“And I have never given your Highness occasion to doubt my word.” Then, changing his tone, he continued kindly: “No means—I repeat it—shall remain untried to preserve peace. I am in earnest, child, though there are now many reasons for breaking the promise. I put them together on the long list yonder, and the Spaniards at the court add new ones every hour. If you care to know them——”
Here he hesitated, because the gout in his foot gave him a sharper twinge; but the Queen availed herself of the pause to exclaim: “I think I am aware of them. It is especially hard just now for the statesman and soldier to keep the sword in the sheath, because Rome offers more than ever, because at the present time no serious opposition is to be feared from the most important states, and because the princes of the empire have neglected nothing which could rouse the resentment of my imperial brother. I know all this, and yet it is as firmly established as Alpine mountains——”
Here a low laugh escaped the Emperor’s lips.
“The political course which could be thus firmly established is to be found, you experienced regent, only in one place—the strong imagination of a high hearted woman, who desires to accomplish what she deems right. I, too, you may believe me, am opposed to this war, and, as matters stand now, the German renegades, rather than we, may expect a glorious result. But, nevertheless, it may happen that I shall be compelled to ask you to give me back my promise.”
“I should like to see the person who could compel my august brother to undertake anything against his imperial will,” the Queen passionately interrupted.
“We will hope that this superior being may not appear only too soon,” replied the Emperor, smiling bitterly. “The invincible oppressor bears the name of unexpected circumstances; I encountered one of his harbingers to-day. There lie the documents. Do you know to what those miserable papers force me, the Emperor?—ay, force, I repeat it. To nothing less, Mary, than consciously to deal a blow in the face of justice, whose defender I ought and desire to be. I am not exaggerating, for I am withdrawing a fratricide from the courts, nay, am paving the way for him to evade punishment.”
“You mean Alfonso Diaz, who had his brother murdered by a hired assassin because he abandoned the holy Church and accepted the Lutheran religion,” said the Queen sorrowfully. “Malvenda was just telling me——”
“He was the instigator of the crime,” interrupted the Emperor. “Now he rejoices in it as a deed well pleasing to God, and many thousands, I know, agree with him. And I? Had Juan Diaz been a German Johannes or Hans, the Emperor Charles would have made Alfonso expiate his crime upon the block this very day. But the brothers were Spaniards, and that alters the case.”
With this sentence, which fell from his lips in firm, resolute tones, his bearing regained its old decision, and his eyes met his sister’s with a flashing glance as he continued: