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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Palace Of The King: A Love Story - Chapter 2
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In The Palace Of The King: A Love Story - Chapter 2 Post by :stucatsu Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1529

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In The Palace Of The King: A Love Story - Chapter 2

CHAPTER II

When Don John had disappeared within the palace the people lingered a little while, hoping that something might happen which would be worth seeing, and then, murmuring a little in perfectly unreasonable disappointment, they slowly dispersed. After that old Mendoza gave his orders to the officers of the guards, the men tramped away, one detachment after another, in a regular order; the cavalry that had ridden up with Don John wheeled at a signal from the trumpets, and began to ride slowly back to the city, pressing hard upon the multitude, and before it was quite dark the square before the palace was deserted again. The sky had cleared, the pavement was dry again, and the full moon was rising. Two tall sentinels with halberds paced silently up and down in the shadow.

Dolores and her sister were still sitting in the dark when the door opened, and a grey-haired servant in red and yellow entered the room, bearing two lighted wax candles in heavy bronze candlesticks, which he set upon the table. A moment later he was followed by old Mendoza, still in his breastplate, as he had dismounted, his great spurs jingling on his heavy boots, and his long basket-hilted sword trailing on the marble pavement. He was bareheaded now, and his short hair, smooth and grizzled, covered his energetic head like a close-fitting skull cap of iron-grey velvet. He stood still before the table, his bony right hand resting upon it and holding both his long gloves. The candlelight shone upward into his dark face, and gleamed yellow in his angry eyes.

Both the girls rose instinctively as their father entered; but they stood close together, their hands still linked as if to defend each other from a common enemy, though the hard man would have given his life for either of them at any moment since they had come into the world. They knew it, and trembled.

"You have made me the laughing-stock of the court," he began slowly, and his voice shook with anger. "What have you to say in your defence?"

He was speaking to Dolores, and she turned a little pale. There was something so cruelly hard in his tone and bearing that she drew back a little, not exactly in bodily fear, but as a brave man may draw back a step when another suddenly draws a weapon upon him. Instantly Inez moved forward, raising one white hand in protest, and turning her blind face to her father's gleaming eyes.

"I am not speaking to you," he said roughly, "but you," he went on, addressing Dolores, and the heavy table shook under his hand. "What devil possessed you that you should shame me and yourself, standing at your window to smile at Don John, as if he were the Espadero at a bull fight and you the beauty of the ring--with all Madrid there to look on, from his Majesty the King to the beggar in the road? Have you no modesty, no shame, no blood that can blush? And if not, have you not even so much woman's sense as should tell you that you are ruining your name and mine before the whole world?"

"Father! For the sake of heaven do not say such words--you must not! You shall not!"

Dolores' face was quite white now, as she gently pushed Inez aside and faced the angry man. The table was between them.

"Have I said one word more than the very truth?" asked Mendoza. "Does not the whole court know that you love Don John of Austria--"

"Let the whole world know it!" cried the girl bravely. "Am I ashamed to love the best and bravest man that breathes?"

"Let the whole world know that you are willing to be his toy, his plaything--"

"His wife, sir!" Dolores' voice was steady and clear as she interrupted her father. "His wife," she repeated proudly; "And to-morrow, if you and the King will not hinder us. God made you my father, but neither God nor man has given you the right to insult me, and you shall not be unanswered, so long as I have strength and breath to speak. But for you, I should be Don John of Austria's wife to-day--and then, then his 'toy,' his 'plaything'--yes, and his slave and his servant--what you will! I love him, and I would work for him with my hands, as I would give my blood and my life for his, if God would grant me that happiness and grace, since you will not let me be his wife!"

"His wife!" exclaimed Mendoza, with a savage sneer. "His wife--to be married to-day and cast off to-morrow by a turn of the pen and the twisting of a word that would prove your marriage void, in order that Don John may be made the husband of some royal widowed lady, like Queen Mary of the Scots! His wife!" He laughed bitterly.

"You have an exalted opinion of your King, my father, since you suppose that he would permit such deeds in Spain!"

Dolores had drawn herself up to her full height as she spoke, and she remained motionless as she awaited the answer to what she had said. It was long in coming, though Mendoza's dark eyes met hers unflinchingly, and his lips moved more than once as if he were about to speak. She had struck a blow that was hard to parry, and she knew it. Inez stood beside her, silent and breathing hard as she listened.

"You think that I have nothing to say," he began at last, and his tone had changed and was more calm. "You are right, perhaps. What should I say to you, since you have lost all sense of shame and all thought of respect or obedience? Do you expect that I shall argue with you, and try to convince you that I am right, instead of forcing you to respect me and yourself? Thank Heaven, I have never yet questioned my King's thoughts, nor his motives, nor his supreme right to do whatsoever may be for the honour and glory of Spain. My life is his, and all I have is his, to do with it all as he pleases, by grace of his divine right. That is my creed and my law--and if I have failed to bring you up in the same belief, I have committed a great sin, and it will be counted against me hereafter, though I have done what I could, to the best of my knowledge."

Mendoza lifted his sheathed sword and laid his right hand upon the cross-bar of the basket hilt.

"God--the King--Spain!" he said solemnly, as he pressed his lips to it once for each article of his faith.

"I do not wish to shake your belief," said Dolores coldly. "I daresay that is impossible!"

"As impossible as it is to make me change my determination," answered Mendoza, letting his long sword rest on the pavement again.

"And what may your determination be?" asked the girl, still facing him.

Something in his face forewarned her of near evil and danger, as he looked at her long without answering. She moved a little, so as to stand directly in front of Inez. Taking an attitude that was almost defiant, she began to speak rapidly, holding her hands behind her and pressing herself back against her sister to attract the latter's attention; and in her hand she held the letter she had written to Don John, folded into the smallest possible space, for she had kept it ready in the wrist of her tight sleeve, not knowing what might happen any moment to give her an opportunity of sending it.

"What have you determined?" she asked again, and then went on without waiting for a reply. "In what way are you going to exhibit your power over me? Do you mean to take me away from the court to live in Valladolid again? Are you going to put me in the charge of some sour old woman who will never let me out of her sight from morning till morning?" She had found her sister's hand behind hers and had thrust the letter into the fingers that closed quickly upon it. Then she laughed a little, almost gaily. "Do you think that a score of sour old duennas could teach me to forget the man I love, or could prevent me from sending him a message every day if I chose? Do you think you could hinder Don John of Austria, who came back an hour ago from his victory the idol of all Spain, the favourite of the people--brave, young, powerful, rich, popular, beloved far more than the King himself, from seeing me every day if he chose, so long as he were not away in war? And then--I will ask you something more--do you think that father, or mother, or king, or law, or country has power to will away the love of a woman who loves with all her heart and soul and strength? Then answer me and tell me what you have determined to do with me, and I will tell you my determination, too, for I have one of my own, and shall abide by it, come what may, and whatsoever you may do!"

She paused, for she had heard Inez softly close the door as she went out. The letter at least was safe, and if it were humanly possible, Inez would find a means of delivering it; for she had all that strange ingenuity of the blind in escaping observation which it seems impossible that they should possess, but of which every one who has been much with them is fully aware. Mendoza had seen Inez go out, and was glad that she was gone, for her blind face sometimes disturbed him when he wished to assert his authority.

"Yes," he said, "I will tell you what I mean to do, and it is the only thing left to me, for you have given me no choice. You are disobedient and unruly, you have lost what little respect you ever had--or showed--for me. But that is not all. Men have had unruly daughters before, and yet have married them well, and to men who in the end have ruled them. I do not speak of my affection for you both, since you have none for me. But now, you are going beyond disobedience and lawlessness, for you are ruining yourself and disgracing me, and I will neither permit the one nor suffer the other." His voice rose harshly. "Do you understand me? I intend to protect my name from you, and yours from the world, in the only way possible. I intend to send you to Las Huelgas to-morrow morning. I am in earnest, and unless you consent to give up this folly and to marry as I wish, you shall stay there for the rest of your natural life. Do you understand? And until to-morrow morning you shall stay within these doors. We shall see whether Don John of Austria will try to force my dwelling first and a convent of holy nuns afterwards. You will be safe from him, I give you my word of honour,--the word of a Spanish gentleman and of your father. You shall be safe forever. And if Don John tries to enter here to-night, I will kill him on the threshold. I swear that I will."

He ceased speaking, turned, and began to walk up and down the small room, his spurs and sword clanking heavily at every step. He had folded his arms, and his head was bent low.

A look of horror and fear had slowly risen in Dolores' face, for she knew her father, and that he kept his word at every risk. She knew also that the King held him in very high esteem, and was as firmly opposed to her marriage as Mendoza himself, and therefore ready to help him to do what he wished. It had never occurred to her that she could be suddenly thrust out of sight in a religious institution, to be kept there at her father's pleasure, even for her whole life. She was too young and too full of life to have thought of such a possibility. She had indeed heard that such things could be done, and had been done, but she had never known such a case, and had never realized that she was so completely at her father's mercy. For the first time in her life she felt real fear, and as it fell upon her there came the sickening conviction that she could not resist it, that her spirit was broken all at once, that in a moment more she would throw herself at her father's feet and implore mercy, making whatever promise he exacted, yet making it falsely, out of sheer terror, in an utter degradation and abasement of all moral strength, of which she had never even dreamed. She grew giddy as she felt it coming upon her, and the lights of the two candles moved strangely. Already she saw herself on her knees, sobbing with fear, trying to take her father's hand, begging forgiveness, denying her love, vowing submission and dutiful obedience in an agony of terror. For on the other side she saw the dark corridors and gloomy cells of Las Huelgas, the veiled and silent nuns, the abomination of despair that was before her till she should die and escape at last,--the faint hope which would always prevent her from taking the veil herself, yet a hope fainter and fainter, crossed by the frightful uncertainty in which she should be kept by those who guarded her. They would not even tell her whether the man she loved were alive or dead, she could never know whether he had given up her love, himself in despair, or whether, then, as years went by, he would not lose the thread that took him back to the memory of her, and forget--and love again.

But then her strong nature rose again, and the vision of fear began to fade as her faith in his love denied the last thought with scorn. Many a time, when words could tell no more, and seemed exhausted just when trust was strongest, he had simply said, "I love you, as you love me," and somehow the little phrase meant all, and far more than the tender speeches that sometimes formed themselves so gracefully, and yet naturally and simply, because they, too, came straight from the heart. So now, in her extreme need, the plain words came back to her in his voice, "I love you, as you love me," with a sudden strength of faith in him that made her live again, and made fear seem impossible. While her father slowly paced the floor in silence, she thought what she should do, and whether there could be anything which she would not do, if Don John of Austria were kept a prisoner from her; and she felt sure that she could overcome every obstacle and laugh at every danger, for the hope of getting to him. If she would, so would he, since he loved her as she loved him. But for all the world, he would not have her throw herself upon her father's mercy and make false promises and sob out denials of her love, out of fear. Death would be better than that.

"Do as you will with me, since you have the power," she said at last, quite calmly and steadily.

Instantly the old man stopped in his walk, and turned towards her, almost as if he himself were afraid now. To her amazement she saw that his dark eyes were moist with tears that clung but half shed to the rugged lids and rough lashes. He did not speak for some moments, while she gazed at him in wonder, for she could not understand. Then all at once he lifted his brown hands and covered his face with a gesture of utter despair.

"Dolores! My child, my little girl!" he cried, in a broken voice.

Then he sat down, as it overcome, clasped his hands on the hilt of his sword, and rested his forehead against them, rocking himself with a barely perceptible motion. In twenty years, Dolores had never understood, not even guessed, that the hard man, ever preaching of wholesome duty and strict obedience, always rebuking, never satisfied, ill pleased almost always, loved her with all his heart, and looked upon her as the very jewel of his soul. She guessed it now, in a sudden burst of understanding; but it was so new, so strange, that she could not have told what she felt. There was at best no triumph at the thought that, of the two, he had broken down first in the contest. Pity came first, womanly, simple and kind, for the harsh nature that was so wounded at last. She came to his side, and laid one hand upon his shoulder, speaking softly.

"I am very, very sorry that I have hurt you," she said, and waited for him to speak, pressing his shoulder with a gentle touch.

He did not look up, and still he rocked himself gently, leaning on his sword. The girl suffered, too, to see him suffering so. A little while ago he had been hard, fierce, angry, cruel, threatening her with a living death that had filled her with horror. It had seemed quite impossible that there could be the least tenderness in him for any one--least of all for her.

"God be merciful to me," he said at length in very low tones. "God forgive me if it is my fault--you do not love me--I am nothing to you but an unkind old man, and you are all the world to me, child!"

He raised his head slowly and looked into her face. She was startled at the change in his own, as well as deeply touched by what he said. His dark cheeks had grown grey, and the tears that would not quite fall were like a glistening mist under the lids, and almost made him look sightless. Indeed, he scarcely saw her distinctly. His clasped hands trembled a little on the hilt of the sword he still held.

"How could I know?" cried Dolores, suddenly kneeling down beside him. "How could I guess? You never let me see that you were fond of me--or I have been blind all these years--"

"Hush, child!" he said. "Do not hurt me any more--it must have been my fault."

He grew more calm, and though his face was very grave and sad, the natural dark colour was slowly coming back to it now, and his hands were steady again. The girl was too young, and far too different from him, to understand his nature, but she was fast realizing that he was not the man he had always seemed to her.

"Oh, if I had only known!" she cried, in deep distress. "If I had only guessed, I would have been so different! I was always frightened, always afraid of you, since I can remember--I thought you did not care for us and that we always displeased you--how could we know?"

Mendoza lifted one of his hands from the sword hilt, and took hers, with as much gentleness as was possible to him. His eyes became clear again, and the profound emotion he had shown subsided to the depths whence it had risen.

"We shall never quite understand each other," he said quietly. "You cannot see that it is a man's duty to do what is right for his children, rather than to sacrifice that in order to make them love him."

It seemed to Dolores that there might be a way open between the two, but she said nothing, and left her hand in his, glad that he was kind, but feeling, as he felt, that there could never be any real understanding between them. The breach had existed too long, and it was far too wide.

"You are headstrong, my dear," he said, nodding at each word. "You are very headstrong, if you will only reflect."

"It is not my head, it is my heart," answered Dolores. "And besides," she added with a smile, "I am your daughter, and you are not of a very gentle and yielding disposition, are you?"

"No," he answered with hesitation, "perhaps not." Then his face relaxed a little, and he almost smiled too.

It seemed as if the peace were made and as if thereafter there need not be trouble again. But it was even then not far off, for it was as impossible for Mendoza to yield as it would have been for Dolores to give up her love for Don John. She did not see this, and she fancied that a real change had taken place in his disposition, so that he would forget that he had threatened to send her to Las Huelgas, and not think of it again.

"What is done cannot be undone," he said, with renewed sadness. "You will never quite believe that you have been everything to me during your life. How could you not be, my child? I am very lonely. Your mother has been dead nearly eighteen years, and Rodrigo--"

He stopped short suddenly, for he had never spoken his son's name in the girl's hearing since Rodrigo had left him to follow his own fortunes.

"I think Rodrigo broke my heart," said the old man, after a short pause, controlling his voice so that it sounded dry and indifferent. "And if there is anything left of it, you will break the rest."

He rose, taking his hand from hers, and turning away, with the roughness of a strong, hard man, who has broken down once under great emotion and is capable of any harshness in his fear of yielding to it again. Dolores started slightly and drew back. In her the kindly impression was still strong, but his tone and manner wounded her.

"You are wrong," she said earnestly. "Since you have shown me that you love me, I will indeed do my best not to hurt you or displease you. I will do what I can--what I can."

She repeated the last words slowly and with unconscious emphasis. He turned his face to her again instantly.

"Then promise me that you will never see Don John of Austria again, that you will forget that you ever loved him, that you will put him altogether out of your thoughts, and that you will obediently accept the marriage I shall make for you."

The words of refusal to any such obedience as that rose to the girl's lips, ready and sharp. But she would not speak them this time, lest more angry words should answer hers. She looked straight at her father's eyes, holding her head proudly high for a moment. Then, smiling at the impossibility of what he asked, she turned from him and went to the window in silence. She opened it wide, leaned upon the stone sill and looked out. The moon had risen much higher now, and the court was white.

She had meant to cut short the discussion without rousing anger again, but she could have taken no worse way to destroy whatever was left of her father's kindlier mood. He did not raise his voice now, as he followed her and spoke.

"You refuse to do that?" he said, with an already ominous interrogation in his tone.

"You ask the impossible," she answered, without looking round. "I have not refused, for I have no will in this, no choice. You can do what you please with me, for you have power over my outward life--and if you lacked it, the King would help you. But you have no power beyond that, neither over my heart nor over my soul. I love him--I have loved him long, and I shall love him till I die, and beyond that, forever and ever, beyond everything--beyond the great to-morrow of God's last judgment! How can I put him out of my thoughts, then? It is madness to ask it of me."

She paused a moment, while he stood behind her, getting his teeth and slowly grinding the heel of one heavy boot on the pavement.

"And as for threatening me," she continued, "you will not kill Don John, nor even try to kill him, for he is the King's brother. If I can see him this evening, I will--and there will be no risk for him. You would not murder him by stealth, I suppose? No! Then you will not attack him at all, and if I can see him, I will--I tell you so, frankly. To-morrow or the next day, when the festivities they have for him are over, and you yourself are at liberty, take me to Las Huelgas, if you will, and with as little scandal as possible. But when I am there, set a strong guard of armed men to keep me, for I shall escape unless you do. And I shall go to Don John. That is all I have to say. That is my last word."

"I gave you mine, and it was my word of honour," said Mendoza. "If Don John tries to enter here, to see you, I will kill him. To-morrow, you shall go to Las Huelgas."

Dolores made no answer and did not even turn her head. He left her and went out. She heard his heavy tread in the hall beyond, and she heard a bolt slipped at the further door. She was imprisoned for the night, for the entrance her father had fastened was the one which cut off the portion of the apartment in which the sisters lived from the smaller part which he had reserved for himself. These rooms, from which there was no other exit, opened, like the sitting-room, upon the same hall.

When Dolores knew that she was alone, she drew back from the window and shut it. It had served its purpose as a sort of refuge from her father, and the night air was cold. She sat down to think, and being in a somewhat desperate mood, she smiled at the idea of being locked into her room, supperless, like a naughty child. But her face grew grave instantly as she tried to discover some means of escape. Inez was certainly not in the apartment--she must have gone to the other end of the palace, on pretence of seeing one of the court ladies, but really in the hope of giving Don John the letter. It was more than probable that she would not be allowed to enter when she came back, for Mendoza would distrust her. That meant that Dolores could have no communication with any one outside her rooms during the evening and night, and she knew her father too well to doubt that he would send her to Las Huelgas in the morning, as he had sworn to do. Possibly he would let her serving-woman come to her to prepare what she needed for the journey, but even that was unlikely, for he would suspect everybody.

The situation looked hopeless, and the girl's face grew slowly pale as she realized that after all she might not even exchange a word with Don John before going to the convent--she might not even be able to tell him whither they were sending her, and Mendoza might keep the secret for years--and she would never be allowed to write, of course.

She heard the further door opened again, the bolt running back with a sharp noise. Then she heard her father's footsteps and his voice calling to Inez, as he went from room to room. But there was no answer, and presently he went away, bolting the door a second time. There could be no more doubt about it now. Dolores was quite alone. Her heart beat heavily and slowly. But it was not over yet. Again the bolt slipped in the outer hall, and again she heard the heavy steps. They came straight towards the door. He had perhaps changed his mind, or he had something more to say; she held her breath, but he did not come in. As if to make doubly sure, he bolted her into the little room, crossed the hall a last time, and bolted it for the night, perfectly certain that Dolores was safely shut off from the outer world.

For some minutes she sat quite still, profoundly disturbed, and utterly unable to find any way out of her difficulty, which was, indeed, that she was in a very secure prison.

Then again there was a sound at the door, but very soft this time, not half as loud in her ears as the beating of her own heart. There was something ghostly in it, for she had heard no footsteps. The bolt moved very slowly and gently--she had to strain her ears to hear it move. The sound ceased, and another followed it--that of the door being cautiously opened. A moment later Inez was in the room--turning her head anxiously from side to side to hear Dolores' breathing, and so to find out where she was. Then as Dolores rose, the blind girl put her finger to her lips, and felt for her sister's hand.

"He has the letter," she whispered quickly. "I found him by accident, very quickly. I am to say to you that after he has been some time in the great hall, he will slip away and come here. You see our father will be on duty and cannot come up."

Dolores' hand trembled violently.

"He swore to me that he would kill Don John if he came here," she whispered. "He will do it, if it costs his own life! You must find him again--go quickly, dear, for the love of Heaven!" Her anxiety increased. "Go--go, darling--do not lose a moment--he may come sooner--save him, save him!"

"I cannot go," answered Inez, in terror, as she understood the situation. "I had hidden myself, and I am locked in with you. He called me, but I kept quiet, for I knew he would not let me stay." She buried her face in her hands and sobbed aloud in an agony of fear.

Dolores' lips were white, and she steadied herself against a chair.

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