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Title: The Pardon
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100251.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: April 2011
Date most recently updated: April 2011

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Pardon
Author: Fred M White

*

Published in the Western Mail (Perth, W.A.), Saturday, 12 August, 1911.

*

Mistress Marjory Fothergay rode astride like a man, for the chase was a
stern one, and she was measuring a human life against the pace of her
nag. She hugged the precious pardon to her breast as she swept along
through the night in the direction of Mapleham. It was there that Guy
Foster lay a prisoner in the hands of Colonel Clifford, and there he was
to be shot at eight of the clock in the morning. The mere fact that
Colonel Clifford hated him and would have watched his end with
equanimity, not to say satisfaction, was the spur that pushed Marjory
on.

Oh, she had had her luck--there was no doubt about that. It was sheer
luck that flung her in the path of the King on his way to York. Perhaps
if Nell Gwynn had not been there----What a pretty woman she was and how
her eyes had sparkled as she handed the swan-quill pen to Charles.
People might say what they liked about Nell, but Marjory had loved her
at that moment. Guy Poster had been a fool--it was so like him to fling
himself in the teeth of authority over so simple a matter as the rights
of forestry over Cadham Forest, but really he had gone too far. They had
caught him with arms in his hand and, well, he was going to be shot in
the morning at Mapleham.

Now hanging or shooting is the poorest use you can put a man to,
especially if he be a man like Guy Foster. For he was tall and strong
and clear of eye, so that the women in these parts looked on him
sweetly, and Mistress Marjory accounted herself the most fortunate of
girls when he came wooing her and dropped his glove at her feet. And
Colonel Clifford hated him from the bottom of his heart. There never had
been any chance for the colonel, had he only known it, but then he was a
bit of an egoist in his way and did not know it--a black man with a
brooding eye and a furtive glance with venom in it. And he would have
cheerfully committed murder for sweet Mistress Marjory's sake.

He was going to commit murder now with all the precedent and authorities
on his side.

Guy Foster had been taken under arms and the penalty was short and to
the point. He would be shot at daybreak and all Marjory's tears and
pleas had moved him not at all. She was indiscreet, perhaps, in adding
certain accusations of a more or less personal nature, but they left him
cold.

Marjory had flung out of the presence of Clifford hot, flaming and
tearful. She rode wildly out of Mapleham at odds with all the world and
burning for a rescue. A couple of score of stalwarts well armed and the
thing was done. It was to the full measure of her wrath and, in the full
swing of her gallop that she came plump upon the cavalcade of the king
on the way to York. And Charles, always with a keen and discriminating
eye for a pretty girl, demanded speech with her. He got it.

"I am Mistress Marjory Fothergay of that house, sir," she said. "There
is not a man left in the place for they have all died for you and yours.
And the man I love is to be shot in the morning."

"That is a sorry use of good material, child," the King said. "Give him
a name."

Marjory poured out her trouble. There was no more loyal lot than the
Fosters. But they hated tyranny, and that edict as to the right of
forestry over Cadham Forest was sheer tyranny and his majesty should
know it. Then there came up something dazzlingly fair with blue eyes
full of demure mischief, with a gleam in them that touched Marjory on
the spot. Here was Mistress Nell Gwynn, of course, and Marjory felt the
blood flaming into her face. Still, she was a woman and she was
beginning to feel the sore need of one. And here was a woman, good luck,
with pity and sympathy in her face.

"Now, what's to be done with this pretty thing?" the King laughed.

"What does one do with all pretty things, Charlie," Nelly said. "Give
'em a sugarplum. You're not going to let Clifford waste a good man like
that."

"Do you know aught of Colonel Clifford, child?" the King asked.

The blood flamed into Marjory's face again and her eyes flushed. Nell of
Old Drury watched her critically. She had a fine scent for a dramatic
situation and here was one ready to her hand. She bent over and
whispered a few words in the King's ear. He threw back his head and
laughed.

"Say you so, Nell?" he asked. "Lord, how you women smell out a romance!
Trust you for seeing the beauties of a situation! So it is like that.
Mistress Marjory, you can dry your pretty eyes. Bring me a pen and ink
so that you can set your heart at rest. Quick there with you."

And there under the amazed eyes of Mistress Marjory the pardon was
signed and handed over to her by the King himself. Nell looked on with a
smile.

"I have you to thank for this, Mistress Gwynn," Marjory said.

"Oh, la, la," Nell cried. "What a patter about a little thing like a
lover. Maybe the time will come when you will hold this thing a grudge
against me. But, thank me if you like."

"I--I should like to kiss you," Marjory flamed out.

"Odds bodkins, dearie, but you shall," Nell said. Her face had flamed
scarlet, too, and her eyes were wet. "This Guy Foster of yours is a
lucky man. And I am the happier for assisting you. You can tell your
children when the time comes that Nell of Old Drury was not all bad."

"I shall tell them that she was one of the best and kindest of women,"
Marjory cried. There was a crimson stain on her checks; her voice shook
strangely. "Farewell and God keep you, sire, I have no time to lose."

Marjory turned in her saddle and plunged into the forest. There was no
time to be lost if she were to reach Mapleham by daylight. That would
not give her more than an hour at the outside.

She came to Mapleham in the grey dawn dazed with the need for sleep and
giddy with fatigue. The sentinel of the gate challenged her sulkily.

"You know who I am well enough, fellow," she said haughtily. "This is
not the first time, you have been face to face with Mistress Marjory
Fothergay. Look here."

She drew out the pardon and thrust the King's signature under the
varlet's nose.

"Go and call your master," she said. "Drag him out of bed if you will.
Tell him I am here and that I have a message for him from the King. And
see to it that this is done at once. Conduct me to a place where I can
remove the traces of my journey."

Another man at once came out and presently Marjory found herself in a
private chamber more or less ready for the use of travellers. There was
clean linen and fair water and a comfortable armchair, into which latter
she dropped presently and closed her eyes. She must not sleep, she told
herself, she would just rest there for a little while and recover a
little from the deadly tiredness that numbed her brain. Her long lashes
swept her cheek and she slept, slept in utter exhaustion.

Colonel Clifford stood biting his thumbs at his retainer. There was
something in the back of his mind that prevented him from looking the
man-at-arms in the face.

"What do you say the lady wants?" he asked.

"She came here demanding speech with your honour," the soldier said.
"She has a message from the King."

"So. What have you done with her?"

"She is at present in one of the retiring rooms. She was there till your
honour is ready. At present, so a kitchen wench tells me, she is
asleep."

Clifford motioned the fellow away. He had learnt all he needed. Mistress
Marjory was here with a pardon from the King. It would be a fare triumph
for her lover and herself. She would ride out with him presently and
they would laugh at him as they went. And she was asleep.

Colonel John Clifford had never loved before--he had no time for that
sort of thing he told himself impetuously. And being a dark man with a
sombre spleen, when the fever came it filled his blood with madness and
blinded his eyes to aught but the demon of desire. And when fate had
delivered Guy Foster into his hands it seemed to him that the path was
smooth at last.

Mistress Marjory had come with a pardon from the King and she slept. She
had travelled through the night, and was utterly worn out. And Clifford
had no official knowledge of anything. Nobody would blame him if Foster
was taken out and shot in an hour's time. And Mistress Marjory slept.

Marjory came to herself in an hour's time with a start. The dawn was
breaking now and a golden light filled the east. She could not have
slept long, but was it too long. She could hear the clash of arms and
the tramp of feet outside, a hoarse command and the rattle of weapons.
With a great fear in her heart, she crossed the flag-red floor and tried
the door. It was locked.

Somebody had fastened the door on the outside, or perhaps there was some
trick with the bolt. Mistress Marjory tugged at it desperately. She
raised her voice in a cry and smote passionately on the oak panels.

The full glare of the truth was dawning upon her. Clifford had been told
why she was here, he had grasped what her errand meant to him. And he
would be able to say that he had no official cognisance of it. A message
brought to him through one of his men-at-arms that Mistress Marjory
Fothergay had a letter from the King meant nothing. She had not spoken
of a pardon.

Clifford had locked her in. He would keep her a prisoner till the
execution was over. She looked round for some means of escape. The
windows were high and narrow, but there was chairs that she could pile
one on top of another. The hazard of it troubled her nothing. A moment
or two later she was on the broad stone ledge looking into the courtyard
below. There was a lead roof opposite from which she could easily reach
the ground. And on the far side of the courtyard half a dozen men
lounged with petronels in their hands. A door opened somewhere in the
distance, there was a harsh sound of command and the men with the
firearms drew up to attention.

Marjory measured the distance with her eye. It would be a desperate
effort, but she would manage it. She drew a long breath and launched
herself from the window ledge. She jumped just a little short, falling
heavily on her hands and knees, shaken and breathless, but with a savage
exultation at her heart. As she dropped, still panting and shaken, into
the courtyard, Guy Foster came along blindfolded and led by two
men-at-arms. As they placed him with his back to the wall, Marjory took
the King's letter and fastened it to his heart.

"Send Colonel Clifford to me," she cried. "Where is the black-minded
traitor?"

The words echoed across the courtyard. Clifford came forward.

"You have a message from the King for me," he said.

"I have his royal Majesty's pardon," Marjory cried. "See it is on the
breast of your prisoner. Take the bandage from his eyes, and let him go,
murderer."

Clifford started as if he had been stung. But his eyes dropped before
the gleaming orbs of Marjory. He saw in that instant that the girl had
guessed everything. It was only for a moment that he hesitated, and then
he was himself again. With his own hand he slipped the bandage from
Foster's eyes, and released him.

"You are free," he said curtly. "You can go. You are a fortunate man, my
friend. And if you will permit me to offer you my hospitality----"

"My horse," Marjory commanded. "My horse. This place is offensive to me,
I would stifle here."

Without another word Clifford turned on his heel. Foster caught Marjory
in his arms.

"Sweetheart," he whispered. "How did you manage it? Tell me, dearest
heart."

"Catch me," Marjory whispered, "for I am going to swoon. No, it is the
joy that never kills."



THE END



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