Then, almost immediately I saw that the curtains were drawn back on this side of the great bed that stood in this end of the room, and that they were partly drawn forward on the other side, so as to shroud from the candlelight him who lay within them, and beneath the Royal Arms of England emblazoned on the state.
And then I saw him.
He was lying over on this side of the bed, propped on high pillows, but leaning all over, and breathing loudly. His left, arm was flung over the coverlet; and his fingers contracted and opened and contracted again. I went forward swiftly and noiselessly, threw myself on my knees, laid my hand softly beneath his, and kissed it.
“Eh? eh?” murmured the heavy voice. “Who is it?”
I saw the curtain on the other side pulled a little, and the face of Sir Charles Scarburgh all in shadow peer in: it looked very lean and sharp and high-browed. The King flapped his hand in a gesture of dismissal, and the face vanished again.
“Sir,” whispered I, very earnestly, yet so low that I think none but he could have heard me. “Sir: it is Roger Mallock—”
“Mallock,” repeated the voice; yet so low that it could not have been understood by any but me. His face was very near to me; and it was shockingly lined and patched, and the eyes terribly hollow and languid: but there was intelligence in them.
“Sir,” said I, “you spoke to me once of an apostleship.”
“So I did,” murmured the voice. “So I—”
“Sir: I am come to fulfill it. It is not too late. Sir; the Bishops are sent for. Have nothing to say to them! Sir, let me get you a true priest—For Christ’s sake!”
The cold fingers that I yet held, twitched and pressed on mine. I was sure that he understood.
He drew a long breath.
“And what of poor little Ken?” he murmured. “Poor little Ken: he will break his heart—if he may not say his prayers.”
“Let him say what he will, Sir. But no sacrament! Let me send for a priest!”
There was a long silence. He sighed once or twice. His fingers all the while twitched in mine, pressing on them, and opening again. Ah! how I prayed in my heart; to Mary conceived without sin to pray for this poor soul that had such a load on him. The minutes were passing. I thought, maybe, he was unconscious again. And the Bishops, if they were in the Palace, might be here at any instant, and all undone. I am not ashamed to say that I entreated even my own dear love to pray for us. She had laid down her life in his service and mine. Might it not be, thought I, even in this agony, that by God’s permission, she were near to help me?
He stirred again at last.
“Going to be a monk,” said he, “going to be a monk, Roger Mallock. Pray for me, Roger Mallock, when you be a monk.”
He went on as if he had not heard me.
“Yes,” murmured he. “A very good idea. But you will never do it. Go to Fubbs, Roger Mallock. Fubbs will do it.”