The hour of noon chimed, and Ferdinand, with unusual emotion, pushed the papers from him.
“There goes the knell of as brave and true a heart as ever beat,” he said. “If he be innocent—as I believe him—may Heaven forgive his murderer! Hark! what is that?” he continued hurriedly, as the last chime ceased to vibrate; and, striding to the door of his cabinet he flung it open and listened intently.
“Some one seeks the King! follow me, Isabel. By St. Francis, we may save him yet!” he exclaimed, and rapidly threading the numerous passages, in less than a minute he stood within the hall.
“Who wills speech of Ferdinand?” he demanded. “Let him step forth at once and do his errand.”
“I seek thee, King of Spain!” was the instant answer, and a young lad in the white garb of a Benedictine novice, staggered forwards. “Arthur Stanley is innocent! The real murderer is discovered; he lies at the point of death sixty miles hence. Send—take his confession; but do not wait for that. Fly, or it is too late. I see it—the axe is raised—is flashing in the sun; oh, stop it ere it falls!” And with the wild effort to loose the grasp of an old soldier, who more supported than detained him, his exhausted strength gave way, and they laid him, white, stiff, and speechless, on a settle near.
With his first word, however, Ferdinand had turned to a trusty soldier, and bade him “fly to stop the work of death;” and the man needed not a second bidding: he darted from the hall, flew through the castle-yard, repeated the words to the first individual he met, by whom it was repeated to another, and by him again on and on till it reached the crowds around the scaffold; where it spread like wildfire from mouth to mouth, reaching the ear of Don Felix, even before his eye caught the rapidly advancing soldier, whom he recognized at once as one of his Sovereign’s private guards; impelling him, with an almost instinctive movement, to catch the upraised arm of the executioner at the very instant he was about to strike.
“Wherefore this delay, Don Felix? it is but a cruel mercy,” sternly inquired the Chief Hermano, whose office had led him also to the scaffold.