“Send to the castle, and inquire if aught has detained him,” she exclaimed; hastily rising as she spoke, and commencing a rapid toilet. She was scarcely attired before Alberic, with a pale cheek and voice of alarm, brought information that a messenger and litter from the palace were in the court, bringing the Queen’s mandate for the instant attendance of Donna Marie.
“Oh! lady, dearest lady, let me go with thee,” continued the boy, suddenly clasping her robe and bursting into tears. “My master—my good, noble master—something horrible has occurred, and they will not tell me what. Every face I see is full of horror—every voice seems suppressed—every—”
“Hush!” angrily interposed Manuella, as she beheld Marie’s very lips lose their glowing tint, and her eyes gaze on vacancy. “For God’s sake, still thine impudent tongue; thou’lt kill her with thy rashness.”
“Kill! who is killed?” gasped Marie. “What did he say? Where is my husband?”
“Detained at the palace, dearest lady,” readily answered Manuella. “This foolish boy is terrified at shadows. My lord is detained, and her Grace has sent a litter requiring thine attendance. We must haste, for she wills no delay. Carlotta, my lady’s mantilla; quick, girl! Alberic, go if thou wilt: my Lord may be glad of thee! Ay, go,” she continued some little time afterwards, as her rapid movements speedily placed her passive, almost senseless mistress, in the litter; and she caught hold of the page’s hand with a sudden change of tone, “go; and return speedily, in mercy, Alberic. Some horror is impending; better know it than this terrible suspense.”
How long an interval elapsed ere she stood in Isabella’s presence, Marie knew not. The most incongruous thoughts floated, one after another, through her bewildered brain—most vivid amongst them all, hers and her husband’s fatal secret: had it transpired? Was he sentenced, and she thus summoned to share his fate? And then, when partially relieved by the thought, that such a discovery had never taken place in Spanish annals—why should she dread an impossibility?—flashed back, clear, ringing, as if that moment spoken, Stanley’s fatal threat; and the cold shuddering of every limb betrayed the aggravated agony of the thought. With her husband she could speak of Arthur calmly; to herself she would not even think his name: not merely lest he should unwittingly deceive again, but that the recollection of his suffering—and caused by her—ever created anew, thoughts and feelings which she had vowed unto herself to bury, and for ever.
Gloom was on every face she encountered in the castle. The very soldiers, as they saluted her as the wife of their general, appeared to gaze upon her with rude, yet earnest commiseration; but neither word nor rumor reached her ear. Several times she essayed to ask of her husband, but the words died in a soundless quiver on her lip. Yet if it were what she dreaded, that Stanley had fulfilled his threat, and they had fought, and one had fallen—why was she thus summoned? And had not Morales resolved to avoid him; for her sake not to avenge Arthur’s insulting words? And again the thought of their fatal secret obtained ascendency. Five minutes more, and she stood alone in the presence of her Sovereign.