“The man is mad and murderous!” cried the affrighted chaplain. “Take him away.”
Not waiting for his order to be executed, the spick-and-span wearer of the unsoiled surplice disappeared into one of the side rooms of the court.
This extraordinary scene might have resulted in a yet more rigorous treatment of the prisoners, but it produced the opposite effect. Within the same hour Ralph and Sim were removed from Doomsdale and imprisoned in a room high up in the Donjon tower.
Their new abode was in every way more tolerable than the old one. It had no fire, and it enjoyed the questionable benefit of being constantly filled with nearly all the smoke of every fire beneath it. The dense clouds escaped in part through a hole in the wall where a stone had been disturbed. This aperture also served the less desirable purpose of admitting the rain and the wind.
Here the days were passed. They were few and short. Doomsdale itself could not have made them long.
With his long streaky hair hanging wild about his temples, Sim sat hour after hour on a low bench beneath the window, crying at intervals that God would not let them die.
THE SKEIN UNRAVELLED.
It was Thursday when they were condemned, and the sentence was to be carried into effect on the Thursday following. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday passed by without any event of consequence. On Tuesday the under gaoler opened the door of their prison, and the sheriff entered. Ralph stepped out face to face with him. Sim crept closer into the shadow.
“The King’s warrant has arrived,” he said abruptly.
“And is this all you come to tell us?” said Ralph, no less curtly.
“Ray, there is no love between you and me, and we need dissemble none.”
“And no hate—at least on my part,” Ralph added.
“I had good earnest of your affections,” answered the sheriff with a sneer; “five years’ imprisonment.” Then waving his hand with a gesture indicative of impatience, he continued, “Let that be as it may. I come to talk of other matters.”
Resting on a bench, he added,—
“When the trial closed on Thursday, Justice Hide, who showed you more favor than seemed to some persons of credit to be meet and seemly, beckoned me to the antechamber. There he explained that the evidence against you being mainly circumstantial, the sentence might perchance, by the leniency of the King, be commuted to one of imprisonment for life.”
A cold smile passed over Ralph’s face.
“But this great mercy—whereof I would counsel you to cherish no certain hope—would depend upon your being able and willing to render an account of how you came by the document—the warrant for your own arrest—which was found upon your person. Furnish a credible story of how you came to be possessed, of that instrument, and it may occur—I say it may occur—that by our Sovereign’s grace and favor this sentence of death can yet be put aside.”