For a brief interval there was silence. The kind heart of the Queen throbbed painfully, so completely had her sympathy identified her with the beautiful being, who had so irresistibly claimed her cherishing love. But ere she had had time to satisfy herself as to the issue of the struggle so silently, yet so fearfully at work in her companion, Marie had arisen, and with dignity and fearlessness, strangely at variance with the wild agony of her words and manner before, stood erect before her Sovereign; and when she spoke, her voice was calm and firm.
“Queen of Spain!” she said. “My kind, gracious Sovereign! Would that words could speak one-half the love, the devotion, all thy goodness has inspired; but they seem frozen, all frozen now, and it may be that I may never even prove them—that it will be my desolate fate, to seem less and less worthy of an affection I value more than life. Royal madam! I will appear at to-morrow’s trial! Your Grace is startled; deeming it a resolve as strange as contradictory. Ask not the wherefore, gracious Sovereign: it is fixed unalterably. I will obey his Grace’s summons. Its unexpected suddenness startled me at first; but it is over. Oh, madam,” she continued—tone, look, and manner becoming again those of the agitated suppliant, and she sunk once more at Isabella’s feet: “In my wild agony I have forgotten the respect and deference due from a subject to her Sovereign; I have poured forth my misery, seemingly as regardless of kindness, as insensible to the wide distance between us. Oh, forgive me, my gracious Sovereign; and in token of thy pardon, grant me but one boon!”
“Nought have I to forgive, my suffering child,” replied the Queen, powerfully affected, and passing her arm caressingly round her kneeling favorite; “what is rank—sovereignty itself—in hours of sorrow? If I were so tenacious of dignity as thou fearest, I should have shrunk from that awful presence—affliction from a Father’s hand—in which his children are all equals, Marie. And as for thy boon: be it what it may, I grant it.”
“Thou sayest so now, my liege; but when the hour to grant it comes, every feeling will revolt against it; even thine, my Sovereign, kind, generous, as thou art. Oh, Madam, thou wilt hear a strange tale to-morrow—one so fraught with mystery and marvel, thou wilt refuse to believe; but when the trial of to-morrow is past, then think on what I say now: what thou nearest will be TRUE—true as there is a heaven above us; I swear it! Do not look upon me thus, my Sovereign; I am not mad—oh, would that I were! Dark, meaningless as my words seem now, to-morrow they will be distinct and clear enough. And then—then, if thou hast ever loved me, oh, grant the boon I implore thee now: whatever thou mayest hear, do not condemn me—do not cast me wholly from thee. More than ever shall I need thy protecting care. Oh, my Sovereign—thou who hast taught me so to love thee, in pity love me still!”