I sprang to my feet as if I had been touched by a sword-point. The thought was so ingenious, the thing itself was so small and the result was so tremendous that I stood in wonder before the daring girl who had conceived it. I made no answer. I placed the parchment on the table, unceremoniously reached in front of the duchess for the quill, and in less time than one can count three I made a tiny ink mark not the sixteenth part of an inch long that changed the destinies of nations for all time to come.
I placed the quill on the table and turned to Yolanda, just in time to catch her as she was about to fall. I was frightened at the sight of her pale face and cried out:—
Margaret quickly brought a small goblet of wine, and I held the princess while I opened her lips and poured a portion of the drink into her mouth. I had in my life seen, without a tremor, hundreds of men killed, but I had never seen a woman faint, and the sight almost unmanned me.
Stimulated by the wine Yolanda soon revived; and when she opened her eyes and smiled up into my face, I was so joyful that I fell to kissing her hands and could utter no word save “Yolanda, Yolanda.” She did not at once rise from my arms, but lay there smiling into my face as if she were a child. When she did rise she laughed softly and said, turning to the duchess:—
“‘Yolanda’ is the name by which Sir Karl knows me. You see, mother, I was not mistaken in deeming him my friend.”
Then she turned suddenly to me, and taking my rough old hand in hers, lifted it to her lips. That simple act of childish gratitude threw me into a fever of ecstasy so great that death itself could have had no terrors for me. He might have come when he chose. I had lived through that one moment, and even God could not rob me of it.
Yolanda moved away from me and took up the parchment.
“Don’t touch it till the ink dries,” I cried sharply.
She dropped it as if it were hot, and the duchess came to me, and graciously offered her hand:—
“I thank you with my whole heart, not only for what you have done, but for the love you bear the princess. She is the one I love above all others, and I know she loves me. I love those who love her. As the French say, ’Les amies de mes amies sont mes amies.’ I am a poor helpless woman, more to be pitied than the world can believe. I have only my gratitude to offer you, Sir Karl, but that shall be yours so long as I live.”
“Your Grace’s reward is far too great for the small service I have rendered,” I replied, dropping to my knee. I was really beginning to live in my sixtieth year. I was late in starting, but my zest for life was none the less, now that I had at last learned its sweetness through these two gracious women.