Imploring what? The man's death? I could not quite get the bearings of the thing. But Hugo interrupted her and said:
"Peace! Ye wit not what ye ask. Shall I starve whom I love, to win a gentle death? I wend thou knewest me better."
"Well," I said, "I can't quite make this out. It is a puzzle. Now--"
"Ah, dear my lord, an ye will but persuade him! Consider how these his tortures wound me! Oh, and he will not speak!--whereas, the healing, the solace that lie in a blessed swift death--"
"What _are_ you maundering about? He's going out from here a free man and whole--he's not going to die."
The man's white face lit up, and the woman flung herself at me in a most surprising explosion of joy, and cried out:
"He is saved!--for it is the king's word by the mouth of the king's servant--Arthur, the king whose word is gold!"
"Well, then you do believe I can be trusted, after all. Why didn't you before?"
"Who doubted? Not I, indeed; and not she."
"Well, why wouldn't you tell me your story, then?"
"Ye had made no promise; else had it been otherwise."
"I see, I see.... And yet I believe I don't quite see, after all. You stood the torture and refused to confess; which shows plain enough to even the dullest understanding that you had nothing to confess--"
"I, my lord? How so? It was I that killed the deer!"
"You _did_? Oh, dear, this is the most mixed-up business that ever--"
"Dear lord, I begged him on my knees to confess, but--"
"You _did_! It gets thicker and thicker. What did you want him to do that for?"
"Sith it would bring him a quick death and save him all this cruel pain."
"Well--yes, there is reason in that. But _he_ didn't want the quick death."
"He? Why, of a surety he _did_."
"Well, then, why in the world _didn't_ he confess?"
"Ah, sweet sir, and leave my wife and chick without bread and shelter?"
"Oh, heart of gold, now I see it! The bitter law takes the convicted man's estate and beggars his widow and his orphans. They could torture you to death, but without conviction or confession they could not rob your wife and baby. You stood by them like a man; and _you_--true wife and the woman that you are--you would have bought him release from torture at cost to yourself of slow starvation and death--well, it humbles a body to think what your sex can do when it comes to self-sacrifice. I'll book you both for my colony; you'll like it there; it's a Factory where I'm going to turn groping and grubbing automata into _men_."
IN THE QUEEN'S DUNGEONS
Well, I arranged all that; and I had the man sent to his home. I had a great desire to rack the executioner; not because he was a good, painstaking and paingiving official,--for surely it was not to his discredit that he performed his functions well--but to pay him back for wantonly cuffing and otherwise distressing that young woman. The priests told me about this, and were generously hot to have him punished. Something of this disagreeable sort was turning up every now and then. I mean, episodes that showed that not all priests were frauds and self-seekers, but that many, even the great majority, of these that were down on the ground among the common people, were sincere and right-hearted, and devoted to the alleviation of human troubles and sufferings. Well, it was a thing which could not be helped, so I seldom fretted about it, and never many minutes at a time; it has never been my way to bother much about things which you can't cure. But I did not like it, for it was just the sort of thing to keep people reconciled to an Established Church. We _must_ have a religion-- it goes without saying--but my idea is, to have it cut up into forty free sects, so that they will police each other, as had been the case in the United States in my time. Concentration of power in a political machine is bad; and and an Established Church is only a political machine; it was invented for that; it is nursed, cradled, preserved for that; it is an enemy to human liberty, and does no good which it could not better do in a split-up and scattered condition.