“Sir Arthur,” said John Law, with trembling lips, “I must be very low indeed in reputation, since you can ask me question such as this.”
“But you must answer!” cried Sir Arthur, “and you must swear!”
“If you would have my answer and my oath, then I give you both. I did not do what you suggest, nor can I conceive how any man should think me guilty of it. I loved Lady Catharine Knollys with all my heart. ’Twas my chief bitterness, keener than even the thought of the gallows itself, that she forsook me in my trouble. Then, bitter as any man would be, I persuaded myself that I cared naught. Then came this other woman. Then I—well, I was a man and a fool—a fool, Sir Arthur, a most miserable fool! Every moment of my life since first I saw her, I have loved the Lady Catharine; and, God help me, I do now!”
Sir Arthur struck his hand upon the hilt of his sword. “You were more lucky than myself, as I know,” said he, and from his lips broke half a groan.
“Good God!” broke out Law. “Let us not talk of it. I give you my word of honor, there has been no happiness to this. But come! We waste time. Let us cross swords!”
“Wait. Let me explain, since we are in the way of it. You must know that ’twas within the plans of Montague that Lady Catharine Knollys should be the agent of your freedom. I was pledged to the Lady Catharine to assist her, though, as you may perhaps see, sir,” and Pembroke gulped in his throat as he spoke, “’twas difficult enough, this part that was assigned to me. It was I, Mr. Law, who drove the coach to the gate, the coach which brought the Lady Catharine. ’Twas she who opened the door of Newgate jail for you. My God! sir, how could you walk past that woman, coming there as she did, with such a purpose!”
At hearing these words, the tall figure of the man opposed to him drooped and sank, as though under some fearful blow. He staggered to a near-by support and sank weakly to a seat, his head falling between his hands, his whole face convulsed.
“Ah!” said he, “you did right to cross seas in search of me! God hath indeed found me out and given me my punishment. Yet I ask God to bear me witness that I knew not the truth. Come, Sir Arthur! Come, I beseech you! Let us fall to!”
“I shall be no man’s executioner for his sentence on himself. I could not fight you now.” His eye fell by chance upon the blotch in Law’s bloodstained tunic. “And here,” he said; “see! You are already wounded.”
“’Twas but one woman’s way of showing her regard,” said Law. “’Twas Mary Connynge stabbed me.”
“Nay, I am glad of it; since it proves the truth of all you say, even as it proves me to be the most unworthy man in all the world. Oh, what had it meant to me to know a real love! God! How could I have been so blind?”
“’Tis the ancient puzzle.”
“Yes!” cried Law. “And let us make an end of puzzles! Your quarrel, sir, I admit is just. Let us go on.”