But indeed I should feel myself to be no true man if I did not tell you that my Squire Nigel, though perchance he has spoken more bluntly than becomes him, is none the less right in this matter, and that you are wrong. For bethink you, sire - "
"Enough!" cried the King, more furious than ever. "Like master, like man, and I might have known why it is that this saucy Squire dares to bandy words with his sovereign lord. He does but give out what he hath taken in. John, John, you grow overbold. But this I tell you, and you also, young man, that as God is my help, ere the sun has set this night the Red Ferret will hang as a warning to all spies and traitors from the highest tower of Calais, that every ship upon the Narrow Seas, and every man for ten miles round may see him as he swings and know how heavy is the hand of the English King. Do you bear it in mind, lest you also may feel its weight!" With a glare like an angry lion he walked from the room, and the iron-clamped door clanged loudly behind him.
Chandos and Nigel looked ruefully at each other. Then the knight patted his Squire upon his bandaged head.
"You have carried yourself right well, Nigel. I could not wish for better. Fear not. All will be well."
"My fair and honored lord," cried Nigel, "I am heavy at heart, for indeed I could do no other, and yet I have brought trouble upon you."
"Nay, the clouds will soon pass. If he does indeed slay this Frenchman, you have done all that lay within your power, and your mind may rest easy."
"I pray that it will rest easy in Paradise," said Nigel; "for at the hour that I hear that I am dishonored and my prisoner slain I tear this bandage from my head and so end all things. I will not live when once my word is broken."
"Nay, fair son, you take this thing too heavily," said Chandos, with a grave face. "When a man has done all he may there remains no dishonor; but the King hath a kind heart for all his hot head, and it may be that if I see him I will prevail upon him. Bethink you how he swore to hang the six burghers of this very town, and yet he pardoned them. So keep a high heart, fair son, and I will come with good news ere evening."
For three hours, as the sinking sun traced the shadow higher and ever higher upon the chamber wall, Nigel tossed feverishly upon his couch, his ears straining for the footfall of Aylward or of Chandos, bringing news of the fate of the prisoner. At last the door flew open, and there before him stood the one man whom he least expected, and yet would most gladly have seen. It was the Red Ferret himself, free and joyous.
With swift furtive steps he was across the room and on his knees beside the couch, kissing the pendent hand. "You have saved me, most noble sir!" he cried. "The gallows was fixed and the rope slung, when the good Lord Chandos told the King that you would die by your own hand if I were slain. `Curse this mule-headed Squire!' he cried. `In God's name let him have his prisoner, and let him do what he will with him so long as he troubles me no more!' So here I have come, fair sir, to ask you what I shall do."
"I pray you to sit beside me and be at your ease," said Nigel. "In a few words I will tell you what I would have you do. Your armor I will keep, that I may have some remembrance of my good fortune in meeting so valiant a gentleman. We are of a size, and I make little doubt that I can wear it. Of ransom I would ask a thousand crowns."
"Nay, nay!" cried the Ferret. "It would be a sad thing if a man of my position was worth less than five thousand."
"A thousand will suffice, fair sir, to pay my charges for the war. You will not again play the spy, nor do us harm until the truce is broken."
"That I will swear."
"And lastly there is a journey that you shall make."
The Frenchman's face lengthened. "Where you order I must go," said he; "but I pray you that it is not to the Holy Land."
"Nay," said Nigel; "but it is to a land which is holy to me. You will make your way back to Southampton."
"I know it well.