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Dolores had prepared no speech with which to appeal to the King, and she had not counted upon her own feelings towards him when she found herself in the room where Mendoza had been questioned, and heard the door closed behind her by the chamberlain who had announced her coming. She stood still a moment, dazzled by the brilliant lights after having been so long in the dimmer waiting room. She had never before been in the King's study, and she had fancied it very different from what it really was when she had tried to picture to herself the coming interview. She had supposed the room small, sombre, littered with books and papers, and cold; it was, on the contrary, so spacious as to be almost a hall, it was brightly illuminated and warmed by the big wood fire. Magnificent tapestries covered the walls with glowing colour, and upon one of these, in barbaric bad taste, was hung a single great picture by Titian, Philip's favourite master. Dolores blushed as she recognized in the face of the insolent Venus the features of the Princess of Eboli. Prom his accustomed chair, the King could see this painting. Everywhere in the room there were rich objects that caught and reflected the light, things of gold and silver, of jade and lapis lazuli, in a sort of tasteless profusion that detracted from the beauty of each, and made Dolores feel that she had been suddenly transported out of her own element into another that was hard to breathe and in which it was bad to live. It oppressed her, and though her courage was undiminished, the air of the place seemed to stifle her thought and speech.
As she entered she saw the King in profile, seated in his great chair at some distance from the fire, but looking at it steadily. He did not notice her presence at first. Antonio Perez sat at the table, busily writing, and he only glanced at Dolores sideways when he heard the door close after her. She sank almost to the ground as she made the first court curtsey before advancing, and she came forward into the light. As her skirt swept the ground a second time, Philip looked slowly round, and his dull stare followed her as she came round in a quarter of a wide circle and curtsied a third time immediately in front of him.
She was very beautiful, as she stood waiting for him to speak, and meeting his gaze fearlessly with a look of cold contempt in her white face such as no living person had ever dared to turn to him, while the light of anger burned in her deep grey eyes. But for the presence of the Secretary, she would have spoken first, regardless of court ceremony. Philip looked at her attentively, mentally comparing her with his young Queen's placidly dull personality and with the Princess of Eboli's fast disappearing and somewhat coarse beauty. For the Princess had changed much since Titian had painted his very flattering picture, and though she was only thirty years of age, she was already the mother of many children. Philip stared steadily at the beautiful girl who stood waiting before him, and he wondered why she had never seemed so lovely to him before. There was a half morbid, half bitter savour in what he felt, too,--he had just condemned the beauty's father to death, and she must therefore hate him with all her heart. It pleased him to think of that; she was beautiful and he stared at her long.
"Be seated, Doņa Dolores," he said at last, in a muffled voice that was not harsh. "I am glad that you have come, for I have much to say to you."
Without lifting his wrist from the arm of the chair on which it rested, the King moved his hand, and his long forefinger pointed to a low cushioned stool that was placed near him. Dolores came forward unwillingly and sat down. Perez watched the two thoughtfully, and forgot his writing. He did not remember that any one excepting the Princess of Eboli had been allowed to be seated in the King's study. The Queen never came there. Perez' work exempted him in private, of course, from much of the tedious ceremonial upon which Philip insisted. Dolores sat upon the edge of the stool, very erect, with her hands folded on her knees.
"Doņa Dolores is pale," observed the King. "Bring a cordial, Perez, or a glass of Oporto wine."
"I thank your Majesty," said the young girl quickly. "I need nothing."
"I will be your physician," answered Philip, very suavely. "I shall insist upon your taking the medicine I prescribe."
He did not turn his eyes from her as Perez brought a gold salver and offered Dolores the glass. It was impossible to refuse, so she lifted it to her lips and sipped a little.
"I thank your Majesty," she said again. "I thank you, sir," she said gravely to Perez as she set down the glass, but she did not raise her eyes to his face as she spoke any more than she would have done if he had been a footman.
"I have much to say to you, and some questions to ask of you," the King began, speaking very slowly, but with extreme suavity.
He paused, and coughed a little, but Dolores said nothing. Then he began to look at her again, and while he spoke he steadily examined every detail of her appearance till his inscrutable gaze had travelled from her headdress to the points of her velvet slippers, and finally remained fixed upon her mouth in a way that disturbed her even more than the speech he made. Perez had resumed his seat.
"In my life," he began, speaking of himself quite without formality, "I have suffered more than most men, in being bereaved of the persons to whom I have been most sincerely attached. The most fortunate and successful sovereign in the world has been and is the most unhappy man in his kingdom. One after another, those I have loved have been taken from me, until I am almost alone in the world that is so largely mine. I suppose you cannot understand that, my dear, for my sorrows began before you were born. But they have reached their crown and culmination to-day in the death of my dear brother."
He paused, watching her mouth, and he saw that she was making a superhuman effort to control herself, pressing the beautiful lips together, though they moved gainfully in spite of her, and visibly lost colour.
"Perez," he said after a moment, "you may go and take some rest. I will send for you when I need you."
The Secretary rose, bowed low, and left the room by a small masked door in a corner. The King waited till he saw it close before he spoke again. His tone changed a little then and his words came quickly, as if he felt here constraint.
"I feel," he said, "that we are united by a common calamity, my dear. I intend to take you under my most particular care and protection from this very hour. Yes, I know!" he held up his hand o deprecate any interruption, for Dolores seemed about to speak. "I know why you come to me, you wish to intercede for your father. That is natural, and you are right to come to me yourself, for I would rather hear your voice than that of another speaking for you, and I would rather grant any mercy in my power to you directly than to some personage of the court who would be seeking his own interest as much as yours."
"I ask justice, not mercy, Sire," said Dolores, in a firm, low voice, and the fire lightened in her eyes.
"Your father shall have both," answered Philip, "for they are compatible."
"He needs no mercy," returned the young girl, "for he has done no harm. Your Majesty knows that as well as I."
"If I knew that, my dear, your father would not be under arrest. I cannot guess what you know or do not know--"
"I know the truth." She spoke so confidently that the King's expression changed a little.
"I wish I did," he answered, with as much suavity as ever. "But tell me what you think you know about this matter. You may help me to sift it, and then I shall be the better able to help you, if such a thing be possible. What do you know?"
Dolores leaned forward toward him from her seat, almost rising as she lowered her voice to a whisper, her eyes fixed on his face.
"I was close behind the door your Majesty wished to open," she said. "I heard every word; I heard your sword drawn and I heard Don John fall--and then it was some time before I heard my father's voice, taking the blame upon himself, lest it should be said that the King had murdered his own brother in his room, unarmed. Is that the truth, or not?"
While she was speaking, a greenish hue overspread Philip's face, ghastly in the candlelight. He sat upright in his chair, his hands straining on its arms and pushing, as if he would have got farther back if he could. He had foreseen everything except that Dolores had been in the next room, for his secret spies had informed him through Perez that her father had kept her a prisoner during the early part of the evening and until after supper.
"When you were both gone," Dolores continued, holding him under her terrible eyes, "I came in, and I found him dead, with the wound in his left breast, and he was unarmed, murdered without a chance for his life. There is blood upon my dress where it touched his--the blood of the man I loved, shed by you. Ah, he was right to call you coward, and he died for me, because you said things of me that no loving man would bear. He was right to call you coward--it was well said--it was the last word he spoke, and I shall not forget it. He had borne everything you heaped upon himself, your insults, your scorn of his mother, but he would not let you cast a slur upon my name, and if you had not killed him out of sheer cowardice, he would have struck you in the face. He was a man! And then my father took the blame to save you from the monstrous accusation, and that all might believe him guilty he told the lie that saved you before them all. Do I know the truth? Is one word of that not true?"
She had quite risen now and stood before him like an accusing angel. And he, who was seldom taken unawares, and was very hard to hurt, leaned back and suffered, slowly turning his head from side to side against the back of the high carved chair.
"Confess that it is true!" she cried, in concentrated tones. "Can you not even find courage for that? You are not the King now, you are your brother's murderer, and the murderer of the man I loved, whose wife I should have been to-morrow. Look at me, and confess that I have told the truth. I am a Spanish woman, and I would not see my country branded before the world with the shame of your royal murders, and if you will confess and save my father, I will keep your secret for my country's sake. But if not--then you must either kill me here, as you slew him, or by the God that made you and the mother that bore you, I will tell all Spain what you are, and the men who loved Don John of Austria shall rise and take your blood for his blood, though it be blood royal, and you shall die, as you killed, like the coward you are!"
The King's eyes were closed, and still his great pale head moved slowly from side to side; for he was suffering, and the torture of mind he had made Mendoza bear was avenged already. But he was silent.
"Will you not speak?" asked the young girl, with blazing eyes. "Then find some weapon and kill me here before I go, for I shall not wait till you find many words."
She was silent, and she stood upright in the act to go. He made no sound, and she moved towards the door, stood still, then moved again and then again, pausing for his answer at each step. He heard her, but could not bring himself to speak the words she demanded of him. She began to walk quickly. Her hand was almost on the door when he raised himself by the arms of his chair, and cried out to her in a frightened voice:--
"No, no! Stay here--you must not go--what do you want me to say?"
She advanced a step again, and once more stood still and met his scared eyes as he turned his face towards her.
"Say, 'You have spoken the truth,'" she answered, dictating to him as if she were the sovereign and he a guilty subject.
She waited a moment and then moved as if she would go out.
"Stay--yes--it is true--I did it--for God's mercy do not betray me!"
He almost screamed the words out to her, half rising, his body bent, his face livid in his extreme fear. She came slowly back towards him, keeping her eyes upon him as if he were some dangerous wild animal that she controlled by her look alone.
"That is not all," she said. "That was for me, that I might hear the words from your own lips. There is something more."
"What more do you want of me?" asked Philip, in thick tones, leaning back exhausted in his chair.
"My father's freedom and safety," answered Dolores. "I must have an order for his instant release. He can hardly have reached his prison yet. Send for him. Let him come here at once, as a free man."
"That is impossible," replied Philip. "He has confessed the deed before the whole court--he cannot possibly be set at liberty without a trial. You forget what you are asking--indeed you forget yourself altogether too much."
He was gathering his dignity again, by force of habit, as his terror subsided, but Dolores was too strong for him.
"I am not asking anything of your Majesty; I am dictating terms to my lover's murderer," she said proudly.
"This is past bearing, girl!" cried Philip hoarsely. "You are out of your mind--I shall call servants to take you away to a place of safety. We shall see what you will do then. You shall not impose your insolence upon me any longer."
Dolores reflected that it was probably in his power to carry out the threat, and to have her carried off by the private door through which Perez had gone out. She saw in a flash how great her danger was, for she was the only witness against him, and if he could put her out of the way in a place of silence, he could send her father to trial and execution without risk to himself, as he had certainly intended to do. On the other hand, she had been able to terrify him to submission a few moments earlier. In the instant working of her woman's mind, she recollected how his fright had increased as she had approached the door by which she had entered. His only chance of accomplishing her disappearance lay in having her taken away by some secret passage, where no open scandal could be possible.
Before she answered his last angry speech, she had almost reached the main entrance again.
"Call whom you will," she said contemptuously. "You cannot save yourself. Don Ruy Gomez is on the other side of that door, and there are chamberlains and guards there, too. I shall have told them all the truth before your men can lay hands on me. If you will not write the order to release my father, I shall go out at once. In ten minutes there will be a revolution in the palace, and to-morrow all Spain will be on fire to avenge your brother. Spain has not forgotten Don Carlos yet! There are those alive who saw you give Queen Isabel the draught that killed her--with your own hand. Are you mad enough to think that no one knows those things, that your spies, who spy on others, do not spy on you, that you alone, of all mankind, can commit every crime with impunity?"
"Take care, girl! Take care!"
"Beware--Don Philip of Austria, King of Spain and half the world, lest a girl's voice be heard above yours, and a girl's hand loosen the foundation of your throne, lest all mankind rise up to-morrow and take your life for the lives you have destroyed! Outside this door here, there are men who guess the truth already, who hate you as they hate Satan, and who loved your brother as every living being loved him--except you. One moment more--order my father to be set free, or I will open and speak. One moment! You will not? It is too late--you are lost!"
Her hand went out to open, but Philip was already on his feet, and with quick, clumsy steps he reached the writing-table, seized the pen Perez had thrown down, and began to scrawl words rapidly in his great angular handwriting. He threw sand upon it to dry the ink, and then poured the grains back into the silver sandbox, glanced at the paper and held it out to Dolores without a word. His other hand slipped along the table to a silver bell, used for calling his private attendants, but the girl saw the movement and instinctively suspected his treachery. He meant her to come to the table, when he would ring the bell and then catch her and hold her by main force till help came. Her faculties were furiously awake under the strain she bore, and outran his slow cunning.
"If you ring that bell, I will open," she said imperiously. "I must have the paper here, where I am safe, and I must read it myself before I shall be satisfied."
"You are a terrible woman," said the King, but she did not like his smile as he came towards her, holding out the document.
She took it from his hand, keeping her eyes on his, for something told her that he would try to seize her and draw her from the door while she was reading it. For some seconds they faced each other in silence, and she knew by his determined attitude that she was right, and that it would not be safe to look down. She wondered why he did not catch her in his arms as she stood, and then she realized that her free hand was on the latch of the door, and that he knew it. She slowly turned the handle, and drew the door to her, and she saw his face fall. She moved to one side so that she could have sprung out if he had tried violence, and then at last she allowed her eyes to glance at the paper. It was in order and would be obeyed; she saw that, at a glance, for it said that Don Diego de Mendoza was to be set at liberty instantly and unconditionally.
"I humbly thank your Majesty, and take my leave," she said, throwing the door wide open and curtseying low.
A chamberlain who had seen the door move on its hinges stepped in to shut it, for it opened inward. The King beckoned him in, and closed it, but before it was quite shut, he heard Dolores' voice.
"Don Ruy Gomez," she was saying, "this is an order to set my father at liberty unconditionally and at once. I do not know to whom it should be given. Will you take it for me and see to it?"
"I will go to the west tower myself," he said, beginning to walk with her. "Such good news is even better when a friend brings it."
"Thank you. Tell him from me that he is safe, for his Majesty has told me that he knows the whole truth. Will you do that? You have been very kind to me to-night, Prince--let me thank you with all my heart now, for we may not meet again. You will not see me at court after this, and I trust my father will take us back to Valladolid and live with us."
"That would be wise," answered Ruy Gomez. "As for any help I have given you, it has been little enough and freely given. I will not keep your father waiting for his liberty. Good-night, Doņa Dolores."
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