Augustina becomes a lady in waiting to the Infanta at a very early age. Really, she is just a child, especially if compared to doña Isabel who is almost of marriageable age by now. Regardless, they are all young enough to require an adult chaperone. The Infanta Margarita is like a little doll to Augustina – small, delicate and blonde, dressed up in petticoats that nearly swallow her up. She is but five when Augustina comes into her service.
That same year, don Diego Velazquez paints a picture featuring Margarita along with Augustina and Isabel. Augustina is bored the entire time and cannot wait for the process to be done with, but Margarita seems to quite enjoy having her picture painted. She stands there with her arms at her sides and a completely porcelain expression on her face as the artist works. When she is later shown the work, the child giggles and says, “Pretty.” She then turns to Augustina and gestures at the canvas with an expectant expression on her face.
“You look wonderful, my lady,” Augustina murmurs, squashing her feelings of jealousy at Margarita’s perfect blonde hair. Her own is standing on end, even in the picture. But Margarita is perfection and Augustina cannot even claim an artistic bias on the part of the painter. Margarita is angelic even without it.
“I must tell you a secret, Augustina!” Margarita shouts, bursting into the room and clasping her hands before her. Her entire face radiates enthusiasm.
The dark haired girl grabs her mistress’ hand and pulls her behind the curtains of the bed. “If it’s a secret, you should be hush about it,” she advises.
Margarita nods, clasping a hand over her mouth. At thirteen, she is still very girlish. “I saw one of the stable hands kissing Maria the kitchen maid,” Margarita confides in her closest friend in a tone which is just above a whisper.
Augustina smiles whimsically. “Perhaps they are in love then.”
“In love! Do you think?” Margarita’s tone rises again and she plops down on the bed, her soft, blonde hair fanning out over her shoulders. “Is that what people do when they are in love, Augustina? They kiss on the mouth?”
“Well, yes,” the older girl says, smiling softly in amusement.
“I suppose I shall kiss my husband one day in such a way,” Margarita has been betrothed since a young age to the Holy Roman Emperor. This fact has never daunted her, however, and she remains a bright ray of sunlight with no worries for the future. Augustina thinks that this is because the young princess is so accustomed to the idea that it seems natural to her. After all, why no? Marriages are arranged all the time, especially royal ones.
“I suppose you will,” Augustina agrees. She herself is of marriageable age now and her parents have written, saying that they are deep in search for a proper husband for her, although Augustina has written back, asking them to allow her to remain unmarried and at court for the next few years. She does not wish to leave Margarita’s side.
“May I kiss you?” Margarita suddenly asks.
“Me? But I am not a lad!”
Margarita stands and folds her arms. “So? I love you and therefore I would like to kiss you,” the young princess says seriously but with an air that clearly indicates that she feels this to be a very natural request. “Beside, I would like to try how it feels.”
A little numbly, Augustina makes an accepting gesture and allows Margarita to tiptoe, wrap her thin arms around Augustina’s lips and press their lips together. Margarita’s full lips are warm and soft against Augustina’s and something cries out pitifully in the older girl’s chest, but she soundly ignores it. “And how does it feel?” Augustina asks when Margarita rocks back on her heals.
“I don’t know,” Margarita says with a slightly confused pout. “It is nice. Did you like it?”
“It is nice,” Augustina echoes, for lack of anything else to say that would be neither a lie nor inappropriate.
Margarita sets off for Austria in the summer of 1666. She still wears mourning, even a year after her father’s funeral, and Augustina, selfishly, cannot wait until the day she will have the pleasure of seeing Margarita in colors again. The night her father died, Margarita cried in Augustina’s arms, her round, pretty face marred with tear tracks and nestled against Augustina’s bosom. Augustina stroked her hair and sat quietly through the long night, all her thoughts in utter disarray.
Now she leaves to Austria with Margarita, knowing that even at fifteen the young princess can be wed, and she has a bad feeling that Margarita will rush her own wedding if for no other reason than to seek stability.
When they do get to Austria in the haze of summer-wrought hear, Augustina knows that all is as it should be and all is lost. Margarita and Leopold take to each other immediately. The young princess chooses to spend her days with her betrothed and they rush the wedding date most willingly. They share interest in theater and music, they share kin, they share temperament. Most importantly, however, they share a future.
In December, just days before Margarita’s wedding, Augustina receives a letter from her father, telling her that he has found her a suitor. After reading the letter twice over, Augustina paces to the window and pushes back the curtains. She looks down into the garden where Margarita and Leopold walk hand in hand. She watches as Margarita tosses her head, laughing, and her yellow ringlets fly around like sun bunnies. She is finally wearing colors again, Augustina notices.
“You’re leaving? Now?” Margarita stares at her as though Augustina has grown a pair of horns. “For god’s sake, Augustina, why must you go before my wedding?”
Augustina sighs and sits on Margarita’s bed. “My father has found me a husband. It is only right I go at once. All will be as it is supposed to be.”
Margarita frowns and leans against the secretaire. “But my wedding,” she says with a petulant pout which her spoiled childhood has taught her how to utilize well in order to meet her ends.
“I must go,” Augustina says, standing. Her voice is firm even if she is shaking.
Margarita goes limp and looks at her in utter bewilderment. “At least tell me why,” she implores, her tone softening.
Augustina looks at her, traces the princess’ delicate frame with her eyes. She takes several steps forward and kisses Margarita on the mouth, hard and demanding. The younger girl’s lips part just slightly and Augustina can feel Margarita’s hot breath against her lips before they separate. “It will be better. For both of us,” Augustina says and runs from the room.
A year later, Margarita’s firstborn, Fredinant, arrives. She writes Augustina a letter full of ecstatic joy. Augustina burns it, watching the flames crumple and devour the paper. The heat of the fire dries Augustina’s tears and she is perfectly happy to not write back.
A year later, Fredinant dies and Augustina receives another letter from Margarita. This one is full of utter, black misery. Margarita begs Augustina to come back. You are my only true and heartfelt friend, she writes, I implore you to come back and save me from myself. Augustina burns this letter too, but the pull of Margarita is too great, and she sets out to Austria within the week.
The Margarita that meets Augustina at the garden gate is much changed from the girl Augustina remembers. Her skin is ashy and her eyes have a tired look to them. She walks instead of runs and her hands are cold when they touch Augustina’s.
Augustina reaches up and brushes the younger girl’s cheek with the back of her hand. “Dear Margarita. What has life done to you?”
Margarita catches her hand and kisses the palm. “Come,” she says quietly and leads Augustina by the hand away from the gate. “I am relieved that you are here.” Margarita takes her through the halls and the rooms, up the stairs and into her private chambers. Once alone and unobserved, she runs her hands over Augustina’s body, up the sides of her neck and into her hair. “Oh, I cannot believe you are here. I was afraid you would not come and that you had forgotten me completely.
“I could never forget you,” Augustina breathes, feeling shivers run over her entire body. The sudden proximity of the other girl after such a long separation has made Augustina hypersensitive to her touches and her smell.
“Lie with me tonight,” Margarita implores in a half whisper.
“What--? I….” Augustina stumbles over her own words, her own thoughts and emotions. She cannot seem to collect herself enough to form coherent thoughts, not to mention sentences.
“Please,” Margarita continues. “I have dreamt of it since the night you left when you kissed me. Do not deny me, Augustina, I implore you. Do not take your love from me as God has so mercilessly, in his infinite power, taken my babe.”
Augustina knows the fight is futile. She cannot say no to Margarita. She never could.
“It is a pity, she was so young,” Augustina’s husband says, lighting up a smoke. “Twenty-one years of age. She could have given the Emperor many more children had she lived,” he continues thoughtfully. “Now he only has the one daughter. Oh, well, I suppose he can remarry. Poor man, they say he really loved her.”
Augustina doesn’t really hear what her husband is saying. She is still staring at the letter in hands, the one informing her of Margarita’s death. She wants to cry but no tears come. Instead, they form a thick ball in her throat and she feels ill and faint.
“You were childhood friends?” her husband asks.
“Oh, yes,” Augustina says distractedly. She tries to picture Margarita in her head as she was the night they lay together. Or as she was before her father died – a lively girl and adolescent. But all she can see in her mind is the painted image of the five-year-old Infanta as painted by Velazquez back in 1656.
For that is all Margarita is now and always will be henceforth – a memory of a girl, captured within a painting.