me to Villagarcia, where Doņa Magdalena was as a dear and honoured mother to me—God protect her! I was taken to Quacos, near Yuste, and in the monastery at Yuste I saw the Emperor die—God rest his soul!—and all this while I did not know what man's son I was. Then after we were back at Villagarcia, Don Luis Quixada, my guardian, took me hunting to the convent of San Pedro de la Espina, and there we met, the King who told me I was his brother, and Don Luis put me on my horse and kissed my hand. Dios! I do not know if I am glad or sorry. Carlos will be King and I am not even an Infant—"
"You are the Emperor's son," she answered, "and the King will advance you."
"The King has been very gentle with me," replied Don Juan, "and has sent me hither to Alcalā with my nephew Carlos and my nephew Alessandro—he surely does me honour—yet I am not an Infant of Castile."
He looked at her.
"Why have I spoken to you in this manner?" he cried.
"Why did you come?" she answered.
They leant nearer; she put out her hands and he took them, they were hot in his clasp; he thought that she was like a chili fruit pod, smooth and shining, transparent and delicate and within fierce flame.
"Is there any woman like you in the old world or the new?" he said, as he took her two hands and laid them on the toison d'or. "Dios! for you I could achieve great deeds."
"No," she answered, "only stay by me—that is impossible," she added swiftly. "Jesus! life is a burden! Could you love me? Could you be loyal, Don Juan?"
Her moist lips were slightly parted; they were as red as the coral that strained against her flung-back throat.
He pressed her hands on the toison d'or until the golden fleece entered her flesh, but she made no protest.
"I could love you as a man loves the Mother of God!" he answered, "and as a man loves the fairest woman on earth!"
"Could you love me better than your ambitions?" she asked.
"How did you know of my ambitions?" he flung back, startled.
"You want to be an Infant," she breathed; "you want to be a king."
His eyes flashed golden, like light on an inlaid sword.
"Yes," he said.
"Ah, love me and let that go!" she answered.
He gazed into her upturned face for a full minute, then he dropped her hands and rose.
"Dios!" he cried, "what have you done to me? What have you done to me that has changed the world?"
"Ah!" she whispered, "you suffer too! You suffer as I suffered since I saw you first, throwing the quoit on the bank of the Henares!"
She pushed back her hair, the blue rose and the comb were loosened.
The maid took the pots and put them out on the balcony again; the night was now quite clear; the moon filled the heavens with silver, and now the rain was over the splash of a fountain could be heard below.
Don Juan came to the couch and knelt down, and laid tiffs hot face on the spreading folds of leer white skirts; the perfumed silk was gracious to him as the cool of the river at noonday.
Doņa Aņa put her hands lightly on his hair as she bent over him in an attitude of pity and tenderness; her palms were bruised with the toison d'or, and when he looked up and covered them with kisses they smarted. The maid came from the window.
"It is late, my noble mistress. Seņor, you must go."
"No, no," moaned Doņa Aņa. "Let him stay—leave hint with me."
Then she drew her hands away and rocked herself to and fro.
"No, now is not the time," she cried. "Go—go!"
She sprang up violently and the blue rose fell from her hair and smote Don Juan on the lips as lie gazed up at her.
"Ah, Dio!" exclaimed the maid, "will you not go, Prince?"
He got to his feet; the blue rose was clasped in his right hand.
"I may return?" he asked.
"You have my pledge," she said, and pointed to the velvet flower.
"When may I come?"
"The master returns to-morrow," said the maid; "but any letter you may leave with the old woman, Eunice, who cards yarn by the river, will reach its destination. And we will arrange a time."
"Why should I wait?" asked Don Juan imperiously. "Put your head on my shoulder and let me hiss your hair. I will marry you. It is against your honour that I should visit you like a thief."
"Alas!" Doņa Aņa drew back against the white walls. "The King would not listen to you."
"I am not the King's slave," he said. "Are you weeping? Weep on my heart then."
"Go now—it is death and shame if you are discovered here."
The maid picked up his mantle that had fallen to the tiled floor and flung it round his shoulders.
"I will come again," lie said, "and openly."
"Come any way," she answered, "but come. I love you without motive. Come soon, I shall be waiting."
She put her hands over her hot face; she was pressed against the wall under the lamp, and her trembling shadow was flung beside her.
"Before I go I will kiss you," said Juan, "and you will think of me until I come again."
Without moving or looking up she shook her head.
Then Juan bent and kissed the long shadow she cast over the wall; he was now nearly as pale as the little ruff of embroidered lawn that stiffly framed his face; his forehead was damp and his lips pallid.
He looked at her long, and seemed twice as if about to speak, but was silent. The maid caught his hand and led him away.
They did not need the lantern now, for the moon was streaming in through the windows on the stairs.
As they crossed the courtyard, the night-smelling flowers were filling the air with a heavy perfume, in which the sweetness of jasmine and honeysuckle was mingled with the bitter sharpness of aloe and ivy.
The fountain rose a jet of silver, and fell with a monotonous sound into the smooth round marble basin. With a fearful haste the maid hurried Juan across the courtyard and opened the gate.
"You will come back to my mistress?" she said in an eager whisper. "You will not forget her, though you are the Emperor's son?"
Juan raised his right hand, on the forefinger of which sparkled a knightly ring.
"I swear before God I will return," he said.
The maid closed the gate on him, and ran back to the silent house.
When Don Juan returned to his lodgings in the palace of Cardinal Ximenes, he found the gates open, a number of people with torches and lanterns passing in and out, and every window in the building full of light.
Never before had he seen this commotion so late at night; he sent his servants flying for information, and himself strode up to the principal entrance. Among a group of people standing there he recognized Don Alessandro, who saluted him in his usual quiet manner.
"I have just been summoned," he said. "His Highness has fallen downstairs and is sorely hurt."
"Dios!" cried Juan.
"He would serenade the porter's wench," continued the Prince of Parma, "and the stairway was unlit and old. He is cut above the ear, and very frightened."
Juan was silent; a cloud had been cast over the world, which had seemed clothed in an incredible brightness; he knew that he should have been with Carlos; both the King and Honorato Juan, the tutor, trusted him with the wearisome task of watching the Infant's vagaries, and so far he had been loyal to the trust, but now he had failed, and this had happened.
Alessandro regarded him by the light of the torches the Morisco slaves were holding in the low-arched doorway.
"I thought he had gone to Santofimia's mansion," he began.
Juan paled, and cut him short with a quick gesture.
"Ah, you went," said the Prince of Parma slowly.
"No," answered Juan angrily, "I have nothing to do with Doņa Aņa. I, too, thought Carlos had gone—"
He crushed tightly in his right hand the blue rose.
Don Alessandro's eyes flickered; he yawned.
"Dios!" he exclaimed wearily, "why did they send for me? There are three doctors here already, and a messenger is dispatched for His Majesty. There is no more to be done, and I might as well be asleep."
"The Prince is sorely hurt?" asked Juan fearfully.
"And asking for you," he said indifferently. Juan was turning away hastily, when the Prince of Parma called after him.
"Make a good tale to account for your absence to-night, the King will be here to-morrow."
Juan frowned over his shoulder.
"I was in the Church of San Paolo praying," he said.
"Your cloak is very wet," smiled Alessandro; "did it rain in the church?"
Juan drew his mantle, which was indeed soaked with the rain, round him, and passed silently up the stairs.
As he turned out of sight of Alessandro's keen eyes, he placed the blue rose inside his doublet.
It was beginning to assume an almost sacred significance to him, a symbol of another world, an ideal world, a world to be entered and achieved. Famous from great deeds, he would open the door of that world and lay the blue rose at the feet of Doņa Aņa, who would be sitting there waiting for him....
The Infant's chamber was glaring with the light of half a hundred candles, and the air was thick with the strong smell of aromatic herbs.
Three doctors were standing round the bed, and two slaves upheld a tray on which were bandages, glasses, and bottles.
On the bed itself, that was covered with hangings of purple damask, Carlos lay stretched out, still dressed in his fantastic finery of crimson and silver shot brocade; his enormous ruff had been opened, and curved up either side his head, a half-moon of lawn and lace.
His eyes were closed, his mouth open, and from a wound near his right temple the blood was oozing.
Never had Juan seen him look so repulsive; never before had the hunch on his shoulder been so obvious, nor his right leg so palpably longer than his left.
His face was wrinkled like that of an old man, his small features were pinched and blueish in tint, an imperious look of anger and pride flashed from his eyes.
On seeing Juan he gave a little scream. "Come here!" he cried. "Why did you leave me to-night? I hurt myself—I am ill!"
Juan quickly approached the bed; he trembled lest Carlos should mention Doņa Aņa. He thought that the physicians glanced curiously at him as they made room for him round the great canopied bed.
"Dios!" he muttered, and made the sign of the cross, first over his heart, then over his lips.
Carlos eagerly motioned him to sit down; he took the chair of black wood painted with wreaths of flowers in scarlet and green, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl, that stood by the right hand of the bed.
The poor Infant clutched Juan's hand, then closed his eyes.
"Now I can sleep," he said.
One of the doctors whispered to Juan that the wound was not dangerous, and withdrew to the back of the room, followed by the others.
Juan sat motionless, his damp mantle over the arm of the chair. He was thankful that Carlos had forgotten Doņa Aņa, but he hated being in this close, glaring room; he even hated the poor youth whose skinny fingers were clutching at his hand.
He turned his comely head and stared down at the deformed creature who was the heir of the old world and the new, heir of Spain, of the Netherlands, of Sicily and half of Italy, of the Indies and the Americas, heir perhaps to England if the King carried out his scheme of marrying his sickly son to Marie, widow of Franįois, King of France, and Queen in her own right of that northern isle of Scotland.
Juan closed his free hand so tightly that he felt the bones in his palm. He wanted to go out into the moonlight or into the darkness of his own chamber and think over Doņa Aņa and what he must and would do before he rode in through her father's front gates.
She had guessed he had ambitions; he longed now to confide to her those ambitions. He did indeed desire to be an Infant of Castile, to be a king.
His brilliant eyes remained fixed on Carlos. He had everything that wretched boy lacked—except the birth.
If he had been the son not only of Carlos V but of his Queen—if his mother had been royal instead of a Flemish peasant.
Ah, if!—then surely he could have moved the world.
He meant, however, to move it just the same. Perhaps his feats would have the greater glory through being thus hampered at first. He set his teeth and gazed round the room which was hung with silk tapestry representing the victories of Franįois Premier, the spears and banners, swords and cuirasses, tents and horses, gave him something of the same thrill as the eyes of Doņa Aņa.
He sat tense and still, grasping the sick boy's hand. The room was very hot, and strong odours of the balms and medicines made his head giddy. He glanced again at Don Carlos, and tried to gently loosen his hand.
The Prince instantly opened his eyes, and turned his head impatiently so that the bandage slipped over his temple.
"You want to leave me?" he demanded querulously. "Ah, you do not care for me at all!"
"I will stay," said Juan.
Carlos clutched more tightly at his wrist.
"They have sent for the King?" he whispered. His eyes glimmered with feverish excitement.
"Yes," said Juan.
"The King will be angry," added Carlos. He chuckled. "But the Queen will be sorry."
Juan did not answer. He knew that it was a sore point with the poor Prince that his father had married Elizabeth de Valois, the Princess destined for his own bride, and he knew that Carlos cherished a pathetic devotion for his gentle stepmother that did not please the King.
"The Queen will be sorry," repeated Carlos. "Juan, will she not be sorry?"
"All Spain will be sorry," answered Juan warily. "If you should be ill—"
Carlos put his free hand to the neck of his crimson doublet, and drew out from his bosom a picture in a boxwood case attached to a gold chain.
Juan knew it contained the portrait of his cousin, the Archduchess Anne, with whose fair likeness Carlos was infatuate.
The Prince pressed the portrait to his lips, and began muttering—
"Why does the King make delays? Why does he for ever put off my marriage?"
He tossed from side to side, still clinging to Juan's hand.
"The King thwarts me—at every turn," he whimpered.
"Highness," said Juan, "there are four Princesses proposed for you, and His Majesty has not yet decided on the Archduchess."
Carlos wrenched his hand away and sat up, the portrait swinging free from his neck; the bandage was stained with the fresh blood that broke from his temple; his face was livid and distorted, he clenched his hands and raised them above his head screaming violently.
"I hate him!" he shrieked. "I hate him! Keep him away! Keep him away! I will not be cheated of my marriage a second time!"
He fell back in strong convulsions, the foam came to his twisting lips, and his heels beat the coverlet.
Juan sprang up and called the doctors, then fell to his knees and prayed for the life of the King's son, till in the heat, with the strong fumes of the sick-chamber, the cramped position, and the weight of his brocaded clothes, he was nearly swooning.
Day and night Carlos lay in a violent fever at the point of death, paralysed down his right side and in raving delirium, and day and night Juan remained by his bedside, watching, praying, and telling his beads.
For the Prince was always aware of his presence, and in his few quiet moments would always ask for him; to hold Juan's hand was the one thing that soothed him, and it was to Juan that he addressed his delirious confidences which all ran on the themes of hatred to the King and desire for his own marriage with his cousin the Archduchess Anne.
Luis Quixada, Juan's guardian, and Honorato Juan, the tutor of the royal youths, were also tireless in their attendance, and the Duke of Alba shared Juan's vigil, night and day.
On the third day the King came.
Carlos had fallen into a sick slumber; it was near noon and very hot; in the shuttered room the air was close and stifling; the polished beads had slipped from Juan's fingers and his head had fallen on his breast.
He was thinking of the old woman who carded yarn and dwelt on the bank of the Henares, and how, as soon as he was free, he would go down to her and give her a letter for Doņa Aņa.
He put his hand to his breast where the blue rose lay hid, he felt heavy headed and fatigued; he had not changed his clothes for three days nor left the stale air of the sick-chamber.
In the ante-chamber were the six doctors, and the Duke of Alba slept on a couch near the window. Don Alessandro had returned to his lodgings; Juan envied him.
The rosary slipped from his fingers and fell on the floor with a little rattle; at the same moment the door opened and he glanced up.
A slight pale man attired in black stood on the threshold of the chamber; his long, narrow features were pallid and delicate, his straight hair and close beard a faint reddish gold, his jaw projected heavily, his grey eyes were cold, his mouth sullen.
At sight of him Juan caught up the rosary and sank on his knees.
The King gave him one look, then took no further notice of him, but advanced to the foot of the bed and gazed at the miserable form of his only son. As if aware who had entered, Carlos opened his eyes and stared up at his father. A long, silent and deadly glance passed between them. Juan, rising from his knees, shivered.
"I have brought Our Lady of Atocha with me," said the King in a low voice, crossing himself.
Carlos answered feebly.
"I have already vowed seven times my weight in gold and four times my weight in silver to God if He will recover me."
The frugal King's brows contracted.
"So you must be extravagant even in your piety, Carlos," he said acidly. "Seņor Honorato Juan does not dare to tell me the extent of your debts."
Then he pulled off his flat black cap and bent his head while Juan and the Duke of Alba, who had awakened at the King's entry, went on their knees. For two priests were carrying in the miraculous image of Our Lady of Atocha.
She was carved of olive wood, shining greenish black, and on her head was a stiff gold crown with diamond rays; her gown was stiff white brocade sewn with pearls, and there was a necklace of emeralds round her polished neck. Carlos stared at her and tried to move his paralysed limbs.
Failing in this he screamed with disappointment.
The King shot him a quick glance and ordered the image to be taken away; he could do no more than bring the Virgin of Atocha to his son's bed; if she proved obdurate, of what use were the processions of flagellants scourging themselves through the streets of Madrid and Toledo, the prayers and processions in every Spanish church? When the priests had carried the Virgin away the King came to the side of the bed.
Carlos blinked his half-blind eyes and twitched his swollen lips.
"Is the Queen praying for me?" he asked, and his speech was strange and thick.
"The Queen is on her knees in her oratory," replied the King, "and Juana has gone a barefoot pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Consolation."
He gazed down, holding his cap to his heart, and his eyes were pale and hard while his brow was twisted as if by some horrible thought.
"When am I—to marry my cousin Anne?" gasped Carlos.
"Is this a time to be thinking of marriage?" answered Don Felipe.
His glance flickered to the young handsomeness of Juan who stood in a respectful but weary attitude the other side of the bed, then travelled with an awful significance to the deformed, half-paralysed and sick creature beneath the gold-threaded coverlet.
For once the immobile calm that he so carefully preserved gave way.
"Dios! my son!" he muttered, so low that none heard it save the wretched Carlos himself, who caught up the words with an insane laugh.
"Your son and King of Spain to be!"
Then he beat his hands impotently and babbled in incoherent delirium.
Don Felipe stepped back from the bed and whispered to the doctors, then gravely beckoned to Juan to follow him out of the room.
Though the young man expected a reproof for having allowed Carlos out of his sight, he was glad to leave the sick-chamber and to move his legs, stiff from kneeling, and his hands, stiff from telling his beads.
Don Felipe preceded him into a small round chamber where the green shutters were sufficiently open for a flood of sunlight to stream over the white marble floor.
The King seated himself, Juan remained standing; his dress was disordered, his hair dishevelled, his face colourless from his long vigil, but his healthy youth was triumphant and his comeliness a vivid thing.
He waited to be addressed by this man who had had the same father as himself, and was the greatest personage in the world.
He neither loved nor feared Don Felipe, but he was grateful to him as the means of all his greatness and as the fountain of further favours.
The reproof he was expecting was not uttered; Don Felipe said no word of his stricken son.
"Are you weary of Alcalā?" he asked, in his monotonous, expressionless voice.
"No, Majesty," answered Juan truthfully.
"I hear that you are well trained in the profession of arms and but poor at your other studies. You must soon come to Court."
"I prefer the tilt-yard to the closet," returned the young man. "And I do fear that I have but small brains for learning."
Don Felipe put his pale hand to his pale face.
"It was your father's wish," he said, "that you should enter the Church, and it is mine. I will attain a Cardinal's hat for you."
A curious sense of fear gripped Juan's heart as he met the glance of the chill eyes of the King.
"I am not worthy," he replied swiftly. "I fear that the Roman purple would but stifle me."
"Ahč," said Don Felipe with a tight little smile. "But you have other ambitions, Juan?"
Juan lifted his gay young head.
"Would it be possible, Majesty, for my father's son to be without ambitions?"
The King's smile turned into a short, unpleasant laugh.
"What are these ambitions?" he demanded.
Juan pressed his lips together and did not answer.
"Have I not been an indulgent King and an affectionate brother to you?" added Don Felipe.
"Then speak to me more frankly. What are your ambitions, eh?"
Juan's heart swelled. "To be an Infant of Castile—to be a king" was the answer on his lips, but he checked the words.
The King was watching him intently.
"My ambition is to serve your Majesty," said Juan.
This formal compliment seemed to please the King.
"You may serve me at Rome," he answered. "You may serve me at the Holy Father's ear." He crossed himself.
Juan thought of Doņa Aņa and the whole glittering world.
"I would rather serve your Majesty against the Morisco," he said.
"You have heard of the rebellion?" asked the King.
"Yes; I would your Majesty would send me to quell it."
"Child," answered Don Felipe drily, "this rebellion is not a little flare that a boy's foot can stamp it out."
Juan coloured scarlet from his crumpled ruff to his bright hair.
"If you would try me, Majesty," he said, on a spent breath.
Don Felipe made no reply to this; he sat with one hand holding his elbow and the other grasping his chin.
"Tell me of Carlos," he said. "How came he by this hurt?"
Juan thought that this question should have been made to the tutor or the Duke of Alba. He was, after all, not responsible for the whimsical and sickly Prince.
"He would make music below the window of the porter's daughter, Majesty, and the stairs to the garden were rotten and dark and he fell."
"And this was allowed?"
"It was thought that this affection might cultivate gentleness in him. He is not over gentle," answered Juan with his dangerous frankness.
The King's eyes flickered.
"I spoke of the stairs," he said. "Was it allowed that they should be broken?"
Juan was about to answer, "They are safe enough for one not lame," but kindness held him silent.
The King rose and began to move stiffly towards the door.
Juan remembered the burden of the Prince's delirious ravings, and minded to do him a kindness he spoke:—
"Seņor, the Prince is very set on a marriage with his cousin Anne, the Archduchess. Could your Majesty see how he cherishes this hope you would have pity on him. Indeed, I do think that if this match was hastened it would have a very good effect on his peace of mind and so on his health."
Don Felipe kept his sullen eyes on the ground.
"Carlos marries where I please," he said. "I have thought of his Aunt Juaņa for him."
"Ahč!" cried Juan with his gay boldness. "She is ten years older than he, and is never out of a black gown. What has she to do with marriage? Is she not a widow, and are not her ringlets shaved and placed under the altar of the Barefoot Nuns?"
"She also marries where I please," answered the King.
"Seņor, he loves the Austrian, his cousin."
"Why?" asked Don Felipe.
"For her face in the picture in little that the Emperor's Ambassador brought him."
"I have not seen it," said the King sharply; "is she very fair?"
"Fair and melancholy, Majesty."
"Fairer than the Queen," asked his Majesty jealously.
"Not so beautiful," said Juan sincerely; "yet in the painting it is a lovely face."
"The Scottish Queen has a better dowry," answered Don Felipe. "So you will not be a priest, Don Juan?"
"Seņor, I could not. Yet I do pray that you will use me."
"Aye," answered the King softly, "I will use you. When you come to Court I will use you."
He left the room, and Juan, who had not received any token of dismissal, followed him.
He returned to the sick-chamber that was now filled with an odour of charnel decay that made Juan start back on the threshold.
The cause of it was soon apparent; on the rich bed beside the unconscious Infant lay the dried and crumbling corpse of a friar wrapped in a mouldy robe.
"It is Friar Diego, Majesty," explained a Franciscan brother proudly.
"Was he a saint?" asked the King.
"No, Seņor, but he died full of holiness, and if he should cure the Infant the Holy Father would canonize him."
Juan crossed himself at the sight of the relic whose ancient skull lay close to the distorted face of Carlos.
He was feeling sick and giddy and as exhausted as that time at the Convent of Yuste when he had stood three days and three nights during the funeral services of the man he had not known then was his father, the great Emperor, Carlos.
Don Felipe took no notice of the doctors and priests, but went up to the bed and bent over his son who lay in a stupor, his eyes glazed, his breathing difficult, and the dark blood perpetually oozing from his head in a heavy stream under the bandages.
The King's thin fingers raised the wooden locket that lay on the Infant's narrow chest and pushed the spring.
The lid flew open and disclosed a clear Flemish painting, no larger than a walnut, but clearly showing the sad, exquisite features of the Archduchess Anne.
As if he knew that his treasure was being rifled, the unhappy Carlos groaned and opened his eyes.
When he saw his father gazing at the fair Austrian's likeness he uttered a doleful cry and tried to move his paralysed limbs.
"You shall not have her too!" he muttered. "She is mine!"
Don Felipe calmly closed the case and dropped it on his son's heart.
"If your brother was a saint, the Infant should make a quick recovery," he remarked to the Franciscan; then, putting his perfumed handkerchief to his nose, for the odour of the corpse began to be overpowering, he left the chamber to pray for Carlos in Cardinal Ximenes' Oratory.
Juan now considered himself free; he hastened up to his own chamber, and, with an impulse of horror at the atmosphere of gloom and death below, he flung wide the shutters of the delicate arched window.
The sun was just past its full heat; the light of it lay like a golden shower on the garden.
Juan thought that never had he seen it look so beautiful; for a long while he gazed into the brightness. The red, pink, and white flowers of the oleanders were in bloom among the stiff dark leaves; in the shade of cypress, laurel, and chestnut were lilies and trellises of crimson roses.
Rows of palms and pepper-trees ran along the walls and beneath the sunburnt side of the palace a tangle of pomegranate-trees grew, the vivid scarlet blossoms like patches of flame.
A bird sang shrilly.
Juan raised his face to the sky, wrinkling his eyes before the blazing sun as a Northerner would wrinkle them before the sky itself.
He stretched his arms and sighed.
He would be great; the King would advance him; he would be Infant of Castile—a king.
What other destiny was fit for the son of Carlo Magno?
Without calling his servants, he began to change his clothes.
With a sigh of relief he unbuttoned his ruff and flung it off, revealing his strong young throat, marked with the pressure of the stiff linen, then began to unfasten his doublet.
As he did so, the crumpled blue velvet rose fell oat on to the black tiles.
Doņa Aņa! He would send to her. He would tell her that he was going away, and that he would come back. She was wonderful, and she was waiting for him; he raised the flower she had worn, and kissed it as reverently as if it had been a crucifix.
To-night, at once, he would go and find old Eunice who carded yarn on the banks of the Henares.
Even as he made his resolution, Honorato Juan was at his door with a summons. The King wished his company.
Juan placed the poor flower whose message must still be delayed in the answering next his heart, changed his clothes, and went down to Don Felipe, who had said his prayers and was eating mushrooms stuffed with snow in the sombre dining-room.
Doņa Aņa de Mendoza y de la Cerda, wife of Ruy Gomez de Silva, Count of Melito and Prince of Eboli, and the most powerful minister in Spain, sat in her apartment in the Escorial, the new palace the King was building near Madrid.
Her full black skirts spread round her, flounce on flounce, each bordered with a broad silver ribbon; her tight bodice was trimmed with silver braiding and a coif and veil of black stuff concealed her hair.
Round her throat was a string of silver beads and in her ears loops of silver; her clever ugly face was small and sallow, her eyes large and expressive, but neither bright nor lustrous.
Before her stood a large, cumbrous, wooden tapestry frame across which was strained strong threads through which she was deftly twisting a shuttle wound with coloured wool.
By her side was a basket of silks and a small Spanish dog, and behind her stood the King of Spain in black from head to foot and wearing a ruff worked with gold embroidery.
"What are you going to do with these two boys?" asked the Princess of Eboli sharply, without looking up.
"Alessandro will go into the Army and Juan into the Church as was my father's wish," answered the King.
"Ah! the wishes of the dead!" exclaimed the Princess. "We have to consider the disposition of the living."
"He will do well enough in the Church," said Don Felipe coldly.
The wife of Ruy Gomez de Silva kept her eyes on her swift moving shuttle.
"He has been at Court but three days," she replied, "but already I know that he will never make a priest."
"Dios! He is the most pleasing and comely of men and the most lovable—he can win whom he chooses and do what he chooses—an exceptionable youth, Don Felipe."
"Dangerous qualities," whispered the King, biting his full nether lip.
The Princess raised her cold, ungenerous eyes.
"Use them," she said; "use him, bind him to you, win his loyalty, dazzle him, lure him—you can always cast him down when he becomes dangerous."
"He is ambitious," said the King; "he would be safer in the Church."
"He would not serve you well were he not ambitious," she answered quickly. "Use his ambition. Use it for your service and if need be for his overthrow."
"Ah, Aņa, you always advise me well," admitted the King, looking at her respectfully. "And if you think I should let this youth remain in the world I will do so."
Doņa Aņa looked at him straightly.
"You need youths such as this," she said.
Don Felipe paled a sickly hue.
"You think of Carlos!" he muttered. "Dios! Carlos!"
"Will he live?" asked the Princess abruptly.
"He is out of danger from his illness," replied the King. "His mind is set on this Austrian marriage. She is a fair woman."
"The Archduchess?" questioned the Princess sharply.
"You have a fair wife now, Felipe," she said.
"I have had one sour one," he answered sullenly. "And Elizabeth will not live, Almighty God has marked her for His own."
"And whom have you marked, Seņor, for the next Queen of Spain?"
He gave her a close glance.
She cast the shuttle down and shut her lips bitterly.
"Tell me no more of fair women," she said in a flashing way. "I am not interested in your dolls."
"Juan and Alessandro are my dolls, too," he answered.
"No—but they may be your pawns, if you handle them well, Felipe."
"Which," he asked jealously, "is the more dangerous?"
"Juan," she replied at once, "for he has the gift of popularity. Alessandro has more cunning and will step more cautiously, but Juan will blaze."
"Belike he hopes to be made an Infant," said the King, jealously. "Could he be so daring as that?"
"There is no limit to the aspirations of youth," said the Princess, with a smile that lit her cold face into some softness. "Surely this boy hopes to be an Infant and—a king."
Don Felipe shuddered.
"A golden delusion is a better spur than a scourge," continued Doņa Aņa. "Let him keep his dreams How can a base-born boy disturb the King of Spain?"
Don Felipe was silent.
"He who rules the world must have lieutenants," added the Princess, twisting a lemon-coloured thread on to the shuttle. "And Almighty God has put these two in your way to use."
"I think so too," answered the King. "I only hesitate as how to use them to the best advantage—for the glory of Almighty God and the power of Spain."
"Wait awhile," said the Princess. "Let me watch them. It is time that you attended on the Queen for Holy Mass."
She finished twisting on the thread and laid the spool down, then rose. As she moved it was noticeable that she was very lame.
She went to the door and raised the sombre curtain from before it.
The windows were shuttered against the heat and the room and the passages without were all dark with shade. As the Princess of Eboli lifted the curtain, a door at the other end of the corridor opened and the Queen of Spain came forth with a crowd of old women about her and a few French ladies. She approached slowly, fair from head to foot in her dark surroundings; her pale blue gown, with tight bodice and enormous sleeves and skirt, was ornamented across the breast with buttons of pearl, her white lace ruff came so high as to completely encircle her face and conceal her ears.
Her blonde hair was gathered on the top of her head under a little silver caul; round her neck were a collar of jewels and a long linked chain of gold.
Her dark appealing eyes looked out of a face pale, frail, and exquisitely lovely; her whole slender body drooped with the weakness of extreme delicacy.
Don Felipe regarded her steadily; when she saw him and the dark figure of the Princess of Eboli behind him, she winced and shrank back.
The Princess made her formal salutations, then withdrew into her chamber, leaving the curtain looped back over the entrance.
The King took his place by the side of the Queen and accompanied her to the chapel.
The Princess of Eboli had her own oratory; despite the stern rules of the most formal Court in the world she did much as she liked and was but seldom seen in the royal chapel.
She returned to her tapestry frame and with precise and careful fingers wove the coloured silks and wools in and out of the taut threads and pressed them down firmly into place.
She sat so still, her face was so expressionless, the movements of her hands so steady, that she looked like a mechanical figure, until a footfall presently caused her to lift her head.
Framed in the draped doorway and outlined against the shaded passage stood Don Juan with a branch of pomegranate in his hand.
His bright bearing, his sweet, gay face and noble carriage, made him a figure as notable as any at the Court of Spain.
"Come in and talk to me, Don Juan," said the Princess of Eboli.
He entered with graceful ease, he knew that this sallow woman was Aņa de Mendoza, the greatest heiress in Spain and the wife of the King's favourite minister, and he was politic enough to wish to keep her favour. She pointed to a little stool beside her and he took it, stretching out his shapely legs that were encased in rose-coloured silk.
"So you do not want to be a priest?" asked the Princess.
Juan sighed; he was thinking of that other Doņa Aņa in Alcalā, to whom he had been able to send no message before his abrupt departure in the King's train for Madrid.
"You wish to be a soldier?"
"Perhaps it is Almighty God's will that you should serve His Majesty that way."
"I hope so, seņora."
She stole a covert glance at his unusual and wholly charming face, with its vivid grace, its health, its expression of energy, courage, and strength, and she compared him to Carlos—Carlos, heir to Don Felipe's immense power.
"The King has been a good brother to you," she remarked.
"I know," he answered with real gratitude, "and all my life I shall be loyal to His Majesty."
Again her glance flashed over him.
"Why are you not in chapel?" she asked.
The blush that suffused his face answered her; she knew that he was not allowed inside the royal curtain in the chapel; this was one of the few privileges of an Infant of Castile that had been denied him, and she guessed that his pride wished to avoid the humiliation of it as much as possible.
"You are very proud," she said meaningly.
At this, seeing that she read his thoughts, his blush deepened.
"Serve the King well," continued the Princess, "and you may become greater than you dare dream."
He caught his breath.
"Carlos loves you," added Doņa Aņa. "The Queen and the King both love you; you should be great and happy."
Juan looked at the pomegranate spray, at the long-pointed gray-green leaves, and the hard, thick buds bursting over the crumpled flame of the scarlet flower.
"I cannot go into the church," he said, and his voice shook a little.
Doņa Aņa changed the lemon thread for one of a clear blue; Juan noticed that she had little, quick-moving dark hands, long in the fingers.
"Would you be grateful to me," she said, "if I persuaded the King to let you be a captain instead of a cardinal?"
Juan flushed again; this time with pleasure. He knew that she was the greatest lady at the Escorial, more courted than the gentle Queen, and with a strong influence over the King, but he did not know that she believed his gratitude would be a valuable political asset.
"I should be grateful to you all my life," he said earnestly.
"Carlos comes to Court soon," she answered. "Ask him to speak to the King, and I will speak for you too."
"I wish to fight the Morisco," said Juan simply. "I wish to please Almighty God by carrying the Cross into Africa."
"Carlos will go against the Moors."
He answered with a bold flash of smiling contempt.
"Carlos is sick. Carlos never can be strong."
"He is cured now. Either through Our Lady of Atocha or Fray Diego."
"Dios!—but he could not go against the Moors."
"That is as the King commands."
"He will be King," said Juan jealously. "King!"
His eyes widened and brightened, then he drooped his lids.
"Ahč," he added. "Who knows what fate is ahead of him?"
He rose and laid the vermilion blossoms to his lips; his dusky skin was flushed and his finely curved lips dipped to a smile. His young figure was firm and responsive as a taut bow, the steel and gold of the toison d'or was like an embrace of fire round his body, for the sun was just striking through a small upper window and falling full on his breast.
Doņa Aņa looked at him with appreciation and calculation.
Don Felipe was great; he was feared, but he could never be popular. Carlos offended all who came in contact with him. The Queen's infant child was a girl. Some such figure as that of Don Juan, some such youth and grace and magnificence were needed to support the awful and far-reaching policies of Spain.
The Princess of Eboli saw that. She believed in a rule of terror, but she also believed in the use of other weapons than those of fear.
Her keen glance had seen in the son of Carlo Quinto the makings of a Prince far more splendid than any in Europe, and in the Duke of Parma's son something of the same splendour and more intellect.
"Juan," she said kindly, "if you are humble towards Almighty God and dutiful to the King I shall be your friend."
She rose, and the silver ribbons round her flounces glimmered like the light on water. "You must always obey the King," she added.
His frank eyes met her calculating glance.
"How could I be so base as to be disloyal?" he answered with great sweetness.
"Surely you could not," she said. "I will speak to the King for some military post for you."
"Gracious lady, I am for ever at your service."
She smiled at him and passed into an inner room.
As she opened the door he caught a glimpse of maidens in stiff dresses seated round a dais and tying fresh lavender into bunches and turning the stalks back over the flowers and twisting them with blue silk.
Then the Princess closed the door, and Juan went out into the corridor. He knew that Don Alessandro and his other young nephews, the sons of the Emperor who were visiting the King, were waiting for him in the tennis court.
But though it was his favourite game he did not hasten his steps.
Slowly he wandered through the still unfinished corridors of the Escorial.
The place was not gay nor beautiful, nor could it ever be so. Juan felt lurking in the sombre chambers the spirit of gloomy piety, of secretive cruelty, of silent pride that distinguished the character of the King who had built them.
It was at once a palace, a monastery, and a grave-yard, or would be when complete. For here were to be laid all the Kings of Spain and their families as each in turn put off their earthly crowns and went to seek in heaven the reward of their maintenance of the Lord's rule on earth.
Here, when the building was completed, the remains of Felipe's and Juan's father, Carlo Quinto, were to be brought and placed within the smooth walls of the dark vault, there to be enclosed until the trumpets of the Last Judgment should break the walls of palace and hut alike.
Juan wondered if he might ever dare to hope that one day his bones should be placed beside those of his father, to rest for ever inside the splendid gloom of the Escorial.
The thought thrilled him; it would be a fitting end to a tremendous career—a career such as he meant to have. He went to one of the windows and looked out on to the gardens that were disfigured with scaffolding poles and blocks of masonry and all the confusion of building.
He longed for Aņa de Santofimia's gentle company; he wished to confide to her his hopes and ambitions; he wished to take her gently in his arms and tell her she was more wonderful than any woman at the Court of Spain.
He resolved to marry Doņa Aņa.
He was sure that she would wait for him in that quiet room in Alcalā with the white walls and the yellow and red floor.
A breeze rippled the hot air that lay over Madrid; it lifted the hair on Juan's brow and fluttered the leaves of the pomegranate spray.
Juan began to sing; his heart was light as a feather; he had only been in the world a short time and at every turn it looked more desirable to him.
Then, for some reason he knew not of, he looked over his shoulder.
After the dazzle of the daylight the palace corridor looked very dark.
Juan ceased singing.
All at once it seemed as if the air was full of gloom and hopelessness.
He paused in the attitude of listening.
There was absolute silence save for the distant chant coming from the oratory.
Juan sighed twice, then went slowly to the tennis court.
Elizabeth De Valois, daughter of Henri II. and Catherine de Medicis, and Don Felipe's third wife, sat in a closed-in chamber, slowly waving a large painted fan to and fro.
Behind her, in the back of the sombre room, were two French ladies playing trictrac, and two Spanish ladies carding yarn. On the Queen's knee was a white velvet breviary, but she was not reading.
Her eyes were fixed before her with melancholy intensity; there was a strange look on her face, a look that was never long absent from it, an expression of silent fear as if she had passed through some ordeal of horror that had left her with clouded senses.
In Spain she was called "Isabella of the Peace," and her extreme gentleness won for her a saint-like reputation, but there was neither peace nor holy calm in her sweet face, but rather the stillness of terror.
Her pearl-coloured silk gown billowed over and concealed the leathern chair with arms on which she sat, and where the folds of it touched the black-tiled floor Don Carlos, but recently recovered from his illness, crouched on an inlaid stool.
To the Queen's right was a table on which stood a water-clock; against this leant Don Juan reading out of a book with turquoises on the cover.
His pleasant, full voice recited aloud a holy story.
"'Now the pagans had a great hatred of these persons, namely, Sancta Maria of Magdala, Maria, and Marta who were sisters to Lazarus Celidonias, to whom the Lord had given sight, and Joseph of Arimathea, who had begged the body of the Lord from Pontius Pilate.
"'Now this was early in the struggle between the devils and Almighty God for the power of Rome, and as yet the forces of Hell were the stronger.
"'Therefore these holy people were overcome; yet did the pagans not dare to harm them directly, but shut them up in a crazy ship that was full of holes, and drove this ship off the coasts of Italy that it might perish in the deep sea waves.
"'But this was not pleasing to the Lord, who sent an angel to guide the ship into a safe harbour.
"'Now the angel, being absorbed in heavenly matters, did not notice that he had brought the saints to Marseilles in Gaul, which was a town of pagans.
"'So the devil gave them a buffet, for the pagans of Marseilles could by no means supply them with food or shelter; thereupon another angel appeared with a basket of fruit—'"
"Read of their tortures, Juan; how they flayed them and pinched them and dipped them in pitch—"
"I beseech you," said the Queen hastily, "read no more."
Juan closed the book; he was in mounting spirits, for at the late christening of the little Infanta, Clara Eugenia, he had been allowed to hold the child at the font, as Carlos had been too weak, and this mark of King's favour seemed only a presage of higher to come.
"Will you not hear it?" asked Carlos, disappointed.
"No." The Queen moved her pale lips with difficulty and spoke faintly.
"They were God's saints," insisted Carlos. "And He ordered them to be tortured."
"Hčlas!" murmured Elizabeth. "I am too weak to hear these things."
Had it been anyone else Carlos would have been transported with horrible rage, but he was always gentle with his stepmother, who was perhaps the only person who had ever shown him real kindness. He therefore contented himself by saying, "It is no worse than the heretics have to suffer now."
"There is to be another auto-da-fé next week," continued Carlos. "Valdčs"—he named the energetic Grand Inquisitor—"says the prisons are so full. He must clear them out to make room for the fresh heretics he captures day by day—Dios! There are seventy-three to be burnt, besides the Jews, and thirty are women."
The Queen's face was white as the high ruff that pressed her cheeks and touched the edges of her pale curls.
"Do not speak of it," she said faintly.
"Of the burnings!" exclaimed Carlos.
Juan looked at her in surprise. Did she pity the heretics?
He crossed himself.
Elizabeth looked from one youth to another, her lovely eyes, shaded beneath by illness, were full of tears.
"I know they are lost souls," she said, "but it is terrible to see them burn."
"We shall all go," answered Juan. He had seen his first auto-da-fé when he was twelve; when he recalled the scene he remembered that it had been clouded by a sickly horror, yet Doņa Magdalena, his foster-mother, gentlest of women, had taken him there and never turned her eyes from the blazing stakes, to which were chained women as high-born and delicate as herself.
He looked at the Queen with troubled eyes.
"I will not go," she said in deep agitation. "I cannot go."
"It is wrong to pity the heretics," answered Carlos sullenly.
"It saves their souls," added Juan.
"I would rather be sent to God for Him to judge me! Is he not a God of mercy? And men are not merciful." She pressed her frail little hands to her bosom and repeated, "Men are not merciful."
Carlos raised his sickly face, still distorted from his recent illness, and stared up at her. A pitiful effort at comprehension of her attitude cost him a moment's silence, then he spoke.
"When I am King there shall be no auto-da-fé if it pleases you."
"Heaven bless you, Carlos!" broke from the poor Queen. "I believe you love me."
He seized the pearl-sown borders of her gown and covered them with kisses. As she looked down at the deformed creature who was so grateful to her for her kindness the tears overbrimmed and ran down the cheeks of Elizabeth de Valois.
"I have given a gold girdle to our Lady of Atocha," she said, "for having saved you, Carlos."
"No, it was Fray Diego," he answered, "and I have asked the Holy Father to make him a saint."
The Queen faintly smiled at Juan.
"Which was it?" she asked.
"I think that it was the Morisco surgeon," he replied, with his gay carelessness.
Carlos screamed out at him.
"It was Fray Diego! It was Fray Diego!" He sprang up and struck Juan a feeble blow.
The Queen caught his wrist.
"Carlos," she said with great dignity, "you displease me."
He desisted at once, and Juan laughed good-humouredly.
"Dios! doubtless it was Fray Diego."
The dark doors were suddenly flung wide, and the ushers in the royal livery announced:—
"His Majesty the King."
Elisabeth rose to her feet.
Don Felipe entered slowly. He wore a violet suit, and his face was the tint of old parchment; only the corners of his eyes were scarlet, as if they had been dyed in blood.
There were jewels round his neck, and his huge trunk hose were stiff with lines of gold and silver, so that he glistened sombrely even in the shadows of the arras-hung room.
After one pale glance at his wife he looked straight at his son; his thin nostrils widened and his full mouth twitched.
Juan instantly glanced at Carlos and saw that his whole face writhed with fear.
The Queen saw it too, and instinctively stepped between her husband and his son as she had so often done before.
Carlos got hold of the ends of her black lace shawl and pressed it to his quivering lips.
"Carlos," said the King, "you have been in the stables."
The Infant gave an insane laugh.
"The groom who gave you the keys is being scourged," contined Felipe.
The Queen shuddered and dropped her eyes. The King, still looking past her and speaking to his shrinking son, continued:—"My favourite stallion is dead, Carlos."
The awful silence was unbroken for a moment, then Carlos said—"I thought it would die. I cut it with my sword. Would you have thought that a little horse would be so difficult to kill?"
Elizabeth sprang aside from the Prince, leaving her shawl in his hands.
"Carlos!" she shrieked.
He laughed again.
"Go to your apartments," said the King. "I do perceive that you are not fit to be entrusted with your liberty. Don Ruy Gomez y de Sylva will be your guardian."
On hearing the name of his greatest enemy the wretched Prince broke into lamentations and cries and besought the Queen to save him.
But she stood white against the wall and for the first time spoke no word in answer to his appeal.
And Juan regarded him with a contemptuous glance.
"Go," said Felipe.
A convulsion passed over the bent frame of Carlos, he gave one appealing wild look at the shrinking figure of the Queen, then limped from the room. Felipe watched him go with eyes of dull hate.
Elizabeth glanced at him and struggled with her breath, then she gazed round the room; the French ladies had not looked up from their game nor the Spanish ladies from their yarn-carding; in the back chamber, visible through an open door, four old duennas were telling their beads.
It was like a prison, or a cage.
"What is his punishment to be, Majesty?" trembled the Queen. "I think he is not in his senses."
Felipe gave her a cold look; she had not been so high in his favour lately; he could not forgive her that her child was not a boy.
"It was a fine Barbary steed," was his sole answer; "cannot he content himself with dogs and rabbits?"
"Does Carlos—kill—things?" stammered the Queen.
Again Don Felipe would not answer; he put his hands on his hips above the swell of his brocaded breeches and gave her a counter question.
"What was it you wished to say to me to-day, Elizabeth, when we were leaving the chapel and I could not hear you because the Prince of Eboli wished to speak?"
The Queen, if it were possible, became even paler; it was obvious that her limbs shook, concealed as they were in her monstrous farthingale.
"I would ask your Majesty to excuse me," she faltered, "from the auto-da-fé. I am not well. Indeed, I am not well."
Her fragile face, her shrinking body confirmed her words; the King looked at her as he might have looked at a dog that refused to follow him; the cold Castiliam courtesy of his manner did not alter. "Your Majesty must consult your physicians," he said.
The Queen put her hand to her throat and answered hoarsely.
"Seņor, I want no physician. But spare me the auto-da-fé"
Don Felipe's face was blank of expression; she might as well have turned her trembling countenance for pity to a marble figure.
"Spare you?" he repeated. "Spare you?"
"I do not love these sights," she said desperately, "I never forget them. Never. Never." She checked herself. "Forgive me. I am not well."
"You are well enough to attend a Church festival," he answered. "Do you wish to bring the anger of God on me after He has restored my son?"
"I cannot go," said the Queen. "They are men and women—and they burn. And there is one there whom I knew—Doņa Luisa, who sat at my side six months ago. Can I see the flames eating holes in her body?"
"You should rejoice," answered Don Felipe sullenly, "that you have the privilege to see the punishment of these heretics whom the Lord hath damned."
The Queen's strength utterly failed her; she again gave that helpless glance round the darkened chamber.
The maids-of-honour and the old women never moved; no breeze stirred the long, dull curtains. Don Juan stood motionless, leaning against the wall, his eyes downcast Elizabeth de Valois sank into the stiff dark chair.
"If you have any pity for me," she pleaded, "I entreat you spare me this."
This breaking down of the formality he valued and always maintained infuriated Don Felipe though he showed no change in his countenance.
"The subject is closed," he answered haughtily. "You will attend the auto-da-fé."
He made her a courtly salutation and left the chamber.
Elizabeth looked wildly at Juan; her expression was the expression of one whose soul is bruised and beaten.
"Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!" she exclaimed in her own language, "I suffer! I suffer!"
Juan looked at her; he was troubled and confused; he hated the King; something was wrong; he had been happier tramping barefoot across the rice-fields to school or living retired with Doņa Magdalena at Villagarcia; the palace was horrible—no better than a tomb.
The generous blood rushed to his face. "Why should not God punish the heretics?" he said impulsively. "Surely it is horrible to see them burn."
The Queen put up her hands in the attitude of prayer and lifted her sad blue eyes.
"God loves blood and suffering." she answered passionately; "God looks on to a mangled world and is pleased. But somewhere there is something that hates it all—that would not have a fly, nay, or a flower robbed of its little happiness!"
"There is only God and the devil," answered Juan wonderingly.
"Can you well distinguish one from another?" asked the Queen desperately.
At this blasphemy Juan was silent. It seemed to him that Elizabeth was speaking against the Almighty; yet he felt as great a respect for her as he had done for Doņa Magdalena and a great pity for her, and a dislike for the holy King.
The values of his world were being upset and he was bewildered.
Elizabeth glanced round to see that the ladies were not looking; the Spanish duennas were, she well knew, all spies on her words and looks.
With feverish passion she clasped Don Juan's hand.
"Get away from here," she whispered, "they flatter you, they beguile you—get away while you can! It is a tomb. I shall die here and be buried here, and another woman will be in my place. And would I could die to-night! I am only twenty-two years old, but I am old in loneliness and sorrow that can never change!"
"Ah, Dios!" cried Juan, white to the lips, "something is wrong!"
"I have never been happy a single moment," continued the poor Queen. Her voice sank even lower, "Did not his English wife die of his cold ways of cruelty? Carlos will die too. Getaway! Is there anyone you love anywhere? Then go to them and never return to the Escorial, never, never!"
One of the duennas, perceiving the Queen whispering, rose, and coming forward, reminded Her Majesty that it was time for Mass. Elizabeth turned eyes on her that were dark with pain.
Then she held out her hand to Don Juan. "Go," she said aloud, "and remember my words. Do not be involved in this tragedy."
Juan kissed the shaking hand that was loaded with the finest jewels in Spain and silently left the presence of his brother's wife.
When the Court went to Segovia, Don Juan, while the King and his company were at a bull-fight, took a purse of money and two attendants and rode away.
He had two reasons for leaving the Court; first he wished to show by joining the Knights of Malta, who had recently been attacked in their island by the fleets of Solimon, that he was more fitted to be a warrior than a priest. Don Garcia de Toledo, the King's viceroy in Sicily, had gone to the aid of these Christian knights, and Don Juan had petitioned the King to allow him to serve under this commander. But had been refused.
His second reason was, that the words of the Queen echoed in his heart: "If there is any one you love—go to them," and he hungered to see Doņa Aņa.
At first he rode towards Barcelona meaning to ship to Malta and to do great deeds before he returned to Spain, but presently he doubled on his route and went to Alcalā, riding as a free-lance.
He had strange ideas of what he could accomplish; he conceived himself taking Aņa de Santafimia before him on his horse, and placing her in some convent to wait his return.
He wanted to be free, he wanted to get away; he thought with a sense of repulsion of the Court with that immovable central figure of Don Felipe and those other figures, Don Carlos, Elizabeth de Valois, Aņa D'Eboli, her husband, the Duke of Alba, and Don Alessandro, bending, bowing, waiting to be used.
The Queen had warned him; he knew they wished to put him in the Church, and he did not trust the Princess of Eboli's sweet words; he was able to carve his own fortune, he thought; he was the son of Carlo Quinto.
Tragedy was closing round the Infant, whose insane behaviour provoked the King at every turn; tragedy was closing round the pale Queen; the fires of the Inquisition burnt fiercely, and the spies of the Grand Inquisitor worked day and night to bring fresh heretics to the stake; there were signs of revolt in the Netherlands, and stubborn uprisings in Belgium; daily the orders for blood and the sword went forth.
Don Juan was not interested; he would always be loyal to the King, but he wished to serve him in his own way, and that was not the way of the priest and the persecutor.
So he set forth with a fine set of horse furniture and a white horse and a suit of Milan armour, and the two servants with the saddle-bags.
At Frasno he fell ill of a slight fever, and before he could get on to his horse again, Don Juan Manuel, sent by the King, overtook him; this messenger bore a letter from Luis de Quixada urging his return; but Don Juan would not listen.
Soon came the Governor and Archbishop of Zaragoza to pay him their duty and to entreat him to go back to Segovia.
The galleys intended for the relief of Malta had, they told him, already sailed.
Juan gave no heed to this statement, he knew from private information that the King's fleet still lay in Barcelona harbour.
Nor would he listen to the plea that he should wait until an escort of fifteen hundred men were gathered to accompany him; as soon as he was completely recovered he set out again.
Yet even at risk of missing the galleys, he rode, not to Barcelona, but to Alcalā it was late summer when he last saw this town; now it was spring, towards the end of spring.
Juan reached Alcalā at setting of the sun; he left his servants at an inn within the gates and rode to the house of Doņa Aņa.
The iron gates were closed, and though all the shutters had just been opened to catch the cool of the evening there was no one to be seen inside the dark rooms.
Juan had left his horse at the inn; on foot he paced up and down the narrow street, his hat over his eyes, lest anyone should recognize him and whistling a little air that he had learnt in Villagarcia.
When it was dusk (before the rising of the moon), he climbed the gate and gently let himself into the courtyard.
Neither the porter nor the dogs were abroad, and, laughing in his heart, he passed through the still open inner gates and reached the inner courtyard and the little door through which Aņa's maid had admitted him before. There was sufficient light still lingering in the pale green sky for him to find the handle, but the door was locked.
He set his back against it, well concealed by the deep shadow of two spreading cypress trees, and waited.
The household was evidently a-bed; the windows were all in darkness, and the only sound was the well remembered one of the gurgle of the fountain in the low stone basin that was upheld by four crouching lions.
Juan recalled the balcony of the room in which Aņa had received him; as he gazed up at the uncertain outline of it the whole memory of the night came, fragrantly sweet, to his mind; the thunder, the drip of the rain, the servant in the brown gown and white cap bringing the wet pots of roses out of the storm, the room with the white walls and the black furniture both softened by the amber glow of the lamp, and above all the rich figure of Doņa Aņa with that wonderful expression illuminating her gracious face.
He wore the blue rose inside his doublet still; more than ever was it a symbol of the ideal happiness that must be so long sought for, and the perfect success that is so hard of achievement.
He approached her balcony.
Near it was a small chestnut, heavy with dark leaves, that rustled painfully. He thought that he could mount by this, and he put his hands softly on the smooth, cool trunk.
A great trembling, almost like sadness, came over his heart; the touch of the breeze that lifted the chestnut leaves against his cheek, the sight of the last luminous glow behind the dark lines of the roofs gave him a sensation of ecstacy almost unbearable.
A nightingale began a song that was like the fluting on silver instruments of angelic hands.
The full perfume of citron, myrtle, oleander and rose, stained the cool purity of the descending night.
Away above his head, in the deep darkness of the cypress, gleamed through the increasing dusk the dead white of the blossoms of the magnolia tree, that poured languorous scent from their deep cups into the sighing air.
Juan climbed the tree as he had climbed the orchard trees outside Yuste when the Emperor lay dying, and eaten stolen apples in the sweet shade while the long offices of the church went up from within the convent walls.
This was as easy, as delightful, no doubt as wrong as stealing apples. He thought of the Queen's words: "If there is anyone who loves you—go to them." Aņa loved him; she was a beautiful creature and she loved him.
That was wonderful; that in a world so blood-stained, a world that Almighty God was punishing so sternly; there should be such things as love—and nightingales.
He put his leg delicately over the balcony and paused to listen.
Once he had heard a holy man say that the devil made the nightingales and sent them to disturb people at their prayers, but that if you prayed hard enough and did not listen they would go away, which was the reason that there were never any nightingales near churches.
He thought of that as he heard the bird sobbing forth its song.
He did not cross himself as he usually did in the presence of anything he considered unholy, he thought—if the devil made the nightingales, perhaps he made love—which left hate to do God's work. Juan laughed under his breath and moved softly among the three pots of carefully pruned roses that he saw filled the balcony.
The window was open, for the night promised to be very hot; Juan entered and stood alone in the dusky room. Again he listened, again there was no sound save the song of the nightingales.
He stood quite still, holding his little sword up in both hands that it might not rattle.
Was she away from home? Or married? Or dead?
His heart was crying for her; he strained his ear to catch the rustle of her stiff silk skirts—then he smiled at himself for imagining her waiting for him. She did not know that he was coming; she was sleeping in her chamber.
He went quietly to the next apartment; the windows of this were completely shrouded and the room was dark—so utterly dark that he could not see his own feet.
"Aņa," he whispered softly; "Aņa."
He moved forward and struck against something; it must have been a lute for a jangle of strings gave out broken music.
Then Juan perceived a long thin line of fine faint light before him; he thought that it came from under a closed door. Slowly he made his way, feeling along the wall, catching at the arras and at the backs of chairs; when he reached the line of light he felt for a handle and found one; it turned in his grasp and he opened the door.
He looked into a small circular oratory that was full of the heavy perfume of incense.
The arched ceiling was painted blue, glittering with stars, the walls were gilt and scarlet; on the small, many pillared altar stood a white alabaster statue of the Virgin crowned with a wreath of fresh jasmine.
Four thin tapers in agate sticks stood on either side of Our Lady, and the altar cloth and the carpet up the four steps were of a close woven purple.
There was a prie-Dieu of yellow velvet in one corner, a great book bound in crimson on the seat, and standing beside it was Doņa Aņa de Santafimia gazing at him.
Juan closed the door behind him and slowly went on his knees.
Their only light was that given by the dim blue flame that burned in the silver lamp hanging before the Virgin, and that was but sufficient to illumine the altar and fill the corners with fluttering shadows.
He saw that she wore a black lace shawl, and that through the filmy net of the lace gleamed the long gold wheat ear-rings he remembered.
Her embroidered dress seemed to shade and blend into the wall and to become one with it in gorgeous pattern.
Her feet were in shadow, for the floor seemed all darkness, from which she rose into the light that culminated in the pure glow of the Virgin's lamp on her grave face.
So he saw her, and by the inner light of some great illumination in his heart he knew her every loveliness, shrouded as she was; she flashed at him like a jewel in the dark or a star in a midnight sky.
On her part she beheld him kneeling in thick shadow, his hands folded in all humility, and the light twinkling from the steel and gold of the toison d'or, even as she remembered it. His head was uplifted towards her and outlined by the close edging of his white ruff; dark and ardent she saw it with the long sloping eyes and sweet mouth of her memory picture.
"So you have come," she said, and sighed.
"I have come," he repeated, and they remained gazing at each other, the alabaster Virgin with her starry crown of jasmine between them.
Afar off could be heard the nightingales, many singing together; and behind Juan, from the open window on to the balcony, through the bedchamber and into the oratory, came the vagrant scents of the night-smelling flowers.
Aņa moved, and to Juan it was as if the birds and flowers came near. He heard the heavy hems of her gown strike the floor as she came, and he held his breath.
She bent before the Virgin, then took one of the eight candles from beside the Image and passed him, holding the light before her; he turned and followed her across the bedchamber which the rapid passing of the little candle flame left obscure.
He saw the green curtains of her bed glimpse from the darkness, and the lute he had knocked against lying, a thing of painted rose-wood, on the floor.
When she reached the outer room where she had before received him, she placed the candle on a shelf in one corner and stood meekly beneath it.
Juan was aware of a brightness in the chamber far beyond any candle light, and he saw in one corner, fastened by pulleys to the ceiling, a square of gold tapestry that gave back the feeble rays of the taper a thousand fold.
It showed the visit of Saint Anne to Saint Elizabeth, and the figures stood out as if they had been sculptured a foot deep, gold on a gold ground.
Aņa approached it.
"My mother, blessed be her memory!—began this, and I have been finishing it since I was five years old. When it is complete it is to be sent to the Holy Father in Rome for an altar cloth," she said.
Juan came up to the tapestry and saw that the bas-relief was gained by millions of patient stitches, one on the other, all in pure gold.
"It is so heavy," explained Aņa, "that it takes two men to raise it by these ropes." She laid a thin dark hand on the pulleys.
The nightingales were singing loudly; Aņa trembled and kept her eyes down.
"I am going away," said Juan.
"By a galley from Barcelona. To help the Knights of St. Juan against the Infidel."
"You have come to say good-bye?"
"I have come to tell you that I shall return."
"That may be beyond your power, Don Juan."
The music of the birds, the scents of the flowers, the glow from the gold tapestry all became one to Juan; sound, scent and colour, blended into one essence poured around the figure of Aņa.
The lace mantilla had fallen from her head and hung on her shoulders; her hair shone with threads of light in the loops her high tortoiseshell comb upheld.
"Aņa!" said Juan; "Aņa!"
She stood still, only her ear-rings trembled with her earnest breathing.
Juan seated himself on the long low bench before the tapestry.
"Sit beside me," he said. "Sit near to me."
She obeyed and placed her hand on his; she was grave and quiet, but he trembled from head to foot.
"You will go back to the King," she said.
"No! I shall go to Malta. Then I shall come back to you."
"If love could bring you, you would," she answered. "Does the King love you as much as I do?"
"How much do you love me, Aņa?" he asked brokenly.
She replied gravely—
"I have never thought of anyone else since I first saw you."
Her eyes turned slowly to his face.
"And you are the King's brother. And you will leave me soon. I am very tired."
He put his arm round her and pressed her slight figure to his brocaded doublet; he thought that the nightingales must be singing in her heart, for so loud was their music when he held her that the very air was alive with melody.
He laid her head gently on his shoulder and her hair pressed his ruff.
"I should like to sleep so," she said; "and never wake."
Juan stooped and kissed her down-curved unresponsive lips; she was quite heavy in his arms, like a tired child.
"When I return from Malta I will marry you," he said; "and presently you shall be an Infanta of Spain."
She raised her childlike eyes to his, tilting her head back; the high comb fell from her hair and rattled under the tapestry frame; neither took any notice.
"No," she answered; "Destiny will be too strong for you. You will be a great man. And you will forget."
"You are the only thing in the world who cares for me," he said, "save only Doņa Magdalena, my foster-mother, so how could I forget?"
"The King would not let you marry me, Don Juan."
"I am free of the King. I am my own master, I have my sword, my father's memory, and the hope of you."
"Leave God now. I am not reckoning with Him yet. Will you have me for your knight, Aņa?"
She only smiled.
"Have you ever loved another?" he asked.
"I love you," she replied, as if that was complete and sufficient answer.
"Ah, not twice, seņor, not twice! Love is once only. But life is so long that we fill it out with pretences, for sometimes love is so soon over."
He kissed her with great tenderness.
"Where did you learn this wisdom?" he asked.
"I am become very wise of late. Suddenly I understand everything without any books. I understand why you have come and why you must go. And why I shall wait for you, always."
As he thought of what was before him—the difficulties, the opposition; as he considered his own vain ambitions and her gentle faith—his hold of her relaxed, and she sank slightly back against the sides of the pulley supports.
Their shadows lay at their feet, and through the dusk of it glimmered the brilliant metallic colours on the borders of her skirt.
Juan looked from these to her hand which lay curled in her lap; the shade in the palm was like that he had once noticed in the cup of a lily that lay in the shadow of a myrtle bush. He touched the toison d'or flaming on his breast.
"I have the blue rose next my heart," he said.
"Ah! the blue rose!" cried Doņa Aņa; "the blue rose!"
She looked at him earnestly.
"It is only a false flower. There is no blue rose—there is no perfect rose."
"It shall be my badge," answered Juan. "You are the perfect rose, in every way wonderful."
"You go to Malta?" she asked under her breath..
"Yes. To get glory," he said simply.
"Glory!" echoed Aņa. "Does that come first?"
Juan knew that it did, but he could not tell her so; much as he had longed to give her his confidence, now that he was actually beside her, he did not wish to speak of these things; neither of what he had seen in the Escorial nor of what he hoped to do with his life.
"You have left the King," she added.
"But you will go back to him," repeated Aņa mournfully. "You cannot escape from the King any more than you can from God."
Juan was silent; at present he felt far from the reach of either; Aņa's chamber was like a sanctuary from all the horrors of the world and all the terrors of Heaven.
Yet behind them both hung the gorgeous altar-cloth dedicated to the service of God!—the God whom Felipe worshipped.
But before them the window opened on to the sweetness of the dark garden and the mystery of the sleeping town; the very breeze seemed different from those that blew through the corridors of the Escorial.
"No, I am free of the King," said Juan. "By my own prowess I will be a great man."
He looked, not at Aņa, but at the night beyond the open window; the moon was rising now, and the bright orb cut a luminous circle in the close blackness of the cypress trees.
"And we will live at Villagarcia," he said, thinking of his childhood's home.
"Could you forgo the Court?" she asked. "Remember you are the son of the great Emperor."
"And it is by my father's spirit in me that I shall succeed," he responded ardently. "In my soul I am a greater man than Felipe. Dios! If I could be a King."
"How could that be?" she asked, leaning tremblingly towards him.
"I might carve myself a kingdom in the East—in Asia, or Africa."
"Ahč!" she said, and it was like the cry of something shut out in the dark.
"Or, there is the New World," continued Juan.
"And so I shall be forgotten."
He turned sharply towards her and answered vehemently—
"No, it is for you I do all this—for you only."
"I only want you to love me," she said.
"In a little while I shall be back—in a little while I shall take you away from Alcalā, for ever."
She bent forward; her dusky hair was outlined against the solid gold behind her, the flickering rays of the candle rippled in her dress and ornaments. Juan kissed her drooping neck and her averted cheek, and her hands that were tightly locked together.
A great melancholy suddenly came over him. He thought of all the sad things he had ever heard of—of the Queen, of Don Carlos, of the heretics burning, even of the blood that must be shed in war, of the tired galley slaves and the beaten blacks, of the beggars who were hungry.... And these things seemed more pitiful than they had ever done, by contrast with this glimpse of peace and loveliness that had come to him, greater than any peace, any loveliness that he had ever even dreamt of.
"You must go now," said Doņa Aņa. "The moon is high."
The heaviness of his heart increased. Though she had said no word of reproach, he began to feel that it might be dishonourable of him to have come; he knew that it would be worse than death for her if his visit was discovered, and he remembered his boast about riding in openly through her father's gates.
"I should not have come," he cried.
"I wished you to come. I have been waiting for you. Every night I work at the altar cloth, and then I go into the oratory and pray—always that you might come back."
She rose and stood before him with the shining light behind her.
And again he had the impression that this was a sanctuary from both earth and heaven, and that he would willingly stay in it always.
Yet within him was something fiercer than a flame, urging him forth.
"I shall return," he said, following out his own thoughts.
"When you find the blue rose on a living tree," answered Doņa Aņa.
The nightingales were silent, and beyond the garden the domes and towers of Alcalā were shining in the moonlight.
The palms and chestnuts, the acacia and wistaria, the roses and lilies in the garden waved in a mist of silver, through which rose the cypress and cedar, dark and immovable.
And in the white-walled chamber there seemed to be a mist of light like that outside, only of gold, a radiance that appeared to come from the gold altar cloth hanging, like a sheet of solid metal, behind Aņa and Juan.
He stood sorrowful, looking at her; he was amazed that there was not more gladness in love.
Surely it must be that he was unworthy of it. Or something was wrong.
Slowly she turned her head. Her hair fell loose over her deep lace collar in long close curls.
"Oh, you will come back," she whispered, and her eyes were unfathomable as the sea, and held as many memories. She held out her hand before the altar-cloth; the black shawl fell from her arm and left exposed the white wrist and hand, the close black sleeve and the fall of silver lace that fastened it at the elbow with a green rosette. Juan saw all this as he had noticed all the details in an initial letter in the manuscript he was reading from, when Felipe came that time to fetch Carlos from the Queen's side.
Now, as then, his eyes were busy, while his whole being was absorbed by some inner emotion, then hate, now love.
"Yes, I shall come back," he said gravely, looking at her hand, not at her face.
"Take my hand and tell me so," she said.
He obeyed her, and held her fingers firmly.
"I shall go to Malta," he said, "and defeat the Turks. And when I have gained some glory in the world I shall come back. To you. Not to the King, but to you."
A sudden wind rose that fluttered between them, and shook the flame of the candle which had now burnt down almost to the agate stick.
Aņa put her hands before her eyes and silently wept.
She stood quite still and did not sob; only by the quiver in her throat did he know of her tears.
He kissed her wrist. She never moved, only she said in a low and broken voice—
"Farewell. And I shall always pray for you... and wait."
The warm gust increased, and the candle flame sank under it into a little curl of smoke; but the moonlight struck on the altar cloth and that seemed to light the room.
Juan turned away; he was so sure of his near return, so full of the triumphant thought of it that he scarcely felt the pain of the present parting.
Once more he kissed her wrist, for her personality had become as remote and sacred as that of the Virgin with the wreaths of jasmine blossoms in the dark little oratory.
She said no other word; and so he parted from her and went through the pots of roses and the chestnut boughs, and past the fountain, and out into the moonlit streets of Alcalā, and turned his face towards the sea where the galleys waited to take him to the high adventures where he would win the renown that would bring him back on gold-winged feet.
When Don Juan reached Barcelona he found that the royal galleys had sailed.
There was no other way to Malta save by the long and tedious journey through France, and by his impetuous flight and haughty refusal of assistance at Frasno, he had left himself without means or escort.
Also Don Juan Manuel was on his path, and, while his disappointment was still keen, came up with him and threatened him with the King's displeasure if he did not return.
So the high adventure ended.
Juan thought of Aņa's words on that mystical night when they had stood together before the altar cloth.
"You cannot get away from God," she had said, "nor from the King."
And now God in Heaven had given him back to the King, who was, after all, God on earth and impossible to escape.
The court was still at Segonia, where it awaited the Queen who had been to see her mother, Catherine de Medicis, at Bayonne, and there was nothing for Don Juan to do but to return there with what grace he might and the hope of another chance to be free again and able to attain to Doņa Aņa, who seemed now to be remote again and most difficult to achieve.
As he rode back with the sympathetic but triumphant Juan Manuel he was oppressed by the failure of his enterprise and by an overwhelming sense of the power of Don Felipe.
Mostly was he oppressed, as if an armed hand held his throat, by the sense of the power of his brother.
In his humiliating disappointment he reflected on the position of the King, and the dazzle of this position overwhelmed him.
The King could do anything, he was the greatest person in the world, the larger portion of which he governed from his dark cell-like little cabinets hung with devotional images.
Juan knew that his spies, his agents, lurked in every part of the globe; beneath his passive, dull exterior was concealed knowledge of almost everything that was happening everywhere—Juan shivered as he thought that he perhaps knew, even now, of Doņa Aņa and his own visit to Alcalā. All means were at the King's disposal, he obeyed no laws, he could do as he pleased, for he was afraid of no one save God and God he served well against the heretics, and the priests had already assured him of eternal salvation. Therefore he was all powerful over the rich kingdoms that owned his sway and over all those millions who owed their obedience.
And no one had any influence over him, he was afraid of no one, no argument, no plea nor threat would ever alter him; this fact was sharply before Juan and seemed to him terrible, for it meant that he must always serve the King as the King wished, and never as he desired.
There was one person, however, of whom Don Felipe was afraid, and who had great influence over him, and that was Aņa of Eboli, wife of his minister, Ruy Gomez de Silva; but Juan did not know that. He pictured his brother as impervious to any arts, as a creature without feeling, and he thought that if Don Felipe had decided he was to go into the Church nothing could change him. He did not think much of the Princess of Eboli's assurances, not being aware that she and she alone could alter Felipe's gloomy desire to fulfil his father's wish and make Juan a priest. But though he was filled with this depressing conviction of the power and adamantine firmness of the King, deep down in his hot young heart he resolved that he would not yield, he would not be Felipe's puppet—he would not become a monk vowed to forego all he was now longing for; he thought that Felipe would force him as he had forced the Queen to witness her own maid of honour perish in the auto-da-fé, and he determined that he would resist as Elizabeth could never resist—never bend if he must break.
For he was this man's brother, the great Emperor had been his father too; his heart contracted with a curious agony as he reflected that he was wholly in the hands of his own father's son. For the first time he thought seriously of his mother; he thought that he hated her; he burned to think that he was perhaps like her; he knew that he bore little resemblance to his father's melancholy features; he did not know, for no one had dared tell him, that he had the Emperor's bearing and spirit far more than had Felipe.
So, inwardly rebellious and prepared for defiance and resistance, he returned to Segovia from Aragon.
He was utterly disarmed by Felipe's kind reception; the King embraced him, treated his adventure as a mere commendable show of spirit and told him to wait on the Queen who had just returned from Bayonne.
Elizabeth asked him if he had found the Turks valiant, and smiled at him.
Her gentle raillery astonished him, even though it was uttered in her husband's presence; he hoped that it meant that she was in a happier mood, and when he closely looked at her he thought that she seemed calmer and more serene.
All her dark, scented garments, her pearls and ruff, her stiff farthingdale and head-dress could not disguise that she was pale and fragile looking as a snow flake.
When she moved away in her billowing skirts with her old women about her, Juan thought she had the weak appearance of a white flower fallen and drooping. He went to his chamber, cold against the world and raging for Doņa Aņa. Don Alessandro came and would have beguiled him with the tennis court but he would not go.
The Prince of Parma laughed at his humour and expressed his amusement at the attempted escape.
"Dios!" said Juan angrily; "do you mean to spend all your life waiting the King's pleasure? Have you no wish to make a knightly name?"
The dark Italian face of Alessandro expressed no resentment as he answered—
"I shall use the King as he uses me. I wait, I watch. Yes, I mean to rise. But I shall not use your means."
"He thinks to put me into the Church," said Juan.
"No," answered the young Prince. "The Princess of Eboli has persuaded the King that you will serve him better in other ways."
"Can she do that?" exclaimed Juan, thinking of his conversation with her.
Alessandro gave him a swift look.
"She can do anything with the King," he replied, "you had better know it—"
"Surely not anything," said Juan.
"I think so. She is putting him against Carlos, and against the Queen. But at present she is in favour of you and me."
"Why?" asked Juan.
"She holds that we can serve the King," replied the Prince of Parma calmly; "with such as Carlos for heir the throne needs other props."
"What of the Austrian marriage?"
"Carlos is mad for it. But the King delays, he dare not offend France or the Scottish Queen," said Alessandro—"besides—" he lifted his shoulders abruptly.
"Elizabeth is dying."
"Dios!" Juan shuddered.
"And she may leave no son."
"Carlos is the heir."
"Oh, Maria! Do you think that Carlos will live either?"
"Well, the King will marry again; he has had the secret offer of Elizabeth's sister, Marguerite, and of the Austrian—"
Juan drew back.
"The Queen may live," he murmured, hating Felipe.
"If she lives, then Carlos may get his bride. If she dies I think the King will take her—"
Juan was silent, and Alessandro continued to talk of Carlos, of his increasing ill-health, his violence, his hatred of the King, his wild behaviour, and his excesses.
"You think he will not live?" said Juan gloomily. In a manner he sympathized with the wretched Carlos who was a prisoner like himself within the confines of the King's will, and who was being coldly robbed of the second fair bride promised him; for Elizabeth de Valois had been betrothed to Carlos before she had married his father.
Alessandro gave him a searching look as he had done when he spoke of the Princess of Eboli.
"No. I do not think that he will live," he replied briefly, "for he is scarcely sane, and behaves as no man could behave and live."
He related how Carlos had recently had a servant beaten almost to death for some trifling offence, and that he was now in the town where he commonly spent his time among the lowest company he could find.
"He is, undoubtedly, mad," concluded the Prince, "and I do not think that he will ever be King of Spain," and with that he turned away.
Juan was sorry for Carlos; he might be hateful but he loved Juan, and there was a curious claim in that; sordid he was, no doubt, and unworthy to be a knight, but round the commonplace ugliness of his character hung the dignity of tragedy, and Juan, sensitive to these things, was quick to perceive it.
He was aware of the intense hatred between father and son, and he foresaw the utter downfall that it must result in for the son.
He did not leave his apartments that evening, and when it was scarcely dark and the supper spread Carlos came in unheralded and impetuous.
Juan had half expected him and was giving him the ceremonious welcome due to his rank, but Carlos embraced him warmly and kissed him on both cheeks.
"I love you!" he exclaimed; "you escaped and he brought you back! I love you for it. You shall escape again and he will not bring you back."
Juan felt the childishness of this, but his heart warmed to Carlos, though he did not like the Infant's close embrace. "Will you have supper with me, Highness?" he asked.
Carlos flung himself down beside the luxurious little table, but declined the food; he appeared to be in a state of some excitement, and Juan observed him narrowly.
He wore a fine but crumpled and soiled doublet of silver tissue, and his huge padded breeches were torn as if in some tussle.
His pale, narrow features looked as if squeezed of all blood and life, his eyes had a sunk, almost dead look; only his thin lips hung open over his sharp teeth and trembled nervously; for the rest he had the drained inhuman look of Felipe; Juan had never seen him appear so like his father. He poured out iced water with a shaking hand and drank it greedily, rejecting the wine Juan offered.
"You have had another quarrel with the King," said Juan, who was eating heartily and getting good comfort from his food.
Carlos' agitated mouth twitched.
"He delays my marriage," he snarled; "he keeps the Archduchess from me; he treats me as if I were his slave."
"We are all of us," answered Juan rather bitterly, "little better—"
"I am Infant of Castile!" cried Carlos furiously. "I shall be King of Spain! No man shall thwart me!" Then he fell to biting his nails, and added after a moment's gloomy reflection, "I have no friends. All day they watch and spy. Eboli hates me."
"The Queen is your friend," said Juan.
The Infant's expression softened into something almost tender.
"Poor Elizabeth!" he murmured. "When I am married to the Archduchess," he added, "I shall be kinder to her than he is to the Queen."
Juan looked in silence at the wretched boy and wondered what he was resolving in his unbalanced mind.
"Will you be my friend?" asked Carlos eagerly.
"What use can I be to you against the King?" said Juan wearily. "I am here because I am helpless in his hands."
The Infant's glance shifted round the small room that was hung with black and scarlet.
The servants had withdrawn, leaving the small gilt table laden with fruit, ice, and wine.
"I am going to escape," said Carlos. "I am going to raise a rebellion against the King."
Juan set down his wineglass; the blood flushed into his face, and he stared silently at his nephew.
"It is all arranged," continued the Infant hurriedly.
"And even Eboli guesses nothing." He poured out another glass of iced water and drank it greedily.
Juan was thinking too rapidly to speak; his beautiful vivacious eyes were void of expression.
"You shall help me," added Carlos, "and when I am King of Spain I will make you Infant of Castile."
"I have taken oaths to the King," said Juan slowly.
"You took oaths to me as heir apparent," returned Carlos. "What has the King done for you that you should remain so faithful to him?"
"He is the King," returned Juan wearily. "And neither you nor I can do anything against him."
Carlos gave a cunning laugh.
"Will you be my friend?" he asked again.
"I am helpless to be any man's friend," replied Juan with unconscious Spanish subtlety, "for I have neither money nor power."
"I shall acquire both without difficulty," returned Carlos with an air of satisfaction. He pulled the dish of fruit towards him and began eating it, including stones and cores, with unnatural avidity.
Juan rose and placed his hands on the back of his carved black chair.
"Highness," he spoke, with the slight haughtiness that came to him when he was serious, "you have said some foolish things that I will hasten to forget. But do not repeat them. We are both of us subjects to the King (whom God preserve!), and we must do what seems in his eyes good."
Carlos, who seemed wholly absorbed in devouring the fruit, did not answer, and Juan turned away with pity and with repulsion.
Carlos looked after him sharply.
"You will not help me?" he asked.
"No. And as you love yourself, I charge you desist from these vain schemes."
"Until he gives me the Archduchess," answered Carlos, with unsteady passion, "I shall never cease to work against him." He rose impetuously and followed Juan to the horseshoe-shaped window to which he had moved.
"I love you!" he exclaimed violently. He then thrust a package that he pulled from his bosom into Juan's hands and dashed from the room.
Juan unfolded the packet and found that it contained a large and costly unmounted table diamond.
This was not the first time that the wayward Infant had thrust valuable gifts on him.
Juan smiled as he reflected that the thrifty King had to pay for these extravagances, and put the jewel away with some satisfaction.
The Queen's second child was a daughter; the new Infanta was christened very magnificently in October, the year of the jubilee of the Pope.
And Don Juan for the second time carried the King's child to the font, and laid her in the arms of Cardinal Espinosa.
It was a signal mark of royal favour. When the ceremony was over the Prince of Eboli complimented him on the honour he had received, and invited him into the presence of His Majesty, who wished to see him, said the minister, on the subject of his advancement in the State.
Juan obeyed with a quick leap of the blood; he had been waiting for this since the dismal end to his expedition, now some months ago, and waiting in all the anguish of impatient, ambitious youth, with uncertain prospects and strong desires held strongly in subjection.
Felipe had always been kind and gracious, never more so than since Juan's return from Barcelona; Ruy Gomez of Eboli and his wife had been full of smiles and encouragements; he was addressed by the title of "Excellency" and lodged in the palace; but he had no post, no money save what the King doled out to him, no certain source of income, no definite dignity, and no liberty, as he had once well proved.
He made his way through the narrow ways of the Escorial, which was now full of monks, for as the building reached completion, the King fulfilled his intention of making his home at once a monastery, a palace, and a mausoleum.
Though it was the evening of the great festival of the christening, Don Felipe was closed into his cell-like cabinet with ostentatious simplicity, and when Juan entered he was taking leave of Valdčs, the Grand Inquisitor, who left the King's presence with all that ceremony Felipe exacted, and who courteously responded to Juan's salutation. The door then closed on the young man, who found himself face to face with the King in a little cabinet hardly larger than the monkish cell it aped. Furniture, arras, and ceiling were dark and of a forbidding plainness. A large brown crucifix hung above the desk where Felipe worked; the desk on which were written the mandates that carried terror through the world, and which bore evidences of the King's tireless labours in the multitude of drawers, and the neat arrangements of thousands of papers.
Before this desk that was old and black, and glittered with dozens of little keys and handles in shining brass, sat the King with a long quill pen in his hand.
He had been consulting with Valdčs as to the best means to employ against the rebel heretics in the Netherlands, and the ink was scarcely dry on the parchment, where he had made notes that were to be incorporated in his next letter to the Duke of Alba, who was his governor in the Low Countries.
He still wore his State dress of crimson tissue, and over the back of his chair hung his short mantle of miniver and white velvet.
On his breast flamed the gold and steel of the toison d'or and a broad chain of rubies, his face was framed in a ruff of the finest silver lace that reached to his ears, and above this gleam of silver his countenance looked bleached and grey and feeble; his face was white, with a dry, bone-like whiteness, and his thin hair held neither lustre nor colour; his meagre figure was shrunk and stooping. Juan thought that he had never seen him look so old, so cold, or so immovable. With narrow, pale eyes, Felipe regarded his brother, and so well did he preserve the immobility of countenance on which he prided himself, that caresses or death might have been equally concealed behind those rigid features.
Juan stood waiting; in all things he was a complete contrast to his brother.
His grace and beauty and youth showed in the dull cabinet like a flower in a dark casket; without speaking he showed his merits, his claims; without proof he stood acclaimed of royal birth.
The polish of the Castilian Court had completed his courteous bearing and rounded his manners into perfect stateliness; the graces he had learnt from Doņa Magdalena, and the training he had acquired under Luis Quixada and at Alcalā had been finished by the reserve and pride taught by the first and most ceremonious court in Europe.
Yet behind this haughty courtesy that had in it something of coldness, there burned with enhanced strength the ardent spirit of his ambitious youth; the fire of his courage and his desire was to be seen in the light of his singularly beautiful eyes, which kindled and flashed with every uplift of his soul.
In these few months since he had returned from Barcelona he had greatly settled in manliness, and there was no longer anything boyish in his firm and noble features.
In his whole person was something beyond beauty, a fascination, an allurement so strong that it seemed that wherever his glances fell there he must find a friend.
He was indeed so eminently pleasing in his person that an acute observer might divine that by his graces alone he was certain to achieve a brilliant career.
He was now scarcely twenty, but fully formed, and appearing older in the full splendour of his courtier's dress; his figure, though not above the middle height, was perfect grace, and showed a noble strength tempered with fineness, the fineness of breed that gave him the turn of his slender hands and feet.
Those who looked on his face thought of gold, for there seemed a glint of it on his dusky hair, in his large clear eyes, and a flush of it in the warm tints of his smooth complexion; the glitter and sparkle of gold were conveyed, too, in his expression of mingled sweetness and proud expectancy; he seemed like one who could look on the sun without blinking.
Don Felipe gazed at him and noted these things; his brother's beauty moved him to neither admiration nor envy; he intended to use these qualities in Juan as he used the cruelty in Alba, the bigotry in Valdčs, the cunning in Eboli.
A large portion of his dominions were in revolt, heresy was spreading despite the efforts of the Inquisition, he had no son save Carlos (and it was wormwood to him to even think of Carlos), and despite all his frugal saving his treasury was in an ill condition. With these circumstances in his mind he considered it good to bind such as Juan to his service; youths like he and Alessandro, his sister Margaret's son, were such as supported Empires, the wise Princess of Eboli had told him.
None of this appeared in his face; he fingered his chin and gazed with a blank mildness at Juan, and when he spoke it was on another subject.
"Are you prepared to follow your father's wish, brother," he asked, "and enter the Church?"
Juan quivered under the shock; it was what he had been dreading during all these weeks of waiting in Madrid; no question could have been more disagreeable to him, but the one word "brother," that the King had not used to him before, almost atoned for the rest.
"No, seņor," he replied; "I have not altered my mind about my fitness for a holy life."
Don Felipe sighed and dropped his eyes. "The Emperor died a holy man," he said, "and it was his wish that you should continue his penance for the sins of our house."
"The Emperor," answered Juan strongly but modestly, "must look down from his high seat in heaven and see me as I stand here and know that I have too much of his spirit in me to be a monk—at least before I am old and have done some work."
At this bold speech the King sighed again. "You were left in charge to me, Juan," he said, "and I should acquit myself well of this duty."
"So your Majesty has, with every kindness," cried Juan warmly. "I now beseech you permit me to return this much affection you have shown me with some service, however poor."
"Would you go against the Morisco?" asked the King meekly.
"Yes, seņor. Or against the heretics in the Low Countries—anything that is for the honour of Almighty God and the well-being of your Majesty."
Don Felipe laid down the pen that he had kept till now between two fingers. "Carlos loves you," he said abruptly.
A sickly smile stole over the King's narrow features.
"Those who love me are not loved by Carlos," he answered.
Juan flushed, thinking of the conversation of a few months ago that he had had with the Infant; yet his conscience was clear; nor had Carlos, who had been of late appointed of the Council of State, and was seemingly absorbed in his new duties, renewed any such overtures.
"Juan," said the King with a meditative air, "it would be a great crime if you were disloyal to me. A crime Almighty God would never forgive."
"It is one, seņor, that I shall never commit," answered Juan with dignity, with sincerity also, for anxious as he was for an appointment he did not flatter his brother with his professions of loyalty, for he firmly believed that his entire duty was due to the King as it was to God; he might seek to escape both, but he would never defy nor disobey.
"If you were to intrigue with Carlos against me," continued the King, "you would burn in hell for ever—as if you were a heretic, Juan."
"The Infant does not intrigue against you, seņor—sometimes a wild word or two, no more."
"Ah!" said Don Felipe looking on the ground.
Juan felt a certain chill of apprehension. Was the Infant engaged in plots of which he knew nothing but of which the King was aware?
"Whatever befall," he said, "my service lies with your Majesty."
Felipe looked at him.
"My love shall reward it," he said, "and I am wishful to give you some appointment befitting my father's son."
The blood leapt in Juan's veins and flooded his cheeks, it seemed to his impatient youth as if he had been waiting years for this moment, though in reality it was only a few months since he had left Alcalā.
"I am in your Majesty's hands," he said simply.
"The son of Carlos V," answered Felipe, leaning forward and clasping his thin hands on his silk-clad knees, "cannot be content with mean things. I should wish to see you gain a sovereignty."
Juan dropped his eyes at thus hearing his fondest ambition voiced by the King.
Felipe watched him sharply.
"I should wish you to wed a princess." Juan thought of Aņa in a bitter sweet pang; of late her fair image had been forced into the region of dreams, with these words of the King she seemed to vanish from dream to mere memory. He stood erect, his head slightly bent and the blood beating in his cheek.
Felipe peered at him from under his bonnet, and appeared to enjoy his suppressed emotion.
"I should wish to have you beside me in the chapel, behind the curtain, Infant of Castile," he said.
Juan looked up; the blood receded with painful suddenness from his face and his dark eyes were moist.
"Does your Majesty fill an unfortunate with golden delusions?" he asked.
There was a dignity and a tragic touch in this that surprised the King and showed him that Juan was neither so young nor so thoughtless that he did not realize and wince under the burden of his birth; the King noted this emotion for use as a future weapon against his brother.
His answer was quick and soothing.
"I am not such an ill master," he said. "I pay for my services. Prove your merit and you will not find me a niggard. I love you, Juan, and would advance you."
Juan's slim dark hand stole to the steel and gold of the toison d'or that sparkled on the blue velvet of his doublet. "Let me know your will, seņor," he said swiftly.
Felipe hesitated, his eyes searched the young man's face keenly. Juan was of an unblemished loyalty, and the Princess of Eboli (no one's opinion weighed more with Felipe) had vouched for his qualities, but the King was eternally suspicious.
"You have no master in your thoughts save me?" he asked.
Don Juan answered gravely.
"And no mistress either?" persisted Don Felipe.
Again came the memory of Aņa—he was pledged to her; he had said that he would ride in through her father's front gates and claim her. She was waiting for him. But all that visioning had ended with his return from Barcelona. It had all been sweet, sad foolishness.
He saw it so as he stood with his foot on the golden threshold of greatness; yet she had worked on him, though in ways not touching passion, and he was, for a second, silent.
Felipe instantly marked his hesitation and was angry; the Princess of Eboli had declared Don Juan was free of all love fancies, and it did not please the King that any woman save one of his own providing should have enthralled this man he wanted for himself.
"Ah, who is it?" he said softly; then at once, as if to cloak the plainness of the question and the wrath that lay behind it, he added, "that I may help you to her, Juan."
Juan looked at him calmly, then laughed. He was thinking that neither threat nor promise could wring from him the name of Doņa Aņa nor the fact of his secret visits to Alcalā.
"There is no one," he said. "No one to divide my allegiance with you, seņor."
The King saw that he had been read and paled with vexation.
"Why did you laugh?" he asked.
"I could not tell," answered Juan truthfully. His eyes had suddenly a heavy look and he averted them.
"I will find you a wife when the time is ripe," said Felipe. "Leave that to me and till then live discreetly. There was never a woman yet worth the hurt scandal does a prince."
He turned sharply to his desk and took up a parchment that was lying under the notes of the letter to Alba.
"I have this day," he said, looking over his shoulder, "made you Admiral of the Fleet."
Juan stood motionless; the post was one of the most important, the most honourable in the kingdom; it was beyond anything he had looked for or hoped for, at least so soon; a rush of gratitude to the King who had given so splendidly overcame in him all other emotion; he went on one knee and kissed the King's hand in real humility.
"My dear brother," said Felipe kindly, lightly drawing his fingers from the young man's lips and laying them on his curls, "I shall give you greater advancement than this."
Juan rose; he was very pale.
"I must thank your Majesty by my actions," he said in a moved tone. There was a look in his eyes as if he saw beyond the room and more than the King. Felipe marked that look jealously.
"Your patent shall be delivered to you presently," he remarked. He got stiffly from his chair and gave Juan a cold kiss on the brow.
Something in his caress chilled the young man; a kind of tarnish came over the glory that had been suddenly put into his grasp; he was grateful, thankful, but he suddenly realized that he neither liked nor trusted the King, and the vision of Doņa Aņa, now lost for ever, swam before his eyes in lines of heartbreaking sweetness. His breed and the Spanish duplicity that was in his character came to his aid, with a profusion of graceful assurances of his homage he took his leave.
Felipe remained standing by the desk, fingering his chin that had sunk on his breast. "He wants to be Infant of Castile," he thought; "he wants to be King." His bloodless lips curled into a boundless pride. "Juan, the son of a Flemish putain!" he muttered aloud.
Through the slats of the green shutters the early winter sun poured and fell in a veil of gold over the brocaded bed in which Don Juan sat leaning against the pillows and wrapped in a violet silk mantle.
By the bedside stood Don Carlos, still trembling from the effects of a tertian fever, and speaking with such a swift, unpausing eagerness, that Juan, hastily roused from sleep and still in a maze at what this early visit of the Infant might mean, could hardly catch the sense of the words.
On the coverlet lay a sword mounted in black and gold that Carlos had brought as a gift to the new Admiral of the Fleet, together with his enthusiastic good wishes on his appointment, and Juan's sleepy gold eyes glanced under their heavy lashes, first at this magnificent weapon, then at the Prince, as if he was endeavouring to connect the two and gain some light as to their mutual meaning.
Presently, out of the tumult of complaint and fierce invective that largely composed the Infant's speech, the words "flight" and "rebellion" caught Juan's attention.
"Have you come to repeat what you said last spring?" he asked keenly.
Carlos paused in his wild flow of talk. His face was flushed, his eyes suffused; he shuddered with strong excitement as well as with the shivering of fever.
"I am leaving the kingdom," he declared. "I have written to the nobles who took the oath to me to follow me. I shall raise my standard in Italy. I have borrowed money in Valladolid and Seville."
At the end of these breathless sentences he fixed his small pale eyes on Juan's face.
"Will you join me?" he asked.
"No," said Juan.
"If you will," answered the Infant, "I will give you the kingdom of Naples or the duchy of Milan."
Juan sprang out of bed: it was mid-winter and cold, despite the fair sun. With a shiver he buttoned his furred mantle round him and put his feet into slippers.
"Tell me no more of these," he said in a troubled way, "I hold a post in the King's service."
Carlos took a step towards him and clenched his thin hands passionately on his breast.
"Has he bought you too!" he cried. "Once you were my friend. But he gains everyone. Yet he pays badly—there will be nothing but poverty and dependence for you, Don Juan, as long as you remain in my father's pay."
"I have already a high position," answered the Admiral. "I owe—the King everything."
Carlos gave a little sound like a thwarted animal's resentment of interference.
"Do you not see that he uses you?" he exclaimed violently. "That old hag, the Princess of Etoli, told him you would serve him well. Do you not see that there is no kindness nor justice nor gratitude in him? He will lure you on and suck you of your very blood, and when you are dry he will fling you down and put his foot on you."
Juan stood and gazed at him: a certain force, a certain dignity, a certain conviction, like the ring of truth, seemed to be in the words that came from the white-faced boy's dry lips.
"I am his son," continued Carlos, "and he has always duped and deceived me. He promises positions, honours, he never gives them; he promised me Elizabeth de Valois, then snatched her for himself. He promised me the Archduchess Anne, but he delays. Will he do better by you who are not his son?"
"We cannot go against the King," answered Juan in a low tone, "any more than we can go against God."
The Infant laughed.
"God!" he said wildly. "I defy Him."
"If you were an ordinary man, Highness," exclaimed Juan in horror, "and Valdčs heard you speak so—"
"Ah, Valdčs has his claw suspended over me," interrupted Carlos. "He told the King that I was little better than a heretic. In truth I am little better than a slave. Help me to end it, Juan."
The young Admiral paced up and down the room; he was moved and troubled; to listen to these wild propositions was against both honour and prudence, since the Prince's project was doomed to certain failure. Yet the wrongs of Carlos were real enough, and revealed a temper in the King that could not fail to stir fear and pity in Juan's heart; fear of the master set over him, pity for the wretched weakling who had been lashed to this desperate resolve.
He saw at once that his support was necessary to the Infant's design, since his position gave him control of the ports and of the sea, hence of Carlos' means of escape; he saw also that it would be a difficult matter to dispersuade the Infant from his scheme, which had been evidently long cherished, firmly adhered to, and resolutely planned.
To gain time he questioned Carlos as to his preparations and found that the Infant had arranged a scheme that bore the imprint of madness in every detail, and which appeared to have been put together almost openly under the very eyes of Felipe's spies.
Juan could not doubt that the King knew what the Infant meditated, and he shuddered for Carlos.
"Highness," he said firmly, "this scheme will lead you to black ruin, and I will in no way be a party to it. I cannot in honour, as the King's servant, nor in prudence, as a sane man, join you in this wild rebellion."
Carlos pressed his pale lips together; the hard glitter of insane obstinacy sparkled in his light eyes.
"Nothing you can say will move me," he returned fiercely. "You are afraid of the King. I am not."
"You ask me to join you in walking into a pit, may be into a trap," said the Admiral. "I will not. By the living God, I will not be in this!" Carlos shook with rage.
"I have offered you a high reward," he said, showing his sharp teeth.
"You have offered me a crown in the clouds," replied Juan, "but ambitious as I am I prefer an Admiral's bâton on earth."
"I will go without you!" cried the Infant. "Half the grandees in Spain are in my service. I shall not need you!"
Juan cast about him for some argument that would weigh with the infuriated boy.
"If you rebel against the King you will commit treason," he said, "and treason is a great crime—a strong sin."
Carlos gave a cunning smile.
"I shall obtain indulgences from the Papal Jubilee," he answered; "the Prior of Atocha and his monks would not confess me, but I shall find others."
Juan, who knew that the Infant had spent the previous day at the Jeromite Convent, closeted with monks for the purpose of preparing himself by confession for the benefits promised by the Pope on the occasion of his Jubilee, caught in alarm at these words.
"Were you refused absolution?" he asked impulsively.
Carlos wrinkled his face.
"You will not see me take communion to-morrow," he replied evasively.
"Ah, Dios! what are you about?" cried Juan in despair. "Why would they not confess you?"
"Because they were fools," retorted the Infant angrily; "but leave that. Will you join me?"
"I have answered that," said Juan. "Not only will I not join you, but I beseech you to forgo this bitter folly."
Carlos beat his breast with rage.
"Ah, I was mistaken in you!" he cried. "You are Felipe's slave already!"
A little foam gathered on his lips and his eyes rolled in his head; fearful that agitation would bring on one of his convulsions, Juan added hastily:—
"At least give me time to consider what you have told me."
"How much time?" demanded Carlos.
"Give me," said Juan, "twenty-four hours."
The Infant hesitated, suspicious, doubtful, and vexed, but Juan stood unmoved and firm.
"You have propounded to me," he added, "a scheme full of many difficulties and dangers. You cannot think, Highness, that I shall in a moment decide."
"Then," returned the Infant slowly, "I shall send for you this time to-morrow and shall expect your answer. If you decide for the King," he continued with some dignity, "you decide against one who is your friend and for one who will always be your enemy, no matter what your services may be."
He picked up his bonnet from the chair and abruptly left the room.
Juan began to dress hastily.
"The Prince is mad," he said to himself, "and I must endeavour to save him from his madness."
He could only see one course open whereby to attain this end, and that was, by some means or other, to stop the Prince's desperate enterprise.
To let him go on and break into open rebellion was to let him go to his death, Juan believed; for one who forced such a scandal as this on him the proud and cruel King would have no mercy.
Don Felipe must, Juan thought, know something, yet it was unlikely that he knew all, for in that case Carlos would have been before now under arrest.
And Juan felt that he owed the King steadfast loyalty; only lately had he been advanced, and the glow of it was still with him.
By the time he had finished dressing he had decided what to do.
The King was at the Escorial, and it was during this absence from Madrid that Carlos had resolved to escape. Juan was supposed to await Felipe's return in the capital, but what he had to say could not be entrusted to a messenger; he took horse and with a single attendant rode to the Escorial.
Don Felipe had been in seclusion for several weeks performing the devotions necessary to fit him for the benefits the Pope's Jubilee offered to the Christian world, and therefore it did not surprise Juan when he entered the King's presence to find him surrounded by monks.
The young Admiral paused, a little breathless, on the threshold of the dark room.
The King was sitting huddled in a deep chair; he wore black and a black bonnet; his face looked hollow and old and miserable, and his eyes were quite sunk and closed.
Juan advanced through the clerics and, kneeling, kissed the cold royal hand.
"You must bring important news," said Felipe sharply.
"Important and private, seņor," answered Juan, though he knew the King had few secrets from the priests.
Felipe raised himself in the great chair and propped his hollow face on his lean hand.
"What matter does it touch, this news of yours?" he asked.
Juan stood up; a glittering figure among all the dark cowls and robes, a fair face among the bloodless countenances and shaven heads.
"It touches the Infant, seņor," he said, and his full and pleasing voice was very low.
Felipe gave a ghastly smile and turned his eyes slowly towards the Prior of Atocha, who stood beside his chair.
"Your news," he asked, "was also of the Infant, was it not, Padre?"
He spoke with the softness he always used to Churchmen, and almost as if he was pleased.
"Yes, Majesty," answered the Prior. "But let His Excellency speak first."
"Nay," said Juan, putting out his hand. "I will retire till your audience is ended."
"You will stay," commanded the King sharply. "And you will each speak before the other. Padre, speak."
The Prior, Don Antonio de Toledo, a fine-looking man in the prime of life, stepped forward and in an unemotional manner recited his story.
"My lord the King, yesterday His Highness the Infant came to the Royal Convent of St. Jerome to confess. And among his sins he numbered mortal hatred for a certain person and a desire to compass his death."
Don Antonio paused a second, and the glance of the King and Juan met.
"Thereupon," continued the Prior, "the confessor refused His Highness absolution, at which the Infant was exceedingly wrath and insisted. At this there was a council of priests held, including myself—in all sixteen. We were none of us to be convinced by the arguments of His Highness, who presently suggested that he should be allowed to attend communion for the sake of appearance but be given an unconsecrated wafer. Whereat we told him he spoke of a rank sacrilege."
Felipe shuddered and crossed himself, then sank deeper into his chair.
"I now," added Don Antonio, "took the Prince aside and bade him tell me the name of the person against whom he cherished this black hate and this black design. And in no way moved he answered me that it was your Majesty."
"Dios! he is not sane!" muttered Juan.
The King was silent; he looked utterly lifeless.
"Thereupon," said the Prior, "I broke up the conference, it being then two of the morning. And the Prince went home unabashed."
There was a little pause of silence; then Felipe dragged himself up in his chair with a painful movement.
"I thank you," he said, and his voice was as expressionless as his face. "What have you," he turned to Juan, "to say?"
"Seņor," said the Admiral, "I would invoke your kindness for the Infant. Some wild spirit has entered into him so that he knows not what he does. He came to me but this morning and told me that he meant to escape the kingdom. I tell your Majesty this, that you may have His Highness watched and this great scandal prevented."
As he finished he blushed, for he felt that he had touched an unknightly business. Felipe was turning a ring with a white diamond round and round on his pale forefinger; he never took his eyes from the gleaming stone.
"Why, I will have him watched," he said, "lest he do himself a mischief."
Juan was relieved at the mildness of the King's tone; he felt that he had, after all, done the best for Carlos as well as followed the dictates of gratitude and loyalty.
The King turned again to the Prior.
"So the Prince will not be able to attend the Jubilee," he remarked. "A pity—a pity."
"His Highness," said Juan, "is a sick man with sick fancies. I yet hope to reason him from his schemes when I return to Madrid."
"Brother," said the King, "you will not return to Madrid. You will stay here."
Juan hated the Escorial, and had no wish to be in close personal attendance on the King, but he gave in at once and gracefully.
"The Infant will wonder at my absence," was his only protest.
Don Felipe rose clumsily; he was suffering from a bad attack of gout, and when he walked leant heavily on a strong stick. 2
"Write to him that you are engaged on affairs of the Fleet," he said, taking his young brother's arm. "I like to keep those who love me about me."
With a thrill almost of shame Juan realized that he had made a great advance in the favour of his brother; he thought of Doņa Aņa; had she not been right—was he not in truth become the creature of the King?
"You have served me well," added Felipe. "Come to dinner. I have a new cook who is excellent."
The Queen sat by the fire with idle hands; it was strange to all that she still lived, she seemed to walk as one always under the uplifted scythe of death: the frightened expression in her eyes had lately changed to a terrible indifferency, and it was as if she saw and heard nothing of what passed around her; in these days after Christmas Carlos was her constant companion, and she was kind to him though with a colder pity than she had used at first. This evening he sat with her by the fire lamenting to her that Don Juan had not yet returned from the Escorial save for one brief visit when he had been accompanied by the Prior of Atocha, a man Carlos hated since he had refused him absolution.
The Queen made no answer; she was staring into the flames and it might have been that she did not hear.
Her silence impressed Carlos; he looked long and wistfully at her exquisite face framed in the stiff cambric ruff.
He pressed closer to her, almost with the movement of a watchful dog.
"If I went away would you remember me?" he asked.
She turned her fair head slowly and looked down at him, slightly startled. 4
"If you went away?" she repeated.
"But that is impossible."
A flash of cunning lit his pale features.
"I shall be a free man yet," he answered.
Elizabeth glanced at the inevitable duennas who worked at the back of the room.
"Hush, Carlos," she said nervously, "be more guarded in your speech."
"Do I care for those old women!" he exclaimed recklessly.
Indeed, the breach between him and the King was an open one, and she knew it though she was ignorant of his wild plan of escape.
"Jesus!" she murmured piteously, "what will this end in? I conjure you to preserve your duty to the King!"
Carlos turned his half-mad glance on her with a strong expression in his face.
"As my wife, you would have been happier than you are as the Queen of Spain," he said gloomily.
"Mon Dieu!" cried Elizabeth, "what will you not bring on yourself by these words!"
And she sat up roused from the apathy of sickness by sheer terror.
Carlos was unmoved; he drew from his doublet his principal treasure, the portrait of the Archduchess Anne.
"I shall marry my cousin," he said, "and no one else. Has she not a sweet face?"
The Queen had often seen the picture; she was touched by the Infant's constant devotion to his cousin, which seemed to her the most worthy thing in his wayward character; but now as she gazed down on the little pictured likeness of the blonde Austrian, her mood of terror, caused by the Infant's desperate words, 5 was somehow increased by the sight of the pale, melancholy face that had inspired Carlos with such a steady passion.
"We shall be happy," continued the Infant; "and you will love her, will you not?"
Elizabeth tried to smile.
"My estate will depend on her favour," she said, "since she will be Queen after me."
A black look distorted Carlos' features.
"Queen after you!" he repeated sullenly. He had heard that if Elizabeth died the Archduchess might be offered to Felipe, and the very thought of it had sent him into convulsions of jealous wrath; as he recalled the rumour now he shook with fury and jealousy, and thrust the portrait inside his doublet.
"Speak words of good omen," he muttered. "When we are married I shall take her from the Court—the King shall not even cast his eyes on her."
Elizabeth was quite white; she, too, had heard whispers of her probable successor.
"You must not speak such madness," she said with an effort, "you—must—not—" And then the King entered, leaning on the arm of Don Juan.
Neither the Queen nor Carlos knew that he was in Madrid, or even expected, and in this unheralded entry both detected a sinister intention.
Elizabeth rose; her agitation was plain, but Felipe affected not to notice it; he doffed his bonnet and greeted her with his usual courtesy.
The Prince sprang to his feet and eyed his father furtively; they had not come face to face for weeks nor spoken to each other for months; the King avoided his son now and made some remark to Juan.
"Ah!" muttered Carlos, and limped back against the wall, biting his nails.
He had hoped to make his escape before his father's return to Madrid, and had only been waiting for two things: the completion of the payments arranged for with the bankers of Valladolid and Seville, and the cooperation of Don Juan.
Now, in this sudden appearance of the King in the company of Juan, he thought that he saw an end to all his hopes, and a sickness of wrath and despair shook his soul.
Elizabeth, ever the peacemaker, made an effort, even against her own forebodings.
"Seņor," she said, "Carlos has been keeping me good company—will not your Majesty notice him?"
Felipe turned meekly to where his son crouched against the wall.
"Oh, Carlos!" he said kindly. "Oh, my son, how is your sickness?"
Carlos straightened himself against the arras.
"I am well enough, seņor," he answered in an expressionless tone, "but have been something weak since the cold weather began."
"You must pray to San Diego," returned the King, "who cured you so marvellously at Alcalā."
Carlos grinned, showing his sharp, pointed teeth.
"San Diego is in heaven," he said cunningly, "and my cure will come from earth."
Don Felipe's glance flickered towards the motionless duennas in the background.
"Carlos," he said mildly, "after supper I will send for you. It is some while since we spoke together."
"Yes, some while," repeated Carlos.
"You may speak here," said the Queen, looking fearfully from one to another.
Don Felipe laid his bony hand on her jewelled and ruffled sleeve.
"Nay, Elizabeth," he answered, "we have to speak of business."
The wretched Carlos fell to biting his nails again; his glance shifted uneasily to and fro.
"Aye, of business," he murmured.
"Now, I relieve you of your attendance on the Queen," said Felipe, peering at him keenly.
Carlos began to move towards the door; despite his lameness and hunch there was a certain dignity in his demeanour, and he saluted the pallid Queen with more grace than was usual to him.
Before he reached the door he had to pass Juan, who since his entry had remained silent and erect.
"Excellency," said Carlos in a low voice, "I wish to see you to-night."
Juan raised his head; their eyes met.
"You will be with the King to-night," answered Juan.
"Nay, I will see you first," said Carlos. Anger lent strength to his feeble appearance; his eyes were proud and courageous as he gazed at Juan.
"Traitor!" he said under his breath, and moved his lips as if he spat.
Neither the King nor the Queen heard this word, and Juan gave no sign that it reached him.
Carlos opened the door and went out; they could hear his lame footfall down the passage. Elizabeth looked suddenly at Juan and then at her husband.
She stood before the great open hearth and the crimson glow of the fire was vivid on her crimson gown.
"Seņor," she said, "how go the negotiations for the hand of the Archduchess?"
It was but seldom that she ventured on such questions, but Felipe showed no surprise.
"Sit down, Elisabeth," he said, "you look weary."
She took the seat that she had risen from at his entrance and nervously clasped and unclasped her hands.
"It would be a great kindness to the Infant," she continued, "if you could hasten this match. His heart is greatly set on it, and I think that he will not be wholly happy until the Archduchess is his wife."
Don Felipe smiled.
"A boy's fancy," he said, "and that project is broken off. I have advised the Emperor to give his daughter to the King of France."
"Ah, poor Carlos!" exclaimed the Queen. "Who then, seņor, is to be his wife?"
"I have no marriage project for the Infant," replied Felipe coldly.
The ready tears blurred Elizabeth's large blue eyes.
"Alas, seņor, if you would consider what this blighting of his hopes will mean to the Prince!" she exclaimed, moved by her compassion for Carlos beyond her usual fear of the King.
"You take a great interest in the affairs of the Infant," smiled Felipe, looking at her out of wrinkled eyes.
"No," she answered with truth; "only I am sorry for him."
"He is indeed," said the King, "greatly to be pitied."
Elizabeth looked into the fire; the indifferency of weakness swept over her again; her beautiful head drooped against the cushions, and her long, thin, almost transparent hands hung slack against the full folds of her wide skirts.
"I have robbed you of one cavalier," added Felipe pleasantly, "but I give you another. Juan will keep you company."
He doffed his bonnet again and left them. Juan moved to the hearth and stood opposite the Queen; he was dressed in white, laced with gold and dark fur; the winter air had whipped a colour into his cheeks that yet lingered there.
Elizabeth spoke without looking up from the sparkle of the blazing logs.
"You seem to be in favour with the King, Excellency."
"Almighty God has so ordered it, Majesty," returned Juan.
"It was a sad thing that the galleys had sailed," said Elizabeth.
"I know not," he replied rather gloomily. "I was on a foolish adventure."
"No," she said softly. "I think that it was a very wise one."
"The King has well advanced me," said Juan, speaking very low.
The Queen looked at him.
"Beware of that same advancement, Don Juan."
He was silent.
"Will you become a persecutor or a tool?" she asked.
"I serve the King," he answered. It was his motto now; he set all else behind him and put his faith blindly in that one sentence.
"Ah!" she sighed, and fixed her mild and beautiful blue eyes on him with an expression of yearning and regret.
"Tell me," she said in a very faint whisper, "when you rode away you went to see—a lady?"
He answered gravely.
"You love her?"
"I do not know."
"Will you go back?"
"Dios! I believe that I shall."
"Then you love her?"
An expression of distress crossed his fair features.
"I do not know," he repeated slowly.
"She conflicts with your ambition," said the Queen, "and so you will give her up. Poor soul! Tell me Juan, is it happier to love in vain, or not to love at all?"
Juan did not answer.
"You do not love this lady," added Elizabeth; "but you might have done. What will she do?"
"Forget," smiled Juan, against the conviction of his heart. "In a year's time she will be married. It was foolish, but she is no worse for me—"
"I wonder—if she loves you—I wonder," mused the Queen, "to wait—in vain—must hurt. I expect she is the worse for you—"
"She will not wait," said Juan, hastily, "she knows what I am, what I must do."
"Ah, this ambition!" sighed the Queen. "Well, I have no doubt that you will be a great man. My sister Marguerite is like you—all for ambition. If you ever go to France you must notice her, she is very beautiful."
She sighed so gently that her breath scarcely stirred her lips apart and her white eyelids drooped.
"I am sorry for poor Carlos," she murmured.
"Majesty, in truth the Infant is not sane," he said.
"He is what his father made him," replied the Queen quietly. "His father is the King."
"Does that cover everything?"
A silence fell, disturbed only by the whirl and turn of the spinning-wheels and the clatter of the shuttles on the tapestry frames, as the women at the back worked busily, and never looked up.
Juan gazed at Elizabeth as she sat slackly with averted face.
He did not quite understand his brother's wife. She stood for something he had not faced nor named yet, the peculiar quality that Doņa Aņa represented, that the blue rose was a symbol of, only Elizabeth was this thing defeated and crushed, and Aņa was still unspoilt and triumphant.
Standing before the Queen in this silence, in this dusk of a winter afternoon, illuminated with the beautiful glow of the log fire, he had something of the same sensation as he had felt when seated with Aņa in her little chamber, looking out across the darkness that hid Alcalā.
Was this sensation one of peace or contentment, or something higher, something not so easily named?
What was this quality that he felt in the fresh personality of the blooming Aņa and in the bruised personality of the dying Queen?
These questions troubled Juan and he could not answer them.
Was it goodness that drew him in these two women? was it holiness that he felt in them?
At least it was something different from the entire world as he knew it; it was something he did not find in Felipe, in Carlos, in the Princess of Eboli, in the Prince of Parma, in any of these people among whom he passed his life, save only in these two—the Queen and Aņa de Munatones y Santofimia. It troubled him; it was strong enough to allure him but not to hold him; the Queen had advised him to leave the Court and seek independence. Aņa had smitten him into an attempt to follow this advice. But it had ended in nothing; the power of Felipe had closed round him again and he was not strong enough to resist; nay, he did not wish to resist; very gladly was he being borne along the swift currents of the King's favour that were leading him to greatness.
Yet with an almost incredible sharpness of pain he regretted the idyll that had been so quickly set aside, and when, as now, he spoke to the Queen he was reminded of Aņa, and the two seemed to blend into one mysterious sweetness that reproached and warned and pitied him.
So deep was he sunk in his reflections that he was scarcely conscious of his surroundings; the firelight seemed to change to the mingled candle and moonlight glow that lit the gold altar-cloth before which Aņa had stood—the Queen's crimson gown might have been Aņa's dark dress, the palace chamber Aņa's room with the red and yellow floor.
The Queen's voice, speaking in her hesitating Spanish with the French accent, roused him with a start from this deep reverie.
"Seņor Don Juan," she said, "I have a favour to ask of you."
He brushed away the vapours of his dreams and waited her commands with a wholly attentive hearing.
"As you know," Elizabeth smiled a little, "it is not likely that I shall live."
She stayed his protest by putting out her frail hand.
"Nay, hear me. When I am dead," she spoke very calmly, "there will be no one to pity Carlos. He loves you. Will you not do your best to help him with the King?"
Juan coloured; yet he eagerly assured himself that he had always endeavoured to serve the Infant, even by this revelation of his plans to the King.
"I will do all I may," he answered, "consistent with my loyalty."
He smiled charmingly.
"But you will live to see peace between them, Majesty," he added, "and concord in all the Court."
The Queen looked at him straightly.
"No," she said sharply. "Neither I nor you will live to see that."
As Juan entered the first chamber of his apartments, a splendid chamber hung with deep blue damask, he found Carlos waiting for him beneath a gilt sconce that bore a dozen gilded candles.
At the sight of that motionless deformed figure, that insane and bitter face, Juan instinctively paused on the threshold of the room.
For a full minute the two young men looked at each other, then Carlos spoke.
"So you betrayed me. I loved you and you betrayed me."
His manner and speech were not violent as was usual with him when he was enraged but contained and intense.
"You have delivered me into hishands," he continued. "When you find his heel on your neck, remember it."
He came a step nearer Juan, who did not move, and leant forward with his finger on the dagger that hung at his side.
"If he does not spare me who am his son—will he spare you?"
"You are safe," answered Juan. "If the King restrains you, it is but for your own good. I warned you that you had embarked on a sea of folly."
"And now," said Carlos wildly, "I am embarked on that sea that rolls to the doors of death."
"The King," cried Juan, "feels kindly to you."
"There is nothing between the King and me," said Carlos, "but hate—hate—hate!"
He stopped, and breathing painfully as if in physical distress, drew a handkerchief from his sleeve and wiped his brow and lips.
"You will thank me yet that I saved you," said Juan, advancing into the room.
Carlos turned his head to gaze at him.
"You are the King's favourite now; you are advanced through me," he said with a horrid smile.
There was bitter truth in this, and it stung Juan to the heart; he swung round on his heel.
"By Almighty God, it is not so!" he cried.
The Infant drew back as if he was about to spring.
"Like a mushroom, you rise in the night," he answered, "and in a night you will be crushed—you have no roots—all your growth lies in the whim of one man's favour! You are a poor thing! I thought you had some princely sparks of greatness in you, but you fawn like a slave on the hand that feeds you!"
Juan clapt his hand to his sword.
"Aye, draw on me!" cried Carlos. "The very lackeys may insult me now, though they as well as you were glad enough to please me once!"
"Dios!" broke from Juan in his deep distress. "You misjudge me. I did not betray you: 'twas the priests. I went to mitigate their tale, and you misjudge the King. Don Felipe has said not one harsh word against you."
"You are very simple," laughed Carlos. "Maybe you will know my father better, one day."
He turned as if to go, but Juan, convinced as he was that the King meant Carlos no mischief, could not part from him in this bitter humour.
He stepped before the Infant.
"Highness, listen to me," he began, sincerely and earnestly.
Carlos paused, taut in every muscle; a fury that seemed beyond nature sparkled in his bloodshot eyes and distorted his narrow features.
"You betrayed me!" he flung out. "You base-born adventurer! Stand out of my way, I am Infant of Castile!"
Juan stood as if incapable of movement, the drops of anguish gathered on his brow; he uttered a deep sob.
"Aye," continued Carlos, with the same flame-like scorn and fierceness. "Thank your chamber-serving mother for these tricks that help you creep into the favour of the King—the Emperor's blood did not teach them to you—"
"Stop!" muttered Juan, speaking as if his tongue was swollen. "Stop!"
"I, who am royal born, cannot fawn on those I hate," cried Carlos, "and I go to take the consequences of it."
He limped to the door.
"If you were a straight man," whispered Juan with a shudder, "I would break you for this—"
"You have broken me," said Carlos.
He opened the door, lifted the arras, and stepped into the corridor where the lamps had not yet been lit.
As soon as the door closed behind him he reeled against the wall, panting.
His head was confused. As the fury of his wrath ebbed, a dull wonder took the place of it; he marvelled why he had gone to Juan's apartments; he thought he must have meant to kill him.
He stared stupidly at the dagger he still grasped.
Then through the muddle of his wretched thoughts one thing rose paramount; the King would send for him—after supper. He forgot his wrath, he forgot Juan; a heavy-footed terror began to dog his steps, and his one idea was how he might escape.
He gave a little gasping cry in his throat and hastened to his own apartments, continually looking over his shoulder.
When he reached his chamber he got into bed, intending, with a pitiful cunning, to thus avoid obeying any summons the King might send him.
About ten o'clock the dreaded message came, and Carlos sent back that he was too ill to leave his chamber.
To this there was no answer.
The Prince's household retired as usual, and he himself made the elaborate preparations for his safety during the night that, of late, he had never failed in; on the great chair with arms by his bed lay his dagger, his suit of chain armour, his sword, and a couple of loaded pistols.
Four lighted candles were placed on the table the other side of the bed, the windows were firmly fastened from the inside, and the door was secured by an elaborate apparatus invented by a Frenchman by which Carlos could lock or unlock, bolt or unbolt it by means of pulleys fastened to his bed.
Having examined all these defences and said his prayers with much devotion, Carlos again got into the large, heavily draped bed which stood out into the middle of the room between the two windows and facing the door.
As he had a mortal terror of the dark, the four candles, as well as the red lamp above the chimneypiece, were left burning.
Still the cold room was full of shadows, and each corner seemed a horrid black recess.
Carlos could not sleep nor rid himself of the sickly terror that eat at his heart; he sat up in bed and said his prayers again.
But this brought him no peace; he kept looking swiftly and fearfully round him, as if he expected some hateful object to materialize from the shadows.
It was very still and a wet night; Carlos could hear the rain dripping from the ledge above his window.
With a jealous eye he continually glanced at his weapons, as if he expected some invisible hand to snatch them away.
He was thinking of nothing definite; his whole being was wrapt in this atmosphere of apprehension and fear. His ears were straining for ominous sounds, his eyes dilating for suspicious sights.
Then suddenly, through the horrible despair and gloom of his thoughts, broke the lovely remembrance of the Archduchess Anne.
With a little cry of relief such as might be given by one who is lost and suddenly sees a light and a familiar face, he pulled at the chain on his breast and drew from beneath his silk shirt the picture of his cousin that he always wore next his heart.
Eagerly and long he gazed at the fair likeness he knew so well and so passionately adored, and it seemed to his poor, distracted mind as if she breathed peace and loveliness sufficient to sweeten even his miserable and unhappy life.
"Anne!" he cried, rocking himself to and fro "Anne!"
He hurled himself face downwards on the pillow and called on her again and again as a drowning mariner might call on the Mother of God to save him; for indeed she was the one thing to which he could turn in his fear and loneliness. The thought of her, the hope of her, and the kindness of the third Queen had been the only gentleness, the only beautiful things he had known in his few sad years.
"Anne!" he murmured. "Anne!"
He sat up, the red lamp casting a glow upon him, his shadow gigantic over the curtains of his bed, the picture held convulsively in his damp hands while he covered it with passionate kisses.
Then slowly he raised his head and listened.
There were footfalls without; light, hushed footfalls, yet unmistakable, and from under the door came a faint gleam of light.
Carlos shuddered but laughed too, for the door was secured beyond any man's strength by the levers and bolts that he had under his own control.
With every nerve alert he sat erect in bed, still grasping the portrait of his cousin, and waited.
There was a faint sound of metal meeting metal, the rattle of arms, the lift of voices, then the bolts sank into their sockets and the door opened, while the Infant frantically dragged at broken pulleys.
Carlos had been a second time betrayed; the man who had invented the apparatus had put it out of order, and at a touch on the door without it became useless.
At seeing himself thus defenceless Carlos shrieked aloud with a dismal wailing note that echoed in the ceiling.
A man entered carrying a lamp.
"Who is there?" cried Carlos.
"The Council of State!" came the answer.
The Infant saw that the man who spoke and who carried the light was the Duke of Feria; behind him a number of soldiers were visible, the dark face of the Prince of Eboli and the habit of the Prior of Atocha.
At sight of these two men, whom he considered, after the King, as his greatest enemies, Carlos shrieked again, and, leaping out of bed, endeavoured to seize his weapons.
But the Duke of Feria had already secured them and handed them to the lieutenant of the guard.
Now that the Prince was utterly helpless, another figure stepped from behind the others, a figure in a dressing-gown that flowed open on complete armour and wearing a light steel helmet.
Carlos stood face to face with his father. His teeth chattered and a bluish tinge overspread his features.
"Does your Majesty wish to kill me?" he asked.
"Get to your bed," returned Felipe coldly; "it is a chill night."
But Carlos snatched a dressing-gown from the chair, flung it over his shivering limbs, and sank on to the stool beside the bed.
"Secure the window and the fireplace," said the king, "and remove anything that might be used as a weapon."
Two of the guards entered, and under the Duke of Feria's orders proceeded to nail up the window and fasten boards over the fireplace.
The King, accompanied by the Prince of Eboli, searched the room in an intent silence; they found nothing worth their attention save a small box containing the Prince's papers.
Carlos sat motionless, his hands pressed over his face, his elbows on his knees; now and then a long shudder shook his bent body.
The King took no notice of him, only when he came upon the box of papers he asked his son in a matter-of-fact tone for the key, and the Infant took it from the same chain that held the Archduchess's portrait, and gave it him without a glance or a word, relapsing at once to his former attitude.
Don Felipe opened the casket.
The first paper he drew out was in the Prince's own writing, and contained two lists marked respectively "My Friends" and "My Enemies." The two names heading the first list were those of the Queen and Don Juan; under the second title appeared the King, the Prince of Eboli, and the Duke of Alba.
The King folded up this document without any comment, and placed it in the pocket of his dressing-gown. He then ordered Feria to take the casket to his apartment, where, he said, he would presently read the contents at his leisure.
The Prince seemed entirely careless of these proceedings; he remained in the one attitude almost like a creature without sense.
When the chamber had been carefully searched, and all the exits secured, Felipe, a grotesque-looking figure in the steel burgonet and damask dressing-gown, turned to his son.
"It is our pleasure that you remain a prisoner here," he said.
At these words the Prince roused from his position of inert despair into a frenzy of anguish. He sprang up and threw himself at the King's feet.
"Kill me rather than make me a prisoner!" he cried. "Nay, kill me!"
The King made no answer but regarded him thoughtfully.
Thereupon Carlos staggered to his feet, and tried to snatch at the dagger the lieutenant of the guards had in his belt, but the Prior, Don Antonio, seized him round the wrist and prevented him.
"If you do not kill me I will kill myself!" cried the wretched Infant, struggling in the Prior's grasp; "but I will not live your prisoner."
"To kill yourself would be the act of a madman," replied the King coldly.
"I am not mad," said Carlos with the energy of agony; "but driven desperate by the manner in which your Majesty has treated me."
"I have been too kind," answered Felipe drily, "too indulgent."
Carlos broke into passionate sobs.
"My God, my God! if ever You loved me," he exclaimed, "save me now from this man!"
In a hoarse voice torn with sobs he vehemently complained of the King's harshness, and inveighed against his present treatment.
Felipe stood immovable by the foot of the bed.
"I have been too kind," he repeated.
For a while the Infant sobbed in silence, and in silence the King looked on, while the guards filled the doorway, and Eboli, Feria, and the Prior stood gathered together in one corner of the chamber, somehow shuddering secretly, for the two thus opposed were father and son, and it was very plain what the end would be, at least to these three who knew the temper of the King.
Presently the Prince looked up, and stared straight into his father's dull grey eyes that were fixed on him with a penetrating stare. An evil flame sprang up in his own, and hate gazed at hate, bare and unconcealed.
No veil, no barrier, no pretence, no convention softened, concealed, or disguised the sheer fact of the hate there was between these two; to the very soldiers, impassive at the door, it was a thing obvious and acclaimed. And with the hate of Felipe was mingled triumph, rendering it more terrible, and with the hate of Carlos was mingled fear. Yet he kept his eyes unflinchingly on his father's face, even though his body shrank. At last he drew back his lip from his teeth and spoke.
"My father," he said in a terrible tone of despair.
"Henceforth," answered Felipe, "I am not your father, but your King."
The Infant remained silent; the gleam and strength of passion vanished from his pale features, which became dull with a look near idiocy; he sat, drooping forward, and pulled at his fingers.
"God pity you," said Felipe coldly, "and give you repentance."
Carlos did not look up, and the King left him, leaving Eboli in charge of the prisoner.
It was not yet late and the King and his escort met Juan returning to his apartment. Felipe stopped and took his brother affectionately by the shoulder.
"The Infant's establishment is broken up," he said. "I will divide his horses between you and the Archdukes. You always admired Darius, the white stallion, did you not?"
Juan looked at him but could not speak.
The King continued with almost eager affection.
"Don Garcia de Toledo is returning from Sicily; he is old and has resigned his post. I will give it to you, brother, and you shall be Commander-in-Chief of the Fleets of Spain. And I will send you against the Turks that you may gain glory."
And while Felipe spake Juan could hear the mad screams of Carlos echoing from behind his guarded doors.
Don Juan of Austria was cruising along the shores of Spain, with the intention both of meeting the fleet, expected from the Indies and frightening the Barbary rovers that continually made descents upon the coasts.
It was early September, and his voyage had nearly come to an end. He had reviewed the moles, the harbours, and the fortifications of most of the towns he had passed, had recaptured a Spanish merchantman from two Turkish galliots in the creek of Los Trifolques, had inspected the new defences at Oban and Marca-el-Quibio, touched at Carthagena, Denia, Nica, and Mallovca, receiving at all these places a princely welcome.
Sailing by Peniscola for Barcelona he heard that a large Turkish squadron were making for Apula, and he dispatched some reinforcements to aid Andrea Doria, the Genoese Admiral, who stood for Christendom in those waters that separate Europe from Africa.
This afternoon of brilliant sun the young Admiral stood on one of the gun decks of his lofty ship and looked out across the sea.
Above him the massive poop and forecastle rose majestically into the blue air; the masts and riggings stood high and bare, for the sails were furled, the ship being at anchor in Barcelona harbour.
As Juan looked out to sea he could behold the rest of his fleet lying motionless on the still waters of the unruffled ocean—galleasses, brigantines, galleys, and frigates at anchor and fluttering with little flags. He rested his elbow on one of the large pieces of artillery that armed the gun-deck. He wore a light chain cuirass, a carelessly folded crimson scarf and great trunk breeches of olive-green embroidered with gold.
He had removed his elegant burgonet with the long red plume, and the clean fine air that blew off the sea fanned his upcurling hair and his face that was now tanned to an almost Oriental darkness of complexion; round his throat was a deep ruff of thin points of lace, and he wore the chain of jewels presented to him by his sister, Juana, the Princess of the Brazils, on the occasion of the baptism of the last Infanta.
Near the Admiral stood his secretary, Juan de Quiroga, holding a letter that fluttered, a white length, in his slim dark hands.
Over him lay the shadow cast by the dome of the projecting woodwork of the forecastle, but Juan stood in the full blaze of the sun that gleamed on the steel rims of the gun and the thousand interlaced rings that composed his mail corselet.
Quiroga was reading a letter from the Prince of Parma. When he had finished he folded it up, and stood waiting his master's instructions. He was a creature of the Prince of Eboli, and sent with the young Admiral as a spy upon his actions. Felipe always kept a watch even on those he did not suspect. Juan was aware of this, and had already schooled himself to that Castilian reserve that betrayed nothing, and might equally cover stupidity or deep design.
He maintained his gravity now, though the news Quiroga read aloud had shocked and startled him.
"So the Infant is dead," he said, still keeping his eyes on the brilliancy of the sea, "and the Prince of Parma does not say of what disease?
"Nay, Excellency," returned the secretary, "but in the dispatches of His Majesty that I delivered you this morning it was mentioned that His Highness took a surfeit of green fruit and partridge pie and died of it."
"Since he was a close prisoner," said Juan, "doubtless it will be difficult to know the exact manner of his death."
"The Prince of Eboli warns your Excellency that it is not a matter that can be spoken of openly—so painful is it to His Majesty."
Juan glanced at his secretary; his full golden brown eyes showed no emotion.
"What great interest should this sad news hold for me, Quiroga?" he asked pleasantly.
The secretary bowed his assent.
"There will not be many to mourn the Infant, I fear," he remarked; "but these advices from Madrid do say that the Queen has fallen mighty sick of grief."
"Heaven preserve the Queen!" said Juan fervently, "and may she live to give the King an heir in place of the Prince he has lost!"
"Amen," responded Quiroga piously.
"Answer the lesser of those letters, and presently I will reply to the King and the Prince of Parma with my own hand. I owe His Majesty an account of my cruise."
Thus dismissed, the secretary took the correspondence below, and Juan moved to the deep gilded rail of the ship's side and gazed down into the vivid purple waters that lapped in crystal edged waves below him.
So Carlos was dead.
He had died a prisoner in his own rooms, which he had never left since that night in January, when his father had arrested him in his bed.
He had died in the guardianship of the Prince of Eboli, his bitterest enemy; died, no doubt, in horror and despair.
Here in the glorious light and air, surrounded by sea and sun and the proud ships of Spain; here under the sweet open sky, it was difficult to picture that dark room in the palace at Madrid where Carlos had died, difficult to realize the confinement, the gloom, the monotony of that short but sad imprisonment.
Juan recalled the time of the Prince's sickness at Alcalā, the close chamber, the perfumes of the drugs, the ominous figures of the priests and doctors, and the distorted form of the Infant as he lay on the glittering coverlet of his bed, revealed in his deformity, clutching with convulsive and senseless fingers the boxwood case that contained the portrait of the Archduchess Anne.
And now he was laid in his shroud, some monk's habit, with eyes and lips sealed for ever by the finger of Death, and a crucifix lying where once his wild and wilful heart had beaten.
Juan wondered if anyone had placed in his dead hand the likeness of the woman whom he loved but had never seen. It was not probable, for he had died surrounded by enemies.
A horror was upon Juan. He recalled the unhappy Prince's last words to himself—words of insult and reproach; they lurked in his heart like the echoes of an ill-omen.
Carlos had known that he was trapped to his death; that night he had gone furious and shuddering to his fate, accusing Juan as a traitor.
And Juan could not feel wholly at ease in this matter, though no action of his could have stayed the King's vengeance from falling on his son, and though to have aided the Infant would have been disloyal ingratitude that would only have meant his own ruin. Still there was the fact that Carlos had loved him, had trusted him, and he had helped deliver him into the King's hands, delivered him, now the hideous truth was clear, obviously to death.
And by this means he had bought the favour and confidence of Felipe as in no other way he could have secured it; he occupied one of the finest positions in the kingdom, and the way looked fair and open to those ultimate glories that his soul longed for so passionately.
Yet he wished that the deformed corpse of Carlos had not been one of the stepping-stones to this greatness.
As he stood now alone leaning over the side of the great ship in the almost unbearable radiance of the noontide, the sea-birds flashing among the cordage, the Spanish flag above him, before him the fleet resting on their gilded shadows, behind the white palaces of Barcelona rising from among palm, pine, cypress, and myrtle, he thought again of Doņa Aņa and meditated on what she would say if this action of his in the matter of the Infant was reported to her; would she not think him smirched? Yet how idle to refer himself to a mere shadow, to a woman he would never see again, to a creature who had always seemed composed of fancies and moonbeams!
He saw now how true her words were; she knew much wisdom in her cloistered innocence.
"When you find the blue rose on a living tree you will return," she had said. And this was how it must be; his path had turned sharply away from Doņa Aņa; he was the King's brother and the King's servant, and his destiny was glittering; the dream-world of peace and simplicity into which he had for a few moments entered in her gracious company had now vanished for ever.
Nor would he ever find it again. He knew that.
As he stared down into the brilliant waters, sorrow enveloped his heart, a nameless regret; he wished Carlos had not died, he wished he had not lost Doņa Aņa.
There were other women as fair, as he had since discovered, and there must be women as good (what, after all, did he know of the daughter of Santofimia?); nor was he one likely to be denied in his wooing wherever he might besiege a lady's heart; yet he regretted Doņa Aņa.
No one had spoken to him as she had; he felt that, despite the flattery that was now his daily food. No one had so truly admired him as she, or so sincerely loved him.
Loved him—the reflection sent a delicate shiver through his veins; in some strange way, known only to women, she had truly loved him, loved him beyond all, and was content to live and worship his memory.
He wondered if she was married; he hoped that she would take the veil; he wanted to keep her praying for him, loving him always.
He would be Infant of Castile, a king; he would wed with royal blood and the world should ring with his name; but he wanted to think of Doņa Aņa, immaculate, consecrated to him, always there besieging God with pure petitions for his prospects.
He knew that he could never go back to her nor send her word nor sign, and he counted this as honour in himself since he said in his heart he valued her above the mere plaything any woman, save a princess, must henceforth be to him. Yet though she must wait without the comfort of even a message and live the life of a nun in the house at Alcalā, spurning all gallants for his sake, he did not doubt that she would fulfil this test; he could not doubt, it seemed to him blasphemy.
"You do not love her," the Queen had said. He wondered; surely if he had loved her he would have gone back at whatever cost to herself and him; at least he had never loved anyone more, but he could conceive a different strength of passion.
He fell to pacing the deck, regardless of the burning power of the sun; he wished he could forget this woman; he wished he could forget Carlos thrusting the diamond into his hand and embracing him warmly in congratulation of his appointment—for these remembrances were weaknesses in one who was vowed to serve God—and Felipe of Spain.
His Confessor had told him that he committed no sin, nay, had praised his loyalty to the King; why, then, should he feel remorseful over an action God's mouthpiece had assured him was just and right?
He went up on to the forecastle that rose up like a fortress armed with great guns and manned with sentries. His second in command, Don Luis de Resquesens y Zuniga, Grand Commander of Santiago, was there inspecting the guns; he greeted Don Juan with that respectful deference that had not yet become so stale to the youthful Admiral as to fail to thrill him with pleasure, though none could have guessed it from his haughty yet charming demeanour.
"Seņor," he said, "it is my purpose to return to Madrid. For the present there is nothing to be done in these waters. The Turks threaten Sicily and the Moors rise in Granada. The news I hold to-day advises me that in these two countries there is much to fear from the Morisco."
He paused and fixed his beautiful eyes intently on the stately countenance of his Vice-Admiral.
"The Lord," answered Resquesens, leaning against one of the cannons, "has prepared much work for the faithful, Excellency."
Juan gave his sweet and frequent smile.
"Seņor," he said, "could not a Prince gain great honour by volunteering against the Morisco?"
"If he was successful," replied the Vice-Admiral with courteous caution.
Juan's beautiful smile deepened.
"Ah, he would be successful, seņor. Who would not be successful did he go with the blessing of the Holy Father and Almighty God against these wretches, these infidels, who are only worthy to be swept from the earth as dust is swept forth from a chamber?"
"The Marquis of Mondejar is employed in suppressing the Morisco," said Resquesens, evasively watching the lightly clad gunners who were testing the artillery.
"He is but unwillingly obeyed and does not command much success," replied Juan, still smiling.
"Why, what is in the mind of your Excellency?" asked the Vice-Admiral, who knew well enough but wished Juan to put it into words himself.
The Admiral answered simply:—
"My nature leads me to these pursuits and I would volunteer to the King to go and stamp out this uprising in Granada."
Resquesens looked at him reflectively.
"Surely you might that way gain a name famous throughout the world," he said, considering intently the beautiful and animated youth who spoke.
"That is my hope," admitted Juan, "and therefore I wish to hasten to Madrid to lay this petition before the King."
He paused a moment and fingered the dagger that was thrust between the embroidered lacings of his breeches.
"It was my intention," he added, "to spend this Lent in penitence and fasting at Alrojo. I have a particular friendship with a friar, one Juan de Calahona, at the monastery of Santa Maria de Scala-coeli, and there I would have put in some while in retreat."
He paused again and his sunburnt fingers still played aimlessly on the long quillions of the dagger.
"But mayhap I should serve God better against the Morisco," he added, as if speaking to himself and with his eyes an the bright colours of the sea, "than by telling my beads, which any lame beggar may do after all."
"It is a noble enterprise that your Excellency proposes," said the Vice-Admiral.
Juan made no answer; he walked about looking at the guns and watching the men who were tending them, then suddenly returned to where Resquesens stood and halting before him said abruptly:—
"Do you know that the Infant is dead?"
For a moment the Vice-Admiral could not catch his meaning.
"Dead?" he repeated. "The Infant?"
"Dead," said Juan, laconically.
He was gazing at a little brigantine that with her single sail spread was bearing before the breeze from one part of the fleet to another, and passing the flagship close.
"The Infant Carlos!" exclaimed Resquesens, much shocked.
"He died young," said Juan, "and by his own folly."
The brigantine dipped past and disappeared round the lantern of the great ship.
"You see why I would pass my Lent in penitence," added Juan, gloomily. "I would make oblation for the soul of the Infant Carlos."
Resquesens glanced at him curiously.
"The King's service comes first," he said.
"Yes," answered Juan. "Therefore I thought that I would go to Granada."
He stood for a while silent and the Vice-Admiral moved about his duty.
Then the secretary came to them, heated from hurrying and bearing a letter.
The little brigantine had brought it from Barcelona, where a messenger had just ridden from Madrid with it, hot on the heels of him who brought the news of the Infant's death.
"It is from the King," said Quiroga, and he handed it unopened to Juan.
"Another letter from the King!" exclaimed the young Admiral softly.
His blood beat with he knew not what excitement as he broke the seal; but after his eyes had glanced over the contents he glanced up with a face strangely lifeless.
"Resquesens!" he cried. "Resquesens!"
The Vice-Admiral hastened to him.
"Resquesens, the Queen is dead. The Queen is on a sudden dead."
"God save us all!" The other crossed himself. "She died a saint. But you look stricken, Excellency. In truth this heavy news was expected."
Juan said no other word, he moved away; who was he to question and pry into the King's motives—into the King's tragedies? She had died as she had predicted, even as Carlos had died as he had foreseen.
He went to the rail where the great guns pointed out to sea.
Elizabeth, the fair French Queen, was dead. Her gentle face, her sweet converse, her friendly warnings would no more lighten the Escorial, which was now her tomb, for Juan.
He felt that a part of his life was over; he gazed long and deeply down into the sea that bathed the rich side of the ship with translucent waves, then suddenly drew a small object from the satchel that hung at his side and cast it away from him and watched it fall into the brilliant waves.
It was a blue velvet rose, crumpled and crushed.
Juan watched it, a speck in the sea; for a while it floated, then a wave dashed it up and sucked it under; it was swirled under the ship and disappeared for ever.
On the 14th of August, 1571, a ceremony, unique in magnificence and symbolic of the most powerful combination of Christian powers since the days of the early Crusaders, was taking place in the church of Santa Chiara in Naples, the capital of the southern dependencies of Spain. For here was being celebrated the completion of the Holy League, at the formation of which the fierce little Pope, Pius V, had been labouring for many years.
Despite delays, obstacles, difficulties innumerable, Spain, Venice, Genoa, Savoy, and the Knights of Malta had now joined the league the Pope had formed against the Turk, and the other great Catholic powers, France, the Emperor, and Portugal had sent their good will, though poverty and internal strife forbade them to actively take part in the blessed enterprise.
On this day following the feast of Saint Laurence who was one of the favourite saints of the House of Austria, the Banner of the Holy League, the Pope's gift and by him solemnly blessed, was to be presented by the hands of Cardinal Granvelle, Viceroy of Naples, to the Prince whom Felipe and the Pope had chosen to lead the forces of Spain, that by the bond of the Holy League, were engaged to make their first attack on the infidel no later than the next autumn. This commander who was, as the representative of the mightiest of the Christian allies, the chief of the entire League, and who largely owed his elevation to this post to the request in his favour Pius had made to Felipe, was Don Juan of Austria, then in his twenty-second year; he had already distinguished himself by the fierce reprisals he had taken on the Morisco when putting down the late rebellion in Granada where ruin and desolation now showed that a fair land had suffered the wrath of God and Felipe.
In the great Franciscan church of low arches, gilt pillars, and painted ceilings was gathered the flower of that Christendom that had undertaken to fight the Turk and infidel.
Before the altar where the host was enshrined in blazing gold and amid a forest of candles enclosed by four twisted pillars of crushed marble and gilt, sat Cardinal Granvelle wearing the full panoply of his holy rank, the mitre on his head, his gray beard flowing over the glitter of his light crimson silk robes.
His left hand rested on his lap and in his right he grasped the staff of the Papal banner that hung, in the close, breezeless air, heavy to its pole.
Yet in the rich folds of blue damask the elaborate symbolism with which it was emblazoned could be traced.
In the centre was a crucifix, finely wrought in delicate detail; beneath were the bearings of the Pope, crimson bars on an argent field, the lion with the book of the Venetian Republic, the complicated quarterings of Don Felipe, chief of the mighty House of Austria, and below these the eagles, the crowned lion, the castle, and the bars that composed the escutcheon borne by Don Juan as a son of the great Emperor.
The recipient of this gift and the focus of the gaze of the thrilled and brilliant assembly knelt on a purple cushion with four gold tassels that was placed immediately below the altar step on which the Cardinal's seat stood.
He had his hands folded on his breast and his head was bent; a white velvet mantle lined with gold hung from his shoulders, his dress was of crimson tissue on gold threads and sparkled with diamond buttons; a ruff embroidered with minute pearls stood out round his face; a crimson scarf concealed the blaze of the toison d'orthat caught and threw back the glitter of the light from the candles on the altar. His bonnet with a long white plume lay on the ground beside him, and a large and richly ornamented sword hung at his side.
He looked very young, almost childish; a ray of sun from an upper window rested on his fair hair, but his pale yet dark face was in shadow and his eyes downcast.
The church was hushed in a profound silence; all the jewelled figures held themselves motionless; the only moving things were the slow curls of blue incense that rose from the censers and filled the dun-coloured air with a sombre fragrance.
Then the Spanish Cardinal spoke; his heavy-toned voice rang fully and evenly down the aisles of the splendid church.
His old, wise, and hollowed eyes dwelt steadily on the slight, gorgeous figure before him; a smiling gravity lay on his lips.
"Take, fortunate Prince." he said, "this banner bearing these emblems of the Word made flesh, these symbols of the true Faith, and may they give thee a glorious victory over our impious enemy, and by thy hand may his pride be laid low!"
"Amen," murmured Juan. He put out his hand and grasped the slender pole of the banner below the Cardinals hold on it, and the assembled crowd thundered "Amen!"
Juan rose and went backwards from the altar; the blue folds of the banner flushing with the varied hues of the quarterings they bore fell from above his head to below his feet, and the two golden tassels that fastened it at the top beneath the spear-head of the pole swung wide as he tilted it with his movement.
No more graceful or noble figure could have been chosen to carry the standard of Christendom, no more gracious and splendid-looking knight could have been discovered had the world been searched for one of a beautiful and princely carriage. Though encumbered with the mighty flag he bent his knee to the ground before the Eucharist, then, for the first time since the ceremony began, he raised his head and looked round the multitude who were all gazing at him.
A deep flush overspread his features, a smile hovered on his lips, and his eyes were bright as swords.
With the banner in his right hand and the left resting on his sword, he moved slowly across the marble pavement of the church towards the great portal, his white mantle trailing on the ground behind him and a page following with his bonnet.
Inside the holy building he passed in a hush of silence, but when he reached the outer air and stood bareheaded in the Italian sun a deep and triumphant shout rose from the throats of the press of people who were gathered round the church steps waiting for him.
A breeze, laden with the odours of the lemon groves of Posilipo, suddenly caught the resplendent standard and blew it wide out beside the young Prince, so that its blazonry was displayed in full, and everyone in the crowd could feast his eyes on the tortured Christ above the pageantry of the arms of the Pope, of Venice, of Spain, and of Don Juan.
As the halberdiers moved the people back with their tasselled weapons and the young commander slowly descended, a frenzy of acclamation assailed his ears; clusters of late roses bound with gilt ribbons were flung at him, sprays of laurel with the round berries, scarlet pomegranate blossoms and fragrant trails of jasmine, so that he stepped on flowers, and at every turn was pelted with flowers, and felt them, sharp with perfume, against his face and his hands as he came down from the Church of Santa Chiara bearing the Pope's holy banner.
He did not enter Cardinal Granvelle's coach, as he had done three days before when arriving at Naples, but mounted a fair Barbary steed, pure white in colour, and adorned with a rare set of horse furniture in damascened gold and steel, a gift from his cousin, the Archduke Rudolf, the Emperor's eldest son.
A leathern socket had been provided for the standard that Juan, still bareheaded, and managing his horse adroitly, bore slowly through the hot streets and quays at the head of a brilliant procession of nobles, all armed and pledged against the Turk.
The houses were hung with silk arras from roof to pavement; flags bearing Latin mottoes in his honour waved from the arched white windows and from the wide balconies; steadily came the soft sweet showers of flowers till his way was marked by bruised blossoms and the air was heavy with the richness of their dying breaths.
He smiled to right and left; he smiled at all the world, at the soldiers, peasants, beggars, priests, citizens who crowded the streets and lined the harbour quays.
All was gold to him, pure gold; sky and sea and earth and people; he was giddy with gold, giddy with ambition, with pride, with power, with youth.
The standard blew and flapped in the strong sea breeze that sprang from the purple waves that danced to the glimmering horizon and beat at the sides of the anchored fleets of Spain and the Italian Republics; then Juan turned away from the quays to reach the palace where he lodged, and as he turned the banner struggled before, floating its rich length up the shadowed street, and he exerted his strength to hold it in.
The street was narrow, and he had to ride directly under the balconies of the tall painted houses from which ladies and children were hurling flowers at him, and even bonbons and phials of sweet essences.
He looked up at them, and, as he had no cap to lift, he waved his hand in graceful salute.
Then the breeze changed or fell, and the standard blew back towards him, and clung to the marble cornice of a balcony. Juan drew rein and was about to call his page to help him disentangle the flag when it was suddenly loosened from the balcony and cast free from the pale creepers and hanging curtain of deep crimson roses that streamed over the pale yellow marble front of the palace.
"Thank you, seņora," said Juan, and he looked at the lady who had stepped from the window to assist him.
She was leaning over the slender marble pillars of the balcony, her bare arms a warm whiteness against cold whiteness; her figure was voluptuous and noble and she was dressed in the rich fashion of the South, full and falling brocades in place of the Spanish stiffness.
He noticed this fashion of her gown and how the crimson colour of it showed against the crimson of the roses, different and yet alike, even as her arms, from which the heavy sleeves slipped, showed against the marble.
He saw her hair, gold in a gold net, and her face and her throat, and the pleated lawn on her bosom, and it seemed to him as if she were the first woman he had ever looked at.
She gazed down at him and said not one word; they seemed to be in a great amaze at each other; a long curl of her hair blew across her eyes that were blue, not with the colour of sky or sea or any flower or gem, but with a hue that was perfect and alone.
Juan rode on.
He called up a Neapolitan noble who rode close behind him.
"Who is she?" he asked, and looked back to mark the house.
She was gone, but in one glance he committed her residence to memory—white and yellow marble with a raised garden at the side, tall windows with clustered pillars (three gathered together like the truncheon of his triple command), and in the garden a white antique statue of bright smoothness gleaming behind the large dusty fanlike leaves of a giant palm.
"Who is she?" he asked again.
The Neapolitan had not seen the lady, but the house, he said, belonged to the Falanga, a noble family.
"Have they a daughter?" asked Juan.
"Two daughters, Excellency. Sezafina and Diana."
"I have seen no fairer face," said Juan, "nor in Italy nor in all the world."
"The ladies I speak of are well known for their beauty, Excellency, and have been queens of more tourneys than I could name."
"Are they unwed?"
"Yes, because their father is a proud man and poor, and hopes to win wealth with these two damsels, and it is not easy, Excellency, to catch a good match even with a fair woman if she have empty pockets."
"Ah ambitious!" said Juan, and he smiled. No more he looked to right and left and returned the glances and greetings of the ladies of Naples at their windows and on their balconies waiting to do him honour, nor did he even gaze on the mighty blue banner that he grasped; the golden day had opened like a flower discovering an even more brilliant gold at the heart; the glories had parted over a greater glory, the lady on the balcony of the Falanga house.
When he reached the palace of Cardinal Granvelle where he lodged and resigned the holy standard to the oratory where it was to stay, closely guarded night and day, until it was unfurled at the prow of the Admiral's ship, he hastened to his chamber to prepare himself for the feast and masked ball that the city of Naples was giving in his honour.
The sun sunk in crimson fires, and the clear purple of evening settled over the white city, the blue sea, the groves of olive, pine and cypress, the gardens filled with flowers, the harbours where the Christian galleys waited the word of command to sail against the Turk.
A rich dew fell and a thousand stars glowed above the land and water; a beautiful coolness tempered the great heat of the day, a pure breeze, opulent from the vineyards of Etna, stirred the black boughs of cypress and pine, shook the slack sails of the galleys that began to hang out great lanterns at their poops, and lifted the curtains that fell before the open windows of the palace where hundreds of candles lit alabaster and coloured marble, jewels and gold, and the flashing ornaments of the women who moved to and fro among the soldiers of the Holy League.
But the gardens were unlit save by the stars, and those who wandered there could not see each other's faces nor guess at each other's figures.
Like night moths they moved to and fro among the sweet shrubs, the oleander, the myrtle, and the laurel; now and then their voices rose against the music of harp and viol that came from within, then died away like a sigh on the wind as they sank to whispers.
Through these figures moved the young commander of the forces of Christendom, a black mask on his face, a black mantle the shape of those worn by the Venetian nobility about his shoulders, his hand lightly on his dagger, and his eyes watchfully turned to right and left through the lovely dusk.
Music, played to an intoxicating measure, filled the night for him; the nightingales of Alcalā had sung poorly compared to this, and the rustle of the chestnut leaves by which he climbed to the window of Aņa de Santofimia had been faint indeed in comparison to the sound of these pines and poplars that whispered so passionately soft in their high boughs.
He had evaded his servants, his friends; he moved out of the circle of light the torches at the entrance of the garden cast, he stepped lightly into the starlit street.
The echoes of the day's triumph seemed to still linger in the warm air; Juan's ears rang with the sound of bells, of acclamations, with the applause of the women, the shouts of the soldiers, the sonorous words of the Cardinal.
He turned the way he had ridden that afternoon; the ground was still strewn with the crushed flowers flung for him; he felt them soft beneath his feet.
He hastened on until he reached the yellow and white marble palace hung with crimson roses where the daughter of Falanga dwelt. And there he stopped and knocked with his dagger at the door at the top of the winged steps which led into the raised garden.
He suddenly knew why the blue moon mist had been created, why the stars had been lit and the dark trees sent upwards above the flowers; he knew why the roses and myrtle bloomed and had an exquisite perfume: it was all that they might fittingly crown moments such as these when man was caught up in a gold cloud and was no longer a common creature.
She came to the garden door herself; she carried no lamp, the risen moon was her torch and lent her a crystal radiance that showed her fully revealed in the square doorway.
For the first time he heard her voice; she spoke in Italian.
"The Prince?" she breathed. "Don Giovanni?"
He took the mask from his face, and they stood gazing at each other as they had gazed that afternoon when she had loosened his banner from her balcony.
"Will you enter?" she said. "Do you come to me now of all seasons—the night of your triumph?"
Without a word he passed through the narrow doorway and stood beside her; the garden was brimful of sweet scents that gathered within the walls like nectar in an alabaster cup; the long plumes of the tamarisk floated out above the door and made a mist against the stars.
There were no nightingales as in Alcalā, but the murmurous stillness was more marvellous than their song.
"I come without ceremony, but I am a knight. You may admit me without fear of discourteous behaviour."
He spoke her language haltingly, yet to her ears he bruised sweetness from it.
She closed the door.
"Don Giovanni!" she repeated.
"Give me your name," he said, "that I may honour it."
The lady answered so slow that her words scarcely stirred the heavy air.
"I am Diana di Falanga," she replied. "My father and my sister are at the feast they give for you."
"I looked for you," he whispered.
"I waited here," she answered simply. "I thought—unless all my lore is wrong he will come, yes, though he is Don Giovanni and I am nothing. But I used no philters, Prince," she added gravely.
"You looked at me," said Juan.
She was looking at him now as she stood before him in her simple dove gown and veil; her garments fell unfettered to her feet, she seemed to wear no jewels; the lines of her figure were uncertain, her face faint; he could see that her throat was bare and that her hair was bound in a silver comb.
"How did you know that it was I who knocked?" asked Juan.
"No one else would dare," she answered quietly.
"And you would not be waiting for any one else?" he whispered.
"There is no one else," she said. "You are Don Giovanni."
They looked at each other and both laughed sweetly. She turned down one of the paths that was flagged with marble and he followed, his mask in his hand.
Presently she reached the end of the garden, where a low semicircular seat was fixed against the wall, curtained by the shade of the cypress-trees that rose up behind it into the sky that was now filled with the misty silver of the climbing moon.
By this seat grew many flowers; the shape and colour could be dimly discerned as they nodded through the bushes or waved from the grass.
And behind was the white dimness of the statue Juan had noticed gleaming from the garden in the blaze of the noonday sun.
Diana seated herself and leant back against the marble.
"I thought you would come when I saw you look back," she said.
"You were not on the balcony," answered Juan.
"No, Signor, but I watched you from behind the window."
He seated himself on the marble step at her feet and cast down his mask; he took the end of her veil and pressed it to his lips.
"I wished to speak to you before we sailed for Sicily," he said. "I love you. I have never loved before. Diana, will you be in Naples on my return?"
"Where else?" she replied; "though I am not so well guarded as your Spanish maidens, yet I have no chance to leave my father's house—alas!"
"Why 'alas!' Diana?"
He was looking up at her, and she leant a little towards him, her chin propped on her hand, her elbow on her crossed knees.
"Because if I were free I would go with you to Sicily—yea, even in the garb of a blackamoor boy and wait on you and hold your armour while you fought."
"Why, this is love!" cried Juan.
"This is love," she answered.
"I shall return a conqueror," he said. "I shall smite the Turk to nothing."
"Aye, you will," she replied. "But will you come back to me?"
Across his present passion, his exaltation, his triumph (which was so great that it seemed to him as if he might have reached up and touched the stars) came a pale vision of that other woman who had said those words; but that had been a childish fancy, and Aņa de Santofimia was not fit to be the waiting woman of Diana di Falanga.
"You know I shall come back if you bid me," he said through his teeth; "but you speak coldly. I do not believe that you love me—"
"Do you think that I am to be had cheaply? My love is not a common gift," he answered proudly.
"Nor mine," she said. "For one hour will I sit with you here and you shall not move from my feet. Then, if you would see me again you shall besiege me with more pains than you will need to gain Tunis."
"Yet you say you love me?"
"Were you here else?"
"Maybe that is because you like to see the Pope's Captain bow to you."
"Maybe," she said, and fixed her eyes on the moon that had now floated clear of the tamarisk bushes.
"Come," said Juan hoarsely, "prove you love me. I am the Emperor's son, the King's brother—do not despise me."
"You are my lover!" she said, without looking a him, "and that is all I care for—"
"Seņora, if I am here to be mocked at—"
"Then look at me," he said eagerly. "Let me sit beside you. Prove that you love me; give me your hands."
Diana did not move.
"You may kiss my shoe," she answered him.
He laughed angrily.
"Proud girl, your cobbler can have that favour from you!"
He made as if to rise; she turned now and looked at him.
"Rise and go, my lord. But if you stay, stay at my feet. This is my hour and I will it so."
Juan caught her veil again and pressed it with feverish lips; the blood was heating giddily in his head.
"Ah, strange and sweet!" he murmured. "You know you have me in your power."
"For a while, yes," she answered under her breath, "but I shall have a short reign. I think Almighty God did not make you constant, Prince."
"He made me a lover of fair women," said Juan, "and a loyal knight."
"How long will you love me?" she asked slowly.
"For ever—for you are Love."
"Speak without subtlety. How long will you love me?"
"Some day I shall be old."
"Then love will be old, too."
"Oh, what a dream is there!" she cried, "a life of love and loyalty. If we were peasants now and might be wed by the old priest after the vintage is over, and then go and live together for the rest of our days."
"I could be a peasant on those terms," said Juan.
"Nay," answered Diana, "you would not give up one sparkle of the glory you have, or hope to gain, for Venus herself."
"Truly I am made for glory, but love and glory are one."
"Oh, never!" she exclaimed. "You will be a king, will you not, Giovanni?"
"Yea, the Pope has promised me the first kingdom I conquer from the Infidel."
"Then you will wed a Queen—"
He interrupted her.
"You torture me. Is not this time ours?"
But she would not listen to him.
"Tell me," she insisted, "is it not true that they scheme to wed you to Maria, the Queen of Scotland?"
"Think you that I wish to speak of the Queen of Scots now?"
"Is it true?"
"And would you take her?"
"Dios! I should have no choice."
"It would be a great match."
"I will be her servant that I may see you sometimes!"
"You constant lady! You do love me then?"
"Yes. I love you."
"Let me kiss your hands at least. See, I am stiff from kneeling at your feet."
"Nothing," she said, "nothing from me now, Don Giovanni. When you return and you remember me and want me and can fetch me, I am yours—"
He delicately lifted the hem of her gown from her raised foot and kissed the soft leather of her shoe.
"So you share favours with the cobblers after all!" she exclaimed in an unsteady voice. She stooped and laid her hands on his shoulders; he shuddered to the centre of his heart at this gentle pressure of her fingers that he felt through his embroidered doublet.
"Why have you come in this mourning dress?" she whispered.
"I would be dark and unobserved. You, too, are not in gala attire."
"Would you have me decked out with gauds as if to lure your favour?"
"No, Diana," he answered brokenly. "You have worked enough mischief with me."
The moon was now full on her; he could see every fold of her gown, the poise of her head, the fall of her shoulders and her clear shadow across the white marble. She gazed at him long and passionately. Her hands fell from his shoulders and she leant back in the hollow curve of the marble seat.
"Are you happy?" he asked suddenly.
"Ah!" she sighed. "No."
"Diana, you shall be happy."
"That I can never be," she said. "While love is not one with honour. I am of a noble House."
Juan was silent.
"But we have come together," she continued, "like two leaves the breeze casts against each other on an autumn day. It was no fault of yours or mine that your banner caught on my balcony, that you looked up and I looked down. No fault of either, I say. Ah, Giovanni, Giovanni, I am yours as easily as the ripe peach whose stalks break at your touch, and if you despise such easy delights you must cast me down, as the spoilt fruit is cast for flies to eat."
"Almighty God, hear me," he said strongly, "hear me now that I will come back for you. I will take you before all Naples."
He rose and stood before her, blotting out the moonlight from her with his shadow.
"There is no other thing to do," he said fiercely, "for I will not forgo you."
"I will be here," was all she answered.
The bell of a convent near by chimed the hourly mass, a bat flew past and each started and drew back.
"Now you shall go. And if you return a victor I shall be among your trophies."
"And if I lose?"
"You will not lose!"
"Ah, Diana! You believe in me? Yet—if I am affronted by defeat?"
"Surely I shall find you, wherever you are!"
"Why do you send me away?" he asked hoarsely, taking a step towards her.
"Ah, go," she whispered. "This cannot be endured!"
"No, by Heaven, it cannot be endured. Do you not see that my senses break? How shall I turn my steps away from you?"
She shrank against the corner of the marble seat.
"I send you away," she said in a broken voice, "that you may return. I bid you go that I may think upon you coming, and I shall think of nothing else. Oh, Dio! leave me!"
"May I take your hand? May I kiss your mouth?"
She shook her head dumbly.
Juan drew his mantle about him and picked up the mask from where it had fallen.
"You would be loved as a saint not as a woman," he said in an uneven voice; "but if I am slain you will be sorry that you denied me."
Her hands crept to her breast.
"If you are slain," she repeated. "If you are slain—"
He turned on her with a sudden bare passion.
"I will be glorious or I will die. Do not think to see me come back a discredited commander flying before the Turks. Dios! I take that banner into victory or it may serve me as my pall. I willsucceed—or not live to hear the pity of mankind."
"How could you fail?" she said.
"There is a devil," he said.
He stepped lightly up to her and stood so close that she could feel his breath stir her veil.
"You are mine," he added swiftly. "You will keep yourself for me. Untouched as I leave you. I must find you. You will give no favours to any other man; no, not a glance or a knot from your gown in the tourney play. You will go veiled in the streets, and if any beset you, you will go into a convent and there wait for me. Swear this?"
She shrank before him.
"Is this a matter for oaths?" she faltered.
"Would you madden me? Swear, I say—nor think to deceive me," he added passionately, "for I can very well distinguish lies."
"What humour is this!" she exclaimed fearfully. "I am yours—could I play with false words to you?"
"Then swear," said Juan, breathing hard.
She was trembling; she clasped her hands tightly.
"I swear," she answered; "it is not a hard oath to keep. I swear I will wait for you nor look, nor think of any other man."
"And if I die you will enter a nunnery," added Juan, "and pray for my soul, for if you forget me I should be in torment, even if I were placed by the throne of God."
"Surely," whispered Diana, "for the world begins and ends with you—Giovanni."
He put his hand before his eyes.
"Lead me to the gate," he said faintly.
In silence she stepped before him, parted the bushes and flowers, and moved towards the door of the garden.
The moon was now clear overhead, the parti-coloured marble palace stood softly luminous in the silver, lustrous light, and across the side of it lay the long blue shadows of the cypress-trees.
Juan drew his Venetian mantle closely round him and replaced the black mask on his face.
In the black shade of the syringa and myrtle bushes three fire-flies glowed; the stillness was complete; the air warm, warm and delicious with a hundred perfumes, the garden as sweet as a great bowl of costly unguents crushed to fragrance.
Diana unlatched the door on to the long silver street.
"My secretary is Juan Quiroga," said Juan. "If I should ever send him, you will accredit him."
"Yes," she said.
Neither looked at the other.
He stepped across the threshold of the garden and glanced cautiously up the street, then he turned his masked face towards her.
She leant against the open door.
"Kiss me," she said.
"I dare not," he answered, "for if I did I could not leave you."
She hung her weight against the door and would not let him close it; she had now become the supplicant and was pleading against the laws she had herself imposed.
"Come back," she said. "Stay a while longer. Kiss me once."
"That," he answered, "I cannot do. You have banished love for a while. And for a while I leave you. When I have humbled Africa I shall return to take all your kisses."
He bent and through the black lace of his mask pressed his lips to the wide hem of her sleeve.
She moved from the door and let him draw it to as he left her.
"Farewell, lady of my soul!" he said in Spanish.
For a moment she saw his black figure in the silver street.
Then the door closed.
It was Sunday morning in early October when the fleet of the Holy League, sailing, by the Isle of Oxia and Cape Stropha, into the long gulf of Lepanto, came face to face with the crescent-shaped armament of the Infidel.
The first of the Turkish lateen sails had been espied some hours before by the sharp-eyed Genoese on their look-out towers, and the forces of Christendom were in full battle array by the time the whole of the enemy was in sight. But a few spans of water separated the flagship of the young Christian Commander from that of Pasha Ali, who was at the head of the Turkish fleet; in a few moments Christian and Infidel would meet in the great conflict for which Pope and Kings had so long laboured.
Over all the great ships, galleasses, galleys, brigantines, and frigates of Spain, Genoa and Venice, Savoy and Rome, was perfect silence, save for the steady uprise of one voice from each vessel.
The voice of a priest!
In every ship a crucifix was raised high for all men to see, and before each of these awful symbols stood a Jesuit, a Dominican, or a Franciscan, beseeching God's blessing on the just and holy fight that was to be undertaken in His name.
On the forecastle of the Commander's ship knelt Don Juan, surrounded by the flower of Venetian, Spanish, and Genoese chivalry. Behind him the deck was covered with men in mail, some on their knees, some prostrate; beside them the gentlemen volunteers who had been appointed to guard different portions of the ship; such famous knights as Pietro D'Oria, Gil de Andrade, Don Lope de Figueroa, Don Juan de Guzman, Don Ruy Diaz de Mendoza, the Castellan of Palermo, and many others, all noble knights of Spain and Italy eager to shed their blood for God.
Above the peak of the vessel floated a square green flag that was the signal for immediate battle, and from the maintop the blue banner of the Pope that Cardinal Granvelle had presented to Juan in the great church of Santa Chiara waved its folds against a blue sky.
The Commander of the armies of Christendom—the Prince of Spain, the darling of the Pope, the hope of knighthood—knelt a little in advance of his companions, bareheaded, his hands folded on his breast, his eyes fixed on the dark-robed figure of the Jesuit who stood before the crucifix.
He wore close chain mail, over it a cuirass of Milan workmanship, ribbed with black and gold, and fastened by straps of scarlet leather to his heavily engraved cuirasses, beneath which were padded purple breeches; steel jambes and sollerets encased his legs and feet; above his hausse-col rose a high, stiff ruff of lawn, and in his left ear hung a great pearl.
On the deck beside him was his burgonet, adorned with a huge panache of blue plumes cut into the shape of the prow of a ship, and having a long white feather over all.
The toison d'or and a chain of rubies sparkled over his corselet, across which was fastened a crimson scarf; the triple truncheon of his command lay beside him, as did his breviary.
Round his right arm was tied a great knot of orange velvet, the ends of which fell to his waist.
Close behind him knelt the captain of his ship, Don Vasquez Coronado, and behind the captain the other gentlemen of his retinue. With hand upraised the Jesuit blessed them, and as he made the holy sign of benediction every head was bowed; the soldiers laid down their firelocks, the gunners flung themselves beside the long thick guns, and an absolute silence fell on the ship, through which could be heard the frenzied yells, shouts, songs, and insults of the Turks who were advancing to the encounter with all the noise they were able to command. As the Jesuit finished sprinkling holy water and pronouncing absolution, Juan picked up his helmet and placed it on, firmly tightening the strap under his chin.
He then took up his truncheon and turning so as to face the great body of the ship addressed his men:—
"Spaniards," he said, "it is in Almighty God's hands whether we conquer or perish, and either fate is glorious."
His fresh young voice rang clearly over the hushed ship and silenced the distant noise of the Infidel's screams, cymbals, and volleys of musketry.
"If you live there is absolution for you in this world, as the holy father has told you, and if you die—in heaven there is full pardon for your sins.
"Do not let these dogs of heathen ask 'Where is your God?'
"Fight in His holy name and show that He guides our vessels and directs our shot."
"Fight, and in life and death win immortality."
With a deep shout the nobles, knights, soldiers, and sailors sprang to their feet and embraced each other as they made their vows to die or conquer in the mighty cause of Christ.
And Don Juan looked about him on the fleet he commanded.
It was a gorgeous day, and each ship seemed to float in a haze of gold, while the guns and men-at-arms with their steel weapons caused the decks to gleam as if they flamed in silver fire. In front was the vanguard of Cordona's Sicilian galleys, to the right the ships of Giovanni Andrea d'Oria, the Genoese, the vessels of his Holiness, and the galleasses contributed by the Duke of Savoy; on the left, lay the great fleet of Venice and a few South-Italian ships, while the bulk of the squadron was composed of the Spanish vessels, and immediately behind the Commander came the ships bearing Marc Antonio Colonna, the leader of the Papal forces; Veniero, in the flagship of the Republic of St. Marc; and Ettore Espinola, who had in charge the galleys provided by the great Republic of Genoa.
Yellow and blue, white and scarlet banderoles fluttered from the riggings of many of these vessels that were moving slowly forward with long strokes of the double line of oars or with skilful handling of the slackened canvas.
Don Juan had already inspected this fleet, seen that all was in order, and encouraged his men, who indeed wanted but little urging, especially the men of Venice, who hated the Turks as if they had indeed been devils, having lately heard of the fall of Famagosta, where their countrymen had been miserably slain and other hideous cruelties of the heathen in Cyprus, Corfu, and the Adriatic.
And the Genoese thirsting to outdo the Venetians and the Spanish being kindled with the fervour of religion, the Savoyards and Sicilians with the thought of fighting, the knights of St. Juan having many insults to avenge, all this huge force that consisted of no less than twenty-four ships, six galleasses and two hundred and eight galleys, was impatient to be at the Turks who came hastening in three divisions, their oars straining and splashing through the deep blue water, in the centre being the Pasha Ali; from whose main mast flew the green standard of the prophet, on the right the Pasha of Alexandria, Mahomet Sirocco, and on the left the Barbary galliots under command of the Algerine, Aluch Ali.
Don Juan looked at all this array of heathendom that came on shouting and beating cymbals and firing volleys into the air till they were wrapped in smoke, and he smiled at the chance that had been given him to fight for God, His Holiness, and Don Felipe against these accursed hordes.
And he commanded the gunners to have their guns ready, the soldiers to prime their matchlocks, the officers to look to their men that they might give the Turk a hot challenge when he came within range (for he had no mind to follow the enemy's example and fire before the shots could do any harm). He also ordered the Captain, Don Vasquez Coronado, to bid the helmsman make directly for the flagship of Pasha Ali where the green flag of the false prophet was displayed.
All these things being seen to and every man ready and impatient at his post, Juan clapped his hands and commanded the fifes and drums and trumpets to strike up.
"Surely," said he, smiling at the howling of the Turks that every minute grew nearer, "we may have our music as well as those dogs."
Thereupon the bugles sounded and at this signal the bands on all the Christian ships began to play.
The Turkish cannon had opened fire though they were not yet near within range, and the crash of the artillery coming across the water mingled with the Christian music.
Don Juan slipped his truncheon into the folds of his scarf, and taking by the hand the Castellan of Palermo and Don Miguel de Moncada he drew them into the open space of the gun-deck, in front of the crucifix that watched over the vessel.
"Come," said he, "let us celebrate the glorious day that is before us. These fifes play a good dance measure."
At this the three youths, all in complete armour that flashed in the noonday sun, wearing crested plumes many feet high and carrying sword, dagger, and their great gauntlets in their hands, began to dance a galliard to the war music of the soldiers.
Juan was a famous dancer, and never at any feast or merry-making when lightly clad in satin had he held himself more gracefully and easily than now when he carried plate armour and moved in steel shoes.
The ardour of his youth made it light to him; he danced on the gun platform as he had danced in the Ducal Hall at Venice to the admiration of the splendid nobility of the Republic.
The Turkish fleet drew nearer, the space of sea between them and the Christians fast becoming a narrow strip of darkening blue.
And Juan and Miguel de Moncada and Andres de Salanar danced on the gun-deck before the crucifix ringed round with artillery and waiting gunners. The heathen armament blazed in colour; every vessel was hung with pennons from stem to stern; from every peak and point floated banderoles and flags, while the janissaries and archers crowded on the decks were brilliant in fanciful armour, mighty plumes, and gorgeous crested helms among which the uncovered sun rioted, striking long rays of light from gold and silver and steel.
As they came on, from the confusion of their angry cries might be distinguished the contemptuous shouts of some Christian renegades who in Spanish and Italian challenged their countrymen to return the heathen fire or to be slaughtered like hens or frogs.
Juan caught some of these words which rose from the nearest galliot that was firing at Don Juan de Cordona's Sicilian scouts.
"Those are damned souls," he said, and continued dancing.
"No, Excellency," answered the Castellan, "they are Genoese."
As Juan moved in the galliard he saw that a Turkish shot had at last taken effect, and that the pennon flying from Cordona's swift little sentinel galley had been shot away.
At that he stayed his dancing, and, going to his rightful place of command on the quarter-deck, he ordered his foremost great gun to fire.
Instantly, it being then about the hour of noon, the first Christian shot broke through the din of the Infidel, and, passing between the rigging of Pasha Ali's ship, carried away part of the topmost of the three lanteens which were placed as a symbol of command on the high stern, thereby doing a great mischief, as was noticed by the Pasha, who looked up and said, "God grant that we may be able to give a good answer to this."
Now four of the six Christian galleasses opened fire and silenced the Turks, who could make no headway against these great vessels; two, indeed, were soon sunk, and many others would have followed them into the sea if the "Algerine" had not out-manoeuvred the two remaining galleasses so that they could not support the others, as Don Juan had intended.
Nevertheless these great ships carried terror before them, and the jeering cries of the Turk were soon changed to yells of fear and dismay as they perceived themselves being struck down by a fire against which theirs was of little avail.
Now, the Pasha Ali steered for Don Juan even as the Spanish flagship steered for him, and presently, with a huge shock, the two mighty ships meet amid the tumult of the battle and gripped hold of each other, as it were with hands of steel, for the peak of the Pasha's galley thrust through the rigging of Don Juan's ship until it was over the fourth rowing bench, and the Turkish prow rose above the Christian forecastle. Behind the Pasha were two galliots and ten galleys, to which he was linked by ladders, and which fed him with men as his ranks were diminished, while Don Juan was supported by his Vice-Admiral Resquesens, who led two galleys filled with reinforcements.
And there commenced on the decks of the two ships, locked in this fierce embrace, the most decisive action of the day.
On either side of Don Juan the ships of Veniero and Colonna each engaged a Turk, while behind, Ettore Espinola and his Genoese struggled with those galleys of the enemy who had managed to force their way between the great Christian galleasses.
But bloody and desperate as these several combats were, on the decks of the two flagships waged a fight more deadly, for here Don Juan himself led the Christian arequebusiers against the Turkish janissaries under the command of the Pasha.
With a fury beyond words, the flower of Christendom and heathendom met and struggled for the mastery; the air was thick with Turkish arrows and foul with the smoke of Don Juan's guns; cries and screams rose up with the clashing of the Infidel's cymbals, the shrieks of their trumpets and the music played by the Spanish soldiers.
The Christian artillery was the more effectual, for Don Juan had ordered the sharp prows of his vessels to be cut off so that they were able to get a closer range of the enemy. Also, his ships being lower, their shots lodged in the body of the enemy's craft, while the Turkish fire often passed over the heads of the allies; the Christians were also protected by nettings in which the soldiers lay, and by great hooks and many such devices that prevented the Turks from easily boarding them.
Nevertheless, the Pasha had more men, and those of an unequalled valour and fierceness, so that for a while the combat was equal, and for every Turk that fell a Christian also dropped.
On the prow of the Spanish ship stood Don Juan, his great blue plume and the glitter of the jewels on his corselet a target for the arrows with which the beautifully carved black walnut lantern of the ship bristled, and on the prow of the Turk stood Pasha Ali in great scarlet trousers, pure gold armour, a green turban with a steel peak, and chains of pearl round his neck and wrists.
With one foot advanced before him he held his great and gorgeous bow, and sent arrow after arrow into the Christian ranks; and his aim was marvellous, and those he struck fell in agony, for the shafts that were handed him by a black boy that crouched at his side were poisoned at the tip.
Now, Don Bernardino de Cardenas, leading a party to the rescue of Don Lope de Figueroa, who commanded on the poop and had lost nearly all his men, was slain by a spent ball, and his men fell into confusion beneath the Turkish fire. Don Juan, seeing this, called up his arquebusiers and his gentlemen volunteers and rushed across the scaling ladders on board the Pasha's ship, sweeping back the janissaries as far as the mainmast.
Yet here they got a check, for the Pasha led his men against them so valiantly that they were forced to retreat, though in orderly fashion and fighting every inch, to their own ship.
Nothing dismayed, Don Juan, without pausing, again rallied them to the charge, and with his great sword in his hand led them again on to the Turkish decks that were now sticky with blood, and honey and oil cast down by the heathen, and cumbered with the dying. And again Pashi Ali repulsed them, though not all the janissaries that climbed up from his attendant galleys could replace the gaps in his shattered ranks.
Don Juan leant breathless on his truncheon; he was bright with the blood of those slain about him, and he plucked from the joints of his mail the broken arrows.
"By Almighty God!" he exclaimed, "this bassa fights right manfully!"
Then he bid the trumpets sound again and once more the ranks of Christendom swarmed in among the forces of the Turk.
And this time the Pasha came to meet them with despair in his heart, for all his best soldiers were dead; he took a box containing his most precious jewels and hurled it into the sea, and commended his soul to the Prophet, whose bright green banner was now riddled with shot.
Yet he pressed forward boldly and reached the gangway between the two ships, urging on his bright coloured ranks.
But an arquebus struck him on the forehead and he fell, and a Christian from Magdala had him by the throat.
Then he said in Italian:—
"Spare my life that I may fight some more," and he took the chain from his neck and offered it to the soldier.
And he said, "Go below where there is money."
Upon this the soldier would have compounded with him, but a Christian galley slave who had got loose came running up through the press and saw the Pasha in the power of the Spaniard and cried out:—
"Soldier, that is the Pasha Ali, and I beseech you do him no hurt, for he was ever gentle with his slaves were they heathen or Christian!"
"Is this bassa indeed Ali?" cried the soldier, "then I desire to try my sword on him!" The Pasha looked up at the Christian rower and spoke.
"Did I not tell you and your fellows this morning," he said, "that you would this day be free, either by my wish as reward for your service in my victory, or as the result of God's will in my defeat?"
By now the soldier had made his sword ready; he struck off the head of the Pasha, whose blood ran out and over the feet of his own galley slave.
"Now I shall get a great reward from Don Juan!" cried the soldier; but the slave was so wrath at his pitilessness that he attacked him and the soldier leapt into the sea, still holding the head of the Pasha Ali by the long black hair, for the turban had fallen off and rolled away along the deck.
Don Lope de Figueroa was now on the poop, hauling down the Turkish flag, and to his support went Don Juan, all imbrued with blood, and as the crossed standard was run up for the whole battle to see, the soldier who had swum round the vessel and climbed again on deck, came and flung himself before his commander and offered him the head of Pasha Ali. Don Juan looked at him with displeasure and said:—
"What would you have me do with that head? Cast it into the sea. Had you been any but a raw soldier you would have spared him, for he was a noble bassa and kind to his slaves." But Don Lope took the head and put it on a high pike and raised it on the poop to be a terror and a sign to the other Infidels.
So was the flagship of the Pasha captured, and soon after the rest of the heathen fleet, excepting the ships of Ali Aluch, the "Algerine," who had destroyed the galleys of the knights of Malta and sailed away from the disaster.
But the green standard of the prophet was hauled down and lay under the feet of Don Juan, and the blue banner of the Pope waved in triumphant glitter over the bloody gulf of Lepanto when night veiled the waters that heaved with carnage.
"It was a great victory," said Felipe, "and it has made my brother a famous man; yea, almost the greatest Prince in Europe in point of high-sounding fame."
"Did I not tell you," answered Aņa de Mendoza, "that he would serve you well?"
"Does he serve me well this way—does he serve me?" asked the King.
"It has been a great glory for Spain."
"Yes," said Felipe gloomily; "but has it not been too much of glory for Don Juan?"
The Princess of Eboli surveyed him calmly.
"Bubble glory," she said; "what does it amount to? A gilded shadow. The only command he holds is one you may take at a moment from him, he has neither position nor wealth—he is no more than your hired captain, dependent on your bounty."
The King was not to be comforted.
"That is not how the world sees it," he replied sullenly. "All admire him, praise him, bow before him; the Pope hails him as the champion of Christendom; Italy rings with his lauds; he grows above himself."
"It is always in your power to clip his wings," said the Princess of Eboli.
She stood near the narrow window of the King's private closet in the Escorial and looked out on the scaffolded towers that covered the slopes of the Guadamarra.
Ruy Gomez, the King's powerful minister, was dead, but his widow retained her influence over the King, and there was now a secret door and passage leading from her apartments to the closet of Felipe.
She wore her widow's garb, black from head to foot, with a great silver rosary at her side; a sombre figure, sallow-faced, with large melancholy eyes.
Felipe sat before his desk that was piled, as usual, with the orderly heaps of his immense correspondence.
His head was sunk on his narrow chest, his white, long hands grasped the polished arms of his chair, covered with worn red leather; his clothes were black and dingily trimmed with dull gold braid.
"Aņa," he said sharply, but without looking up, "he would be a king—this boy."
"Did I not tell you? Can you wonder?" she replied.
"I know. But before it was only a dream—now dreams have materialized. There has been a suggestion made to him that he should found himself a kingdom in Morea and Albania."
"He referred this suggestion to me," said Felipe, still without looking up. "Of course I told him to defer the project. I have told him that I will do better for him than this." He gave a dry laugh.
"Lure him, delude him," said the Princess; "do not quell his hopes."
"Then he petitioned me that he might be created Infant of Castile."
"That I also deferred," smiled the King.
"These base-born climbers have high ambitions," remarked the Princess calmly; "but speak him fair, there is much to be got from him yet."
Felipe looked at her out of his tired, cold eyes with sinister meaning.
"He dreams to marry with the Scottish Queen."
"So Seņor Perez told me."
"Ah, Seņor Perez!" Felipe laughed. The new minister was the only person who shared the confidence he gave Aņa de Mendoza, and it pleased him to think that these two powerful rivals hated each other and intrigued for the first place in his favour. "So you have been conversing with Antonio Perez, eh?"
"One must bow to the rising sun, Felipe."
"You hate Perez, do you not?"
She glanced at him from under drooped lids.
"I do not love him, Majesty."
"No," smiled Felipe.
She came and stood by the side of his chair, her wide, dark, frilled skirts filled the space between the King and the desk; she fingered the edge of the black lace mantilla that hung from her small erect head.
"You know whom I love," she said, with a wise smile.
"I know you for a jealous piece, too," nodded Felipe. "But let Perez be—he is a clever fellow and he suits me."
"Does he suit you better than I do?" she asked.
"You are a woman."
Aņa de Mendoza laughed now.
"I am more than that. For I am not fair, but I hold you, Felipe."
He put out his lean hand and caught her wrist and fingered it thoughtfully.
"Aye, you hold me," he admitted.
"The Queen has marked it," said the Princess quietly.
Felipe's brow clouded.
"Ah, the Queen," he muttered heavily; "she is a quick creature."
"Surely Elizabeth de Valois suited your humour better," answered the Princess maliciously. "But you have your heir.
"Almighty God and Our Lady of Atocha be thanked!" Felipe crossed himself piously. "But of Juan—I have recalled Quiroga, his secretary, for he had so won him to himself that he was no longer my creature."
"Whom have you sent in his place?"
"Perez recommended Juan de Escovedo—as a retainer of the house of Guzman, he should be faithful, and I have instructed him to cling to Juan day and night and to mark his every action. I'll have no treason. They say he is a great favourite with the soldiers."
"He did not find it difficult to make friends—my husband (God rest his soul!) often told me that the Admiral's gift of popularity would take him far."
"Only as far as I choose," said Felipe sourly. "He had best beware."
"Who is to be his wife?"
"Will you not marry him? He is very much the servant of the ladies."
"He is twenty-two! But he will never marry, Aņa."
"Because I will not find him a Princess and he is too proud to take a commoner, as you will see."
"Well, let him die a bachelor—though I doubt not that many royal ladies might fancy him as their lord. All the women in Spain seem to have run wild for him since this battle in Lepanto Bay—even the Queen."
"The Queen?" Felipe dropped the brown wrist he had been coldly fondling.
Aņa smiled with deep malice.
"The Queen can talk of nothing else but Juan," she said, "and can hardly endure the days until he comes to Court and she may see him."
"Women are all fools!" exclaimed the King, moved to real anger, and to showing what he felt. "You alone have wisdom, Aņa, you alone I trust; but as for these others with red and white in their faces, Argus could not safely be their jailor. Watch her, Aņa—watch the Queen. She will have her gallants next and slip her posies and her notes into some apt page's sleeve!"
"The Queen is very virtuous," smiled the Princess, with a sidelong glance.
"I trust no one," replied the King briefly.
"Ah—you!" he stressed the word with great meaning and looked steadily into her keen and thin face.
"You trust me, do you not, Felipe?" she asked gravely.
"I have trusted you with my inmost secrets for many years," returned Felipe earnestly. "I trust nothing on earth as I trust you, Aņa de Mendoza."
She bent swiftly and kissed his hand that rested on the arm of the old, worn chair.
"Ah, Aņa!" He made a movement to prevent her.
"Do not let Perez outrun me in your favour," she said. Her face was flushed and her voice shook.
"Antonio Perez serves me," he answered, with a sudden flash in his eyes; "you know that, and if you wish it I may cast him down."
"Nay, let him stay," she said indifferently; "what is it to me what servant waits upon my lord, as long as he is useful to you?"
"He is clever, Aņa, and cunning, and full of likely turns and tricks. I would that you would get to better know him, so that you might come to see in him the value that I prize."
"Why, let it be," she answered. "I like not Perez, but let that pass. Marc Antonio Colonna had a triumph in Rome for his success at Lepanto and Don Juan protested not."
Felipe, never quick, blinked at her swift change of subject.
"What has that to do with Perez?" he asked slowly.
"Nothing," Aņa smiled; "I but thought of it—why should Colonna and the Pope take the credit of this victory?"
"It was not a complete triumph," said Felipe peevishly, pulling towards him the letter from his ambassador in Rome in which this event was described; "he only rode the Appian Way on a white jennet to taste the plaudits of the populace."
"As you will, but I thought that it would have shown great dignity in Don Juan if he had protested against this display."
"He had a great triumph at Messina," returned Felipe jealously, "and they are to set up a gilt statue to him."
"And Robusto, the Venetian painter, is to paint a whole wall with his picture in the battle."
"Aye, I think every artificer in Italy is carving or painting his features and every poet singing his lauds. The Pope has sent him a silver shield with Our Blessed Lord on it—also two tables of black marble set with jaspers and a morsel of the true cross."
"What will he do with that?" asked the Princess with some envy.
"It is to go to Doņa Magdalena da Ulloa for the new church she is building at Villagarcia."
"He should have thought of your Majesty first," remarked the Princess.
"The Holy Father should have thought of me," commented Felipe with asperity. "It was with difficulty that he would grant me an indulgence of fifty years for my chapel here and to Juan he would give a perpetual indulgence for the asking."
"His Holiness ages," said Aņa de Mendoza, "and he was always set on his Holy League above all things."
"Juan is his darling now," continued Felipe sullenly; "he would coin the Vatican to send him money."
"When comes this hero home?" asked the Princess.
"When he has taken Tunis, I think there will be little more for him to do. He is now sailing from Sicily, there to rest. The Prince of Parma goes with him. That youth will do bravely."
"He showed himself of true mettle at Lepanto. Juan waited on this Prince's mother at Apulia, I hear."
"Yea; the Princess was taken with his fair face, as others are, and was completely his servant," said the King drily.
Doņa Aņa hunched her shoulders.
"Send him to me when he comes to Court," she answered, "and I will sound him; nor shall I be blinded by his beauty. Now it is time I attended to my duties, and you are engaged with your letters, therefore, farewell."
Felipe kissed her hand with some show of feeling, and courteously conducted her to the secret door behind the arras that led to her apartments.
She gathered her great skirts about her, and stepped silently into the dark passage, and went lightly up the dark, short winding stairway that led her into her own antechamber.
In the centre of this room, that was magnificently furnished with all the resources of Spanish and Italian art, a man in a habit of dead silver and rose brocade waited, playing, to beguile the time, with an elegant white dog.
A delicate change came over the Princess when she saw this man; like a rich perfume spreading from an insignificant flower the charm that made her a powerful woman was suddenly disclosed; her small face sparkled and her large eyes grew soft, yet brilliant, as she advanced with her hands outstretched.
The gentleman took her hands and kissed her cheek.
"You are late," he said.
"Forgive me. The King kept me."
She sank on to a seat of crimson brocade near the open fire.
"Ah, Antonio!" she exclaimed, with an air of utter weariness, "I am stale, stale with playing to the King!"
"He becomes," answered Antonio Perez, "old and tiresome."
She smiled wickedly.
"He trusts me—that is my one reward for all this labour. To-day he bid me learn to know your worth!"
"Do I stand firm in his graces?" asked the minister anxiously.
"He leans on you. He could not do without you. At present you must humour him with regard to Don Juan. He is mad with jealousy of this Prince, who may be removed as Carlos was, if he step not carefully."
"Escovedo is watching Don Juan," answered Perez. "I can trust him, and he is safer out of Spain, for lately I have thought that he knew too much of you and me."
"Ah!" cried Aņa de Mendoza sharply, "but he could not open the King's eyes."
"I would not risk it," said the minister grimly.
The Princess Eboli regarded his handsome, stately face with eager eyes.
"We are safe," she answered; "the King thinks us enemies."
Then, to distract her lover's mind from the subject, she opened the great embroidered pocket that hung by her side, and took out a small object that she laid on the palm of her hand, and showed to Perez who was now leaning on the back of her chair.
"Felipe grows afraid of the dead Carlos," she smiled; "he gave me this to-day, and said that he thought that it was of ill omen, and bid me destroy it."
"The Infant used to make his prayers to that picture," he remarked, and took from the Princess's hand the boxwood case containing the portrait of the Archduchess Anne, who had been betrothed to Carlos, and was now his father's fourth queen.
The King had been called to Madrid, and in his absence the Queen had much leisure and some liberty.
Antonio Perez had gone with Felipe, and the Princess of Eboli was the only one left to keep watch on Felipe's wife.
When the King had been gone a week Anne resolved to visit a neighbouring convent famous for magnificent gardens, and Aņa de Mendoza had no choice but to accompany her, though it was nearing winter and the Princess loved to keep the house on gloomy days.
The Queen and her crowd of ladies dined at the convent, and afterwards she must go over the gardens, and the Princess of Eboli must follow her, though she limped lamer at every step.
And before that day was over Aņa de Mendoza found that she hated the Austrian.
In an arbour surrounded by the still green shrubs of autumn, laurel and box and veronica, and trees of ash and pine, Anne took her seat, and as the Princess of Eboli kept her company, her ladies, with a clear understanding of their duty, made no scruple to forgo their attendance on her; therefore, for a while at least, these two women were alone, and for the first time since the coming of the Austrian to Spain.
Doņa Aņa de Mendoza, looking old and weary in her gloomy widow's dress, eyed the young Queen with a careful scrutiny. Anne was beautiful.
No judgment, however envious, could deny that she was young and lovely and golden, in much different from and in much like the little Flemish painting Don Carlos had cherished, and which was now in the possession of the Princess of Eboli.
Her complexion was pale, her eyes a sparkling brown, and her full rosy underlip and proud chin had the projection that was a notable feature of all the descendants of Carlo Quinto.
She wore now a blue habit of soft velvet that gave full value to her graceful slenderness, and a huge white ruff, pointed and stiffened, that framed her fair face with many inches of lace. On her hair, which was of the most admired shade of gold, was a black velvet cap with a long crimson feather held in place by a pearl brooch; there were pearls in her ears, too, and on the long white fingers which she had ungloved. Her expression seemed, at the first glance, to be one of melancholy, but if one long observed her countenance the dominant quality in it appeared to be pride or resolution.
Aņa de Mendoza already knew that she was not made of the same stuff as Elizabeth de Valois, whose memory was still cherished in the hearts of the Spanish people; she was also set more proudly on her throne than her predecessor had ever been by the fact that she was the mother of the heir, Don Fernandi, a sickly infant with an uncertain hold on life; yet he lived and was Prince of Castile and counted for more than the two Infantas the late Queen had left.
"I hope," said the Princess of Eboli, "that your Majesty is satisfied with this visit—for my part I cannot see that these gardens better the Escorial."
"I am tired of the Escorial," answered the Queen calmly.
"Dios! It is large enough."
"And dark enough, and gloomy enough, and full enough of incense smoke and the chanting of monks," mocked Anne.
Aņa de Mendoza glanced at her sharply; she knew that the Archduchess had been brought up in a court lax in religion, for her father, the Emperor Maximilian, was actually on friendly terms with the heretic princess of Germany, and on that account had refused to join the Holy League, but she had never heard her speak so freely before.
"The King would not be pleased to hear you say so," she said severely.
Anne fixed her intelligent serene eyes steadily on her as she answered.
"Ah, you know the mind of the King very well, do you not?" she replied; "what will please him and what will not, eh, seņora?"
A faint flush crept under the Spanish lady's dark skin.
"I have known His Majesty for many years," she said firmly.
The Queen's white lids fluttered over her bright glance; she laughed and struck her knee with the pair of white doe skin gauntlets she held.
"By Our Lady! you have enjoyed great privileges!" she exclaimed. "Do you know all Don Felipe's secrets?"
Never had the Princess of Eboli found the fair Austrian's lack of ceremony so galling; with the Castilian stateliness that was hers by right of birth and position she rose and answered:—
"Your Majesty must find one of your younger ladies to amuse you. I am not skilled in this manner of converse."
Anne flickered a contemptuous glance at her.
"You are sour as crab-apples," she said; "how have I offended you? Sit down again. Do you know all the King's secrets?"
"That question were better addressed to His Majesty," flashed Doņa Aņa de Mendoza.
"Oh, I asked it of him," replied the Austrian, with sweetness disguising a sting, "and he said: 'She is an old, wise, dry lady who gives me good advice and I tell her many things; there is much wisdom in these ancient widows!'"
The Princess of Eboli went utterly white; she would have liked to strike the full beautiful mouth that had uttered these words; she sank on the seat again, for her lameness made it painful to her to stand alone a moment.
Anne affected not to notice her emotion.
"But I wonder if the King knows all your secrets?" she said thoughtfully. "You and Antonio Perez"—she paused and glanced askance at the other who was shaking as if in an ague—"are great enemies, are you not?" she concluded.
The astute Princess was hit by this as she was seldom hit; she had always considered her defences very complete, but if the Queen knew—could the Queen know?—she rapidly reviewed her own behaviour—no, it was impossible, the minister must have been mentioned by chance.
"I think Seņor Perez a faithful servant of the King," she managed to answer coldly.
"I hate him!" said Anne calmly. "I wish to bring the King to break him—and as you hate him too (Felipe told me so) you must help me to remove him."
Aņa de Mendoza's eyes were evil; she could hardly believe that chance had put her in this pass where she must either avow her interest in Perez or pretend to work his ruin; she rather imputed the Queen's words to skilful malice.
"I do not meddle in politics, Majesty," she replied.
The Queen laughed, flinging back her head and showing her fine white teeth.
"In what matters are you interested, then, seņora?" she asked.
"Choose your subject, Majesty," returned the affronted Princess. "I am here to dance to your piping."
The Queen broke off a spray of the laurel that waved against the arbour where they sat and stroked the leaves thoughtfully with her smooth round fingers.
"We will talk of Don Juan," she said, "the hope of Christendom, the finest knight in the world."
"Always excepting the King and the Emperor," put in Doņa Aņa de Mendoza.
"I make no exceptions. I spoke of knights, not Kings."
"He has done well enough. But he is too soft, I think he has been made drunk with flattery—he would be a King—and meanwhile lies at Messina, lapped in Sicilian delights between women and the tennis court."
Anne laughed; a tenderness had come into the confident gaiety of her manner.
"He is beautiful," she said softly.
The Princess looked at her sharply.
"Is your Majesty to be put among the wenches who run mad for Don Juan?" she asked sourly and scornfully.
The Queen turned eyes on her that were darkened and veiled, but she gave no hint of anger in her reply.
"Any woman might be proud of the favours of such a man," she said. "I do not wonder that he is the darling of the maids of Italy."
"He has the art of pleasing," admitted the Princess, anxious to lead her enemy on to indiscretions.
If Anne saw this design she did not heed it nor show that it had her notice.
"I would I could have seen him on his deck at Lepanto amid the arrows and the smoke—was ever so young a knight so wise and so daring?"
"Not so wise," smiled Aņa unpleasantly. "What think you was his first action after his great triumph in Messina, when he had been choked with gold, blinded with gold, pelted with gold? He gave the city's present to his soldiers, like a prodigal, and calling a knight gave him money and a horse and an escort and bade him take ship to Naples and from there bring a certain woman, Diana di Falanga!"
"I know he loves her," said the Queen with shining eyes; "what else should he think of in the hour of his exaltation? But Don Lope found her not for her father had taken her from Naples."
"How do you know this?" asked the Princess, startled.
"I have the same informant as you, seņora, Quiroga himself, the Prince's former secretary."
"Ah, so you talk to Quiroga about Don Juan!"
"Often," answered the Queen, with a little flash in her voice; "he is a faithful fellow, this Seņor Quiroga and I hope his Excellency's new secretary is as worthy of his trust. Methought it strange to recall this gentleman when he was so far advanced in Don Juan's favour."
Aņa de Mendoza surveyed her keenly; she was rejoicing that she had found a point where she might strike the Queen in return for the scorn she had given her.
But first she waited, hoping that Anne might speak yet more recklessly.
"I hope he may find his Diana," continued the Queen. "Quiroga told me how he only saw her once, the day Granvelle gave him the Pope's banner in Santa Chiara—Quiroga followed him and he told me that she was waiting—think, a moonlight night and such a cavalier!"
"It was all deathly sin," answered the Princess.
Anne did not look at her; she continued to handle the delicate branch of laurel she held.
"Quiroga told me that before he went to Africa again he searched bitterly for her, and found her not. But perhaps by now he has gained this lady. I wonder how beautiful she is?"
"We know how virtuous she is," answered Doņa Aņa de Mendoza sarcastically.
The Queen made no reply to this; she fastened the laurel into her bosom and sighed.
"When will he come to Court?" she asked. "He must report himself soon to His Majesty. Will the King make him an Infant of Castile?"
"How do I know!" The Princess lifted her thin shoulders and smiled wryly.
"Where will the King send him next?" questioned the Queen.
"Perhaps to the Netherlands to help Alba," was the dry answer.
"Ah, my heart, that is likely to be a hopeless task!"
"Why should you care?"
"Why should I not?"
The Queen spoke with sudden haughtiness, almost with a challenge.
"Your Majesty seems to take a vast interest in a Prince you have not seen."
"I take a vast interest in the most glorious and famous knight in the world, seņora," returned Anne sharply.
"I wonder that your Majesty cares to admit as much."
The Queen rose and stood with her back to the laurel.
"What is this that you say?" she demanded swiftly.
The Princess had no choice but to get to her feet too, painful as standing was to her; she had often sat in the presence of the Valois Queen, but the Austrian noticed these things.
"I speak for your Majesty's good," she said, with sinister softness.
"Ah, are you so tender of my good?" exclaimed Anne; "that is news to me, seņora."
The Princess contained herself; she believed that she was near a moment when she might dare to humiliate the Queen, but she knew that she would have to be careful.
"I am older than your Majesty," she began smoothly, "and am in some sort your duenna, and I have seen that you do not in all things conform to Spanish ways."
She paused, and the Emperor's daughter, with eyes as hard as agates, waited.
"I give you a warning," continued Doņa Aņa; "in all sincerity I warn you that your behaviour is dangerous."
"Dangerous!" echoed the Queen softly. "Do you see me stepping the way the Infant Carlos, my betrothed, went?"
She was angry past prudence, past concealment, and the Princess of Eboli's wrath rose to meet hers.
"Take care what you say!" she exclaimed, clenching her right hand on her thin bosom; "you have a wilful tongue; and you are too free with men; and leave these talks with Quiroga, these praises of the Prince Juan. Think more of the King and of your beads, or you may fall into deadly sin!"
She stopped, white-lipped and breathless; never had her close-hugged venom been stirred to such outspokenness as by the defiance of the proud young Austrian; she was herself amazed at her own force and fury, and so shaken by it that she had to hold to the arbour for support.
The Queen laughed in her contemptuous rage; her beauty glowed and flashed like a weapon against the thin, sallow creature who had insulted her.
"You old, sour, hideous woman!" she answered. "You hunched, lame thing! Think you that I am ignorant of your arts? Go, do penance for your own bitter sins, frequent the cell, not my husband's closet, and choose another confessor than Antonio Perez!"
The Princess of Eboli writhed under these words as if she had been struck by a bunch of whips; never had she conceived of any one speaking to her in these terms.
She closed her eyes.
"The King!" she gasped. "The King!"
"Go to the King with tales of me," said Anne, "and I tell him one of you and Perez which will break you both. Escovedo, Don Juan's secretary knows, and only his loyalty to the house of Guzman keeps him silent. But if need be I can make him speak."
Escovedo! As she suspected, then, he knew and he had betrayed her—betrayed her to the Queen who must be cunning as a witch.
These thoughts ran through her brain, but she could not speak them; she moved her livid lips, but no sound came.
"Go," commanded the triumphant young beauty, "and take counsel of the devil who I doubt not is your godfather, but neither spy on me nor report on me, nor address me save with humility, Aņa de Mendoza."
Still the Princess, who had ruled all her life, had no word; in that moment she cursed the hour that she had first seen the handsome face of Antonio Perez.
"Go!" repeated the Queen. "I would be alone."
And without breaking the dumbness that weighed on her tongue, the Princess of Eboli left the arbour, obedient for the first time in her life, and moved away.
Anne of Austria watched her limp off down the long path of the beautiful convent garden.
"She will try to do me a mischief," she thought proudly, "but I care not. I am fair and honest, and the Emperor's daughter, and no one shall catch me mistreading."
But the person of whom the Princess of Eboli thought with the blackest hate was not the Queen, but Juan de Escovedo, the man whom she and Perez had sent to spy on Don Juan and who was possessed of their secret.
Don Juan lay along the window-seat of his palace in Naples and looked out between the vine-draped Numidian marble pillars of the balcony on to the white town and the blue sea.
The gorgeous room was inlaid with coloured stones, jaspers, basalts, and alabasters, and hung with silk tapestry. Juan's undress was of the finest velvet of Genoa, and round his throat and on his ringers were several jewels of note.
Yet he was a poor man, and though his tennis-racquet lay beside him on the purple damask cushion and he looked the picture of an elegant idle cavalier, it was of his poverty that he was thinking, of his debts, his obligations, his future.
The King was not generous; though his cold nature had been roused to sufficient enthusiasm by the battle of Lepanto for him to write a grateful letter to the young victor, he had done nothing for him; Juan remained merely the paid officer of the King, and splendid as was his present position in outward seeming, lavish as had been the praises and honours bestowed on him, he had the intelligence to note that these things did not improve his actual standing one whit; he was as hampered by lack of money, as far from the realization of his dreams of being an Infant of Castile, of being a king as he had ever been.
Felipe promised, he soothed, he deferred, he spoke of the great things he would do, but he performed nothing, and his young brother, while extolled as the hero of Christendom and the most glorious and fortunate of men, began to taste the bitterness of dependence and the sickness of deferred hope.
His ambitious and ardent soul chafed too at the long delays imposed on him by the King's parsimony and caution; for months he had remained inactive at Naples, the fleet idle in the harbour. After the capture of Tunis the Venetians had, despite the protests of Christendom, made a peace with the Turk, the Genoese had returned home to guard their own waters, and Felipe excused himself from further action by complaints of a depleted treasury and the necessity of concentrating his powers on the Netherlands, where the heretical revolt was spreading under the guidance of a great noble who had one time been favourite of Carlos, the great Emperor, Willem von Nassau, namely, Prince of Orange.
Therefore the great enterprise that had opened so gloriously languished; the heroic little Pope was dead at Rome and Sultan Selim was laying down new war vessels at Constantinople to replace those lost at Lepanto and turning them on to the sea with a rapidity that equalled the famed swiftness of the arsenal at Venice, where they could, it was said, build a galley in a single day.
So the greatest captain in the world remained idle in the South and watched his enemy strengthen, and could do nothing. But he still kept the vision and the glamour of youth, and his secret disappointments and anxieties did not prevent him from acting on every occasion with a magnificence that gained the admiration of the world.
As he sat now at the window in an idle attitude with his lids lowered over his sleepy golden eyes, Juan de Escovedo, his new secretary who had lately taken the place of Quiroga, recalled to Madrid, and Juan de Soto, who had been promoted to a higher position, were engaged in writing a letter in answer to one from Fatima, the daughter of Pasha Ali who had been slain at Lepanto, in which Juan, regardless of the fact that he was considerably straitened for money, refused to accept the royal presents the Turkish lady offered him.
Some months before Juan had asked of the Pope, the King, and the Doge, that the two captive sons of Ali Pasha might be given to him, and upon this request being granted, he had treated them in a very princely manner, having given them their liberty without ransom, though the eldest alone was worth fifty thousand crowns, and having presented them with a gold chain and some costly horses.
In the same spirit of lavish chivalry he refused the lady's thankoffering. "It has been the custom of my ancestors," he said, "to confer favours, not to receive gifts for their kindness."
He looked now over his shoulder at Escovedo, who was copying the letter out clearly on a fair sheet of parchment. Juan regarded the slim back, dark head, and white ruff of the new secretary a moment in silence, then he said:—
"Write that if there be another Lepanto and Mahomet Bey and Said Bey again fall into my hands, they may count again on their freedom."
Juan de Escovedo wrote a while, then looked up from his task and turned round in his chair, revealing a pleasant frank face.
"Your pardon, Excellency," he said, "but is it not rash to return all these gifts? They are of great value."
Juan lifted his fine brows, but made no reply.
"Has your Excellency well noted them?" persisted the secretary.
He took a list from the desk and read aloud Fatima's offerings:—
"Four robes of sable, two robes of lynx skins, one robe of ermine, and a robe of lynx skin and crimson satin worked with histories that belonged to the King of Persia."
"A heathen garment," remarked Don Juan, with a smile.
"Six pieces of fine brocade," continued Escovedo, "and two boxes of Levant porcelain, a box of Turkish napkins of silk, silver, and gold, a coverlet of silk-patch-work wrought in gold, and one of quilted brocade, many feathers of all colours curiously set, and a box of buttons of fine musk, many leather table-covers, and two Alexandria carpets of pure silk. Also, six very large carpets and four bottles of rare mastic from Scio."
"Dost thou think," contemplated Juan, "that these things move me?"
"Even if your Excellency despises these there are twenty-four Damascus daggers mounted with rubies and Turkish stones, a bow, quiver, and belt of gold and blue enamel which belonged to the Sultan Soliman, and five gilt bows with live hundred arrows all in gold and enamel, with perfumed quivers and belts, that also belonged to this King. Also, six housings for horses, and a Damascus sword enriched with turkis that belonged to Soliman."
"And yet she deplores the slenderness of the offerings," laughed Juan. "We will show that we can be proud too, my Escovedo. Return them all by Said Bey, and say we give her her brothers' lives as a free gift."
"Your Excellency is over-generous," returned Escovedo, with a sigh. He had been well trained in the frugal school of Ruy Gomez and Don Felipe, and he knew in what position the affairs of Don Juan stood; therefore he put the list away reluctantly.
Juan sat erect in the cushioned window-seat and pushed back the waving hair from his brow.
"He who would be a king," he said, "must act as a king. Should I chaffer like a merchant with this lady for her brothers' lives?" He picked up the tennis-racquet, then laid it down, and picked it up again.
"Dios!"—he gave a great sigh—"will the King never write?"
He looked wistfully out to sea, and his face fell into lines of sadness.
Juan de Escovedo put the letter to Fatima Cadem ready for sealing, then rose and came towards his master.
"It is strange to hear your Excellency sigh," he said. "You who are commonly supposed one of the most fortunate as you are one of the greatest of men."
Admiration and affection were in the secretary's honest face as he spoke, and his voice was touched with the strength of sincerity.
"Ah, Escovedo!" Juan sighed. "Ah, Escovedo! I have many causes for sadness."
"And surely many causes for happiness?"
"Yes, that too."
But the Prince spoke gravely, and his eyes glittered with sombre fires as he stared out at the blue bay of Naples.
Juan de Escovedo looked at him long and steadily as if forming a resolve or governing an impulse.
"Excellency," he said at last in a moved tone, "you know who I am?"
Juan lifted his beautiful face but did not speak.
"I was the creature of Ruy Gomez de Silva," continued the secretary.
"And I was still the creature of his widow, Aņa of Eboli, when I came to Italy."
"That," said Juan, "I know too."
"But now," added Escovedo, "your Excellency has so gained me that I am wholly yours, and will serve no other man—"
"—if You will, seņor, accept of such poor services."
Juan appeared slightly amazed for a moment. He then laughed in his frank, wholly charming manner; he was well used to winning the whole-hearted devotion of those who served him—both Quiroga and de Soto had left him his faithful friends.
"What will the Princess of Eboli say to this?" he asked lightly.
"The Princess of Eboli," replied Escovedo, "need never know. I can best serve your Excellency by feigning to still be her tool."
Juan's open brow clouded.
"So you were sent to watch me!" he said slowly. "When will Felipe understand that he need set no spies on me!"
"Felipe will never trust any man," answered the secretary gloomily, "and it were well if he trusted no woman either. Though a follower of the house of Guzman may speak no evil of Aņa de Mendoza, I would say of her—bore she any other name—that she is a wicked woman!"
"So I always thought her," remarked Juan simply, "the Court were better without her."
"And she is no true friend to your Excellency."
"I know that," replied Juan, who for all his gay open air was no fool in intrigue, and was well aware of most of the schemes and counter-schemes of the Escorial. "For her own purposes she pushed me up, and for her own purposes she would pull me down. The Prince of Parma warned me against her; but, Escovedo," he added with a smile, and yet a touch of haughtiness, "I rely on the King. He has made me many promises. Surely they are not all delusions."
Juan de Escovedo was silent.
"The King cannot throw me off like an old glove," continued the young commander, answering his own private misgivings more than his secretary's warnings. "I have proved my worth; I have shown I have some value, that I may be of real support to His Majesty."
"The King suspects those who grow in greatness," answered Escovedo rather sadly. "And Antonio Perez, who is all in favour now, is not your friend."
Juan's eyes filled with sudden angry tears.
"That I should be dependent on the favour of the King's creatures!" he exclaimed bitterly. "I know their plots, their cunning—" He broke off, and rising abruptly stepped out on to the balcony where the midday sun fell in a shower of gold between the thick leaves of the vines that chequered the warm marble with moving purple shadows.
Juan went to the balustrade, and leaning his elbows on the edge gazed through the palms and cypresses that rose up from the garden, sloping down terrace on terrace, to the beautiful town and the sweeping bay, both veiled in a shimmer of heat.
All his old dreams and ambitions rushed back to him poignantly and seemed to mock at his achievement. He was still dependent on the King, nay, on the King's favourites; he was no nearer the envied dignity of Infant of Castile nor the longed-for position of a King or sovereign prince; he was a creature of Felipe's making whom Felipe could unmake at will; that was the bitter truth despite the plaudits of the world, the blessing of Christendom, and all the lauds and triumphs, gifts and praises.
He thought, in the swell and pride of his triumphant youth, that if he had been an independent monarch he could by now have conquered the Turk in his own fastnesses and led Selim a captive to St. Peter's chair; but Venice had fallen away and Felipe had hung back, and Juan in his bitter reflections compared himself to the galley slave, who can only fight when his master gives him permission and his chains are knocked off; for the rest he must labour in silence, asking no questions and expecting no reward. Felipe might be a courteous master, but he was a despotic one, and Juan felt that he had the lash always ready, even though it was hidden behind his back.
Yet the golden reward hung so near! The Pope had offered him a kingdom—and how easy it was to win men! This Escovedo now, had come his enemy, to spy on him, and yet soon was eager to do him a service; and the charm that had won him had only been a few smiles and gracious words.
With a few more men so minded surely something might be done, even independently of Felipe—
Juan closed his thoughts; he was sworn to be faithful to the King, and he could not contemplate breaking his oath; it was in his nature to be loyal.
For a long while he remained motionless, the hot breeze fanning his silken garments and his eyes fixed on the groves of mulberry, chestnut, and olive that sloped above the town to the Apennines that lifted their snows against the intensely blue sky of midsummer.
Even the hot languor of the south, the scented beauty of Naples began to pall on him, so intense was his longing for action. He closed his eyes that he might not behold the idle sails and the alluring sea that seemed to entice him again to the shores of Africa.
When he moved he saw Juan de Escovedo standing in the window.
"Excellency," said the secretary, "there is a matter which I must tell you of that slipped my mind—I being occupied with this business of the Pasha Ali's sons."
Juan smiled indifferently; he thought that there could be no pressing news for him since the King had not written.
"This morning," continued Escovedo, "a man, a Spanish groom, rode up—before your Excellency had risen—and as he made much of an ado at the gates I consented to see him."
Juan was listening with a lax attention. He pulled at the leaves of a cassia-tree whose top touched the balcony, broke the leaves, and scattered them on the marble, gold and purple from sun and shadow.
"This fellow had been robbed of his papers and his money, or so he said, and had with difficulty saved his horse. His tale was that he had crossed from Sicily on business of your Excellency's and that he must see you immediately. On my telling him this was impossible he went back to the town. I said, I would acquaint you with this matter and send for him, but it passed my mind."
Leaning on his elbow Juan turned absent eyes on the speaker.
"What could this business be?" he asked idly.
"Excellency, it was something before my time. As I told the fellow, de Soto or Quiroga would have known of it."
"Did he give no hint?" questioned Juan.
"He said that he came from Don Lope de Figueroa."
Juan straightened against the balustrade and a wave of blood dyed his face from the edge of his ruff to his hair.
"Dios!" he muttered.
"You know the name?" asked Juan de Escovedo, startled.
The blood was in Juan's eyes, too, darkening them, changing the gold colour to red.
"Where is Don Lope?" he demanded.
"Yes, Excellency, near Messina."
"Fetch me this groom at once." Juan caught the secretary's sleeve and drew him hastily into the room. "I sent Don Lope on a mission," he added, "to find a certain lady."
"The groom spoke of a lady, seņor—Seņora di Falanga, he said, was with Don Lope, but I knew neither of the names."
"Diana!" exclaimed Juan in a tone of sparkling energy. "Escovedo—we cross to Sicily at once—to-night?"
Juan of Austria, the hero of Christendom, rode with only two companions, a Spanish groom, and his secretary, Juan de Escovedo, out of the town of Messina, through groves of oak and olive, and vineyards heavy with grapes, and trees of Barbary fig rising above the corn.
It was evening and the air was alive with delicate sounds—goat bells, the songs of the shepherds, the twitter of birds, the gurgle of a little stream, and the flutter of the grey olive leaves in the wind that blew off a sea like jasper.
As they rode, Juan questioned the groom, not for the first or second or third time, as to how he had left Don Lope and Diana di Falanga.
And the man, with humble courtesy and unchanged mien, repeated the same answer. Don Lope after many searchings had found the lady in a convent near Siracusa, and with much difficulty had effected her escape (for His Excellency must know that her father, the Falanga, was a proud man and had done his best to hide his daughter away from Don Lope), and then they had travelled across Sicily meaning to cross to Naples before the Prince received orders to move. And Don Lope was anxious to be at an end of his task.
But there was a report of brigands in the hills, and they had gone out of their way and so been lost, and when they came upon the high road again the lady fell ill and they had to stop.
And the time passing, and she still being in a fever and not fit to move, Don Lope had sent the groom, the one servant left him, to Naples, to fetch or acquaint the Prince; and he had met with misfortunes, as he had related to Escovedo, and it was now two weeks since he had parted from his master.
"She may be dead," Juan said every time he listened to this account, and then would ride in silence, his gaze ever before him. Escovedo, considering him, wondered. "He loves this woman," he thought, "and he never breathed her name."
He was drawn closer to Juan by this sudden, wild adventure, this sudden revelation of a side of his master's character that he had never suspected.
Between corn and barley, peach and pear, apple and olive, oak and chestnut, they rode, their faces towards the mighty peak of Etna, from whose summit rose a column of thick, pure smoke, and their backs to the sea that was fading into the sky that absorbed it in one purple expanse of glowing darkness.
Then they rode out on to a plain scattered with boulders and grown with tall grasses, then through a forest of beech and hazel that was thick with fallen nuts underfoot, for it neared the full time of fruition of the growing things, and so past a Saracen's castle that was falling into ruins and full of little yellow owls that hooted as they passed, and then to the deserted peasant's cottage where Don Lope sheltered the prize that he had sought for so long.
The last glimmer of light lingered before the final darkness fell and the crystal stars were all abroad and made one gleam of the vast clear sky.
Beside the cottage rose the three broken columns of some Greek temple, yellow and defaced, and clasped by the luxuriant leaves of a climbing rose bush that had cast its blossoms down in a shower of crimson petals on the thick grass.
Under a rude wattled shed, behind these pillars, two horses were stabled, and a bare-legged boy in a goatskin was cleaning an elaborate set of horse furniture that Juan recognized as his own gift to Don Lope de Figueroa.
"They are still here," he whispered as he drew rein.
The boy, seeing three horsemen, ran into the cottage, calling on his master.
"Escovedo," said Juan, touching his secretary's arm, "go in first, and ask if she is—alive."
As he spoke he dismounted and stood holding the bridle and gazing at the open doorway of the humble cottage; on its walls the passion flower and the late white rose waved, while in the background the palm and pepper mingled with the aloe and pomegranate.
A woman appeared at the door; a peasant with huge gold rings in her ears that twinkled in the twilight, and a shawl of bright colours over her shoulder.
Seeing two cavaliers she shrank away frightened and would have fled, but Don Juan stepped before her.
"The lady," he demanded with the haughtiness he used in addressing those beneath him, and that nothing could soften; "is she there?"
He spoke in Italian, which the countrywoman did not understand; she shook her head. The groom came forward, but she did not know him.
"Dios!" cried Don Juan. "Where is Don Lope?"
With a deep sigh he entered the cottage; the door was so low that he had to stoop, and the passage so dark that he had to feel his way.
Escovedo came after him, and then the groom ran up to say that he had learnt from the woman (he spoke a few words of Sicilian) that Don Lope had gone for a priest.
"A priest!" said Juan heavily. "A priest!"
He stumbled on, feeling the wall with his outstretched hand.
On the left was a door ajar; from within came a soft stream of yellow light. Juan paused, crossed himself, uttered a prayer under his breath, and entered.
The room was at the back of the cottage, white walled and small; the glow of the dying day was shrouded by a yellow curtain across the small window, and the light came from a lamp of red earthenware that stood on a shelf in one corner.
There was no furniture in the room beyond a stool and a crudely carved black bureau, on which stood a transparent green glass full of red roses, drooping among their thorns, and a Spanish Bible.
Beneath the antique lamp lay a woman, her head pillowed on a bundle of dry grass which was covered with a square of fine white silk; over her was drawn a piece of gorgeous Oriental embroidery, glittering in a thousand tones, and by her side slept a shaggy dog of a yellowish white colour.
She, too, seemed sleeping; her face was turned to the wall and her body motionless; the rough, gold waves of her hair showed above the coverlet, which one arm clad in a linen sleeve, and one thin hand, lightly pressed.
"Diana!" whispered Juan.
He stepped into the chamber (having paused for a while on the threshold like one under a spell) bringing the beauty of his young strength and health into the close atmosphere of the sick-room.
She did not move; the dog looked up.
Juan went on one knee beside her low couch.
"Are you dead?" he asked. "Dead?"
He touched her hand, her shoulder.
"Ah, do not wake her!" cried Escovedo from the door; the dog fondled Juan's hand with his tongue. It was now useless for him to bate his breath; she stirred and sighed, then turned and looked up at Juan.
It was the woman with whom he had spent that one hour in the gardens of her father's palace at Naples, but she was no longer beautiful, and seemed no longer young.
"Ah, Giovanni!" she whispered, and for one second her face was filled with radiant loveliness; then the splendour faded and her head dropped back. "It is too late," she said.
He could not speak; pity and love and remorse swept him with a passion beyond words; remorse held him perhaps above all other emotion; he marked her emaciated form, her bluish lips, her sunk face, her dim gaze, with an agony of regret.
"Would I had never desired you!" he cried hoarsely, "If it was to bring you to this, Diana!"
She fixed the great eyes, from which the colour had faded, on his face, and a terrible yearning sprang up in them, as the last flame will leap from ashes.
"So you came," she said. "Don Lope said you would."
He bent and kissed her wasted brow.
"Oh, my love!" he sobbed, "I never forgot. I searched for you, I waited for you!"
"I know," whispered Diana; "but it was not to be—for us. I was ill when Don Lope found me. Giovanni, I had been a year in the convent when he came."
She dragged herself up on one elbow, and he noticed that her gold hair had been shorn.
"They said I had a devil. They starved me to get the devil out. Once I escaped from Naples, but they brought me back and sent me to Siracusa."
She stopped, exhausted.
"We were—seen—that night, my Prince. Deadly sin, they said. My father would keep me virtuous."
"Virtuous!" he echoed in a broken voice, supporting her poor thin body. "Your virtue was in your faithfulness to me!"
When Diana spoke again her voice faltered through weakness.
"He is too ambitious to marry you, they said, and you are too good to be his toy—but I—did not care—I wanted to come to you—it was one hour—three years ago, but it was the only thing that mattered in all my life."
He pressed her close; in that moment it seemed as if his ambition was but a will-o'-the-wisp to lead him into swamps of despair; through ambition he had lost Aņa de Santofimia, through ambition he had broken this woman's life; what other reason save ambition had prevented him from making her his wife? He loved her and she was noble, but the dream of a throne and a queen had separated them—to this end!
"I wanted to come to you," repeated Diana, drooping against him; "but not like this—in brocade, Giovanni, and beautiful, in the midst of your triumph—deadly sin," she gasped; "but I would have paid for it—with hell—"
But she did not speak with energy, softly rather, as if she were sleepy, and she showed not the wonder, surprise, and passion he had hoped for; surely her soul was as changed as her body; all her pride and stateliness were gone—dead as her beauty.
"They tormented you," said Juan, clasping her fiercely.
"You love me, do you not?" she answered, closing her eyes; "but it is spoilt now."
"No!" he cried with energy. "I will take you to Naples. I will love you back to life."
"Open the window," said Diana; "draw the curtain. At even the flowers smell so sweet."
He laid her back on the pillow with infinite gentleness, and crossing to the window moved the yellow curtain that draped it and let in the honey-sweet air which was indeed laden with the night perfumes of the blossoms in the little garden and on the hill-side.
Escovedo and the woman were in the passage; neither could do anything, but waited for the return of Don Lope and the priest, as if that would decide their action. But Juan did not think of Don Lope or the priest at all, only of his frustrated passion and the woman who had been taken from him and drained of life and beauty.
He had loved her through all the turmoil, triumph, and distraction of these three years, and now that he had found her he thought that she was the dearest thing on earth.
When he returned to her couch she was grasping a crucifix of bronze and ebony that she had lifted from the ground between her bed and the wall.
And now as Juan gazed at her he decided that she did not look older but younger than when he had seen her in Naples; there was much of the child in her wasted contours and in her feeble speech.
The perfume of meadow-sweet filled the chamber, and the fruit trees murmured without in the warm tropical night.
Diana di Falanga pressed the crucifix to her breast and closed her eyes.
"Bury me in the habit I discarded," she said; "for I die immaculate. God may forgive. Jesus! Jesus! It was all sin."
Juan stared into her face and read there what they had made her suffer for her love, and a dull resentment against God came over him as it had when he had first known Felipe, God's lieutenant; but as he did not know how to voice such an awful feeling, he remained silent and even struggled to tell himself that this was a just punishment for his sins and perhaps for hers in forgetting God for an earthly passion.
"I would I was in Naples," murmured Diana.
She opened her eyes and for a moment the two looked on each other in silence.
"Give me the crucifix—it is heavy," he said at last, for he could see her breast labouring under the weight of the wood and iron.
She shook her head.
"How long the priest is," she whispered, and Juan saw that they had nearly succeeded in winning him from her, and that she was thinking more of heaven than of him.
As he realized this his old passion for her swelled high, strengthened by jealousy; he resolved to win her back from the very gates of heaven.
He was on his knees, and he stretched out his arms and took hold of her, first removing the crucifix from her bosom.
"Diana," he said, in a whisper that was rich with ardour and youth; "you were coming to me—you promised yourself to me—you must live for me—do you hear? I know how to make you happy. When we are old we may repent. But now, I love you."
He put his warm face next hers and kissed her from chin to forehead, and tried not to notice that she was so cold that she chilled his lips.
Her mouth parted in a smile and her breathing became fainter; he kissed her shoulders, that were only covered with the linen robe, and her thin arms.
"I love you," he repeated; "do not send me away a second time. We have wasted three years—but now we will not part again. Look at me, Diana, O Diana! and tell me that this is so!"
She opened her eyes, but her gaze was so strange that he could not tell whether or not she saw him; he held his breath; he could hear the peach-tree shivering in its leaves and the passion flowers knocking against the window frame, for a full hot wind from Africa was blowing across the island.
"Speak to me," he demanded passionately, and he stared down into her face that lay against his crushed ruff and that was marked red on its pallor from his kisses.
The answer came tremblingly from her parted lips.
"Let me go! I fled from God to you and He has struck me down. Let me go! Pray for me!"
He pressed her closer.
"No—you shall live—I want you here—you are young and I want you. Oh heart! heart! why should we be despoiled of our joy?"
"We thought of sin," she whispered; "yet I love you—yet repent—"
"Not now." He kissed her again. "I have been longing to kiss you, Diana—and you love me—you told me so. Do you remember when you opened your door to me that night in Naples?"
She made a feeble struggle in his embrace.
"Giovanni "—her eyes were closed and her lips moved slowly—"your love torments me—it draws me back from heaven. Ah, Maria, let me in! Do not shut me out! Ah, merciful Maria, I cannot suffer through all eternity! I am so tired—let me in!"
A bitter despair filled Juan's heart as he felt the woman slipping from him even while he held her to his heart.
"I will make you happy," he said fiercely. "Stay with me." And he began to entreat her passionately as if it was in her power to remain with him if she would.
But she made no response at all and with a groan he laid her back on her pillow. She had become paler and her limbs were quivering; her hands fumbled, not for him but for the crucifix, for when she touched it she smiled.
Something she whispered under her breath; he bent low over her and caught not his name but fragments of a prayer for forgiveness. The sirocco wind stirred her coverlet, and the murmur in the fruit trees came in loudly through the open window.
A slight perspiration showed on Diana's brow, her head sank to one side; she could not whisper but her lips moved. Escovedo, looking into the chamber, saw her face, and turning back into the passage made a sign to the woman, the groom, and the boy, who were waiting at the entrance of the cottage; he then sank on his knees at the threshold of Diana's chamber and began to recite the Litany; the servants understood and also knelt, while four voices were raised in the stillness of the evening. The holy words seemed to reach the ears of the dying woman, for a look of peace settled on her features and she tried to form some words.
"What is it you say, love?" asked Juan in a stifled voice, seizing her hand. "Ah, love, the sun, honey sweet in Naples."
She uttered two words and they were—
Then her eyes turned in her head and she fell sideways from her pillow dragging the square of white silk with her, the crucifix slipping so that it lay heavily across her throat, like a sword of execution. Juan dropped beside her and buried his face in the dried grass from which her head had fallen.
When he rose to his knees Don Lope and an old priest were at the doorway.
Juan got to his feet; two tears hung on his lashes.
"Take her," he said sombrely to the priest; "she is yours, but I would have made her happier."
With that he left all of them and went out into the Sicilian night.
And there was no cloud in the whole starlit sky.
In a black and white marble palace in Genoa, in whose centre courtyard grew oranges and palms, about a painted basin of clear water from which rose the silver jet of a fountain, Girolamo Lippomano, envoy of the Doge of Venice to the Commander of the Spanish Navy, was having his last conversation with Juan de Escovedo.
The two were in the embrasure of a window that looked down on to the fountain and the orange-trees and the arcades of the palace that belonged to Giovanni Andrea d'Oria who had led the Genoese galleys at Lepanto.
It was on the glories of this battle that Escovedo was dwelling as he once more endeavoured to impress on the astute Venetian the desirability of the Signory contributing ships and money to a new Holy League against the Turk.
This was almost a hopeless matter as Escovedo only too well knew, for of late the brilliant lustre of Don Juan's fame had been clouded by the loss of Tunis and the Goeletta, and it began to be known both in Europe and the Levant that the King of Spain was only using his famous brother for his own purposes and never meant him to gain an individual greatness; therefore whatever he might himself promise, it was commonly believed that he could carry nothing out by his own means, and that both the King and the Spanish Council of State were not likely to aid him in schemes that might lead to his glory more than to their own satisfaction.
Therefore the shrewd Venetian had been wary of pledging the Republic of St. Marc to any share in the schemes the Prince now cherished of raising a second Holy League, and making another descent on Africa, for the glory of Christendom.
Nor did he show much enthusiasm for Don Juan's hope of being Vicar-General of Italy with full power over the Viceroy and the chair and canopy of State. Don Felipe had promised this but had not yet redeemed his word.
Girolamo Lippomano listened courteously, but he had been unmoved by Juan's caresses, arts, and charms, and he was about to return to his Republic with the advice not to join any fresh league the Prince might meditate.
Juan de Escovedo suspected as much; but still, on the very morning of the envoy's departure, he strove to once more put forward the arguments of the master whom he dearly loved and faithfully served.
"His Excellency will one day be an independent Prince," he said, "and you ought to be very careful how you cherish his friendship."
The Venetian smiled pleasantly.
"I will speak to the Signory on this matter," he replied. "But, as I have said before, the most serene republic would have to have good assurance that other powers were joining Spain. And, under your pardon, it seems as if His Catholic Majesty were very occupied with many affairs in his own realms, notably with this uprising in the Netherlands, which has taken on vast proportions of late."
Juan de Escovedo could not forbear a haughty reply.
"The King, my master," he said, "is able to rule his own dominions and still, seņor, send a fleet against the Turk."
"As we have seen," assented the Venetian pleasantly, "and I hope that the Signory may join his next glorious enterprise." But the speech rang hollow as Juan de Escovedo knew.
"What of the Scottish marriage?" added Lippomano. "Does His Excellency still hold that idea?"
"On his approaching return to Spain he will ask the consent of His Majesty to this proposition, which indeed sits near his heart," answered Escovedo, eager to say anything that would advance the credit of his master.
"But the Scots Queen is in captivity," objected the Venetian.
"None the less there is a large party in her favour both in her own country and in England that would rise up at a signal from a powerful prince and put the heretic Elizabeth herself in her prisoner's place."
He paused a second then added:—
"So would His Excellency be King of England, which he would bring again under the Pope."
Lippomano stroked his chin.
"Spanish kings are not popular in England," he remarked, "as Don Felipe found."
Escovedo wished to say that Don Juan was a very different personality from Don Felipe, but deemed it more politic to be silent on this matter.
"You perceive, seņor," he remarked, "that my master will be a very great prince, even perhaps a king as great as Don Felipe himself."
Girolamo Lippomano drew on his long-tasselled gloves, and continued to gaze reflectively at the bright rise and fall of the fountain among the orange-trees and palms.
"I think the horses will be ready," he remarked, "and that I will take my leave of His Excellency."
He threw over his shoulder the long black mantle of the Venetian noble and, courteously preceded by Juan de Escovedo, proceeded into the presence of Don Juan.
They entered a large chamber with a long arcaded window supported on red marble pillars and hung with curtains of a thick orange satin that excluded the full glare of the daylight. On the black and white marble floor several fine Oriental rugs were flung, and the dark ceiling was heavy with gilt and painting. So shrouded was the chamber that the Venetian paused a moment on the threshold to accustom himself to the heavy golden light.
He thought at first that the Prince was not there, then he perceived two people in a corner of the room.
On a couch covered with brocade and velvet, and piled with tasselled cushions and long silk pillows sat a very old man.
He wore an olive-green robe flowing open on a vest of silver tissue and a scarlet cap; his clean-cut, hawk-like features were pale and thin, his long bleached beard fell to his lap, where his fine white hands were clasped.
On a dead gold damask cushion at his feet sat Don Juan of Austria; he wore a simple black doublet without a ruff and open at the throat, with a plain linen collar; his attitude was one of repose, and his face had the lines of melancholy which, though in great contrast to his usual gaiety, seemed the natural heritage of the House of Austria.
Between him and the old man lay a small honey-coloured beast with a little scarlet collar; this animal seemed at first a dog, but when it moved it showed itself a maneless African lion, a creature Don Juan had taken as a cub from Tunis.
He was now caressing its head with slow movements of his dark fingers.
As the envoy entered he glanced up, and the old man, the great Andrea d'Oria, turned his head. Don Juan instantly lit into a charming smile.
"So we must lose you, seņor," he said haughtily, yet graciously.
He rose, and as the Venetian advanced he was conscious, and not for the first time, of something intensely lovable about the slender person and beautiful generous face of the young Spanish hero.
He wished that he could have persuaded his Republic to give the help Don Juan desired in his chivalrous schemes, but he knew well enough that the prudent Signory would turn a deaf ear to any arguments he might bring forward, even if he permitted himself to speak in favour of the Prince.
"I hope that the Republic will send us the galleys," smiled Juan, with a caressing note in his voice. "You have all my reasons, seņor. I can only once more add that I hope the Signory will see fit to associate themselves with a famous enterprise."
"Aye," said Andrea d'Oria, a steady look of dislike for the Venetian in his proud old eyes, "we hope that where Genoa goes Venice will not delay."
Lippomano bowed; he knew that though d'Oria might be very much Juan's friend, the Republic of Genoa was by no means so ready to help in an attempt to recapture Tunis and the Goeletta.
"I also hope, Signor," he answered, "for a happy consummation to all our desires."
"Amen," said Juan.
He took from a small table that held glasses of Venetian make with milky lines about the stem, two silver gilt water-bottles and presented them to Lippomano.
"I wish you to accept these," he said, "as a poor remembrance of me. If I give little," he added with a deprecating smile and gesture infinitely graceful, "it is because I have little to give. I am a poor gentleman."
Lippomano took the gift and kissed the hand that gave so graciously.
"Did your Highness offer a casket of diamonds," he answered, "your manner of it would outweigh the value of the gift."
"Ah, seņor," said Juan, "I live in the hopes of one day giving you and Venice more than courtesies."
The Venetian bowed before the old d'Oria, who returned a stiff salutation, and so took his leave accompanied by Juan de Escovedo.
As soon as he had gone Juan flung himself on the gold cushion again, and the expression of melancholy clouded his features once more.
"No use in this," he said gloomily; "this envoy sees that Don Felipe is not behind me! What am I?" He gave a sigh as if he would burst the lacings of his doublet. "A weed without root, as Don Carlos told me!"
"Does the son of Carlo Quinto speak so weakly?" reproved the old Genoese sternly.
"Ah, d'Oria!" answered Don Juan, resting his hand on the lion's back, "you cannot gauge the bitterness of my position that seems so well gilt without!" He hung his head. "Would that my father when he saw well to acknowledge me had left me the wherewithal to live that I might not for ever be dependent upon the King and the Council of State."
Andrea d'Oria laid his old, stiff fingers on Juan's black sleeve. "Leave Venice," he answered, "leave Genoa and Spain out of your thoughts, trust yourself and you will win to permanent greatness. Would I were ten years younger, and I and my Silician galleys would follow you to sweep these heathen from the coasts of Africa."
Juan flashed a warm look up at the noble face of the Genoese.
"Would Don Felipe was such as you!" he exclaimed, "then should I work hopefully. But he is cold and cautious and suspicious, he watches me, he thinks to trap me. He is afraid of granting me favours lest I use them against him. And now Antonio Perez has his ear, and Perez is not my friend. The Princess of Eboli, too, can do what she will with Felipe, and I do not trust her."
"If you could accomplish the Scottish marriage," said Andrea d'Oria, "you would make yourself independent, would you not?"
"It is for that purpose that I am now returning to Madrid. Without leave as you know. I will petition the King to make me Infant of Castile and Vicar-General of Italy, and to support me in the marriage with Queen Mary."
"See she is worth it first," said the Genoese shrewdly. "She has had three husbands and the third lives, does he not? A tarnished prize after all—did you not hear some story of the Lord Darnley's murder and her amours with an Italian player?"
"What matter if she bring me a crown?" answered Juan recklessly; "and I believe these stories to be inventions of the heretics. She is beautiful, d'Oria, and a prisoner; it would be a glorious deed to set her free."
"Could it be done?"
A glow of enthusiasm cleared the melancholy from the Prince's face.
"It could," he answered eagerly. "There are many Roman Catholics in England, among them the Duke of Norfolk, who are ready to rise up against Elizabeth. I have seen an English Jesuit, one Father Stulkeley, who has already made plans whereby the Romanists might rise up and seize the capital and deliver the Queen of Scotland if only they could be assured of a foreign force landing to uphold them."
"And will Don Felipe provide this force?" asked d'Oria.
"It has ever been his ambition to regain England," returned Juan.
"Aye, but for himself, not for another," commented the Genoese.
"Were I King of England he would be my sovereign," said Juan. "But first I would conquer Africa for the sake of my glory before the world."
"Ah, Jesus!" answered d'Oria with a little sigh, "may your ambitions be brought to pass. I love you, Juan, and would have you happy."
He sighed again; he was ninety years of age, and it seemed to him as if he could remember the beginning of the world. He had won and worn great honours in his time and been as famous as any man, and he still bore a name renowned in Europe and dreaded in the Levant. Yet he was very old; he wanted nothing but his marble palace of black and white in his beloved Genoa, his brocade couch and his arcaded window from which the silken curtains could be lifted at even to show him the town and the sea that he had loved and fought for during his whole life.
He did not envy Juan's lusty youth, strong longings, glittering visions, and high ambitions; he was glad to be at peace, to want nothing more of the world—and to sleep.
He smiled kindly at the young Prince from the infinite distance of his ninety years, and presently, as the stillness of the midday deepened, he fell asleep. Juan rose silently and went from the room, followed by the sleepy lion.
He had resolved to return to Madrid, despite the fact that Felipe had desired him to set the Navy in order and repair the internal dissensions of Genoa.
Face to face with Felipe he must state his desires and gain some definite answer, for his soul could no longer endure this inaction.
He avoided the rooms where his Spanish gentlemen talked and laughed, and went into the courtyard which was now full in shade.
Then he seated himself on the edge of the basin and gazed long and thoughtfully into the shadowed water while the little lion slept against his knee.
And the vision he saw oftenest in the depths of the fountain was the golden circlet of a King's crown.
Felipe was not niggardly of promises; he lent an attentive ear to the Scottish scheme; encouraged Juan to hope that he would give him the dignity of Infant, and create him Vicar-General of Italy.
Certainly, despite the losses in Africa, he was gracious enough to his brother, on whom both Perez also and the Princess of Eboli smiled.
Yet Juan saw delays still mocking him; these honours and dignities were all to be presently. Now he was to go back to the fleet and attend to his duties as Lord High Admiral of Spain.
He went first to Abrojo, and gave himself up to religious melancholy and meditation; when he could delay no longer, he returned to the Escorial, that gloomy fulfilment of Felipe's vow at his one battle, the fruitless victory of St. Quentin.
The King was, however, in Madrid attending a Council of State, and thus it fell that Juan met the Queen walking in the garden in the early evening.
On his first return to Spain she had been, as now, in residence at the Escorial, so that this was the first time he had seen her; nor did he know her when she first came before him.
In truth this meeting was not wholly an accident, but arose from a design on the Queen's part; for she, knowing that Juan was in the building, but would not be allowed to wait on her until formally presented by the King (whose return seemed ever delayed), had watched from the window when she knew Juan was abroad, and seeing him this evening wandering under the ilex-trees, she had gone clown into the garden with two of her ladies.
They came face to face in a quidnunc that was yet scarce finished, and disfigured with scaffolding poles; there was a wind in the ilex trees, and a few clouds in the early spring sky.
Juan looked up from heavy meditations of discontent, and saw the third fair woman who was to matter in his life. What he remembered of her afterwards when she came to mingle in his waking visions of all the dear loveliness he had known, was the impression she made on him of silver.
In truth she wore a great farthingale of frills of silver lace that touched the box hedge either side the narrow path, and a shawl of white net with a silver fringe fastened by a rosette of yellow silk.
Her hair was inlaced with pearls, and gathered into a comb set with corals; she carried a tortoiseshell fan, and all down one side of her skirt were little bows of violet fastened with diamond buttons; she wore, he noticed, long and splendid earrings of red enamel and cinnamon diamonds. Her ladies were some paces behind her, and as she advanced to the Prince, they fell still further back; they were Austrians, and in the confidence of their mistress. He stood for a second startled out of his usual ready courtesy, and she was gazing eager-eyed on him, to trace in this slender cavalier the fancied lineaments of the great hero of Christendom.
Then suddenly, almost with a shock, Juan realized he was looking at the face whose likeness had gazed at him from the little picture in the fevered palm of Don Carlos.
"You are the Queen?" he said below his breath; and even as he spoke the word conjured up the vision of the woman who had worn this title when he was last in Madrid.
"And you—Don Juan," answered Anne. "Are you too weary of praise, seņor, to refuse mine? From my heart I admire your actions and applaud your fame."
"You are too gracious," he murmured.
He was somewhat startled at this meeting, discomposed, he knew not why. He had often thought of the fourth Queen, but thought of her as a pale shadow, the vision of the sick dreams of Carlos; he had never imagined her as so beautiful as she appeared when she stood before him alive and young and gorgeous.
"Walk with me a little way," said the Emperor's daughter. "I have been wishing to speak to you—"
He stood mutely at her service.
"I have heard of you," continued Anne, "from Seņor de Quiroga."
He lifted his beautiful eyes that had been his passport to many favours in love and diplomacy, and fixed them with a wide, melancholy look on her pale aristocratic face; he wondered if she was among his enemies; Felipe's eternal suspicion had taught him distrust; he believed that the King was for ever spying on him and setting traps; it hurt him to think that this gracious, fair woman might be one of the cold King's instruments.
"Majesty," he answered rather sadly, "what of interest can a supplicant at your brother's court have to say to you?"
"A supplicant?" she echoed softly.
"You must know it, seņora."
Her women were out of sight, lost in the shadows that gathered over the quidnunc and the darkness of the ilex-trees beyond; Juan and the Queen seemed to be alone; yet the sombre darkness of the Escorial rose up and dominated them, dwarfing them to specks in the foreground of the scene on which many mighty players would come and go before the walls of the yet unfinished palace should fall.
Anne opened her fan and moved it lightly to and fro.
"Will the King do nothing for you?" she asked swiftly.
"His Majesty promises," he said, with the evasion of his distrust. "What more can I expect?"
The Queen looked at him with a frank expression—rare in the Spanish Court and rare in his experience.
"You must know by now what Felipe's promises are worth," she said.
"Jesus!" exclaimed Juan, glancing round him fearfully.
"At present we are unspied on," smiled Anne. "I know that the Escorial is very full of eyes, but here we may speak for a few moments freely."
"Are you, then, my friend?" asked Juan.
"Yes," she replied, answering with the same simplicity that he had used.
She began to move slowly towards the middle of the quidnunc, and he came beside her, his dark mantle pressed against her silver skirts.
She was a head shorter than he; she had to look up at him, and then she could only see the dark outlines of his head and cheek against the white blur of his white ruff.
Until they reached the open space where the sundial stood, they did not speak; then the Queen said, furling her fan—
"Tell me of Diana di Falanga."
Juan stopped with his hand to his heart, as if someone had struck him there with a keen weapon, and he was in an amaze at his unexpected wound.
"Tell me," insisted Anne.
Never before had he spoken of her to man or woman.
"She is dead," he said.
"Dead!" echoed the Queen with deep sympathy; "dead!"
"Aye," answered Juan, "she died the hour I found her." He stared at the Queen. "How did you know of this?" he asked.
"Quiroga told me."
"Quiroga!" Juan received the stab he never failed to feel when it was borne in upon him yet again how he was spied upon.
"You loved her?" asked Anne.
Juan lifted his eyes to the wind-tossed ilex-trees, through the topmost branches of which the first star sparkled.
"I always lose those I love," he said sombrely. "She was one and only—God Himself could not renew her—and she is dead!"
"Alas!" sighed the Queen.
"The Church took her from me," continued Juan, "and mortified her flesh and lacerated her soul so that she was ready to go to God, yet she loved me."
"How, then, could she think of God?" flashed Anne. Juan crossed himself.
"She was saved from sin, and she is now a saint in heaven, Maria be praised!" he said. "But the flesh is weak, Majesty, and I yearn for her as she was on the earth—no angel, but a woman."
The Queen laughed brokenly.
"I am sorry," she said. "If I could, I would give her back to you."
"I hope she prays for me in heaven—she was pure as the snows on the Apennines that no man has touched and fit to sit within a fold of Our Lady's robes."
"Was she beautiful?"
"Beautiful," he paused, considering; "it was more than beauty—I—yes—she was beautiful. But I could not tell you in what manner she was beautiful. I loved her."
The Queen shivered.
"Ah, that love should be wasted in the grave!" she cried, "like a precious essence spilled into the earth! Canst thou not love a living woman, Don Juan?"
She leant against the sundial, resting her elbow on the stone near the slanting finger, and in her lace and silver she seemed a creature of foam and glitter, like the fabled mermaids that rise from the depths of a lovely fountain at midnight and catch the moonbeams in their hair.
"Why should I speak of this to you?" asked Juan; "I forget your rank and my respect."
Her cheek drooped against her hand; she looked down at the square stone of the sundial.
"Tell me of Don Carlos," she said.
The name was of ill omen to Juan, it was as awful as unlooked for from her lips.
"Let the dead sleep," he answered, "nor seek to raise their shadows!"
The Queen looked up.
"He was betrothed to me. I sent him my picture, why should I not hear of him? I live near his tomb and often think of him. Of the last Queen too. Tell me of them. I think they were both unhappy."
"He loved you," answered Juan reluctantly; "as a fisher loves the morning star, he loved you. Your picture was on his breast and within it—always."
"It did not enrich me, this love," said the Queen jealously. "I only heard of it through gossip."
Juan looked at her in amazement; the twilight made her indistinct; the gleam of her dress was fainter.
"He was only a poor creature," he answered. "You—could—never—"
He broke off. How could he express to her that she must have met the poor Infant's devotion with contempt?
Her voice came passionately through the stillness. "He loved me. Do you think I would refuse any love in whatever form it came?"
Juan was silent and she spoke again.
"How did he die, Juan?"
The King's brother shivered.
"Of a fever," he answered. "The Infant was always sickly."
"I have heard," whispered the Queen without moving, "that a wet towel over his mouth was the medicine for that fever! Felipe took my picture I sent to the Prince," she laughed; "belike he loved me from that likeness too!"
She was hinting that which he had always suspected but never dare put into words; he could not reply to her soft accusation.
"Felipe cheated Carlos of two wives," she continued. "Well, God help us all, and keep me loyal to my husband!"
"And my master," added Juan gloomily. "I choose to serve the King, and I will serve him."
It seemed to him as if some shadow of death had fallen between them; he wished that she had not spoken of Carlos; with a bitter vividness he recalled the day when he had come with Felipe from the Escorial to Madrid secretly, and secretly come in upon the Queen and Don Carlos crouching at her feet.
He remembered Felipe's mutterings of senseless jealousy and mad hate; even then he was scheming for the hand of Anne, calculating coldly on the likelihood of his wife's death, and tortured by the poison Aņa di Mendoza had distilled for him from the comments of the Court—the fear that the dying Elizabeth loved his son.
"But they are both sick," he had said to Juan as they rode towards Madrid.
The words came back as clearly as if they had just been spoken, and brought a new and horrid thought with them. Was it possible that the Queen, too, had died through Felipe's wish?
Juan recalled standing behind the King as he knelt beside the damask covered bier that bore the fair body of Elizabeth de Valois, and how, during the long hours of the vigil, he had noticed a gold chain over Don Felipe's mourning dress, and afterwards seen the King pull the end of this chain from his doublet and furtively gaze at the picture of Anne that he had taken from his dead son.
And now the King's desire was accomplished and the betrothed of Carlos was Queen of Spain. A hatred of the King and a desire to avenge Carlos and Elizabeth possessed Juan; at that moment he would have gladly affronted Felipe. Not for the first time did he struggle between the overwhelming weight of his duty and his obligations to Felipe, and his loathing of the man and his policy.
"What are you thinking of?" asked Anne. She moved from the sundial and touched his hand. "Tell me your thoughts, Don Juan."
He laughed fiercely.
"I was considering what use His Majesty would next put me to," he said.
"Will he not help you to win the Queen of Scots?" she answered, half wistfully.
Juan laughed again.
"Luis de Resquesens, my Vice-Admiral at Lepanto, is dying—they might send me as his successor in the Governorship of the Netherlands," he said abruptly.
"Oh, God pity you!" she said. "There is a hopeless task. But surely Felipe would not—"
"Escovedo told me Antonio Perez had hinted as much."
"I must find my women," said the Queen suddenly; "it is almost dark. I hope you will stay at Court, Don Juan."
He turned sharply; they were standing very near together.
"Why?" he demanded.
"I am so lonely," said the Queen, "and so weary of the Escorial."
He glanced up at the scaffolded pile and straight towers of the palace whose very shape had been twisted to resemble an instrument of torture.
"I was gay once," continued Anne, "but I live too near graves now." Her grasp tightened on his sleeve.
"Juan, do not go," she said suddenly. "Stay and talk to me of Diana."
"I must go where the King sends me," he answered hoarsely.
They left the quidnunc and walked under the alleys of ilex.
The night before there had been a storm and the ground was strewn with broken boughs and scattered leaves.
The ladies were nowhere in sight. Anne was secretly frightened; she had thought that she could trust these Austrians, still, it was possible that they were in the pay of Aņa de Mendoza, and had purposely disappeared; dealings with Felipe had made the frank-natured Queen mistrustful, and ever since she had defied the Princess of Eboli she had always been on her guard against a trap.
And now she had the unpleasant feeling that she had walked into one; she had not meant to talk so long to Juan, to be alone with him, nor to stay in the garden till it was dark, for she knew that all these things were unheard-of breaches of Castilian etiquette, however they might have passed in the freer court of her father, and would be so many weapons in the hands of her enemy the Princess. Yet it was not for herself the generous Austrian feared, for her courage was high, but for the man at her side who might have to pay for her thoughtlessness.
She wished that they had not turned into the ilex avenue, where it was almost completely dark, and she hastened her steps though she disguised her misgivings.
"Seņora, if you hasten so," said Juan, "you will fall over one of these great boughs."
"Maria!" cried the Queen, "I think of the consequences to you. If Felipe—"
She heard him laugh.
"Felipe would hate me for this, eh?" he said softly.
At this revelation of the fact that he knew the dangers of her company and cared nothing, her heart gave a great leap.
"You are not afraid?" she said.
"No," he answered, "I am your servant more than I am Felipe's, and if you chose to honour me it is more to me than his favour."
She caught a delicate caress in his language of gallantry and she stopped her rapid steps.
He could see nothing of her save here and there a spot of silver where the light penetrated the ilex boughs and fell on her gown.
And of him she could see nothing at all but the blur of his white ruff.
"The women should not have left me," she said. "I think Aņa de Mendoza may be in this. She is my enemy. Do you understand?"
"Yes," came his answer.
"But I have a weapon over her as long as I am careful—but to- night—"
Then, in the recklessness of their youth and a moment of high spirits they both laughed. Another storm was rising; the wind tossed the trees and blew in and out their trunks and whirled the Queen's skirt and Juan's mantle.
"Let me go back alone," said Anne. "You turn one way and I another. It is far safer, for there must be spies upon us."
"If you wish—yet I do not like to leave you here," he answered. "Nay, surely I will go with you to the end of the avenue."
"And if that toad of a woman is limping there to see us come forth together?"
"Why should she lay such a devilish plot?" asked Juan.
"She hates me," answered the Queen quietly; "now leave me. And may we meet again!"
She put out her hand and, somehow through the dark, he found it.
The blackness increased, for a great rain cloud was passing over the stars. In the wind, the darkness, the sighing of the trees and the sharp smell of their leaves bruised under foot were excitement and exhilaration.
"I am your friend," said Anne. "Since I first came to Spain, I have been your friend. Though we meet to-night for the first time we are not strangers."
"Not strangers," echoed Juan. "Say you left me in the quidnunc," she added. "And now—adieu!"
He bent and kissed the hand he held.
She laughed again, and caught her breath. "You may kiss my lips, Juan!" she said very gently.
He clasped her to him, and she put her arms round his neck and pressed her cheek to his; rain was beginning to fall in heavy drops that pattered on the ilex leaves that were now murmuring like the rising notes of a deep song of passion. Juan felt the Queen's scented hair across his face; he kissed her mouth.
"Adieu!" she said again, and slipped from him and ran away into the darkness.
Juan, listening to her light footsteps, knew that he had met the third woman—and lost her too?
There was no answer to that question; he shivered as he hastened from under the black shade of the ilex—she was his brother's wife—she was the Queen of Spain.
"God plays some jests on me still," thought Juan. It was light when he came out of the avenue, and he remained a while in the garden that he might not return at the same moment as the Queen, regardless of the rain that was blowing up violently over the Escorial, driven by a warm and sullen wind. He saw no spies; the gardens seemed empty; he began to think that the Queen had been too fearful; his spirits rose; he returned to the palace with a song on his lips.
At the top of the stairs stood Aņa de Mendoza as if she waited for him.
"Has your Excellency been in the garden?" she asked.
"Did you see the Queen?"
"I left her in the quidnunc," he answered carelessly.
"I asked," said Aņa de Mendoza, "because the Queen returned with the drop from one of her ear-rings missing, and methought that you might have found it."
"Dios!" smiled Juan. "I was not looking for a lady's ornament. And it is dark."
In the Princess's smiling regard was a look of scrutiny and malice that he was more amazed than angered at, for he was sure that she had not seen him with the Queen.
"The ear-rings were curious," she said; "the King will be vexed."
Juan thought no more of this until he reached his chamber and chanced to look in the great glass framed in red tortoiseshell. Then he saw that the cinnamon diamond in the setting of scarlet enamel that had hung from the end of the Queen's pendant ear-ring was embedded in the stiff lace edge of his ruff.
Juan went white as the treacherous cambric about his throat; he knew that if Aņa de Mendoza had seen that diamond his death was as certain as that of Carlos had been when he had watched the broken bolts slipping back from his chamber door.
That evening the Queen's dwarf found the pendant of Her Majesty's earring in the corridor leading to the chapel and Anne received it with secret surprise and relief; she had thought at first that she had lost it in the ilex avenue, but now she concluded it had fallen where Juan had found it, and recognising it had contrived to drop it in the corridor.
Aņa de Mendoza made no comment and put in no word when the Queen's wrath swept stormily over the Austrian ladies who had left her in the quidnunc, but when the King and Antonio Perez returned the next day to the Escorial she was closeted with each, long and secretly.
On the afternoon of that day, the King sent for Don Juan.
He came and paid his duty with his usual grace, and Felipe received him kindly, but when the young man well-studied his brother (as he did at the first opportunity), he was startled at the change in the King; a change that had taken place in the last few months, for it was not more since Juan had seen him before his departure for Abrojo and his visit to Doņa Magdalena da Ulloa, his foster-mother.
Felipe looked ill and old, his face was colourless, even the full lips, and set in a strange expression of suffering, his prominent eyes were lined beneath with sagging wrinkles and his cheeks hung hollow.
He wore a high white ribbed cap, round which a green ribbon was swathed, and which completely concealed his hair; over his black doublet, which was ornamented with gold braid and buttons, was a short, sleeveless mantle of scarlet lined with a thick brown fur that stood out in a huge collar behind his close ruff.
He sat in a black leather chair by a grated window with a wooden lattice; his feet rested on a stool of Genoese velvet, and his hands were pressed together on his thin, black, silk-clad knee.
While Juan was gazing at this fearful and powerful man—to whose greatness there was no limit, and in whose hands he was, utterly—the King in his turn was staring at his brother with eyes like glass.
Juan had just come in from riding and he wore a plain suit of a clear green colour finished with a small cambric ruffle round the throat, and over his shoulders an enormous short cape of violet velvet turned back with white fur; he held his flat black cap with its single white feather in his slim, nervous hand, and his beautiful grave face was turned in a reflective and yet questioning manner towards the King. On the charm of that face Don Felipe's gaze dwelt long. It seemed that he marked, with a minute intentness, all details of the finely shaped features, the full melancholy mouth, the vivacious eyes, the golden pallor that was like the glow of a certain kind of alabaster, the fair, rich hair, and the proud yet sorrowful pose.
As he gazed the strangeness of his expression increased, and he began to mumble with his lips but without making any sound. Of a sudden Juan knew what this look on the King's face was.
The look of madness.
Carlos had been mad, the Emperor had died in melancholy, and the Emperor's mother, Queen Juana, had been for twenty years a muttering maniac.
As Juan realized this an extraordinary sensation came over him; his hereditary melancholy suddenly swept over him to a point of acute agony. He saw himself one in a family of mad people, all tainted, all accursed. His own eyes began to reflect the abnormal look in the King's gaze, and he stepped back and gave a low and awful cry as if he heard the words of doom pronounced against him.
Felipe blinked and sat up.
"What is that you say, my brother?" he asked.
Juan put his hand to his damp forehead; he did not know that he had uttered any sound.
"I did not speak, seņor," he said.
"Eh?" muttered the King. "Eh?"
"I wait the pleasure of your Majesty," said Juan, recovering himself.
"I have to speak of many projects to you," replied the King, nodding his head, and shaking the grotesque white cap so that the green ribbons fluttered.
Then he said in a thoughtful tone of voice: "Luis de Resquesens is dead."
"Ah, Dios!" cried Juan with a thrill of despair; "he died of trying to govern the Netherlands."
"He died," said Felipe coldly, "because God willed it so."
"I pity his successor," said the Prince, in a desperate attempt to forestall what he feared the King was going to say.
The King ignored the remark.
"Where Margaret and Alba failed Resquesens was not likely to succeed," he said.
"He was a worthy gentleman and a good soldier," returned Juan, with a sigh for his former Vice-Admiral.
"But a bad governor of the Netherlands," commented Felipe; "which miserable provinces are still under the spell of that thrice damned heretic, the Prince of Orange."
Juan had no answer to make. He stared at the grated window, and tried to suppress the sense of dreary foreboding that filled his heart.
The King leant forward on the arm of his chair; his manner suddenly became cordial and gracious.
"I have been well considering," he said, "the petitions you made to me, Juan, and I am minded to grant them."
The Prince was alert at once.
"I will make you Infant of Castile, as you deserve," continued the King, "and establish you as Vicar-General of Italy—also I think your plan with regard to the Scottish marriage a good one, and I will aid you in a descent on England, which will be an enterprise greatly to the glory of the Holy Church and this realm."
Juan's face flushed with hope. He was now convinced of something he had not been sure of: namely, that Aņa de Mendoza had not seen the Queen's ear-ring in the edge of his ruff.
Yet he could hardly believe that Felipe really meant to redeem all these promises given in this generous fashion, and he waited breathlessly for the King to finish.
"And I have another honour for you," added Felipe.
There was a little pause. Spanish slowness was carried to an extreme in Don Felipe.
"You shall take Don Luis de Resquesen's place," he said at last.
A sigh broke from Don Juan as the bright hopes that he had been cherishing for a glorious moment were suddenly again swept away.
"You wish me to go to the Low Countries, seņor?" he asked.
"Yes. You had best go through France in disguise. It is not safe to go openly. And when you have restored the Netherlands to their obedience (and I do not doubt that your abilities will find it an easy task), I will help you to the Queen of Scotland and make you Infant of Castile."
Tears of bitter disappointment started into Juan's eyes.
"I implore your Majesty," he said desperately, "to send me against England now or against the heathen. I am not fitted for this post, I am a soldier."
"There will," replied the King grimly, "be ample opportunities for a soldier in the Netherlands."
"But to reduce them to obedience is hopeless," cried Juan.
The revolted provinces were in fact under the government of the Prince of Orange, and neither Alba's cruelties nor Resquesen's state-craft had been able to shake them in their long resistance to Felipe. Juan knew this; he knew also and only too bitterly well, how unreliable and mean the King was in the matter of money and reinforcements, and he already saw himself abandoned with hopelessly inadequate means in a foreign country amidst heretics and rebels.
The King eyed him coldly.
"I have decided," he said. "Do you question my wisdom? Do you demur? Are you afraid of the task I set you?"
Pride, loyalty, and prudence left Juan no choice in the matter of his answer to these questions.
He struggled to submit gracefully.
"I am in your hands. I live only to serve your Majesty."
"And you shall be rewarded," replied Felipe raciously.
"Am I to leave at once, seņor?"
"At once. I would have you travel post-haste, and, as I said, in disguise. Your instructions are ready. You must use all the severities imaginable, and if possible buy the Prince of Orange or encompass his death, for I begin to perceive that this pestilent traitor has a very strong hold on these heretic wretches."
"I will strain my poor ability to the utmost," answered Juan, whose quick, ambitious mind was already throwing itself forward into its new task; his youthful ardour came to his aid after the first shock had passed. After all he might succeed, and then there were the coveted prizes for the grasping.
"Seņor," he said eagerly, "if I reduce these provinces will you grant me my petitions?"
The King raised his white hand.
"I swear by St. Laurence," he said solemnly.
Juan went on one knee and kissed his cold fingers, and once more the glittering visions began to dance across his path.
Could not he who had conquered the infidel conquer the heretic?
When he left the King's presence Felipe fell back in his chair, and a slight contortion passed over his features.
At once, and softly, Ana de Mendoza appeared from behind the arras that screened the back of the dark room.
"So it is done," she said.
"Let him start at once," muttered Felipe. "Let me never see him again! Ah, Dios! Dios! Would I had put him into a monastery as my father wished!"
"He has been useful," said the Princess.
The King groaned in his throat.
"I never trusted her!" he stammered. "Bear me witness that I never trusted her!"
Aņa de Mendoza smiled; her face was quite wicked, like a heathen mask carved to frighten men.
"They will never see each other again," she remarked.
"No," said Felipe. "No. I think that Almighty God means that he shall not return from the Netherlands."
"He is not loyal to your Majesty. He wishes to set himself up as a King. You will soon have proof of his treason. And Juan de Escovedo is his accomplice."
"I know. I know." The King rocked himself to and fro, and the tall cap waved on his head. "God will destroy them both for their sins. God does not let the wicked escape—they will be brought low—and the Queen too."
"How will your Majesty punish the Queen?" asked the Princess maliciously and rather anxiously, for she knew the immense hold Anne had on her husband, who was weakly influenced by her triumphant beauty.
Felipe plucked at his sharp, gray beard. "The Queen?" he whispered furtively. "The Queen I shall leave to God. Watch her, watch her. Keep these gallants from her—she loves me, Aņa," he leered foolishly.
The Princess longed to say: "Thou doited old man!" and bit her tongue to keep the words back, but she could not forbear from wounding Felipe.
"Have I not told you? There was her ear-ring in his ruff."
A slight foam gathered on the King's livid lips, and the blood rushed up into his eyes.
"Juan pays," was all he said.
That evening the Prince told Escovedo of his orders, and told the secretary to make all preparations and find a man to guide them through France.
Juan de Escovedo was glad enough at this news, for his life had been thrice attempted in the streets of Madrid, and though he had not spoken of it to his master, he suspected some deep design in this, some design originated by Antonio Perez and Aņa de Mendoza.
So Don Juan left Spain with a few gentlemen, he himself being disguised as a Moorish servant, and rode towards France to take up the desperate, hopeless rule in Brussels. As he turned his back on Madrid his heart ached; the Austrian Queen was sick in her chamber, and he had not seen her since he had parted from her under the ilex-trees.
Thus were love and ambition again frustrated.
There was a great ball in the palace of the French King, that palace in the heart of Paris famous for great balls and splendid festivities.
In a private apartment off the hall where they danced a woman sat alone at a small supper table.
The room, the woman, and the table were all decked with gorgeous and slightly frivolous luxury.
A curtain of rose-coloured velvet was half-looped back from an antechamber that led directly to the long galleries of the ballroom, and the sounds of music came with a muffled sweetness to the solitary lady.
The room was hung with pale blue and straw-coloured hangings caught back from mirrors bordered with twisted bouquets of gold glass flowers, and lit by a lamp of crystal and silver suspended by a long chain from the ceiling, which was painted with a riot of nymphs, long-limbed, and with elaborate head-dresses after the manner of Jean Goujon.
A pale carpet was on the floor, and the few chairs were covered with satin and brocade. The table was furnished with a deep lace cloth, Venetian glasses silver-gilt flagons, dishes of rock crystal mounted in gold, plates of porcelain, and agate-handled knives and forks; a confusion of fruit, biscuits, sweets, and flowers mingled with this costly service, and opposite the lady was a chair pushed back, a napkin flung down, and a half-empty wineglass.
She glanced at these signs of the hasty (angry it happened), departure of her companion with a mixture of disdain and indifference. Her elbows rested on the table, and she held in her right hand a flat goblet full of sparkling golden wine, on the surface of which floated the blood-red petal of a rose.
In herself she was loveliness incarnate. Anyone looking at her as she sat gazing into the wineglass would have known that she must be, in her own time and to all posterity (at least as long as men should remember fair women) famous for her beauty—perhaps for her vice.
She was dressed with the utmost extravagance and the greatest possible display of costly jewels. Her gown was thick white brocade, heavily starred with silver flowers; a huge upstanding collar of gold lace framed her head and neck and opened in front over her bare bosom, which was well displayed by her low-cut violet tissue vest; rope on rope of pearls hung over her corsage round her waist, and pearls were lavishly stitched on the close puffs of her sleeves.
Her face was in the full bloom of loveliness; she was painted, but delicately, and her complexion was pale; her large dark and most expressive eyes were full of tenderness and passion, the upper part of her face was noble in expression and shape, and though her mouth and chin were coarsely beautiful that seemed scarcely a defect in the general dazzle of her brilliant charm.
On her waving dark, yet bright, brown locks she wore a white silk cap, ornamented with emeralds and long white feathers and furnished with two wings of transparent gold work that reached out almost as far as the edges of her ruff.
A long mantle of cloth of gold completed her attire and fell glittering from her shoulders to her feet.
At present an expression of discontent and annoyance clouded her features, and this look brought into prominence the fact that her beauty was not sweet and good, but something corrupt, almost bestial; she seemed a flower sprung from decay, a flower whose bloom would be quickly over and that when it faded would fall into rottenness leaving no perfume behind.
She was in truth, at twenty-three years of age, already a thing that no one spoke of with reverence, save to her face; she was a Queen without a kingdom, a wife without a husband, a Princess without honour, a woman without virtue, and a beauty without a reputation.
After she had stared awhile at the rose petal floating in the amber-coloured wine she turned sharply and rang a silver bell that stood near her elbow.
A page appeared instantly from the back of the chamber.
The lady sipped the wine, then said:—
"Fetch me—" she paused.
The boy glanced at the empty chair.
"Monsieur de Guise, madame?" he asked.
She did not lift her eyes.
"Monsieur de Guise has gone," she said lazily, "and I do not wish him recalled. But go into the ballroom, my little Mercury, and find me a gentleman sombrely dressed in brown and black."
"What is his name, madame?"
"He has no name," she smiled, "for he is in disguise. But in his right ear he wears an ear-ring of a long pearl and a plaited lock of hair."
"Shall I bring him here, madame?"
"Yes. Say a friend has marked him. Hasten, thou slow one!"
The boy darted away through the rose-coloured curtains and the lady continued to gaze into the wineglass.
Nor did she raise her eyes until she heard footsteps in the antechamber, and knew that her messenger was returning, and not alone, for her sharp ears could detect a second footfall, light as it was.
She looked straight at the curtains; a cavalier in brown and black parted them, the page beside him.
She gave the page a nod, at which he disappeared, and then she rose, showing her full, tall figure.
"Will you take supper with me, Don Juan of Austria?" she asked.
He let the curtains fall together behind him; he had believed himself absolutely unknown to everyone in the Louvre; the blood rushed into his dark cheek and he looked haughtily at the gorgeous beauty.
"Seņora," he said, "I am not Don Juan to-night, but the meanest of your slaves."
She was pleased at this unsmiling compliment, so different from the gallantries of her own countrymen, as his stately handsomeness was different from their frivolous appearance.
"Then if you are a slave I command you to be seated," she said, taking her own place again.
The lady clapped her hands, and two servants in livery appeared.
"Bring supper," she commanded.
They removed the table that was on little noiseless silver wheels and instantly ran in another, as handsomely appointed and laden with delicate dishes.
"You were not in the ballroom, seņora," said Don Juan.
"No. Presently I will dance with you. You should step the pavane well, being Spanish, eh, Monsieur?"
With soft melancholy eyes (she had noticed at once their peculiar look of dark gold) he was contemplating her marvellous appearance of luxurious beauty and wondering of whom she reminded him; certainly he had seen her likeness in some sweeter, less fair face.
"Do you not know me?" she asked with infinite vanity.
"You must be the most beautiful woman in France," he answered slowly. "Perhaps in the world, seņora."
He spoke in French but gave her the Spanish title, and it pleased her ear jaded with flattery; she again rested her elbows on the table and held the glass of amber-hued wine in her lovely pink-tipped fingers.
"You knew my sister," she said.
Juan started with a little shock.
"I am Marguerite de Valois," added the lady. "You knew my sister Elizabeth."
"Ah, Dios!" he exclaimed, "so you are the Queen of Navarre."
"Am I like Elizabeth?" smiled Marguerite.
"She died a saint. God rest her soul!" answered Juan, crossing himself.
"And I am a sinner," said the Queen, "but her sister."
"Certainly, I see in you a resemblance to my lady the Queen," said Juan; "but how did your Majesty know me?"
"Oh, silly," she laughed, "there are many here who know you—many who saw you in Spain and Italy."
The ready colour came into his face.
"I have to take up my post as Governor-General of the Low Countries," he said gravely, "and travel in disguise because the whole country is in the hands of the rebels—thereby, slipping like a thief into the country I must rule," he added with some bitterness.
Marguerite waved her hand over the table.
"Do none of these meats please you?" she asked. "Give me the honour of having such a famous hero at my poor board."
"Do me an honour," replied Juan, "since I now know you. Let me salute you."
She leant across the table, and his firm lips kissed her smooth pale cheek.
As he touched her he thought of the ilex avenue in the garden of the Escorial; there was some such essence in her hair as Anne of Austria used.
Her eyes flamed and she kept them on the red rose leaf..
"They say that you are very faithless in love," she remarked.
"Love, seņora," he answered, "has been very faithless with me."
"That is the manner of love," replied Marguerite lightly.
He was eating slowly; she served him and took a little herself; her voluptuous presence was encircling him like the odour of an Eastern perfume, slowly filling a chamber from a single box of crushed spices.
She fixed her brilliant eyes on this famous hero; a greater man than any who had ever been in love with her; yet in her heart she mocked him for his birth, and noted with a sneer the royal air in his manner.
"What will you do in the Netherlands?" she asked.
"Conquer the rebels, Majesty, and punish the heretics."
"My husband is a heretic," said Marguerite.
"I had a red-liveried marriage," she added. "You have heard of the Feast of Saint Bartholomew?"
"There are no means but these against the heretics," he answered gravely.
Her soulless eyes turned again to the wineglass.
"My husband and his Huguenots are again at the throats of my brother and the League," she said. "And I shall leave the scene of this conflict, therefore you may see me in the Low Countries, Don Juan, for it is likely that I go to Spa for my health."
He now began to perceive something of her object in sending for him; doubtless she had schemes and intrigues afoot in which he might be useful; he knew that her favourite brother, Francois d'Alenņon, was one of the Princes to whom the Prince of Orange had offered the sovereignty of the Netherlands, and though that Prince was at present commanding against the Huguenots at Issoire, doubtless his clever sister intended, nevertheless, to further his claims in the Low Countries. As this flashed through Don Juan's mind he felt contempt for the Frenchwoman; he believed that she meant to use him, and no woman had tried to use him yet; those who had loved him had loved him freely and without motive, and those who had hated him had openly worked against him; but this woman he thought would love him and use him and despise him all at once.
She seemed to him base with all the evil weakness of the bad blood of the Valois-Medicis, a fatal mixture that could produce nothing good.
He sat thoughtful, fingering the stem of his glass.
"You travel straight to Brussels?" she asked, and her voice was caressing.
"Yes, Majesty—to Metz, where Count Manfeldt is to meet me, then straight to the Capital."
"You have," remarked Marguerite, "a hard task before you."
He suddenly looked up at her, and suddenly laughed.
Directness was not in his breed nor in hers, or each would have said to the other, "What do you want of me?"; but as it was they understood each other without words.
"They say that you are to marry the Queen of Scots," said Marguerite.
"When I have pacified the Netherlands, seņora."
She rested her lovely face in the palm of her right hand; he could not help but look at her, he could not help but admire her, and be pleased that he had followed his whim in attending this ball during his short rest in Paris, since it had procured him this conversation with the beauty who was the chief glory of the brilliant Court of France.
He could trace but little likeness to Felipe's third wife in her features, and none whatever in her manner; surely the gentle Elizabeth had been an angel sent to redeem her weak and wicked house.
To redeem all of them, perhaps, thought Juan sombrely, for he was in one of his melancholies and the whole world seemed clouded by sin and suffering.
The impossible task before him weighed too on his soul; he had just heard that Mondragone had surrendered to the Dutch, that the Spanish soldiers were in a state of mutiny at Antwerp, and that the Prince of Orange had never been so powerful as at the present moment; day by day, in fact, as he proceeded on his journey, had he learnt more and more of the difficulties of the task Felipe had imposed on him as a reward for his long years of brilliant service.
The Queen of Navarre tilled his glass; as she leant towards him he caught again the wafted essence that recalled to him his brother's wife; then he found himself thinking of Aņa de Santafimia.
He had travelled a long way from the white walled room at Alcalā, fresh with the rain-scented atmosphere, to this chamber and the painted Queen whose heart was stained with the blood of that late slaying of the heretics.
His full lips curved into a smile; he kissed Marguerite's white wrist and the fingers with which she held the silver-gilt flagon she served him with; but she was so adorned with rings and bracelets that he touched pearls and gold, not flesh.
"Whose hair have you in your ear-ring?" asked Marguerite.
"The hair of a dead woman," he answered, drinking his wine slowly.
She spoke the word with great contempt.
"Cast it away," she said, leaning across the table, her whole body one sparkle and glimmer, "and I will give you one of my locks."
Juan set his glass down.
"She was one and only," he said, as he had said to Anne of Austria.
"A saint?" smiled Marguerite.
"A saint," he repeated gravely.
"We shall all be saints when there is no longer any flesh on our bones," said the Queen of Navarre; she took the wine-soaked rose petal from the glass and put it between her full lips.
"Will you have a curl from my head, Don Juan?" she asked.
"What man would refuse?" he smiled; "but this I wear, I shall always keep."
"So you are faithful!" she mocked.
"In my fashion."
He too leant across the table and held out his shapely dark hand.
"Give me the tress."
"I do not share my favours," she said sweetly.
"Not even with the dead?"
"With them least of all, for they are rivals impossible to overcome. Who was she, Don Juan?"
"I do not know."
He put down his napkin and rose.
"I am weary, seņora. Weary of love and ambition, weary of beauty."
She rose too, she was almost his height, quite his height with the gold wings and silk cap that crowned her hair; he had never seen anything more gorgeous than her appearance now as she stood looking at him with the bruised red petal between her lips.
"Monsieur de Guise will see you at Joinville," she said; "he was angry with me because I spoke of you with favour."
"Au revoir, Don Juan."
He looked at her with eyes grown sleepy; there was nothing he wanted of her; she represented nothing he desired.
"You have a glorious beauty," he said; "but methinks it is more for men's perdition than their salvation."
"Perhaps," answered the Queen of Navarre, "I shall see you in the Low Countries."
With that she vanished between the curtains at the back of the table, leaving him standing alone in the frivolous little room beside the extravagant little supper-table.
Never had Felipe's cause in his revolted provinces appeared so hopeless as it did when Don Juan of Austria took up the governorship of the Netherlands.
Even the brief pause between the death of the last governor, Luis de Resquesens, and the arrival of the Prince at his post had been the opportunity for the Hollanders to shake the yoke still more completely from their shoulders; the massacres committed by the Spanish soldiers at Antwerp had only served to increase the resistance of the staunch islanders, whom all Alba's genius and severities had not been able to quell or even to daunt.
Juan found himself in a maze of international and local politics, in a labyrinth of difficulties; he had to deal with the Estates, the Prince of Orange, the various governors, the representatives of England and France, Valois and Bourbon, the mutinous Spanish troops, and Felipe himself, who in his ignorance and incapacity was endeavouring to keep his hands on all these affairs from his cell in the Escorial.
And by none of these parties and people with whom he worked was Juan trusted; in addition to which he had to contend with a miserable and uncertain supply of money, and the King's constant delays in answering letters.
The task that had worn out the iron Alba and killed Luis de Resquesens was one altogether beyond the brilliant, gay young soldier.
He did not spare himself; indeed he taxed his strength with an effort that Juan de Escovedo (his one sincere friend now) found both pitiful and heroic, for he was so little suited to the burden laid on him, glorious as he might be in other fields.
It was like, the secretary thought, watching a gallant Arab steed toiling with a heavy load of stones that would have wearied a Flemish plough horse.
It was sad, too, to see how he used himself; almost coining his soul for the King's service; his youth, his beauty, his charm, his skill in games, his caresses, his gaiety, his splendour, he used them all to win this people who never would be won again by any emissary of Spain.
He rode abroad in state, he feasted the nobles, he flattered the burghers, he made promises to the Estates, he schemed and manoeuvred, he bribed and promised, he reported his progress industriously to the King. He drew up plans for the government of the Netherlands, he laid aside his private pleasures and repose; there was not one minute of his time that was not devoted to serving Felipe.
But, as he had feared from the first, he made little progress; the Catholic nobles of Hainault and Brabant rallied round him, and when he went abroad the peasants sometimes shouted, and when he attended one of the town councils the deputies were respectful enough, but he accomplished nothing that was of value, and he knew that the man who was the real head of the country, though he held no patent, was the Prince of Orange, and he knew that this man laughed at him.
He was astute enough to see from the first that the Prince of Orange, not the Netherlands, was the thing the King had most to dread, and he made several adroit Spanish attempts to buy or bribe this Prince back to his allegiance.
Juan could not conceive that Willem von Nassau could have any motive other than personal advancement in his rebellion, and he firmly believed the end of it was only a matter of finding his price.
Here he worked to a profitless conclusion, for the Prince of Orange was animated by motives that the Spanish Prince could never have understood, and at Juan's offers he merely smiled, undervaluing, on his side, perhaps, Juan who seemed to him merely a frivolous, empty, willing instrument of tyranny.
But Juan was labouring as hard as Willem, if in an ignoble cause; three times he fell ill from overwork, three times he struggled up white and thin and got back to his letters and his interviews, and his visits, his conferences with the commissions of the Estates, his discussion of the Treaty of Ghent and the Perpetual Edict, his laborious intrigues with the King of France, the Emperor, and the Pope, which even included one (though this he looked upon coldly) of his marriage, not with the captive Mary of Scotland but with the Queen of England, Elizabeth Tudor, who in Gregory's scheme should be first converted to the true faith.
Elizabeth herself coquetted with this plan; she had no intention of being won, but she was willing enough to be wooed by the hero of Lepanto.
Juan, however, infinitely preferred the idea of rescuing Mary, and through all his toils and difficulties he still kept that bright light before him; still was he beguiled by that fair vision of a crown, not in Africa or Greece now, nor even the circlet of authority in some Italian state, but the crown of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
He even held the bulls and briefs of the Pope (issued when His Holiness gave up the thought of the conversion of Elizabeth) for his investiture in the royal rights of Mary Stewart when he should be able to make a descent on England and rescue the forlorn Queen.
So passed the months in the Netherlands, where Don Juan, like a brave swimmer in a turbulent sea, was ever struggling on towards his goal, though frequently sucked under and buffeted out of his course.
And in Madrid, Antonio Perez was ever at the ear of Don Felipe urging on him the destruction of Juan—"who will be King of England and then of Spain if your Majesty does not look to it."
When affairs in the Netherlands became finally so hopeless as to be almost past coping with, Felipe bid Juan crush the obstinate Estates by the weapons of war, and he sent out to him his old school mate, the Prince of Parma, to be his lieutenant.
The occupation of war was more congenial to Juan than the pursuit of politics, but common prudence bade him delay drawing the sword as long as possible.
No one with Alba's example in mind could hope that the Lowlanders would submit to force; if Felipe wished to regain his lost dominions that way they would be returned to him an utter waste, with neither a building standing nor a human soul living from Zeeland to Brabant.
Therefore Don Juan still endeavoured to win the Estates with fair words and to bribe the Prince of Orange (who had refused him even an interview) into re-joining the King.
At this time he was in Louvain where he had made some progress in popularity—indeed he never failed to win those brought into actual contact with him, if it was to no more than a liking for his person; for those who most hated his cause could not deny that he himself was lovable.
Now, as there is often a break in a great storm before the final outburst that is to sweep everything before it, so there was a faint lull and semblance of peace in the turmoil surrounding the young Governor.
He was making preparations both to meet the Prince of Parma, and the Queen of Navarre who was travelling to Mons and intriguing with the Catholic nobility on behalf of her brother, and until these preparations were complete, he had a little rare leisure.
He had lately pleased the people of Louvain by his adoption of the Flemish title "Messire Jean D'Autriche," and by re-instituting the famous old game of the popinjay, founded by his ancestors, many years before.
Having then this little leisure, Juan went down to the fields where the sport of the popinjay was held and himself took part in the competition.
It was a strange thing to him to handle a bow and arrow again; it evoked curious memories of his feats in the rice fields at Villagarcia and brought up a vivid little picture of Pasha Ali standing under his three great lanterns of command on his flagship at Lepanto and shooting the cross-bow.
A bitter longing for those days of his glory filled his heart, and when he won the popinjay and was crowned King of the bowmen something like a scornful smile, rare indeed in him, touched his lips.
In honour of his victory he gave a feast to the competitors, among whom he distributed sums of money (though he was about as cramped for means as a Prince could be) and many gracious words, and so left them his friends, at least.
It was so petty a triumph, though not looked upon as such by the gathered people of Louvain, that when he returned to his residence with the gold popinjay round his neck, he felt this sham kingship as an insult and a mockery.
Though he had left the revelries at their height, it was late in the day when he reached his room and sent for Juan de Escovedo.
"Escovedo," he said at once, as the secretary entered. "We must have more money." It was the old burden of the old complaint, but never had it been more insistent than now.
And never had even Felipe been more slow to respond.
Juan rose restlessly from his seat; a slim figure in black with the popinjay hanging from his breast by a scarlet ribbon, his face hollowed by recent sickness, his bright eyes and complexion both dimmed.
"You will never get money from Felipe," returned the faithful secretary sorrowfully, "while Antonio Perez is at the King's ear."
"Ah!" exclaimed the Governor impatiently. "You have always said that Perez is not my friend, but after all what 'object has he in ruining me? I have always been of his party and he has often protested himself my servant."
"He is in league with Aņa de Mendoza," said Escovedo.
"Well, what has she against me?" demanded Juan.
"She hates you—she hates the Queen."
Juan recalled the cinnamon diamond from the Queen's ear-ring and reflected.
But he did not believe that the Princess of Eboli had seen it on his ruff; both she and Felipe had been too silent.
Still impatient he dismissed the subject though he smiled at Escovedo with his usual graciousness.
"However that may be," he said. "You shall go to Madrid and see for yourself how the King is disposed towards me."
Seeing the look of surprise on the secretary's face he added—
"I have indeed resolved on this some while, my Escovedo, dear as you are to me and necessary as I find your services. And all you say, confirms me in this decision, for if Perez is my enemy then there is the greater reason for me to have a friend at Court."
Juan de Escovedo flushed a little and was silent; he had two powerful motives for wishing to return to Madrid—and one, equally powerful, for wishing to stay away.
Firstly, he longed to put personally before Felipe the necessity of sending immediate help to the Netherlands and to speak to him of Juan's lamentable position, and secondly he wished to obtain payment of money owing to him for special services to the crown, and to finally secure a post for his son which Felipe had already promised.
His reason for not wishing to go was his aversion to the Princess of Eboli (his onetime patroness), and her intrigue with Perez; he was a little fearful of these two, for he remembered the two attempts on his life when he was last in Madrid.
He was, however, a brave and loyal man, and prepared to venture into the toils of Felipe and Aņa de Mendoza if it might save his master, he therefore said nothing of his private misgivings.
"I will start when you wish, Excellency," he answered simply.
"Though I shall be sorry," he added with sincerity, "to leave your Excellency, after we have so long and closely worked together."
"It is," said Juan quickly; "only for a while."
He looked with much affection at his secretary who had indeed grown near to his heart, and he added—
"I shall miss you very greatly, Escovedo; but we must have money. If we embark on a war against these heretics and rebels, more than ever do we need money. Almighty God help us all!—how am I to fight with unpaid troops and the half of those in mutiny?"
Juan de Escovedo made no answer; he had nothing of any comfort to say; he was too well acquainted with the affairs of the Governor and the affairs of the Netherlands to be able to offer consolation.
"When I took this post up," said Juan with bitterness, "I knew it was beyond my powers. As it would be beyond the powers of any man," he added proudly. "What could the Lady Margaret do, or Alba, or Resquesens?"
"Does your Excellency think that the Provinces are lost?"
"Unless Almighty God strikes the Prince of Orange down," answered the young Governor.
"Surely he will presently come to deal with us."
"The King is too niggardly—will a man like Orange sell himself cheap? If it were in my power to offer largely and prove I could perform, I do not doubt that I could buy the Prince—but he knows Felipe—as I do."
"If you would see him yourself, Excellency, much might be brought to pass. Our envoys, such as Leoninus, are not trusted by this Prince, who doubtless would be more open with you."
"I have had it in my mind to try for this interview," said Juan with some animation, "little as I relish crossing words with a rebel and a heretic. And I will see if this crafty Orange cannot be brought to it."
Escovedo saw plainly the trend of his master's thoughts; there was no money to buy Orange, therefore fair words and caresses, promises and blandishments must be offered him. And Juan, confident in his power of pleasing men, was prepared to win the redoubtable Calvinist by personal charm.
"Write to Leoninus and see if it can be arranged," he said. "We might meet secretly in disguise, but I should require safeguards, for I believe he has a design to seize my person."
His speech was interrupted by the entrance of Ottavio Gonzaga, one of his Privy Council, and the man most in his confidence next to Escovedo.
"Seņor," said Gonzaga, "a lady has driven up in a coach and four with a press of servants, and claims an audience of your Excellency."
"Was she expected?" asked the Viceroy wearily.
"No, seņor, nor do I know her, nor will she give her name, which she says is one you would never refuse admittance to, could you but hear it."
"Ah, Gonzaga!" exclaimed Juan sadly, "the time for jests and pleasant adventures has gone by for me."
"Yet see this lady, seņor, for she appears a person of position, and maybe has some information to give of the heretics."
Juan reflected; as the slighted, almost powerless envoy of a detested King he had to grasp at whatever weapon might be offered him, and true to his policy of conciliation he never refused an audience save on a good pretext, being indeed too free with his favours as many thought.
Therefore, bidding Escovedo write to Leoninus, the Spanish Envoy at present with the Prince of Orange, and endeavour to arrange a meeting between the Governor of the King of Spain and His Highness of Orange, he told Gonzaga to admit the lady into his presence.
Don Juan was standing before the mantelpiece which was of fine Flemish carving and fingering the little gold popinjay which hung on his black doublet, when the lady who had insisted on seeing him, entered.
Without appearing to alter his attitude of unconcern he looked at her swiftly and keenly. He saw at once that she was a Fleming; an opulent, florid woman, not young, but dressed in a youthful and extravagant manner in a hood and mantle of tawny-coloured satin and a crimson silk gown trimmed with gold.
She made no salutation, but regarded him with a steady look in which there was something of insolence.
Juan addressed her in Spanish.
"Seņora," he said gravely, "have you business with me?"
She shook her head, then laughed.
"I do not speak Spanish," she answered in very indifferent French.
The Viceroy replied in French.
"I do not know you, Madame?"
She regarded him with a curious expression and seated herself on the stamped leather chair beneath the window, then, pulling off her gloves, she glanced at her hands that were very white, pretty, and plump.
"No, you do not know me," she admitted, "but you know my name."
He tried rapidly to place her; usually his memory served him well, he forgot neither names nor faces.
He wondered, too, at the reluctance or coquetry she showed in disclosing herself; he advanced from the mantelpiece and looked at her closely.
She had pushed her hood back, disclosing her hair which was a beautiful dusky brown; her eyes were brown too, with a glint of gold in them; she must have been beautiful once, might have been beautiful now were she not so painted, curled, and tricked out in fashionable devices.
Lifting her eyes from her bare hands she gazed at him again.
"You are a great man, are you not?" she said, and she sighed.
"Tell me your name," asked the Viceroy.
Her red mouth slightly trembled, a queer look of tenderness softened her bold features.
"Jan," she said, in her awkward French with the strong Flemish accent, "I am your mother."
Juan spoke not a word; he stood motionless, his hand to the popinjay, and all the colour and lustre that was his chief beauty faded from his features.
"They want me to go to Spain and retire into a convent, but I know how the women there are treated, and I would sooner be cut to pieces than go," she added.
Juan moved to the further end of the small room and sat down before his desk, resting his head in his hand.
He had hoped never to come face to face with his mother, or rather his reputed mother, as his pride liked to consider her; for he took eager advantage of the mystery surrounding his birth to imagine himself the son of some lady of princely rank, yet both the Emperor and the King had always treated Barbara Blomberg, now the widow of Pyramus Kegel, as his mother, and she had always been in the background of his life, a humiliation and a threat.
And here she was, face to face with him, sitting in the same room, a common Flemish woman who called him "Jan."
Madame Kegel waited a while, then broke the silence that he would not.
"This is a warm, loving greeting after a lifetime!" she cried. "When I gave you to Fancisquin Massi and his wife you were a little brat still in arms!"
Juan would not look at her; after the first shock his anger began to rise. Both he and Felipe allowed this woman a handsome pension, and on the condition that she troubled neither of them; she had been removed, not without difficulty, by Alba from Brussels to Ghent, and Juan had believed that she had been safely shipped to Barcelona by now.
"Madame," he said, "this serves no good purpose."
And as he thought of the sly way she had got into his presence he grew angrier.
"Dios!" he exclaimed, "no man could do more than I have done."
"No man could have done else," answered the widow. "Indeed I think I have been very ill looked after, seeing that I am commonly known to be the mother of a great Prince like you."
Juan rose and stood with his back against the wall, his hands behind him and his eyes narrowed.
"What do you want of me?" he asked.
Madame Kegel looked at him keenly; the expression of tenderness with which she had at first regarded him had utterly left her face, that had now become hard and calculating.
"Money," she answered briefly.
At this word his face hardened too, and between mother and son a strong likeness appeared that would have struck Juan to the soul could he have seen it.
"I can give you no more than I do," he said. "Your extravagances are impossible—Alba could not keep pace with your debts."
She laughed coarsely.
"Never trouble about Alba, I am speaking to you, Jan; Alba is an old flint, but you will understand that one cannot live without money."
"You have money—your husband had a good position—your sons are well placed. You should have gone into a convent long ago."
"Well and good," she replied unpleasantly. "That was part of the Emperor's wish, was it not, for me and you? Why did you not fulfil your part?"
"I," said Juan with infinite haughtiness, "have been of some use in the world, some service to His Majesty."
"Then I, who am your mother, should be considered," she said quickly. "Come, now, another six thousand crowns—"
"Not a maravedi!" replied the Governor coldly. "You have enough."
She seemed baffled by his firmness, then she said cunningly:—
"I cannot leave the Netherlands till my debts are paid, and if you want me to go to Spain, well, I must have the money for these sharks."
"You have said this before. Twice, Alba has paid your debts on this understanding."
Her eyes gleamed.
"Very well, my son. I remain here and you will know of my presence."
Juan lowered his eyes.
"Speak with courtesy to His Majesty's Viceroy," he said in a contained voice.
"Courtesy from me to you!" she cried. She was red with anger under her white paint. "Truly I have a dutiful son!"
"Madame," he returned with great bitterness and some sadness, "we are strangers and must so remain. Had you kept me by you and yourself brought me up, Almighty God knows that it might have been different; but as it is Doņa Magdalena de Ulloa is my true mother, and to her all my love and duty is due."
"I gave you up," said Madame Kegel, "for your own good. What could I do for you? I was a poor creature who knew nothing of the world." She wiped her eyes with a perfumed handkerchief. "I might have known that you would prove ungrateful."
"Not ungrateful," he said; "I have been allowing you six thousand crowns a year."
"Six thousand! And what is that to keep up the state of a great lady? And as I said, my debts—"
"I cannot pay them. I have my own to consider," he interrupted.
"You can get money from the King."
He never changed his position, but stood with his back to the dark wall, fronting her, mostly keeping his eyes lowered, that he might not see her flamboyant person.
"I can get nothing from the King," he said. "I have no money."
She glanced round the handsomely furnished room.
"No money?" she sneered. "And what of your feasts and entertainments, and your gentlemen serving you on their knees, and your entry into Brussels when the whole town drank beer at your expense? Are you going to send every boor away with a gold piece, and leave your mother in a patched gown?"
Juan could hardly endure her insistence on their relationship; he revolted bitterly against this tie. She could not be his mother, this creature so alien to him in every way. His usual weapons utterly failed him; he could not bring himself to use his caresses on her, to sooth her or offer her flattery.
Instead, he, always so gentle and considerate, turned to harsh threats.
"If the King heard of your conduct he would stop your pension," he said. "Aye, and force you into a monastery."
Madame Kegel was not daunted by this; indeed she was rather pleased by a sense of her own importance when she saw how she had succeeded in rousing this stately gentleman of whom, despite her confident manner, she stood secretly slightly in awe.
"I have managed to defy King Felipe for a good many years," she answered, tossing her head, "and I do not doubt that I shall be able to thwart him to the end."
Juan, worn with work, sickness, anxiety, and disappointment, and at the moment humiliated and angry, was not in possession of his usual control. He lost his temper as he had lost it at the stormy interviews with the Estates at Luxembourg and Mons.
"Bridle your tongue!" he flashed. "Go from me and mend your wanton ways—go, I say; I know how you live—a scandal and a byword!"
"Is it for you to say that to me?" she asked with some dignity.
He looked at her tarnished beauty, her gaudy splendours, and his rage and shame were not abated.
"Since you have forced yourself on me, I must say my mind of you," he answered hotly. "You know that you have been a thorn to Felipe and his agents, and a reproach to me since I first heard of you."
"I am an honourable lady," she retorted, "and if I will not be a nun, and if I like my comforts and pleasures, I am not the first nor the last woman of those tastes. Think you that I am a lost soul because I will not wear out my knees on the floor of a convent? Jesus! you are made of flesh and blood yourself from what I have heard of you, and are no nearer sanctity than I."
"I pay for my follies and my sins," answered Juan sombrely, "and you must pay for yours."
"Give me the money," she said, with an insolent smile.
Juan gazed at her furtively with a slow rising curiosity and a sick interest—his mother, this woman!
He wondered if she had ever clasped him to that bosom now covered with jewellery, if she had ever kissed him with those lips now so falsely red, if she had wept at parting from him, or ever put up a prayer for him when she had surrendered him to Spain.
Had she ever thought of him, wondered about him, during those years he had passed as an obscure, nameless boy under the care of the King's musician at Leganes, or while he, still nameless and ignorant of his parentage, was being educated as a noble by Luis de Quixada and his wife?
Surely the answer was No, for now she came to him after thirty years with the one word "money" on her lips.
He gave a little groan; life seemed horrible, confused, and bitter. He wished that he had never seen her, and again that dull sense of resentment against God that he had felt when first facing Felipe and on losing Diana di Falanga came over him; he felt as if he had been cheated by God and man; how; he could not have said, but the sensation was strong within him, the presence of this woman seemed an affront and a reproach that he longed to avenge on someone, on God or Felipe.
He thought his attitude was reverent towards his father—it had, indeed, always been so—though the Emperor had left him so completely in Felipe's hands. He remembered with awe, even affection, the black-robed figure with the face of extraordinary melancholy dying at Yuste, but towards this Flemish woman he had never felt one spark of tenderness. And now he felt something like hate.
How dare she thrust herself into the glorious pattern of his life?
Had he not hoped, did he not hope, to be a King, and what King ever owned such a parent?
White in his wrath and shame, he turned to where she waited, expectant of his long silence.
"How much will you take to go to Spain?" he asked.
Her eyes brightened, but she was wary as she was grasping.
"I do not wish to leave my own country," she answered. "Why should I? I would go back to Brussels; it is dull at Ghent."
"I will not have you in the capital," said Juan fiercely, "to be a handle for my enemies! I will give you nothing unless you go to Spain."
"Then how much?"
"When you are there I will consider," replied the Viceroy grimly.
Her face lowered with anger and malice; as she began to perceive that she would get no more from him than she had done from Alba, her attitude towards him became one of pure bitterness and hatred; in her heart she knew that she would have to go to Spain eventually however much trouble she contrived to give first, and she had forced this interview with her son in the hope of driving a bargain for her departure, thereby making a profit out of a necessity.
"So," she cried hotly, holding her white hand on her bedecked bosom, "you turn me away like a beggar!"
"Did you not come begging?" he demanded.
Her handsome eyes flashed over him.
"Who are you but the King's pensioner?" she asked. "What are you, eh? Have you a single title or a rood of land?"
"Leave me," said Juan. His wounded pride made him sick and giddy; he crossed to the mantelpiece and leant there heavily, staring down into the empty hearth.
Madame Kegel remained standing by the chair from which she had risen; the room was darkening, but behind her was the window through the leaded panes of which the sunset flamed casting rich fires on her full figure and the bright colours of her flowing gown and mantle.
She saw that she had stung and she followed up her advantage.
"You are only Felipe's plaything, after all," she said, "Why did I come to you? You can help no one. I heard that you wished to be Infant of Castile, a king!" She laughed, then suddenly pointed her finger at his breast.
"The only crown that you will ever wear is that they put on your head to-day!" she cried. "Victor of the popinjay! No more! Nor will you ever be! The popinjay!"
She laughed again. Juan bit his lip till a drop of blood started on the strained skin; he would have foregone all the manifold praises that had ever been showered on him if he could have closed his ears to these words now.
The utter pride of his silence further inflamed her; for a long time she had been cherishing a grievance against him for his haughty ignoring of her existence, a grievance that had been doubled by her removal from Brussels before he took up his residence there.
"Answer me, thou vain boy," she said. "In what are you better than I? I amused Carlos and you amuse Felipe—servants both of us and paid a poor wage!"
Juan looked at her.
"I have no word to say," he answered in an awful voice, "save that I am what I am."
She shrank a little before his eyes; the look of them called her back to Ratisbon and the Emperor's sad face; she pulled on her hood, took up her gloves, and turned to go.
Thinking of Ratisbon brought to her mind that there was another thing she might say, a thing she had already said in her railings, but one that it was not likely had ever come to Juan's ears.
She paused at the door to deliver this final insult.
"What would you say," she asked, "if I told you that you were not the Emperor's son?"
Until she died she never forgot the look that swept over Juan's face at this, a look so terrible that it seemed to destroy all likeness to humanity in his features; she cowered and put out her hand as if to keep him off.
Then he smiled; he was superb, he seemed to tower, to dominate her utterly.
"I should say that you lied," he answered. "And so would all who looked at me."
Madame Kegel slunk away.
"I consented to see you, Monseigneur," said the Prince of Orange, "so that you might hear from my own mouth what you refused to believe from your envoys."
The two leaders had met secretly in a house outside Mons; each had brought a fair escort of soldiers who equally guarded the entrances and approaches to the building, in an upper chamber of which Spaniard and Dutchman faced each other alone.
"I hope, your Highness," replied Juan, with great gentleness, "that this interview will show you that you have been mistaken in the answers you have ever returned to my poor advances."
As he spoke he was looking very closely at the man whom he had to handle and endeavouring to gain from the face and person of his famous adversary some clue as to how he should best deal with him.
The Prince on his part was regarding with equal curiosity the son of the man of whom he had been so fond in his own youth, and who was also the instrument of Spain and the successor of Alba.
Juan beheld a man some years older than himself, in the early prime of life, tall and shapely, dressed in black tabinet with what seemed to the Spanish Prince an affectation of simplicity, for he wore no ornament nor jewel of any kind, and only a close frill of Frisian needlework round his throat and wrists.
His features were thin, dark, the nose aquiline, the lips full and firm, the eyes large and powerful, his hair was dark and upcurling, and he wore a slight close beard.
There was something in his expression of energy, enthusiasm, power, and resolve that attracted Juan strongly; he could not remember when he had seen such a look on a man's face, for it was something beyond the ordinary fire of a soldier or the steadiness of a statesman.
Willem, on his side, saw a young man of unusual charm and beauty, and unusual haughtiness and stateliness; one who obviously considered himself of royal birth and the equal of kings.
An air of courage and dignity as well as this look of excessive pride made him appear more than the mere cavalier of courts that he might otherwise have seemed, and the consciousness of his great fame gave this hauteur a poise that removed from it all touch of bombast, as Willem was quick to see and to appreciate.
If the Prince of Orange was over plain, the Spanish Prince was over gorgeous; his short purple mantle lined with white fur fell open over a doublet stiff with gold and silver embroidery, and his huge breeches glittered with crystal and pearl stitchings; with the caution of his race he wore a light corselet and was fully armed with dagger, sword, and pistol, all of gold and beautiful workmanship.
But the Prince of Orange's acute glance detected anxiety and even suffering under this display and show; the young Governor's eyes were clouded with melancholy, and the lustre of his rich complexion was dimmed into pallor, the gaiety of his smile, sweet as it was, did not spring from his heart, and he seemed to labour under some physical weakness that made his affable manners an effort.
Indeed, an unaccountable depression lay upon the spirits of Don Juan; he wished now that he had not forced this interview with his serene enemy, for he felt unequal to winning him; even the small, neat, plainly furnished room was hateful to him; it was typical of the country that every day he detested more.
The Prince of Orange stood near the door; Juan, with his usual haughtiness, had seated himself and remained covered.
"What," asked Willem, "can there be, Monseigneur, to say between you and me?"
Juan cast his glance on the floor; a wave of absolute antipathy to this man rushed over him; strongly as the Prince's ardent face had at first attracted Juan, now the thought of what he was and what he stood for repelled the proud Spaniard, the loyal and unscrupulous servant of Don Felipe.
But he controlled himself to suavity.
"I do desire to avert a war," he said, "and if your Highness persists in your present attitude a war is inevitable."
"Yes," said the Prince of Orange quietly.
"You recognize that?"
Willem merely smiled.
Juan raised his head and looked at him over the stiff edge of his huge ruff.
"I wish to persuade you to your own advantage," he continued. "It is a poor thing for a Prince of your birth and powers to be leagued with a parcel of heretic boors."
"Calvinist Dutchmen, I may translate that," returned the Prince quietly. "Well, I am Dutch and I am Calvinist."
"What have you gained by this part you act?" asked Juan, with a faint touch of scorn on his beautiful lips.
"Gained!" repeated Willem. "Gained!"
He glanced curiously at the Governor, then seated himself in the homely black chair with arms, near the empty hearth that was tiled in white and blue.
"You have gained nothing," said Juan, with his princely air.
"Nothing," answered the Prince. "And all I possessed I have lost."
"Then surely you have now decided that you embraced a losing cause."
"No, not that."
"At least you have lost."
"Yes." The Prince of Orange smiled again; his manner was rather as if he spoke to a child.
"You have the chance to repair this loss," urged Juan. "I have already made you, Monseigneur, very splendid offers, but they are not beyond your worth."
"We can never understand each other, Excellency," answered Willem. "You are like the Emperor," he added. "I loved him. Had we met in other circumstances we, too, might have been friends."
"Why not?" asked Juan sweetly, flushing slightly. "It would be one of the most joyous moments of my life if I could win back your faith to the Church"—he crossed himself—"and your allegiance to the King."
"You are too wise to believe for one instant that either of those things are possible," replied the Prince sternly.
"You do not trust Felipe?" asked Juan quickly, "but he would give you pledges."
"I do not doubt," said Willem, "that I could drive a hard bargain with His Majesty."
"Why then do you hesitate?"
"Because," replied the Dutchman quietly, "there are things dearer, more valuable to me than the blessing of the Pope or the gold of Don Felipe." He looked at Juan, and his dark eyes were laughing. "You cannot understand that, can you?" he added.
Juan's face darkened in a haughty amaze.
"I cannot understand how one of your blood can speak those words!" he answered coldly.
"How vain, then, was this meeting!" exclaimed the Prince.
Don Juan was resolving in his astute mind some clue to the Prince's behaviour, which was mainly, he believed, regulated by a desire to raise his price.
"Maybe you hope to be a King of these fens and marshes," he said, gauging the other man by his own ambition; "but if that is so, why do you put forward the Archduke Mathias and encourage such adventurers as Franįois d'Alenįcon, since you might as well serve under Felipe, our rightful King, as under either of these."
"I shall never be King either of the Netherlands nor any other lands," replied the Prince of Orange calmly.
"Then you seek to rule through some puppet—as Mathias or Francois."
"Then," said Juan gravely, "I do not comprehend your policy."
"Yet it is very simple," replied the Prince half sadly.
"You disclaim ambition," said the Governor, fingering the chains on his breast, "but what motive, save ambition, could induce a prince to be faithless to his master, apostate to his creed—to forsake his class, to champion burghers and tradesmen, to ruin his fortunes, guiding rebels and heretics? Monseigneur, you must be ambitious."
"Perhaps I am," answered the Prince of Orange. "Yes, perhaps what I have undertaken, only an ambitious man could contemplate."
"You wish to be a king," repeated Juan, with some real sympathy beneath the charm of his manner.
"No," said the Prince looking up. "I wish to save my country," he gave the words a peculiar stress, "from Rome and from Felipe. I wish to make the Netherlands free of the Pope and of the King of Spain. That, Excellency, is my ambition."
Juan raised his brows but said nothing. Willem's words seemed to him a poor fiction, but one difficult to deal with; he wondered what the Prince's real motive could be in his continued resistance to the King.
Willem observed his disbelief.
"You do not credit what I say?" he asked quietly.
"Ah!" answered Juan with a little shrug, "there is something between us that makes it difficult for us to understand each other, Monseigneur."
"Yes, there is," assented the Prince of Orange, with a sudden flash in his voice, "and that is the blood that Alba shed."
Juan stared at him, opening wide his dark golden eyes.
"Dios!" he exclaimed.
"You forget that I am a heretic," said Willem with a bitter little smile.
"I would forget it," replied Juan haughtily, "or it would be impossible for me to be here."
"Will you rule as Alba ruled?" asked Willem, rising.
"If I meet the resistance Alba met," answered Juan.
"This is the man who was to bring us peace!" exclaimed the Prince of Orange.
These words recalled to the young Governor the main object of this meeting, an object that so far had gone for nothing.
He controlled his scorn and wrath and answered calmly, even sweetly.
"Yes, I came to bring you peace and to restore order and authority in the Netherlands. The King is willing to investigate all grievances—but first you must submit to him."
"Yes," said Willem, "when we bare our backs, and tie our hands, Felipe, in his mercy, will be gentle with his lashes!"
"You speak treason," said Juan haughtily.
"I speak truth. The King requires us to give up all we have fought for, all we have bought, with blood and suffering for his promises—the promises," he added slowly, "of a King who never kept his word."
"You speak as if you were the Estates," replied the Viceroy. "I speak to you."
"I am the Netherlands," said Willem; "you cannot divide us—we are one. I suffer with every drop of blood they shed, and I glory in every struggle that brings them nearer the ultimate result—for we shall be free, Don Juan."
"Never," smiled the Viceroy. "You may, however, change kings."
"No, we shall be free without kings, without Popes."
"God!" said Juan, "would not permit such a thing."
"God," replied the Prince gravely, "gives us the courage to continue. And the portents of success. I tell you, Highness, that when the mighty Empire Felipe rules has fallen into decay and when the Pope is nothing but a name in Europe, the descendants of these people you set your heel on now, will be free and renowned and happy."
Juan laughed; he thought that the Prince of Orange was scarcely in his senses, and that to argue with him further would be waste of patience.
"My poor head," he said, smiling, "is not equal to these visions. What you have in your mind I cannot fathom. You beat me there—doubtless you think yourself well assured of some reward, but I know you are foolish to reject the King's offers—as you were foolish, Monseigneur, ever to have left his service."
Willem smiled too.
"Were not you rather foolish ever to have entered it?" he asked.
This thrust that showed that the speaker was shrewdly aware of the difficulties and obstacles in the way of the young Governor, and the various means by which the sullen, obdurate King thwarted his brother caused Juan to flush with vexation.
"I serve my King," he said in a stately manner.
"And find him a hard master," answered the Prince of Orange. "You and I, Highness, both have our hands full."
Juan rose; the afternoon sun sparkled in the gorgeous appointments of his dress and the stiff waves of his hair; the Prince of Orange was impressed, as Lippomano had been in Genoa, with something lovable about this slim figure, something lonely and sad despite the air of intense pride and gravity which Juan had lately assumed.
The interview, purposeless as it had seemed, had been sufficient for Willem to judge what kind of man he had to deal with in the new Viceroy; he saw that there was nothing much to be feared from Juan, who was obviously unfitted for his post and broken in health, besides being, as Willem was well aware, distrusted at the Spanish Court and so hampered and disgusted by the turn of affairs as to be already sounding his agent in Madrid, Escovedo, as to the possibility of his being recalled.
To a statesman like the Prince of Orange, Juan was an adversary worthy only to be ignored, but something in the stand he made for the ideals of his faith and the service of his King appealed to Willem as gallant; he saw in Juan, with a very delicate sense of admiration, something of the same quality of steadfast loyalty that was the guiding factor in his own character.
He thought better of the young Viceroy now that he had seen him, though he feared him even less; he was, perhaps, even a little sorry for him with such a task and such a master.
Juan, for his part, felt incapable of any further effort to win Orange; he knew that he had not done what he might, nor what he would have done a year ago, but his bodily lassitude, a new and strange experience for him, cast a weariness over his spirits; he was acute enough, too, to see that he was no match for this man in cleverness, and that he might reason with him for a day and get nothing from him, and he became anxious to try conclusions with him on the battlefield; "there," he thought proudly, "I shall be his equal."
He believed, and he was not wrong, that Willem underrated him in this; the Prince of Orange thought of him as a toy statesman and a toy soldier; the brilliancy of Lepanto did not dazzle the Dutchman, he valued it by its fruitlessness and balanced it with the loss of Tunis and the Goeletta.
But Juan knew that if the King would support him in money and troops he could annihilate all the heretics in the Lowlands.
"It is to be the sword then, Monseigneur?" he asked.
"If so the Estates and the King decide," answered Willem.
Juan remembered Felipe's answer to this same Prince: "Not the Estates, but you, you!" He could have replied in the same words; there was only one man Felipe had to fear in the Netherlands and he was the Prince of Orange.
"Adieu, Monseigneur," said Juan, "since we must part as enemies take at least my regrets that we could not be friends."
Willem replied with equal stateliness.
"And you, Highness, my wishes that you may find more princely work than you will find to your hand in these unhappy provinces."
"Till the battle day," said the Viceroy, with a brilliant smile, and he raised his cap.
The Prince of Orange said nothing; there was a look on his face that haunted Juan as he descended the narrow bright stairs.
Of what did it remind him?
As he recalled the faces on which he had seen that look he laughed sadly at his fancy, for one was the loving countenance of Aņa de Santofimia, his first love, and the other was that of Elizabeth de Valois, the third Queen.
He sighed gloomily, and mounting among his Spanish lancers rode towards Mons, where he was to receive the Queen of Navarre.
A stormy twilight was descending over the Netherlands, and the sun sank behind clouds of tawny black in a flame of yellow like molten gold and red like spilt blood.
The lurid reflected light of the last beams of this tempestuous sunset fell in a fashion sombre and melancholy into a large chamber in the castle of the Marquis de Havrech, a great Flemish noble, and over the figure of his wife who sat on a chair covered with black leather, her hands folded across the back and her chin resting on her hands.
Her rich dark hair was disordered, and fell in loosened curls over her wide, upstanding lawn collar, her face was curiously pale and wore an extraordinary expression of despair.
The room was very darkly furnished, from the black oak ceiling to the walls hung with stamped deep-red leather and the black polished floor; the furniture was massive and sombre; there was no brightness in the lady's dress which flowed in heavy lines of brown and black satin from her slender waist to her feet.
Through an open door at the back showed the gloomy depths of a shadowed bedchamber, and the indistinct outline of a large bed draped with the sombre richness of dark velvet curtains.
The atmosphere was heavy, austere, and sad; nothing bright nor gay seemed to have ever entered these chambers, no vain words to have ever been uttered within these walls, and in the person, pose, and features of the Marquise was the air of tragic repression and passionate foreboding that seems fitting for surroundings so dismal and chill.
She fixed her wide dark eyes on the angry threatening of the sunset, and clutched tightly in her right hand a pomander full of mixed spices which gave forth a strong perfume.
Against one of the heavy curtains looped back from the window, stood the Governor of the Netherlands, the man against whom the husband of the Marquise, as one of the captains of Willem of Orange, would soon be fighting, for war was now inevitable.
"Why did you come?" she asked.
"Why did you admit me?" he smiled.
"I thought that you brought news of my husband," she said in a low voice.
Juan still smiled, but said nothing.
"How could I tell?" continued the Marquise. "Indeed I thought you came from him."
"Your husband and I, Madame, will see nothing of each other after to-day," he answered, "for I think he takes the Prince's side."
"Then why have you come?" she repeated passionately.
"To say farewell to you."
"Have we," she asked unsteadily, "been such friends?"
"Henceforth we must be enemies," said Juan; "but to-night I wished to see you."
She looked over her shoulder at him; the last storm light was full on her beautiful frightened face.
"You come from Mons?" she asked.
"Yes," he said indifferently. "I have feasted and flattered the Queen of Navarre and now she has returned."
"They say you are enamoured of her," answered the Marquise.
"No," said Juan. "As you may believe, seeing that instead of escorting her, I came here to you."
The expression of fear and despair strengthened on her face.
"You should not have come," she said.
He came a step nearer her chair.
"Why did you leave Mons?"
"I was ill," she answered. "I asked my husband's leave to return here. I have been ill many days."
"I do not know—" a convulsive shudder shook her. "I have thought of—the plague. The plague. Now go."
"There is much sickness abroad, and there will be more when the war begins."
"Are you not afraid?"
"I am afraid of nothing save God and Felipe. Not of the plague."
She crushed the pomander so tightly that the silver filagree marked her flesh.
"Go back to your army, Excellency," she said. "What do you here in the house of a heretic and a rebel?" She stared at him wildly. "What have you to do with his wife?"
Juan pointed to the sun that had by now almost disappeared behind the flat horizon.
"The last day of peace is ending," he said gloomily. "When I leave you this evening I shall ride to Namur, there to raise the King's standard, and all the hopes and projects with which I took over these accursed realms will end in ruinous war. And I also am sick. I have sick fancies, I think that I have seen Spain for the last time. And the summer. I have no friend save one, and that is Escovedo—he is detained in Madrid, nor will the King send him back to me. And so, to-night, I thought to come to you—we have, seņora, only known each other a few months—yet"—his voice turned to softness—"did you not expect that I should come to take farewell of you?"
She would not answer.
"I know," added Juan, "that you did. Give me, then, your hospitality for a short hour. I am a very weary man."
She rose at last and stood facing him.
"I think I have the plague," she said hoarsely. "One of my servants died of it two days ago. I should never have admitted you. Why did you tempt me? Yes, I thought you would come and I prayed that you might not. Prayed with all my soul, Don Juan."
"Ah, sweet," he said. "I had to come. To whom did you pray, fair heretic?" he added, bending towards her.
Her frightened voice sank in her throat.
Juan's beautiful face clouded; he was in one of his deep melancholies, which the name of God always increased; he was tortured by the remembrance of his sins and the fear of hell; when he closed his eyes he beheld crowned skulls, the smooth walls with the niches in the vaults of the Escorial, and other dreary images of decay; therefore he had come to the one woman who pleased him in the Netherlands and whom (though he had never spoken to her alone before) he knew loved him; she was the wife of a man who was his enemy, and it was not likely that he would ever see her again, but he did not feel that he wronged her by taking a few hours of her company this sad evening before the war.
"Talk not of God now," he said. "I shall have to deal with Him hereafter."
"So shall we all!" she exclaimed in a tone of terror. "Ah! why did He make life so difficult for us?"
The sun had now disappeared, and nothing remained but a heavy glow over the darkening country.
"Light the candles," said the Marquise faintly.
He obeyed, and taking two heavy candlesticks of red copper from the mantelpiece brought them to the table before the window.
Slowly, with his eyes on his task, while her eyes were all the while on him, he took flint and tinder, and, first lighting the long taper in the silver holder, proceeded to light the three yellow wax candles.
As the flames, at first struggling uncertainly, at length sprang up steadily, they revealed hanging between the windows a winged picture hitherto concealed by the darkness.
It had been painted perhaps a hundred years ago, but the colours shone with the brilliancy of enamel as the candle glow flashed over them, and showed God the Father in robe and crown, seated on a cloud that overhung a field of daisies, and upon either side a saint in armour, holding a bannerette.
Juan glanced at this picture, then averted his eyes, and looked at Madame de Havrech, who was regarding him steadily and mournfully.
In that moment his life seemed unutterably strange to him, like a dream from which he would soon wake—a fantasy already being dispelled by the light of common day—as dreams will seem to a man struggling back from them to wakefulness. Nothing had been fulfilled for him. He looked back on incompletion; on hopes delayed, on ambitions checked, on love denied.
A great home sickness for his early youth possessed him. He thought of Aņa de Santofimia, and the chamber in Alcalā where he had dreamt those short, sweet dreams that afterwards seemed so foolish.
Now they did not appear foolish; for what had he gained by leaving them to serve the King?
Nothing, and he was tasting to the full the poverty, the dependence, the neglect that Carlos had prophesied for him.
Tears rose into his melancholy eyes as he thought of the things he had lost, and would never find again.
He looked past the candles out on to the country, flat and dark beneath the stormy sky, and shuddered.
With the longing of a sick man he longed for the sun, the gold and purple of Sicily, Naples, and Genoa; the dazzle of Venice, for all the joyous days, the beautiful palaces, the flowers, and sweet airs.
And he thought of Diana di Falanga, slipping away from him—dead—with the crucifix across her throat.
It seemed to him as if love was a useless thing, meant only to give pain. He looked at Madame de Havrech and wished that he had not meddled again with love.
"I will ride on," he said. "Yes; it is best. Yes; I will go."
She knew as well as he did the recklessness of his coming; the danger he ran of capture or death from the rebels, the danger to her were it discovered that he had been with her on the eve of his final rupture with the Estates.
She gauged to the full the recklessness of his hasty departure from Mons, and the beautiful mischief of Navarre and his secret ride to her château, and though she was terrified and overwhelmed, she was pleased, with a passionate pleasure, such as never in her life she had known before.
Marie de Havrech, a Calvinist, always surrounded with things strenuous, sombre, and terrible, a daily witness of the fierce and awful sights of her country's struggle against a despot, had been drawn to the representative of the tyrant she had been taught to loathe, with a force stronger than religion or country, stronger than pride or fear.
She, too, was reckless to-night, reckless with fever in her blood, and her head giddy from her strange illness. When she had left Mons she had looked back to see the Governor riding beside the silk curtains and gilt pillars of the Queen of Navarre's litter. He had gazed not at Marguerite but at her, and she knew that he would follow her, though night after night she had gone on her knees in the gloomy, lonely château and prayed that he might not come.
Now, she wondered why God had rejected this prayer. Her husband was with the Prince of Orange, preparing for war, and Juan stood before her.
"Yes; you must go," she said, and took up one of the heavy candlesticks to light him to the door.
A gust of wind blew in through the open window and swelled the brocade curtains out into the room. A storm was rapidly gathering over the lowlands, a deep chill had come into the autumn air.
Madame de Havrech stood in an arrested attitude, staring at Juan. Her face was wan in the red light of the candle; young and beautiful as she was she might have stood for a figure of Death, in her heavy, sombre gown and disordered hair.
"A storm," said Juan.
He, too, was pale above his white ruff; beneath the folds of his long dark mantle the toison d'or sparkled here and there as the light caught the gold flames.
She opened her pallid lips but did not speak, the heavy candlestick tilted in her hand, and the wax ran from under the wick and dripped on the black floor.
Juan looked at the picture of God the Father and the saints in the wings, who were regarding Him so steadily, their hands folded on their breasts, and their eyes upturned.
"Shall I go?" he said, half under his breath.
The wind rose higher. The candle on the table flickered and went out, leaving a little trail of smoke.
"No," said the Marquise; "stay a while until the storm is past."
Juan went to the picture, and closed the wings over God the Father, securing them by the fretwork clasps.
"My husband says that is an idolatrous painting," said Madame de Havrech; "but it was my father's, and I have always kept it."
She took the candlestick in both hands, and placed it on the mantelpiece, where it was reflected in the dull glass so that there seemed to be two candles burning.
"Will you defeat us?" she asked irrelevantly.
"Yes; the heretics as the heathen," he replied, as if not surprised by her question, and with an air of pride, weary but sure.
"The Prince of Orange laughs at me," he added, "but I am a great soldier."
"Winning battles will not help Don Felipe's cause in the Netherlands—you cannot deny that."
"No, I cannot."
"Nor that his sway will ever again be acknowledged in these countries."
"No, nor that."
"Why then," she asked, wildly, "do you go on?"
"I obey the King."
"In a hopeless cause, in a bad cause! Don Juan, I feel as if this coming conflict was accursed for Spain, for you."
"I, too, feel that," he said; "but the King will not recall me and there is nothing for me to do but to go on."
He added instantly:—
"Do not, however, let us talk of this."
The sullen rain began to beat on the stone ledge of the window; Juan turned and closed the casement.
"A storm across the Lowlands! A storm!" cried Madame de Havrech.
She came and leant her sick head against the mullions.
"Juan," she whispered, "I am ill." She held the pomander to her nostrils.
"It is strange," he answered, "that you also should think of Death to-night."
"I do think of him," she cried. "If you should meet him here!"
"Let me see your hair, Marie," he said. "You have beautiful hair. I have always wanted to see it unbound."
She put up her left hand and took out the gold-headed pins.
"Whose hair have you in your ear-ring?" she whispered.
"It does not matter now," he answered.
Madame de Havrech's curling locks fell below her waist, tumbling over her cambric open ruff on to the sombre folds of her black velvet overskirt.
There was a deep terror in her eyes as, with the gold-headed pins in one hand and the pomander in the other, she looked at Juan.
"Why are we both so silent and so sad?" she asked in a tone of awe.
Her mind was confused, she did not know clearly or definitely what was round her; the pins and the pomander dropped from her slackened fingers, and she put her hands before her face.
The wind and rain were threatening and dismal without, the room dark save for that one candle burning before its reflection.
The Marquise lifted her face and put up her hands, Juan took them and laid them on his breast as he had laid the hands of Aņa de Santofimia over the same toison d'or many years before.
More than wind and rain seemed to be howling and beating at the window; all the forces of fear and might, of the conflict and struggle that was about to renew itself, all the threat and defiance of persecutor and persecuted seemed to Madame de Havrech to assail her ears mingled with the cries for vengeance of all those slain since Felipe began to rule the Netherlands.
And she was of the heretics, the rebels, trained to hate the Spanish. Yet, on the eve of the terrible struggle between her own people and the tyrants, it was Felipe's tool who came and asked her for comfort, Felipe's Viceroy who held her hands and looked down into her eyes.
The strangeness of this beat at Madame de Havrech's heart—more than the horror of it, or the joy of it, the strangeness oppressed her; she felt as if the world would never be real and sane again; she thought that her brain was breaking, or her heart.
"You will return to Spain," she said; "but I—I must stay among the blood and ruin."
Then a great numbness came over her; it seemed to her that it was senseless to talk; she laid her face, buried in the fallen flowing hair, against the window frame.
Juan knelt at her feet and put his tired head on the folds of her black skirt that swept over the window seat, and put one of her limp hands under his cheek.
The tempest gathered in a fury over the Lowlands and shook the Chateau de Havrech; the one candle sent a shuddering gleam through the darkness and strongly to Juan's nostrils came the scent of the spices in the pomander that had broken open when it fell from the grasp of the Marquise, and filled the gloomy chamber with the ominous perfume of the antidotes men used against the plague.
He kept his boast and smote the rebels at Gembloux so that nothing remained of their gallant forces but a scattered remnant, and while the Prince of Orange and the Estates were deciding how to use their army it had ceased to exist.
Juan took his victory as a thing he had expected; it gave him no elation, and in no way altered his sense of foreboding nor his conviction of the hopelessness of his task.
He moved towards Namur; his army, ill paid, ill fed, and largely composed of mercenaries, fell continually into mutiny and, even after Gembloux, deserted by the score to the Estates or the French.
There was no money nor answer to be had from Felipe, Escovedo wrote in despair from Madrid; the King, he said, was close shut in a sullen silence, he would not reveal his wishes nor his intentions and Antonio Perez feigned to know nothing.
Juan wrote to his brother and asked again for his recall, confessing his inability to cope any longer with the Netherlands; he had been formally deposed by the Estates who had put up the Protestant Archduke Mathias in his place (though the real ruler was and always would be Prince of Orange); he was recognized only by his own immediate army and following, and, besides being without authority, he was without money.
The King's credit could not raise a guilder on the Antwerp Exchange, and Juan, a man without property or revenues, had no credit to pledge; he was in debt even for the wages of his servants, and he wrote to the King in his despair that there was nothing but starvation before the entire army if His Majesty did not speedily rescue them.
Worse than anything, perhaps, was his own sickness, that steadily grew on him; this was a thing that he was scarcely able to face; he had always taken his strength so for granted; his youth and his health were things that he had never thought about, and a peculiar despair settled on him as he realized his present weakness.
The spirit that had made him dance on the gun-deck of his ship before the battle of Lepanto had utterly left him; even his ambition faded; the glitter of the visionary crown that had so long lured him glimmered out of sight; he no longer cherished the hope of leading an army on England and rescuing the Scottish Queen, nor did he even still dream of a Kingdom in Greece or Africa—he longed merely for rest.
To his appeals for money he always added one for Escovedo; but the secretary was detained on one excuse or another; chiefly, so he wrote to his master, through the machinations of Antonio Perez and the Princess of Eboli, who seemed to have every desire to keep him in Spain.
Escovedo did not add that a Moorish slave of his had lately been hanged for putting poison in his food and that he believed this slave was but the tool of some great person; and that he went in daily fear of his life; he had tried to use the weapon Anne of Austria had wielded with good effect; he had told Aņa de Mendoza that he would reveal her perfidy with Perez if she would not speak for Juan with the King.
The immediate result of this was a grudging supply of money sent to the Low Countries and a promise of more.
But there was no letter and no answer to the questions the young Governor was continually pressing.
He broke out fiercely to the Prince of Parma:—
"Does the King wish to ruin me?"
"Antonio Perez does," answered Don Alessandro.
"Why?" demanded Juan. Nor could he understand or indeed scarce believe the intriguing of the powerful minister against him; he had always been of the party of Ruy Gomez and Perez, he saw no reason for this hatred.
Of the desire for vengeance the Princess of Eboli cherished against the Queen, of her immense influence over Perez, of the reason both she and the minister had to fear Escovedo, he knew nothing; that tortuous policies and intrigues were working against him in Madrid he guessed, but he lacked the clue to them.
The Prince of Parma, who was climbing more slowly, warily, with less brilliancy and splendour than Don Juan, but more surely and safely, knew something of the attitude of Perez and the Princess towards the King's brother, something too, of the insane jealousy Felipe felt towards youth and achievement, but he kept his counsel. In these days Juan turned to him with an almost desperate affection, and Alessandro did not repulse him.
Neither did he desire to risk his own secure standing with Don Felipe by too openly befriending a man the King had turned his face from.
His continual advice to Juan was to urge his recall; he saw, with the instinct of military genius, that Juan was in the wrong place, and that the victor of Lepanto was not fitted to become the conqueror of the Netherlands.
"The King means my ruin," repeated Juan, not as a question now, but as a statement.
"Princes of the House of Austria are not so plentiful," smiled the Prince of Parma, "that His Majesty can afford to lose one."
"Alessandro," replied the Viceroy gloomily, "if the King had meant well by me he would have left me in Italy or sent me against the heathen. Did I not know what I could do and what I could not do? Entering this miserable country has been for me like creeping into a grave."
As he spoke, he wearily turned his eyes to the window of his chamber which overlooked Namur, in which town he had been for some days sick; the active duties of commander were deputed to the Prince of Parma, who had just returned from an expedition where he had distinguished himself by the capture of Limburg and several places of less importance in the province of that name, including Dalem, which had refused to surrender, and on being taken by a storm had been bathed in blood by a general butchery of the inhabitants.
Don Juan approved of this, though his rule encouraged the army to lawfulness and order, and he had none of the fury of the bigot; he saw no other way, but by fire and the sword, of dealing with people who were both rebels and heretics.
His distracted mind roving from one subject to another, he spoke now of Dalem.
"I hope," he said, "it will be a lesson to the other towns."
"I hear," answered the Prince of Parma with satisfaction, "that it made a gloomy impression in Antwerp. Orange was struck to the heart, they say."
Juan moved restlessly on his couch.
"Ah, the Prince of Orange," he said. "I am in an amaze at that man. Surely he will soon see what an ill thing he has done for himself."
"He plays a long game," answered Don Alessandro, whose intricate mind could understand even a good man's motives, far as these were removed from his own. "And he may fool us yet by the aid of Francois d'Alenā§on, or the Queen of England."
"Never," exclaimed Don Juan angrily, starting up on his couch. "D'Alenįcon is a puppet for anyone's pulling, and Elizabeth is too cautious to be of real use to anyone."
But he was secretly vexed; he knew that both the French Duke and the English Queen were being as successfully as delicately worked by the Prince of Orange, who had already received money from England and men from the French Prince, and promises of further aid from both.
"Where are the rebels now?" he asked impatiently.
He had lately been too ill to bear any news.
"Between Herenthal and Lier," replied the Prince of Parma.
"Who commands them?"
"Orange's lieutenant, Comte Bossu; under him are the De la Noue-Aerschat; Lalaing, Egmont Havrech—"
Don Alessandro paused and glanced at Juan who remained sitting on the end of his couch, looking at the floor.
"Havrech," he repeated.
Juan raised bright and feverish eyes.
"Well?" he asked.
"Did you not pay court to Madame de Havrech? I have heard it."
"What of it?" questioned Juan wearily.
"Dios!" returned the Prince of Parma with a shrug. "She is dead."
Juan winced; he looked down at the floor again.
"After being fifteen days sick, she died last Sunday. Her illness was thought to be the plague."
"The plague," repeated Juan. He roused himself from depths of gloomy reflection with an effort. "We have the plague in the Army too. Alessandro, if Orange succeeds in buying Duke Ernst Casimir's troops and d'Alenā§on musters an army (his sister well prepared the ground for him!) we are lost. Indeed we are lost and the King will not write, why does he disgrace me thus? Abandoned, without money or men, or orders, this is a fine reward for all my long services, this is a fine answer to all my encouraged hopes!"
He rose and began pacing the floor; a corslet of light mail showed under his dressing-gown, his life had been attempted of late, and an Englishman was at present under arrest for endeavouring to assassinate him.
"Is this to be the end!" he cried, wildly; "am I to be trapped here like a wild beast in a net whom the hunters may slay at leisure? So Madame de Havrech is dead," he added, gloomily and abruptly.
"I heard that the fall of Dalem greatly overwhelmed her—it struck most of the heretics—and that she fell into a melancholy that hastened her end."
Don Juan fixed his eyes on the Prince of Parma.
"Alessandro," he said, suddenly, "do you remember Doņa Aņa de Santofimia?"
"The lady in Alcalā—the night the Infant was ill."
The Prince of Parma recalled the incident with a laugh.
"Why, I remember."
"I have travelled very far away from her," said Juan. "Do you know if she is alive or dead?"
"Nay, I have not been to Alcalā since we left the college. She must be past her beauty now."
"When I can mount a horse," he said, irrelevantly, "we will march against the rebels."
"God give us a good issue from this pass," answered the Prince of Parma gravely. "I think we are scarcely fit to fall on Bossu—and if we lose this army where are we to raise another? Orange has the whole country as a recruiting ground, but we have only what the King may send us."
"I dispatched Seņor Billi to His Majesty with an account of the victory at Gembloux, as you know," said Don Juan, "but he has made no sign. I bid him ask for money and the return of Escovedo. You cannot imagine how I long for Escovedo."
His whole face darkened with a profound melancholy; he cast himself down on the couch again, and lay motionless, his head buried in the satin cushions.
The Prince of Parma left; he had much business on his mind.
Juan closed his eyes; he saw a picture of Marie de Havrech dead, in her black and brown robes, with her fallen hair and despairing face.
Dead! And if he might believe his own creed, damned.
He shuddered in horror; was she in the flames of hell, this beautiful, sad creature who had loved him?
Never before had he thought of the fate of a heretic, but now it was borne on him with deep terror that they burnt for ever and ever—to God's judgment and beyond. His blood ran hot with fever and his brain was confused; she had died of the plague—she had infected him, he thought; love and death, love and loss, ever went hand in hand for him—this time his own death perhaps.
He did not want to die in this exile, in this gray, hateful country; he did not want to die without seeing the Southern sun again; he set his teeth and dragged himself up on his couch; his heavy eyes turned to his helmet, gloves, and sword, lying in the window seat; he had ordered them to be brought yesterday in the hopes that he might have worn them and have ridden forth, but his strength had failed him.
He longed in his sickness to smite the rebels down, to butcher them all, to bathe the country in blood, to return to the King and say. "There are no more Netherlanders!"
A great hatred of the country possessed him; he thought that he would sooner die a slave in Italy than a king here.
The only creature that he had ever cared for in this blood-stained land had been seized by death, and he felt that he, too, would soon follow Madame de Havrech.
Presently he fell into a sleep disfigured by desperate dreams from which he was roused, near nightfall, by Ottavio Gonzago.
The news this gentleman brought was such as to rouse Don Juan to his ancient courage; Seņor Billi had returned from Madrid with a supply of money and promises of more.
He also brought a triumphant letter from the faithful Escovedo, who declared the money had been wrung from Felipe through Aņa de Mendoza, and further a brief letter from the King himself, who also sent his own doctor, Ramirez. "Having heard that you are lately ill," wrote Felipe, and, finally, a packet from the Princess of Eboli.
This last killed utterly all Juan's joy in the other messages.
There was no line of writing in it; but it contained the boxwood case that held the portrait of Anne of Austria over which Carlos had wept and prayed.
Juan's sick eyes stared, gazed with something near terror at this little picture to which a sinister addition had been made.
Some artist had painted in long and elaborate ear-rings, and one was half broken off.
"She knows," said the young Viceroy.
He could now understand many things.
Felipe's mean, timid policy veered again; his meagre advices were for patching a peace with the Netherlands at all costs.
"He means to ruin me," said Juan again when he heard. He still asked for money, what he had received being totally insufficient, and for Escovedo, the secretary being still detained in Madrid.
In obedience to the King he convened a meeting of Spanish and the Estates (who had been heartened lately by the battle of Rynemants, where they had more than held their own against the Spanish forces) at Louvain, with the envoys of England and the Emperor present to assist the deliberations. Don Juan knew perfectly well that these proceedings were merely a solemn farce, and if he had not been humbled by sickness and disappointment he would never so quickly and quietly consented to them, for he knew that Orange was resolved to make this a struggle to a finish, and Orange was the only man who counted in the Netherlands now.
But what bewildered and confused Don Juan more than the King's orders for this useless conference was the attitude of affairs in Madrid. Mostly the attitude of Antonio Perez. Ever since Juan's appointment that minister had been corresponding with him in the friendliest manner, in a series of letters that he besought him to keep secret from the King, who was, he declared, "the most exacting, suspicious, jealous, and terrible of men."
Juan had answered these letters in the tone in which they were written. He had complained of his position, of the King's silence, and had often entreated Perez to represent his cause to the King, which the minister always promised to do, only conjuring Juan to sacrifice himself a little longer and serve the King with patience.
Juan saw no reason why this minister should not be his friend, though he had commonly been reported cold towards him, and he had accepted the letters sincerely.
But now he began to believe that both Felipe and Perez were hostile to him and resolved on his disgrace.
When he learnt from one of Escovedo's letters the fact, the secretary's loyalty to the house of Guzman had hitherto kept him silent on, but which he now revealed in a burst of rage, namely, the intrigue of Aņa de Mendoza and Perez, he began to see the influence that was undoing him at Madrid.
His Spanish subtlety was not long in unravelling the intrigue now he had the clue. He remembered that the Austrian Queen had said the Princess of Eboli hated her. It was clear, then, that this woman who had both Felipe and Perez under her spell, was striking at the Queen by striking at Juan, that she was determined to ruin the unfortunate Governor for the indulgences of her private spite, and that she and Perez had completely poisoned the King against his brother.
The sending of the Queen's little picture was both a challenge and a threat, Juan thought. Whether or no it was sent by Felipe's connivance, it was plain the Princess Eboli knew of the kiss in the ilex avenue—it was possible that Felipe knew.
And if Antonio Perez was the lover of this woman, as 296 Escovedo declared, then it was obvious that his long, friendly correspondence had been nothing but a trap to discover his inmost thoughts and wring from him some treasonable expressions. Nay, more than that, it seemed quite likely to Juan that the letters of Perez speaking of Felipe as "that terrible man" were dictated by the King himself. Felipe loved such underhand lures, such intricate betrayals, and whether or no he himself composed the letters, Juan no longer doubted that he read them and—the answers.
So, he had discovered the intrigue, but too late. He was powerless to avert the doom he saw being prepared for him. Again he pressed for his recall, and writing anxiously to Escovedo he bade him be careful how he enraged Aņa de Mondoza and Perez, for now he perceived the constant danger the secretary must be in, and how bitterly the Princess of Eboli and her lover must hate him and long for his removal.
To the King he wrote a passionate appeal for trust, confidence, and explicit commands; he still could scarcely believe that Felipe would utterly forsake him.
In this state of anxiety, gloom, almost despair, he went to meet the Commissioners of the Estates outside the camp, being resolved to repay the King's distrust with an exact loyalty with which no fault could be found.
It was indeed some consolation to him that in all that unguarded correspondence with Perez there had not been a line capable of being twisted into a treasonable meaning; for he had never even conceived the idea of betraying or deceiving Felipe whom he had served only too diligently and too unscrupulously.
On this stormy day of the wet, gloomy summer he rode out, therefore, with an escort of two thousand horse, to hear the proposals offered by the rebellious Estates.
He was still suffering from his illness, which many declared to be the plague, though his splendid youth seemed to have triumphed and he was better in health than he had been a month before, chiefly, he thought, through the care of Doctor Ramirez, the King's physician.
The meeting between the Governor, as Juan still was by virtue of the King's patent, and the Estates took place beneath a huge oak-tree, the dusty branches of which served as a screen from the sullen sun.
As Don Juan rode up with Ottavio Gonzaga and Andres de Prada, his present secretary, behind him, he glanced haughtily at the men arranged to meet him; he knew perfectly well that they neither reverenced nor feared his authority, but he had taught them at Gembloux that he was no toy soldier, and his bearing now was that of a prince.
The Dutch envoys were M. de Beaurepaire, M. de Meetkercke, and M. Leoninius, who had arranged the fruitless meeting between Juan and the Prince of Orange; joined with them were the Count Schwartenburg, the Imperial Ambassador, and two Englishmen, sent by Elizabeth Tudor, Lord Cobham and Sir Francis Walsingham.
Juan, who was riding a fine Hungarian horse and attended by two grooms bearing his arms on their livery, coldly saluted, then dismounted.
He wore steel armour damascened with gold, breeches and mantle of gold tissue ornamented with ruby-coloured silk, and a cap of white velvet with a long black feather; on his breast was the order of the toison d'or and a thick gold chain, his huge ruff was adorned with points of gold, and he wore a single pearl in his right ear from which depended a lock of fair hair, skilfully and tightly plaited.
"I receive you, seņors," he said, as soon as the commissioners had dismounted, "in order to fulfil the King's commands, and not from any hope I have that your terms are such as I can accept."
The Dutchman kindled at his extreme haughtiness, but the English and German envoys were regarding the young Governor with extreme curiosity.
The splendour and beauty of his appearance, his Spanish gravity and pride did not fail to impress them, particularly the Englishmen, who had their national love of show and handsomeness to the full.
"Here are the terms of the Estates, Monseigneur," said M. de Beaurepaire, handing a paper.
Don Juan took it in a gloved hand; such a wave of physical weakness had come over him that he could hardly hold himself upright; but he controlled himself with a fierce effort of will and read the paper that had been so brusquely offered.
The terms set forth plainly that the Estates, or rather the Prince of Orange, had no desire for any compromise with Spain.
First was placed the old proposal that Felipe should retain a merely nominal rule over the Netherlands, and that the Archduke Mathias should be confirmed as Governor on the terms that the Estates had already offered, and he had accepted; Mathais being a helpless tool in the hands of the Prince of Orange, this meant the virtual resignation of Felipe's claim over the Netherlands besides an insult to Juan, the present Governor.
The next clause was no more acceptable to a Spaniard; all prisoners were to be released, all property to be restored, all exiles to be permitted to return home; in conclusion, Don Juan was to give up all the strongholds still in his possession and to depart for Spain immediately.
To agree to these conditions would be to surrender the rebellious provinces without a struggle and to concede to the Prince of Orange all those benefits he had not been able to gain by force of arms.
Juan read the paper in silence, then he flashed his heavy eyes over the commissioners.
"These terms are villainous," he said, "and I will not even discuss them."
M. de Beaurepaire fondled his beard thoughtfully.
"Is that your answer, Monseigneur?"
"What other answer did you expect?" demanded Juan, "from the representative of Felipe?"
"Felipe is not invincible," put in M. de Meetkercke, "nor have you, Monseigneur, found us an easy conquest."
There was no change in Juan's ivory pallor.
"Felipe is my master and ours," he answered, "and while you propound such terms I cannot listen to you."
"I thought," said M. de Meetkercke, "that you were entirely for peace."
"Both the King and I," returned Don Juan, "are for peace. But on terms of honour."
He put out his hand against the thick trunk of the oak-tree for support, for he had no mind to shake in his carriage in this company.
"These terms are honourable," put in the Emperor's envoy, "and your Excellency must consider expediency."
Juan acknowledged the use of his title (that the Dutchman had markedly withheld) by a grave inclination of his head.
"Seņor," he answered, "it is useless to dispute on a set of propositions that never could be agreeable."
He glanced on the ground dark beneath him with the shadow of the oak-tree.
"As for me," he said, "I am expecting my recall with impatience, nay, with anxiety, and I pray to Almighty God that you may soon have another man to deal with in these matters. But while I stand in this country for King Felipe, I can give no ear to such proposals as you now urge."
For the first time Lord Cobham spoke.
"If England has any say in this—" he began.
Juan cut him short with the austere gravity that was more difficult to meet than any outburst of heated indignation.
"Why should England have any say in this dispute between the King of Spain and his subjects?" he asked. "And what excuse can you offer, seņor, for the assistance your Queen has given to the rebels!"
Lord Cobham was silent, but the more wily and wary Walsingham answered:—
"Before Almighty God, Monseigneur, this help was given from no other purpose but to prevent a descent of the French on the English coast, and by no means to put an affront on His Spanish Majesty."
Lord Cobham here joined in and spoke to some length on this argument, which was false enough, as everyone there present knew.
Don Juan said nothing; his silence was so eloquent of scorn that Sir Francis blushed, and pretended to have trouble with the stiff folds of his ruff in order to give him an excuse to fumble with his hands.
"The conditions are hard," he admitted.
"And yet you eagerly press them upon me," remarked the Spanish Prince.
"Indeed!" replied the Englishman; "bad as they be, it was only by pure menace that we have extorted them from the Estates."
"Then," said Don Juan, "tell them, seņor, to keep their offers. Such terms will not do for me."
And he handed the paper back to M. de Meetkercke.
"The blame of this war," he added, "lies neither with me nor with King Felipe, but rather with those refractory and insolent people who are false both to their King and their God. I hope your mistress"—he turned to the two Englishmen—"will see that I had reason to refuse these conditions."
At this there was a pause. Juan was the first to break it by saying:—
"Have you any advice to offer?"
Count Schwartenburg had none, and after a considerable reflection, all that the Englishmen could say was "that they were like the doctor who would waste neither drugs nor counsel until he was sure the patient would accept of one or the other."
"Seņors, you are wise," answered Juan with a proud smile, "for these terms are disgraceful, and were I a prisoner in Brussels, I would not accept of them."
The envoys of the Estates made no reply; they had known from the first that the propositions they brought were such as Don Juan could not in honour agree to, and that the Prince of Orange, now sure of the French alliance and the Duke Ernst Casimir's mercenaries, was only using the negotiations as a pause in which to prepare for a fierce renewal of the war; it was within their knowledge as it was within that of Don Juan, that the Estates had signed the bargain with d'Alenā§on four days previously.
The Governor lifted and let fall his beautiful, wasted hand.
"Enough of this," he said; "the articles are repugnant to all honesty, and are too hard to be admitted or even reasoned on."
He then thanked the English for their trouble in endeavouring to bring about an agreement between "His Majesty" and his subjects, and with a courteous salutation for the Imperial Ambassador and a cold, bare recognition of the presence of the Dutchmen, he mounted his horse and rode away.
"He has his back to the wall," said M. de Meetkercke, looking after him. "Felipe no longer trusts him, and his resources are utterly spent, yet mark his Spanish haughtiness and how his gentleman must stand with doffed cap to hold his stirrup!"
"Never saw I a personage of more goodly look and carriage," remarked Walsingham. "No, nor any prince comparable to him; if pride do not overthrow him, he is like to become great indeed!"
"Leave Felipe to deal with him," said M. de Beaurepaire; "I think, from what I hear from our agents, that he is not likely to long trouble us."
Juan rode back to the camp he was entrenching on the heights of Bouges, near the town of Namur, from which place he had moved when the pest began to thin his army, on account of the unhealthy, restricted quarters within the fortress.
Bouges was, besides, a good strategic position, being that chosen by Carlo Quinto when pressed by the forces of France.
As the Governor rode up through the dismantled vineyards where Serbellone and Campi, the engineers, were constructing new fortifications, towards these heights of Bouges, that overlooked the glittering lengths of the Sambre and the Meuse, a messenger rode out from the camp. News had come from Spain.
But it did not bring the tidings Juan so anxiously and desperately looked for—neither promises of men, nor money, nor the long besought-for orders.
Only this: "Juan de Escovedo was set upon in the streets of Madrid last night and stabbed to the heart by four assassins, dying instantly."
Juan crushed to his heart with a gesture of infinite despair the letter that contained these words, then fell from his saddle as if he, too, had been struck down as suddenly as his faithful servant.
Ottavio Gonzaga and de Prada found he was senseless when they ran to him; for the first time in his proud career he lay on the ground, in the dust, without strength or power.
They lifted him up and carried him to a pigeon-house that belonged to a ruined grange that stood among the cornfields that sloped up the hill of Bouges.
For fifteen days Don Juan lay in the pigeon-house, too ill to move; for his old sickness, which Dr. Ramirez seemed to have cured, had returned more violently than before.
Nor could they find any better apartment than the pigeon-house attached to the old grange where the regiment of Figueroa was quartered.
The place had been hastily arranged with an attempt at comfort, even splendour, for some rich hangings, stamped with the armories of the Governor, were fastened over the rough mud walls and ceiling, and the rude holes that served as windows were hung with purple damask curtains, the ladder that gave means of entrance to this loft was replaced by a wooden stairway up and down which, day and night, soldiers, monks, and doctors passed.
The young General was frequently delirious, and often insensible from pain; but in the intervals when his senses were clear he continued to transact the business of the army and to write letters, letters of appeal to the King who had abandoned him, and letters full of a proud despair to his old friend, Giovanni Andrea d'Oria, and Don Pedro de Mendoza, who were both in Genoa, that city he recalled with such love and longing.
"Matters are," he wrote to the last, "exactly as the devil would most wish them for our undoing. His Majesty is resolved on nothing, or, if he is, it is plain that he will keep me in ignorance of his mind until it is too late."
Nor did his anxious, fevered brain exaggerate his situation; he was indeed just in that pass he had feared to come to from the first moment that he had known he was to take up the government of the revolted provinces.
His efforts at government had been futile, his victory fruitless, his negotiations a farce, and, betrayed by Perez and forsaken by the King, he was now making a final stand on a spot that he did not think he could maintain three months, pressed on all sides by enemies; the Estates army had cut off his waterway by the Meuse to Ličge, and were now advanced as far as Chimay and Nivelle, d'Alenā§on was gathering his men in Hainault, and in the background were the King of France and the Queen of England, both waiting the chance to strike a blow at Spain.
No reinforcements came from Felipe, nor any money, nor any advice; more than twelve hundred of the army were ill of the plague, and the force remaining was only sufficient to keep up the communications by which alone the longed-for aid could arrive.
Yet desperate as his position seemed, Juan was prepared to risk a battle in Burgundy did the King so wish.
"I remain perplexed and confused," he wrote to Felipe, "desiring more than life some decision on your Majesty's part, for which I have begged so many times. Whether I win or lose in the task your Majesty may give me I will in all cases fulfil your Majesty's orders, and indeed I am deeply pained and wounded to the soul at being disgraced and abandoned by your Majesty, whom I have always served with all love and fidelity and heartiness, as a man and as a brother."
That was truth itself; whatever he might have to reproach himself with, whatever sins, follies, and mistakes might rise up now to confront the weakness of his sickness, he had never failed in perfect loyalty, in perfect service to the King.
Soon after he had dispatched this appeal to Felipe his illness became worse, and he lay for days in a constant delirium, talking in a wandering way of battles and fights, and giving orders as if he were on the field of combat; when he recovered his senses Mass was said by his bedside and he took the sacrament.
The doctors, particularly Doctor Ramirez, were confident that his illness was now past the worse.
But he shook his head when they told him so.
"I feel my strength fail me," he said; "yea, besides the pain I have in all my limbs, I feel a great weakness such as I have never known before."
It was the evening of the 30th of September, and cold and stormy as it had been all the miserable summer; the chill, damp, saltish air of the Low Counties penetrated into the pigeon-house, and Juan shivered under the brocade covering of his camp-bed.
He was calm and in full possession of his senses; he felt extraordinarily lonely; there was no one about him whom he loved.
The Prince of Parma had waited on him affectionately, but this Prince was Felipe's man and serving the King, not Juan.
His secretary, Andres de Prada, was nothing to him, nor was his confessor, Fray Francisco Orarotres; he distrusted both of them; he distrusted indeed, everyone, particularly Ramirez, the doctor Felipe had sent.
It seemed to him likely enough that the King had instructed this man to end him, not to cure him; now they had destroyed Escovedo, might they not destroy him? So he lay, full of bitter thoughts, his eyes roving restlessly round the mean dark loft.
Ottavio Gonzaga kept watch, and presently Juan sent him for the Prince of Parma. Don Alessandro came instantly.
The young General dragged himself up in the bed; a heavy purple mantle was flung over his shoulders, he wore a nightcap and his head was disfigured with bandages and plasters, beneath which his face showed drained of the usual colour and hard, cold, and white.
"Alessandro," he said.
The Prince went on his knees beside the bed; his dark, composed countenance was attentive and anxious as Juan put out his frail hand that still was dry with fever.
"Alessandro," he continued feebly, "by the memories of those days in Alcalā—are you in Felipe's confidence? Is Ramirez"—his voice fluttered, and his eyes, that looked as if they had been drowned in heavy tears, opened wide beneath the overhanging bandage—"here to murder me?"
"Jesus! Jesus!" whispered the Prince of Parma.
"You know," murmured Juan, "they murdered Escovedo."
"Put such thoughts from your mind," said Don Alessandro, "your sickness is the plague."
"I had the plague," replied Juan, "from the—" he stopped abruptly. Never in all his ravings had he mentioned a woman's name. "I had the plague," he repeated faintly, "but I was recovered from that."
"Put these fearful fancies from you," cried the Prince.
Juan gazed at him with an awful steadiness.
"Are you in it?" he asked. "Ah, Dios! they have bought me down! I do not mind dying, but I would have died with honour!"
Don Alessandro grasped his hand.
"You will recover," he said.
Juan gave no heed to these words.
"It was in me," he whispered, "to have lived better, to have loved better, to have died better, but I was unfortunate in the master I served. Never trust Felipe, Alessandro, never trust him."
He turned on his side and lay silent awhile, then said:—
"My life has been like a gaudy tale told to amuse a child—a thing with no bottom or meaning! Dios! I dreamt it differently when first I threw myself into the scales of the world's events."
With an impulsiveness rare in his contained nature, Don Alessandro bent and kissed the sick man's hand.
"Believe it, I was always your friend!" he exclaimed. "I never worked against you!"
"Friend?" echoed Juan. "Have I ever had a friend save Escovedo? Yet I trust you. See that Escovedo's wife and children are looked after and his debts paid. I have writ to the King about it." He closed his eyes wearily. "You will be my successor, Alessandro, in this command."
The fierce flame of ambition rose into the Italian Prince's eyes, but he bent his head and answered slowly:—
"A hopeless legacy."
"But you must take it—for the honour of Spain," replied Juan, struggling to speak with energy. "There is no other—of your birth and rank—and for the glory of the—blood in you—my father—Carlo Quinto."
"I shall not refuse," said the Prince of Parma.
Juan sighed and turned his face to the tapestry-hung wall; all concrete images, all definite thought slipped from his mind; he felt extremely old, as if he was watching the events of his life pass in a dim mirror, and they were things that had happened long ago and that he had no personal interest in, and gazed at with a mere curiosity.
He saw blue sea flowing round gilt galleys, and a blue rose falling into the waves, cast there by the hand of a young man who stood on the gun-deck of a great ship; he saw a city decked with flags and flowers, a burning purple sky, thousands of people shouting and acclaiming a young man on a white horse, who carried an emblazoned banner; he saw a peasant's hut lit by a red earthenware lamp, and a woman dying beneath it; he saw a creature of evil beauty with a rose petal between her lips, and a lady with a deathlike face and flowing hair crushing a pomander of herbs in her hand.
Across these floated broken visions, like the fragments of reflection in disturbed water; a sullen, bloodless man in a white bonnet with green ribbons, a pale woman with frightened eyes, a boy grinning with terror, a dark girl before a gold cloth altar, a woman standing before the sundial in a quidnunc, an old man dreaming in a darkened room, a sallow-faced woman passing a needle precisely in and out of a tapestry frame. What do they all mean? thought Juan helplessly; then he saw the gentle face of Dona Magdalena de Ulloa, and he gave a sound of pleasure, but a painted Fleming in a tawny dress swept before the vision.
Then a blue darkness closed over him, and an exquisite sensation of rest and peace; he sighed and put out his hands into soft space; he seemed to sink down and down into a limitless ocean; then even the sense of that left him, and he knew nothing.
When he opened his eyes he saw his confessor standing before him, and behind him Parma, Gonzaga, and several of his other officers.
He looked at them in wonder and in great amaze at a ray of sunshine that slipped beneath the dark damask curtains.
"Will your Highness," asked Fray Francisco, "receive extreme unction?"
"Yes, padre, at once," answered Juan in the voice of a healthy man.
When the rite was over he lay still again; then after a little, feebly called the priest.
"Padre," he said so faintly that Fray Francisco had to bend close to the pillow to catch the words, "before Gembloux I told you my last wishes—my father wished me to be a monk, and as if I were one I resign all I possess to—the King. It is only a few poor rags—and my servants—beseech His Majesty reward their good and loyal service."
He paused, and the confessor wiped away the sweat that had gathered on his brow, and raised him up a little on the silk pillows.
"My bones," he continued, "to you and Gonzaga till—the King's pleasure is known; I would rest in the Escorial—though I was never—a King. Near my father. If that may not be—then at our Lady of Montserrat. But near the Emperor—if the King allows." He stopped again, then added:—
"My mother and her sons. Remember they have no support now—but the King. Recommend them to His Majesty."
"All this will I do," said the confessor gravely.
Juan closed his eyes.
"It is not just, padre," he gasped, "that I, who have no longer a hand's breadth of earth that I can call my own, should desire to be at large in heaven?"
As he spoke thus there was something at once so sad and loving about him that those who beheld him were greatly moved.
"Will your Highness hear Mass?" asked Fray Francisco.
"Yes," said Juan. He pulled at the purple mantle on his breast: "My sins!—my sins! God receive my sincere repentance—my life was founded on a delusion!" Then he said, "I served the King—he might have trusted me;" then "Infant of Castile, a King!" twice repeated, very softly under his breath.
While they were preparing the Mass he spoke again.
"If the King had supported me I could have overcome these rebels. Urge him haste, lest the last chance be lost."
He lay back with closed eyes while the holy office was read, and murmured, indistinctly, what might have been prayers or entreaties or wanderings of a breaking brain.
When the Host was elevated he did not see it, and the Prince of Parma gently touched his shoulder.
He understood at once, and half sat up in bed, his eyes still closed, and pulled off the nightcap and plasters from his head in token of adoration.
A breeze lifted the curtain, and the quivering beams of the autumn sun fell for a second on the disordered bright hair and the face over which a white veil seemed to have fallen.
Then he sank back.
"Jesus! Maria!" he said; then—"the popinjay, the crown of the popinjay!"
Once more he spoke.
"Felipe—trust," he whispered; "remember—Escorial—near—the Emperor."
His eyes had now failed him. All the gold was dead in them, and they stared blind and blank; nor was there any power in his limbs; but on that last word—"Emperor"—his voice rose above his breath.
The gentlemen were all on their knees; he was silent a long while, nor could they guess his thoughts, for he did not speak again; but those who watched his changed face saw a great look of pride settle on his features.
At noon he died.
Fray Francisco, writing an account of this Prince's death to the King, said, "His soul passed from us as lightly as a bird takes wing."