“I will—I will,” she rejoined.
“And now,” he said, “kneel beside thy daughter’s body and pray. I will return to thee ere many minutes be passed. One task more, and then my mission is ended.”
CHAPTER XIII.—THE MASQUE OF DEATH.
Short time as he had to await, James was unable to control his impatience. At last he arose, and, completely sobered by the recent strange events, descended the steps of the platform, and walked on without assistance.
“Let the yeomen of the guard keep back the crowd,” he said to an officer, “and let none follow me but Sir Ralph Assheton, Master Nicholas Assheton, and Master Roger Nowell. When I call, let the prisoners be brought forward.”
“Your Majesty shall be obeyed,” replied the baronet, giving the necessary directions.
James then moved slowly forward in the direction of the pavilion; and, as he went, called Nicholas Assheton to him.
“Wha was that officer?” he asked.
“Your pardon, my liege, but I cannot answer the question,” replied Nicholas.
“And why not, sir?” demanded the monarch, sharply.
“For reasons I will hereafter render to your Majesty, and which I am persuaded you will find satisfactory,” rejoined the squire.
“Weel, weel, I dare say you are right,” said the King. “But do you think he will keep his word?”
“I am sure of it,” returned Nicholas.
“The time is come, then!” exclaimed James impatiently, and looking up at the pavilion.
“The time is come!” echoed a sepulchral voice.
“Did you speak?” inquired the monarch.
“No, sire,” replied Nicholas; “but some one seemed to give you intimation that all is ready. Will it please you to go on?”
“Enter!” cried the voice.
“Wha speaks?” demanded the King. And, as no answer was returned, he continued—“I will not set foot in the structure. It may be a snare of Satan.”
At this moment, the shutters of the windows flew open, showing that the pavilion was lighted up by many tapers within, while solemn strains of music issued from it.
“Enter!” repeated the voice.
“Have no fear, sire,” said Nicholas.
“That canna be the wark o’ the deil,” cried James. “He does not delight in holy hymns and sweet music.”
“That is a solemn dirge for the dead,” observed Nicholas, as melodious voices mingled with the music.
“Weel, weel, I will go on at a’ hazards,” said James.
The doors flew open as the King and his attendants approached, and, as soon as they had passed through them, the valves swung back to their places.
A strange sad spectacle met their gaze. In the midst of the chamber stood a bier, covered with a velvet pall, and on it the bodies of a youth and maiden were deposited. Pale and beautiful were they as sculptured marble, and a smile sat upon their features. Side by side they were lying, with their arms enfolded, as if they had died in each other’s embrace. A wreath of yew and cypress was placed above their heads, and flowers were scattered round them.