The heavy oaken door swung on its rusty iron hinges with many a squeak. I stood up, half dazzled by the sudden inrush of light. This time it was the Sheriff and his constables to greet me, together with a half score of guards to block the way. Ere I could make a move, had I desired to, I was overwhelmed by the men who crowded about me, while two of them quickly passed a rope around my chest, binding my arms fast to my sides. As I stood thus, the Sheriff drew from his jacket a document with its dangling seal. Was I never to have an end of parchment, I thought.
“Whereas, you, Captain Edward Amherst”--he began.
“Enough,” I interrupted. “It suffices that I must die. Let it be, if it must, I pray, without having to listen to more words. I’m not afraid, though it is a mean end for one who has served his King and his country ever faithfully. If I could but stand before you--aye, before you all--with my good sword in hand, I would have a different answer for you. Nor would I deem the odds too 162great. Such a death, borne down by weight of numbers, might be counted an honor by a soldier. But a dangling rope, in the hands of country bumpkins----”
“Ha, a rope,” repeated the Sheriff. “You have not heard, then?”
“What!” I cried. “Has the Judge allowed me to be shot?”
“Nay; not that, Master Captain,” answered the Sheriff. “You will see in good time, though. Meanwhile the law must take its course, and I am constrained, by it, to read this death warrant.”
“Have I not had enough of warrants of late?” I asked, but he paid no heed to me, and proceeded to read the dull legal terms.
Meanwhile many thoughts filled my mind. If I was not to be hanged, perhaps the awful torture of being burned at the stake awaited me. If so, I must make new plans, and act quickly.
All the while the Sheriff was reading from the parchment. He stumbled over the law terms, and the Latin vexed him sorely. Then he came to the decree that I must die “peine forte et dure,” and, as I had small stock of Latin, I wondered what I was to meet with.
At length there was an end to the reading. The guards advanced. I saw, among them, several who had served under me, yet never a one gave me a glance that was not tempered with fear or distrust. Some of them began to 163pull the rope tight about my arms, and this act quickened me to take some steps for escape.