“The Marquise Leria!” cried the major-domo, shrugging his shoulders angrily, as if against an inevitable misfortune.
“My, senior lady in waiting,” said the regent in assent to this conjecture. “Make haste to bestow a stately candle, because it is she, and no one else. You might spare yourself that smile; I know her better than you do. If she had as many teeth as she possesses vices, she might be happy; yet one admirable quality mingles with the evil traits in her character.”
“And that?” asked Quijada, as if he deemed a satisfactory answer impossible.
“Secrecy,” replied the Queen firmly. “She keeps what she has overheard to herself as closely as a miser guards his gold.”
“In order to turn it to account when the favourable moment comes,” remarked the major-domo. “Your Majesty will also permit me to observe that if the marquise has already betrayed what was intended to remain secret——”
“Her boasted reticence can not be very great, you think,” interrupted the Queen. “But justice for all, my handsome lord. At present she is in any service, and no other. Whose bread I eat, his song I sing—which in this case means: His secret I keep, and to him I carry whatever I discover. Besides, this time even the person betrayed owes her a debt of gratitude, for you know how difficult it is for him to use his limbs, and she is most obligingly smoothing the path for him. I tell you, Luis, with all due respect for his Majesty as a general and a statesman, in a skirmish of intrigue this woman will outwit you all. The schemes her aged brain invents have neither fault nor flaw. The wheels work upon one another as they do in the Emperor’s best Nuremberg clock. I want to watch their turning before I go, for, be it known to you, early tomorrow morning—the saints be praised!—I start for Brussels.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Quijada with an expression of sincere regret; but the Queen gravely said: “There can be no further delay, Luis. It may sound improbable that there is something which draws me back to the Netherlands more strongly than the desire for freedom of movement, a pleasant ride through the forest, and the excitement of the chase, which lends spice to the insipidity of my life, yet you may believe it.”
“Business matters?” asked the nobleman anxiously.
The Queen nodded assent, and then eagerly continued: “And important ones which his Majesty himself solemnly enjoined upon me to hasten my departure. His zeal resembled a rude gesture toward the door, as much as one rotten egg looks like another, for, under certain circumstances, the affectionate brother prefers to have his beloved sister as far away as possible. Had I been of a more obstinate nature, I would stay; but there really are matters to be settled in the Netherlands which can not be deferred, and the manner of his farewell showed plainly enough that he no longer needed me. Merciful Heaven! When we parted yesterday, I dreaded his Majesty’s