“Ha! by St. George, beardest thou me with traitors in my very palace, before my very eyes?” exclaimed the angry monarch, as his astonished courtiers gathered round. “Put him in ward; away with him, I say!”
“Pardon me, your highness, but this is needless,” interposed the princess, with a calm majesty, that subdued even the irritation of her father, and undauntedly waving back the courtiers, although perfectly sensible of the imminent danger in which she was placed. “If there be blame, let it be visited on me; this poor child has been ill and weakly from many causes, terrified, almost maddened, by sounds, and sights of blood. I deemed him perfectly recovered, or he had not attended me here. I pray your grace permit his removal to my apartments.”
The king laid a heavy hand on his daughter’s arm as she stood beside him, and fixed a gaze on her face that would have terrified any less noble spirit into a betrayal of the truth; but firm in her own integrity, in her own generous purpose, she calmly and inquiringly returned his gaze.
“Go to, thou art a noble wench, though an over-bold and presuming one,” he said, in a much mollified tone, for there was that in the dauntless behavior of his daughter which found an echo in his heart even now, deadened as it was to aught of gentle feeling, and he was glad of this interruption to entreaties which, resolved not to grant, had lashed him into fury, while her presence made him feel strangely ashamed. “Do as thou wilt with thine own attendants; but be advised, tempt not thine own safety again; thou hast tried us sore with thy ill-advised entreaties, but we forgive thee, on condition they are never again renewed. Speak not, we charge thee. What ho! Sir Edmund Stanley,” he called aloud, and the chamberlain appeared at the summons. “Here, let this boy be carefully raised and borne according to the pleasure of his mistress. See, too, that the Countess of Gloucester be conducted with due respect to her apartments. Begone!” he added, sternly, as the eyes of Joan still seemed to beseech mercy; “I will hear no more—the traitor dies!”
The shades of advancing night had already appeared to have enwrapped the earth some hours, when Nigel Bruce was startled from an uneasy slumber by the creaking sounds of bolts and bars announcing the entrance of some one within the dungeon. The name of his beloved, his devoted Agnes, trembled on his lips, but fearful of betraying her to unfriendly ears, ho checked himself, and started up, exclaiming, “Who comes?” No answer was vouchsafed, but the dim light of a lamp, placed by the intruder on the floor, disclosed a figure wrapped from head to foot in the shrouding mantle of the time, not tall, but appearing a stout muscular person, banishing on the instant Nigel’s scarcely-formed hope that it was the only one he longed to see.
“What wouldst thou?” he said, after a brief pause. “Doth Edward practise midnight murder? Speak, who art thou?”