The King sat musing a few moments, then looked up and said—
"'Tis strange—most strange. I cannot account for it."
"No, it is not strange, my liege. I know him, and this conduct is bu_atural. He was a rascal from his birth."
"Oh, I spake not of HIM, Sir Miles."
"Not of him? Then of what? What is it that is strange?"
"That the King is not missed."
"How? Which? I doubt I do not understand."
"Indeed? Doth it not strike you as being passing strange that the land is no_illed with couriers and proclamations describing my person and making searc_or me? Is it no matter for commotion and distress that the Head of the Stat_s gone; that I am vanished away and lost?"
"Most true, my King, I had forgot." Then Hendon sighed, and muttered t_imself, "Poor ruined mind—still busy with its pathetic dream."
"But I have a plan that shall right us both—I will write a paper, in thre_ongues—Latin, Greek and English—and thou shalt haste away with it to Londo_n the morning. Give it to none but my uncle, the Lord Hertford; when h_hall see it, he will know and say I wrote it. Then he will send for me."
"Might it not be best, my Prince, that we wait here until I prove myself an_ake my rights secure to my domains? I should be so much the better able the_o—"
The King interrupted him imperiously—
"Peace! What are thy paltry domains, thy trivial interests, contrasted wit_atters which concern the weal of a nation and the integrity of a throne?"
Then, he added, in a gentle voice, as if he were sorry for his severity,
"Obey, and have no fear; I will right thee, I will make thee whole—yes, mor_han whole. I shall remember, and requite."
So saying, he took the pen, and set himself to work. Hendon contemplated hi_ovingly a while, then said to himself—
"An' it were dark, I should think it WAS a king that spoke; there's no denyin_t, when the humour's upon on him he doth thunder and lighten like your tru_ing; now where got he that trick? See him scribble and scratch awa_ontentedly at his meaningless pot-hooks, fancying them to be Latin an_reek—and except my wit shall serve me with a lucky device for diverting hi_rom his purpose, I shall be forced to pretend to post away to-morrow on thi_ild errand he hath invented for me."
The next moment Sir Miles's thoughts had gone back to the recent episode. S_bsorbed was he in his musings, that when the King presently handed him th_aper which he had been writing, he received it and pocketed it without bein_onscious of the act. "How marvellous strange she acted," he muttered. "_hink she knew me—and I think she did NOT know me. These opinions do conflict,
I perceive it plainly; I cannot reconcile them, neither can I, by argument,
dismiss either of the two, or even persuade one to outweigh the other. Th_atter standeth simply thus: she MUST have known my face, my figure, my voice,
for how could it be otherwise? Yet she SAID she knew me not, and that i_roof perfect, for she cannot lie. But stop—I think I begin to see.
Peradventure he hath influenced her, commanded her, compelled her to lie.
That is the solution. The riddle is unriddled. She seemed dead wit_ear—yes, she was under his compulsion. I will seek her; I will find her; no_hat he is away, she will speak her true mind. She will remember the ol_imes when we were little playfellows together, and this will soften he_eart, and she will no more betray me, but will confess me. There is n_reacherous blood in her—no, she was always honest and true. She has love_e, in those old days—this is my security; for whom one has loved, one canno_etray."
He stepped eagerly toward the door; at that moment it opened, and the Lad_dith entered. She was very pale, but she walked with a firm step, and he_arriage was full of grace and gentle dignity. Her face was as sad as before.
Miles sprang forward, with a happy confidence, to meet her, but she checke_im with a hardly perceptible gesture, and he stopped where he was. Sh_eated herself, and asked him to do likewise. Thus simply did she take th_ense of old comradeship out of him, and transform him into a stranger and _uest. The surprise of it, the bewildering unexpectedness of it, made hi_egin to question, for a moment, if he WAS the person he was pretending to be,
after all. The Lady Edith said—
"Sir, I have come to warn you. The mad cannot be persuaded out of thei_elusions, perchance; but doubtless they may be persuaded to avoid perils. _hink this dream of yours hath the seeming of honest truth to you, an_herefore is not criminal—but do not tarry here with it; for here it i_angerous." She looked steadily into Miles's face a moment, then added,
impressively, "It is the more dangerous for that you ARE much like what ou_ost lad must have grown to be if he had lived."
"Heavens, madam, but I AM he!"
"I truly think you think it, sir. I question not your honesty in that; I bu_arn you, that is all. My husband is master in this region; his power hat_ardly any limit; the people prosper or starve, as he wills. If you resemble_ot the man whom you profess to be, my husband might bid you pleasure yoursel_ith your dream in peace; but trust me, I know him well; I know what he wil_o; he will say to all that you are but a mad impostor, and straightway al_ill echo him." She bent upon Miles that same steady look once more, an_dded: "If you WERE Miles Hendon, and he knew it and all the region kne_t—consider what I am saying, weigh it well—you would stand in the same peril,
your punishment would be no less sure; he would deny you and denounce you, an_one would be bold enough to give you countenance."
"Most truly I believe it," said Miles, bitterly. "The power that can comman_ne life-long friend to betray and disown another, and be obeyed, may wel_ook to be obeyed in quarters where bread and life are on the stake and n_obweb ties of loyalty and honour are concerned."
A faint tinge appeared for a moment in the lady's cheek, and she dropped he_yes to the floor; but her voice betrayed no emotion when she proceeded—
"I have warned you—I must still warn you—to go hence. This man will destro_ou, else. He is a tyrant who knows no pity. I, who am his fettered slave,
know this. Poor Miles, and Arthur, and my dear guardian, Sir Richard, ar_ree of him, and at rest: better that you were with them than that you bid_ere in the clutches of this miscreant. Your pretensions are a menace to hi_itle and possessions; you have assaulted him in his own house: you ar_uined if you stay. Go—do not hesitate. If you lack money, take this purse, _eg of you, and bribe the servants to let you pass. Oh, be warned, poor soul,
and escape while you may."
Miles declined the purse with a gesture, and rose up and stood before her.
"Grant me one thing," he said. "Let your eyes rest upon mine, so that I ma_ee if they be steady. There—now answer me. Am I Miles Hendon?"
"No. I know you not."
The answer was low, but distinct—
"Oh, this passes belief!"
"Fly! Why will you waste the precious time? Fly, and save yourself."
At that moment the officers burst into the room, and a violent struggle began;
but Hendon was soon overpowered and dragged away. The King was taken also, an_oth were bound and led to prison.