There was a bit of Andrew's gossip which the King listened to with a lively interest —
"There is rumour that the King is mad. But in charity forbear to say I mentioned it, for 'tis death to speak of it, they say."
His Majesty glared at the old man and said —
"The King is NOT mad, good man — and thou'lt find it to thy advantage to busy thyself with matters that nearer concern thee than this seditious prattle."
"What doth the lad mean?" said Andrews, surprised at this brisk assault from such an unexpected quarter. Hendon gave him a sign, and he did not pursue his question, but went on with his budget —
"The late King is to be buried at Windsor in a day or two — the 16th of the month — and the new King will be crowned at Westminster the 20th."
"Methinks they must needs find him first," muttered his Majesty; then added, confidently, "but they will look to that — and so also shall I."
"In the name of — "
But the old man got no further — a warning sign from Hendon checked his remark. He resumed the thread of his gossip —
"Sir Hugh goeth to the coronation — and with grand hopes. He confidently looketh to come back a peer, for he is high in favour with the Lord Protector."
"What Lord Protector?" asked his Majesty.
"His Grace the Duke of Somerset."
"What Duke of Somerset?"
"Marry, there is but one — Seymour, Earl of Hertford."
The King asked sharply —
"Since when is HE a duke, and Lord Protector?"
"Since the last day of January."
"And prithee who made him so?"
"Himself and the Great Council — with help of the King."
His Majesty started violently. "The KING!" he cried. "WHAT king, good sir?"
"What king, indeed! (God-a-mercy, what aileth the boy?) Sith we have but one, 'tis not difficult to answer — his most sacred Majesty King Edward the Sixth — whom God preserve! Yea, and a dear and gracious little urchin is he, too; and whether he be mad or no — and they say he mendeth daily — his praises are on all men's lips; and all bless him, likewise, and offer prayers that he may be spared to reign long in England; for he began humanely with saving the old Duke of Norfolk's life, and now is he bent on destroying the cruellest of the laws that harry and oppress the people."
This news struck his Majesty dumb with amazement, and plunged him into so deep and dismal a reverie that he heard no more of the old man's gossip. He wondered if the 'little urchin' was the beggar-boy whom he left dressed in his own garments in the palace. It did not seem possible that this could be, for surely his manners and speech would betray him if he pretended to be the Prince of Wales — then he would be driven out, and search made for the true prince. Could it be that the Court had set up some sprig of the nobility in his place? No, for his uncle would not allow that — he was all-powerful and could and would crush such a movement, of course. The boy's musings profited him nothing; the more he tried to unriddle the mystery the more perplexed he became, the more his head ached, and the worse he slept. His impatience to get to London grew hourly, and his captivity became almost unendurable.
Hendon's arts all failed with the King — he could not be comforted; but a couple of women who were chained near him succeeded better. Under their gentle ministrations he found peace and learned a degree of patience. He was very grateful, and came to love them dearly and to delight in the sweet and soothing influence of their presence. He asked them why they were in prison, and when they said they were Baptists, he smiled, and inquired —
"Is that a crime to be shut up for in a prison? Now I grieve, for I shall lose ye — they will not keep ye long for such a little thing."
They did not answer; and something in their faces made him uneasy. He said, eagerly —
"You do not speak; be good to me, and tell me — there will be no other punishment? Prithee tell me there is no fear of that."
They tried to change the topic, but his fears were aroused, and he pursued it —
"Will they scourge thee? No, no, they would not be so cruel! Say they would not. Come, they WILL not, will they?"
The women betrayed confusion and distress, but there was no avoiding an answer, so one of them said, in a voice choked with emotion —
"Oh, thou'lt break our hearts, thou gentle spirit! — God will help us to bear our — "
"It is a confession!" the King broke in. "Then they WILL scourge thee, the stony-hearted wretches! But oh, thou must not weep, I cannot bear it. Keep up thy courage — I shall come to my own in time to save thee from this bitter thing, and I will do it!"
When the King awoke in the morning, the women were gone.
"They are saved!" he said, joyfully; then added, despondently, "but woe is me! — for they were my comforters."
Each of them had left a shred of ribbon pinned to his clothing, in token of remembrance. He said he would keep these things always; and that soon he would seek out these dear good friends of his and take them under his protection.
Just then the jailer came in with some subordinates, and commanded that the prisoners be conducted to the jail-yard. The King was overjoyed — it would be a blessed thing to see the blue sky and breathe the fresh air once more. He fretted and chafed at the slowness of the officers, but his turn came at last, and he was released from his staple and ordered to follow the other prisoners with Hendon.
The court or quadrangle was stone-paved, and open to the sky. The prisoners entered it through a massive archway of masonry, and were placed in file, standing, with their backs against the wall. A rope was stretched in front of them, and they were also guarded by their officers. It was a chill and lowering morning, and a light snow which had fallen during the night whitened the great empty space and added to the general dismalness of its aspect. Now and then a wintry wind shivered through the place and sent the snow eddying hither and thither.