* * * * *
It was told; and with such deep sympathy, so gently, so cautiously, that all of rude and stunning shock was averted; but, alas! who could breathe of consolation at such a moment? Isabella did not attempt it; but permitted the burst of agony full vent. She had so completely merged all of dignity, all of the Sovereign into the woman and the friend, that Marie neither felt nor exercised restraint; and words mingled with her broken sobs and wild lament, utterly incomprehensible to the noble heart that heard. The awful nature of Don Ferdinand’s death, Isabella had still in some measure concealed; but it seemed as if Marie had strangely connected it with violence and blood, and, in fearful and disjointed words, accused herself as its miserable cause.
“Why did not death come to me?” she reiterated; “why take him, my husband—my noble husband? Oh, Ferdinand, Ferdinand! to go now, when I have so learnt to love thee! now, when I looked to years of faithful devotion to prove how wholly the past was banished—how wholly I was thine alone! to atone for hours of suffering by years of love! Oh, how couldst thou leave me friendless—desolate?”
“Not friendless, not desolate, whilst Isabella lives,” replied the Queen, painfully affected, and drawing Marie closer to her, till her throbbing brow rested on her bosom. “Weep, my poor girl, tears must flow for a loss like this; and long, long weeks must pass ere we may hope for resignation; but harrow not thyself by thoughts of more fearful ill than the reality, my child. Do not look on what might be, but what has been; on the comfort, the treasure, thou wert to the beloved one we have lost. How devotedly he loved thee, and thou—”
“And I so treasured, so loved. Oh, gracious Sovereign!” And Marie sunk down at her feet, clasping her robe in supplication. “Say but I may see him in life once more; that life still lingers, if it be but to tell me once more he forgives me. Oh, let me but hear his voice; but once, only once, and I will be calm—quite calm; I will try to bear this bitter agony. Only let me see him, hear him speak again. Thou knowest not, thou canst not know, how my heart yearns for this.”
“See him thou shalt, my poor girl, if it will give thee aught of comfort; but hear him, alas! alas! my child, would that it might be! Would for Spain and her Sovereign’s sake, then how much more for thine, that voice could be recalled; and life, if but for the briefest space, return! Alas! the blow was but too well aimed.”
“The blow! what blow? How did he die? Who slew him?” gasped Marie; her look of wild and tearless agony terrifying Isabella, whose last words had escaped unintentionally. “Speak, speak, in mercy; let me know the truth?”
“Hast thou not thyself alluded to violence, and wrath, and hatred, Marie? Answer me, my child; didst thou know any one, regarding the generous Morales with such feelings? Could there be one to regard him as his foe?”