Here he hesitated, and, after looking the physician in the face, went on: “You again think that harsh, Mathys—I see it in your expression—but, as my friend, you yourself can scarcely desire the world to see the Emperor Charles performing the same task with a Barbara Blomberg. She is free to choose. Either I will rear the child, whether it is a boy or a girl, as my own, as I did my daughter, Duchess Margaret of Parma, or she will refuse to give me the child from its birth and I must deny it recognition. I have already shared far too much with that tempting creature; I can not permit even this new dispensation to restore my severed relationship with the singer. If Barbara’s maternal love is unselfish, the choice can not be difficult for her. That the charge of providing for this new life will fall upon me is a matter of course. Tell her this, Mathys, and if in future—But no. We will confide this matter to Quijada.”
As the door closed behind the physician, Charles stood motionless. Deep earnestness furrowed his brow, but suddenly an expression of triumphant joy flashed over his face, and then yielded to a look of grateful satisfaction. Soon, however, his lofty brow clouded again, and his lower lip protruded. Some idea which excited his indignation must have entered his mind. He had just been thinking with the warmest joy of the gift of Fate of which the physician had told him, but now the reasons which forbade his offering it a sincere welcome crowded upon the thinker.
If Heaven bestowed a son upon him, would not only the Church, but also the law, which he knew so well, refuse to recognise his rights? A child whose mother had offended him, whose grandfather was a ridiculous, impoverished old soldier, whose cousins——
Yet for what did he possess the highest power on earth if he would not use it to place his own child, in spite of every obstacle, at the height of earthly grandeur?
What need he care for the opinion of the world? And yet, yet——
Then there was a great bustle below. The loud tramping of horses’ hoofs was heard. A troop of Lombardy cavalry in full armour appeared on the Haidplatz—fresh re-enforcements for the war just commencing. The erect figure of the Duke of Alba, a man of middle height, followed by several colonels, trotted toward it. The standard-bearer of the Lombards lowered the banner with the picture of the Madonna before the duke, and the Emperor involuntarily glanced back into the room at the lovely Madonna and Child by the master hand of Giovanni Bellini which his royal sister had hung above his writing table.
How grave and lovely, yet how full of majesty, the Christ-child looked, how touching a grace surrounded the band of angels playing on violins above the purest of mothers!
Then the necessity of appealing to her in prayer seized upon him, and with fervent warmth he besought her to surround with her gracious protection the young life which owed its existence to him.