It was a spring afternoon in the sixth year of the reign of King Henry VII. of England. There had been a great show in London, for that day his Grace opened the newly convened Parliament, and announced to his faithful people—who received the news with much cheering, since war is ever popular at first—his intention of invading France, and of leading the English armies in person. In Parliament itself, it is true, the general enthusiasm was somewhat dashed when allusion was made to the finding of the needful funds; but the crowds without, formed for the most part of persons who would not be called upon to pay the money, did not suffer that side of the question to trouble them. So when their gracious liege appeared, surrounded by his glittering escort of nobles and men-at-arms, they threw their caps into the air, and shouted themselves hoarse.
The king himself, although he was still young in years, already a weary- looking man with a fine, pinched face, smiled a little sarcastically at their clamour; but, remembering how glad he should be to hear it who still sat upon a somewhat doubtful throne, said a few soft words, and sending for two or three of the leaders of the people, gave them his royal hand, and suffered certain children to touch his robe that they might be cured of the Evil. Then, having paused a while to receive petitions from poor folk, which he handed to one of his officers to be read, amidst renewed shouting he passed on to the great feast that was made ready in his palace of Westminster.
Among those who rode near to him was the ambassador, de Ayala, accredited to the English Court by the Spanish sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella, and his following of splendidly attired lords and secretaries. That Spain was much in favour there was evident from his place in the procession. How could it be otherwise, indeed, seeing that already, four years or more before, at the age of twelve months, Prince Arthur, the eldest son of the king, had been formally affianced to the Infanta Catherine, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, aged one year and nine months? For in those days it was thought well that the affections of princes and princesses should be directed early into such paths as their royal parents and governors considered likely to prove most profitable to themselves.
At the ambassador's left hand, mounted on a fine black horse, and dressed richly, but simply, in black velvet, with a cap of the same material in which was fastened a single pearl, rode a tall cavalier. He was about five-and-thirty years of age, and very handsome, having piercing black eyes and a stern, clean-cut face.
In every man, it is said, there can be found a resemblance, often far off and fanciful enough, to some beast or bird or other creature, and certainly in this case it was not hard to discover. The man resembled an eagle, which, whether by chance or design, was the crest he bore upon his servants' livery, and the trappings of his horse. The unflinching eyes, the hooked nose, the air of pride and mastery, the thin, long hand, the quick grace of movement, all suggested that king of birds, suggested also, as his motto said, that what he sought he would find, and what he found he would keep. Just now he was watching the interview between the English king and the leaders of the crowd whom his Grace had been pleased to summon, with an air of mingled amusement and contempt.
"You find the scene strange, Marquis," said the ambassador, glancing at him shrewdly.
"Señor, here in England, if it pleases your Excellency," he answered gravely, "Señor d'Aguilar. The marquis you mentioned lives in Spain—an accredited envoy to the Moors of Granada; the Señor d'Aguilar, a humble servant of Holy Church," and he crossed himself, "travels abroad—upon the Church's business, and that of their Majesties'."
"And his own too, sometimes, I believe," answered the ambassador drily. "But to be frank, what I do not understand about you, Señor d'Aguilar, as I know that you have abandoned political ambitions, is why you do not enter my profession, and put on the black robe once and for all. What did I say—black? With your opportunities and connections it might be red by now, with a hat to match."
The Señor d'Aguilar smiled a little as he replied.
"You said, I think, that sometimes I travel on my own business. Well, there is your answer. You are right, I have abandoned worldly ambitions—most of them. They are troublesome, and for some people, if they be born too high and yet not altogether rightly, very dangerous. The acorn of ambition often grows into an oak from which men hang."
"Or into a log upon which men's heads can be cut off. Señor, I congratulate you. You have the wisdom that grasps the substance and lets the shadows flit. It is really very rare."