Lastly, the sovereign ordered the Golden Fleece, which he usually wore on a hook below his neck, to be put on the gold chain which, as the head of the order, he had a right to wear with it, and took from the jewel case several especially handsome rings and a very costly star of diamonds and rubies, which he had fastened in the knot of the bow of his ruff. The state sword and sheath, which Adrian handed to him unasked, were rejected.
He needed no steel weapons to-day; the victory he sought must be won by his person.
When the servant held the Venetian mirror before him, he was satisfied. The elderly, half-broken-down man of the day before had become a tall, stately noble in the prime of life; nay, in spite of his forty-six years, his eyes sparkled far more brightly and proudly than many a young knight’s in his train.
His features, even now, did not show beautiful symmetry, but they bore the stamp of a strong, energetic mind. The majestic dignity which he knew how to bestow upon it, made his figure, though it did not exceed middle height, appear taller; and the self-confident smile which rested on his full lips, as he was sure of a speedy triumph, well beseemed a general whose sword and brain had gained the most brilliant victories.
Adrian had seen him thus more than once after battles had been won or when he had unhorsed some strong antagonist in the tournament, but it was many a long year ago. He felt as though a miracle was wrought before his eyes, and, deeply loved, kissed his master’s sleeve.
Charles noticed it, and, as if in token of gratitude, patted him lightly on the shoulder. This was not much, but it made the faithful fellow happy. How long it was since the last time his imperial aster had gladdened him by so friendly a sign of satisfaction!
Were the days to return when, in the Netherlands, Charles had condescended to treat even humble folk with blunt familiarity?
Adrian did not doubt that he should learn speedily enough what had caused this unexpected change; but the discovery of the real reason was now far from his alert mind, because he was still confident that the Emperor’s heart had for years been closed against the charms of woman. Nevertheless, the experienced man told himself that some woman must be connected with this amazing rejuvenation. Otherwise it would surely have been one of the wonders which he knew only from legends.
And lo! Chamberlain de Praet was already announcing a lady—the Marquise de Leria.
If Master Adrian had ever permitted himself to laugh in his master’s presence, it would certainly have happened this time, for the curtseying old woman in velvet, silk, and plumes, whose visit his Majesty did not refuse, was probably the last person for whose sake Charles endured the satin shoe on his sensitive foot.
How oddly her round, catlike head, with its prominent cheek bones, and the white wig combed high on the top, contrasted with the rouged, sunken cheeks and eyebrows dyed coal black!