THE FALSE PRINCE AND THE TRUE 25
At her words the prisoner felt as if a load had all at once been rolled off him.
' Oh, save me, and I will do anything !' he cried. ' It is so hard to leave the world and go out into the darkness.'
' You will not need to do that,' answered the old woman, ' you have only got to marry me, and you will soon be free.'
' Marry you ? ' exclaimed he, ' but—but—I am not yet twenty, and you—why, you must be a hundred at least ! Oh, no, it is quite impossible.'
He spoke without thinking, but the flash of anger which darted from her eyes made him feel uncomfortable. However, all she said was :
' As you like ; since you reject me, let the crows have you,' and hurried away down the street.
Left to himself, the full horror of his coming death rushed upon the young man, and he understood that he had thrown away his sole chance of life. Well, if he must, he must, he said to himself, and began to run as fast as he could after the old crone, who by this time could scarcely be seen, even in the moonlight. Who would have believed a woman past ninety could walk with such speed ? It seemed more Hke flying ! But at length, breathless and exhausted, he reached her side, and gasped out:
' Madam, pardon me for my hasty words just now ; I was wrong, and will thankfully accept the offer you made me.'
' Ah, I thought you would come to your senses,' answered she, in rather an odd voice. ' We have no time to lose—follow me at once,' and they went on silently and swiftly till they stopped at the door of a small house in which the priest lived. Before him the old woman bade the prisoner swear that she should be his wife, and this he did in the presence of witnesses. Then, begging the priest and the guards to leave them