For rather more than a year, Don Ferdinand Morales had enjoyed the society of his young wife uninterruptedly, save by occasional visits, of brief duration, to Valladolid and Leon, where Isabella alternately held her court. He was now, however, summoned to attend the sovereigns, on a visit to Ferdinand’s paternal dominions, an office which would cause his absence for a much longer interval. He obeyed with extreme reluctance—nor did Marie feel the separation less. There was, in some measure, a feeling of security in his presence, which, whenever he was absent, gave place to fearful tremblings as to what might transpire to shake her faith in her, ere he returned.
Resolved that not the very faintest breath of scandal should touch his wife, Marie, during the absence of Morales, always kept herself secluded. This time her retirement was stricter than ever; and great, then, was her indignation and astonishment, when about a fortnight before her husband’s expected return, and in direct contradiction to her commands, Don Luis Garcia was admitted to her presence; and nothing but actual flight, for which she was far too proud and self-possessed, could have averted the private interview which followed. The actual words which passed we know not, but, after a very brief interval of careless converse on the part of Garcia—something he said earnestly, and in the tones of pitying sympathy, which caused the cheek and lips of Marie to blanch to marble, and her whole frame to shiver, and then grow rigid, as if turned to stone. Could it be that the fatal secret, which she believed was known only to herself and Arthur, that she had loved another ere she wedded Ferdinand, had been penetrated by the man towards whom she had ever felt the most intense abhorrence? and that he dared refer to it as a source of sympathy—as a proof that he could feel for her more than her unsuspecting husband? Why was speech so frozen up within her, that she could not, for the moment, answer, and give him back the lie? But that silence of deadly terror lasted not long: he had continued to speak; at first she was unconscious of his change of tone, words, and even action; but when his actual meaning flashed upon her, voice, strength, energy returned in such a burst of womanly indignation, womanly majesty, that Garcia himself, skilled in every art of evil as he was, quailed beneath it, and felt that he was powerless, save by violence and revenge.
While that terrible interview lasted, the wife of Morales had not failed; but when once more alone, the most deadly terror took possession of her. She had, indeed, so triumphed as to banish Garcia, defeated, from her presence; but fearful threats of vengeance were in that interview divulged—allusions to some secret power, over which he was the head, armed with authority even greater than that of the sovereign’s—mysteriously spoken, but still almost strangely intelligible, that in her betrayal or her silence lay the safety or the danger of her