The hope of the sovereignty of the world lay shattered at his feet. The wish to obtain the German imperial crown for his heir and successor, Philip, had proved unattainable. It was destined for his brother, Ferdinand of Austria, and afterward for the latter’s son, Maximilian. To lead the defeated German Protestants back to the bosom of the Holy Church appeared more and more untenable. Here in the Netherlands the heretics, in consequence of the Draconian severity of the regulations which he himself had issued, had been hung and burned by hundreds, and hitherto he had gained nothing but the hatred of the nation which he preferred to all others. His bodily health was destroyed, his mind had lost its buoyancy, and he was now fifty years old. What lay before him was a brief pilgrimage—perchance numbering only a few years—here on earth, and the limitless eternity which would never end. How small and trivial was the former in comparison with the latter, which had no termination! And would he desire to rear for the space of time that separates the grave from the cradle the child for whom he desired the best blessings, instead of securing for him salvation for the never-ceasing period of eternal life?
No! This beauty, this strength, should be consecrated to no vain secular struggle, but to Heaven. The boy when he matured to a correct judgment would thank him for this decision, which was really no easy one for his worldly vanity.
Then he reverted to the wish with which he had approached the child’s couch. The son, from gratitude, should take upon himself for his father and, if he desired, also for his refractory mother, what both had neglected—the care for their eternal welfare—in prayer and penance.
By consecrating him to Heaven and rearing him for a peaceful existence in God, far from the vain pleasures of the world and the court he had done his best for his son and, as if he feared that the sight of his beautiful, strong boy might shake his resolution, he turned away from him and called Quijada.
While Charles in a fervent, silent prayer commended John to the favour of Heaven, the most faithful of his attendants was gazing at the sovereign’s son. Hitherto Heaven had denied him the joy of possessing a child. How he would have clasped this lovely creature to his heart if it had been his! What a pleasure it would have been to transmit everything that was excellent and clever in himself to this child! To devote it to a monastic life was acting against the purpose of the Providence that had dowered it with such strength and beauty.
The Emperor could not, ought not to persist in this intention.
While he was supporting his royal master through the dark park he ventured to repeat what Adrian and his wife had told him of the strength and fearlessness of the little John, and then to remark what rare greatness this boy promised to attain as the son of such a father.