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The Princess spoke rarely, making little remarks now and then that hardly required an answer, but to which Inez answered in monosyllables, speaking in a low voice through the thick veil she had drawn over her mantle under her hood, on pretence of fearing the cold. She thought it a little safer to speak aloud in that way, lest her companion should wonder at her total silence.

She knew exactly where she was, for she touched each corner as she passed, and counted her steps between one well-known point and the next, and she allowed the Princess to gain a little as they neared the last turning before reaching the place where she meant to make the attempt. She hoped in this way, by walking quite noiselessly, and then stopping suddenly just before she reached the pillar, to gain half a dozen paces, and the Princess would take three more before she stopped also. Inez had noticed that most people take at least three steps before they stop, if any one calls them suddenly when they are walking fast. It seems to need as much to balance the body when its speed is checked. She noticed everything that could be heard.

She grew nervous. It seemed to her that her companion was walking more slowly, as if not wishing to leave her any distance behind. She quickened her own pace again, fearing that she had excited suspicion. Then she heard the Princess stop suddenly, and she had no choice but to do the same. Her heart began to beat painfully, as she saw her chance slipping from her. She waited for Dona Ana to speak, wondering what was the matter.

“I have mistaken the way,” said the Princess, in a tone of annoyance. “I do not know where I am. We had better go back and turn down the main staircase, even if we meet some one. You see, I never come to this part of the palace.”

“I think we are on the right corridor,” said Inez nervously. “Let me go as far as the corner. There is a light there, and I can tell you in a moment.” In her anxiety to seem to see, she had forgotten for the moment to muffle her voice in her veil.

They went on rapidly, and the Dona Ana did what most people do when a companion offers to examine the way,–she stood still a moment and hesitated, looking after the girl, and then followed her with the slow step with which a person walks who is certain of having to turn back. Inez walked lightly to the corner, hardly touching the wall, turned by the corner, and was out of sight in a moment. The Princess walked faster, for though she believed that Dolores trusted her, it seemed foolish to give the girl a chance. She reached the corner, where there was a lamp,–and she saw that the dim corridor was empty to the very end.

* * * * *

CHAPTER IX

The Princess was far from suspecting, even then, that she had been deceived about her companion’s identity as well as tricked at the last, when Inez escaped from her. She would have laughed at the idea that any blind person could have moved as confidently as Inez, or could afterwards have run the length of the next corridor in what had seemed but an instant, for she did not know of the niche behind the pillar, and there were pilasters all along, built into the wall. The construction of the high, springing vault that covered the whole throne room required them for its solidity, and only the one under the centre of the arch was built as a detached pillar, in order to give access to the gallery. Seen from either end of the passage, it looked exactly like the rest, and few persons would have noticed that it differed from them, even in passing it.

Dona Ana stood looking in the direction she supposed the girl to have taken. An angry flush rose in her cheek, she bit her lips till they almost bled, and at last she stamped once before she turned away, so that her little slipper sent a sharp echo along the corridor. Pursuit was out of the question, of course, though she could run like a deer; some one might meet her at any turning, and in an hour the whole palace would know that she had been seen running at full speed after some unknown person. It would be bad enough if she were recognized walking alone at night at a distance from her own apartments. She drew her veil over her face so closely that she could hardly see her way, and began to retrace her steps towards the principal staircase, pondering as to what she should say to Mendoza when he discovered that she had allowed his daughter to escape. She was a woman of manlike intelligence and not easily unbalanced by a single reverse, however, and before she had gone far her mind began to work clearly. Dolores, she reasoned, would do one of two things. She would either go straight to Don John’s apartments, wait for him, and then tell him her story, in the hope that he would protect her, or she would go to the Duchess Alvarez and seek protection there. Under no circumstances would she go down to the throne room without her court dress, for her mere appearance there, dressed as she was, would produce the most profound astonishment, and could do her no possible good. And as for her going to the Duchess, that was impossible, too. If she had run away from Dona Ana, she had done so because the idea of not seeing Don John for two days was intolerable, and she meant to try and see him at once. The Duchess was in all probability with the Queen, in the latter’s private apartments, as Dolores would know. On the whole, it seemed far more likely that she had done the rashest thing that had suggested itself to her, and had gone directly to the man she loved,–a man powerful enough to protect her against all comers, at the present time, and quite capable of facing even the King’s displeasure.

But the whole object of Dona Ana’s manoeuvre had been to get possession of Dolores’ person, as a means of strongly influencing Don John’s actions, in order thus to lead him into a false position from which he should not be able to escape without a serious quarrel with King Philip, which would be the first step towards the execution of the plot elaborated by Dona Ana and Perez together. Anything which could produce an open difference between the brothers would serve to produce two parties in Spain, of which the one that would take Don John’s side would be by far the stronger. His power would be suddenly much increased, an organized agitation would be made throughout the country to set him on the throne, and his popularity, like Caesar’s, would grow still more, when he refused the crown, as he would most certainly do. But just then King Philip would die suddenly of a fever, or a cold, or an indigestion, as the conspirators thought best. There would be no direct male heir to the throne but Don John himself, the acknowledged son of the Emperor Charles; and even Don John would then be made to see that he could only serve his country by ruling it, since it cried out for his rule and would have no other. It was a hard and dangerous thing to lead King Philip; it would be an easy matter to direct King John. An honest and unsuspicious soldier would be but as a child in such skilful hands. Dona Ana and Perez would rule Spain as they pleased, and by and by Don John should be chosen Emperor also by the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, and the conspirators would rule the world, as Charles the Fifth had ruled it. There was no limit to their ambition, and no scruple would stand between them and any crime, and the stake was high and worth many risks.

The Princess walked slowly, weighing in the balance all there was to lose or gain. When she reached the head of the main staircase, she had not yet altogether decided how to act, and lest she should meet some one she returned, and walked up and down the lonely corridor nearly a quarter of an hour, in deep thought. Suddenly a plan of action flashed upon her, and she went quickly on her way, to act at once.

Don John, meanwhile, had read the letter she had sent him by the dwarf jester. When the King had retired into his own apartments, Don John found himself unexpectedly alone. Mendoza and the guard had filed into the antechamber, the gentlemen in waiting, being temporarily at liberty, went to the room leading out of it on one side, which was appropriated to their use. The sentries were set at the King’s door, and Mendoza marched his halberdiers out again and off to their quarters, while the servants disappeared, and the hero of the day was left to himself. He smiled at his own surprise, recollecting that he should have ordered his own attendants to be in waiting after the supper, whereas he had dismissed them until midnight.

He turned on his heel and walked away to find a quiet place where he might read the paper which had suddenly become of such importance, and paused at a Moorish niche, where Philip had caused a sacred picture to be placed, and before which a hanging silver lamp shed a clear light.

The small sheet of paper contained but little writing. There were half a dozen sentences in a clear hand, without any signature–it was what has since then come to be called an anonymous letter. But it contained neither any threat, nor any evidence of spite; it set forth in plain language that if, as the writer supposed, Don John wished to marry Dolores de Mendoza, it was as necessary for her personal safety as for the accomplishment of his desires, that he should make no attempt to see her for at least two days, and that, if he would accept this advice, he should have the support of every noble and minister at court, including the very highest, with the certainty that no further hindrance would be set in his way; it added that the letter he had burned had contained the same words, and that the two flowers had been intended to serve as a signal which it was now too late to use. It would be sufficient if he told the bearer of the present letter that he agreed to take the advice it contained. His assent in that way would, of course, be taken by the writer to mean that he promised, on his word. That was all.

He did not like the last sentence, for it placed him in an awkward position, as a man of honour, since he had already seen Dolores, and therefore could not under any circumstances agree to take advice contrary to which he had already acted. The most he could now say to the dwarf would be that he could give no answer and would act as carefully as possible. For the rest, the letter contained nothing treasonable, and was not at all what he had expected and believed it to be. It appeared to be written in a friendly spirit, and with the exception of his own brother and Mendoza, he was not aware that he had an enemy in Spain, in which he was almost right. Nevertheless, bold and frank as he was by nature, he knew enough of real warfare to distrust appearances. The writer was attached to the King’s person, or the letter might have been composed, and even written in an assumed hand, by the King himself, for Philip was not above using the methods of a common conspirator. The limitation of time set upon his prudence was strange, too. If he had not seen her and agreed to the terms, he would have supposed that Dolores was being kept out of his way during those two days, whereas in that time it would be possible to send her very far from Madrid, or to place her secretly in a convent where it would be impossible to find her. It flashed upon him that in shutting up Dolores that evening Mendoza had been obeying the King’s secret orders, as well as in telling her that she was to be taken to Las Huelgas at dawn. No one but Philip could have written the letter–only the dwarf’s fear of Philip’s displeasure could have made him so anxious that it should be read at once. It was all as clear as daylight now, and the King and Mendoza were acting together. The first letter had been brought by a woman, who must have got out through the window of the study, which was so low that she could almost have stepped from it to the terrace without springing. She had watched until the officers and the servants had gone out and the way was clear. Nothing could have been simpler or easier.

He would have burnt the letter at the lamp before the picture, had he not feared that some one might see him do it, and he folded it again and thrust it back under his doublet. His face was grave as he turned away, for the position, as he understood it, was a very desperate one. He had meant to send Dolores to Villagarcia, but it was almost impossible that such a matter should remain unknown, and in the face of the King’s personal opposition, it would probably ruin Quixada and his wife. He, on his side, might send Dolores to a convent, under an assumed name, and take her out again before she was found, and marry her. But that would be hard, too, for no places were more directly under the sovereign’s control than convents and monasteries. Somewhere she must go, for she could not possibly remain concealed in his study more than three or four hours.

Suddenly he fancied that she might be in danger even now. The woman who had brought the first letter had of course left the window unfastened. She, or the King, or any one, might get in by that way, and Dolores was alone. They might have taken her away already. He cursed himself for not having looked to see that the window was bolted. The man who had won great battles felt a chill at his heart, and he walked at the best of his speed, careless whether he met any one or not. But no place is more deserted than the more distant parts of a royal palace when there is a great assembly in the state apartments. He met no one on his way, and entered his own door alone. Ten minutes had not elapsed since the King had left the supper-room, and it was almost at that moment that Dona Ana met Mendoza.

Dolores started to her feet as she heard his step in the next room and then the key in the lock, and as he entered her hands clasped themselves round his neck, and her eyes looked into his. He was very pale when he saw her at last, for the belief that she had been stolen away had grown with his speed, till it was an intolerable certainty.

“What is it? What has happened?” she cried anxiously. “Why are you so white? Are you ill?”

“I was frightened,” he said simply. “I was afraid you were gone. Look here!”

He led her to the window, and drew the curtain to one side. The cool air rushed in, for the bolts were unfastened, and the window was ajar. He closed it and fastened it securely, and they both came back.

“The woman got out that way,” he said, in explanation. “I understand it all now–and some one might have come back.”

He told her quietly what had happened, and showed her the letter, which she read slowly to the end before she gave it back to him.

“Then the other was not a love letter, after all,” she said, with a little laugh that had more of relief in it than amusement, though she did not know it herself.

“No,” he answered gravely. “I wish I had read it. I should at least have shut the window before leaving you!”

Careless of any danger to herself, she sat looking up into his anxious face, her clasped hands lying in his and quite covered by them, as he stood beside her. There was not a trace of fear in her own face, nor indeed of any feeling but perfect love and confidence. Under the gaze of her deep grey eyes his expression relaxed for a moment, and grew like hers, so that it would have been hard to say which trusted the other the more.

“What does anything matter, since we are together now?” she asked. “I am with you, can anything happen to me?”

“Not while I am alive,” he answered, but the look of anxiety for her returned at once. “You cannot stay here.”

“No–you will take me away. I am ready–“

“I do not mean that. You cannot stay in this room, nor in my apartments. The King is coming here in a few minutes. I cannot tell what he may do–he may insist on seeing whether any one is here, listening, for he is very suspicious, and he only comes here because he does not even trust his own apartments. He may wish to open the door–“

“I will lock it on the inside. You can say that it is locked, and that you have not the key. If he calls men to open it, I will escape by the window, and hide in the old sentry-box. He will not stay talking with you till morning!”

She laughed, and he saw that she was right, simply because there was no other place where she could be even as safe as where she was. He slowly nodded as she spoke.

“You see,” she cried, with another little laugh of happy satisfaction, “you must keep me here whether you will or not! You are really afraid–frightened like a boy! You! How men would stare if they could see you afraid!”

“It is true,” he answered, with a faint smile.

“But I will give you courage!” she said. “The King cannot come yet. Perez can only have just gone to him, you say. They will talk at least half an hour, and it is very likely that Perez will persuade him not to come at all, because he is angry with you. Perhaps Perez will come instead, and he will be very smooth and flattering, and bring messages of reconciliation, and beg to make peace. He is very clever, but I do not like his face. He makes me think of a beautiful black fox! Even if the King comes himself, we have more than half an hour. You can stay a little while with me–then go into your room and sit down and read, as if you were waiting for him. You can read my letter over, and I will sit here and say all the things I wrote, over and over again, and you will know that I am saying them–it will be almost as if I were with you, and could say them quite close to you–like this–I love you!”

She had drawn his hand gently down to her while she was speaking, and she whispered the last words into his ear with a delicate little kiss that sent a thrill straight to his heart.

“You are not afraid any more now, are you?” she asked, as she let him go, and he straightened himself suddenly as a man drawing back from something he both fears and loves.

He opened and shut his hands quickly two or three times, as some nervous men do, as if trying to shake them clear from a spell, or an influence. Then he began to walk up and down, talking to her.

“I am at my wit’s end,” he said, speaking fast and not looking at her face, as he turned and turned again. “I cannot send you to Villagarcia–there are things that neither you nor I could do, even for each other, things you would not have me do for you, Dolores. It would be ruin and disgrace to my adopted mother and Quixada–it might be worse, for the King can call anything he pleases high treason. It is impossible to take you there without some one knowing it–can I carry you in my arms? There are grooms, coachmen, servants, who will tell anything under examination–under torture! How can I send you there?”

“I would not go,” answered Dolores quietly.

“I cannot send you to a convent, either,” he went on, for he had taken her answer for granted, as lovers do who trust each other. “You would be found in a day, for the King knows everything. There is only one place, where I am master–“

He stopped short, and grew very pale again, looking at the wall, but seeing something very far away.

“Where?” asked Dolores. “Take me there! Oh, take me where you are master–where there is no king but you, where we can be together all our lives, and no one can come between us!”

He stood motionless, staring at the wall, contemplating in amazement the vastness of the temptation that arose before him. Dolores could not understand, but she did what a loving women does when the man she loves seems to be in a great distress. She came and stood beside him, passing one arm through his and pressing it tenderly, without a word. There are times when a man needs only that to comfort him and give him strength. But even a woman does not always know them.

Very slowly he turned to her, almost as if he were trying to resist her eyes and could not. He took his arm from hers and his hands framed her face softly, and pushed the gold hair gently back on her forehead. But she grew frightened by degrees, for there was a look in his eyes she had never seen there, and that had never been in them before, neither in love nor in battle. His hands were quite cold, and his face was like a beautiful marble, but there was an evil something in it, as in a fallen angel’s, a defiance of God, an irresistible strength to do harm, a terror such as no man would dare to meet.

“You are worth it,” he said in a tone so different from his natural voice that Dolores started, and would have drawn back from him, but could not, for his hands held her, shaking a little fiercely.

“What? What is it?” she asked, growing more and more frightened–half believing that he was going mad.

“You are worth it,” he repeated. “I tell you, you are worth that, and much more, and the world, and all the world holds for me, and all earth and heaven besides. You do not know how I love you–you can never guess–“

Her eyes grew tender again, and her hands went up and pressed his that still framed her face.

“As I love you–dear love!” she answered, wondering, but happy.

“No–not now. I love you more. You cannot guess–you shall see what I will do for your sake, and then you will understand.”

He uttered an incoherent exclamation, and his eyes dazzled her as he seized her in his arms and pressed her to him so that she could have cried out. And suddenly he kissed her, roughly, almost cruelly, as if he meant to hurt her, and knew that he could. She struggled in his arms, in an unknown terror of him, and her senses reeled.

Then all at once, he let her go, and turned from her quickly, leaving her half fainting, so that she leaned against the wall and pressed her cheek to the rough hanging. She felt a storm of tears, that she could not understand, rising in her heart and eyes and throat. He had crossed the room, getting as far as he could from her, and stood there, turned to the wall, his arms bent against it and his face buried in his sleeve. He breathed hard, and spoke as if to himself in broken words.

“Worth it? My God! What are you not worth?”

There was such a ring of agony and struggling in his voice that Dolores forgot herself and stood up listening, suddenly filled with anxiety for him again. He was surely going mad. She would have gone to him again, forgetting her terror that was barely past, the woman’s instinct to help the suffering man overruling everything else. It was for his sake that she stayed where she was, lest if she touched him he should lose his senses altogether.

“Oh, there is one place, where I am master and lord!” he was saying. “There is one thing to do–one thing–“

“What is the thing?” she asked very gently. “Why are you suffering so? Where is the place?”

He turned suddenly, as he would have turned in his saddle in battle at a trumpet call, straight and strong, with fixed eyes and set lips, that spoke deliberately.

“There is Granada,” he said. “Do you understand now?”

“No,” she answered timidly. “I do not understand. Granada? Why there? It is so far away–“

He laughed harshly.

“You do not understand? Yes, Granada is far away–far enough to be another kingdom–so far that John of Austria is master there–so far that with his army at his back he can be not only its master, but its King? Do you understand now? Do you see what I will do for your sake?”

He made one step towards her, and she was very white.

“I will take you, and go back to-morrow. Do you think the Moors are not men, because I beat them? I tell you that if I set up my standard in Granada and call them to me, they will follow me–if I lead them to the gate of Madrid. Yes–and so will more than half the Spanish army, if I will! But I do not want that–it is not the kingdom–what should I care for that? Could I not have taken it and held it? It is for you, dear love–for your sake only–that we may have a world of our own–a kingdom in which you are queen! Let there be war–why should I care? I will set the world ablaze and let it burn to its own ashes, but I will not let them take you from me, neither now, nor ever, while I am alive!”

He came quickly towards her now, and she could not draw back, for the wall was behind her. But she thrust out her hands against him to keep him off. The gesture stopped him, just when he would have taken her in his arms.

“No, no!” she cried vehemently. “You must not say such things, you must not think such thoughts! You are beside yourself, and you will drive me mad, too!”

“But it will be so easy–you shall see–“

She cut his words short.

“It must not be easy, it must not be possible, it must not be at all! Do you believe that I love you and that I would let you do such deeds? Oh, no! That would not be love at all–it would be hate, it would be treason to you, and worse treason than yours against your brother!”

The fierce light was sinking from his face. He had folded his arms and stood very still, listening to her.

“You!” she cried, with rising energy. “You, the brave soldier, the spotless man, the very soul of honour made flesh and blood! You, who have but just come back in triumph from fighting your King’s enemies–you against whom no living being has ever dared to breathe a slander or a slighting word. Oh, no, no, no, no! I could not bear that you should betray your faith and your country and yourself, and be called traitor for my sake! Not for ten lives of mine shall you ruin yours. And not because I might love you less if you had done that deed. God help me! I think I should love you if you committed any crime! The shame is the more to me–I know it. I am only a woman! But rather than let my love ruin you, make a traitor of you and lose you in this world and the next, my soul shall go first–life, soul, honour, everything! You shall not do it! You think that you love me more than I love you, but you do not. For to save you as you are, I love you so dearly that I will leave you–leave you to honour, leave you to your King, leave you to the undying glory of the life you have lived, and will live, in memory of my love!”

The splendid words rang from her lips like a voice from heaven, and her eyes were divinely lightened. For they looked up, and not at him, calling Heaven to witness that she would keep her promise. As her open hand unconsciously went out, he took it tenderly, and felt her fingers softly closing on his own, as if she would lift him to himself again, and to the dear light of her own thoughts. There was silence for a moment.

“You are better and wiser than I,” he said, and his tone told her that the madness was past.

“And you know that I am right? You see that I must leave you, to save you from me?”

“Leave me–now?” he cried. “You only said that–you meant me to understand–you did not mean that you would leave me now?”

“I do mean it,” she said, in a great effort. “It is all I can do, to show you how I love you. As long as I am in your life you will be in danger–you will never be safe from yourself–I see it all now! I stand between you and all the world would give you–I will not stand between you and honour!”

She was breaking down, fight as she would against the pain. He could say nothing, for he could not believe that she really was in earnest.

“I must!” she exclaimed suddenly. “It is all I can do for you–it is my life–take it!”

The tears broke from her eyes, but she held her head high, and let them fall unheeded.

“Take it!” she repeated. “It is all I have to give for yours and your honour. Good-by–oh, love, I love you so dearly! Once more, before I go–“

She almost, fell into his arms as she buried her face on his shoulder and clasped his throat as she was wont. He kissed her hair gently, and from time to time her whole frame shook with the sobs she was choking down.

“It kills me,” she said in a broken voice. “I cannot–I thought I was so strong! Oh, I am the most miserable living woman in the world!”

She broke away from him wildly and threw herself upon a chair, turning from him to its cushion and hiding her face in her hands, choking, pressing the furious tears back upon her eyes, shaking from head to foot.

“You cannot go! You cannot!” he cried, falling on his knees beside her and trying to take her hands in his. “Dolores–look at me! I will do anything–promise anything–you will believe me! Listen, love–I give you my word–I swear before God–“

“No–swear nothing–” she said, between the sobs that broke her voice.

“But I will!” he insisted, drawing her hands down till she looked at him. “I swear upon my honour that I will never raise my hand against the King–that I will defend him, and fight for him, and be loyal to him, whatever he may do to me–and that even for you, I will never strike a blow in battle nor speak a word in peace that is not all honourable, through and through,–even as I have fought and spoken until now!”

As she listened to his words her weeping subsided, and her tearful eyes took light and life again. She drew him close, and kissed him on the forehead.

“I am so glad–so happy!” she cried softly. “I should never have had strength to really say good-by!”

* * * * *

CHAPTER X

Don John smoothed her golden hair. Never since he had known that he loved her, had she seemed so beautiful as then, and his thought tried to hold her as she was, that she might in memory be always the same. There was colour in her cheeks, a soft flush of happiness that destroyed all traces of her tears, so that they only left her grey eyes dark and tender under the long wet lashes.

“It was a cruel dream, dear love! It was not true!” Finding him again, her voice was low, and sweet with joy.

He smiled, too, and his own eyes were quiet and young, now that the tempest had passed away, almost out of recollection. It had raged but for a few moments, but in that time both he and she had lived and loved as it were through years, and their love had grown better and braver. She knew that his word was enough, and that he would die rather than break it; but though she had called herself weak, and had seemed to break down in despair, she would have left him for ever rather than believe that he was still in danger through her. She did not again ask herself whether her sudden resolution had been all for his sake, and had not formed itself because she dreaded to think of being bound to one who betrayed his country. She knew it and needed no further self-questioning to satisfy her. If such a man could have committed crimes, she would have hated them, not him, she would have pardoned him, not them, she would still have laid her hand in his before the whole world, though it should mean shame and infamy, because she loved him and would always love him, and could never have left him for her own sake, come all that might. She had said it was a shame to her that she would have loved him still; yet if it had been so, she would have gloried in being shamed for his sake, for even then her love might have brought him back from the depths of evil and made him again for her in truth what he had once seemed to the whole world. She could have done that, and if in the end she had saved him she would have counted the price of her name as very little to set against his salvation from himself. She would have given that and much more, for her love, as she would freely give all for him and even for his memory, if he were dead, and if by some unimaginable circumstances her ruin before the world could keep his name spotless, and his glory unsullied. For there is nothing that a true-hearted loving woman will not give and do for him she loves and believes and trusts; and though she will give the greatest thing last of all, she will give it in the end, if it can save him from infamy and destruction. For it is the woman’s glory to give, as it is the man’s to use strength in the hour of battle and gentleness in the day of peace, and to follow honour always.

“Forget it all,” answered Don John presently. “Forget it, dear, and forgive me for it all.”

“I can forget it, because it was only a dream,” she said, “and I have nothing to forgive. Listen to me. If it were true–even if I believed that we had not been dreaming, you and I, could I have anything to forgive you? What?”

“The mere thought that I could betray a trust, turn against my sovereign and ruin my country,” he answered bravely, and a blush of honest shame rose in his boyish cheeks.

“It was for me,” said Dolores.

That should explain all, her heart said. But he was not satisfied, and being a man he began to insist.

“Not even for you should I have thought of it,” he said. “And there is the thought to forgive, if nothing else.”

“No–you are wrong, love. Because it was for me, it does not need my forgiveness. It is different–you do not understand yet. It is I who should have never forgiven myself on earth nor expected pardon hereafter, if I had let myself be the cause of such deeds, if I had let my love stand between you and honour. Do you see?”

“I see,” he answered. “You are very brave and kind and good. I did not know that a woman could be like you.”

“A woman could be anything–for you–dare anything, do anything, sacrifice anything! Did I not tell you so, long ago? You only half believed me, dear–perhaps you do not quite believe me now–“

“Indeed, indeed I do, with all my soul! I believe you as I love you, as I believe in your love–“

“Yes. Tell me that you do–and tell me that you love me! It is so good to hear, now that the bad dream is gone.”

“Shall I tell you?” He smiled, playing with her hand. “How can I? There are so few words in which to say so much. But I will tell you this–I would give my word for you. Does that sound little? You should know, for you know at what price you would have saved my honour a while ago. I believe in you so truly that I would stake my word, and my honour, and my Christian oath upon your faith, and promise for you before God or man that you will always love me as you do to-day.”

“You may pledge all three. I will, and I will give you all I have that is not God’s–and if that is not enough, I will give my soul for yours, if I may, to suffer in your stead.”

She spoke quietly enough, but there was a little quaver of true earnestness in her voice, that made each word a solemn promise.

“And besides that,” she added, “you see how I trust you.”

She smiled again as she looked at him, and knew how safe she was, far safer now than when she had first come with him to the door. Something told her that he had mastered himself–she would not have wished to think that she had ruled him? it was enough if she had shown him the way, and had helped him. He pressed her hand to his cheek and looked down thoughtfully, wishing that he could find such simple words that could say so much, but not trusting himself to speak. For though, in love, a man speaks first, he always finds the least to say of love when it has strongest hold of him; but a woman has words then, true and tender, that come from her heart unsought. Yet by and by, if love is not enduring, so that both tire of it, the man plays the better comedy, because he has the greater strength, and sometimes what he says has the old ring in it, because it is so well said, and the woman smiles and wonders that his love should have lasted longer than hers, and desiring the illusion, she finds old phrases again; yet there is no life in them, because when love is dead she thinks of herself, and instead, it was only of him she thought in the good days when her heart used to beat at the sound of his footfall, and the light grew dim and unsteady as she felt his kiss. But the love of these two was not born to tire; and because he was so young, and knew the world little, save at his sword’s point, he was ashamed that he could not speak of love as well as she.

“Find words for me,” he said, “and I will say them, for yours are better than mine.”

“Say, ‘I love you, dear,’ very softly and gently–not roughly, as you sometimes do. I want to hear it gently now, that, and nothing else.”

She turned a little, leaning towards him, her face near his, her eyes quiet and warm, and she took his hands and held them together before her as if he were her prisoner–and indeed she meant that he should not suddenly take her in his arms, as he often did.

“I love you, dear,” he repeated, smiling, and pretending to be very docile.

“That is not quite the way,” she said, with a girlish laugh. “Say it again–quite as softly, but more tenderly! You must be very much in earnest, you know, but you must not be in the least violent.” She laughed again. “It is like teaching a young lion,” she added. “He may eat you up at any moment, instead of obeying you. Tell me, you have a little lion that follows you like a dog when you are in your camp, have you not? You have not told me about him yet. How did you teach him?”

“I did not try to make him say ‘I love you, dear,'” answered Don John, laughing in his turn.

As he spoke a distant sound caught his ear, and the smile vanished from his face, for though he heard only the far off rumbling of a coach in the great court, it recalled him to reality.

“We are playing with life and death,” he said suddenly. “It is late, the King may be here at any moment, and we have decided nothing.” He rose.

“Is it late?” asked Dolores, passing her hand over her eyes dreamily. “I had forgotten–it seems so short. Give me the key on my side of the door–we had decided that, you know. Go and sit down in your room, as we agreed. Shall you read my letter again, love? It may be half an hoar still before the King comes. When he is gone, we shall have all the night in which to decide, and the nights are very long now. Oh, I hate to lose one minute of you! What shall you say to the King?”

“I do not know what he may say to me,” answered Don John. “Listen and you shall hear–I would rather know that you hear everything I say. It will be as if I were speaking before you, and of course I should tell you everything the King says. He will speak of you, I think.”

“Indeed, it would be hard not to listen,” said Dolores. “I should have to stop my ears, for one cannot help hearing every word that is said in the next room. Do you know? I heard you ask for your white shoes! I hardly dared to breathe for fear the servants should find out that I was here.”

“So much the better then. Sit in this chair near the door. But be careful to make no noise, for the King is very suspicious.”

“I know. Do not be afraid; I will be as quiet as a mouse. Go, love, go! It is time–oh, how I hate to let you leave me! You will be careful? You will not be angry at what he says? You would be wiser if you knew I were not hearing everything; you will want to defend me if he says the least word you do not like, but let him say what he will! Anything is better than an open quarrel between you and the King! Promise me to be very moderate in what you say, and very patient. Remember that he is the King!”

“And my brother,” said Don John, with some bitterness. “Do not fear. You know what I have promised you. I will bear anything he may say that concerns me as well as I can, but if he says anything slighting of you–“

“But he may–that is the danger. Promise me not to be angry–“

“How can I promise that, if he insults you?”

“No, I did not mean that exactly. Promise that you will not forget everything and raise your hand against him. You see I know you would.”

“No, I will not raise my hand against him. That was in the promise I made you. And as for being angry, I will do my best to keep my temper.”

“I know you will. Now you must go. Good-by, love! Good-by, for a little while.”

“For such a little time shall we say good-by? I hate the word; it makes me think of the day when I left you last.”

“How can I tell what may happen to you when you are out of my sight?” asked Dolores. “And what is ‘good-by’ but a blessing each prays for the other? That is all it means. It does not mean that we part for long, love. Why, I would say it for an hour! Good-by, dear love, good-by!”

She put up her face to kiss him, and it was so full of trust and happiness that the word lost all the bitterness it has gathered through ages of partings, and seemed, what she said it was, a loving blessing. Yet she said it very tenderly, for it was hard to let him go even for less than an hour. He said it, too, to please her; but yet the syllables came mournfully, as if they meant a world more than hers, and the sound of them half frightened her, so that she was sorry she had asked him for the word.

“Not so!” she cried, in quick alarm. “You are not keeping anything from me? You are only going to the next room to meet the King–are you sure?”

“That is all. You see, the word frightened you. It seems such a sad word to me–I will not say it again.”

He kissed her gently, as if to soothe her fear, and then he opened the door and set the key in the lock on the inside. Then when he was outside, he lingered a moment, and their lips met once more without a word, and they nodded and smiled to one another a last time, and he closed the door and heard her lock it.

When she was alone, she turned away as if he were gone from her altogether instead of being in the next room, where she could hear him moving now and then, as he placed his chair near the light to read and arranged the candlesticks on the table. Then he went to the other door and opened it and opened the one beyond upon the terrace, and she knew that he was looking out to see if any one were there. But presently he came back and sat down, and she distinctly heard the rustle of the strong writing-paper as he unfolded a letter. It was hers. He was going to read it, as they had agreed.

So she sat down where she could look at the door, and she tried to force her eyes to see through it, to make him feel that she was watching him, that she came near him and stood beside him, and softly read the words for him, but without looking at them, because she knew them all by heart. But it was not the same as if she had seen him, and it was very hard to be shut off from his sight by an impenetrable piece of wood, to lose all the moments that might pass before the King chose to come. Another hour might pass. No one could even tell whether he would come at all after he had consulted with Antonio Perez. The skilful favourite desired a quarrel between his master and Don John with all his heart, but he was not ready for it yet. He must have possession of Dolores first and hide her safely; and when the quarrel came, Don John should believe that the King had stolen her and imprisoned her, and that she was treated ill; and for the woman he loved, Don John would tear down the walls of Madrid, if need be, and if at the last he found her dead, there would be no harm done, thought Perez, and Don John would hate his brother even to death, and all Spain would cry out in sympathy and horror. But all this Dolores could neither know nor even suspect. She only felt sure that the King and Perez were even now consulting together to hinder her marriage with Don John, and that Perez might persuade the King not to see his brother that night.

It was almost intolerable to think that she might wait there for hours, wasting the minutes for which she would have given drops of blood. Surely they both were overcautious. The door could be left open, so that they could talk, and at the first sound without, she could lock it again and sit down. That would be quite as safe.

She rose and was almost in the act of opening the door again when she stopped and hesitated. It was possible that at any moment the King might be at the door; for though she could hear every sound that came from the next room, the thick curtains that hid the window effectually shut out all sound from without. It struck her that she could go to the window, however, and look out. Yet a ray of light might betray her presence in the room to any one outside, and if she drew aside the curtain the light would shine out upon the terrace. She listened at Don John’s door, and presently she heard him turn her letter in his hand, and all her heart went out to him, and she stood noiselessly kissing the panels and saying over again in her heart that she loved him more than any words could tell. If she could only see out of the window and assure herself that no one was coming yet, there would be time to go to him again, for one moment only, and say the words once more.

Then she sat down and told herself how foolish she was. She had been separated from him for many long and empty months, and now she had been with him and talked long with him twice in leas than three hours, and yet she could not bear that he should be out of her sight five minutes without wishing to risk everything to see him again. She tried to laugh at herself, repeating over and over again that she was very, very foolish, and that she should have a just contempt for any woman who could be as foolish as she. For some moments she sat still, staring at the wall.

In the thought of him that filled her heart and soul and mind, she saw that her own life had begun when he had first spoken to her, and she felt that it would end with the last good-by, because if he should die or cease to love her, there would be nothing more to live for. Her early girlhood seemed dim and far away, dull and lifeless, as if it had not been hers at all, and had no connection with the present. She saw herself in the past, as she could not see herself now, and the child she remembered seemed not herself but another–a fair-haired girl living in the gloomy old house in Valladolid, with her blind sister and an old maiden cousin of her father’s, who had offered to bring up the two and to teach them, being a woman of some learning, and who fulfilled her promise in such a conscientious and austere way as made their lives something of a burden under her strict rule. But that was all forgotten now, and though she still lived in Valladolid she had probably changed but little in the few years since Dolores had seen her; she was part of the past, a relic of something that had hardly ever had a real existence, and which it was not at all necessary to remember. There was one great light in the girl’s simple existence, it had come all at once, and it was with her still. There was nothing dim nor dark nor forgotten about the day when she had been presented at court by the Duchess Alvarez, and she had first seen Don John, and he had first seen her and had spoken to her, when he had talked with the Duchess herself. At the first glance–and it was her first sight of the great world–she had seen that of all the men in the great hall, there was no one at all like him. She had no sooner looked into his face and cast her eyes upon his slender figure, all in white then, as he was dressed to-night, than she began to compare him with the rest. She looked so quickly from one to another that any one might have thought her to be anxiously searching for a friend in the crowd. But she had none then, and she was but assuring herself once, and for all her life, that the man she was to love was immeasurably beyond all other men, though the others were the very flower of Spain’s young chivalry.

Of course, as she told herself now, she had not loved him then, nor even when she heard his voice speaking to her the first time and was almost too happy to understand his words. But she had remembered them. He had asked her whether she lived in Madrid. She had told him that she lived in the Alcazar itself, since her father commanded the guards and had his quarters in the palace. And then Don John had looked at her very fixedly for a moment, and had seemed pleased, for he smiled and said that he hoped he might see her often, and that if it were in his power to be of use to her father, he would do what he could. She was sure that she had not loved him then, though she had dreamed of his winning face and voice and had thought of little else all the next day, and the day after that, with a sort of feverish longing to see him again, and had asked the Duchess Alvarez so many questions about him that the Duchess had smiled oddly, and had shaken her handsome young head a little, saying that it was better not to think too much about Don John of Austria. Surely, she had not loved him already, at first sight. But on the evening of the third day, towards sunset, when she had been walking with Inez on a deserted terrace where no one but the two sisters ever went, Don John had suddenly appeared, sauntering idly out with one of his gentlemen on his left, as if he expected nothing at all; and he had seemed very much surprised to see her, and had bowed low, and somehow very soon, blind Inez, who was little more than a child three years ago, was leading the gentleman about the terrace, to show him where the best roses grew, which she knew by their touch and smell, and Don John and Dolores were seated on an old stone bench, talking earnestly together. Even to herself she admitted that she had loved him from that evening, and whenever she thought of it she smelt the first scent of roses, and saw his face with the blaze of the sunset in his eyes, and heard his voice saying that he should come to the terrace again at that hour, in which matter he had kept his word as faithfully as he always did, and presumably without any especial effort. So she had known him as he really was, without the formalities of the court life, of which she was herself a somewhat insignificant part; and it was only when he said a few words to her before the other ladies that she took pains to say ‘your Highness’ to him once or twice, and he called her ‘Dona Dolores,’ and enquired in a friendly manner about her father’s health. But on the terrace they managed to talk without any such formal mode of address, and used no names at all for each other, until one day–but she would not think of that now. If she let her memory run all its course, she could not sit there with the door closed between him and her, for something stronger than she would force her to go and open it, and make sure he was there. This method, indeed, would be a very certain one, leaving no doubt whatever, but at the present moment it would be foolish to resort to it, and, perhaps, it would be dangerous, too. The past was so beautiful and peaceful; she could think its history through many times up to that point, where thinking was sure to end suddenly in something which was too present for memory and too well remembered not to be present.

It came back to her so vividly that she left her seat again and went to the curtained window, as if to get as far as possible from the irresistible attraction. Standing there she looked back and saw the key in the lock. It was foolish, girlish, childish, at such a time, but she felt that as long as it was there she should want to turn it. With a sudden resolution and a smile that was for her own weakness, she went to the door again, listened for footsteps, and then quietly took the key from the lock. Instantly Don John was on the other side, calling to her softly.

“What is it?” he asked. “For Heaven’s sake do not come in, for I think I hear him coming.”

“No,” she answered through the panel. “I was afraid I should turn the key, so I have taken it out.” She paused. “I love you!” she said, so that he could hear, and she kissed the wood, where she thought his face must be, just above her own.

“I love you with all my heart!” he answered gently. “Hush, dear love, he is coming!”

They were like two children, playing at a game; but they were playing on the very verge of tragedy, playing at life with death at the door and the safety of a great nation hanging in the balance.

A moment later, Dolores heard Don John opening and shutting the other doors again, and then there were voices. She heard her father’s name spoken in the King’s unmistakable tones, at once harsh and muffled. Every word came to her from the other room, as if she were present.

“Mendoza,” said Philip, “I have private matters to discuss with his Highness. I desire you to wait before the entrance, on the terrace, and to let no one pass in, as we do not wish to be disturbed.”

Her father did not speak, but she knew how he was bending a little stiffly, before he went backwards through the open door. It closed behind him, and the two brothers were alone. Dolores’ heart beat a little faster, and her face grew paler as she concentrated her attention upon making no noise. If they could hear her as she heard them, a mere rustling of her silk gown would be enough to betray her, and if then the King bade her father take her with him, all would be over, for Don John would certainly not use any violence to protect her.

“This is your bedchamber,” said Philip’s voice.

He was evidently examining the room, as Don John had anticipated that he would, for he was moving about. There was no mistaking his heavy steps for his brother’s elastic tread.

“There is no one behind the curtain,” said the King, by which it was clear that he was making search for a possible concealed listener. He was by no means above such precautions.

“And that door?” he said, with a question. “What is there?”

Dolores’ heart almost stood still, as she held her breath, and heard the clumsy footfall coming nearer.

“It is locked,” said Don John, with undisturbed calm. “I have not the key. I do not know where it is,–it is not here.”

As Dolores had taken it from the lock, even the last statement was true to the letter, and in spite of her anxiety she smiled as she heard it, but the next moment she trembled, for the King was trying the door, and it shook under his hand, as if it must fly open.

“It is certainly locked,” he said, in a discontented tone. “But I do not like locked doors, unless I know what is beyond them.”

He crossed the room again and called out to Mendoza, who answered at once.

“Mendoza, come here with me. There is a door here, of which his Highness has not the key. Can you open it?”

“I will try, your Majesty,” answered the General’s hard voice.

A moment later the panels shook violently under the old man’s weight, for he was stronger than one might have thought, being lean and tough rather than muscular. Dolores took the moment when the noise was loudest and ran a few steps towards the window. Then the sounds ceased suddenly, and she stood still.

“I cannot open it, your Majesty,” said Mendoza, in a disconsolate tone.

“Then go and get the key,” answered the King almost angrily.

* * * * *

CHAPTER XI

Inez remained hidden a quarter of an hour in the gallery over the throne room, before she ventured to open the door noiselessly and listen for any sound that might come from the passage. She was quite safe there, as long as she chose to remain, for the Princess had believed that she had fled far beyond and was altogether out of reach of any one whose dignity would not allow of running a race. It must be remembered that at the time she entered the gallery Mendoza had returned to his duty below, and that some time afterwards he had accompanied the King to Don John’s apartments, and had then been sent in search of the key to the locked door.

The blind girl was of course wholly ignorant of his whereabouts, and believed him to be in or about the throne room. Her instinct told her that since Dolores had not gone to the court, as she had intended, with the Duchess Alvarez, she must have made some last attempt to see Don John alone. In her perfect innocence such an idea seemed natural enough to Inez, and it at first occurred to her that the two might have arranged to meet on the deserted terrace where they had spent so many hours in former times. She went there first, finding her way with some little difficulty from the corridor where the gallery was, for the region was not the one to which she was most accustomed, though there was hardly a corner of the upper story where she had never been. Reaching the terrace, she went out and called softly, but there was no answer, nor could she hear any sound. The night was not cold now, but the breeze chilled her a little, and just then the melancholy cry of a screech owl pierced the air, and she shivered and went in again.

She would have gone to the Duchess Alvarez had she not been sure that the latter was below with the Queen, and even as it was, she would have taken refuge in the Duchess’s apartments with the women, and she might have learned something of Dolores there. But her touch reminded her that she was dressed in her sister’s clothes, and that many questions might be asked her which it would be hard to answer. And again, it grew quite clear to her that Dolores must be somewhere near Don John, perhaps waiting in some concealed corner until all should be quiet. It was more than probable that he would get her out of the palace secretly during the night and send her to his adoptive mother at Villagarcia. She had not believed the Princess’s words in the least, but she had not forgotten them, and had argued rightly enough to their real meaning.

In the upper story all was still now. She and Dolores had known where Don John was to be lodged in the palace nearly a month before he had returned, and they had been there more than once, when no one was on the terrace, and Dolores had made her touch the door and the six windows, three on each side of it. She could get there without difficulty, provided that no one stopped her.

She went a little way in the right direction and then hesitated. There was more danger to Dolores than to herself if she should be recognized, and, after all, if Dolores was near Don John she was safer than she could be anywhere else. Inez could not help her very much in any way if she found her there, and it would be hard to find her if she had met Mendoza at first and if he had placed her in the keeping of a third person. She imagined what his astonishment would have been had he found the real Dolores in her court dress a few moments after Inez had been delivered over to the Princess disguised in Dolores’ clothes, and she almost smiled. But then a great loneliness and a sense of helplessness came over her, and she turned back and went out upon the deserted terrace again and sat down upon the old stone seat, listening for the screech owl and the fluttering of the bats that flew aimlessly in and out, attracted by the light and then scared away by it again because the moon was at the full.

Inez had never before then wandered about the palace at night, and though darkness and daylight were one to her, there was something in the air that frightened her, and made her feel how really helpless she was in spite of her almost superhuman hearing and her wonderful sense of touch. It was very still–it was never so still by day. It seemed as if people must be lying in wait for her, holding their breath lest she should hear even that. She had never felt blind before; she had never so completely realized the difference between her life and the lives of others. By day, she could wander where she pleased on the upper story–it was cheerful, familiar; now and then some one passed and perhaps spoke to her kindly, as every one did who knew her; and then there was the warm sunlight at the windows, and the cool breath of the living day in the corridors. The sounds guided her, the sun warmed her, the air fanned her, the voices of the people made her feel that she was one of them. But now, the place was like an empty church, full of tombs and silent as the dead that lay there. She felt horribly lonely, and cold, and miserable, and she would have given anything to be in bed in her own room. She could not go there. Eudaldo would not understand her return, after being told that she was to stay with the Princess, and she would be obliged to give him some explanation. Then her voice would betray her, and there would be terrible trouble. If only she had kept her own cloak to cover Dolores’ frock, she could have gone back and the servant would have thought it quite natural Indeed, by this time he would be expecting her. It would be almost better to go in after all, and tell him some story of her having mistaken her sister’s skirt for her own, and beg him to say nothing. She could easily confuse him a little so that he would not really understand–and then in a few minutes she could be in her own room, safe and in bed, and far away from the dismal place where she was sitting and shivering as she listened to the owls.

She rose and began to walk towards her father’s quarters. But suddenly she felt that it was cowardly to go back without accomplishing the least part of her purpose, and without even finding out whether Dolores was in safety after all. There was but one chance of finding her, and that lay in searching the neighbourhood of Don John’s lodging. Without hesitating any longer, she began to find her way thither at once. She determined that if she were stopped, either by her father or the Princess, she would throw back her head and show her face at once. That would be the safest way in the end.

She reached Don John’s windows unhindered at last. She had felt every corner, and had been into the empty sentry-box; and once or twice, after listening a long time, she had called Dolores in a very low tone. She listened by the first window, and by the second and third, and at the door, and then beyond, till she came to the last. There were voices there, and her heart beat quickly for a moment. It was impossible to distinguish the words that were spoken, through the closed window and the heavy curtains, but the mere tones told her that Don John and Dolores were there together. That was enough for her, and she could go back to her room; for it seemed quite natural to her that her sister should be in the keeping of the man she loved,–she was out of harm’s way and beyond their father’s power, and that was all that was necessary. She would go back to her room at once, and explain the matter of her dress to Eudaldo as best she might. After all, why should he care what she wore or where she had been, or whether in the Princess’s apartments she had for some reason exchanged gowns with Dolores. Perhaps he would not even notice the dress at all.

She meant to go at once, but she stood quite still, her hands resting on the low sill of the window, while her forehead pressed against the cold round panes of glass. Something hurt her which she could not understand, as she tried to fancy the two beautiful young beings who were within,–for she knew what beauty they had, and Dolores had described Don John to her as a young god. His voice came to her like strains of very distant sweet music, that connect themselves to an unknown melody in the fancy of him who faintly hears. But Dolores was hearing every word he said, and it was all for her; and Dolores not only heard, but saw; and seeing and hearing, she was loved by the man who spoke to her, as dearly as she loved him.

Then utter loneliness fell upon the blind girl as she leaned against the window. She had expected nothing, she had asked nothing, even in her heart; and she had less than nothing, since never on earth, nor in heaven hereafter, could Don John say a loving word to her. And yet she felt that something had been taken from her and given to her sister,–something that was more to her than life, and dearer than the thought of sight to her blindness. She had taken what had not been given her, in innocent girlish thoughts that were only dreams, and could hurt no one. He had always spoken gently to her, and touched her hand kindly; and many a time, sitting alone in the sun, she had set those words to the well-remembered music of his voice, and she had let the memory of his light touch on her fingers thrill her strangely to the very quick. It had been but the reflection of a reflection in her darkness, wherein the shadow of a shadow seemed as bright as day. It had been all she had to make her feel that she was a part of the living, loving world she could never see. Somehow she had unconsciously fancied that with a little dreaming she could live happy in Dolores’ happiness, as by a proxy, and she had never called it love, any more than she would have dared to hope for love in return. Yet it was that, and nothing else,–the love that is so hopeless and starving, and yet so innocent, that it can draw the illusion of an airy nourishment from that which to another nature would be the fountain of all jealousy and hatred.

But now, without reason and without warning, even that was taken from her, and in its place something burned that she did not know, save that it was a bad thing, and made even blackness blacker. She heard their voices still. They were happy together, while she was alone outside, her forehead resting against the chill glass, and her hands half numb upon the stone; and so it would always be hereafter. They would go, and take her life with them, and she should be left behind, alone for ever; and a great revolt against her fate rose quickly in her breast like a flame before the wind, and then, as if finding nothing to consume, sank down again into its own ashes, and left her more lonely than before. The voices had ceased now, or else the lovers were speaking very low, fearing, perhaps, that some one might be listening at the window. If Inez had heard their words at first, she would have stopped her ears or gone to a distance, for the child knew what that sort of honour meant, and had done as much before. But the unformed sound had been good to hear, and she missed it. Perhaps they were sitting close and, hand in hand, reading all the sweet unsaid things in one another’s eyes. There must be silent voices in eyes that could see, she thought. She took little thought of the time, yet it seemed long to her since they had spoken. Perhaps they had gone to another room. She moved to the next window and listened there, but no sound came from within. Then she heard footfalls, and one was her father’s. Two men were coming out by the corridor, and she had not time to reach the sentry-box. With her hands out before her, she went lightly away from the windows to the outer side of the broad terrace, and cowered down by the balustrade as she ran against it, not knowing whether she was in the moonlight or the shade. She had crossed like a shadow and was crouching there before Mendoza and the King came out. She knew by their steady tread, that ended at the door, that they had not noticed her; and as the door closed behind them, she ran back to the window again and listened, expecting to hear loud and angry words, for she could not doubt that the King and her father had discovered that Dolores was there, and had come to take her away. The Princess must have told Mendoza that Dolores had escaped. But she only heard men’s voices speaking in an ordinary tone, and she understood that Dolores was concealed. Almost at once, and to her dismay, she heard her father’s step in the hall, and now she could neither pass the door nor run across the terrace again. A moment later the King called him from within. Instantly she slipped across to the other side, and listened again. They were shaking a door,–they were in the very act of finding Dolores. Her heart hurt her. But then the noise stopped, as if they had given up the attempt, and presently she heard her father’s step again. Thinking that he would remain in the hall until the King called him,–for she could not possibly guess what had happened,–she stood quite still.

The door opened without warning, and he was almost upon her before she knew it. To hesitate an instant was out of the question, and for the second time that night she fled, running madly to the corridor, which was not ten steps from where she had been standing, and as she entered it the light fell upon her from the swinging lamp, though she did not know it.

Old as he was, Mendoza sprang forward in pursuit when he saw her figure in the dimness, flying before him, but as she reached the light of the lamp he stopped himself, staggering one or two steps and then reeling against the wall. He had recognized Dolores’ dress and hood, and there was not the slightest doubt in his mind but that it was herself. In that same dress he had seen her in the late afternoon, she had been wearing it when he had locked her into the sitting-room, and, still clad in it, she must have come out with the Princess. And now she was running before him from Don John’s lodging. Doubtless she had been in another room and had slipped out while he was trying the door within.

He passed his hand over his eyes and breathed hard as he leaned against the wall, for her appearance there could only mean one thing, and that was ruin to her and disgrace to his name–the very end of all things in his life, in which all had been based upon his honour and every action had been a tribute to it.

He was too much stunned to ask himself how the lovers had met, if there had been any agreement between them, but the frightful conviction took hold of him that this was not the first time, that long ago, before Don John had led the army to Granada, Dolores had found her way to that same door and had spent long hours with her lover when no one knew. Else she could not have gone to him without agreement, at an instant’s notice, on the very night of his return.

Despair took possession of the unhappy man from that moment. But that the King was with Don John, Mendoza would have gone back at that moment to kill his enemy and himself afterwards, if need be. He remembered his errand then. No doubt that was the very room where Dolores had been concealed, and she had escaped from it by some other way, of which her father did not know. He was too dazed to think connectedly, but he had the King’s commands to execute at once. He straightened himself with a great effort, for the weight of his years had come upon him suddenly and bowed him like a burden. With the exertion of his will came the thirst for the satisfaction of blood, and he saw that the sooner he returned with the key, the sooner he should be near his enemy. But the pulses came and went in his throbbing temples, as when a man is almost spent in a struggle with death, and at first he walked uncertainly, as if he felt no ground under his feet.

By the time he had gone a hundred yards he had recovered a sort of mechanical self-possession, such as comes upon men at very desperate times, when they must not allow themselves to stop and think of what is before them. They were pictures, rather than thoughts, that formed themselves in his brain as he went along, for he saw all the past years again, from the day when his young wife had died, he being then already in middle age, until that afternoon. One by one the years came back, and the central figure in each was the fair-haired little child, growing steadily to be a woman, all coming nearer and nearer to the end he had seen but now, which was unutterable shame and disgrace, and beyond which there was nothing. He heard the baby voice again, and felt the little hands upon his brow, and saw the serious grey eyes close to his own; and then the girl, gravely lovely–and her far-off laugh that hardly ever rippled through the room when he was there; and then the stealing softness of grown maidenhood, winning the features one by one, and bringing back from death to life the face he had loved best, and the voice with long-forgotten tones that touched his soul’s quick, and dimmed his sight with a mist, so that he grew hard and stern as he fought within him against the tenderness he loved and feared. All this he saw and heard and felt again, knowing that each picture must end but in one way, in the one sight he had seen and that had told his shame–a guilty woman stealing by night from her lover’s door. Not only that, either, for there was the almost certain knowledge that she had deceived him for years, and that while he had been fighting so hard to save her from what seemed but a show of marriage, she had been already lost to him for ever and ruined beyond all hope of honesty.

They were not thoughts, but pictures of the false and of the true, that rose and glowed an instant and then sank like the inner darkness of his soul, leaving only that last most terrible one of all behind them, burned into his eyes till death should put out their light and bid him rest at last, if he could rest even in heaven with such a memory.

It was too much, and though he walked upright and gazed before him, he did not know his way, and his feet took him to his own door instead of on the King’s errand. His hand was raised to knock before he understood, and it fell to his side in a helpless, hopeless way, when he saw where he was. Then he turned stiffly, as a man turns on parade, and gathered his strength and marched away with a measured tread. For the world and what it held he would not have entered his dwelling then, for he felt that his daughter was there before him, and that if he once saw her face he should not be able to hold his hand. He would not see her again on earth, lest he should take her life for what she had done.

He was more aware of outward things after that, though he almost commanded himself to do what he had to do, as he would have given orders to one of his soldiers. He went to the chief steward’s office and demanded the key of the room in the King’s name. But it was not forthcoming, and the fact that it could not be found strengthened his conviction that Don John had it in his keeping. Yet, for the sake of form, he insisted sternly, saying that the King was waiting for it even then. Servants were called and examined and threatened, but those who knew anything about it unanimously declared that it had been left in the door, while those who knew nothing supported their fellow-servants by the same unhesitating assertion, till Mendoza was convinced that he had done enough, and turned his back on them all and went out with a grey look of despair on his face.

He walked rapidly now, for he knew that he was going back to meet his enemy, and he was trying not to think what he should do when he should see Don John before him and at arm’s length, but defended by the King’s presence from any sudden violence. He knew that in his heart there was the wild resolve to tell the truth before his master and then to take the payment of blood with one thrust and destroy himself with the next, but though he was half mad with despair, he would not let the thought become a resolve. In his soldier’s nature, high above everything else and dominating his austere conscience of right and wrong, as well as every other instinct of his heart, there was the respect of his sovereign and the loyalty to him at all costs, good or bad, which sent self out of sight where his duty to the King was concerned.

* * * * *

CHAPTER XII

When he had sent away Mendoza, the King remained standing and began to pace the floor, while Don John stood by the table watching him and waiting for him to speak. It was clear that he was still angry, for his anger, though sometimes suddenly roused, was very slow to reach its height, and slower still to subside; and when at last it had cooled, it generally left behind it an enduring hatred, such as could be satisfied only by the final destruction of the object that had caused it. That lasting hate was perhaps more dangerous than the sudden outburst had been, but in moments of furious passion Philip was undoubtedly a man to be feared.

He was evidently not inclined to speak until he had ascertained that no one was listening in the next room, but as he looked from time to time at Don John his still eyes seemed to grow almost yellow, and his lower lip moved uneasily. He knew, perhaps, that Mendoza could not at once find the servant in whose keeping the key of the door was supposed to be, and he grew impatient by quick degrees until his rising temper got the better of his caution. Don John instinctively drew himself up, as a man does who expects to be attacked. He was close to the table, and remained almost motionless during the discussion that followed, while Philip paced up and down, sometimes pausing before his brother for a moment, and then turning again to resume his walk. His voice was muffled always, and was hard to hear; now and then it became thick and indistinct with rage, and he cleared his throat roughly, as if he were angry with it, too. At first he maintained the outward forms of courtesy in words if not in tone, but long before his wrath had reached its final climax he forgot them altogether.

“I had hoped to speak with you in privacy, on matters of great importance. It has pleased your Highness to make that impossible by your extraordinary behaviour.”

Don John raised his eyebrows a little incredulously, and answered with perfect calmness.

“I do not recollect doing anything which should seem extraordinary to your Majesty.”

“You contradict me,” retorted Philip. “That is extraordinary enough, I should think. I am not aware that it is usual for subjects to contradict the King. What have you to say in explanation?”

“Nothing. The facts explain themselves well enough.”

“We are not in camp,” said Philip. “Your Highness is not in command here, and I am not your subordinate. I desire you to remember whom you are addressing, for your words will be remembered.”

“I never said anything which I wished another to forget,” answered Don John proudly.

“Take care, then!” The King spoke sullenly, and turned away, for he was slow at retort until he was greatly roused.

Don John did not answer, for he had no wish to produce such a result, and moreover he was much more preoccupied by the serious question of Dolores’ safety than by any other consideration. So far the King had said nothing which, but for some derogation from his dignity, might not have been said before any one, and Don John expected that he would maintain the same tone until Mendoza returned. It was hard to predict what might happen then. In all probability Dolores would escape by the window and endeavour to hide herself in the empty sentry-box until the interview was over. He could then bring her back in safety, but the discussion promised to be long and stormy, and meanwhile she would be in constant danger of discovery. But there was a worse possibility, not even quite beyond the bounds of the probable. In his present mood, Philip, if he lost his temper altogether, would perhaps be capable of placing Don John under arrest. He was all powerful, he hated his brother, and he was very angry. His last words had been a menace, or had sounded like one, and another word, when Mendoza returned, could put the threat into execution. Don John reflected, if such thought could be called reflection, upon the situation that must ensue, and upon the probable fate of the woman he loved. He wondered whether she were still in the room, for hearing that the door was to be opened, she might have thought it best to escape at once, while her father was absent from the terrace on his errand. If not, she could certainly go out by the window as soon as she heard him coming back. It was clearly of the greatest importance to prevent the King’s anger from going any further. Antonio Perez had recognized the same truth from a very different point of view, and had spent nearly three-quarters of an hour in flattering his master with the consummate skill which he alone possessed. He believed that he had succeeded when the King had dismissed him, saying that he would not see Don John until the morning. Five minutes after Perez was gone, Philip was threading the corridors, completely disguised in a long black cloak, with the ever-loyal Mendoza at his heels. It was not the first time that he had deceived his deceivers.

He paced the room in silence after he had last spoken. As soon as Don John realized that his liberty might be endangered, he saw that he must say what he could in honour and justice to save himself from arrest, since nothing else could save Dolores.

“I greatly regret having done anything to anger your Majesty,” he said, with quiet dignity. “I was placed in a very difficult position by unforeseen circumstances. If there had been time to reflect, I might have acted otherwise.”

“Might have acted otherwise!” repeated Philip harshly. “I do not like those words. You might have acted otherwise than to defy your sovereign before the Queen! I trusted you might, indeed!”

He was silent again, his protruding lip working angrily, as if he had tasted something he disliked. Don John’s half apology had not been received with much grace, but he saw no way open save to insist that it was genuine.

“It is certainly true that I have lived much in camps of late,” he answered, “and that a camp is not a school of manners, any more than the habit of commanding others accustoms a man to courtly submission.”

“Precisely. You have learned to forget that you have a superior in Spain, or in the world. You already begin to affect the manners and speech of a sovereign–you will soon claim the dignity of one, too, I have no doubt. The sooner we procure you a kingdom of your own, the better, for your Highness will before long become an element of discord in ours.”

“Rather than that,” answered Don John, “I will live in retirement for the rest of my life.”

“We may require it of your Highness,” replied Philip, standing still and facing his brother. “It may be necessary for our own safety that you should spend some time at least in very close retirement–very!” He almost laughed.

“I should prefer that to the possibility of causing any disturbance in your Majesty’s kingdom.”

Nothing could have been more gravely submissive than Don John’s tone, but the King was apparently determined to rouse his anger.

“Your deeds belie your words,” he retorted, beginning to walk again. “There is too much loyalty in what you say, and too much of a rebellious spirit in what you do. The two do not agree together. You mock me.”

“God forbid that!” cried Don John. “I desire no praise for what I may have done, but such as my deeds have been they have produced peace and submission in your Majesty’s kingdom, and not rebellion–“

“And is it because you have beaten a handful of ill-armed Moriscoes, in the short space of two years, that the people follow you in throngs wherever you go, shouting for you, singing your praises, bringing petitions to you by hundreds, as if you were King–as if you were more than that, a sort of god before whom every one must bow down? Am I so simple as to believe that what you have done with such leisure is enough to rouse all Spain, and to make the whole court break out into cries of wonder and applause as soon as you appear? If you publicly defy me and disobey me, do I not know that you believe yourself able to do so, and think your power equal to mine? And how could that all be brought about, save by a party that is for you, by your secret agents everywhere, high and low, forever praising you and telling men, and women, too, of your graces, and your generosities, and your victories, and saying that it is a pity so good and brave a prince should be but a leader of the King’s armies, and then contrasting the King himself with you, the cruel King, the grasping King, the scheming King, the King who has every fault that is not found in Don John of Austria, the people’s god! Is that peace and submission? Or is it the beginning of rebellion, and revolution, and civil war, which is to set Don John of Austria on the throne of Spain, and send King Philip to another world as soon as all is ready?”

Don John listened in amazement. It had never occurred to him any one could believe him capable of the least of the deeds Philip was attributing to him, and in spite of his resolution his anger began to rise. Then, suddenly, as if cold water had been dashed in his face, he remembered that an hour had not passed since he had held Dolores in his arms, swearing to do that of which he was now accused, and that her words only had held him back. It all seemed monstrous now. As she had said, it had been only a bad dream and he had wakened to himself again. Yet the thought of rebellion had more than crossed his mind, for in a moment it had taken possession of him and had seemed to change all his nature from good to bad. In his own eyes he was rebuked, and he did not answer at once.

“You have nothing to say!” exclaimed Philip scornfully. “Is there any reason why I should not try you for high treason?”

Don John started at the words, but his anger was gone, and he thought only of Dolores’ safety in the near future.

“Your Majesty is far too just to accuse an innocent man who has served you faithfully,” he answered.

Philip stopped and looked at him curiously and long, trying to detect some sign of anxiety if not of fear. He was accustomed to torture men with words well enough, before he used other means, and he himself had not believed what he had said. It had been only an experiment tried on a mere chance, and it had failed. At the root of his anger there was only jealousy and personal hatred of the brother who had every grace and charm which he himself had not.

“More kind than just, perhaps,” he said, with a slight change of tone towards condescension. “I am willing to admit that I have no proofs against you, but the evidence of circumstances is not in your favour. Take care, for you are observed. You are too much before the world, too imposing a figure to escape observation.”

“My actions will bear it. I only beg that your Majesty will take account of them rather than listen to such interpretation as may be put upon them by other men.”

“Other men do nothing but praise you,” said Philip bluntly. “Their opinion of you is not worth having! I thought I had explained that matter sufficiently. You are the idol of the people, and as if that were not enough, you are the darling of the court, besides being the women’s favourite. That is too much for one man to be–take care, I say, take care! Be at more pains for my favour, and at less trouble for your popularity.”

“So far as that goes,” answered Don John, with some pride, “I think that if men praise me it is because I have served the King as well as I could, and with success. If your Majesty is not satisfied with what I have done, let me have more to do. I shall try to do even the impossible.”

“That will please the ladies,” retorted Philip, with a sneer. “You will be overwhelmed with correspondence–your gloves will not hold it all”

Don John did not answer, for it seemed wiser to let the King take this ground than return to his former position.

“You will have plenty of agreeable occupation in time of peace. But it is better that you should be married soon, before you become so entangled with the ladies of Madrid as to make your marriage impossible.”

“Saving the last clause,” said Don John boldly, “I am altogether of your Majesty’s opinion. But I fear no entanglements here.”

“No–you do not fear them. On the contrary, you live in them as if they were your element.”

“No man can say that,” answered Don John.

“You contradict me again. Pray, if you have no entanglements, how comes it that you have a lady’s letter in your glove?”

“I cannot tell whether it was a lady’s letter or a man’s.”

“Have you not read it?”

“Yes.”

“And you refused to show it to me on the ground that it was a woman’s secret?”

“I had not read it then. It was not signed, and it might well have been written by a man.”

Don John watched the King’s face. It was for from improbable, he thought, that the King had caused it to be written, or had written it himself, that he supposed his brother to have read it, and desired to regain possession of it as soon as possible. Philip seemed to hesitate whether to continue his cross-examination or not, and he looked at the door leading into the antechamber, suddenly wondering why Mendoza had not returned. Then he began to speak again, but he did not wish, angry though he was, to face alone a second refusal to deliver the document to him. His dignity would have suffered too much.

“The facts of the case are these,” he said, as if he were recapitulating what had gone before in his mind. “It is my desire to marry you to the widowed Queen of Scots, as you know. You are doing all you can to oppose me, and you have determined to marry the dowerless daughter of a poor soldier. I am equally determined that you shall not disgrace yourself by such an alliance.”

“Disgrace!” cried Don John loudly, almost before the word had passed the King’s lips, and he made half a step forward. “You are braver than I thought you, if you dare use that word to me!”

Philip stepped back, growing livid, and his hand was on his rapier. Don John was unarmed, but his sword lay on the table within his reach. Seeing the King afraid, he stepped back.

“No,” he said scornfully, “I was mistaken. You are a coward.” He laughed as he glanced at Philip’s hand, still on the hilt of his weapon and ready to draw it.

In the next room Dolores drew frightened breath, for the tones of the two men’s voices had changed suddenly. Yet her heart had leapt for joy when she had heard Don John’s cry of anger at the King’s insulting word. But Don John was right, for Philip was a coward at heart, and though he inwardly resolved that his brother should be placed under arrest as soon as Mendoza returned, his present instinct was not to rouse him further. He was indeed in danger, between his anger and his fear, for at any moment he might speak some bitter word, accustomed as he was to the perpetual protection of his guards, but at the next his brother’s hands might be on his throat, for he had the coward’s true instinct to recognize the man who was quite fearless.

“You strangely forget yourself,” he said, with an appearance of dignity. “You spring forward as if you were going to grapple with me, and then you are surprised that I should be ready to defend myself.”

“I barely moved a step from where I stand,” answered Don John, with profound contempt. “I am unarmed, too. There lies my sword, on the table. But since you are the King as well as my brother, I make all excuses to your Majesty for having been the cause of your fright.”

Dolores understood what had happened, as Don John meant that she should. She knew also that her position was growing more and more desperate and untenable at every moment; yet she could not blame her lover for what he had said. Even to save her, she would not have had him cringe to the King and ask pardon for his hasty word and movement, still less could she have borne that he should not cry out in protest at a word that insulted her, though ever so lightly.

“I do not desire to insist upon our kinship,” said Philip coldly. “If I chose to acknowledge it when you were a boy, it was out of respect for the memory of the Emperor. It was not in the expectation of being called brother by the son of a German burgher’s daughter.”

Don John did not wince, for the words, being literally true and without exaggeration, could hardly be treated as an insult, though they were meant for one, and hurt him, as all reference to his real mother always did.

“Yes,” he said, still scornfully. “I am the son of a German burgher’s daughter, neither better nor worse. But I am your brother, for all that, and though I shall not forget that you are King and I am subject, when we are before the world, yet here, we are man and man, you and I, brother and brother, and there is neither King nor prince. But I shall not hurt you, so you need fear nothing. I respect the brother far too little for that, and the sovereign too much.”

There was a bad yellow light in Philip’s face, and instead of walking towards Don John and away from him, as he had done hitherto, he began to pace up and down, crossing and recrossing before him, from the foot of the great canopied bed to one of the curtained windows, keeping his eyes upon his brother almost all the time.

“I warned you when I came here that your words should be remembered,” he said. “And your actions shall not be forgotten, either. There are safe places, even in Madrid, where you can live in the retirement you desire so much, even in total solitude.”

“If it pleases your Majesty to imprison Don John of Austria, you have the power. For my part, I shall make no resistance.”

“Who shall, then?” asked the King angrily. “Do you expect that there will be a general rising of the people to liberate you, or that there will be a revolution within the palace, brought on by your party, which shall force me to set you free for reasons of state? We are not in Paris that you should expect the one, nor in Constantinople where the other might be possible. We are in Spain, and I am master, and my will shall be done, and no one shall cry out against it. I am too gentle with you, too kind! For the half of what you have said and done, Elizabeth of England would have had your life to-morrow–yes, I consent to give you a chance, the benefit of a doubt there is still in my thoughts about you, because justice shall not be offended and turned into an instrument of revenge. Yes–I am kind, I am clement. We shall see whether you can save yourself. You shall have the chance.”

“What chance is that?” asked Don John, growing very quiet, for he saw the real danger near at hand again.

“You shall have an opportunity of proving that a subject is at liberty to insult his sovereign, and that the King is not free to speak his mind to a subject. Can you prove that?”

“I cannot.”

“Then you can be convicted of high treason,” answered Philip, his evil mouth curling. “There are several methods of interrogating the accused,” he continued. “I daresay you have heard of them.”

“Do you expect to frighten me by talking of torture?” asked Don John, with a smile at the implied suggestion.

“Witnesses are also examined,” replied the King, his voice thickening again in anticipation of the effect he was going to produce upon the man who would not fear him. “With them, even more painful methods are often employed. Witnesses may be men or women, you know, my dear brother–” he pronounced the word with a sneer–“and among the many ladies of your acquaintance–“

“There are very few.”

“It will be the easier to find the two or three, or perhaps the only one, whom it will be necessary to interrogate–in your presence, most probably, and by torture.”

“I was right to call you a coward,” said Don John, slowly turning pale till his face was almost as white as the white silks and satins of his doublet.

“Will you give me the letter you were reading when I came here?”

“No.”

“Not to save yourself from the executioner’s hands?”

“No.”

“Not to save–” Philip paused, and a frightful stare of hatred fixed his eyes on his brother. “Will you give me that letter to save Dolores de Mendoza from being torn piecemeal?”

“Coward!”

By instinct Don John’s hand went to the hilt of his sheathed sword this time, as he cried out in rage, and sprang forward. Even then he would have remembered the promise he had given and would not have raised his hand to strike. But the first movement was enough, and Philip drew his rapier in a flash of light, fearing for his life. Without waiting for an attack he made a furious pass at his brother’s body. Don John’s hand went out with the sheathed sword in a desperate attempt to parry the thrust, but the weapon was entangled in the belt that hung to it, and Philip’s lunge had been strong and quick as lightning.

With a cry of anger Don John fell straight backwards, his feet seeming to slip from under him on the smooth marble pavement, and with his fall, as he threw out his hands to save himself, the sword flew high into the air, sheathed as it was, and landed far away. He lay at full length with one arm stretched out, and for a moment the hand twitched in quick spasms. Then it was quite still.

At his feet stood Philip, his rapier in his hand, and blood on its fine point. His eyes shone yellow in the candlelight, his jaw had dropped a little, and he bent forwards, looking intently at the still, white face.

He had longed for that moment ever since he had entered his brother’s room, though even he himself had not guessed that he wanted his brother’s life. There was not a sound in the room as he looked at what he had done, and two or three drops of blood fell one by one, very slowly, upon the marble. On the dazzling white of Don John’s doublet there was a small red stain. As Philip watched it, he thought it grew wider and brighter.

Beyond the door, Dolores had fallen upon her knees, pressing her hands to her temples in an agony beyond thought or expression. Her fear had risen to terror while she listened to the last words that had been exchanged, and the King’s threat had chilled her blood like ice, though she was brave. She had longed to cry out to Don John to give up her letter or the other, whichever the King wanted–she had almost tried to raise her voice, in spite of every other fear, when she had heard Don John’s single word of scorn, and the quick footsteps, the drawing of the rapier from its sheath, the desperate scuffle that had not lasted five seconds, and then the dull fall which meant that one was hurt.

It could only be the King,–but that was terrible enough,–and yet, if the King had fallen, Don John would have come to the door the next instant. All was still in the room, but her terror made wild noises in her ears. The two men might have spoken now and she could not have heard them,–nor the opening of a door, nor any ordinary sound. It was no longer the fear of being heard, either, that made her silent. Her throat was parched and her tongue paralyzed. She remembered suddenly that Don John had been unarmed, and how he had pointed out to Philip that his sword lay on the table. It was the King who had drawn his own, then, and had killed his unarmed brother. She felt as if something heavy were striking her head as the thoughts made broken words, and flashes of light danced before her eyes. With her hands she tried to press feeling and reason and silence back into her brain that would not be quieted, but the certainty grew upon her that Don John was killed, and the tide of despair rose higher with every breath.

The sensation came upon her that she was dying, then and there, of a pain human nature could not endure, far beyond the torments Philip had threatened, and the thought was merciful, for she could not have lived an hour in such agony,–something would have broken before then. She was dying, there, on her knees before the door beyond which her lover lay suddenly dead. It would be easy to die. In a moment more she would be with him, for ever, and in peace. They would find her there, dead, and perhaps they would be merciful and bury her near him. But that would matter little, since she should be with him always now. In the first grief that struck her, and bruised her, and numbed her as with material blows, she had no tears, but there was a sort of choking fire in her throat, and her eyes burned her like hot iron.

She did not know how long she knelt, waiting for death. She was dying, and there was no time any more, nor any outward world, nor anything but her lover’s dead body on the floor in the next room, and his soul waiting for hers, waiting beside her for her to die also, that they might go together. She was so sure now, that she was wondering dreamily why it took so long to die, seeing that death had taken him so quickly. Could one shaft be aimed so straight and could the next miss the mark? She shook all over, as a new dread seized her. She was not dying,–her life clung too closely to her suffering body, her heart was too young and strong to stand still in her breast for grief. She was to live, and bear that same pain a lifetime. She rocked herself gently on her knees, bowing her head almost to the floor.

She was roused by the sound of her father’s voice, and the words he was speaking sent a fresh shock of horror through her unutterable grief, for they told her that Don John was dead, and then something else so strange that she could not understand it.

Philip had stood only a few moments, sword in hand, over his brother’s body, staring down at his face, when the door opened. On the threshold stood old Mendoza, half-stunned by the sight he saw. Philip heard, stood up, and drew back as his eyes fell upon the old soldier. He knew that Mendoza, if no one else, knew the truth now, beyond any power of his to conceal it. His anger had subsided, and a sort of horror that could never be remorse, had come over him for what he had done. It must have been in his face, for Mendoza understood, and he came forward quickly and knelt down upon the floor to listen for the beating of the heart, and to try whether there was any breath to dim the brightness of his polished scabbard. Philip looked on in silence. Like many an old soldier Mendoza had some little skill, but he saw the bright spot on the white doublet, and the still face and the hands relaxed, and there was neither breath nor beating of the heart to give hope. He rose silently, and shook his head. Still looking down he saw the red drops that had fallen upon the pavement from Philip’s rapier, and looking at that, saw that the point was dark. With a gesture of excuse he took the sword from the King’s hand and wiped it quite dry and bright upon his own handkerchief, and gave it back to Philip, who sheathed it by his side, but never spoke.

Together the two looked at the body for a full minute and more, each silently debating what should be done with it. At last Mendoza raised his head, and there was a strange look in his old eyes and a sort of wan greatness came over his war-worn face. It was then that he spoke the words Dolores heard.

“I throw myself upon your Majesty’s mercy! I have killed Don John of Austria in a private quarrel, and he was unarmed.”

Philip understood well enough, and a faint smile of satisfaction flitted through the shadows of his face. It was out of the question that the world should ever know who had killed his brother, and he knew the man who offered to sacrifice himself by bearing the blame of the deed. Mendoza would die, on the scaffold if need be, and it would be enough for him to know that his death saved his King. No word would ever pass his lips. The man’s loyalty would bear any proof; he could feel horror at the thought that Philip could have done such a deed, but the King’s name must be saved at all costs, and the King’s divine right must be sustained before the world. He felt no hesitation from the moment when he saw clearly how this must be done. To accuse some unknown murderer and let it be supposed that he had escaped would have been worse than useless; the court and half Spain knew of the King’s jealousy of his brother, every one had seen that Philip had been very angry when the courtiers had shouted for Don John; already the story of the quarrel about the glove was being repeated from mouth to mouth in the throne room, where the nobles had reassembled after supper. As soon as it was known that Don John was dead, it would be believed by every one in the palace that the King had killed him or had caused him to be murdered. But if Mendoza took the blame upon himself, the court would believe him, for many knew of Dolores’ love for Don John, and knew also how bitterly the old soldier was opposed to their marriage, on the ground that it would be no marriage at all, but his daughter’s present ruin. There was no one else in the palace who could accuse himself of the murder and who would be believed to have done it without the King’s orders, and Mendoza knew this, when he offered his life to shield Philip’s honour. Philip knew it, too, and while he wondered at the old man’s simple devotion, he accepted it without protest, as his vast selfishness would have permitted the destruction of all mankind, that it might be satisfied and filled.

He looked once more at the motionless body at his feet, and once more at the faithful old man. Then he bent his head with condescending gravity, as if he were signifying his pleasure to receive kindly, for the giver’s sake, a gift of little value.

“So be it,” he said slowly.

Mendoza bowed his head, too, as if in thanks, and then taking up the long dark cloak which the King had thrown off on entering, he put it upon Philip’s shoulders, and went before him to the door. And Philip followed him without looking back, and both went out upon the terrace, leaving both doors ajar after them. They exchanged a few words more as they walked slowly in the direction of the corridor.

“It is necessary that your Majesty should return at once to the throne room, as if nothing had happened,” said Mendoza. “Your Majesty should be talking unconcernedly with some ambassador or minister when the news is brought that his Highness is dead.”

“And who shall bring the news?” asked Philip calmly, as if he were speaking to an indifferent person.

“I will, Sire,” answered Mendoza firmly.

“They will tear you in pieces before I can save you,” returned Philip, in a thoughtful tone.

“So much the better. I shall die for my King, and your Majesty will be spared the difficulty of pardoning a deed which will be unpardonable in the eyes of the whole world.”

“That is true,” said the King meditatively. “But I do not wish you to die, Mendoza,” he added, as an afterthought. “You must escape to France or to England.”

“I could not make my escape without your Majesty’s help, and that would soon be known. It would then be believed that I had done the deed by your Majesty’s orders, and no good end would have been gained.”

“You may be right. You are a very brave man, Mendoza–the bravest I have ever known. I thank you. If it is possible to save you, you shall be saved.”

“It will not be possible,” replied the soldier, in a low and steady voice. “If your Majesty will return at once to the throne room, it may be soon over. Besides, it is growing late, and it must be done before the whole court.”

They entered the corridor, and the King walked a few steps before Mendoza, covering his head with the hood of his cloak lest any one should recognize him, and gradually increasing his distance as the old man fell behind. Descending by a private staircase, Philip reentered his own apartments by a small door that gave access to his study without obliging him to pass through the antechamber, and by which he often came and went unobserved. Alone in his innermost room, and divested of his hood and cloak, the King went to a Venetian mirror that stood upon a pier table between the windows, and examined his face attentively. Not a trace of excitement or emotion was visible in the features he saw, but his hair was a little disarranged, and he smoothed it carefully and adjusted it about his ears. From a silver box on the table he took a little scented lozenge and put it into his mouth. No reasonable being would have suspected from his appearance that he had been moved to furious anger and had done a murderous deed less than twenty minutes earlier. His still eyes were quite calm now, and the yellow gleam in them had given place to their naturally uncertain colour. With a smile of admiration for his own extraordinary powers, he turned and left the room. He was enjoying one of his rare moments of satisfaction, for the rival he had long hated and was beginning to dread was never to stand in his way again nor to rob him of the least of his attributes of sovereignty.

* * * * *

CHAPTER XIII

Dolores had not understood her father’s words. All that was clear to her was that Don John was dead and that his murderers were gone. Had there been danger still for herself, she could not have felt it; but there was none now as she laid her hand upon the key to enter the bedchamber. At first the lock would not open, as it had been injured in some way by being so roughly shaken when Mendoza had tried it. But Dolores’ desperate fingers wound themselves upon the key like little ropes of white silk, slender but very strong, and she wrenched at the thing furiously till it turned. The door flew open, and she stood motionless a moment on the threshold. Mendoza had said that Don John was dead, but she had not quite believed it.

He lay on his back as he had fallen, his feet towards her, his graceful limbs relaxed, one arm beside him, the other thrown back beyond his head, the colourless fingers just bent a little and showing the nervous