It was well, perhaps, for Marie’s firmness, that the Queen’s appealing tone had given place to returning severity; it recalled the departing strength—the sinking energy—the power once more to endure! For several minutes there was no sound: Marie had buried her face in her hands, and remained—half kneeling, half crouching—on the cushion at the Queen’s feet, motionless as stone; and Isabella—internally as agitated as herself—was, under the veil of unbending sternness, struggling for control. The contending emotions sweeping over that frail woman-heart in that fearful period of indecision we pretend not to describe: again and again the terrible temptation came, to say but the desired word, and happiness was hers—such intense happiness, that her brain reeled beneath its thought of ecstasy; and again and again it was driven back by that thrilling voice—louder than ever in its call—to remain faithful to her God. It was a fearful contest; and when she did look up, Isabella started; so terribly was its index inscribed on those white and chiselled features.
She rose slowly, and stood before the Sovereign, her hands tightly clasped together, and the veins on her forehead raised like cords across it. Three times she tried to speak; but only unintelligible murmurs came, and her lips shook as with convulsion. “It is over,” she said at length, and her usually sweet voice sounded harsh and unnatural. “The weakness is conquered, gracious Sovereign, condemn, scorn, hate me as thou wilt, thou must: I must endure it till my heart breaks, and death brings release; but the word thou demandest I cannot speak! Thy favor, Arthur’s love, I resign them all! ’Tis the bidding of my God, and he will strengthen me to bear it. Imprison, torture, slay, with the lingering misery of a broken heart, but I cannot deny my faith!”
Disappointed, grieved, as she was at this unexpected reply, Isabella was too much an enthusiast in religion herself not to understand the feeling which dictated it; and much as she still abhorred the faith, the martyr spirit which could thus immolate the most fervid, the most passionate emotions of woman’s nature at the shrine of her God, stirred a sympathetic chord in her own heart, and so moved her, that the stern words she had intended to speak were choked within her.
“We must summon those then to whose charge we are pledged to commit thee,” she said with difficulty; and hastily rung a silver bell beside her. “We had hoped such would not have been needed; but, as it is—”
She paused abruptly; for the hangings were hastily pushed aside, and, instead of the stern figure of Torquemada, who was to have obeyed the signal, the Infanta Isabella eagerly entered; and ran up to the Queen, with childish and caressing glee at being permitted to rejoin her. The confessor—not imagining his presence would be needed, or that he would return to his post in time—had restlessly obeyed the summons of a brother prelate, and, in some important clerical details, forgot the mandate of his Sovereign.