Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
Ruy Gomez was as loyal, in his way, as Mendoza himself, but his loyalty was of a very different sort, for it was tempered by a diplomatic spirit which made it more serviceable on ordinary occasions, and its object was altogether a principle rather than a person. Mendoza could not conceive of monarchy, in its abstract, without a concrete individuality represented by King Philip; but Ruy Gomez could not imagine the world without the Spanish monarchy, though he was well able to gauge his sovereign's weaknesses and to deplore his crimes. He himself was somewhat easily deceived, as good men often are, and it was he who had given the King his new secretary, Antonio Perez; yet from the moment when Mendoza had announced Don John's death, he had been convinced that the deed had either been done by Philip himself or by his orders, and that Mendoza had bravely sacrificed himself to shield his master. What Dolores had said only confirmed his previous opinion, so far as her father's innocence was at stake. As for her own confession, he believed it, and in spite of himself he could not help admiring the girl's heroic courage. Dolores might have been in reality ten times worse than she had chosen to represent herself; she would still have been a model of all virtue compared with his own wife, though he did not know half of the Princess's doings, and was certainly ignorant of her relations with the King.
He was not at all surprised when Dolores told him at the door that Philip knew the truth about the supposed murder, but he saw how dangerous it might be for Dolores to say as much to others of the court. She wished to go away alone, as she had come, but he insisted on going with her.
"You must see his Majesty," he said authoritatively. "I will try to arrange it at once. And I entreat you to be discreet, my dear, for your father's sake, if not for any other reason. You have said too much already. It was not wise of you, though it showed amazing courage. You are your father's own daughter in that--he is one of the bravest men I ever knew in my life."
"It is easy to be brave when one is dead already!" said Dolores, in low tones.
"Courage, my dear, courage!" answered the old Prince, in a fatherly tone, as they went along. "You are not as brave as you think, since you talk of death. Your life is not over yet."
"There is little left of it. I wish it were ended already."
She could hardly speak, for an inevitable and overwhelming reaction had followed on the great effort she had made. She put out her hand and caught her companion's arm for support. He led her quickly to the small entrance of the King's apartments, by which it was his privilege to pass in. They reached a small waiting-room where there were a few chairs and a marble table, on which two big wax candles were burning. Dolores sank into a seat, and leaned back, closing her eyes, while Ruy Gomez went into the antechamber beyond and exchanged a few words with the chamberlain on duty. He came back almost immediately.
"Your father is alone with the King," he said. "We must wait."
Dolores scarcely heard what he said, and did not change her position nor open her eyes. The old man looked at her, sighed, and sat down near a brazier of wood coals, over which he slowly warmed his transparent hands, from time to time turning his rings slowly on his fingers, as if to warm them, too. Outside, the chamberlain in attendance walked slowly up and down, again and again passing the open door, through which he glanced at Dolores' face. The antechamber was little more than a short, broad corridor, and led to the King's study. This corridor had other doors, however, and it was through it that the King's private rooms communicated with the hall of the royal apartments.
As Ruy Gomez had learned, Mendoza was with Philip, but not alone. The old officer was standing on one side of the room, erect and grave, and King Philip sat opposite him, in a huge chair, his still eyes staring at the fire that blazed in the vast chimney, and sent sudden flashes of yellow through the calm atmosphere of light shed by a score of tall candles. At a table on one side sat Antonio Perez, the Secretary. He was provided with writing-materials and appeared to be taking down the conversation as it proceeded. Philip asked a question from time to time, which Mendoza answered in a strange voice unlike his own, and between the questions there were long intervals of silence.
"You say that you had long entertained feelings of resentment against his Highness," said the King, "You admit that, do you?"
"I beg your Majesty's pardon. I did not say resentment. I said that I had long looked upon his Highness's passion for my daughter with great anxiety."
"Is that what he said, Perez?" asked Philip, speaking to the Secretary without looking at him. "Read that."
"He said: I have long resented his Highness's admiration for my daughter," answered Perez, reading from his notes.
"You see," said the King. "You resented it. That is resentment. I was right. Be careful, Mendoza, for your words may be used against you to-morrow. Say precisely what you mean, and nothing but what you mean."
Mendoza inclined his head rather proudly, for he detested Antonio Perez, and it appeared to him that the King was playing a sort of comedy for the Secretary's benefit. It seemed an unworthy interlude in what was really a solemn tragedy.
"Why did you resent his Highness's courtship of your daughter?" enquired Philip presently, continuing his cross-examination.
"Because I never believed that there could be a real marriage," answered Mendoza boldly. "I believed that my child must become the toy and plaything of Don John of Austria, or else that if his Highness married her, the marriage would soon be declared void, in order that he might marry a more important personage."
"Set that down," said the King to Perez, in a sharp tone. "Set that down exactly. It is important." He waited till the Secretary's pen stopped before he went on. His next question came suddenly.
"How could a marriage consecrated by our holy religion ever be declared null and void?"
"Easily enough, if your Majesty wished it," answered Mendoza unguardedly, for his temper was slowly heating.
"Write down that answer, Perez. In other words, Mendoza, you think that I have no respect for the sacrament of marriage, which I would at any time cause to be revoked to suit my political purposes. Is that what you think?"
"I did not say that, Sire. I said that even if Don John married my daughter--"
"I know quite well what you said," interrupted the King suavely. "Perez has got every word of it on paper."
The Secretary's bad black eyes looked up from his writing, and he slowly nodded as he looked at Mendoza. He understood the situation perfectly, though the soldier was far too honourable to suspect the truth.
"I have confessed publicly that I killed Don John defenceless," he said, in rough tones. "Is not that enough?"
"Oh, no!" Philip almost smiled, "That is not enough. We must also know why you committed such on abominable crime. You do not seem to understand that in taking your evidence here myself, I am sparing you the indignity of an examination before a tribunal, and under torture--in all probability. You ought to be very grateful, my dear Mendoza."
"I thank your Majesty," said the brave old soldier coldly.
"That is right. So we know that your hatred of his Highness was of long standing, and you had probably determined some time ago that you would murder him on his return." The King paused a moment and then continued. "Do you deny that on this very afternoon you swore that if Don John attempted to see your daughter, you would kill him at once?"
Mendoza was taken by surprise, and his haggard eyes opened wide as he stared at Philip.
"You said that, did you not?" asked the King, insisting upon the point. "On your honour, did you say it?"
"Yes, I said that," answered Mendoza at last. "But how did your Majesty know that I did?"
The King's enormous under lip thrust itself forward, and two ugly lines of amusement were drawn in his colourless cheeks. His jaw moved slowly, as if he were biting something of which he found the taste agreeable.
"I know everything," he said slowly. "I am well served in my own house. Perez, be careful. Write down everything. We also know, I think, that your daughter met his Highness this evening. You no doubt found that out as others did. The girl is imprudent. Do you confess to knowing that the two had met this evening?"
Mendoza ground his teeth as if he were suffering bodily torture. His brows contracted, and as Perez looked up, he faced him with such a look of hatred and anger that the Secretary could hot meet his eyes. The King was a sacred and semi-divine personage, privileged to ask any question he chose and theoretically incapable of doing wrong, but it was unbearable that this sleek black fox should have the right to hear Diego de Mendoza confess his daughter's dishonour. Antonio Perez was not an adventurer of low birth, as many have gratuitously supposed, for his father had held an honourable post at court before him; but he was very far from being the equal of one who, though poor and far removed from the head of his own family, bore one of the most noble names in Spain.
"Let your Majesty dismiss Don Antonio Perez," said Mendoza boldly. "I will then tell your Majesty all I know."
Perez smiled as he bent over his notes, for he knew what the answer would be to such a demand. It came sharply.
"It is not the privilege of a man convicted of murder to choose his hearers. Answer my questions or be silent. Do you confess that you knew of your daughter's meeting with Don John this evening?"
Mendoza's lips set themselves tightly under his grey beard, and he uttered no sound. He interpreted the King's words literally.
"Well, what have you to say?"
"Nothing, Sire, since I have your Majesty's permission to be silent."
"It does not matter," said Philip indifferently. "Note that he refuses to answer the question, Perez. Note that this is equivalent to confessing the fact, since he would otherwise deny it. His silence is & reason, however, for allowing the case to go to the tribunal to be examined in the usual way--the usual way," he repeated, looking hard at Mendoza and emphasizing the words strongly.
"Since I do not deny the deed, I entreat your Majesty to let me suffer for it quickly. I am ready to die, God knows. Let it be to-morrow morning or to-night. Your Majesty need only sign the warrant for my execution, which Don Antonio Perez has, no doubt, already prepared."
"Not at all, not at all," answered the King, with horrible coolness. "I mean that you shall have a fair and open trial and every possible opportunity of justifying yourself. There must be nothing secret about this. So horrible a crime must be treated in the most public manner. Though it is very painful to me to refer to such a matter, you must remember that after it had pleased Heaven, in its infinite justice, to bereave me of my unfortunate son, Don Carlos, the heir to the throne, there were not wanting ill-disposed and wicked persons who actually said that I had caused his life to be shortened by various inhuman cruelties. No, no! we cannot have too much publicity. Consider how terrible a thing it would be if any one should dare to suppose that my own brother had been murdered with my consent! You should love your country too much not to fear such a result; for though you have murdered my brother in cold blood, I am too just to forget that you have proved your patriotism through a long and hitherto honourable career. It is my duty to see that the causes of your atrocious action are perfectly clear to my subjects, so that no doubt may exist even in the most prejudiced minds. Do you understand? I repeat that if I have condescended to examine you alone, I have done so only out of a merciful desire to spare an old soldier the suffering and mortification of an examination by the tribunal that is to judge you. Understand that."
"I understand that and much more besides," answered Mendoza, in low and savage tones.
"It is not necessary that you should understand or think that you understand anything more than what I say," returned the King coldly. "At what time did you go to his Highness's apartments this evening?"
"Your Majesty knows."
"I know nothing of it," said the King, with the utmost calm. "You were on duty after supper. You escorted me to my apartments afterwards. I had already sent for Perez, who came at once, and we remained here, busy with affairs, until I returned to the throne room, five minutes before you came and confessed the murder; did we not, Perez?"
"Most certainly, Sire," answered the Secretary gravely. "Your Majesty must have been at work with me an hour, at least, before returning to the throne room."
"And your Majesty did not go with me by the private staircase to Don John of Austria's apartment?" asked Mendoza, thunderstruck by the enormous falsehood.
"With you?" cried the King, in admirably feigned astonishment. "What madness is this? Do not write that down, Perez. I really believe the man is beside himself!"
Mendoza groaned aloud, for he saw that he had been frightfully deceived. In his magnificent generosity, he had assumed the guilt of the crime, being ready and willing to die for it quickly to save the King from blame and to put an end to his own miserable existence. But he had expected death quickly, mercifully, within a few hours. Had he suspected what Philip had meant to do,--that he was to be publicly tried for a murder he had not committed, and held up to public hatred and ignominy for days and perhaps weeks together, while a slow tribunal dragged out its endless procedure,--neither his loyalty nor his desire for death could have had power to bring his pride to such a sacrifice. And now he saw that he was caught in a vise, and that no accusation he could bring against the King could save him, even if he were willing to resort to such a measure and so take back his word. There was no witness for him but himself. Don John was dead, and the infamous Perez was ready to swear that Philip had not left the room in which they had been closeted together. There was not a living being to prove that Mendoza had not gone alone to Don John's apartments with the deliberate intention of killing him. He had, indeed, been to the chief steward's office in search of a key, saying that the King desired to have it and was waiting; but it would be said that he had used the King's authority to try and get the key for himself because he knew that his daughter was hidden in the locked room. He had foolishly fancied that the King would send for him and see him alone before he died, that his sovereign would thank him for the service that was costing his life, would embrace him and send him to his death for the good of Spain and the divine right of monarchy. Truly, he had been most bitterly deceived.
"You said," continued Philip mercilessly, "that you killed his Highness when he was unarmed. Is that true?"
"His Highness was unarmed," said Mendoza, almost through his closed teeth, for he was suffering beyond words.
"Unarmed," repeated the King, nodding to Perez, who wrote rapidly. "You might have given him a chance for his life. It would have been more soldier-like. Had you any words before you drew upon him? Was there any quarrel?"
"None. We did not speak to each other." Mendoza tried to make Philip meet his eyes, but the King would not look at him.
"There was no altercation," said the King, looking at Perez. "That proves that the murder was premeditated. Put it down--it is very important. You could hardly have stabbed him in the back, I suppose. He must have turned when he heard you enter. Where was the wound?"
"The wound that killed his Highness will be found near the heart."
"Cruel!" Philip looked down at his own hands, and he shook his head very sadly. "Cruel, most cruel," he repeated in a low tone.
"I admit that it was a very cruel deed," said Mendoza, looking at him fixedly. "In that, your Majesty is right."
"Did you see your daughter before or after you had committed the murder?" asked the King calmly.
"I have not seen my daughter since the murder was committed."
"But you saw her before? Be careful, Perez. Write down every word. You say that you saw your daughter before you did it."
"I did not say that," answered Mendoza firmly.
"It makes very little difference," said the King, "If you had seen her with his Highness, the murder would have seemed less cold-blooded, that is all. There would then have been something like a natural provocation for it."
There was a low sound, as of some one scratching at the door. That was the usual way of asking admittance to the King's room on very urgent matters. Perez rose instantly, the King nodded to him, and he went to the door. On opening, someone handed him a folded paper on a gold salver. He brought it to Philip, dropped on one knee very ceremoniously, and presented it. Philip took the note and opened it, and Perez returned to his seat at once.
The King unfolded the small sheet carefully. The room was so full of light that he could read it when he sat, without moving. His eyes followed the lines quickly to the end, and returned to the beginning, and he read the missive again more carefully. Not the slightest change of expression was visible in his face, as he folded the paper neatly again in the exact shape in which he had received it. Then he remained silent a few moments. Perez held his pen ready to write, moving it mechanically now and then as if he were writing in the air, and staring at the fire, absorbed in his own thoughts, though his ear was on the alert.
"You refuse to admit that you found your daughter and Don John together, then?" The King spoke with an interrogation.
"I did not find them together," answered Mendoza. "I have said so." He was becoming exasperated under the protracted cross-examination.
"You have not said so. My memory is very good, but if it should fail we have everything written down. I believe you merely refused to answer when I asked if you knew of their meeting--which meant that you did know of it. Is that it, Perez?"
"Exactly so, Sire." The Secretary had already found the place among his notes.
"Do you persistently refuse to admit that you had positive evidence of your daughter's guilt before the murder?"
"I will not admit that, Sire, for it would not be true."
"Your daughter has given her evidence since," said the King, holding up the folded note, and fixing his eyes at last on his victim's face. If it were possible, Mendoza turned more ashy pale than before, and he started perceptibly at the King's words.
"I shall never believe that!" he cried in a voice which nevertheless betrayed his terror for his child.
"A few moments before this note was written," said Philip calmly, "your daughter entered the throne room, and addressed the court, standing upon the steps of the throne--a very improper proceeding and one which Ruy Gomez should not have allowed. Your daughter Dolores--is that the girl's name? Yes. Your daughter Dolores, amidst the most profound silence, confessed that she--it is so monstrous that I can hardly bring myself to say it--that she had yielded to the importunities of his late Highness, that she was with him in his room a long time this evening, and that, in fact, she was actually in his bedchamber when he was murdered."
"It is a lie!" cried Mendoza vehemently. "It is an abominable lie--she was not in the room!"
"She has said that she was," answered Philip. "You can hardly suppose a girl capable of inventing such damning evidence against herself, even for the sake of saving her own father. She added that his Highness was not killed by you. But that is puerile. She evidently saw you do it, and has boldly confessed that she was in the room--hidden somewhere, perhaps, since you absolutely refuse to admit that you saw her there. It is quite clear that you found the two together and that you killed his Highness before your daughter's eyes. Why not admit that, Mendoza? It makes you seem a little less cold-blooded. The provocation was great--"
"She was not there," protested Mendoza, interrupting the King, for he hardly knew what he was doing.
"She was there, since she confesses to have been in the room. I do not tolerate interruption when I am speaking. She was there, and her evidence will be considered. Even if you did not see her, how can you be sure that your daughter was not there? Did you search the room? Did you look behind the curtains?"
"I did not." The stern old man seemed to shrink bodily under the frightful humiliation to which he was subjected.
"Very well, then you cannot swear that she was not in the room. But you did not see her there. Then I am sorry to say that there can have been no extenuating circumstances. You entered his Highness's bedchamber, you did not even speak to him, you drew your sword and you killed him. All this shows that you went there fully determined to commit the crime. But with regard to its motive, this strange confession of your daughter's makes that quite clear. She had been extremely imprudent with Don John, you were aware of the fact, and you revenged yourself in the most brutal way. Such vengeance never can produce any but the most fatal results. You yourself must die, in the first place, a degrading and painful death on the scaffold, and you die leaving behind you a ruined girl, who must bury herself in a convent and never be seen by her worldly equals again. And besides that, you have deprived your King of a beloved brother, and Spain of her most brilliant general. Could anything be worse?"
"Yes. There are worse things than that, your Majesty, and worse things have been done. It would have been a thousand times worse if I had done the deed and cast the blame of it on a man so devoted to me that he would bear the guilt in my stead, and a hundred thousand times worse if I had then held up that man to the execration of mankind, and tortured him with every distortion of evidence which great falsehoods can put upon a little truth. That would indeed have been far worse than anything I have done. God may find forgiveness for murderers, but there is only hell for traitors, and the hell of hells is the place of men who betray their friends."
"His mind is unsettled, I fear," said the King, speaking to Perez. "These are signs of madness."
"Indeed I fear so, Sire," answered the smooth Secretary, shaking his head solemnly. "He does not know what he says."
"I am not mad, and I know what I am saying, for I am a man under the hand of death." Mendoza's eyes glared at the King savagely as he spoke, and then at Perez, but neither could look at him, for neither dared to meet his gaze. "As for this confession my daughter has made, I do not believe in it. But if she has said these things, you might have let me die without the bitterness of knowing them, since that was in your power. And God knows that I have staked my life freely for your Majesty and for Spain these many years, and would again if I had it to lose instead of having thrown it away. And God knows, too, that for what I have done, be it good or bad, I will bear whatsoever your Majesty shall choose to say to me alone in the way of reproach. But as I am a dying man I will not forgive that scribbler there for having seen a Spanish gentleman's honour torn to rags, and an old soldier's last humiliation, and I pray Heaven with my dying breath, that he may some day be tormented as he has seen me tormented, and worse, till he shall cry out for mercy--as I will not!"
The cruelly injured man's prayer was answered eight years from that day, and even now Perez turned slowly pale as he heard the words, for they were spoken with all the vehemence of a dying man's curse. But Philip was unmoved. He was probably not making Mendoza suffer merely for the pleasure of watching his pain, though others' suffering seems always to have caused him a sort of morbid satisfaction. What he desired most was to establish a logical reason for which Mendoza might have committed the crime, lest in the absence of sound evidence he himself should be suspected of having instigated it. He had no intention whatever of allowing Mendoza to be subjected to torture during the trial that was to ensue. On the contrary, he intended to prepare all the evidence for the judges and to prevent Mendoza from saying anything in self-defence. To that end it was necessary that the facts elicited should be clearly connected from first cause to final effect, and by the skill of Antonio Perez in writing down only the words which contributed to that end, the King's purpose was now accomplished. He heard every word of Mendoza's imprecation and thought it proper to rebuke him for speaking so freely.
"You forget yourself, sir," he said coldly. "Don Antonio Perez is my private Secretary, and you must respect him. While you belonged to the court his position was higher and more important than your own; now that you stand convicted of an outrageous murder in cold blood, you need not forget that he is an innocent man. I have done, Mendoza. You will not see me again, for you will be kept in confinement until your trial, which can only have one issue. Come here."
He sat upright in his chair and held out his hand, while Mendoza approached with unsteady steps, and knelt upon one knee, as was the custom.
"I am not unforgiving," said the King. "Forgiveness is a very beautiful Christian virtue, which we are taught to exercise from our earliest childhood. You have cut off my dearly loved brother in the flower of his youth, but you shall not die believing that I bear you any malice. So far as I am able, I freely forgive you for what you have done, and in token I give you my hand, that you may have that comfort at the last."
With incredible calmness Philip took Mendoza's hand as he spoke, held it for a moment in his, and pressed it almost warmly at the last words. The old man's loyalty to his sovereign had been a devotion almost amounting to real adoration, and bitterly as he had suffered throughout the terrible interview, he well-nigh forgot every suffering as he felt the pressure of the royal fingers. In an instant he had told himself that it had all been but a play, necessary to deceive Perez, and to clear the King from suspicion before the world, and that in this sense the unbearable agony he had borne had served his sovereign. He forgot all for a moment, and bending his iron-grey head, he kissed the thin and yellow hand fervently, and looked up to Philip's cold face and felt that there were tears of gratitude in his own eyes, of gratitude at being allowed to leave the world he hated with the certainty that his death was to serve his sovereign idol.
"I shall be faithful to your Majesty until the end," he said simply, as the King withdrew his fingers, and he rose to his feet.
The King nodded slowly, and his stony look watched Mendoza with a sort of fixed curiosity. Even he had not known that such men lived.
"Call the guards to the door, Perez," he said coldly. "Tell the officer to take Don Diego Mendoza to the west tower for to-night, and to treat him with every consideration."
Perez obeyed. A detachment of halberdiers with an officer were stationed in the short, broad corridor that led to the room where Dolores was waiting. Perez gave the lieutenant his orders.
Mendoza walked backwards to the door from the King's presence, making three low bows as he went. At the door he turned, taking no notice of the Secretary, marched out with head erect, and gave himself up to the soldiers.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.