“But the witnesses will be with us within the hour. Put it back but one little hour and they must be here.”
“Impossible. We hold the King’s warrant, and must obey it to the letter.”
“God in heaven! Do you not see yourself, do you not think that if this thing is done, two innocent men will die?”
“It is not for me to think. My part is to act.”
“Where is your chief? Can you go on without him?”
“We can and must.”
* * * * *
The clock in the Market Place registered ten minutes to eight. A pale-faced man in the crowd started a hymn.
“Stop his mouth,” cried a voice from the roof of the shambles, “the Quaker rascal!” And the men in blouses started a catch. But the singing continued; others joined in it, and soon it swelled to a long wave of song and flowed over that human sea.
But the clock was striking, and before its last bell had ceased to ring, between the lines of the hymn, a window of the guard-house was thrown open and a number of men stepped out.
In a moment the vast concourse was hushed to the stillness of death.
“Where is Wilfrey Lawson?” whispered one.
The sheriff was not there. The under sheriff and a burly fellow in black were standing side by side.
Among those who were near to the scaffold on the ground in front of it was one we know. Robbie Anderson had tramped the Market Place the long night through. He had not been able to tear himself from the spot. His eye was the first to catch sight of two men who came behind the chaplain. One of these walked with a firm step, a broad-breasted man, with an upturned face. Supported on his arm the other staggered along, his head on his breast, his hair whiter, and his step feebler than of old. Necks were craned forward to catch a glimpse of them.
* * * * *
“This is terrible,” Sim whispered.
“Only a minute more, and it will be over,” answered Ralph.
Sim burst into tears that shook his whole frame.
“Bravely, old friend,” Ralph said, melted himself, despite his words of cheer. “One minute, and we shall meet again. Bravely, then, and fear not.”
Sim was struggling to regain composure. He succeeded. His tears were gone, but a wild look came into his face. Ralph dreaded this more than tears.
“Be quiet, Sim,” he whispered; “be still, and say no word.”
The under sheriff approached Ralph.
“Have you any statement to make?” he said.
“Nor you?” said the officer, turning to Ralph’s companion.
Sim was trying to overcome his emotion.
“He has nothing to say,” said Ralph quietly. Then he whispered again in Sim’s ear, “Bravely.”
Removing his arm from Sim’s convulsive grasp, he threw off his long coat. At that moment the bleared sun lit up his lifted face. There was a hush of awe.