Marie’s answer was as Father Denis feared. She had pondered on all he had said, and the dread alternative awaiting her; but the impossibility of embracing Catholicism was stronger than ever. The unfeigned distress of the old monk pained and alarmed her, for it seemed to her as if he were conscious that some dreadful doom was hanging over her, which he shrunk from revealing. She had not long to remain in that torturing suspense: a few hours later in the same day, she was summoned to Isabella’s presence. The sensation of terror was so intense as to render obedience, for the minute, utterly impossible. Every limb shook, and again came the wild longing for power to believe as they desired; for a momentary cessation of the voice of conscience, to embrace the proffered cross, and be at rest. But it would not cease; and, scarcely able to support herself, she stood before the dread Princess in whose hand was her earthly fate.
clasped her hands"!—the strife
Of love—faith—fear, and the vain dream of life,
Within her woman-heart so deeply wrought—
It seemed as if a reed, so slight and weak,
Must, in the rending storm, not quiver only—break!
Isabella’s expressive countenance was grave and calm; but it was impossible to doubt the firmness of her purpose, though what that purpose might be, Marie had no power to read. She stood leaning against the back of one of the ponderous chairs; her head bent down, and her heart so loudly and thickly throbbing that it choked her very breath.
“We have summoned thee hither, Marie,” the Queen said at length, gravely, but not severely, “to hear from thine own lips the decision which Father Denis has reported to us; but which, indeed, we can scarcely credit. Wert thou other than thou art—one whose heavy trials and lovable qualities have bound thee to us with more than common love—we should have delivered thee over at once to the judgment of our holy fathers, and interfered with their sentence no farther. We are exposing ourselves to priestly censure even for the forbearance already shown; but we will dare even that, to win thee from thine accursed creed, and give thee peace and comfort. Marie canst thou share the ingratitude—the obstinacy—of thy benighted race, that even with thee we must deal harshly? Compel me not to a measure from which my whole heart revolts. Do not let me feel that the charge against thy people is true, without even one exception, and that kindness shown to them, is unvalued as unfelt.”
A convulsive sob was the sole reply. Marie’s face was buried in her hands; but the tears were streaming through her slender fingers, and her slight figure shook with the paroxysm.
“Nay, Marie, we ask not tears. We demand the proof of grateful affection on thy part; not its weak display. And what is that proof? The acceptance of a faith without which there can be no security in this life, nor felicity hereafter! The rejection of a fearfully mistaken—terribly accursed—creed; condemning its followers to the scorn and hate of man, and abiding wrath of God.”