Volume 3.
Chapter XVIII.
 

Time is precious! Magister Kochel had also doubtless said this to himself, as soon as Ulrich left him the day before. He had been hired by a secret power, with which however he was well acquainted, to watch the Netherland artist and collect evidence for a charge--a gravamen--against him.

The spying and informing, which he had zealously pursued for years in the service of the Holy Inquisition, he called "serving the Church," and hoped, sooner or later, to be rewarded with a benefice; but even if this escaped him, informing brought him as large an income as he required, and had become the greatest pleasure, indeed, a necessity of life to him.

He had commenced his career in Cologne as a Dominican friar, and remained in communication with some of his old brethren of the Order.

The monks, Sutor and Stubenrauch, whom Moor had hospitably received in his wagon at the last Advent season but one, sometimes answered Kochel's letters of enquiry.

The latter had long known that the unusual favor the king showed the artist was an abomination, not only to the heads of the Holy Inquisition, but also to the ambassadors and court dignitaries, yet Moor's quiet, stainless life afforded no handle for attack. Soon, however, unexpected aid came to him from a distance.

A letter arrived, dictated by Sutor, and written by Stubenrauch in the fluent bad Latin used by him and those of his ilk. Among other things it contained an account of a journey, in which much was said about Moor, whom the noble pair accused of having a heretical and evil mind. Instead of taking them to the goal of the journey, as he had promised, he had deserted them in a miserable tavern by the way-side, among rough, godless lansquenets, as the mother of Moses abandoned her babe. And such a man as this, they had heard with amazement at Cologne, was permitted to boast of the favor of His Most Catholic Majesty, King Philip. Kochel must take heed, that this leprous soul did not infect the whole flock, like a mangy sheep, or even turn the shepherd from the true pasture.

This letter had induced Kochel to lure Ulrich into the snare. The monstrous thing learned from the lad that day, capped the climax of all he had heard, and might serve as a foundation for the charge, that the heretical Netherlander--and people were disposed to regard all Netherlanders as heretics--had deluded the king's mind with magic arts, enslaved his soul and bound him with fetters forged by the Prince of Evil.

His pen was swift, and that very evening he went to the palace of the Inquisition, with the documents and indictment, but was detained there a long time the following day, to have his verbal deposition recorded. When he left the gloomy building, he was animated with the joyous conviction that he had not toiled in vain, and that the Netherlander was a lost man.

Preparations for departure were secretly made in the painter's rooms in the Alcazar during the afternoon. Moor was full of anxiety, for one of the royal lackeys, who was greatly devoted to him, had told him that a disguised emissary of the Dominicans--he knew him well--had come to the door of the studio, and talked there with one of the French servants. This meant as imminent peril as fire under the roof, water rising in the hold of a ship, or the plague in the house.

Sophonisba had told him that he would hear from her that day, but the sun was already low in the heavens, and neither she herself nor any message had arrived.

He tried to paint, and finding the attempt useless, gazed into the garden and at the distant chain of the Guadarrama mountains; but to-day he remained unmoved by the delicate violet-blue mist that floated around the bare, naked peaks of the chain.

It was wrath and impatience, mingled with bitter disappointment, that roused the tumult in his soul, not merely the dread of torture and death.

There had been hours when his heart had throbbed with gratitude to Philip, and he had believed in his friendship. And now? The king cared for nothing about him, except his brush.

He was still standing at the window, lost in gloomy thoughts, when Sophonisba was finally announced.

She did not come alone, but leaning on the arm of Don Fabrizio di Moncada. During the last hours of the ball the night before she had voluntarily given the Sicilian her hand, and rewarded his faithful wooing by accepting his suit.

Moor was rejoiced--yes, really glad at heart, and expressed his pleasure; nevertheless he felt a sharp pang, and when the baron, in his simple, aristocratic manner, thanked him for the faithful friendship he had always shown Sophonisba and her sisters, and then related how graciously the queen had joined their hands, he only listened with partial attention, for many doubts and suspicions beset him.

Had Sophonisba's heart uttered the "yes," or had she made a heavy sacrifice for him and his safety? Perhaps she would find true happiness by the side of this worthy noble, but why had she given herself to him now, just now? Then the thought darted through his mind, that the widowed Marquesa Romero, the all-powerful friend of the Grand Inquisitor was Don Fabrizio's sister.

Sophonisba had left the conversation to her betrothed husband; but when the doors of the brightly-lighted reception-room were opened, and the candles in the studio lighted, the girl could no longer endure the restraint she had hitherto imposed upon herself, and whispered hurriedly, in broken accents:

"Dismiss the servants, lock the studio, and follow us."

Moor did as he was requested, and, with the baron, obeyed her request to search the anterooms, to see that no unbidden visitor remained. She herself raised the curtains and looked up the chimney.

Moor had rarely seen her so pale. Unable to control the muscles of her face, shoulders and hands, she went into the middle of the room, beckoned the men to come close to her, raised her fan to her face, and whispered:

"Don Fabrizio and I are now one. God hears me! You, Master, are in great peril and surrounded by spies. Some one witnessed yesterday's incident, and it is now the talk of the town. Don Fabrizio has made inquiries. There is an accusation against you, and the Inquisition will act upon it. The informers call you a heretic, a sorcerer, who has bewitched the king. They will seize you to-morrow, or the day after. The king is in a terrible mood. The Nuncio openly asked him whether it was true, that he had been offered an atrocious insult in your studio. Is everything ready? Can you fly?"

Moor bent his head in assent.

"Well then," said the baron, interrupting Sophonisba; "I beg you to listen to me. I have obtained leave of absence, to go to Sicily to ask my father's blessing. It will be no easy matter for me to leave my happiness, at the moment my most ardent wish is fulfilled--but Sophonisba commands and I obey. I obey gladly too, for if I succeed in saving you, a new and beautiful star will adorn the heaven of my memory."

"Quick, quick!" pleaded Sophonisba, clenching the back of a chair firmly with her hand. "You will yield, Master; I beseech you, I command you!"

Moor bowed, and Don Fabrizio continued: "We will start at four o'clock in the morning. Instead of exchanging vows of love, we held a council of war. Everything is arranged. In an hour my servants will come and ask for the portrait of my betrothed bride; instead of the picture, you will put your baggage in the chest. Before midnight you will come to my apartments. I have passports for myself, six servants, the equerry, and a chaplain. Father Clement will remain safely concealed at my sister's, and you will accompany me in priestly costume. May we rely upon your consent?"

"With all the gratitude of a thankful heart, but. . . ."

"But?"

"There is my old servant--and my pupil Ulrich Navarrete."

"The old man is taciturn, Don Fabrizio!" said Sophonisba. "If he is forbidden to speak at all. . . . He is necessary to the Master."

"Then he can accompany you," said the baron. "As for your pupil, he must help us secure your flight, and lead the pursuers on a false trail. The king has honored you with a travelling-carriage.--At half-past eleven order horses to be put to it and leave the Alcazar. When you arrive before our palace, stop it, alight, and remain with me. Ulrich, whom everybody knows--who has not noticed the handsome, fair-haired lad in his gay clothes--will stay with the carriage and accompany it along the road towards Burgos, as far as it goes. A better decoy than he cannot be imagined, and besides he is nimble and an excellent horseman. Give him your own steed, the white Andalusian. If the blood-hounds should overtake him. . . ."

Here Moor interrupted the baron, saying gravely and firmly: "My grey head will be too dearly purchased at the cost of this young life. Change this part of your plan, I entreat you."

"Impossible!" exclaimed the Sicilian. "We have few hours at our command, and if they don't follow him, they will pursue us, and you will be lost."

"Yet. . . ." Moor began; but Sophonisba, scarcely able to command her voice, interrupted: "He owes everything to--you. I know him. Where is he?"

"Let us maintain our self-control!" cried the Netherlander. "I do not rely upon the king's mercy, but perhaps in the decisive hour, he will remember what we have been to each other; if Ulrich, on the contrary, robs the irritated lion of his prey and is seized. . . ."

"My sister shall watch over him," said the baron but Sophonisba tore open the door, rushed into the studio, and called as loudly as she could: "Ulrich, Ulrich! Ulrich!"

The men followed her, but scarcely had they crossed the threshold, when they heard her rap violently at the door of the school-room, and Ulrich asking: "What is it?"

"Open the door!"

Soon after, with pallid face and throbbing heart, he was standing before the others, asking: "What am I to do?"

"Save your master!" cried Sophonisba. "Are you a contemptible Wight, or does a true artist's heart beat in your breast? Would you fear to go, perhaps to your death, for this imperilled man?"

"No, no!" cried the youth as joyously as if a hundred-pound weight had been lifted from his breast. "If it costs my life, so much the better! Here I am! Post me where you please, do with me as you will! He has given me everything, and I--I have betrayed him. I must confess, even if you kill me! I gossiped, babbled--like a fool, a child--about what I accidentally saw here yesterday. It is my fault, mine, if they pursue him. Forgive me, master, forgive me! Do with me what you will. Beat me, slay me, and I will bless you."

As he uttered the last words, the young artist, raising his clasped hands imploringly, fell on his knees before his beloved teacher. Moor bent towards him, saying with grave kindness:

"Rise, poor lad. I am not angry with you."

When Ulrich again stood before him, he kissed his forehead and continued:

"I have not been mistaken in you. Do you, Don Fabrizio, recommend Navarrete to the Marquesa's protection, and tell him what we desire. It would scarcely redound to his happiness, if the deed, for which my imprudence and his thoughtlessness are to blame, should be revenged on me. It comforts us to atone for a wrong. Whether you save me, Ulrich, or I perish--no matter; you are and always will be, my dear, faithful friend."

Ulrich threw himself sobbing on the artist's breast, and when he learned what was required of him, fairly glowed with delight and eagerness for action; he thought no greater joy could befall him than to die for the Master.

As the bell of the palace-chapel was ringing for evening service, Sophonisba was obliged to leave her friend; for it was her duty to attend the nocturnus with the queen.

Don Fabrizio turned away, while she bade Moor farewell.

"If you desire my happiness, make him happy," the artist whispered; but she could find no words to reply, and only nodded silently.

He drew her gently towards him, kissed her brow, and said: "There is a hard and yet a consoling word Love is divine; but still more divine is sacrifice. To-day I am both your friend and father. Remember me to your sisters. God bless you, child!"

"And you, you!" sobbed the girl.

Never had any human being prayed so fervently for another's welfare in the magnificent chapel of the Alcazar, as did Sophonisba Anguisciola on this evening. Don Fabrizio's betrothed bride also pleaded for peace and calmness in her own heart, for power to forget and to do her duty.