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The Tavern Knight
Rafael Sabatini




CONTENTS

I.     ON THE MARCH
II.    ARCADES AMBO
III.   THE LETTER
IV.    AT THE SIGN OF THE MITRE 
V.     AFTER WORCESTER FIELD
VI.    COMPANIONS IN MISFORTUNE
VII.   THE TAVERN KNIGHT'S STORY
VIII.  THE TWISTED BAR
IX.    THE BARGAIN
X.     THE ESCAPE
XI.    THE ASHBURNS
XII.   THE HOUSE THAT WAS ROLAND MARLEIGH'S
XIII.  THE METAMORPHOSIS OF KENNETH
XIV.   THE HEART OF CYNTHIA ASHBURN
XV.    JOSEPH'S RETURN
XVI.   THE RECKONING
XVII.  JOSEPH DRIVES A BARGAIN
XVIII. COUNTER-PLOT
XIX.   THE INTERRUPTED JOURNEY
XX.    THE CONVERTED HOGAN
XXI.   THE MESSAGE KENNETH BORE
XXII.  SIR CRISPIN'S UNDERTAKING
XXIII. GREGORY'S ATTRITION
XXIV.  THE WOOING OF CYNTHIA
XXV.   CYNTHIA'S FLIGHT
XXVI.  TO FRANCE
XXVII. THE AUBERGINE DU SOLEIL





CHAPTER I

ON THE MARCH

He whom they called the Tavern Knight laughed an evil laugh -
such a laugh as might fall from the lips of Satan in a sardonic
moment.

He sat within the halo of yellow light shed by two tallow
candles, whose sconces were two empty bottles, and
contemptuously he eyed the youth in black, standing with white
face and quivering lip in a corner of the mean chamber.  Then
he laughed again, and in a hoarse voice, sorely suggestive of
the bottle, he broke into song.  He lay back in his chair, his
long, spare legs outstretched, his spurs jingling to the lilt
of his ditty whose burden ran:

          On the lip so red of the wench that's sped 
          His passionate kiss burns, still-O! 
          For 'tis April time, and of love and wine
          Youth's way is to take its fill-O!
          Down, down, derry-do!

          So his cup he drains and he shakes his reins,
          And rides his rake-helly way-O! 
          She was sweet to woo and most comely, too, 
          But that was all yesterday-O! 
          Down, down, derry-do!

The lad started forward with something akin to a shiver.

"Have done," he cried, in a voice of loathing, "or, if croak
you must, choose a ditty less foul!"

"Eh?"  The ruffler shook back the matted hair from his lean,
harsh face, and a pair of eyes that of a sudden seemed ablaze
glared at his companion; then the lids drooped until those eyes
became two narrow slits - catlike and cunning - and again he
laughed.

"Gad's life, Master Stewart, you have a temerity that should
save you from grey hairs!  What is't to you what ditty my fancy
seizes on?  'Swounds, man, for three weary months have I curbed
my moods, and worn my throat dry in praising the Lord; for
three months have I been a living monument of Covenanting zeal
and godliness; and now that at last I have shaken the dust of
your beggarly Scotland from my heels, you - the veriest milksop
that ever ran tottering from its mother's lap would chide me
because, yon bottle being done, I sing to keep me from waxing
sad in the contemplation of its emptiness!"

There was scorn unutterable on the lad's face as he turned
aside.

"When I joined Middleton's horse and accepted service under
you, I held you to be at least a gentleman," was his daring
rejoinder.

For an instant that dangerous light gleamed again from his
companion's eye.  Then, as before, the lids drooped, and, as
before, he laughed.

"Gentleman!" he mocked.  "On my soul, that's good!  And what
may you know of gentlemen, Sir Scot?  Think you a gentleman is
a Jack Presbyter, or a droning member of your kirk committee,
strutting it like a crow in the gutter?  Gadswounds, boy, when
I was your age, and George Villiers lived - "

"Oh, have done!" broke in the youth impetuously.  "Suffer me to
leave you, Sir Crispin, to your bottle, your croaking, and your
memories."

"Aye, go your ways, sir; you'd be sorry company for a dead man
- the sorriest ever my evil star led me into.  The door is
yonder, and should you chance to break your saintly neck on the
stairs, it is like to be well for both of us."

And with that Sir Crispin Galliard lay back in his chair once
more, and took up the thread of his interrupted song

          But, heigh-o! she cried, at the Christmas-tide,
          That dead she would rather be-O!
          Pale and wan she crept out of sight, and wept

          'Tis a sorry -

A loud knock that echoed ominously through the mean chamber,
fell in that instant upon the door.  And with it came a panting
cry of -

"Open, Cris! Open, for the love of God!"

Sir Crispin's ballad broke off short, whilst the lad paused in
the act of quitting the room, and turned to look to him for
direction.

"Well, my master," quoth Galliard, "for what do you wait?"

"To learn your wishes, sir," was the answer sullenly delivered.

"My wishes!  Rat me, there's one without whose wishes brook
less waiting!  Open, fool!"

Thus rudely enjoined, the lad lifted the latch and set wide the
door, which opened immediately upon the street.  Into the
apartment stumbled a roughly clad man of huge frame.  He was
breathing hard, and fear was writ large upon his rugged face. 
An instant he paused to close the door after him, then turning
to Galliard, who had risen and who stood eyeing him in
astonishment - 

"Hide me somewhere, Cris," he panted - his accent proclaiming
his Irish origin.  "My God, hide me, or I'm a dead man this
night!"

"'Slife, Hogan!  What is toward?  Has Cromwell overtaken us?"

"Cromwell, quotha?  Would to Heaven 'twere no worse!  I've
killed a man!"

"If he's dead, why run?"

The Irishman made an impatient gesture.

"A party of Montgomery's foot is on my heels.  They've raised
the whole of Penrith over the affair, and if I'm taken, soul of
my body, 'twill be a short shrift they'll give me.  The King
will serve me as poor Wrycraft was served two days ago at
Kendal.  Mother of Mercy!" he broke off, as his ear caught the
clatter of feet and the murmur of voices from without.  "Have
you a hole I can creep into?"

"Up those stairs and into my room with you!" said Crispin
shortly.  "I will try to head them off.  Come, man, stir
yourself; they are here."

Then, as with nimble alacrity Hogan obeyed him and slipped from
the room, he turned to the lad, who had been a silent spectator
of what had passed.  From the pocket of his threadbare doublet
he drew a pack of greasy playing cards.

"To table," he said laconically.

But the boy, comprehending what was required of him, drew back
at sight of those cards as one might shrink from a thing
unclean.

"Never!" he began.  "I'll not defile - "

"To table, fool!" thundered Crispin, with a vehemence few men
could have withstood.  "Is this a time for Presbyterian
scruples?  To table, and help a me play this game, or, by the
living God, I'll - "  Without completing his threat he leaned
forward until Kenneth felt his hot, wine-laden breath upon his
cheek.  Cowed by his words, his gesture, and above all, his
glance, the lad drew up a chair, mumbling in explanation -
intended as an excuse to himself for his weakness - that he
submitted since a man's life was at stake.

Opposite him Galliard resumed his seat with a mocking smile
that made him wince.  Taking up the cards, he flung a portion
of them to the boy, whilst those he retained he spread fanwise
in his hand as if about to play.  Silently Kenneth copied his
actions.

Nearer and louder grew the sounds of the approach, lights
flashed before the window, and the two men, feigning to play,
sat on and waited.

"Have a care, Master Stewart," growled Crispin sourly, then in
a louder voice - for his quick eye had caught a glimpse of a
face that watched them from the window - "I play the King of
Spades!" he cried, with meaning look.

A blow was struck upon the door, and with it came the command
to "Open in the King's name!"  Softly Sir Crispin rapped out an
oath.  Then he rose, and with a last look of warning to
Kenneth, he went to open.  And as he had greeted Hogan he now
greeted the crowd mainly of soldiers - that surged about the
threshold.

"Sirs, why this ado?  Hath the Sultan Oliver descended upon
us?"

In one hand he still held his cards, the other he rested upon
the edge of the open door.  It was a young ensign who stood
forward to answer him.

"One of Lord Middleton's officers hath done a man to death not
half an hour agone; he is an Irishman Captain Hogan by name."

"Hogan - Hogan?" repeated Crispin, after the manner of one who
fumbles in his memory.  "Ah, yes - an Irishman with a grey head
and a hot temper.  And he is dead, you say?"

"Nay, he has done the killing."

"That I can better understand.  'Tis not the first time, I'll
be sworn."

"But it will be the last, Sir Crispin."

"Like enough.  The King is severe since we crossed the Border."
Then in a brisker tone: "I thank you for bringing me this
news," said he, "and I regret that in my poor house there be
naught I can offer you wherein to drink His Majesty's health
ere you proceed upon your search.  Give you good night, sir."
And by drawing back a pace he signified his wish to close the
door and be quit of them.

"We thought," faltered the young officer, "that - that
perchance you would assist us by - "

"Assist you!" roared Crispin, with a fine assumption of anger. 
"Assist you take a man?  Sink me, sir, I would have you know I
am a soldier, not a tipstaff!"

The ensign's cheeks grew crimson under the sting of that veiled
insult.

"There are some, Sir Crispin, that have yet another name for
you."

"Like enough - when I am not by," sneered Crispin.  "The world
is full of foul tongues in craven heads.  But, sirs, the night
air is chill and you are come inopportunely, for, as you'll
perceive, I was at play.  Haply you'll suffer me to close the
door."

"A moment, Sir Crispin.  We must search this house.  He is
believed to have come this way."

Crispin yawned.  "I will spare you the trouble.  You may take
it from me that he could not be here without my knowledge.  I
have been in this room these two hours past."

"Twill not suffice," returned the officer doggedly.  "We must
satisfy ourselves."

"Satisfy yourselves?" echoed the other, in tones of deep
amazement.  "What better satisfaction can I afford you than my
word? 'Swounds, sir jackanapes," he added, in a roar that sent
the lieutenant back a pace as though he had been struck, "am I
to take it that your errand is a trumped-up business to affront
me?  First you invite me to turn tipstaff, then you add your
cursed innuendoes of what people say of me, and now you end by
doubting me!  You must satisfy yourself!" he thundered, waxing
fiercer at every word.  "Linger another moment on that
threshold, and d -n me, sir, I'll give you satisfaction of
another flavour!  Be off!"

Before that hurricane of passion the ensign recoiled, despite
himself.

"I will appeal to General Montgomery," he threatened.

"Appeal to the devil!  Had you come hither with your errand in
a seemly fashion you had found my door thrown wide in welcome,
and I had received you courteously.  As it is, sir, the cause
for complaint is on my side, and complain I will.  We shall see
whether the King permits an old soldier who has followed the
fortunes of his family these eighteen years to be flouted by a
malapert bantam of yesterday's brood!"

The subaltern paused in dismay.  Some demur there was in the
gathered crowd.  Then the officer fell back a pace, and
consulted an elderly trooper at his elbow.  The trooper was of
opinion that the fugitive must have gone farther.  Moreover, he
could not think, from what Sir Crispin had said, that it would
have been possible for Hogan to have entered the house.  With
this, and realizing that much trouble and possible loss of time
must result from Sir Crispin's obstinacy, did they attempt to
force a way into the house, and bethinking himself, also,
maybe, how well this rascally ruffler stood with Lord
Middleton, the ensign determined to withdraw, and to seek
elsewhere.

And so he took his leave with a venomous glance, and a parting
threat to bring the matter to the King's ears, upon which
Galliard slammed the door before he had finished.

There was a curious smile on Crispin's face as he walked slowly
to the table, and resumed his seat.

"Master Stewart," he whispered, as he spread his cards anew,
"the comedy is not yet played out.  There is a face glued to
the window at this moment, and I make little doubt that for the
next hour or so we shall be spied upon.  That pretty fellow was
born to be a thief-taker."

The boy turned a glance of sour reproof upon his companion.  He
had not stirred from his chair while Crispin had been at the
door.

"You lied to them," he said at last.

"Sh!  Not so loud, sweet youth," was the answer that lost
nothing of menace by being subdued.  "Tomorrow, if you please,
I will account to you for offending your delicate soul by
suggesting a falsehood in your presence.  To-night we have a
man's life to save, and that, I think, is work enough.  Come,
Master Stewart, we are being watched.  Let us resume our game."

His eye, fixed in cold command upon the boy, compelled
obedience.  And the lad, more out of awe of that glance than
out of any desire to contribute to the saving of Hogan, mutely
consented to keep up this pretence.  But in his soul he
rebelled.  He had been reared in an atmosphere of honourable
and religious bigotry.  Hogan was to him a coarse ruffler; an
evil man of the sword; such a man as he abhorred and accounted
a disgrace to any army - particularly to an army launched upon
England under the auspices of the Solemn League and Covenant.

Hogan had been guilty of an act of brutality; he had killed a
man; and Kenneth deemed himself little better, since he
assisted in harbouring instead of discovering him, as he held
to be his duty.  But 'neath the suasion of Galliard's
inexorable eye he sat limp and docile, vowing to himself that
on the morrow he would lay the matter before Lord Middleton,
and thus not only endeavour to make amends for his present
guilty silence, but rid himself also of the companionship of
this ruffianly Sir Crispin, to whom no doubt a hempen justice
would be meted.

Meanwhile, he sat on and left his companion's occasional
sallies unanswered.  In the street men stirred and lanthorns
gleamed fitfully, whilst ever and anon a face surmounted by a
morion would be pressed against the leaded panes of the window.

Thus an hour wore itself out during which poor Hogan sat above,
alone with his anxiety and unsavoury thoughts.




CHAPTER II

ARCADES AMBO


Towards midnight at last Sir Crispin flung down his cards and
rose.  It was close upon an hour and a half since Hogan's
advent.  In the streets the sounds had gradually died down, and
peace seemed to reign again in Penrith.  Yet was Sir Crispin
cautious - for to be cautious and mistrustful of appearances
was the lesson life had taught him.

"Master Stewart," said he, "it grows late, and I doubt me you
would be abed.  Give you good night!"

The lad rose.  A moment he paused, hesitating, then -

"To-morrow, Sir Crispin - " he began.  But Crispin cut him
short.

"Leave to-morrow till it dawn, my friend.  Give you good night. 
Take one of those noisome tapers with you, and go."

In sullen silence the boy took up one of the candle-bearing
bottles and passed out through the door leading to the stairs.

For a moment Crispin remained standing by the table, and in
that moment the expression of his face was softened.  A
momentary regret of his treatment of the boy stirred in him. 
Master Stewart might be a milksop, but Crispin accounted him
leastways honest, and had a kindness for him in spite of all. 
He crossed to the window, and throwing it wide he leaned out,
as if to breathe the cool night air, what time he hummed the
refrain of `Rub-a-dub-dub' for the edification of any chance
listeners.

For a half-hour he lingered there, and for all that he used the
occasion to let his mind stray over many a theme, his eyes were
alert for the least movement among the shadows of the street. 
Reassured at last that the house was no longer being watched,
he drew back, and closed the lattice.

Upstairs he found the Irishman seated in dejection upon his
bed, awaiting him.

"Soul of my body!" cried Hogan ruefully, "I was never nearer
being afraid in my life."

Crispin laughed softly for answer, and besought of him the tale
of what had passed.

"Tis simple enough, faith," said Hogan coolly.  "The landlord
of The Angel hath a daughter maybe 'twas after her he named his
inn - who owns a pair of the most seductive eyes that ever a
man saw perdition in.  She hath, moreover, a taste for
dalliance, and my brave looks and martial trappings did for her
what her bold eyes had done for me.  We were becoming the
sweetest friends, when, like an incarnate fiend, that loutish
clown, her lover, sweeps down upon us, and, with more jealousy
than wit, struck me - struck me, Harry Hogan!  Soul of my body,
think of it, Cris!"  And he grew red with anger at the
recollection.  "I took him by the collar of his mean smock and
flung him into the kennel - the fittest bed he ever lay in. 
Had he remained there it had been well for him; but the fool,
accounting himself affronted, came up to demand satisfaction. 
I gave it him, and plague on it - he's dead!"

"An ugly tale," was Crispin's sour comment.

"Ugly, maybe," returned Hogan, spreading out his palms, "but
what choice had I?  The fool came at me, bilbo in hand, and I
was forced to draw.'

"But not to slay, Hogan!"

"Twas an accident.  Sink me, it was!  I sought his sword-arm;
but the light was bad, and my point went through his chest
instead."

For a moment Crispin stood frowning, then his brow cleared, as
though he had put the matter from him.

"Well, well - since he's dead, there's an end to it."

"Heaven rest his soul!" muttered the Irishman, crossing himself
piously.  And with that he dismissed the subject of the great
wrong that through folly he had wrought - the wanton
destruction of a man's life, and the poisoning of a woman's
with a remorse that might be everlasting.

"It will tax our wits to get you out of Penrith," said Crispin. 
Then, turning and looking into the Irishman's great,
good-humoured face - "I am sorry you leave us, Hogan," he
added.

"Not so am I," quoth Hogan with a shrug.  "Such a march as this
is little to my taste.  Bah! Charles Stuart or Oliver Cromwell,
'tis all one to me.  What care I whether King or Commonwealth
prevail?  Shall Harry Hogan be the better or the richer under
one than under the other?  Oddslife, Cris, I have trailed a
pike or handled a sword in well-nigh every army in Europe.  I
know more of the great art of war than all the King's generals
rolled into one.  Think you, then, I can rest content with a
miserable company of horse when plunder is forbidden, and even
our beggarly pay doubtful?  Whilst, should things go ill - as
well they may, faith, with an army ruled by parsons - the wage
will be a swift death on field or gallows, or a lingering one
in the plantations, as fell to the lot of those poor wretches
Noll drove into England after Dunbar.  Soul of my body, it is
not thus that I had looked to fare when I took service at
Perth.  I had looked for plunder, rich and plentiful plunder,
according to the usages of warfare, as a fitting reward for a
toilsome march and the perils gone through.

"Thus I know war, and for this have I followed the trade these
twenty years.  Instead, we have thirty thousand men, marching
to battle as prim and orderly as a parcel of acolytes in a
Corpus-Christi procession.  'Twas not so bad in Scotland haply
because the country holds naught a man may profitably plunder -
but since we have crossed the Border, 'slife, they'll hang you
if you steal so much as a kiss from a wench in passing."

"Why, true," laughed Crispin, "the Second Charles hath an
over-tender stomach.  He will not allow that we are marching
through an enemy's country; he insists that England is his
kingdom, forgetting that he has yet to conquer it, and - "

"Was it not also his father's kingdom?" broke in the impetuous
Hogan.  "Yet times are sorely changed since we followed the
fortunes of the Martyr.  In those days you might help yourself
to a capon, a horse, a wench, or any other trifle of the
enemy's, without ever a word of censure or a question asked. 
Why, man, it is but two days since His Majesty had a poor devil
hanged at Kendal for laying violent hands upon a pullet.  Pox
on it, Cris, my gorge rises at the thought!  When I saw that
wretch strung up, I swore to fall behind at the earliest
opportunity, and to-night's affair makes this imperative."

"And what may your plans be?" asked Crispin.

"War is my trade, not a diversion, as it is with Wilmot and
Buckingham and the other pretty gentlemen of our train.  And
since the King's army is like to yield me no profit, faith,
I'll turn me to the Parliament's.  If I get out of Penrith with
my life, I'll shave my beard and cut my hair to a comely and
godly length; don a cuckoldy steeple hat and a black coat, and
carry my sword to Cromwell with a line of text."

Sir Crispin fell to pondering.  Noting this, and imagining that
he guessed aright the reason:

"I take it, Cris," he put in, keenly glancing at the other,
"that you are much of my mind?"

"Maybe I am," replied Crispin carelessly.

"Why, then," cried Hogan, "need we part company?"

There was a sudden eagerness in his tone, born of the
admiration in which this rough soldier of fortune held one whom
he accounted his better in that same harsh trade.  But Galliard
answered coldly:

"You forget, Harry."

"Not so!  Surely on Cromwell's side your object - "

"T'sh!  I have well considered.  My fortunes are bound up with
the King's.  In his victory alone lies profit for me; not the
profit of pillage, Hogan, but the profit of those broad lands
that for nigh upon twenty years have been in usurping hands. 
The profit I look for, Hogan, is my restoration to Castle
Marleigh, and of this my only hope lies in the restoration of
King Charles.  If the King doth not prevail - which God
forfend! - why, then, I can but die.  I shall have naught left
to hope for from life.  So you see, good Hogan," he ended with
a regretful smile, "my going with you is not to be dreamed of."

Still the Irishman urged him, and a good half-hour did he
devote to it, but in vain.  Realizing at last the futility of
his endeavours, he sighed and moved uneasily in his chair,
whilst the broad, tanned face was clouded with regret.  Crispin
saw this, and approaching him, he laid a hand upon his
shoulder.

"I had counted upon your help to clear the Ashburns from Castle
Marleigh and to aid me in my grim work when the time is ripe. 
But if you go - "

"Faith, I may aid you yet.  Who shall say?"  Then of a sudden
there crept into the voice of this hardened pike-trader a note
of soft concern.  "Think you there be danger to yourself in
remaining?" he inquired.

"Danger?  To me?" echoed Crispin.

"Aye - for having harboured me.  That whelp of Montgomery's
Foot suspects you."

"Suspects?  Am I a man of straw to be overset by a breath of
suspicion?"

"There is your lieutenant, Kenneth Stewart."

"Who has been a party to your escape, and whose only course is
therefore silence, lest he set a noose about his own neck. 
Come, Harry," he added, briskly, changing his manner, "the
night wears on, and we have your safety to think of."

Hogan rose with a sigh.

"Give me a horse," said he, "and by God's grace tomorrow shall
find me in Cromwell's camp.  Heaven prosper and reward you,
Cris."

"We must find you clothes more fitting than these - a coat more
staid and better attuned to the Puritan part you are to play."

"Where have you such a coat?"

"My lieutenant has.  He affects the godly black, from a habit
taken in that Presbyterian Scotland of his."

"But I am twice his bulk!"

"Better a tight coat to your back than a tight rope to your
neck, Harry.  Wait."

Taking a taper, he left the room, to return a moment later with
the coat that Kenneth had worn that day, and which he had
abstracted from the sleeping lad's chamber.

"Off with your doublet," he commanded, and as he spoke he set
himself to empty the pocket of Kenneth's garment; a
handkerchief and a few papers he found in them, and these he
tossed carelessly on the bed.  Next he assisted the Irishman to
struggle into the stolen coat.

"May the Lord forgive my sins," groaned Hogan, as he felt the
cloth straining upon his back and cramping his limbs.  "May He
forgive me, and see me safely out of Penrith and into
Cromwell's camp, and never again will I resent the resentment
of a clown whose sweetheart I have made too free with."

"Pluck that feather from your hat," said Crispin.

Hogan obeyed him with a sigh.

"Truly it is written in Scripture that man in his time plays
many parts.  Who would have thought to see Harry Hogan playing
the Puritan?"

"Unless you improve your acquaintance with Scripture you are
not like to play it long," laughed Crispin, as he surveyed him. 
"There, man, you'll do well enough.  Your coat is somewhat
tight in the back, somewhat short in the skirt; but neither so
tight nor so short but that it may be preferred to a
winding-sheet, and that is the alternative, Harry."

Hogan replied by roundly cursing the coat and his own
lucklessness.  That done - and in no measured terms - he
pronounced himself ready to set out, whereupon Crispin led the
way below once more, and out into a hut that did service as a
stable.

By the light of a lanthorn he saddled one of the two nags that
stood there, and led it into the yard.  Opening the door that
abutted on to a field beyond, he bade Hogan mount.  He held his
stirrup for him, and cutting short the Irishman's voluble
expressions of gratitude, he gave him "God speed," and urged
him to use all dispatch in setting as great a distance as
possible betwixt himself and Penrith before the dawn.




CHAPTER III

THE LETTER


It was with a countenance sadly dejected that Crispin returned
to his chamber and sate himself wearily upon the bed.  With
elbows on his knees and chin in his palms he stared straight
before him, the usual steely brightness of his grey eyes dulled
by the despondency that sat upon his face and drew deep furrows
down his fine brow.

With a sigh he rose at last and idly fingered the papers he had
taken from the pocket of Kenneth's coat.  As he did so his
glance was arrested by the signature at the foot of one. 
"Gregory Ashburn" was the name he read.

Ashen grew his cheeks as his eyes fastened upon that name,
whilst the hand, to which no peril ever brought a tremor, shook
now like an aspen.  Feverishly he spread the letter on his
knee, and with a glance, from dull that it had been, grown of a
sudden fierce and cruel, he read the contents.



DEAR KENNETH,

Again I write in the hope that I may prevail upon you to quit
Scotland and your attachment to a king, whose fortunes prosper
not, nor can prosper.  Cynthia is pining, and if you tarry
longer from Castle Marleigh she must perforce think you but a
laggard lover.  Than this I have no more powerful argument
wherewith to draw you from Perth to Sheringham, but this I
think should prevail where others have failed me.  We await you
then, and whilst we wait we daily drink your health.  Cynthia
commends herself to your memory as doth my brother, and soon we
hope to welcome you at Castle Marleigh.  Believe, my dear
Kenneth, that whilst I am, I am yours in affection.

                                             GREGORY ASHBURN

Twice Crispin read the letter through.  Then with set teeth and
straining eyes he sat lost in thought.

Here indeed was a strange chance!  This boy whom he had met at
Perth, and enrolled in his company, was a friend of Ashburn's -
the lover of Cynthia.  Who might this Cynthia be?

Long and deep were his ponderings upon the unfathomable ways of
Fate - for Fate he now believed was here at work to help him,
revealing herself by means of this sign even at the very moment
when he decried his luck.  In memory he reviewed his meeting
with the lad in the yard of Perth Castle a fortnight ago. 
Something in the boy's bearing, in his air, had caught
Crispin's eye.  He had looked him over, then approached, and
bluntly asked his name and on what business he was come there. 
The youth had answered him civilly enough that he was Kenneth
Stewart of Bailienochy, and that he was come to offer his sword
to the King.  Thereupon he had interested himself in the lad's
behalf and had gained him a lieutenancy in his own company. 
Why he was attracted to a youth on whom never before had he set
eyes was a matter that puzzled him not a little.  Now he held,
he thought, the explanation of it.  It was the way of Fate.

This boy was sent into his life by a Heaven that at last showed
compassion for the deep wrongs he had suffered; sent him as a
key wherewith, should the need occur, to open him the gates of
Castle Marleigh.

In long strides he paced the chamber, turning the matter over
in his mind.  Aye, he would use the lad should the need arise. 
Why scruple?  Had he ever received aught but disdain and scorn
at the hands of Kenneth.

Day was breaking ere he sought his bed, and already the sun was
up when at length he fell into a troubled sleep, vowing that he
would mend his wild ways and seek to gain the boy's favour
against the time when he might have need of him.

When later he restored the papers to Kenneth, explaining to
what use he had put the coat, he refrained from questioning him
concerning Gregory Ashburn.  The docility of his mood on that
occasion came as a surprise to Kenneth, who set it down to Sir
Crispin's desire to conciliate him into silence touching the
harbouring of Hogan.  In that same connexion Crispin showed him
calmly and clearly that he could not now inform without
involving himself to an equally dangerous extent.  And partly
through the fear of this, partly won over by Crispin's
persuasions, the lad determined to hold his peace.

Nor had he cause to regret it thereafter, for throughout that
tedious march he found his roystering companion singularly meek
and kindly.  Indeed he seemed a different man.  His old swagger
and roaring bluster disappeared; he drank less, diced less,
blasphemed less, and stormed less than in the old days before
the halt at Penrith; but rode, a silent, thoughtful figure, so
self-contained and of so godly a mien as would have rejoiced
the heart of the sourest Puritan.  The wild tantivy boy had
vanished, and the sobriquet of "Tavern Knight" was fast
becoming a misnomer.

Kenneth felt drawn more towards him, deeming him a penitent
that had seen at last the error of his ways.  And thus things
prevailed until the almost triumphal entry into the city of
Worcester on the twenty-third of August.




CHAPTER IV

AT THE SIGN OF THE MITRE


For a week after the coming of the King to Worcester, Crispin's
relations with Kenneth steadily improved.  By an evil chance,
however, there befell on the eve of the battle that which
renewed with heightened intensity the enmity which the lad had
fostered for him, but which lately he had almost overcome.

The scene of this happening - leastways of that which led to it
- was The Mitre Inn, in the High Street of Worcester.

In the common-room one day sat as merry a company of carousers
as ever gladdened the soul of an old tantivy boy.  Youthful
ensigns of Lesley's Scottish horse - caring never a fig for the
Solemn League and Covenant - rubbed shoulders with beribboned
Cavaliers of Lord Talbot's company; gay young lairds of
Pitscottie's Highlanders, unmindful of the Kirk's harsh
commandments of sobriety, sat cheek by jowl with rakehelly
officers of Dalzell's Brigade, and pledged the King in many a
stoup of canary and many a can of stout March ale.

On every hand spirits ran high and laughter filled the chamber,
the mirth of some having its source in a neighbour's quip, that
of others having no source at all save in the wine they had
taken.

At one table sat a gentleman of the name of Faversham, who had
ridden on the previous night in that ill-fated camisado that
should have resulted in the capture of Cromwell at Spetchley,
but which, owing to a betrayal - when was a Stuart not betrayed
and sold? - miscarried.  He was relating to the group about him
the details of that disaster.

"Oddslife, gentlemen," he was exclaiming, "I tell you that, but
for that roaring dog, Sir Crispin Galliard, the whole of
Middleton's regiment had been cut to pieces.  There we stood on
Red Hill, trapped as ever fish in a net, with the whole of
Lilburne's men rising out of the ground to enclose and destroy
us.  A living wall of steel it was, and on every hand the call
to surrender.  There was dismay in my heart, as I'll swear
there was dismay in the heart of every man of us, and I make
little doubt, gentlemen, that with but scant pressing we had
thrown down our arms, so disheartened were we by that ambush. 
Then of a sudden there arose above the clatter of steel and
Puritan cries, a loud, clear, defiant shout of "Hey for
Cavaliers!"

"I turned, and there in his stirrups stood that madman
Galliard, waving his sword and holding his company together
with the power of his will, his courage, and his voice.  The
sight of him was like wine to our blood.  "Into them,
gentlemen; follow me!" he roared.  And then, with a hurricane
of oaths, he hurled his company against the pike-men.  The blow
was irresistible, and above the din of it came that voice of
his again: "Up, Cavaliers!  Slash the cuckolds to ribbons,
gentlemen!"  The cropears gave way, and like a river that has
burst its dam, we poured through the opening in their ranks and
headed back for Worcester."

There was a roar of voices as Faversham ended, and around that
table "The Tavern Knight" was for some minutes the only toast.

Meanwhile half a dozen merry-makers at a table hard by, having
drunk themselves out of all sense of fitness, were occupied in
baiting a pale-faced lad, sombrely attired, who seemed sadly
out of place in that wild company - indeed, he had been better
advised to have avoided it.

The matter had been set afoot by a pleasantry of Ensign
Tyler's, of Massey's dragoons, with a playful allusion to a
letter in a feminine hand which Kenneth had let fall, and which
Tyler had restored to him.  Quip had followed quip until in
their jests they transcended all bounds.  Livid with passion
and unable to endure more, Kenneth had sprung up.

"Damnation!" he blazed, bringing his clenched hand down upon
the table.  "One more of your foul jests and he that utters it
shall answer to me!"

The suddenness of his action and the fierceness of his tone and
gesture - a fierceness so grotesquely ill-attuned to his
slender frame and clerkly attire left the company for a moment
speechless with amazement.  Then a mighty burst of laughter
greeted him, above which sounded the shrill voice of Tyler, who
held his sides, and down whose crimson cheeks two tears of
mirth were trickling.

"Oh, fie, fie, good Master Stewart!" he gasped.  "What think
you would the reverend elders say to this bellicose attitude
and this profane tongue of yours?"

"And what think you would the King say to this drunken
poltroonery of yours?" was the hot unguarded answer. 
"Poltroonery, I say," he repeated, embracing the whole company
in his glance.

The laughter died down as Kenneth's insult penetrated their
befuddled minds.  An instant's lull there was, like the lull in
nature that precedes a clap of thunder.  Then, as with one
accord, a dozen of them bore down upon him.

It was a vile thing they did, perhaps; but then they had drunk
deep, and Kenneth Stewart counted no friend amongst them.  In
an instant they had him, kicking and biting, on the floor; his
doublet was torn rudely open, and from his breast Tyler plucked
the letter whose existence had led to this shameless scene.

But ere he could so much as unfold it, a voice rang harsh and
imperative:

"Hold!"

Pausing, they turned to confront a tall, gaunt man in a leather
jerkin and a broad hat decked by goose-quill, who came slowly
forward.

"The Tavern Knight," cried one, and the shout of "A rouse for
the hero of Red Hill!" was taken up on every hand.  For despite
his sour visage and ungracious ways there was not a roysterer
in the Royal army to whom he was not dear.

But as he now advanced, the coldness of his bearing and the
forbidding set of his face froze them into silence.

"Give me that letter," he demanded sternly of Tyler.

Taken aback, Tyler hesitated for a second, whilst Crispin
waited with hand outstretched.  Vainly did he look round for
sign or word of help or counsel.  None was afforded him by his
fellow-revellers, who one and all hung back in silence.

Seeing himself thus unsupported, and far from wishing to try
conclusions with Galliard, Tyler with an ill grace surrendered
the paper; and, with a pleasant bow and a word of thanks,
delivered with never so slight a saturnine smile, Crispin
turned on his heel and left the tavern as abruptly as he had
entered it.

The din it was that had attracted him as he passed by on his
way to the Episcopal Palace where a part of his company was on
guard duty.  Thither he now pursued his way, bearing with him
the letter which so opportunely he had become possessed of, and
which he hoped might throw further light upon Kenneth's
relations with the Ashburns.

But as he reached the palace there was a quick step behind him. 
and a hand fell upon his arm.  He turned.

"Ah, 'tis you, Kenneth," he muttered, and would have passed on,
but the boy's hand took him by the sleeve.

"Sir Crispin," said he, "I came to thank you."

"I have done nothing to deserve your thanks.  Give you good
evening."  And he made shift to mount the steps when again
Kenneth detained him.

"You are forgetting the letter, Sir Crispin," he ventured, and
he held out his hand to receive it.

Galliard saw the gesture, and for a moment it crossed his mind
in self-reproach that the part he chose to play was that of a
bully.  A second he hesitated.  Should he surrender the letter
unread, and fight on without the aid of the information it
might bring him?  Then the thought of Ashburn and of his own
deep wrongs that cried out for vengeance, overcame and stifled
the generous impulse.  His manner grew yet more frozen as he
made answer:

"There has been too much ado about this letter to warrant my so
lightly parting with it.  First I will satisfy myself that I
have been no unconscious abettor of treason.  You shall have
your letter tomorrow, Master Stewart."

"Treason!" echoed Kenneth.  And before that cold rebuff of
Crispin's his mood changed from conciliatory to resentful -
resentful towards the fates that made him this man's debtor.

"I assure you, on my honour," said he, mastering his feelings,
"that this is but a letter from the lady I hope to make my
wife.  Assuredly, sir, you will not now insist upon reading
it."

"Assuredly I shall."

"But, sir - "

"Master Stewart, I am resolved, and were you to talk from now
till doomsday, you would not turn me from my purpose.  So good
night to you."

"Sir Crispin," cried the boy, his voice quavering with passion,
"while I live you shall not read that letter!"

"Hoity-toity, sir!  What words!  What heroics!  And yet you
would have me believe this paper innocent?"

"As innocent as the hand that penned it, and if I so oppose
your reading it, it is because thus much I owe her.  Believe
me, sir," he added, his accents returning to a beseeching key,
"when again I swear that it is no more than such a letter any
maid may write her lover.  I thought that you had understood
all this when you rescued me from those bullies at The Mitre. 
I thought that what you did was a noble and generous deed. 
Instead - "  The lad paused.

"Continue, sir," Galliard requested coldly.  "Instead?"

"There can be no instead, Sir Crispin.  You will not mar so
good an action now.  You will give me my letter, will you not?"

Callous though he was, Crispin winced.  The breeding of earlier
days - so sadly warped, alas! - cried out within him against
the lie that he was acting by pretending to suspect treason in
that woman's pothooks.  Instincts of gentility and generosity
long dead took life again, resuscitated by that call of
conscience.  He was conquered.

"There, take your letter, boy, and plague me no more," he
growled, as he held it out to Kenneth.  And without waiting for
reply or acknowledgment, he turned on his heel, and entered the
palace.  But he had yielded overlate to leave a good impression
and, as Kenneth turned away, it was with a curse upon Galliard,
for whom his detestation seemed to increase at every step.




CHAPTER V

AFTER WORCESTER FIELD


The morn of the third of September - that date so propitious to
Cromwell, so disastrous to Charles - found Crispin the centre
of a company of gentlemen in battle-harness, assembled at The
Mitre Inn.  For a toast he gave them "The damnation of all
crop-ears."

"Sirs," quoth he, "a fair beginning to a fair day.  God send
the evening find us as merry."

It was not to be his good fortune, however, to be in the
earlier work of the day.  Until afternoon he was kept within
the walls of Worcester, chafing to be where hard knocks were
being dealt - with Montgomery at Powick Bridge, or with
Pittscottie on Bunn's Hill.  But he was forced to hold his mood
in curb, and wait until Charles and his advisers should elect
to make the general attack.

It came at last, and with it came the disastrous news that
Montgomery was routed, and Pittscottie in full retreat, whilst
Dalzell had surrendered, and Keith was taken.  Then was it that
the main body of the Royal army formed up at the Sidbury Gate,
and Crispin found himself in the centre, which was commanded by
the King in person.  In the brilliant charge that followed
there was no more conspicuous figure, no voice rang louder in
encouragement to the men.  For the first time that day
Cromwell's Ironsides gave back before the Royalists, who in
that fierce, irresistible charge, swept all before them until
they had reached the battery on Perry Wood, and driven the
Roundheads from it hell-to-leather.

It was a glorious moment, a moment in which the fortunes of the
day hung in the balance; the turn of the tide it seemed to them
at last.

Crispin was among the first to reach the guns, and with a great
shout of "Hurrah for Cavaliers!" he had cut down two gunners
that yet lingered.  His cry lacked not an echo, and a deafening
cheer broke upon the clamorous air as the Royalists found
themselves masters of the position.  Up the hill on either side
pressed the Duke of Hamilton and the Earl of Derby to support
the King.  It but remained for Lesley's Scottish horse to
follow and complete the rout of the Parliamentarian forces. 
Had they moved at that supreme moment who shall say what had
been the issue of Worcester field?  But they never stirred, and
the Royalists waiting on Perry Wood cursed Lesley for a foul
traitor who had sold his King.

With bitterness did they then realize that their great effort
was to be barren, their gallant charge in vain.  Unsupported,
their position grew fast untenable.

And presently, when Cromwell had gathered his scattered
Ironsides, that gallant host was driven fighting, down the hill
and back to the shelter of Worcester.  With the Roundheads
pressing hotly upon them they gained at last the Sidbury Gate,
but only to find that an overset ammunition wagon blocked the
entrance.  In this plight, and without attempting to move it,
they faced about to make a last stand against the Puritan
onslaught.

Charles had flung himself from his charger and climbed the
obstruction, and in this he was presently followed by others,
amongst whom was Crispin.

In the High Street Galliard came upon the King, mounted on a
fresh horse, addressing a Scottish regiment of foot.  The
soldiers had thrown down their arms and stood sullenly before
him, refusing to obey his command to take them up again and
help him attempt, even at that late hour, to retrieve the
fortunes of the day.  Crispin looked on in scorn and loathing. 
His passions awakened at the sight of Lesley's inaction needed
but this last breath to fan it into a very blaze of wrath.  And
what he said to them touching themselves, their country, and
the Kirk Committee that had made sheep of them, was so bitter
and contemptuous that none but men in the most parlous and
pitiable of conditions could have suffered it.

He was still hurling vituperations at them when Colonel Pride
with a troop of Parliamentarian horse - having completely
overcome the resistance at the Sidbury Gate - rode into the
town.  At the news of this, Crispin made a last appeal to the
infantry.

"Afoot, you Scottish curs!" he thundered.  "Would you rather be
cut to pieces as you stand? Up, you dogs, and since you know
not how to live, die at least without shame!"

But in vain did he rail.  In sullen quiet they remained, their
weapons on the ground before them.  And then, as Crispin was
turning away to see to his own safety, the King rode up again,
and again he sought to revive the courage that was dead in
those Scottish hearts.  If they would not stand by him, he
cried at last, let them slay him there, sooner than that he
should be taken captive to perish on the scaffold.

While he was still urging them, Crispin unceremoniously seized
his bridle.

"Will you stand here until you are taken, sire?" he cried. 
"Leave them, and look to your safety."

Charles turned a wondering eye upon the resolute, battle-grimed
face of the man that thus addressed him.  A faint, sad smile
parted his lips.

"You are right, sir," he made answer.  "Attend me."  And
turning about he rode down a side street with Galliard
following closely in his wake.

With the intention of doffing his armour and changing his
apparel, he made for the house in New Street where he had been
residing.  As they drew up before the door, Crispin, chancing
to look over his shoulder, rapped out an oath.

"Hasten, sire," he exclaimed, "here is a portion of Colonel's
Pride's troop."

The King looked round, and at sight of the Parliamentarians,
"It is ended," he muttered despairingly.  But already Crispin
had sprung from his horse.

"Dismount, sire," he roared, and he assisted him so vigorously
as to appear to drag him out of the saddle.

"Which way?" demanded Charles, looking helplessly from left to
right.  "Which way?"

But Crispin's quick mind had already shaped a plan.  Seizing
the royal arm - for who in such straits would deal
ceremoniously? - he thrust the King across the threshold, and,
following, closed the door and shot its only bolt.  But the
shout set up by the Puritans announced to them that their
movement had been detected.

The King turned upon Sir Crispin, and in the half-light of the
passage wherein they stood Galliard made out the frown that
bent the royal brows.

"And now?" demanded Charles, a note almost of reproach in his
voice.

"And now begone, sire," returned the knight.  "Begone ere they
come."

"Begone?" echoed Charles, in amazement.  "But whither, sir? 
Whither and how?"

His last words were almost drowned in the din without, as the
Roundheads pulled up before the house.

"By the back, sire," was the impatient answer.  "Through door
or window - as best you can.  The back must overlook the
Corn-Market; that is your way.  But hasten - in God's name
hasten! - ere they bethink them of it and cut off your
retreat."

As he spoke a violent blow shook the door.

"Quick, Your Majesty," he implored, in a frenzy.

Charles moved to depart, then paused.  "But you, sir?  Do you
not come with me?"

Crispin stamped his foot, and turned a face livid with
impatience upon his King.  In that moment all distinction of
rank lay forgotten.

"I must remain," he answered, speaking quickly.  "That crazy
door will not hold for a second once a stout man sets his
shoulder to it.  After the door they will find me, and for your
sake I trust I may prove of stouter stuff.  Fare you well,
sire," he ended in a softer tone.  "God guard Your Majesty and
send you happier days."

And, bending his knee, Crispin brushed the royal hand with his
hot lips.

A shower of blows clattered upon the timbers of the door, and
one of its panels was splintered by a musket-shot.  Charles saw
it, and with a muttered word that was not caught by Crispin, he
obeyed the knight, and fled.

Scarce had he disappeared down that narrow passage, when the
door gave way completely and with a mighty crash fell in.  Over
the ruins of it sprang a young Puritan-scarce more than a boy -
shouting: "The Lord of Hosts!"

But ere he had taken three strides the point of Crispin's
tuck-sword gave him pause.

"Halt!  You cannot pass this way."

"Back, son of Moab!" was the Roundhead's retort.  "Hinder me
not, at your peril."

Behind him, in the doorway, pressed others, who cried out to
him to cut down the Amalekite that stood between them and the
young man Charles Stuart.  But Crispin laughed grimly for
answer, and kept the officer in check with his point.

"Back, or I cut you down," threatened the Roundhead.  "I am
seeking the malignant Stuart."

"If by those blasphemous words you mean his sacred Majesty,
learn that he is where you will never be - in God's keeping."

"Presumptuous hound," stormed the lad, "giveway!"

Their swords met, and for a moment they ground one against the
other; then Crispin's blade darted out, swift as a lightning
flash, and took his opponent in the throat.

"You would have it so, rash fool," he deprecated.

The boy hurtled back into the arms of those behind, and as he
fell he dropped his rapier, which rolled almost to Crispin's
feet.  The knight stooped, and when again he stood erect,
confronting the rebels in that narrow passage, he held a sword
in either hand.

There was a momentary pause in the onslaught, then to his
dismay Crispin saw the barrel of a musket pointed at him over
the shoulder of one of his foremost assailants.  He set his
teeth for what was to come, and braced himself with the hope
that the King might already have made good his escape.

The end was at hand, he thought, and a fitting end, since his
last hope of redress was gone-destroyed by that fatal day's
defeat.

But of a sudden a cry rang out in a voice wherein rage and
anguish were blended fearfully, and simultaneously the musket
barrel was dashed aside.

"Take him alive!" was the cry of that voice.  "Take him alive!"
It was Colonel Pride himself, who having pushed his way
forward, now beheld the bleeding body of the youth Crispin had
slain.  "Take him alive!" roared the old man.  Then his voice
changing to one of exquisite agony - "My son, my boy," he
moaned.

At a glance Crispin caught the situation; but the old Puritan's
grief left him unmoved.

"You must have me alive?" he laughed grimly.  "Gadslife, but
the honour is like to cost you dear.  Well, sirs?  Who will be
next to court the distinction of dying by the sword of a
gentleman?" he mocked them.  "Come on, you sons of dogs!"

His answer was an angry growl, and straightway two men sprang
forward.  More than two could not attack him at once by virtue
of the narrowness of the passage.  Again steel clashed on
steel.  Crispin - lithe as a panther crouched low, and took one
of their swords on each of his.

A disengage and a double he foiled with ease, then by a turn of
the wrist he held for a second one opponent's blade; and before
the fellow could disengage again, he had brought his right-hand
sword across, and stabbed him in the neck.  Simultaneously his
other opponent had rushed in and thrust.  It was a risk Crispin
was forced to take, trusting to his armour to protect him.  It
did him the service he hoped from it; the trooper's sword
glanced harmlessly aside, whilst the fellow himself,
overbalanced by the fury of his onslaught, staggered helplessly
forward.  Ere he could recover, Crispin had spitted him from
side to side betwixt the straps that held his back and breast
together.

As the two men went down, one after the other, the watching
troopers set up a shout of rage, and pressed forward in a body. 
But the Tavern Knight stood his ground, and his points danced
dangerously before the eyes of the two foremost.  Alarmed, they
shouted to those behind to give them room to handle their
swords; but too late.  Crispin had seen the advantage, and
taken it.  Twice he had thrust, and another two sank bleeding
to the ground.

At that there came a pause, and somewhere in the street a knot
of them expostulated with Colonel Pride, and begged to be
allowed to pick off that murderous malignant with their
pistols.  But the grief-stricken father was obdurate.  He would
have the Amalekite alive that he might cause him to die a
hundred deaths in one.

And so two more were sent in to try conclusions with the
indomitable Galliard.  They went to work more warily.  He on
the left parried Crispin's stroke, then knocking up the
knight's blade, he rushed in and seized his wrist, shouting to
those behind to follow up.  But even as he did so, Crispin sent
back his other antagonist, howling and writhing with the pain
of a transfixed sword-arm, and turned his full attention upon
the foe that clung to him.  Not a second did he waste in
thought.  To have done so would have been fatal.  Instinctively
he knew that whilst he shortened his blade, others would rush
in; so, turning his wrist, he caught the man a crushing blow
full in the face with the pommel of his disengaged sword.

Fulminated by that terrific stroke, the man reeled back into
the arms of another who advanced.

Again there fell a pause.  Then silently a Roundhead charged
Sir Crispin with a pike.  He leapt nimbly aside, and the
murderous lunge shot past him; as he did so he dropped his
left-hand sword and caught at the halberd.  Exerting his whole
strength in a mighty pull, he brought the fellow that wielded
it toppling forward, and received him on his outstretched
blade.

Covered with blood - the blood of others --Crispin stood before
them now.  He was breathing hard and sweating at every pore,
but still grim and defiant.  His strength, he realized, was
ebbing fast.  Yet he shook himself, and asked them with a
gibing laugh did they not think that they had better shoot him.

The Roundheads paused again.  The fight had lasted but a few
moments, and already five of them were stretched upon the
ground, and a sixth disabled.  There was something in the
Tavern Knight's attitude and terrific, blood-bespattered
appearance that deterred them.  From out of his
powder-blackened face his eyes flashed fiercely, and a mocking
diabolical smile played round the corners of his mouth.  What
manner of man, they asked themselves, was this who could laugh
in such an extremity?  Superstition quickened their alarm as
they gazed upon his undaunted front, and told themselves this
was no man they fought against, but the foul fiend himself.

"Well, sirs," he mocked them presently.  "How long am I to
await your pleasure?"

They snarled for answer, yet hung back until Colonel Pride's
voice shook them into action.  In a body they charged him now,
so suddenly and violently that he was forced to give way. 
Cunningly did he ply his sword before them, but ineffectually. 
They had adopted fresh tactics, and engaging his blade they
acted cautiously and defensively, advancing steadily, and
compelling him to fall back.

Sir Crispin guessed their scheme at last, and vainly did he try
to hold his ground; his retreat slackened perhaps, but it was
still a retreat, and their defensive action gave him no
opening.  Vainly, yet by every trick of fence he was master of,
did he seek to lure the two foremost into attacking him;
stolidly they pursued the adopted plan, and steadily they
impelled him backward.

At last he reached the staircase, and he realized that did he
allow himself to go farther he was lost irretrievably.  Yet
farther was he driven; despite the strenuous efforts he put
forth, until on his right there was room for a man to slip on
to the stairs and take him in the flank.  Twice one of his
opponents essayed it, and twice did Galliard's deadly point
repel him.  But at the third attempt the man got through,
another stepped into his place in front, and thus from two,
Crispin's immediate assailants became increased to three.

He realized that the end was at hand, and wildly did he lay
about him, but to no purpose.  And presently, he who had gained
the stairs leaped suddenly upon him sideways, and clung to his
swordarm.  Before he could make a move to shake himself free,
the two that faced him had caught at his other arm.

Like one possessed he struggled then, for the sheer lust of
striving; but they that held him gripped effectively.

Thrice they bore him struggling to the ground, and thrice he
rose again and sought to shake them from him as a bull shakes
off a pack of dogs.  But they held fast, and again they forced
him down; others sprang to their aid, and the Tavern Knight
could rise no more.

"Disarm the dog!" cried Pride.  "Disarm and truss him hand and
foot."

"Sirs, you need not," he answered, gasping.  "I yield me.  Take
my sword.  I'll do your bidding."

The fight was fought and lost, but it had been a great Homeric
struggle, and he rejoiced almost that upon so worthy a scene of
his life was the curtain to fall, and again to hope that,
thanks to the stand he had made, the King should have succeeded
in effecting his escape.




CHAPTER VI

COMPANIONS IN MISFORTUNE


Through the streets of Worcester the Roundheads dragged Sir
Crispin, and for all that he was as hard and callous a man as
any that ever buckled on a cuirass, the horrors that in going
he beheld caused him more than once to shudder.

The place was become a shambles, and the very kennels ran with
blood.  The Royalist defeat was by now complete, and Cromwell's
fanatic butchers overran the town, vying to outdo one another
in savage cruelty and murder.  Houses were being broken into
and plundered, and their inmates - resisting or unresisting;
armed or unarmed; men, women and children alike were pitilessly
being put to the sword.  Charged was the air of Worcester with
the din of that fierce massacre.  The crashing of shivered
timbers, as doors were beaten in, mingled with the clatter and
grind of sword on sword, the crack of musket and pistol, the
clank of armour, and the stamping of men and horses in that
troubled hour.

And above all rang out the fierce, raucous blasphemy of the
slayers, and the shrieks of agony, the groans, the prayers, and
curses of their victims.

All this Sir Crispin saw and heard, and in the misery of it
all, he for the while forgot his own sorry condition, and left
unheeded the pike-butt wherewith the Puritan at his heels was
urging him along.

They paused at length in a quarter unknown to him before a
tolerably large house.  Its doors hung wide, and across the
threshold, in and out, moved two continuous streams of officers
and men.

A while Crispin and his captors stood in the spacious hall;
then they ushered him roughly into one of the abutting rooms. 
Here he was brought face to face with a man of middle height,
red and coarse of countenance and large of nose, who stood
fully armed in the centre of the chamber.  His head was
uncovered, and on the table at his side stood the morion he had
doffed.  He looked up as they entered, and for a few seconds
rested his glance sourly upon the lank, bold-eyed prisoner, who
coldly returned his stare.

"Whom have we here?" he inquired at length, his scrutiny having
told him nothing.

"One whose offence is too heinous to have earned him a
soldier's death, my lord," answered Pride.

"Therein you lie, you damned rebel!" cried Crispin.  "If accuse
you must, announce the truth.  Tell Master Cromwell" - for he
had guessed the man's identity - "that single-handed I held my
own against you and a score of you curs, and that not until I
had cut down seven of them was I taken.  Tell him that, master
psalm-singer, and let him judge whether you lied or not.  Tell
him, too, that you, who - "

"Have done!" cried Cromwell at length, stamping his foot. 
"Peace, or I'll have you gagged.  Now, Colonel, let us hear
your accusation."

At great length, and with endless interlarding of proverbs did
Pride relate how this impious malignant had been the means of
the young man, Charles Stuart, making good his escape when
otherwise he must have fallen into their hands.  He accused him
also of the murder of his son and of four other stout,
God-fearing troopers, and urged Cromwell to let him deal with
the malignant as he deserved.

The Lord General's answer took expression in a form that was
little puritanical.  Then, checking himself:

"He is the second they have brought me within ten minutes
charged with the same offence," said he.  "The other one is a
young fool who gave Charles Stuart his horse at Saint Martin's
Gate.  But for him again the young man had been taken."

"So he has escaped!" cried Crispin.  "Now, God be praised!"

Cromwell stared at him blankly for a moment, then:

"You will do well, sir," he muttered sourly, "to address the
Lord on your own behalf.  As for that young man of Baal, your
master, rejoice not yet in his escape.  By the same crowning
mercy in which the Lord hath vouchsafed us victory to-day shall
He also deliver the malignant youth into my hands.  For your
share in retarding his capture your life, sir, shall pay
forfeit.  You shall hang at daybreak together with that other
malignant who assisted Charles at the Saint Martin's Gate."

"I shall at least hang in good company," said Crispin
pleasantly, "and for that, sir, I give you thanks."

"You will pass the night with that other fool," Cromwell
continued, without heeding the interruption, "and I pray that
you may spend it in such meditation as shall fit you for your
end.  Take him away."

"But, my lord," exclaimed Pride, advancing.

"What now?"

Crispin caught not his answer, but his half-whispered words
were earnest and pleading.  Cromwell shook his head.

"I cannot sanction it.  Let it satisfy you that he dies.  I
condole with you in your bereavement, but it is the fortune of
war.  Let the thought that your son died in a godly cause be of
comfort to you.  Bear in mind, Colonel Pride, that Abraham
hesitated not to offer up his child to the Lord.  And so, fare
you well."

Colonel Pride's face worked oddly, and his eyes rested for a
second upon the stern, unmoved figure of the Tavern Knight in
malice and vindictiveness.  Then, shrugging his shoulders in
token of unwilling resignation, he withdrew, whilst Crispin was
led out.

In the hall again they kept him waiting for some moments, until
at length an officer came up, and bidding him follow, led the
way to the guardroom.  Here they stripped him of his
back-and-breast, and when that was done the officer again led
the way, and Crispin followed between two troopers.  They made
him mount three flights of stairs, and hurried him along a
passage to a door by which a soldier stood mounting guard.  At
a word from the officer the sentry turned, and unfastening the
heavy bolts, he opened the door.  Roughly the officer bade Sir
Crispin enter, and stood aside that he might pass.

Crispin obeyed him silently, and crossed the threshold to find
himself within a mean, gloomy chamber, and to hear the heavy
door closed and made fast again behind him.  His stout heart
sank a little as he realized that that closed door shut out to
him the world for ever; but once again would he cross that
threshold, and that would be the preface to the crossing of the
greater threshold of eternity.

Then something stirred in one of that room's dark corners, and
he started, to see that he was not alone, remembering that
Cromwell had said he was to have a companion in his last hours.

"Who are you?" came a dull voice - a voice that was eloquent of
misery.

"Master Stewart!" he exclaimed, recognizing his companion.  "So
it was you gave the King your horse at the Saint Martin's Gate!
May Heaven reward you.  Gadswounds," he added, "I had little
thought to meet you again this side the grave."

"Would to Heaven you had not!" was the doleful answer.  "What
make you here?"

"By your good leave and with your help I'll make as merry as a
man may whose sands are all but run.  The Lord General - whom
the devil roast in his time will make a pendulum of me at
daybreak, and gives me the night in which to prepare."

The lad came forward into the light, and eyed Sir Crispin
sorrowfully.

"We are companions in misfortune, then."

"Were we ever companions in aught else? Come, sir, be of better
cheer.  Since it is to be our last night in this poor world,
let us spend it as pleasantly as may be."

"Pleasantly?"

"Twill clearly be difficult," answered Crispin, with a laugh. 
"Were we in Christian hands they'd not deny us a black jack
over which to relish our last jest, and to warm us against the
night air, which must be chill in this garret.  But these
crop-ears ..."  He paused to peer into the pitcher on the
table.  "Water!  Pah!  A scurvy lot, these psalm-mongers!"

"Merciful Heaven!  Have you no thought for your end?"

"Every thought, good youth, every thought, and I would fain
prepare me for the morning's dance in a more jovial and hearty
fashion than Old Noll will afford me - damn him!"

Kenneth drew back in horror.  His old dislike for Crispin was
all aroused by this indecent flippancy at such a time.  Just
then the thought of spending the night in his company almost
effaced the horror of the gallows whereof he had been a prey.

Noting the movement, Crispin laughed disdainfully, and walked
towards the window.  It was a small opening, by which two iron
bars, set crosswise, defied escape.  Moreover, as Crispin
looked out, he realized that a more effective barrier lay in
the height of the window itself.  The house overlooked the
river on that side; it was built upon an embankment some thirty
feet high; around this, at the base of the edifice, and some
forty feet below the window, ran a narrow pathway protected by
an iron railing.  But so narrow was it, that had a man sprung
from the casement of Crispin's prison, it was odds he would
have fallen into the river some seventy feet below.  Crispin
turned away with a sigh.  He had approached the window almost
in hope; he quitted it in absolute despair.

"Ah, well," said he, "we will hang, and there's the end of it."

Kenneth had resumed his seat in the corner, and, wrapped in his
cloak, he sat steeped in meditation, his comely young face
seared with lines of pain.  As Crispin looked upon him then,
his heart softened and went out to the lad - went out as it had
done on the night when first he had beheld him in the courtyard
of Perth Castle.

He recalled the details of that meeting; he remembered the
sympathy that had drawn him to the boy, and how Kenneth had at
first appeared to reciprocate that feeling, until he came to
know him for the rakehelly, godless ruffler that he was.  He
thought of the gulf that gradually had opened up between them. 
The lad was righteous and God-fearing, truthful and sober,
filled with stern ideals by which he sought to shape his life. 
He had taxed Crispin with his dissoluteness, and Crispin,
despising him for a milksop, had returned to his disgust with
mockery, and had found a fiendish pleasure in arousing that
disgust at every turn.

To-night, as Crispin eyed the youth, and remembered that at
dawn he was to die in his company, he realized that he had used
him ill, that his behaviour towards him had been that of the
dissolute ruffler he was become, rather than of the gentleman
he had once accounted himself.

"Kenneth," he said at length, and his voice bore so unusually
mild a ring that the lad looked up in surprise.  "I have heard
tell that it is no uncommon thing for men upon the threshold of
eternity to seek to repair some of the evil they may have done
in life."

Kenneth shuddered.  Crispin's words reminded him again of his
approaching end.  The ruffler paused a moment, as if awaiting a
reply or a word of encouragement.  Then, as none came, he
continued:

"I am not one of your repentant sinners, Kenneth.  I have lived
my life - God, what a life! - and as I have lived I shall die,
unflinching and unchanged.  Dare one to presume that a few
hours spent in whining prayers shall atone for years of
reckless dissoluteness?  "Tis a doctrine of cravens, who,
having lacked in life the strength to live as conscience bade
them, lack in death the courage to stand by that life's deeds. 
I am no such traitor to myself.  If my life has been vile my
temptations have been sore, and the rest is in God's hands. 
But in my course I have sinned against many men; many a tall
fellow's life have I wantonly wrecked; some, indeed, I have
even taken in wantonness or anger.  They are not by, nor, were
they, could I now make amends.  But you at least are here, and
what little reparation may lie in asking pardon I can make. 
When I first saw you at Perth it was my wish to make you my
friend - a feeling I have not had these twenty years towards
any man.  I failed.  How else could it have been?  The dove may
not nest with the carrion bird."

"Say no more, sir," cried Kenneth, genuinely moved, and still
more amazed by this curious humility in one whom he had never
known other than arrogant and mocking.  "I beseech you, say no
more.  For what trifling wrongs you may have done me I forgive
you as freely as I would be forgiven.  Is it not written that
it shall be so?"  And he held out his hand.

"A little more I must say, Kenneth," answered the other,
leaving the outstretched hand unheeded.  "The feeling that was
born in me towards you at Perth Castle is on me again.  I seek
not to account for it.  Perchance it springs from my
recognition of the difference betwixt us; perchance I see in
you a reflection of what once I was myself - honourable and
true.  But let that be.  The sun is setting over yonder, and
you and I will behold it no more.  That to me is a small thing. 
I am weary.  Hope is dead; and when that is dead what does it
signify that the body die also?  Yet in these last hours that
we shall spend together I would at least have your esteem.  I
would have you forget my past harshness and the wrongs that I
may have done you down to that miserable affair of your
sweetheart's letter, yesterday.  I would have you realize that
if I am vile, I am but such as a vile world hath made me.  And
tomorrow when we go forth together, I would have you see in me
at least a man in whose company you are not ashamed to die."

Again the lad shuddered.

"Shall I tell you my story, Kenneth?  I have a strong desire to
go over this poor life of mine again in memory, and by giving
my thoughts utterance it may be that they will take more vivid
shape.  For the rest my tale may wile away a little of the time
that's left, and when you have heard me you shall judge me,
Kenneth.  What say you?"

Despite the parlous condition whereunto the fear of the morrow
had reduced him, this new tone of Galliard's so wrought upon
him then that he was almost eager in his request that Sir
Crispin should unfold his story.  And this the Tavern Knight
then set himself to do.




CHAPTER VII

THE TAVERN KNIGHT'S STORY


Sir Crispin walked from the window by which he had been
standing, to the rough bed, and flung himself full length upon
it.  The only chair that dismal room contained was occupied by
Kenneth.  Galliard heaved a sigh of physical satisfaction.

"Fore George, I knew not I was so tired," he murmured.  And
with that he lapsed for some moments into silence, his brows
contracted in the frown of one who collects his thoughts.  At
length he began, speaking in calm, unemotional tones that held
perchance deeper pathos than a more passionate utterance could
have endowed them with:

"Long ago - twenty years ago - I was, as I have said, an
honourable lad, to whom the world was a fair garden, a place of
rosebuds, fragrant with hope.  Those, Kenneth, were my
illusions.  They are the illusions of youth; they are youth
itself, for when our illusions are gone we are no longer young
no matter what years we count.  Keep your illusions, Kenneth;
treasure them, hoard them jealously for as long as you may."

"I dare swear, sir," answered the lad, with bitter humour,
"that such illusions as I have I shall treasure all my life. 
You forget, Sir Crispin."

"'Slife, I had indeed forgotten.  For the moment I had gone
back twenty years, and to-morrow was none so near."  He laughed
softly, as though his lapse of memory amused him.  Then he
resumed:

"I was the only son, Kenneth, of the noblest gentleman that
ever lived - the heir to an ancient, honoured name, and to a
castle as proud and lands as fair and broad as any in England.

"They lie who say that from the dawn we may foretell the day. 
Never was there a brighter dawn than that of my life; never a
day so wasted; never an evening so dark.  But let that be.

"Our lands were touched upon the northern side by those of a
house with which we had been at feud for two hundred years and
more.  Puritans they were, stern and haughty in their ungodly
righteousness.  They held us dissolute because we enjoyed the
life that God had given us, and there I am told the hatred
first began.

"When I was a lad of your years, Kenneth, the hall - ours was
the castle, theirs the hall - was occupied by two young sparks
who made little shift to keep up the pious reputation of their
house.  They dwelt there with their mother - a woman too weak
to check their ways, and holding, mayhap, herself, views not
altogether puritanical.  They discarded the sober black their
forbears had worn for generations, and donned gay Cavalier
garments.  They let their love-locks grow; set plumes in their
castors and jewels in their ears; they drank deep, ruffled it
with the boldest and decked their utterance with great oaths -
for to none doth blasphemy come more readily than to lips that
in youth have been overmuch shaped in unwilling prayer.

"Me they avoided as they would a plague, and when at times we
met, our salutations were grave as those of, men on the point
of crossing swords.  I despised them for their coarse, ruffling
apostasy more than ever my father had despised their father for
a bigot, and they guessing or knowing by instinct what was in
my mind held me in deeper rancour even than their ancestors had
done mine.  And more galling still and yet a sharper spur to
their hatred did those whelps find in the realization that all
the countryside held, as it had held for ages, us to be their
betters.  A hard blow to their pride was that, but their
revenge was not long in coming.

"It chanced they had a cousin - a maid as sweet and fair and
pure as they were hideous and foul.  We met in the meads - she
and I.  Spring was the time - God!  It seems but yesterday! -
and each in our bearing towards the other forgot the traditions
of the names we bore.  And as at first we had met by chance, so
did we meet later by contrivance, not once or twice, but many
times.  God, how sweet she was!  How sweet was all the world! 
How sweet it was to live and to be young!  We loved.  How else
could it have been?  What to us were traditions, what to us the
hatred that for centuries had held our families asunder?  In us
it lay to set aside all that.

"And so I sought my father.  He cursed me at first for an
unnatural son who left unheeded the dictates of our blood.  But
anon, when on my knees I had urged my cause with all the
eloquent fervour that is but of youth - youth that loves - my
father cursed no more.  His thoughts went back maybe to the
days of his own youth, and he bade me rise and go a-wooing as I
listed.  Nay, more than that he did.  The first of our name was
he out of ten generations to set foot across the threshold of
the hall; he went on my behalf to sue for their cousin's hand.

"Then was their hour.  To them that had been taught the
humiliating lesson that we were their betters, one of us came
suing.  They from whom the countryside looked for silence when
one of us spoke, had it in their hands at length to say us nay. 
And they said it.  What answer my father made them, Kenneth, I
know not, but very white was his face when I met him on the
castle steps on his return.  In burning words he told me of the
insult they had put upon him, then silently he pointed to the
Toledo that two years before he had brought me out of Spain,
and left me.  But I had understood.  Softly I unsheathed that
virgin blade and read the Spanish inscription, that through my
tears of rage and shame seemed blurred; a proud inscription was
it, instinct with the punctilio of proud Spain - "Draw me not
without motive, sheathe me not without honour."  Motive there
was and to spare; honour I swore there should be; and with that
oath, and that brave sword girt to me, I set out to my first
combat."

Sir Crispin paused and a sigh escaped him, followed by a laugh
of bitterness.

"I lost that sword years ago," said he musingly.  "The sword
and I have been close friends in life, but my companion has
been a blade of coarser make, carrying no inscriptions to prick
at a man's conscience and make a craven of him."

He laughed again, and again he fell a-musing, till Kenneth's
voice aroused him.

"Your story, sir."

Twilight shadows were gathering in their garret, and as he
turned his face towards the youth, he was unable to make out
his features; but his tone had been eager, and Crispin noted
that he sat with head bent forward and that his eyes shone
feverishly.

"It interests you, eh?  Ah, well - hot foot I went to the hall,
and with burning words I called upon those dogs to render
satisfaction for the dishonour they had put upon my house. 
Will you believe, Kenneth, that they denied me?  They sheltered
their craven lives behind a shield of mock valour.  They would
not fight a boy, they said, and bade me get my beard grown when
haply they would give ear to my grievance.

"And so, a shame and rage a hundredfold more bitter than that
which I had borne thither did I carry thence.  My father bade
me treasure up the memory of it against the time when my riper
years should compel them to attend me, and this, by my every
hope of heaven, I swore to do.  He bade me further efface for
ever from my mind all thought or hope of union with their
cousin, and though I made him no answer at the time, yet in my
heart I promised to obey him in that, too.  But I was young -
scarce twenty.  A week without sight of my mistress and I grew
sick with despair.  Then at length I came upon her, pale and
tearful, one evening, and in an agony of passion and
hopelessness I flung myself at her feet, and implored her to
keep true to me and wait, and she, poor maid, to her undoing
swore that she would.  You are yourself a lover, Kenneth, and
you may guess something of the impatience that anon beset me. 
How could I wait?  I asked her this.

"Some fifty miles from the castle there was a little farm, in
the very heart of the country, which had been left me by a
sister of my mother's.  Thither I now implored her to repair
with me.  I would find a priest to wed us, and there we should
live a while in happiness, in solitude, and in love.  An
alluring picture did I draw with all a lover's cunning, and to
the charms of it she fell a victim.  We fled three days later.

"We were wed in the village that pays allegiance to the castle,
and thereafter we travelled swiftly and undisturbed to that
little homestead.  There in solitude, with but two servants - a
man and a maid whom I could trust - we lived and loved, and for
a season, brief as all happiness is doomed to be, we were
happy.  Her cousins had no knowledge of that farm of mine, and
though they searched the country for many a mile around, they
searched in vain.  My father knew - as I learned afterwards -
but deeming that what was done might not be undone, he held his
peace.  In the following spring a babe was born to us, and our
bliss made heaven of that cottage.

"Twas a month or so after the birth of our child that the blow
descended.  I was away, enjoying alone the pleasures of the
chase; my man was gone a journey to the nearest town, whence he
would not return until the morrow.  Oft have I cursed the folly
that led me to take my gun and go forth into the woods, leaving
no protector for my wife but one weak woman.

"I returned earlier than I had thought to do, led mayhap by
some angel that sought to have me back in time.  But I came too
late.  At my gate I found two freshly ridden horses tethered,
and it was with a dull foreboding in my heart that I sprang
through the open door.  Within - O God, the anguish of it! -
stretched on the floor I beheld my love, a gaping sword-wound
in her side, and the ground all bloody about her.  For a moment
I stood dumb in the spell of that horror, then a movement
beyond, against the wall, aroused me, and I beheld her
murderers cowering there, one with a naked sword in his hand.

"In that fell hour, Kenneth, my whole nature changed, and one
who had ever been gentle was transformed into the violent,
passionate man that you have known.  As my eye encountered then
her cousins, my blood seemed on the instant curdled in my
veins; my teeth were set hard; my nerves and sinews knotted; my
hands instinctively shifted to the barrel of my fowling-piece
and clutched it with the fierceness that was in me - the
fierceness of the beast about to spring upon those that have
brought it to bay.

"For a moment I stood swaying there, my eyes upon them, and
holding their craven glances fascinated.  Then with a roar I
leapt forward, the stock of my fowling-piece swung high above
my head.  And, as God lives, Kenneth, I had sent them straight
to hell ere they could have raised a hand or made a cry to stay
me.  But as I sprang my foot slipped in the blood of my
beloved, and in my fall I came close to her where she lay.  The
fowling-piece had escaped my grasp and crashed against the
wall.

"I scarce knew what I did, but as I lay beside her it came to
me that I did not wish to rise again - that already I had lived
overlong.  It came to me that, seeing me fallen, haply those
cowards would seize the chance to make an end of me as I lay. 
I wished it so in that moment's frenzy, for I made no attempt
to rise or to defend myself; instead I set my arms about my
poor murdered love, and against her cold cheek I set my face
that was well-nigh as cold.

"And thus I lay, nor did they keep me long.  A sword was passed
through me from back to breast, whilst he who did it cursed me
with a foul oath.  The room grew dim; methought it swayed and
that the walls were tottering; there was a buzz of sound in my
ears, then a piercing cry in a baby voice.  At the sound of it
I vaguely wished for the strength to rise.  As in the distance,
I heard one of those butchers cry, "Haste, man; slit me that
squalling bastard's throat!"  And then I must have swooned."

Kenneth shuddered.

"My God, how horrible!" he cried.  "But you were avenged, Sir
Crispin," he added eagerly; "you were avenged?"

"When I regained consciousness," Crispin continued, as if he
had not heard Kenneth's exclamation, "the cottage was in
flames, set alight by them to burn the evidence of their foul
deed.  What I did I know not.  I have tried to urge my memory
along from the point of my awakening, but in vain.  By what
miracle I crawled forth, I cannot tell; but in the morning I
was found by my man lying prone in the garden, half a dozen
paces from the blackened ruins of the cottage, as near death as
man may go and live.

"God willed that I should not die, but it was close upon a year
before I was restored to any semblance of my former self, and
then I was so changed that I was hardly to be recognized as
that same joyous, vigorous lad, who had set out, fowling-piece
on shoulder, one fine morning a year agone.  There was grey in
my hair, as much as there is now, though I was but twenty-one;
my face was seared and marked as that of a man who had lived
twice my years.  It was to my faithful servant that I owed my
life, though I ask myself to-night whether I have cause for
gratitude towards him on that score.

"So soon as I had regained sufficient strength, I went secretly
home, wishing that men might continue to believe me dead.  My
father I found much aged by grief, but he was kind and tender
with me beyond all words.  From him I had it that our enemies
were gone to France; it would seem they had thought it better
to remain absent for a while.  He had learnt that they were in
Paris, and hither I determined forthwith to follow them. 
Vainly did my father remonstrate with me; vainly did he urge me
rather: to bear my story to the King at Whitehall and seek. 
for justice.  I had been well advised had I obeyed this
counsel, but I burned to take my vengeance with my own hands,
and with this purpose I repaired to France.

"Two nights after my arrival in Paris it was my, ill-fortune to
be embroiled in a rough-and-tumble in the streets, and by an
ill-chance I killed a man - the first was he of several that I
have sent whither I am going to-morrow.  The affair was like to
have cost me my life, but by another of those miracles which
have prolonged it, I was sent instead to the galleys on the
Mediterranean.  It was only wanting that, after all that
already I had endured, I should become a galley-slave!

"For twelve long years I toiled at an oar, and waited.  If I
lived I would return to England; and if I returned, woe unto
those that had wrecked my life - my body and my soul.  I did
live, and I did return.  The Civil War had broken out, and I
came to throw my sword into the balance on the King's side: I
came, too, to be avenged, but that would wait.

"Meanwhile, the score had grown heavier.  I went home to find
the castle in usurping hands - in the hands of my enemies.  My
father was dead; he died a few months after I had gone to
France; and those murderers had advanced a claim that through
my marriage with their cousin, since dead, and through my own
death, there being no next of kin, they were the heirs-at-law. 
The Parliament allowed their claim, and they were installed. 
But when I came they were away, following the fortunes of the
Parliament that had served them so well.  And so I determined
to let my vengeance wait until the war were ended and the
Parliament destroyed.  In a hundred engagements did I
distinguish myself by my recklessness even as at other seasons
I distinguished myself by my debaucheries.

"Ah, Kenneth, you have been hard upon me for my vices, for my
abuses of the cup, and all the rest.  But can you be hard upon
me still, knowing what I had suffered, and what a weight of
misery I bore with me?  I, whose life was wrecked beyond
salvation; who only lived that I might slit the throats of
those that had so irreparably wronged me.  Think you still that
it was so vicious a thing, so unpardonable an offence to seek
the blessed nepenthe of the wine-cup, the heavenly
forgetfulness that its abuses brought me?  Is it strange that I
became known as the wildest tantivy boy that rode with the
King?  What else had I?"

"In all truth your trials were sore," said the lad in a voice
that contained a note of sympathy.  And yet there was a certain
restraint that caught the Tavern Knight's ear.  He turned his
head and bent his eyes in the lad's direction, but it was quite
dark by now, and he failed to make out his companion's face.

"My tale is told, Kenneth.  The rest you can guess.  The King
did not prevail and I was forced to fly from England with those
others who escaped from the butchers that had made a martyr of
Charles.  I took service in France under the great Conde, and I
saw some mighty battles.  At length came the council of Breda
and the invitation to Charles the Second to receive the crown
of Scotland.  I set out again to follow his fortunes as I had
followed his father's, realizing that by so doing I followed my
own, and that did he prevail I should have the redress and
vengeance so long awaited.  To-day has dashed my last hope;
to-morrow at this hour it will not signify.  And yet much would
I give to have my fingers on the throats of those two hounds
before the hangman's close around my own."

There was a spell of silence as the two men sat, both breathing
heavily in the gloom that enveloped them.  At length:

"You have heard my story, Kenneth," said Crispin.

"I have heard, Sir Crispin, and God knows I pity you."

That was all, and Galliard felt that it was not enough.  He had
lacerated his soul with those grim memories to earn a yet
kinder word.  He had looked even to hear the lad suing for
pardon for the harsh opinions wherein he had held him.  Strange
was this yearning of his for the boy's sympathy.  He who for
twenty years had gone unloving and unloved, sought now in his
extremity affection from a fellow-man.

And so in the gloom he waited for a kinder word that came not;
then - so urgent was his need - he set himself to beg it.

"Can you not understand now, Kenneth, how I came to fall so
low?  Can you not understand this dissoluteness of mine, which
led them to dub me the Tavern Knight after the King conferred
upon me the honour of knighthood for that stand of mine in
Fifeshire?  You must understand, Kenneth," he insisted almost
piteously, "and knowing all, you must judge me more mercifully
than hitherto."

"It is not mine to judge, Sir Crispin.  I pity you with all my
heart," the lad replied, not ungently.

Still the knight was dissatisfied.  "Yours it is to judge as
every man may judge his fellowman.  You mean it is not yours to
sentence.  But if yours it were, Kenneth, what then?"

The lad paused a moment ere he answered.  His bigoted
Presbyterian training was strong within him, and although, as
he said, he pitied Galliard, yet to him whose mind was stuffed
with life's precepts, and who knew naught of the trials it
brings to some and the temptations to which they were not human
did they not succumb - it seemed that vice was not to be
excused by misfortune.  Out of mercy then he paused, and for a
moment he had it even in his mind to cheer his fellow-captive
with a lie.  Then, remembering that he was to die upon the
morrow, and that at such a time it was not well to risk the
perdition of his soul by an untruth, however merciful, he
answered slowly:

"Were I to judge you, since you ask me, sir, I should be
merciful because of your misfortunes.  And yet, Sir Crispin,
your profligacy and the evil you have wrought in life must
weigh heavily against you."  Had this immaculate bigot, this
churlish milksop been as candid with himself as he was with
Crispin, he must have recognized that it was mainly Crispin's
offences towards himself that his mind now dwelt on in=deeper
rancour than became one so well acquainted with the Lord's
Prayer.

"You had not cause enough," he added impressively, "to defile
your soul and risk its eternal damnation because the evil of
others had wrecked your life."

Crispin drew breath with the sharp hiss of one in pain, and for
a moment after all was still.  Then a bitter laugh broke from
him.

"Bravely answered, reverend sir," he cried with biting scorn. 
"I marvel only that you left your pulpit to gird on a sword;
that you doffed your cassock to don a cuirass.  Here is a text
for you who deal in texts, my brave Jack Presbyter - "Judge you
your neighbour as you would yourself be judged; be merciful as
you would hope for mercy."  Chew you the cud of that until the
hangman's coming in the morning.  Good night to you."

And throwing himself back upon the bed, Crispin sought comfort
in sleep.  His limbs were heavy and his heart was sick.

"You misapprehend me, Sir Crispin," cried the lad, stung almost
to shame by Galliard's reproach, and also mayhap into some fear
that hereafter he should find little mercy for his own lack of
it towards a poor fellow-sinner.  "I spoke not as I would
judge, but as the Church teaches."

"If the Church teaches no better I rejoice that I was no
churchman," grunted Crispin.

"For myself," the lad pursued, heeding not the irreverent
interruption, "as I have said, I pity you with all my heart. 
More than that, so deeply do I feel, so great a loathing and
indignation has your story sown in my heart, that were our
liberty now restored us I would willingly join hands with you
in wreaking vengeance on these evildoers."

Sir Crispin laughed.  He judged the tone rather than the words,
and it rang hollow.

"Where are your wits, O casuist?" he cried mockingly.  "Where
are your doctrines?  'Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord!' 
Pah!"

And with that final ejaculation, pregnant with contempt and
bitterness, he composed himself to sleep.

He was accursed he told himself.  He must die alone, as he had
lived.




CHAPTER VIII

THE TWISTED BAR


Nature asserted herself, and, despite his condition, Crispin
slept.  Kenneth sat huddled on his chair, and in awe and
amazement he listened to his companion's regular breathing.  He
had not Galliard's nerves nor Galliard's indifference to death,
so that neither could he follow his example, nor yet so much as
realize how one should slumber upon the very brink of eternity.

For a moment his wonder stood perilously near to admiration;
then his religious training swayed him, and his righteousness
almost drew from him a contempt of this man's apathy.  There
was much of the Pharisee's attitude towards the publican in his
mood.

Anon that regular breathing grew irritating to him; it drew so
marked a contrast 'twixt Crispin's frame of mind and his own. 
Whilst Crispin had related his story, the interest it awakened
had served to banish the spectre of fear which the thought of
the morrow conjured up.  Now that Crispin was silent and
asleep, that spectre returned, and the lad grew numb and sick
with the horror of his position.

Thought followed thought as he sat huddled there with sunken
head and hands clasped tight between his knees, and they were
mostly of his dull uneventful days in Scotland, and ever and
anon of Cynthia, his beloved.  Would she hear of his end? 
Would she weep for him? - as though it mattered!  And every
train of thought that he embarked upon brought him to the same
issue - to-morrow!  Shuddering he would clench his hands still
tighter, and the perspiration would stand' out in beads upon
his callow brow.

At length he flung himself upon his knees to address not so
much a prayer as a maudlin grievance to his Creator.  He felt
himself a craven - doubly so by virtue of the peaceful
breathing of that sinner he despised - and he told himself that
it was not in fear a gentleman should meet his end.

"But I shall be brave to-morrow.  I shall be brave," he
muttered, and knew not that it was vanity begat the thought,
and vanity that might uphold him on the morrow when there were
others by, however broken might be his spirit now.

Meanwhile Crispin slept.  When he awakened the light of a
lanthorn was on his face, and holding it stood beside him a
tall black figure in a cloak and a slouched hat whose broad
brim left the features unrevealed.

Still half asleep, and blinking like an owl, he sat up.

"I have always held burnt sack to be well enough, but - "

He stopped short, fully awake at last, and, suddenly
remembering his condition and thinking they were come for him,
he drew a sharp breath and in a voice as indifferent as he
could make it:

"What's o'clock?" he asked.

"Past midnight, miserable wretch," was the answer delivered in
a deep droning voice.  "Hast entered upon thy last day of life
- a day whose sun thou'lt never see.  But five hours more are
left thee."

"And it is to tell me this that you have awakened me?" demanded
Galliard in such a voice that he of the cloak recoiled a step,
as if he thought a blow must follow.  "Out on you for an
unmannerly cur to break upon a gentleman's repose."

"I come," returned the other in his droning voice, "to call
upon thee to repent."

"Plague me not," answered Crispin, with a yawn.  "I would
sleep."

"Soundly enough shalt thou sleep in a few hours' time.  Bethink
thee, miserable sinner, of thy soul."

"Sir," cried the Tavern Knight, "I am a man of marvellous short
endurance.  But mark you this your ways to heaven are not my
ways.  Indeed, if heaven be peopled by such croaking things as
you, I shall be thankful to escape it.  So go, my friend, ere I
become discourteous."

The minister stood in silence for a moment; then setting his
lanthorn upon the table, he raised his hands and eyes towards
the low ceiling of the chamber.

"Vouchsafe, O Lord," he prayed, "to touch yet the callous heart
of this obdurate, incorrigible sinner, this wicked, perjured
and blasphemous malignant, whose - "

He got no further.  Crispin was upon his feet, his harsh
countenance thrust into the very face of the minister; his eyes
ablaze.

"Out!" he thundered, pointing to the door.  "Out!  Begone!  I
would not be guilty at the end of my life of striking a man in
petticoats.  But go whilst I can bethink me of it!  Go - take
your prayers to hell."

The minister fell back before that blaze of passion.  For a
second he appeared to hesitate, then he turned towards Kenneth,
who stood behind in silence.  But the lad's Presbyterian
rearing had taught him to hate a sectarian as he would a papist
or as he would the devil, and he did no more than echo
Galliard's words - though in a gentler key.

"I pray you go," he said.  "But if you would perform an act of
charity, leave your lanthorn.  It will be dark enough
hereafter."

The minister looked keenly at the boy, and won over by the
humility of his tone, he set the lanthorn on the table.  Then
moving towards the door, he stopped and addressed himself to
Crispin.

"I go since you oppose with violence my ministrations.  But I
shall pray for you, and I will return anon, when perchance your
heart shall be softened by the near imminence of your end."

"Sir," quoth Crispin wearily, "you would outtalk a woman."

"I've done, I've done," he cried in trepidation, making shift
to depart.  On the threshold he paused again.  "I leave you the
lanthorn," he said.  "May it light you to a godlier frame of
mind.  I shall return at daybreak."  And with that he went.

Crispin yawned noisily when he was gone, and stretched himself. 
Then pointing to the pallet:

"Come, lad, 'tis your turn," said he.

Kenneth shivered.  "I could not sleep," he cried.  "I could
not."

"As you will."  And shrugging his shoulders, Crispin sat down
on the edge of the bed.

"For cold comforters commend me to these cropeared cuckolds,"
he grumbled.  "They are all thought for a man's soul, but for
his body they care nothing.  Here am I who for the last ten
hours have had neither meat nor drink.  Not that I mind the
meat so much, but, 'slife, my throat is dry as one of their
sermons, and I would cheerfully give four of my five hours of
life for a posset of sack.  A paltry lot are they, Kenneth,
holding that because a man must die at dawn he need not sup
to-night.  Heigho!  Some liar hath said that he who sleeps
dines, and if I sleep perchance I shall forget my thirst."

He stretched himself upon the bed, and presently he slept
again.

It was Kenneth who next awakened him.  He opened his eyes to
find the lad shivering as with an ague.  His face was ashen.

"Now, what's amiss?  Oddslife, what ails you?" he cried.

"Is there no way, Sir Crispin?  Is there naught you can do?"
wailed the youth.

Instantly Galliard sat up.

"Poor lad, does the thought of the rope affright you?"

Kenneth bowed his head in silence.

"Tis a scurvy death, I own.  Look you, Kenneth, there is a
dagger in my boot.  If you would rather have cold steel, 'tis
done.  It is the last service I may render you, and I'll be as
gentle as a mistress.  Just there, over the heart, and you'll
know no more until you are in Paradise."

Turning down the leather of his right boot, he thrust his hand
down the side of his leg.  But Kenneth sprang back with a cry.

"No, no," he cried, covering his face with his hands.  "Not
that!  You don't understand.  It is death itself I would cheat. 
What odds to exchange one form for another?  Is there no way
out of this?  Is there no way, Sir Crispin?" he demanded with
clenched hands.

"The approach of death makes you maudlin, sir," quoth the
other, in whom this pitiful show of fear produced a profound
disgust.  "Is there no way; say you?  There is the window, but
'tis seventy feet above the river; and there is the door, but
it is locked, and there is a sentry on the other side."

"I might have known it.  I might have known that you would mock
me.  What is death to you, to whom life offers nothing?  For
you the prospect of it has no terrors.  But for me - bethink
you, sir, I am scarce eighteen years of age," he added
brokenly, "and life was full of promise for me.  O God, pity
me!"

"True, lad, true," the knight returned in softened tones.  "I
had forgotten that death is not to you the blessed release that
it is to me.  And yet, and yet," he mused, "do I not die
leaving a task unfulfilled - a task of vengeance?  And by my
soul, I know no greater spur to make a man cling to life.  Ah,"
he sighed wistfully, "if indeed I could find a way."

"Think, Sir Crispin, think," cried the boy feverishly.

"To what purpose?  There is the window.  But even if the bars
were moved, which I see no manner of accomplishing, the drop to
the river is seventy feet at least.  I measured it with my eyes
when first we entered here.  We have no rope.  Your cloak rent
in two and the pieces tied together would scarce yield us ten
feet.  Would you care to jump the remaining sixty?"

At the very thought of it the lad trembled, noting which Sir
Crispin laughed softly.

"There.  And yet, boy, it would be taking a risk which if
successful would mean life - if otherwise, a speedier end than
even the rope will afford you.  Oddslife," he cried, suddenly
springing to his feet, and seizing the lanthorn.  "Let us look
at these bars."

He stepped across to the window, and held the light so that its
rays fell full upon the base of the vertical iron that barred
the square.

"It is much worn by rust, Kenneth," he muttered.  "The removal
of this single piece of iron," and he touched the lower arm of
the cross, "should afford us passage.  Who knows?  Hum!"

He walked back to the table and set the lanthorn down.  In a
tremble, Kenneth watched his every movement, but spoke no word.

"He who throws a main," said Galliard, "must set a stake upon
the board.  I set my life - a stake that is already forfeit -
and I throw for liberty.  If I win, I win all; if I lose, I
lose naught.  'Slife, I have thrown many a main with Fate, but
never one wherein the odds were more generous.  Come, Kenneth,
it is the only way, and we will attempt it if we can but move
the bar."

"You mean to leap?" gasped the lad.

"Into the river.  It is the only way."

"O God, I dare not.  It is a fearsome drop."

"Longer, I confess, than they'll give you in an hour's time, if
you remain; but it may lead elsewhere."

The boy's mouth was parched.  His eyes burned in their,
sockets, and yet his limbs shook with cold - but not the cold
of that September night.

"I'll try it," he muttered with a gulp.  Then suddenly
clutching Galliard's arm, he pointed to the window.

"What ails you now?" quoth Crispin testily.

"The dawn, Sir Crispin.  The dawn."

Crispin looked, and there, like a gash in the blackness of the
heavens, he beheld a streak of grey.

"Quick, Sir Crispin; there is no time to lose.  The minister
said he would return at daybreak."

"Let him come," answered Galliard grimly, as he moved towards
the casement.

He gripped the lower bar with his lean, sinewy hands, and
setting his knee against the masonry beneath it, he exerted the
whole of his huge strength - that awful strength acquired
during those years of toil as a galley-slave, which even his
debaucheries had not undermined.  He felt his sinews straining
until it seemed that they must crack; the sweat stood out upon
his brow; his breathing grew stertorous.

"It gives," he panted at last.  "It gives."

He paused in his efforts, and withdrew his hands.

"I must breathe a while.  One other effort such as that, and it
is done.  'Fore George," he laughed, "it is the first time
water has stood my friend, for the rains have sadly rusted that
iron."

Without, their sentry was pacing before the door; his steps
came nearer, passed, and receded; turned, came nigh again, and
again passed on.  As once more they grew faint, Crispin seized
the bar and renewed his attempt.  This time it was easier. 
Gradually it ceded to the strain Galliard set upon it.

Nearer came the sentry's footsteps, but they went unheeded by
him who toiled, and by him who watched with bated breath and
beating heart.  He felt it giving - giving - giving.  Crack!

With a report that rang through the room like a pistol shot, it
broke off in its socket.  Both men caught their breath, , and
stood for a second crouching, with straining ears.  The sentry
had stopped at their door.

Galliard was a man of quick action, swift to think, and as
swift to execute the thought.  To thrust Kenneth into a corner,
to extinguish the light, and to fling himself upon the bed was
all the work of an instant.

The key grated in the lock, and Crispin answered it with a
resounding snore.  The door opened, and on the threshold stood
the Roundhead trooper, holding aloft a lanthorn whose rays were
flashed back by his polished cuirass.  He beheld Crispin on the
bed with closed eyes and open mouth, and he heard his
reassuring and melodious snore.  He saw Kenneth seated
peacefully upon the floor, with his back against the wall, and
for a moment he was puzzled.

"Heard you aught?" he asked.

"Aye," answered Kenneth, in a strangled voice, "I heard
something like a shot out there."

The gesture with which he accompanied the words was fatal. 
Instinctively he had jerked his thumb towards the window,
thereby drawing the soldier's eyes in that direction.  The
fellow's glance fell upon the twisted bar, and a sharp
exclamation of surprise escaped him.

Had he been aught but a fool he must have guessed at once how
it came so, and having guessed it, he must have thought twice
ere he ventured within reach of a man who could so handle iron. 
But he was a slow-reasoning clod, and so far, thought had not
yet taken the place of surprise.  He stepped into, the chamber
and across to the window, that he might more closely view that
broken bar.

With eyes that were full of terror and despair, Kenneth watched
him; their last hope had failed them.  Then, as he looked, it
seemed to him that in one great leap from his recumbent
position on the bed, Crispin had fallen upon the soldier.

The lanthorn was dashed from the fellow's hand, and rolled to
Kenneth's feet.  The fellow had begun' a cry, which broke off
suddenly into a gurgle as Galliard's fingers closed about his
windpipe.  He was a big fellow, and in his mad struggles he
carried: Crispin hither and thither about the room.  Together:
they hurtled against the table, which would have: gone crashing
over had not Kenneth caught it and drawn it softly to the wall.

Both men were now upon the bed.  Crispin had guessed the
soldier's intent to fling himself upon the ground so that the
ring of his armour might be heard, and perchance bring others
to his aid.  To avoid this, Galliard had swung him towards the
bed, and hurled him on to it.  There he pinned him with his
knee, and with his fingers he gripped the Roundhead's throat,
pressing the apple inwards with his thumb.

"The door, Kenneth!" he commanded, in a whisper.  "Close the
door!"

Vain were the trooper's struggles to free himself from that. 
throttling grip.  Already his efforts grew his face was purple;
his veins stood out in ropes upon his  brow till they seemed
upon the point of bursting; his eyes protruded like a lobster's
and there was a horrible grin upon his mouth; still his heels
beat the bed, and still he struggled.  With his fingers he
plucked madly at the throttling hands on his neck, and tore at
them with his nails until the blood streamed from them.  Still
Galliard held him firmly, and with a smile - a diabolical smile
it seemed to the poor, half-strangled wretch - he gazed upon
his choking victim.

"Someone comes!" gasped Kenneth suddenly.  "Someone comes, Sir
Crispin!" he repeated, shaking his hands in a frenzy.

Galliard listened.  Steps were approaching.  The soldier heard
them also, and renewed his efforts.  Then Crispin spoke.

"Why stand you there like a fool?" he growled.  "Quench the
light - stay, we may want it!  Cast your cloak over it!  Quick,
man, quick!"

The steps came nearer.  The lad had obeyed him, and they were
in darkness.

"Stand by the door," whispered Crispin.  "Fall upon him as he
enters, and see that no cry escapes him.  Take him by the
throat, and as you love your life, do not let him get away."

The footsteps halted.  Kenneth crawled softly to his post.  The
soldier's struggles grew of a sudden still, and Crispin
released his throat at last.  Then calmly drawing the fellow's
dagger, he felt for the straps of his cuirass, and these he
proceeded to cut.  As he did so the door was opened.

By the light of the lamp burning in the passage they beheld
silhouetted upon the threshold a black figure crowned by a
steeple hat.  Then the droning voice of the Puritan minister
greeted them.

"Your hour is at hand!" he announced.

"Is it time?" asked Galliard from the bed.  And as he put the
question he softly thrust aside the trooper's breastplate, and
set his hand to the fellow's heart.  It still beat faintly.

"In another hour they will come for you," answered the
minister.  And Crispin marvelled anxiously what Kenneth was
about.  "Repent then, miserable sinners, whilst yet - "

He broke off abruptly, awaking out of his religious zeal to a
sense of strangeness at the darkness and the absence of the
sentry, which hitherto he had not remarked.

"What hath - " he began.  Then Galliard heard a gasp, followed
by the noise of a fall, and two struggling men came rolling
across the chamber floor.

"Bravely done, boy!" he cried, almost mirthfully.  "Cling to
him, Kenneth; cling to him a second yet!"

He leapt from the bed, and guided by the faint light coming
through the door, he sprang across the intervening space and
softly closed it.  Then he groped his way along the wall to the
spot where he had seen the lanthorn stand when Kenneth had
flung his cloak over it.  As he went, the two striving men came
up against him.

"Hold fast, lad," he cried, encouraging Kenneth, "hold him yet
a moment, and I will relieve you!"

He reached the lanthorn at last, and pulling aside the cloak,
he lifted the light and set it upon the table.




CHAPTER IX

THE BARGAIN


By the lanthorn's yellow glare Crispin beheld the two men-a
mass of writhing bodies and a bunch of waving legs - upon the
ground.  Kenneth, who was uppermost, clung purposefully to the
parson's throat.  The faces of both were alike distorted, but
whilst the lad's breath came in gasping hisses, the other's
came not at all.

Going over to the bed, Crispin drew the unconscious trooper's
tuck-sword.  He paused for a moment to bend over the man's
face; his breath came faintly, and Crispin knew that ere many
moments were sped he would regain consciousness.  He smiled
grimly to see how well he had performed his work of suffocation
without yet utterly destroying life.

Sword in hand, he returned to Kenneth and the parson.  The
Puritan's struggles were already becoming mere spasmodic
twitchings; his face was as ghastly as the trooper's had been a
while ago.

"Release him, Kenneth," said Crispin shortly.

"He struggles still."

"Release him, I say," Galliard repeated, and stooping he caught
the lad's wrist and compelled him to abandon his hold.

"He will cry out," exclaimed Kenneth, in apprehension.

"Not he," laughed Crispin.  "Leastways, not yet awhile. 
Observe the wretch."

With mouth wide agape, the minister lay gasping like a fish
newly taken from the water.  Even now that his throat was free
he appeared to struggle for a moment before he could draw
breath.  Then he took it in panting gulps until it seemed that
he must choke in his gluttony of air.

"Fore George," quoth Crispin, "I was no more than in time. 
Another second, and we should have had him, too, unconscious. 
There, he is recovering."

The blood was receding from the swollen veins of the parson's
head, and his cheeks were paling to their normal hue.  Anon
they went yet paler than their wont, as Galliard rested the
point of his sword against the fellow's neck.

"Make sound or movement," said Crispin coldly, "and I'll pin
you to the floor like a beetle.  Obey me, and no harm shall
come to you."

"I will obey you," the fellow answered, in a wheezing whisper. 
"I swear I will.  But of your charity, good sir, I beseech you
remove your sword.  Your hand might slip, sir," he whined, a
wild terror in his eyes.

Where now was the deep bass of his whilom accents?  Where now
the grotesque majesty of his bearing, and the impressive
gestures that erstwhile had accompanied his words of
denunciation?

"Your hand might slip, sir," he whined again.

"It might - and, by Gad, it shall if I hear more from you.  So
that you are discreet and obedient, have no fear of my hand." 
Then, still keeping his eye upon the fellow: "Kenneth," he
said, "attend to the crop-ear yonder, he will be recovering. 
Truss him with the bedclothes, and gag him with his scarf.  See
to it, Kenneth, and do it well, but leave his nostrils free
that he may breathe."

Kenneth carried out Galliard's orders swiftly and effectively,
what time Crispin remained standing over the recumbent
minister.  At length, when Kenneth announced that it was done,
he bade the Puritan rise.

"But have a care," he added, "or you shall taste the joys of
the Paradise you preach of.  Come, sir parson; afoot!"

A prey to a fear that compelled unquestioning obedience, the
fellow rose with alacrity.

"Stand there, sir.  So," commanded Crispin, his point within an
inch of the man's Geneva bands.  "Take your kerchief, Kenneth,
and pinion his wrists behind him."

That done, Crispin bade the lad unbuckle and remove the
parson's belt.  Next he ordered that man of texts to be seated
upon their only chair, and with that same belt he commanded
Kenneth to strap him to it.  When at length the Puritan was
safely bound, Crispin lowered his rapier, and seated himself
upon the table edge beside him.

"Now, sir parson," quoth he, "let us talk a while.  At your
first outcry I shall hurry you into that future world whither
it is your mission to guide the souls of others.  Maybe you'll
find it a better world to preach of than to inhabit, and so,
for your own sake, I make no doubt you will obey me.  To your
honour, to your good sense and a parson's natural horror of a
lie, I look for truth in answer to what questions I may set
you.  Should I find you deceiving me, sir, I shall see that
your falsehood overtakes you."  And eloquently raising his
blade, he intimated the exact course he would adopt.  "Now,
sir, attend to me.  How soon are our friends likely to discover
this topsy-turvydom?"

"When they come for you," answered the parson meekly.

"And how soon, O prophet, will they come?"

"In an hour's time, or thereabout," replied the Puritan,
glancing towards the window as he spoke.  Galliard followed his
glance, and observed that the light was growing perceptibly
stronger.

"Aye," he commented, "in an hour's time there should be light
enough to hang us by.  Is there no chance of anyone coming
sooner?"

"None that I can imagine.  The only other occupants of the
house are a party of half a dozen troopers in the guardroom
below."

"Where is the Lord General?"

"Away - I know not where.  But he will be here at sunrise."

"And the sentry that was at our door - is he not to a changed
'twixt this and hanging-time?"

"I cannot say for sure, but I think not.  The guard was
relieved just before I came."

"And the men in the guardroom - answer me truthfully, O Elijah
- what manner of watch are they keeping?"

"Alas, sir, they have drunk enough this night to put a
rakehelly Cavalier to shame.  I was but exhorting them."

When Kenneth had removed the Puritan's girdle, a small Bible -
such as men of his calling were wont to carry - had dropped
out.  This Kenneth had placed upon the table.  Galliard now
took it up, and, holding it before the Puritan's eyes, he
watched him narrowly the while.

"Will you swear by this book that you have answered nothing but
the truth?"

Without a moment's hesitation the parson pledged his oath,
that, to the best of his belief, he had answered accurately.

"That is well, sir.  And now, though it grieve me to cause you
some slight discomfort, I must ensure your silence, my friend."

And, placing his sword upon the table, he passed behind the
Puritan, and taking the man's own scarf, he effectively gagged
him with it.

"Now, Kenneth," said he, turning to the lad.  Then he stopped
abruptly as if smitten by a sudden thought.  Presently -
"Kenneth," he continued in a different tone, "a while ago I
mind me you said that were your liberty restored you, you would
join hands with me in punishing the evildoers who wrecked my
life."

"I did, Sir Crispin."

For a moment the knight paused.  It was a vile thing that he
was about to do, he told himself, and as he realized how vile,
his impulse was to say no more; to abandon the suddenly formed
project and to trust to his own unaided wits and hands.  But as
again he thought of the vast use this lad would be to him -
this lad who was the betrothed of Cynthia Ashburn - he saw that
the matter was not one hastily to be judged and dismissed. 
Carefully he weighed it in the balance of his mind.  On the one
hand was the knowledge that did they succeed in making good
their escape, Kenneth would naturally fly for shelter to his
friends the Ashburns - the usurpers of Castle Marleigh.  What
then more natural than his taking with him the man who had
helped him to escape, and who shared his own danger of
recapture?  And with so plausible a motive for admission to
Castle Marleigh, how easy would not his vengeance become?  He
might at first wean himself into their good graces, and
afterwards -

Before his mental eyes there unfolded itself the vista of a
great revenge; one that should be worthy of him, and
commensurate with the foul deed that called for it.

In the other scale the treacherous flavour of this method
weighed heavily.  He proposed to bind the lad to a promise, the
shape of whose fulfilment he would withhold - a promise the lad
would readily give, and yet, one that he must sooner die than
enter into, did he but know what manner of fulfilment would be
exacted.  It amounted to betraying the lad into a betrayal of
his friends - the people of his future wife.  Whatever the
issue for Crispin, 'twas odds Kenneth's prospect of wedding
this Cynthia would be blighted for all time by the action into
which Galliard proposed to thrust him all unconscious.

So stood the case in Galliard's mind, and the scales fell now
on one side, now on the other.  But against his scruples rose
the memory of the treatment which the lad had meted out to him
that night; the harshness of the boy's judgment; the
irrevocable contempt wherein he had clearly seen that he was
held by this fatuous milksop.  All this aroused his rancour
now, and steeled his heart against the voice of honour.  What
was this boy to him, he asked himself, that he should forego
for him the accomplishing of his designs?  How had this lad
earned any consideration from him?  What did he owe him? 
Naught!  Still, he would not decide in haste.

It was characteristic of the man whom Kenneth held to be
destitute of all honourable principles, to stand thus in the
midst of perils, when every second that sped lessened their
chances of escape, turning over in his mind calmly and
collectedly a point of conduct.  It was in his passions only
that Crispin was ungovernable, in violence only that he was
swift - in all things else was he deliberate.

Of this Kenneth had now a proof that set him quaking with
impatient fear.  Anxiously, his hands clenched and his face
pale, he watched his companion, who stood with brows knit in
thought, and his grey eyes staring at the ground.  At length he
could brook that, to him, incomprehensible and mad delay no
longer.

"Sir Crispin," he whispered, plucking at his sleeve; "Sir
Crispin."

The knight flashed him a glance that was almost of anger.  Then
the fire died out of his eyes; he sighed and spoke.  In that
second's glance he had seen the lad's face; the fear and
impatience written on it had disgusted him, and caused the
scales to fall suddenly and definitely against the boy.

"I was thinking how it might be accomplished," he said.

"There is but one way," cried the lad.

"On the contrary, there are two, and I wish to choose
carefully."

"If you delay your choice much longer, none will be left you,"
cried Kenneth impatiently.

Noting the lad's growing fears, and resolved now upon his
course, Galliard set himself to play upon them until terror
should render the boy as wax in his hands.

"There speaks your callow inexperience," said he, with a
pitying smile.  "When you shall have lived as long as I have
done, and endured as much; when you shall have set your wits to
the saving of your life as often as have I - you will have
learnt that haste is fatal to all enterprises.  Failure means
the forfeiture of something; tonight it would mean the
forfeiture of our lives, and it were a pity to let such good
efforts as these" - and with a wave of the hand he indicated
their two captors - "go wasted."

"Sir," exclaimed Kenneth, well-nigh beside himself, "if you
come not with me, I go alone!"

"Whither?" asked Crispin dryly.

"Out of this."

Galliard bowed slightly.

"Fare you well, sir.  I'll not detain you.  Your way is clear,
and it is for you to choose between the door and the window."

And with that Crispin turned his back upon his companion and
crossed to the bed, where the trooper lay glaring in mute
anger.  He stooped, and unbuckling the soldier's swordbelt - to
which the scabbard was attached - he girt himself with it. 
Without raising his eyes, and keeping his back to Kenneth, who
stood between him and the door, he went next to the table, and,
taking up the sword that he had left there, he restored it to
the sheath.  As the hilt clicked against the mouth of the
scabbard:

"Come, Sir Crispin!" cried the lad.  "Are you ready?"

Galliard wheeled sharply round.

"How?  Not gone yet?" said he sardonically.

"I dare not," the lad confessed.  "I dare not go alone."

Galliard laughed softly; then suddenly waxed grave.

"Ere we go, Master Kenneth, I would again remind you of your
assurance that were we to regain our liberty you would aid me
in the task of vengeance that lies before me."

"Once already have I answered you that it is so."

"And pray, are you still of the same mind?"

"I am, I am!  Anything, Sir Crispin; anything so that you come
away!"

"Not so fast, Kenneth.  The promise that I shall ask of you is
not to be so lightly given.  If we escape I may fairly claim to
have saved your life, 'twixt what I have done and what I may
yet do.  Is it not so?"

"Oh, I acknowledge it!"

"Then, sir, in payment I shall expect your aid hereafter to
help me in that which I must accomplish, that which the hope of
accomplishing is the only spur to my own escape."

"You have my promise!" cried the lad.

"Do not give it lightly, Kenneth," said Crispin gravely.  "It
may cause you much discomfort, and may be fraught with danger
even to your life."

"I promise."

Galliard bowed his head; then, turning, he took the Bible from
the table.

"With your hand upon this book, by your honour, your faith, and
your every hope of salvation, swear that if I bear you alive
out of this house you will devote yourself to me and to my task
of vengeance until it shall be accomplished or until I perish;
swear that you will set aside all personal matters and
inclinations of your own, to serve me when I shall call upon
you.  Swear that, and, in return, I will give my life if need
be to save yours to-night, in which case you will be released
from your oath without more ado."

The lad paused a moment.  Crispin was so impressive, the oath
he imposed so solemn, that for an instant the boy hesitated. 
His cautious, timid nature whispered to him that perchance he
should know more of this matter ere he bound himself so
irrevocably.  But Crispin, noting the hesitation, stifled it by
appealing to the lad's fears.

"Resolve yourself," he exclaimed abruptly.  "It grows light,
and the time for haste is come."

"I swear!" answered Kenneth, overcome by his impatience.  "I
swear, by my honour, my faith, and my every hope of heaven to
lend you my aid, when and how you may demand it, until your
task be accomplished."

Crispin took the Bible from the boy's hands, and replaced it on
the table.  His lips were pressed tight, and he avoided the
lad's eyes.

"You shall not find me wanting in my part of the bargain," he
muttered, as he took up the soldier's cloak and hat.  "Come,
take that parson's steeple hat and his cloak, and let us be
going."

He crossed to the door, and opening it he peered down the
passage.  A moment he stood listening.  All was still.  Then he
turned again.  In the chamber the steely light of the breaking
day was rendering more yellow still the lanthorn's yellow
flame.

"Fare you well, sir parson," he said.  "Forgive me the
discomfort I have been forced to put upon you, and pray for the
success of our escape.  Commend me to Oliver of the ruby nose. 
Fare you well, sir.  Come, Kenneth."

He held the door for the lad to pass out.  As they stood in the
dimly lighted passage he closed it softly after them, and
turned the key in the lock.

"Come," he said again, and led the way to the stairs, Kenneth
tiptoeing after him with wildly beating heart.




CHAPTER X

THE ESCAPE


Treading softly, and with ears straining for the slightest
sound, the two men descended to the first floor of the house. 
They heard nothing to alarm them as they crept down, and not
until they paused on the first landing to reconnoitre did they
even catch the murmur of voices issuing from the guardroom
below.  So muffled was the sound that Crispin guessed how
matters stood even before he had looked over the balusters into
the hall beneath.  The faint grey of the dawn was the only
light that penetrated the gloom of that pit.

"The Fates are kind, Kenneth," he whispered.  "Those fools sit
with closed doors.  Come."

But Kenneth laid his hand upon Galliard's sleeve.  "What if the
door should open as we pass?"

"Someone will die," muttered Crispin back.  "But pray God that
it may not.  We must run the risk."

"Is there no other way?"

"Why, yes," returned Galliard sardonically, "we can linger here
until we are taken.  But, oddslife, I'm not so minded.  Come."

And as he spoke he drew the lad along.

His foot was upon the topmost stair of the flight, when of a
sudden the stillness of the house was broken by a loud knock
upon the street door.  Instantly - as though they had been
awaiting it there was a stir of feet below and the bang of an
overturned chair; then a shaft of yellow light fell athwart the
darkness of the hall as the guardroom door was opened.

"Back!" growled Galliard.  "Back, man!"

They were but in time.  Peering over the balusters they saw two
troopers pass out of the guardroom, and cross the hall to the
door.  A bolt was drawn and a chain rattled, then followed the
creak of hinges, and on the stone flags rang the footsteps and
the jingling of spurs of those that entered.

"Is all well?" came a voice, which Crispin recognized as
Colonel Pride's, followed by an affirmative reply from one of
the soldiers.

"Hath a minister visited the malignants?"

"Master Toneleigh is with them even now."

In the hall Crispin could now make out the figures of Colonel
Pride and of three men who came with him.  But he had scant
leisure to survey them, for the colonel was in haste.

"Come, sirs," he heard him say, "light me to their garret.  I
would see them - leastways, one of them, before he dies.  They
are to hang where the Moabites hanged Gives yesterday.  Had I
my way ...  But, there lead on, fellow."

"Oh, God!" gasped Kenneth, as the soldier set foot upon the
stairs.  Under his breath Crispin swore a terrific oath.  For
an instant it seemed to him there was naught left but to stand
there and await recapture.  Through his mind it flashed that
they were five, and he but one; for his companion was unarmed.

With that swiftness which thought alone can compass did he
weigh the odds, and judge his chances.  He realized how
desperate they were did he remain, and even as he thought he
glanced sharply round.

Dim indeed was the light, but his sight was keen, and quickened
by the imminence of danger.  Partly his eyes and partly his
instinct told him that not six paces behind him there must be a
door, and if Heaven pleased it should be unlocked, behind it
they must look for shelter.  It even crossed his mind in that
second of crowding, galloping thought, that perchance the room
might be occupied.  That was a risk he must take - the lesser
risk of the two, the choice of one of which was forced upon
him.  He had determined all this ere the soldier's foot was
upon the third step of the staircase, and before the colonel
had commenced the ascent.  Kenneth stood palsied with fear,
gazing like one fascinated at the approaching peril.

Then upon his ear fell the fierce whisper: "Come with me, and
tread lightly as you love your life."

In three long strides, and by steps that were softer than a
cat's, Crispin crossed to the door which he had rather guessed
than seen.  He ran his hand along until he caught the latch. 
Softly he tried it; it gave, and the door opened.  Kenneth was
by then beside him.  He paused to look back.

On the opposite wall the light of the trooper's lanthorn fell
brightly.  Another moment and the fellow would have reached and
turned the corner of the stairs, and his light must reveal them
to him.  But ere that instant was passed Crispin had drawn his
companion through, and closed the door as softly as he had
opened it.  The chamber was untenanted and almost bare of
furniture, at which discovery Crispin breathed more freely.

They stood there, and heard the ascending footsteps, and the
clank-clank of a sword against the stair-rail.  A bar of yellow
light came under the door that sheltered them.  Stronger it
grew and farther it crept along the floor; then stopped and
receded again, as he who bore the lanthorn turned and began to
climb to the second floor.  An instant later and the light had
vanished, eclipsed by those who followed in the fellow's wake.

"The window, Sir Crispin," cried Kenneth, in an excited whisper
- "the window!"

"No," answered Crispin calmly.  "The drop is a long one, and we
should but light in the streets, and be little better than we
are here.  Wait."

He listened.  The footsteps had turned the corner leading to
the floor above.  He opened the door, partly at first, then
wide.  For an instant he stood listening again.  The steps were
well overhead by now; soon they would mount the last flight,
and then discovery must be swift to follow.

"Now," was all Crispin said, and, drawing his sword he led the
way swiftly, yet cautiously, to the stairs once more.  In
passing he glanced over the rails.  The guardroom door stood
ajar, and he caught the murmurs of subdued conversation.  But
he did not pause.  Had the door stood wide he would not have
paused then.  There was not a second to be lost; to wait was to
increase the already overwhelming danger.  Cautiously, and
leaning well upon the stout baluster, he began the descent. 
Kenneth followed him mechanically, with white face and a
feeling of suffocation in his throat.

They gained the corner, and turning, they began what was truly
the perilous part of their journey.  Not more than a dozen
steps were there; but at the bottom stood the guardroom door,
and through the chink of its opening a shaft of light fell upon
the nethermost step.  Once a stair creaked, and to their
quickened senses it sounded like a pistol-shot.  As loud to
Crispin sounded the indrawn breath of apprehension from Kenneth
that followed it.  He had almost paused to curse the lad when,
thinking him of how time pressed, he went on.

Within three steps of the bottom were they, and they could
almost distinguish what was being said in the room, when
Crispin stopped, and turning his head to attract Kenneth's
attention, he pointed straight across the hall to a dimly
visible door.  It was that of the chamber wherein he had been
brought before Cromwell.  Its position had occurred to him some
moments before, and he had determined then upon going that way.

The lad followed the indication of his finger, and signified by
a nod that he understood.  Another step Galliard descended;
then from the guardroom came a loud yawn, to send the boy
cowering against the wall.  It was followed by the sound of
someone rising; a chair grated upon the floor, and there was a
movement of feet within the chamber.  Had Kenneth been alone,
of a certainty terror would have frozen him to the wall.

But the calm, unmovable Crispin proceeded as if naught had
chanced; he argued that even if he who had risen were coming
towards the door, there was nothing to be gained by standing
still.  Their only chance lay now in passing before it might be
opened.

They that walk through perils in a brave man's company cannot
but gain confidence from the calm of his demeanour.  So was it
now with Kenneth.  The steady onward march of that tall, lank
figure before him drew him irresistibly after it despite his
tremors.  And well it was for him that this was so.  They
gained the bottom of the staircase at length; they stood beside
the door of the guardroom, they passed it in safety.  Then
slowly - painfully slowly - to avoid their steps from ringing
upon the stone floor, they crept across towards the door that
meant safety to Sir Crispin.  Slowly, step by step, they moved,
and with every stride Crispin looked behind him, prepared to
rush the moment he had sign they were discovered.  But it was
not needed.  In silence and in safety they were permitted to
reach the door.  To Crispin's joy it was unfastened.  Quietly
he opened it, then with calm gallantry he motioned to his
companion to go first, holding it for him as he passed in, and
keeping watch with eye and ear the while.

Scarce had Kenneth entered the chamber when from above came the
sound of loud and excited voices, announcing to them that their
flight was at last discovered.  It was responded to by a rush
of feet in the guardroom, and Crispin had but time to dart in
after his companion and close the door ere the troopers poured
out into the hall and up the stairs, with confused shouts that
something must be amiss.

Within the room that sheltered him Crispin chuckled, as he ran
his hand along the edge of the door until he found the bolt,
and softly shot it home.

"'Slife," he muttered, "'twas a close thing!  Aye, shout, you
cuckolds," he went on.  "Yell yourselves hoarse as the crows
you are!  You'll hang us where Gives are hanged, will you?"

Kenneth tugged at the skirts of his doublet.  "What now?" he
inquired.

"Now," said Crispin, "we'll leave by the window, if it please
you."

They crossed the room, and a moment or two later they had
dropped on to the narrow railed pathway overlooking the river,
which Crispin had observed from their prison window the evening
before.  He had observed, too, that a small boat was moored at
some steps about a hundred yards farther down the stream, and
towards that spot he now sped along the footpath, followed
closely by Kenneth.  The path sloped in that direction, so that
by the time the spot was reached the water flowed not more than
six feet or so beneath them.  Half a dozen steps took them down
this to the moorings of that boat, which fortunately had not
been removed.

"Get in, Kenneth," Crispin commanded.  "There, I'll take the
oars, and I'll keep under shelter of the bank lest those
blunderers should bethink them of looking out of our prison
window.  Oddswounds, Kenneth, I am hungry as a wolf, and as dry
- ough, as dry as Dives when he begged for a sup of water. 
Heaven send we come upon some good malignant homestead ere we
go far, where a Christian may find a meal and a stoup of ale. 
'Tis a miracle I had strength enough to crawl downstairs. 
Swounds, but an empty stomach is a craven comrade in a
desperate enterprise.  Hey!  Have a care, boy.  Now, sink me if
this milksop hasn't fainted!"





CHAPTER XI

THE ASHBURNS


Gregory Ashburn pushed back his chair and made shift to rise
from the table at which he and his brother had but dined.

He was a tall, heavily built man, with a coarse, florid
countenance set in a frame of reddish hair that hung straight
and limp.  In the colour of their hair lay the only point of
resemblance between the brothers.  For the rest Joseph was
spare and of middle weight, pale of face, thin-lipped, and
owning a cunning expression that was rendered very evil by
virtue of the slight cast in his colourless eyes.

In earlier life Gregory had not been unhandsome; debauchery and
sloth had puffed and coarsened him.  Joseph, on the other hand,
had never been aught but ill-favoured.

"Tis a week since Worcester field was fought," grumbled
Gregory, looking lazily sideways at the mullioned windows as he
spoke, "and never a word from the lad."

Joseph shrugged his narrow shoulders and sneered.  It was
Joseph's habit to sneer when he spoke, and his words were wont
to fit the sneer.

"Doth the lack of news trouble you?" he asked, glancing across
the table at his brother.

Gregory rose without meeting that glance.

"Truth to tell it does trouble me," he muttered.

"And yet," quoth Joseph, "tis a natural thing enough.  When
battles are fought it is not uncommon for men to die."

Gregory crossed slowly to the window, and stared out at the
trees of the park which autumn was fast stripping.

"If he were among the fallen - if he were dead then indeed the
matter would be at an end."

"Aye, and well ended."

"You forget Cynthia," Gregory reproved him.

"Forget her?  Not I, man.  Listen."  And he jerked his thumb in
the direction of the wainscot.

To the two men in that rich chamber of Castle Marleigh was
borne the sound - softened by distance of a girlish voice
merrily singing.

Joseph laughed a cackle of contempt.

"Is that the song of a maid whose lover comes not back from the
wars?" he asked.

"But bethink you, Joseph, the child suspects not the
possibility of his having fallen."

"Gadswounds, sir, did your daughter give the fellow a thought
she must be anxious.  A week yesterday since the battle, and no
word from him.  I dare swear, Gregory, there's little in that
to warrant his mistress singing."

"Cynthia is young - a child.  She reasons not as you and I, nor
seeks to account for his absence."

"Troubles not to account for it," Joseph amended.

"Be that as it may," returned Gregory irritably, "I would I
knew."

"That which we do not know we may sometimes infer.  I infer him
to be dead, and there's the end of it."

"What if he should not be?"

"Then, my good fool, he would be here."

"It is unlike you, Joseph, to argue so loosely.  What if he
should be a prisoner?"

"Why, then, the plantations will do that which the battle hath
left undone.  So that, dead or captive, you see it is all one."

And, lifting his glass to the light, he closed one eye, the
better to survey with the other the rich colour of the wine. 
Not that Joseph was curious touching that colour, but he was a
juggler in gestures, and at that moment he could think of no
other whereby he might so naturally convey the utter
indifference of his feelings in the matter.

"Joseph, you are wrong," said Gregory, turning his back upon
the window and facing his brother.  "It is not all one.  What
if he return some day?"

"Oh, what if - what if - what if!" cried Joseph testily. 
"Gregory, what a casuist you might have been had not nature
made you a villain! You are as full of "what if s" as an egg of
meat.  Well what if some day he should return?  I fling your
question back - what if?"

"God only knows."

"Then leave it to Him," was the flippant answer; and Joseph
drained his glass.

"Nay, brother, 'twere too great a risk.  I must and I will know
whether Kenneth were slain or not.  If he is a prisoner, then
we must exert ourselves to win his freedom."

"Plague take it," Joseph burst out.  "Why all this ado?  Why
did you ever loose that graceless whelp from his Scottish
moor?"

Gregory sighed with an air of resigned patience.

"I have more reasons than one," he answered slowly.  "If you
need that I recite them to you, I pity your wits.  Look you,
Joseph, you have more influence with Cromwell; more - far more
- than have I, and if you are minded to do so, you can serve me
in this."

"I wait but to learn how."

"Then go to Cromwell, at Windsor or wherever he may be, and
seek to learn from him if Kenneth is a prisoner.  If he is not,
then clearly he is dead."

Joseph made a gesture of impatience.

"Can you not leave Fate alone?"

"Think you I have no conscience, Joseph?" cried the other with
sudden vigour.

"Pish! you are womanish."

"Nay, Joseph, I am old.  I am in the autumn of my days, and I
would see these two wed before I die."

"And are damned for a croaking, maudlin' craven," added Joseph. 
"Pah!  You make me sick."

There was a moment's silence, during which the brothers eyed
each other, Gregory with a sternness before which Joseph's
mocking eye was forced at length to fall.

"Joseph, you shall go to the Lord General."

"Well," said Joseph weakly, "we will say that I go.  But if
Kenneth be a prisoner, what then?"

"You must beg his liberty from Cromwell.  He will not refuse
you."

"Will he not?  I am none so confident."

"But you can make the attempt, and leastways we shall have some
definite knowledge of what has befallen the boy."

"The which definite knowledge seems to me none so necessary. 
Moreover, Gregory, bethink you; there has been a change, and
the wind carries an edge that will arouse every devil of
rheumatism in my bones.  I am not a lad, Gregory, and
travelling at this season is no small matter for a man of
fifty."

Gregory approached the table, and leaning his hand upon it:

"Will you go?" he asked, squarely eyeing his brother.

Joseph fell a-pondering.  He knew Gregory to be a man of fixed
ideas, and he bethought him that were he now to refuse he would
be hourly plagued by Gregory's speculations touching the boy's
fate and recriminations touching his own selfishness.  On the
other hand, however, the journey daunted him.  He was not a man
to sacrifice his creature comforts, and to be asked to
sacrifice them to a mere whim, a shadow, added weight to his
inclination to refuse the undertaking.

"Since you have the matter so much at heart," said he at
length, "does it not occur to you that you could plead with
greater fervour, and be the likelier to succeed?"

"You know that Cromwell will lend a more willing ear to you
than to me - perchance because you know so well upon occasion
how to weave your stock of texts into your discourse," he added
with a sneer.  "Will you go, Joseph?"

"Bethink you that we know not where he is.  I may have to
wander for weeks o'er the face of England."

"Will you go?" Gregory repeated.

"Oh, a pox on it," broke out Joseph, rising suddenly.  "I'll go
since naught else will quiet you.  I'll start to-morrow."

"Joseph, I am grateful.  I shall be more grateful yet if you
will start to-day."

"No, sink me, no."

"Yes, sink me, yes," returned Gregory.  "You must, Joseph."

Joseph spoke of the wind again; the sky, he urged, was heavy
with rain.  "What signifies a day?" he whined.

But Gregory stood his ground until almost out of
self-protection the other consented to do his bidding and set
out as soon as he could make ready.

This being determined, Joseph left his brother, and cursing
Master Stewart for the amount of discomfort which he was about
to endure on his behoof, he went to prepare for the journey.

Gregory lingered still in the chamber where they had dined, and
sat staring moodily before him at the table-linen.  Anon, with
a half-laugh of contempt, he filled a glass of muscadine, and
drained it.  As he set down the glass the door opened, and on
the threshold stood a very dainty girl, whose age could not be
more than twenty.  Gregory looked on the fresh, oval face, with
its wealth of brown hair crowning the low, broad forehead, and
told himself that in his daughter he had just cause for pride. 
He looked again, and told himself that his brother was right;
she had not the air of a maid whose lover returns not from the
wars.  Her lips were smiling, and the eyes - low-lidded and
blue as the heavens - were bright with mirth.

"Why sit you there so glum, she cried, "whilst my uncle, they
tell me, is going on a journey?"

Gregory was minded to put her feelings to the test.

"Kenneth," he replied with significant emphasis, watching her
closely.

The mirth faded from her eyes, and they took on a grave
expression that added to their charm.  But Gregory had looked
for fear, leastways deep concern, and in this he was
disappointed.

"What of him, father?" she asked, approaching.

"Naught, and that's the rub.  It is time we had news, and as
none comes, your uncle goes to seek it."

"Think you that ill can have befallen him?"

Gregory was silent a moment, weighing his answer.  Then

"We hope not, sweetheart," said he.  "He may be a prisoner.  We
last had news of him from Worcester, and 'tis a week and more
since the battle was fought there.  Should he be a captive,
your uncle has sufficient influence to obtain his enlargement."

Cynthia sighed, and moved towards the window.

"Poor Kenneth," she murmured gently.  "He may be wounded."

"We shall soon learn," he answered.  His disappointment grew
keener; where he had looked for grief he found no more than an
expression of pitying concern.  Nor was his disappointment
lessened when, after a spell of thoughtful silence, she began
to comment upon the condition of the trees in the park below. 
Gregory had it in his mind to chide her for this lack of
interest in the fate of her intended husband, but he let the
impulse pass unheeded.  After all, if Kenneth lived she should
marry him.  Hitherto she had been docile and willing enough to
be guided by him; she had even displayed a kindness for
Kenneth; no doubt she would do so again when Joseph returned
with him - unless he were among the Worcester slain, in which
case, perhaps, it would prove best that his fate was not to
cause her any prostration of grief.

"The sky is heavy, father," said Cynthia from the window. 
"Poor uncle!  He will have rough weather for his journey."

"I rejoice that someone wastes pity on poor uncle," growled
Joseph, who re-entered, "this uncle whom your father drives out
of doors in all weathers to look for his daughter's truant
lover."

Cynthia smiled upon him.

"It is heroic of you, uncle."

"There, there," he grumbled, "I shall do my best to find the
laggard, lest those pretty eyes should weep away their beauty."

Gregory's glance reproved this sneer of Joseph's, whereupon
Joseph drew close to him:

"Broken-hearted, is she not?" he muttered, to which Gregory
returned no answer.

An hour later, as Joseph climbed into his saddle, he turned to
his brother again, and directing his eyes upon the girl, who
stood patting the glossy neck of his nag:

"Come, now," said he, "you see that matters are as I said."

"And yet," replied Gregory sternly, "I hope to see you return
with the boy.  It will be better so."

Joseph shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.  Then, taking
leave of his brother and his niece, he rode out with two grooms
at his heels, and took the road South.




CHAPTER XII

THE HOUSE THAT WAS ROLAND MARLEIGH'S


It was high noon next day, and Gregory Ashburn was taking the
air upon the noble terrace of Castle Marleigh, when the beat of
hoofs, rapidly approaching up the avenue, arrested his
attention.  He stopped in his walk, and, turning, sought to
discover who came.  His first thought was of his brother; his
second, of Kenneth.  Through the half-denuded trees he made out
two mounted figures, riding side by side; and from the fact of
there being two, he adduced that this could not be Joseph
returning.

Even as he waited he was joined by Cynthia, who took her stand
beside him, and voiced the inquiry that was in his mind.  But
her father could no more than answer that he hoped it might be
Kenneth.

Then the horsemen passed from behind the screen of trees and
came into the clearing before the terrace, and unto the waiting
glances of Ashburn and his daughter was revealed a curiously
bedraggled and ill-assorted pair.  The one riding slightly in
advance looked like a Puritan of the meaner sort, in his
battered steeple-hat and cloak of rusty black.  The other was
closely wrapped in a red mantle, uptilted behind by a sword of
prodigious length, and for all that his broad, grey hat was
unadorned by any feather, it was set at a rakish, ruffling,
damn-me angle that pronounced him no likely comrade for the
piously clad youth beside him.

But beneath that brave red cloak - alack! - as was presently
seen when they dismounted, that gentleman was in a sorry
plight.  He wore a leather jerkin, so cut and soiled that any
groom might have disdained it; a pair of green breeches, frayed
to their utmost; and coarse boots of untanned leather, adorned
by rusty spurs.

On the terrace Gregory paused a moment to call his groom to
attend the new-comers, then he passed down the steps to greet
Kenneth with boisterous effusion.  Behind him, slow and stately
as a woman of twice her years, came Cynthia.  Calm was her
greeting of her lover, contained in courteous expressions of
pleasure at beholding him safe, and suffering him to kiss her
hand.

In the background, his sable locks uncovered out of deference
to the lady, stood Sir Crispin, his face pale and haggard, his
lips parted, and his grey eyes burning as they fell again,
after the lapse of years, upon the stones of this his home -
the castle to which he was now come, hat in hand, to beg for
shelter.

Gregory was speaking, his hands resting upon Kenneth's
shoulder.

"We have been much exercised concerning you, lad," he was
saying.  "We almost feared the worst, and yesterday Joseph left
us to seek news of you at Cromwell's hands.  Where have you
tarried?"

"Anon, sir; you shall learn anon.  The story is a long one."

"True; you will be tired, and perchance you would first rest a
while.  Cynthia will see to it.  But what scarecrow have you
there?  What tatterdemalion is this?" he cried, pointing to
Galliard.  He had imagined him a servant, but the dull flush
that overspread Sir Crispin's face told him of his error.

"I would have you know, sir," Crispin began, with some heat,
when Kenneth interrupted him.

"Tis to this gentleman, sir, that I owe my presence here.  He
was my fellow-prisoner, and but for his quick wit and stout arm
I should be stiff by now.  Anon, sir, you shall hear the story
of it, and I dare swear it will divert you.  This gentleman is
Sir Crispin Galliard, lately a captain of horse with whom I
served in Middleton's Brigade."

Crispin bowed low, conscious of the keen scrutiny in which
Gregory's eyes were bent upon him.  In his heart there arose a
fear that, haply after all, the years that were sped had not
wrought sufficient change in him.

"Sir Crispin Galliard," Ashburn was saying, after the manner of
one who is searching his memory.  "Galliard, Galliard - not he
whom they called "Rakehelly Galliard," and who gave us such
trouble in the late King's time?"

Crispin breathed once more.  Ashburn's scrutiny was explained.

"The same, sir," he answered, with a smile and a fresh bow. 
"Your servant, sir; and yours, madam."

Cynthia looked with interest at the lank, soldierly figure. 
She, too, had heard - as who had not? - wild stories of this
man's achievements.  But of no feat of his had she been told
that could rival that of his escape from Worcester; and when,
that same evening, Kenneth related it, as they supped, her
low-lidded eyes grew very wide, and as they fell on Crispin,
admiration had taken now the place of interest.

Romance swayed as great a portion of her heart as it does of
most women's.  She loved the poets and their songs of great
deeds; and here was one who, in the light of that which they
related of him, was like an incarnation of some hero out of a
romancer's ballad.

Kenneth she never yet had held in over high esteem; but of a
sudden, in the presence of this harsh-featured dog of war, this
grim, fierce-eyed ruffler, he seemed to fade, despite his
comeliness of face and form, into a poor and puny
insignificance.  And when, presently, he unwisely related how,
when in the boat he had fainted, the maiden laughed outright
for very scorn.

At this plain expression of contempt, her father shot her a
quick, uneasy glance.  Kenneth stopped short, bringing his
narrative abruptly to a close.  Reproachfully he looked at her,
turning first red, then white, as anger chased annoyance
through his soul.  Galliard looked on with quiet relish; her
laugh had contained that which for days he had carried in his
heart.  He drained his bumper slowly, and made no attempt to
relieve the awkward silence that sat upon the company.

Truth to tell, there was emotion enough in the soul of him who
was wont to be the life of every board he sat at to hold him
silent and even moody.

Here, after eighteen years, was he again in his ancestral home
of Marleigh.  But how was he returned?  As one who came under a
feigned name, to seek from usurping hands a shelter 'neath his
own roof; a beggar of that from others which it should have
been his to grant or to deny those others.  As an avenger he
came.  For justice he came, and armed with retribution; the
flame of a hate unspeakable burning in his heart, and demanding
the lives - no less - of those that had destroyed him and his. 
Yet was he forced to sit a mendicant almost at that board whose
head was his by every right; forced to sit and curb his mood,
giving no outward sign of the volcano that boiled and raged
within his soul as his eye fell upon the florid, smiling face
and portly, well-fed frame of Gregory Ashburn.  For the time
was not yet.  He must wait; wait until Joseph's return, so that
he might spend his vengeance upon both together.

Patient had he been for eighteen years, confident that ere he
died, a just and merciful God would give him this for which he
lived and waited.  Yet now that the season was at hand; now
upon the very eve of that for which he had so long been
patient, a frenzy of impatience fretted him.

He drank deep that night, and through deep drinking his manner
thawed - for in his cups it was not his to be churlish to
friend or foe.  Anon Cynthia withdrew; next Kenneth, who went
in quest of her.  Still Crispin sat on, and drank his host's
health above his breath, and his perdition under it, till in
the end Gregory, who never yet had found his master at the
bottle, grew numb and drowsy, and sat blinking at the tapers.

Until midnight they remained at table, talking of this and
that, and each understanding little of what the other said.  As
the last hour of night boomed out through the great hall,
Gregory spoke of bed.

"Where do I lie to-night?" asked Crispin.

"In the northern wing," answered Gregory with a hiccough.

"Nay, sir, I protest," cried Galliard, struggling to his feet,
and swaying somewhat as he stood.  "I'll sleep in the King's
chamber, none other."

"The King's chamber?" echoed Gregory, and his face showed the
confused struggles of his brain.  "What know you of the King's
chamber?"

"That it faces the east and the sea, and that it is the chamber
I love best."

"What can you know of it since, I take it, you have never seen
it!"

"Have I not?" he began, in a voice that was awful in its
threatening calm.  Then, recollecting himself, and shaking some
of the drunkenness from him: "In the old days, when the
Marleighs were masters here," he mumbled, "I was often within
these walls.  Roland Marleigh was my friend.  The King's
chamber was ever accorded me, and there, for old time's sake,
I'll lay these old bones of mine to-night."

"You were Roland Marleigh's friend?" gasped Gregory.  He was
very white now, and there was a sheen of moisture on his face. 
The sound of that name had well-nigh sobered him.  It was
almost as if the ghost of Roland Marleigh stood before him. 
His knees were loosened, and he sank back into the chair from
which he had but risen.

"Aye, I was his friend!" assented Crispin.  "Poor Roland!  He
married your sister, did he not, and it was thus that, having
no issue and the family being extinct, Castle Marleigh passed
to you?"

"He married our cousin," Gregory amended.  "They were an
ill-fated family."

"Ill-fated, indeed, an all accounts be true," returned Crispin
in a maudlin voice.  "Poor Roland!  Well, for old time's sake,
I'll sleep in the King's chamber, Master Ashburn."

"You shall sleep where you list, sir," answered Gregory, and
they rose.

"Do you look to honour us long at Castle Marleigh, Sir
Crispin?" was Gregory's last question before separating from
his guest.

"Nay, sir, 'tis likely I shall go hence to-morrow," answered
Crispin, unmindful of what he said.

"I trust not," said Gregory, in accents of relief that belied
him.  "A friend of Roland Marleigh's must ever be welcome in
the house that was Roland Marleigh's."

"The house that was Roland Marleigh's," Crispin muttered. 
"Heigho!  Life is precarious as the fall of a die at best an
ephemeral business.  To-night you say the house that was Roland
Marleigh's; presently men will be saying the house that the
Ashburns lived - aye, and died - in.  Give you good night,
Master Ashburn."

He staggered off, and stumbled up the broad staircase at the
head of which a servant now awaited, taper in hand, to conduct
him to the chamber he demanded.

Gregory followed him with a dull, frightened eye.  Galliard's
halting, thickly uttered words had sounded like a prophecy in
his ears.




CHAPTER XIII

THE METAMORPHOSIS OF KENNETH


When the morrow came, however, Sir Crispin showed no signs of
carrying out his proposal of the night before, and departing
from Castle Marleigh.  Nor, indeed, did he so much as touch
upon the subject, bearing himself rather as one whose sojourn
there was to be indefinite.

Gregory offered no comment upon this; through what he had done
for Kenneth they were under a debt to Galliard, and whilst he
was a fugitive from the Parliament's justice it would ill
become Gregory to hasten his departure.  Moreover, Gregory
recalled little or nothing of the words that had passed between
them in their cups, save a vague memory that Crispin had said
that he had once known Roland Marleigh.

Kenneth was content that Galliard should lie idle, and not call
upon him to go forth again to lend him the aid he had pledged
himself to render when Crispin should demand it.  He marvelled,
as the days wore on, that Galliard should appear to have
forgotten that task of his, and that he should make no shift to
set about it.  For the rest, however, it troubled him but
little; enough preoccupation did he find in Cynthia's daily
increasing coldness.  Upon all the fine speeches that he made
her she turned an idle ear, or if she replied at all it was but
petulantly to interrupt them, to call him a man of great words
and small deeds.  All that he did she found ill done, and told
him of it.  His sober, godly garments of sombre hue afforded
her the first weapon of scorn wherewith to wound him.  A crow,
she dubbed him; a canting, psalm-chanting hypocrite; a
Scripture-monger, and every other contumelious epithet of like
import that she should call to mind.  He heard her in
amazement.

"Is it for you, Cynthia," he cried out in his surprise, "the
child of a God-fearing house, to mock the outward symbols of my
faith?"

"A faith," she laughed, "that is all outward symbols and naught
besides; all texts and mournings and nose-twangings."

"Cynthia!" he exclaimed, in horror.

"Go your ways, sir," she answered, half in jest, half in
earnest.  "What need hath a true faith of outward symbols?  It
is a matter that lies between your God and yourself, and it is
your heart He will look at, not your coat.  Why, then, without
becoming more acceptable in His eyes, shall you but render
yourself unsightly in the eyes of man?"

Kenneth's cheeks were flushed with anger.  From the terrace
where they walked he let his glance roam towards the avenue
that split the park in twain.  Up this at that moment, with the
least suspicion of a swagger in his gait, Sir Crispin Galliard
was approaching leisurely; he wore a claret-coloured doublet
edged with silver lace, and a grey hat decked with a drooping
red feather - which garments, together with the rest of his
apparel, he had drawn from the wardrobe of Gregory Ashburn. 
His advent afforded Kenneth the retort he needed.  Pointing him
out to Cynthia:

"Would you rather," he cried hotly, "have me such a man as
that?"

"And, pray, why not?" she taunted him.  "Leastways, you would
then be a man."

"If, madam, a debauchee, a drunkard, a profligate, a brawler be
your conception of a man, I would in faith you did not account
me one."

"And what, sir, would you sooner elect to be accounted?"

"A gentleman, madam," he answered pompously.

"I think," said she quietly, "that you are in as little danger
of becoming the one as the other.  A gentleman does not slander
a man behind his back, particularly when he owes that man his
life.  Kenneth, I am ashamed of you."

"I do not slander," he insisted hotly.  "You yourself know of
the drunken excess wherewith three nights ago he celebrated his
coming to Castle Marleigh.  Nor do I forget what I owe him, and
payment is to be made in a manner you little know of.  If I
said of him what I did, it was but in answer to your taunts. 
Think you I could endure comparison with such a man as that? 
Know you what name the Royalists give him?  They call him the
Tavern Knight."

She looked him over with an eye of quiet scorn.

"And how, sir, do they call you?  The pulpit knight?  Or is it
the knight of the white feather?  Mr. Stewart, you weary me.  I
would have a man who with a man's failings hath also a man's
redeeming virtues of honesty, chivalry, and courage, and a
record of brave deeds, rather than one who has nothing of the
man save the coat - that outward symbol you lay such store by."

His handsome, weak face was red with fury.

"Since that is so, madam," he choked, "I leave you to your
swaggering, ruffling Cavalier."

And, without so much as a bow, he swung round on his heel and
left her.  It was her turn to grow angry now, and well it was
for him that he had not tarried.  She dwelt with scorn upon his
parting taunt, bethinking herself that in truth she had
exaggerated her opinions of Galliard's merits.  Her feelings
towards that ungodly gentleman were rather of pity than aught
else.  A brave, ready-witted man she knew him for, as much from
the story of his escape from Worcester as for the air that
clung to him despite his swagger, and she deplored that one
possessing these ennobling virtues should have fallen
notwithstanding upon such evil ways as those which Crispin
trod.  Some day, perchance, when she should come to be better
acquainted with him, she would seek to induce him to mend his
course.

Such root did this thought take in her mind that soon
thereafter - and without having waited for that riper
acquaintance which at first she had held necessary - she sought
to lead their talk into the channels of this delicate subject. 
But he as sedulously confined it to trivial matter whenever she
approached him in this mood, fencing himself about with a wall
of cold reserve that was not lightly to be overthrown.  In this
his conscience was at work.  Cynthia was the flaw in the
satisfaction he might have drawn from the contemplation of the
vengeance he was there to wreak.  He beheld her so pure, so
sweet and fresh, that he marvelled how she came to be the
daughter of Gregory Ashburn.  His heart smote him at the
thought of how she - the innocent - must suffer with the
guilty, and at the contemplation of the sorrow which he must
visit upon her.  Out of this sprang a constraint when in her
company, for other than stiff and formal he dared not be lest
he should deem himself no better than the Iscariot.

During the first days he had pent at Marleigh, he had been
impatient for Joseph Ashburn's return.  Now he found himself
hoping each morning that Joseph might not come that day.

A courier reached Gregory from Windsor with a letter wherein
his brother told him that the Lord General, not being at the
castle, he was gone on to London in quest of him.  And Gregory,
lacking the means to inform him that the missing Kenneth was
already returned, was forced to possess his soul in patience
until his brother, having learnt what was to be learnt of
Cromwell, should journey home.

And so the days sped on, and a week wore itself out in peace at
Castle Marleigh, none dreaming of the volcano on which they
stood.  Each night Crispin and Gregory sat together at the
board after Kenneth and Cynthia had withdrawn, and both drank
deep - the one for the vice of it, the other (as he had always
done) to seek forgetfulness.

He needed it now more than ever, for he feared that the
consideration of Cynthia might yet unman him.  Had she scorned
and avoided him and having such evidences of his ways of life
he marvelled that she did not - he might have allowed his
considerations of her to weigh less heavily.  As it was, she
sought him out, nor seemed rebuffed at his efforts to evade
her, and in every way she manifested a kindliness that drove
him almost to the point of despair, and well-nigh to hating
her.

Kenneth, knowing naught of the womanly purpose that actuated
her, and seeing but the outward signs, which, with ready
jealousy, he misconstrued and magnified, grew sullen and
churlish to her, to Galliard, and even to Gregory.

For hours he would mope alone, nursing his jealous mood, as
though in this clownish fashion matters were to be mended.  Did
Cynthia but speak to Crispin, he scowled; did Crispin answer
her, he grit his teeth at the covert meaning wherewith his
fancy invested Crispin's tones; whilst did they chance to laugh
together - a contingency that fortunately for his sanity was
rare - he writhed in fury.  He was a man transformed, and at
times there was murder in his heart.  Had he been a swordsman
of more than moderate skill and dared to pit himself against
the Tavern Knight, blood would have been shed in Marleigh Park
betwixt them.

It seemed at last as if with his insensate jealousy all the
evil humours that had lain dormant in the boy were brought to
the surface, to overwhelm his erstwhile virtues - if qualities
that have bigotry for a parent may truly be accounted virtues.

He cast off, not abruptly, but piecemeal, those outward symbols
- his sombre clothes.  First 'twas his hat he exchanged for a
feather-trimmed beaver of more sightly hue; then those stiff
white bands that reeked of sanctity and cant for a collar of
fine point; next it was his coat that took on a worldly edge of
silver lace.  And so, little by little, step by step, was the
metamorphosis effected, until by the end of the week he came
forth a very butterfly of fashion - a gallant, dazzling
Cavalier.  Out of a stern, forbidding Covenanter he was
transformed in a few days into a most outrageous fop.  He
walked in an atmosphere of musk that he himself exhaled; his
fair hair - that a while ago had hung so straight and limp -
was now twisted into monstrous curls, a bunch of which were
gathered by his right ear in a ribbon of pale blue silk.

Galliard noted the change in amazement, yet, knowing to what
follies youth is driven when it woos, he accounted Cynthia
responsible for it, and laughed in his sardonic way, whereat
the boy would blush and scowl in one.  Gregory, too, looked on
and laughed, setting it down to the same cause.  Even Cynthia
smiled, whereat the Tavern Knight was driven to ponder.

With a courtier's raiment Kenneth put on, too, a courtier's
ways; he grew mincing and affected in his speech, and he -
whose utterance a while ago had been marked by a scriptural
flavour - now set it off with some of Galliard's less unseemly
oaths.

Since it was a ruffling gallant Cynthia required, he swore that
a ruffling gallant should she find him; nor had he wit enough
to see that his ribbons, his fopperies, and his capers served
but to make him ridiculous in her eyes.  He did indeed
perceive, however, that in spite of this wondrous
transformation, he made no progress in her favour.

"What signify these fripperies?" she asked him, one day, "any
more than did your coat of decent black?  Are these also
outward symbols?"

"You may take them for such, madam," he answered sulkily.  "You
liked me not as I was - "

"And I like you less as you are," she broke in.

"Cynthia, you mock me," he cried angrily.

"Now, Heaven forbid!  I do but mark the change," she answered
airily.  "These scented clothes are but a masquerade, even as
your coat of black and your cant were a masquerade.  Then you
simulated godliness; now you simulate Heaven knows what.  But
now, as then, it is no more than a simulation, a pretence of
something that you are not."

He left her in a pet, and went in search of Gregory, into whose
ear he poured the story of his woes that had their source in
Cynthia's unkindness.  From this resulted a stormy interview
'twixt Cynthia and her father, in which Cynthia at last
declared that she would not be wedded to a fop.

Gregory shrugged his shoulders and laughed cynically, replying
that it was the way of young men to be fools, and that through
folly lay the road to wisdom.

"Be that as it may," she answered him with spirit, "this folly
transcends all bounds.  Master Stewart may return to his
Scottish heather; at Castle Marleigh he is wasting time."

"Cynthia!" he cried.

"Father," she pleaded, "why be angry?  You would not have me
marry against the inclinations of my heart?  You would not have
me wedded to a man whom I despise?"

"By what right do you despise him?" he demanded, his brow dark.

"By the right of the freedom of my thoughts - the only freedom
that a woman knows.  For the rest it seems she is but a
chattel; of no more consideration to a man than his ox or his
ass with which the Scriptures rank her - a thing to be given or
taken, bought or sold, as others shall decree."

"Child, child, what know you of these things?" he cried.  "You
are overwrought, sweetheart."  And with the promise to wait
until a calmer frame of mind in her should be more propitious
to what he wished to say further on this score, he left her.

She went out of doors in quest of solitude among the naked
trees of the park; instead she found Sir Crispin, seated deep
in thought upon a fallen trunk.

Through the trees she espied him as she approached, whilst the
rustle of her gown announced to him her coming.  He rose as she
drew nigh, and, doffing his hat, made shift to pass on.

"Sir Crispin," she called, detaining him.  He turned.

"Your servant, Mistress Cynthia."

"Are you afraid of me, Sir Crispin?"

"Beauty, madam, is wont to inspire courage rather than fear,"
he answered, with a smile.

"That, sir, is an evasion, not an answer."

"If read aright, Mistress Cynthia, it is also an answer."

"That you do not fear me?"

"It is not a habit of mine."

"Why, then, have you avoided me these three days past?"

Despite himself Crispin felt his breath quickening - quickening
with a pleasure that he sought not to account for - at the
thought that she should have marked his absence from her side.

"Because perhaps if I did not," he answered slowly, "you might
come to avoid me.  I am a proud man, Mistress Cynthia."

"Satan, sir, was proud, but his pride led him to perdition."

"So indeed may mine," he answered readily, "since it leads me
from you."

"Nay, sir," she laughed, "you go from me willingly enough."

"Not willingly, Cynthia.  Oh, not willingly," he began.  Then
of a sudden he checked his tongue, and asked himself what he
was saying.  With a half-laugh and a courtier manner, he
continued, "Of two evils, madam, we must choose the lesser
one."

"Madam," she echoed, disregarding all else that he had said. 
"It is an ugly word, and but a moment back you called me
Cynthia "

"Twas a liberty that methought my grey hairs warranted, and for
which you should have reproved me."

"You have not grey hairs enough to warrant it, Sir Crispin,"
she answered archly.  "But what if even so I account it no
liberty?"

The heavy lids were lifted from her eyes, and as their glance,
frank and kindly, met his, he trembled.  Then, with a polite
smile, he bowed.

"I thank you for the honour."

For a moment she looked at him in a puzzled way, then moved
past him, and as he stood, stiffly erect, watching her graceful
figure, he thought that she was about to leave him, and was
glad of it.  But ere she had taken half a dozen steps:

"Sir Crispin," said she, looking back at him over her shoulder,
"I am walking to the cliffs."

Never was a man more plainly invited to become an escort; but
he ignored it.  A sad smile crept into his harsh face.

"I shall tell Kenneth if I see him," said he.

At that she frowned.

"But I do not want him," she protested.  "Sooner would I go
alone."

"Why, then, madam, I'll tell nobody."

Was ever man so dull?  she asked herself.

"There is a fine view from the cliffs," said she.

"I have always thought so," he agreed.

She inclined to call him a fool; yet she restrained herself. 
She had an impulse to go her way without him; but, then, she
desired his company, and Cynthia was unused to having her
desires frustrated.  So finding him impervious to suggestion:

"Will you not come with me?" she asked at last, point-blank.

"Why, yes, if you wish it," he answered without alacrity.

"You may remain, sir."

Her offended tone aroused him now to the understanding that he
was impolite.  Contrite he stood beside her in a moment.

"With your permission, mistress, I will go with you.  I am a
dull fellow, and to-day I know not what mood is on me.  So
sorry a one that I feared I should be poor company.  Still, if
you'll endure me, I'll do my best to prove entertaining."

"By no means," she answered coldly.  "I seek not the company of
dull fellows."  And she was gone.

He stood where she had left him, and breathed a most ungallant
prayer of thanks.  Next he laughed softly to himself, a laugh
that was woeful with bitterness.

"Fore George!" he muttered, "it is all that was wanting!" 

He reseated himself upon the fallen tree, and there he set
himself to reflect, and to realize that he, war-worn and
callous, come to Castle Marleigh on such an errand as was his,
should wax sick at the very thought of it for the sake of a
chit of a maid, with a mind to make a mock and a toy of him. 
Into his mind there entered even the possibility of flight,
forgetful of the wrongs he had suffered, abandoning the
vengeance he had sworn.  Then with an oath he stemmed his
thoughts.

"God in heaven, am I a boy, beardless and green?" he asked
himself.  "Am I turned seventeen again, that to look into a
pair of eyes should make me forget all things but their
existence?"  Then in a burst of passion: "Would to Heaven," he
muttered, "they had left me stark on Worcester Field!"

He rose abruptly, and set out to walk aimlessly along, until
suddenly a turn in the path brought him face to face with
Cynthia.  She hailed him with a laugh.

"Sir laggard, I knew that willy-nilly you would follow me," she
cried.  And he, taken aback, could not but smile in answer, and
profess that she had conjectured rightly.




CHAPTER XIV

THE HEART OF CYNTHIA ASHBURN


Side by side stepped that oddly assorted pair along - the
maiden whose soul was as pure and fresh as the breeze that blew
upon them from the sea, and the man whose life years ago had
been marred by a sorrow, the quest of whose forgetfulness had
led him through the mire of untold sin; the girl upon the
threshold of womanhood, her life all before her and seeming to
her untainted mind a joyous, wholesome business; the man midway
on his ill-starred career, his every hope blighted save the one
odious hope of vengeance, which made him cling to a life he had
proved worthless and ugly, and that otherwise he had likely
enough cast from him.  And as they walked:

"Sir Crispin," she ventured timidly, "you are unhappy, are you
not?"

Startled by her words and the tone of them, Galliard turned his
head that he might observe her.

"I, unhappy?" he laughed; and it was a laugh calculated to
acknowledge the fitness of her question, rather than to refute
it as he intended.  "Am I a clown, Cynthia, to own myself
unhappy at such a season and while you honour me with your
company?"

She made a wry face in protest that he fenced with her.

"You are happy, then?" she challenged him.

"What is happiness?" quoth he, much as Pilate may have
questioned what was truth.  Then before she could reply he
hastened to add: "I have not been quite so happy these many
years."

"It is not of the present moment that I speak," she answered
reprovingly, for she scented no more than a compliment in his
words, "but of your life."

Now either was he imbued with a sense of modesty touching the
deeds of that life of his, or else did he wisely realize that
no theme could there he less suited to discourse upon with an
innocent maid.

"Mistress Cynthia," said he as though he had not heard her
question, "I would say a word to you concerning Kenneth."

At that she turned upon him with a pout.

"But it is concerning yourself that I would have you talk.  It
is not nice to disobey a lady.  Besides, I have little interest
in Master Stewart."

"To have little interest in a future husband augurs ill for the
time when he shall come to be your husband."

"I thought that you, at least, understood me.  Kenneth will
never be husband of mine, Sir Crispin."

"Cynthia!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, lackaday!  Am I to wed a doll?" she demanded.  "Is he - is
he a man a maid may love, Sir Crispin?"

"Indeed, had you but seen the half of life that I have seen,"
said he unthinkingly, "it might amaze you what manner of man a
maid may love - or at least may marry.  Come, Cynthia, what
fault do you find with him?"

"Why, every fault."

He laughed in unbelief.

"And whom are we to blame for all these faults that have turned
you so against him?"

"Whom?"

"Yourself, Cynthia.  You use him ill, child.  If his behaviour
has been extravagant, you are to blame.  You are severe with
him, and he, in his rash endeavours to present himself in a
guise that shall render him commendable in your eyes, has
overstepped discretion."

"Has my father bidden you to tell me this?"

"Since when have I enjoyed your father's confidence to that
degree?  No, no, Cynthia.  I plead the boy's cause to you
because - I know not because of what."

"It is ill to plead without knowing why.  Let us forget the
valiant Kenneth.  They tell me, Sir Crispin" - and she turned
her glorious eyes upon him in a manner that must have witched a
statue into answering her - "that in the Royal army you were
known as the Tavern Knight."

"They tell you truly.  What of that?"

"Well, what of it?  Do you blush at the very thought?"

"I blush?"  He blinked, and his eyes were full of humour as
they met her grave - almost sorrowing glance.  Then a
full-hearted peal of laughter broke from him, and scared a
flight of gulls from the rocks of Sheringham Hithe below.

"Oh, Cynthia!  You'll kill me!" he gasped.  "Picture to
yourself this Crispin Galliard blushing and giggling like a
schoolgirl beset by her first lover.  Picture it, I say!  As
well and as easily might you picture old Lucifer warbling a
litany for the edification of a Nonconformist parson."

Her eyes were severe in their reproach.

"It is always so with you.  You laugh and jest and make a mock
of everything.  Such I doubt not has been your way from the
commencement, and 'tis thus that you are come to this
condition."

Again he laughed, but this time it was in bitterness.

"Nay, sweet mistress, you are wrong - you are very wrong; it
was not always thus.  Time was - " He paused.  "Bah!  'Tis the
coward cries "time was"!  Leave me the past, Cynthia.  It is
dead, and of the dead we should speak no ill," he jested.

"What is there in your past?" she insisted, despite his words. 
"What is there in it so to have warped a character that I am
assured was once - is, indeed, still - of lofty and noble
purpose?  What is it has brought you to the level you occupy -
you who were born to lead; you who - "

"Have done, child.  Have done," he begged.

"Nay, tell me.  Let us sit here."  And taking hold of his
sleeve, she sat herself upon a mound, and made room for him
beside her on the grass.  With a half-laugh and a sigh he
obeyed her, and there, on the cliff, in the glow of the
September sun, he took his seat at her side.

A silence prevailed about them, emphasized rather than broken
by the droning chant of a fisherman mending his nets on the
beach below, the intermittent plash of the waves on the
shingle, and the scream of the gulls that circled overhead. 
Before the eyes of his flesh was stretched a wide desert of sky
and water, and before the eyes of his mind the hopeless desert
of his thirty-eight years.

He was almost tempted to speak.  The note of sympathy in her
voice allured him, and sympathy was to him as drink to one who
perishes of thirst.  A passionate, indefinable longing impelled
him to pour out the story that in Worcester he had related unto
Kenneth, and thus to set himself better in her eyes; to have
her realize indeed that if he was come so low it was more the
fault of others than his own.  The temptation drew him at a
headlong pace, to be checked at last by the memory that those
others who had brought him to so sorry a condition were her own
people.  The humour passed.  He laughed softly, and shook his
head.

"There is nothing that I can tell you, child.  Let us rather
talk of Kenneth."

"I do not wish to talk of Kenneth."

"Nay, but you must.  Willy-nilly must you.  Think you it is
only a war-worn, hard-drinking, swashbuckling ruffler that can
sin?  Does it not also occur to you that even a frail and
tender little maid may do wrong as well?"

"What wrong have I done?" she cried in consternation.

"A grievous wrong to this poor lad.  Can you not realize how
the only desire that governs him is the laudable one of
appearing favourably in your eyes?"

"That desire gives rise, then, to curious manifestations."

"He is mistaken in the means he adopts, that is all.  In his
heart his one aim is to win your esteem, and, after all, it is
the sentiment that matters, not its manifestation.  Why, then,
are you unkind to him?"

"But I am not unkind.  Or is it unkindness to let him see that
I mislike his capers?  Would it not be vastly more unkind to
ignore them and encourage him to pursue their indulgence?  I
have no patience with him."

"As for those capers, I am endeavouring to show you that you
yourself have driven him to them."

"Sir Crispin," she cried out, "you grow tiresome."

"Aye," said he, "I grow tiresome.  I grow tiresome because I
preach of duty.  Marry, it is in truth a tiresome topic."

"How duty?  Of what do you talk?"  And a flush of incipient
anger spread now on her fair cheek.

"I will be clearer," said he imperturbably.  "This lad is your
betrothed.  He is at heart a good lad, an honourable and honest
lad - at times haply over-honest and over-honourable; but let
that be.  To please a whim, a caprice, you set yourself to
flout him, as is the way of your sex when you behold a man your
utter slave.  From this - being all unversed in the obliquity
of woman - he conceives, poor boy, that he no longer finds
favour in your eyes, and to win back this, the only thing that
in the world he values, he behaves foolishly.  You flout him
anew, and because of it.  He is as jealous with you as a hen
with her brood."

"Jealous?" echoed Cynthia.

"Why, yes, jealous; and so far does he go as to be jealous even
of me," he cried, with infinitely derisive relish.  "Think of
it - he is jealous of me!  Jealous of him they call the Tavern
Knight!"

She did think of it as he bade her.  And by thinking she
stumbled upon a discovery that left her breathless.

Strange how we may bear a sentiment in our hearts without so
much as suspecting its existence, until suddenly a chance word
shall so urge it into life that it reveals itself with
unmistakable distinctness.  With her the revelation began in a
vague wonder at the scorn with which Crispin invested the
notion that Kenneth should have cause for jealousy on his
score.  Was it, she asked herself, so monstrously unnatural? 
Then in a flash the answer came - and it was, that far from
being a matter for derision, such an attitude in Kenneth lacked
not for foundation.

In that moment she knew that it was because of Crispin; because
of this man who spoke with such very scorn of self, that
Kenneth had become in her eyes so mean and unworthy a creature. 
Loved him she haply never had, but leastways she had tolerated
- been even flattered by - his wooing.  By contrasting him now
with Crispin she had grown to despise him.  His weakness, his
pusillanimity, his meannesses of soul, stood out in sharp
relief by contrast with the masterful strength and the high
spirit of Sir Crispin.

So easily may our ideals change that the very graces of face
and form that a while ago had pleased her in Kenneth, seemed
now effeminate attributes, well-attuned to a vacillating,
purposeless mind.  Far greater beauty did her eyes behold in
this grimfaced soldier of fortune; the man as firm of purpose
as he was upright of carriage; gloomy, proud, and reckless;
still young, yet past the callow age of adolescence.  Since the
day of his coming to Castle Marleigh she had brought herself to
look upon him as a hero stepped from the romancers' tales that
in secret she had read.  The mystery that seemed to envelop
him; those hints at a past that was not good - but the measure
of whose evil in her pure innocence she could not guess; his
very melancholy, his misfortunes, and the deeds she had heard
assigned to him, all had served to fire her fancy and more
besides, although, until that moment, she knew it not.

Subconsciously all this had long dwelt in her mind.  And now of
a sudden that self-deriding speech of Crispin's had made her
aware of its presence and its meaning.

She loved him.  That men said his life had not been nice, that
he was a soldier of fortune, little better than an adventurer,
a man of no worldly weight, were matters of no moment then to
her.  She loved him.  She knew it now because he had mockingly
bidden her to think whether Kenneth had cause to be jealous of
him, and because upon thinking of it, she found that did
Kenneth know what was in her heart, he must have more than
cause.

She loved him with that rare love that will urge a woman to the
last sacrifice a man may ask; a love that gives and gives, and
seeks nothing in return; that impels a woman to follow the man
at his bidding, be his way through the world cast in places
never so rugged; cleaving to him where all besides shall have
abandoned him; and, however dire his lot, asking of God no
greater blessing than that of sharing it.

And to such a love as this Crispin was blind - blind to the
very possibility of its existence; so blind that he laughed to
scorn the idea of a puny milksop being jealous of him.  And so,
while she sat, her soul all mastered by her discovery, her face
white.  and still for very awe of it, he to whom this wealth
was given, pursued the odious task of wooing her for another.

"You have observed - you must have observed this insensate
jealousy," he was saying, "and how do you allay it?  You do
not.  On the contrary, you excite it at every turn.  You are
exciting it now by having - and I dare swear for no other
purpose - lured me to walk with you, to sit here with you and
preach your duty to you.  And when, through jealousy, he shall
have flown to fresh absurdities, shall you regret your conduct
and the fruits it has borne?  Shall you pity the lad, and by
kindness induce him to be wiser?  No.  You will mock and taunt
him into yet worse displays.  And through these displays, which
are - though you may not have bethought you of it - of your own
contriving, you will conclude that he is no fit mate for you,
and there will be heart-burnings, and years hence perhaps
another Tavern Knight, whose name will not be Crispin
Galliard."

She had listened with bent head; indeed, so deeply rapt by her
discovery, that she had but heard the half of what he said. 
Now, of a sudden, she looked up, and meeting his glance:

"Is - is it a woman's fault that you are as you are?"

"No, it is not.  But how does that concern the case of
Kenneth?"

"It does not.  I was but curious.  I was not thinking of
Kenneth."

He stared at her, dumfounded.  Had he been talking of Kenneth
to her with such eloquence and such fervour, that she should
calmly tell him as he paused that it was not of Kenneth she had
been thinking?

"You will think of him, Cynthia?" he begged.  "You will bethink
you too of what I have said, and by being kinder and more
indulgent with this youth you shall make him grow into a man
you may take pride in.  Deal fairly with him, child, and if
anon you find you cannot truly love him, then tell him so.  But
tell him kindly and frankly, instead of using him as you are
doing."

She was silent a moment, and in their poignancy her feelings
went very near to anger.  Presently:

"I would, Sir Crispin, you could hear him talk of you," said
she.

"He talks ill, not a doubt of it, and like enough he has good
cause."

"Yet you saved his life."

The words awoke Crispin, the philosopher of love, to realities. 
He recalled the circumstances of his saving Kenneth, and the
price the boy was to pay for that service; and it suddenly came
to him that it was wasted breath to plead Kenneth's cause with
Cynthia, when by his own future actions he was, himself, more
than likely to destroy the boy's every hope of wedding her. 
The irony of his attitude smote him hard, and he rose abruptly. 
The sun hung now a round, red globe upon the very brink of the
sea.

"Hereafter he may have little cause to thank me," muttered he. 
"Come, Mistress Cynthia, it grows late."

She rose in mechanical obedience, and together they retraced
their steps in silence, save for the stray word exchanged at
intervals touching matters of no moment.

But he had not advocated Kenneth's cause in vain, for all that
he little recked what his real argument had been, what
influences he had evoked to urge her to make her peace with the
lad.  A melancholy listlessness of mind possessed her now. 
Crispin did not see, never would see, what was in her heart,
and it might not be hers to show him.  The life that might have
signified was not to be lived, and since that was so it seemed
to matter little what befell.

It was thus that when on the morrow her father returned to the
subject, she showed herself tractable and docile out of her
indifference, and to Gregory she appeared not averse to listen
to what he had to advance in the boy's favour.  Anon Kenneth's
own humble pleading, allied to his contrite and sorrowful
appearance, were received by her with that same indifference,
as also with indifference did she allow him later to kiss her
hand and assume the flattering belief that he was rehabilitated
in her favour.

But pale grew Mistress Cynthia's cheeks, and sad her soul. 
Wistful she waxed, sighing at every turn, until it seemed to
her - as haply it hath seemed to many a maid - that all her
life must she waste in vain sighs over a man who gave no single
thought to her.




CHAPTER XV

JOSEPH'S RETURN


On his side Kenneth strove hard during the days that followed
to right himself in her eyes.  But so headlong was he in the
attempt, and so misguided, that presently he overshot his mark
by dropping an unflattering word concerning Crispin, whereby he
attributed to the Tavern Knight's influence and example the
degenerate change that had of late been wrought in him.

Cynthia's eyes grew hard as he spoke, and had he been wise he
had better served his cause by talking in another vein.  But
love and jealousy had so addled what poor brains the Lord had
bestowed upon him, that he floundered on, unmindful of any
warning that took not the blunt shape of words.  At length,
however, she stemmed the flow of invective that his lips poured
forth.

"Have I not told you already, Kenneth, that it better becomes a
gentleman not to slander the man to whom he owes his life?  In
fact, that a gentleman would scorn such an action?"

As he had protested before, so did he protest now, that what he
had uttered was no slander.  And in his rage and mortification
at the way she used him, and for which he now bitterly
upbraided her, he was very near the point of tears, like the
blubbering schoolboy that at heart he was.

"And as for the debt, madam," he cried, striking the oaken
table of the hall with his clenched hand, "it is a debt that
shall be paid, a debt which this gentleman whom you defend
would not permit me to contract until I had promised payment -
aye, 'fore George! - and with interest, for in the payment I
may risk my very life."

"I see no interest in that, since you risk nothing more than
what you owe him," she answered, with a disdain that brought
the impending tears to his eyes.  But if he lacked the
manliness to restrain them, he possessed at least the shame to
turn his back and hide them from her.  "But tell me, sir," she
added, her curiosity awakened, "if I am to judge, what was the
nature of this bargain?"

He was silent for a moment, and took a turn in the hall -
mastering himself to speak - his hands clasped behind his back,
and his eyes bent towards the polished floor which the evening
sunlight, filtered through the gules of the leaded windows,
splashed here and there with a crimson stain.  She sat in the
great leathern chair at the head of the board, and, watching
him, waited.

He was debating whether he was bound to secrecy in the matter,
and in the end he resolved that he was not.  Thereupon, pausing
before her, he succinctly told the story Crispin had related to
him that night in Worcester - the story of a great wrong, that
none but a craven could have left unavenged.  He added nothing
to it, subtracted nothing from it, but told the tale as it had
been told to him on that dreadful night, the memory of which
had still power to draw a shudder from him.

Cynthia sat with parted lips and eager eyes, drinking in that
touching narrative of suffering that was rather as some
romancer's fabrication than a true account of what a living man
had undergone.  Now with sorrow and pity in her heart and
countenance, now with anger and loathing, she listened until he
had done, and even when he ceased speaking, and flung himself
into the nearest chair, she sat on in silence for a spell.

Then of a sudden she turned a pair of flashing eyes upon the
boy, and in tones charged with a scorn ineffable:

"You dare," she cried, "to speak of that man as you do, knowing
all this?  Knowing what he has suffered, you dare to rail in
his absence against those sins to which his misfortunes have
driven him?  How, think you, would it have fared with you, you
fool, had you stood in the shoes of this unfortunate?  Had you
fallen on your craven knees, and thanked the Lord for allowing
you to keep your miserable life?  Had you succumbed to the
blows of fate with a whine of texts upon your lips?  Who are
you?" she went on, rising, breathless in her wrath, which
caused him to recoil in sheer affright before her.  "Who are
you, and what are you, that knowing what you know of this man's
life, you dare to sit in judgment upon his actions and condemn
them?  Answer me, you fool!"

But never a word had he wherewith to meet that hail of angry,
contemptuous questions.  The answer that had been so ready to
his lips that night at Worcester, when, in a milder form the
Tavern Knight had set him the same question, he dared hot
proffer now.  The retort that Sir Crispin had not cause enough
in the evil of others, which had wrecked his life, to risk the
eternal damnation of his soul, he dared no longer utter. 
Glibly enough had he said to that stern man that which he dared
not say now to this sterner beauty.  Perhaps it was fear of her
that made him dumb, perhaps that at last he knew himself for
what he was by contrast with the man whose vices he had so
heartily despised a while ago.

Shrinking back before her anger, he racked his shallow mind in
vain for a fitting answer.  But ere he had found one, a heavy
step sounded in the gallery that overlooked the hall, and a
moment later Gregory Ashburn descended.  His face was ghastly
white, and a heavy frown furrowed the space betwixt his brows.

In the fleeting glance she bestowed upon her father, she
remarked not the disorder of his countenance; whilst as for
Kenneth, he had enough to hold his attention for the time.

Gregory's advent set an awkward constraint upon them, nor had
he any word to say as he came heavily up the hall.

At the lower end of the long table he paused, and resting his
hand upon the board, he seemed on the point of speaking when of
a sudden a sound reached him that caused him to draw a sharp
breath; it was the rumble of wheels and the crack of a whip.

"It is Joseph!" he cried, in a voice the relief of which was so
marked that Cynthia noticed it.  And with that exclamation he
flung past them, and out through the doorway to meet his
brother so opportunely returned.

He reached the terrace steps as the coach pulled up, and the
lean figure of Joseph Ashburn emerged from it.

"So, Gregory," he grumbled for greeting, "it was on a fool's
errand you sent me, after all.  That knave, your messenger,
found me in London at last when I had outworn my welcome at
Whitehall.  But, 'swounds, man," he cried, remarking the
pallor, of his brother's face, "what ails thee?"

"I have news for you, Joseph," answered Gregory, in a voice
that shook.

"It is not Cynthia?" he inquired.  "Nay, for there she stands
-and her pretty lover by her side.  'Slife, what a coxcomb the
lad's grown."

And with that he hastened forward to kiss his niece, and
congratulate Kenneth upon being restored to her.

"I heard of it, lad, in London," quoth he, a leer upon his
sallow face - "the story of how a fire-eater named Galliard
befriended you, trussed a parson and a trooper, and dragged you
out of jail a short hour before hanging-time."

Kenneth flushed.  He felt the sneer in Joseph's, words like a
stab.  The man's tone implied that another had done for him
that which he would not have dared do for himself, and Kenneth
felt that this was so said in Cynthia's presence with
malicious, purpose.

He was right.  Partly it was Joseph's way to be spiteful and
venomous whenever chance afforded him the opportunity.  Partly
he had been particularly soured at present by his recent
discomforts, suffered in a cause wherewith he had no, sympathy
- that of the union Gregory desired 'twixt Cynthia and Kenneth.

There was an evil smile on his thin lips, and his crooked eyes
rested tormentingly upon the young man.  A fresh taunt trembled
on his viperish tongue, when Gregory plucked at the skirts of
his coat, and drew him aside.  They entered the chamber where
they had held their last interview before Joseph had set out
for news of Kenneth.  With an air of mystery Gregory closed the
door, then turned to face his brother.  He stayed him in the
act of unbuckling his sword-belt.

"Wait, Joseph!" he cried dramatically.  "This is no time to
disarm.  Keep your sword on your thigh, man; you will need it
as you never yet have needed it." He paused, took a deep
breath, and hurled the news at his brother.  "Roland Marleigh
is here."  And he sat down like a man exhausted.

Joseph did not start; he did not cry out; he did not so much as
change countenance.  A slight quiver of the eyelids was the
only outward sign he gave of the shock that his brother's
announcement had occasioned.  The hand that had rested on the
buckle of his sword-belt slipped quietly to his side, and he
deliberately stepped up to Gregory, his eyes set searchingly
upon the pale, flabby face before him.  A sudden suspicion
darting through his mind, he took his brother by the shoulders
and shook him vigorously.

"Gregory, you fool, you have drunk overdeep in my absence."

"I have, I have," wailed Gregory, "and, my God, 'twas he was my
table-fellow, and set me the example."

"Like enough, like enough," returned Joseph, with a
contemptuous laugh.  "My poor Gregory, the wine has so fouled
your worthless wits at last, that they conjure up phantoms to
sit at the table with you.  Come, man, what petticoat business
is this?  Bestir yourself, fool."

At that Gregory caught the drift of Joseph's suspicions.

"Tis you are the fool," he retorted angrily, springing to his
feet, and towering above his brother.

"It was no ghost sat with me, but Roland Marleigh, himself, in
the flesh, and strangely changed by time.  So changed that I
knew him not, nor should I know him now but for that which, not
ten minutes ago, I overheard."

His earnestness was too impressive, his sanity too obvious, and
Joseph's suspicions were all scattered before it.

He caught Gregory's wrist in a grip that made him wince, and
forced him back into his seat.

"Gadslife, man, what is it you mean?" he demanded through set
teeth.  "Tell me."

And forthwith Gregory told him of the manner of Kenneth's
coming to Sheringham and to Castle Marleigh, accompanied by one
Crispin Galliard, the same that had been known for his mad
exploits in the late wars as "rakehelly Galliard," and that was
now known to the malignants as "The Tavern Knight" for his
debauched habits.  Crispin's mention of Roland Marleigh on the
night of his arrival now returned vividly to Gregory's mind,
and he repeated it, ending with the story that that very
evening he had overheard Kenneth telling Cynthia.

"And this Galliard, then, is none other than that pup of
insolence, Roland Marleigh, grown into a dog of war?" quoth
Joseph.

He was calm - singularly calm for one who had heard such news.

"There remains no doubt of it."

"And you saw this man day by day, sat with him night by night
over your damned sack, and knew him not?  Oddswounds, man,
where were your eyes?"

"I may have been blind.  But he is greatly changed.  I would
defy you, Joseph, to have recognized him."

Joseph sneered, and the flash of his eyes told of the contempt
wherein he held his brother's judgment and opinions.

"Think not that, Gregory.  I have cause enough to remember
him," said Joseph, with an unpleasant laugh.  Then as suddenly
changing his tone for one of eager anxiety:

"But the lad, Gregory, does he suspect, think you?"

"Not a whit.  In that lies this fellow's diabolical cunning. 
Learning of Kenneth's relations with us, he seized the
opportunity Fate offered him that night at Worcester, and bound
the lad on oath to help him when he should demand it, without
disclosing the names of those against whom he should require
his services.  The boy expects at any moment to be bidden to go
forth with him upon his mission of revenge, little dreaming
that it is here that that tragedy is to be played out."

"This comes of your fine matrimonial projects for Cynthia,"
muttered Joseph acridly.  He laughed his unpleasant laugh
again, and for a spell there was silence.

"To think, Gregory," he broke out at last, "that for a
fortnight he should have been beneath this roof, and you should
have found no means of doing more effectively that which was
done too carelessly eighteen years ago."

He spoke as coldly as though the matter were a trivial one. 
Gregory shuddered and looked at his brother in alarm.

"What now, fool?" cried Joseph, scowling.  "Are you as cowardly
as you are blind?  Damn me, sir, it seems well that I am
returned.  I'll have no Marleigh plague my old age for me."  He
paused a moment, then continued in a quieter voice, but one
whose ring was sinister beyond words: "Tomorrow I shall find a
way to draw this your dog of war to some secluded ground.  I
have some skill," he pursued, tapping his hilt as he spoke,
"besides, you shall be there, Gregory."  And he smiled darkly. 
"Is there no other way?" asked Gregory, in distress.

"There was," answered Joseph.  "There was in Parliament.  At
Whitehall I met a man - one Colonel Pride - a bloodthirsty old
Puritan soldier, who would give his right hand to see this
Galliard hanged.  Galliard, it seems, slew the fellow's son at
Worcester.  Had I but known," he added regretfully - "had your
wits been keener, and you had discovered it and sent me word, I
had found means to help Colonel Pride to his revenge.  As it
is" - he shrugged his shoulders - "there is not time."

"It may be - " began Gregory, then stopped abruptly with an
exclamation that caused Joseph to wheel sharply round.  The
door had opened, and on the threshold Sir Crispin Galliard
stood, deferentially, hat in hand.

Joseph's astonished glance played rapidly over him for a
second.  Then:

"Who the devil may you be?" he blurted out.

Despite his anxiety, Gregory chuckled at the question.  The
Tavern Knight came forward.  "I am Sir Crispin Galliard, at
your service," said he, bowing.  "I was told that the master of
Marleigh was returned, and that I should find you here, and I
hasten, sir, to proffer you my thanks for the generous shelter
this house has given me this fortnight past."

Whilst he spoke he measured Joseph with his eyes, and his
glance was as hateful as his words were civil.  Joseph was lost
in amazement.  Little trace was there in this fellow of the
Roland Marleigh he had known.  Moreover, he had looked to find
an older man, forgetting that Roland's age could not exceed
thirty-eight.  Then, again, the fading light, whilst revealing
the straight, supple lines of his lank figure, softened the
haggardness of the face and made him appear yet younger than
the light of day would have shown him.

In an instant Joseph had recovered from his surprise, and for
all that his mind misgave him tortured by a desire to learn
whether Crispin was aware of their knowledge concerning him -
his smile was serene, and his tones level and pleasant, as he
made answer:

"Sir, you are very welcome.  You have valiantly served one dear
to us, and the entertainment of our poor house for as long as
you may deign to honour it is but the paltriest of returns."




CHAPTER XVI

THE RECKONING


Sir Crispin had heard naught of what was being said as he
entered the room wherein the brothers plotted against him, and
he little dreamt that his identity was discovered.  He had but
hastened to perform that which, under ordinary circumstances,
would have been a natural enough duty towards the master of the
house.  He had been actuated also by an impatience again to
behold this Joseph Ashburn - the man who had dealt him that
murderous sword-thrust eighteen years ago.  He watched him
attentively, and gathering from his scrutiny that here was a
dangerous, subtle man, different, indeed, to his dull-witted
brother, he had determined to act at once.

And so when he appeared in the hall at suppertime, he came
armed and booted, and equipped as for a journey.

Joseph was standing alone by the huge fire-place, his face to
the burning logs, and his foot resting upon one of the
andirons.  Gregory and his daughter were talking together in
the embrasure of a window.  By the other window, across the
hall, stood Kenneth, alone and disconsolate, gazing out at the
drizzling rain that had begun to fall.

As Galliard descended, Joseph turned his head, and his eyebrows
shot up and wrinkled his forehead at beholding the knight's
equipment.

"How is this, Sir Crispin?" said he.  "You are going a
journey?"

"Too long already have I imposed myself upon the hospitality of
Castle Marleigh," Crispin answered politely as he came and
stood before the blazing logs.  "To-night, Mr. Ashburn, I go
hence."

A curious expression flitted across Joseph's face.  The next
moment, his brows still knit as he sought to fathom his sudden
action, he was muttering the formal regrets that courtesy
dictated.  But Crispin had remarked that singular expression on
Joseph's face - fleeting though it had been - and it flashed
across his mind that Joseph knew him.  And as he moved away
towards Cynthia and her father, he thanked Heaven that he had
taken such measures as he had thought wise and prudent for the
carrying out of his resolve.

Following him with a glance, Joseph asked himself whether
Crispin had discovered that he was recognized, and had
determined to withdraw, leaving his vengeance for another and
more propitious season.  In answer - little knowing the measure
of the man he dealt with - he told himself it must be so, and
having arrived at that conclusion, he there and then determined
that Crispin should not depart free to return and plague them
when he listed.  Since Galliard shrank from forcing matters to
an issue, he himself would do it that very night, and thereby
settle for all time his business.  And so ere he sat down to
sup Joseph looked to it that his sword lay at hand behind his
chair at the table-head.

The meal was a quiet one enough.  Kenneth was sulking 'neath
the fresh ill-usage - as he deemed it - that he had suffered at
Cynthia's hands.  Cynthia, in her turn, was grave and silent. 
That story of Sir Crispin's sufferings gave her much to think
of, as did also his departure, and more than once did Galliard
find her eyes fixed upon him with a look half of pity, half of
some other feeling that he was at a loss to interpret. 
Gregory's big voice was little heard.  The sinister glitter in
his brother's eye made him apprehensive and ill at ease.  For
him the hour was indeed in travail and like to bring forth
strange doings - but not half so much as it was for Crispin and
Joseph, each bent upon forcing matters to a head ere they
quitted that board.  And yet but for these two the meal would
have passed off in dismal silence.  Joseph was at pains to keep
suspicion from his guest, and with that intent he talked gaily
of this and that, told of slight matters that had befallen him
on his recent journey and of the doings that in London he had
witnessed, investing each trifling incident with a garb of wit
that rendered it entertaining.

And Galliard - actuated by the same motives grew reminiscent
whenever Joseph paused and let his nimble tongue - even
nimblest at a table amuse those present, or seem to amuse them,
by a score of drolleries.

He drank deeply too, and this Joseph observed with
satisfaction.  But here again he misjudged his man.  Kenneth,
who ate but little, seemed also to have developed an enormous
thirst, and Crispin grew at length alarmed at that ever empty
goblet so often filled.  He would have need of Kenneth ere the
hour was out, and he rightly feared that did matters thus
continue, the lad's aid was not to be reckoned with.  Had
Kenneth sat beside him he might have whispered a word of
restraint in his eat, but the lad was on the other side of the
board.

At one moment Crispin fancied that a look of intelligence
passed from Joseph to Gregory, and when presently Gregory set
himself to ply both him and the boy with wine, his suspicions
became certainties, and he grew watchful and wary.

Anon Cynthia rose.  Upon the instant Galliard was also on his
feet.  He escorted her to the foot of the staircase, and there:

"Permit me, Mistress Cynthia," said he, "to take my leave of
you.  In an hour or so I shall be riding away from Castle
Marleigh."

Her eyes sought the ground, and had he been observant of her he
might have noticed that she paled slightly.

"Fare you well, sir," said she in a low voice.  "May happiness
attend you."

"Madam, I thank you.  Fare you well."

He bowed low.  She dropped him a slight curtsey, and ascended
the stairs.  Once as she reached the gallery above she turned. 
He had resumed his seat at table, and was in the act of filling
his glass.  The servants had withdrawn, and for half an hour
thereafter they sat on, sipping their wine, and making
conversation - while Crispin drained bumper after bumper and
grew every instant more boisterous, until at length his
boisterousness passed into incoherence.  His eyelids drooped
heavily, and his chin kept ever and anon sinking forward on to
his breast.

Kenneth, flushed with wine, yet master of his wits, watched him
with contempt.  This was the man Cynthia preferred to him! 
Contempt was there also in Joseph Ashburn's eye, mingled with
satisfaction.  He had not looked to find the task so easy.  At
length he deemed the season ripe.

"My brother tells me that you were once acquainted with Roland
Marleigh," said he.

"Aye," he answered thickly.  "I knew the dog - a merry,
reckless soul, d -n me.  'Twas his recklessness killed him,
poor devil - that and your hand, Mr. Ashburn, so the story
goes."

"What story?"

"What story?" echoed Crispin.  "The story that I heard.  Do you
say I lie?"  And, swaying in his chair, he sought to assume an
air of defiance.

Joseph laughed in a fashion that made Kenneth's blood run cold.

"Why, no, I don't deny it.  It was in fair fight he fell. 
Moreover, he brought the duel upon himself."

Crispin spoke no word in answer, but rose unsteadily to his
feet, so unsteadily that his chair was overset and fell with a
crash behind him.  For a moment he surveyed it with a drunken
leer, then went lurching across the hall towards the door that
led to the servants' quarters.  The three men sat on, watching
his antics in contempt, curiosity, and amusement.  They saw him
gain the heavy oaken door and close it.  They heard the bolts
rasp as he shot them home, and the lock click; and they saw him
withdraw the key and slip it into his pocket.

The cold smile still played round Joseph's lips as Crispin
turned to face them again, and on Joseph's lips did that same
smile freeze as he saw him standing there, erect and firm, his
drunkenness all vanished, and his eyes keen and fierce; as he
heard the ring of his metallic voice:

"You lie, Joseph Ashburn.  It was no fair fight.  It was no
duel.  It was a foul, murderous stroke you dealt him in the
back, thinking to butcher him as you butchered his wife and his
babe.  But there is a God, Master Ashburn" he went on in an
ever-swelling voice, "and I lived.  Like a salamander I came
through the flames in which you sought to destroy all trace of
your vile deed.  I lived, and I, Crispin Galliard, the
debauched Tavern Knight that was once Roland Marleigh, am here
to demand a reckoning."

The very incarnation was he then of an avenger, as he stood
towering before them, his grim face livid with the passion into
which he had lashed himself as he spoke, his blazing eyes
watching them in that cunning, half-closed way that was his
when his mood was dangerous.  And yet the only one that quailed
was Kenneth, his ally, upon whom comprehension burst with
stunning swiftness.

Joseph recovered quickly from the surprise of Crispin's
suddenly reassumed sobriety.  He understood the trick that
Galliard had played upon them so that he might cut off their
retreat in the only direction in which they might have sought
assistance, and he cursed himself for not having foreseen it. 
Still, anxiety he felt none; his sword was to his hand, and
Gregory was armed; at the very worst they were two calm and
able men opposed to a half-intoxicated boy, and a man whom
fury, he thought, must strip of half his power.  Probably,
indeed, the lad would side with them, despite his plighted
word.  Again, he had but to raise his voice, and, though the
door that Crispin had fastened was a stout one,, he never
doubted but that his call would penetrate it and bring his
servants to his rescue.

And so, a smile of cynical unconcern returned to his lips and
his answer was delivered in a cold, incisive voice.

"The reckoning you have come to demand shall be paid you, sir. 
Rakehelly Galliard is the hero of many a reckless deed, but my
judgment is much at fault if this prove not his crowning
recklessness and his last one.  Gadswounds, sir, are you mad to
come hither single-handed to beard the lion in his den?"

"Rather the cur in his kennel," sneered Crispin back.  "Blood
and wounds, Master Joseph, think you to affright me with
words?"

Still Joseph smiled, deeming himself master of the situation.

"Were help needed, the raising of my voice would bring it me. 
But it is not.  We are three to one."

"You reckon wrongly.  Mr.  Stewart belongs to me to-night -
bound by an oath that 'twould damn his soul to break, to help
me when and where I may call upon him; and I call upon him now. 
Kenneth, draw your sword."

Kenneth groaned as he stood by, clasping and unclasping his
hands.

"God's curse on you," he burst out.  "You have tricked me, you
have cheated me."

"Bear your oath in mind," was the cold answer.  "If you deem
yourself wronged by me, hereafter you shall have what
satisfaction you demand.  But first fulfil me what you have
sworn.  Out with your blade, man."

Still Kenneth hesitated, and but for Gregory's rash action at
that critical juncture, it is possible that he would have
elected to break his plighted word.  But Gregory fearing that
he might determine otherwise, resolved there and then to remove
the chance of it.  Whipping out his sword, he made a vicious
pass at the lad's breast.  Kenneth avoided it by leaping
backwards, but in an instant Gregory had sprung after him, and
seeing himself thus beset, Kenneth was forced to draw that he
might protect himself.

They stood in the space between the table and that part of the
hall that abutted on to the terrace; opposite to them, by the
door which he had closed, stood Crispin.  At the table-head
Joseph still sat cool, self-contained, even amused.

He realized the rashness of Gregory's attack upon one that
might yet have been won over to their side; but he never
doubted that a few passes would dispose of the lad's
opposition, and he sought not to interfere.  Then he saw
Crispin advancing towards him slowly, his rapier naked in his
hand, and he was forced to look to himself.  He caught at the
sword that stood behind him, and leaping to his feet he sprang
forward to meet his grim antagonist.  Galliard's eyes flashed
out a look of joy, he raised his rapier, and their blades met.

To the clash of their meeting came an echoing clash from beyond
the table.

"Hold, sir!" Kenneth had cried, as Gregory bore down upon him. 
But Gregory's answer had been a lunge which the boy had been
forced to parry.  Taking that crossing of blades for a sign of
opposition, Gregory thrust again more viciously.  Kenneth
parried narrowly, his blade pointing straight at his aggressor. 
He saw the opening, and both instinct and the desire to repel
Gregory's onslaught drew him into attempting a riposte, which
drove Gregory back until his shoulders touched the panels of
the wall.  Simultaneously the boy's foot struck the back of the
chair which in rising Crispin had overset, and he stumbled. 
How it happened he scarcely knew, but as he hurtled forward his
blade slid along his opponent's, and entering Gregory's right
shoulder pinned him to the wainscot.

Joseph heard the tinkle of a falling blade, and assumed it to
be Kenneth's.  For the rest he was just then too busy to dare
withdraw for a second his eyes from Crispin's.  Until that hour
Joseph Ashburn had accounted himself something of a swordsman,
and more than a match for most masters of the weapon.  But in
Crispin he found a fencer of a quality such as he had never yet
encountered.  Every feint, every botte in his catalogue had he
paraded in quick succession, yet ever with the same result -
his point was foiled and put aside with ease.

Desperately he fought now, darting that point of his hither and
thither in and out whenever the slightest opening offered; yet
ever did it meet the gentle averting pressure of Crispin's
blade.  He fought on and marvelled as the seconds went by that
Gregory came not to his aid.  Then the sickening thought that
perhaps Gregory was overcome occurred to him.  In such a case
he must reckon upon himself alone.  He cursed the
over-confidence that had led him into that ever-fatal error of
underestimating his adversary.  He might have known that one
who had acquired Sir Crispin's fame was no ordinary man, but
one accustomed to face great odds and master them.  He might
call for help.

He marvelled as the thought occurred to him that the clatter of
their blades had not drawn his servants from their quarters. 
Fencing still, he raised his voice:

"Ho, there!  John, Stephen!"

"Spare your breath," growled the knight.  "I dare swear you'll
have need of it.  None will hear you, call as you will.  I gave
your four henchmen a flagon of wine wherein to drink to my safe
journey hence.  They have emptied it ere this, I make no doubt,
and a single glass of it would set the hardest toper asleep for
the round of the clock."

An oath was Joseph's only answer - a curse it was upon his own
folly and assurance.  A little while ago he had thought to have
drawn so tight a net about this ruler, and here was he now
taken in its very toils, well-nigh exhausted and in his enemy's
power.

It occurred to him then that Crispin stayed his hand.  That he
fenced only on the defensive, and he wondered what might his
motive be.  He realized that he was mastered, and that at any
moment Galliard might send home his blade.  He was bathed from
head to foot in a sweat that was at once of exertion and
despair.  A frenzy seized him.  Might he not yet turn to
advantage this hesitancy of Crispin's to strike the final blow?

He braced himself for a supreme effort, and turning his wrist
from a simulated thrust in the first position, he doubled, and
stretching out, lunged vigorously in quarte.  As he lengthened
his arm in the stroke there came a sudden twitch at his wrist;
the weapon was twisted from his grasp, and he stood disarmed at
Crispin's mercy.

A gurgling cry broke despite him from his lips, and his eyes
grew wide in a sickly terror as they encountered the knight's
sinister glance.  Not three paces behind him was the wall, and
on it, within the hand's easy reach, hung many a trophied
weapon that might have served him then.  But the fascination of
fear was upon him, benumbing his wits and paralysing his limbs,
with the thought that the next pulsation of his tumultuous
heart would prove its last.  The calm, unflinching courage that
had been Joseph's only virtue was shattered, and his iron will
that had unscrupulously held hitherto his very conscience in
bondage was turned to water now that he stood face to face with
death.

Eons of time it seemed to him were sped since the sword was
wrenched from his hand, and still the stroke he awaited came
not; still Crispin stood, sinister and silent before him,
watching him with magnetic, fascinating eyes - as the snake
watches the bird - eyes from which Joseph could not withdraw
his own, and yet before which it seemed to him that he quaked
and shrivelled.

The candles were burning low in their sconces, and the corners
of that ample, gloomy hall were filled with mysterious shadows
that formed a setting well attuned to the grim picture made by
those two figures - the one towering stern and vengeful, the
other crouching palsied and livid.

Beyond the table, and with the wounded Gregory - lying
unconscious and bleeding - at his feet, stood Kenneth looking
on in silence, in wonder and in some horror too.

To him also, as he watched, the seconds seemed minutes from the
time when Crispin had disarmed his opponent until with a laugh
- short and sudden as a stab - he dropped his sword and caught
his victim by the throat.

However fierce the passion that had actuated Crispin, it had
been held hitherto in strong subjection.  But now at last it
suddenly welled up and mastered him, causing him to cast all
restraint to the winds, to abandon reason, and to give way to
the lust of rage that rendered ungovernable his mood.

Like a burst of flame from embers that have been smouldering
was the upleaping of his madness, transfiguring his face and
transforming his whole being.  A new, unconquerable strength
possessed him; his pulses throbbed swiftly and madly with the
quickened coursing of his blood, and his soul was filled with
the cruel elation that attends a lust about to be indulged the
elation of the beast about to rend its prey.

He was pervaded by the desire to wreak slowly and with his
hands the destruction of his broken enemy.  To have passed his
sword through him would have been too swiftly done; the man
would have died, and Crispin would have known nothing of his
sufferings.  But to take him thus by the throat; slowly to
choke the life's breath out of him; to feel his desperate,
writhing struggles; to be conscious of every agonized twitch of
his sinews, to watch the purpling face, the swelling veins, the
protruding eyes filled with the dumb horror of his agony; to
hold him thus - each second becoming a distinct, appreciable
division of time - and thus to take what payment he could for
all the blighted years that lay behind him - this he felt would
be something like revenge.

Meanwhile the shock of surprise at the unlooked-for movement
had awakened again the man in Joseph.  For a second even Hope
knocked at his heart.  He was sinewy and active, and perchance
he might yet make Galliard repent that he had discarded his
rapier.  The knight's reason for doing so he thought he had in
Crispin's contemptuous words:

"Good steel were too great an honour for you, Mr. Ashburn."

And as he spoke, his lean, nervous fingers tightened about
Joseph's throat in a grip that crushed the breath from him, and
with it the new-born hope of proving master in his fresh
combat.  He had not reckoned with this galley-weaned strength
of Crispin's, a strength that was a revelation to Joseph as he
felt himself almost lifted from the ground, and swung this way
and that, like a babe in the hands of a grown man.  Vain were
his struggles.  His strength ebbed fast; the blood, held
overlong in his head, was already obscuring his vision, when at
last the grip relaxed, and his breathing was freed.  As his
sight cleared again he found himself back in his chair at the
table-head, and beside him Sir Crispin, his left hand resting
upon the board, his right grasping once more the sword, and his
eyes bent mockingly and evilly upon his victim.

Kenneth, looking on, could not repress a shudder.  He had known
Crispin for a tempestuous man quickly moved to wrath, and he
had oftentimes seen anger make terrible his face and glance. 
But never had he seen aught in him to rival this present
frenzy; it rendered satanical the baleful glance of his eyes
and the awful smile of hate and mockery with which be gazed at
last upon the helpless quarry that he had waited eighteen years
to bring to earth.  "I would," said Crispin, in a harsh,
deliberate voice, "that you had a score of lives, Master
Joseph.  As it is I have done what I could.  Two agonies have
you undergone already, and I am inclined to mercy.  The end is
at hand.  If you have prayers to say, say them, Master Ashburn,
though I doubt me it will be wasted breath - you are over-ripe
for hell."

"You mean to kill me," he gasped, growing yet a shade more
livid.

"Does the suspicion of it but occur to you?" laughed Crispin,
"and yet twice already have I given you a foretaste of death. 
Think you I but jested?"

Joseph's teeth clicked together in a snap of determination. 
That sneer of Crispin's acted upon him as a blow - but as a
blow that arouses the desire to retaliate rather than lays low. 
He braced himself for fresh resistance; not of action, for that
he realized was futile, but of argument.

"It is murder that you do," he cried.

"No; it is justice.  It has been long on the way, but it has
come at last."

"Bethink you, Mr. Marleigh - "

"Call me not by that name," cried the other harshly, fearfully. 
"I have not borne it these eighteen years, and thanks to what
you have made me, it is not meet that I should bear it now." 
There was a pause.  Then Joseph spoke again with great calm and
earnestness.

"Bethink you, Sir Crispin, of what you are about to do.  It can
benefit you in naught."

"Oddslife, think you it cannot?  Think you it will benefit me
naught to see you earn at last your reward?"

"You may have dearly to pay for what at best must prove a
fleeting satisfaction."

"Not a fleeting one, Joseph," he laughed.  "But one the memory
of which shall send me rejoicing through what years or days of
life be left me.  A satisfaction that for eighteen years I have
been waiting to experience; though the moment after it be mine
find me stark and cold."

"Sir Crispin, you are in enmity with the Parliament - an outlaw
almost.  I have some influence much influence.  By exerting it
- "

"Have done, sir!" cried Crispin angrily.  "You talk in vain. 
What to me is life, or aught that life can give? If I have so
long endured the burden of it, it has been so that I might draw
from it this hour.  Do you think there is any bribe you could
offer would turn me from my purpose?"

A groan from Gregory, who was regaining consciousness, drew his
attention aside.

"Truss him up,, Kenneth," he commanded, pointing to the
recumbent figure.  "How?  Do you hesitate?  Now, as God lives,
I'll be obeyed; or you shall have an unpleasant reminder of the
oath you swore me!"

With a look of loathing the lad dropped on his knees to do as
he was bidden.  Then of a sudden:

"I have not the means," he announced.

"Fool, does he not wear a sword-belt and a sash?  Come, attend
to it!"

"Why do you force me to do this?" the lad still protested
passionately.  "You have tricked and cheated me, yet I have
kept my oath and rendered you the assistance you required. 
They are in your power now, can you not do the rest yourself?"

"On my soul, Master Stewart, I am over-patient with you!  Are
we to wrangle at every step before you'll take it?  I will have
your assistance through this matter as you swore to give it. 
Come, truss me that fellow, and have done with words."

His fierceness overthrew the boy's outburst of resistance. 
Kenneth had wit enough to see that his mood was not one to
brook much opposition, and so, with an oath and a groan, he
went to work to pinion Gregory.

Then Joseph spoke again.  "Weigh well this act of yours, Sir
Crispin," he cried.  "You are still young; much of life lies
yet before you.  Do not wantonly destroy it by an act that
cannot repair the past."

"But it can avenge it, Joseph.  As for my life, you destroyed
it years ago.  The future has naught to offer me; the present
has this."  And he drew back his sword to strike.




CHAPTER XVII

JOSEPH DRIVES A BARGAIN


A new terror leapt into Joseph's eyes at that movement of
Crispin's, and for the third time that night did he taste the
agony that is Death's forerunner.  Yet Galliard delayed the
stroke.  He held his sword poised, the point aimed at Joseph's
breast, and holding, he watched him, marking each phase of the
terror reflected upon his livid countenance.  He was loth to
strike, for to strike would mean to end this exquisite torture
of horror to which he was subjecting him.

Broken Joseph had been before and passive; now of a sudden he
grew violent again, but in a different way.  He flung himself
upon his knees before Sir Crispin, and passionately he pleaded
for the sparing of his miserable life.

Crispin looked on with an eye both of scorn and of cold relish. 
It was thus he wished to see him, broken and agonized,
suffering thus something of all that which he himself had
suffered through despair in the years that were sped.  With
satisfaction then he watched his victim's agony; he watched it
too with scorn and some loathing - for a craven was in his eyes
an ugly sight, and Joseph in that moment was truly become as
vile a coward as ever man beheld.  His parchment-like face was
grey and mottled, his brow bedewed with sweat; his lips were
blue and quivering, his eyes bloodshot and almost threatening
tears.

In the silence of one who waits stood Crispin, listening, calm
and unmoved, as though he heard not, until Joseph's whining
prayers culminated in an offer to make reparation.  Then
Crispin broke in at length with an impatient gesture.

"What reparation can you make, you murderer?  Can you restore
to me the wife and child you butchered eighteen years ago?"

"I can restore your child at least," returned the other.  "I
can and will restore him to you if you but stay your hand. 
That and much more will I do to repair the past."

Unconsciously Crispin lowered his sword-arm, and for a full
minute he stood and stared at Joseph.  His jaw was fallen and
the grim firmness all gone from his face, and replaced by
amazement, then unbelief followed by inquiry; then unbelief
again.  The pallor of his cheeks seemed to intensify.  At last,
however, he broke into a hard laugh.

"What lie is this you offer me?  Zounds, man, are you not
afraid?"

"It is no lie," Joseph cried, in accents so earnest that some
of the unbelief passed again from Galliard's face.  "It is the
truth-God's truth.  Your son lives."

"Hell-hound, it is a lie!  On that fell night, as I swooned
under your cowardly thrust, I heard you calling to your brother
to slit the squalling bastard's throat.  Those were your very
words, Master Joseph."

"I own I bade him do it, but I was not obeyed.  He swore we
should give the babe a chance of life.  It should never know
whose son it was, he said, and I agreed.  We took the boy away. 
He has lived and thrived."

The knight sank on to a chair as though bereft of strength.  He
sought to think, but thinking coherently he could not.  At
last:

"How shall I know that you are not lying?  What proof can you
advance?" he demanded hoarsely.

"I swear that what I have told you is true.  I swear it by the
cross of our Redeemer!" he protested, with a solemnity that was
not without effect upon Crispin.  Nevertheless, he sneered.

"I ask for proofs, man, not oaths.  What proofs can you afford
me?"

"There are the man and the woman whom the lad was reared by."

"And where shall I find them?"

Joseph opened his lips to answer, then closed them again.  In
his eagerness he had almost parted with the information which
he now proposed to make the price of his life.  He regained
confidence at Crispin's tone and questions, gathering from both
that the knight was willing to believe if proof were set before
him.  He rose to his feet, and when next he spoke his voice had
won back much of its habitual calm deliberateness.

"That," said he, "I will tell you when you have promised to go
hence, leaving Gregory and me unharmed.  I will supply you with
what money you may need, and I will give you a letter to those
people, so couched that what they tell you by virtue of it
shall be a corroboration of my words."

His elbow resting upon the table, and his hand to his brow so
that it shaded his eyes, sat Crispin long in thought, swayed by
emotions and doubts, the like of which he had never yet known
in the whole of his chequered life.  Was Joseph lying to him?

That was the question that repeatedly arose, and oddly enough,
for all his mistrust of the man, he was inclined to account
true the ring of his words.  Joseph watched him with much
anxiety and some hope.

At length Crispin withdrew his hands from eyes that were grown
haggard, and rose.

"Let us see the letter that you will write," said he.  "There
you have pen, ink, and paper.  Write."

"You promise?" asked Joseph.

"I will tell you when you have written."

In a hand that shook somewhat, Joseph wrote a few lines, then
handed Crispin the sheet, whereon he read:

The bearer of this is Sir Crispin Galliard, who is intimately
interested in the matter that lies betwixt us, and whom I pray
you answer fully and accurately the questions he may put you in
that connexion.

"I understand," said Crispin slowly.  "Yes, it will serve.  Now
the superscription."  And he returned the paper.

Ashburn was himself again by now.  He realized the advantage he
had gained, and he would not easily relinquish it.

"I shall add the superscription," said he calmly, "when you
swear to depart without further molesting us."

Crispin paused a moment, weighing the position well in his
mind.  If Joseph lied to him now, he would find means to
return, he told himself, and so he took the oath demanded.

Joseph dipped his pen, and paused meditatively to watch a drop
of ink, wherewith it was overladen, fall back into the horn. 
The briefest of pauses was it, yet it was not the accident it
appeared to be.  Hitherto Joseph had been as sincere as he had
been earnest, intent alone upon saving his life at all costs,
and forgetting in his fear of the present the dangers that the
future might hold for him were Crispin Galliard still at large. 
But in that second of dipping his quill, assured that the peril
of the moment was overcome, and that Crispin would go forth as
he said, the devil whispered in his ear a cunning and vile
suggestion.  As he watched the drop of ink roll from his
pen-point, he remembered that in London there dwelt at the sign
of the Anchor, in Thames Street, one Colonel Pride, whose son
this Galliard had slain, and who, did he once lay hands upon
him, was not like to let him go again.  In a second was the
thought conceived and the determination taken, and as he folded
the letter and set upon it the superscription, Joseph felt that
he could have cried out in his exultation at the cunning manner
in which he was outwitting his enemy.

Crispin took the package, and read thereon:

This is to Mr. Henry Lane, at the sign of the Anchor, Thames
Street, London.

The name was a fictitious one - one that Joseph had set down
upon the spur of the moment, his intention being to send a
messenger that should outstrip Sir Crispin, and warn Colonel
Pride of his coming.

"It is well," was Crispin's only comment.  He, too, was grown
calm again and fully master of himself.  He placed the letter
carefully within the breast of his doublet.

"If you have lied to me, if this is but a shift to win your
miserable life, rest assured, Master Ashburn, that you have but
put off the day for a very little while."

It was on Joseph's lips to answer that none of us are immortal,
but he bethought him that the pleasantry might be ill-timed,
and bowed in silence.

Galliard took his hat and cloak from the chair on which he had
placed them upon descending that evening.  Then he turned again
to Joseph.

"You spoke of money a moment ago," he said, in the tones of one
demanding what is his own the tones of a gentleman speaking to
his steward.  "I will take two hundred Caroluses.  More I
cannot carry in comfort."

Joseph gasped at the amount.  For a second it even entered his
mind to resist the demand.  Then he remembered that there was a
brace of pistols in his study; if he could get those he would
settle matters there and then without the aid of Colonel Pride.

"I will fetch the money," said he, betraying his purpose by his
alacrity.

"By your leave, Master Ashburn, I will come with you."

Joseph's eyes flashed him a quick look of baffled hate.

"As you will," said he, with an ill grace.

As they passed out, Crispin turned to Kenneth.

"Remember, sir, you are still in my service.  See that you keep
good watch."

Kenneth bent his head without replying.  But Master Gregory
required little watching.  He lay a helpless, half-swooning
heap upon the floor, which he had smeared with the blood oozing
from his wounded shoulder.  Even were he untrussed, there was
little to be feared from him.

During the brief while they were alone together, Kenneth did
not so much as attempt to speak to him.  He sat himself down
upon the nearest chair, and with his chin in his hands and his
elbows on his knees he pondered over the miserable predicament
into which Sir Crispin had got him, and more bitter than ever
it had been was his enmity at that moment towards the knight. 
That Galliard should be upon the eve of finding his son, and a
sequel to the story he had heard from him that night in
Worcester, was to Kenneth a thing of no interest or moment. 
Galliard had ruined him with these Ashburns.  He could never
now hope to win the hand of Cynthia, to achieve which he had
been willing to turn both fool and knave - aye, had turned
both.  There was naught left him but to return him to the
paltry Scottish estate of his fathers, there to meet the sneers
of those who no doubt had heard that he was gone South to marry
a great English heiress.

That at such a season he could think of this but serves to
prove the shallow nature of his feelings.  A love was his that
had gain and vanity for its foundation - in fact, it was no
love at all.  For what he accounted love for Cynthia was but
the love of himself, which through Cynthia he sought to
indulge.

He cursed the ill-luck that had brought Crispin into his life. 
He cursed Crispin for the evil he had suffered from him,
forgetting that but for Crispin he would have been carrion a
month ago and more.

Deep at his bitter musings was he when the door opened again to
admit Joseph, followed by Galliard.  The knight came across the
hall and stooped to look at Gregory.

"You may untruss him, Kenneth, when I am gone," said he.  "And
in a quarter of an hour from now you are released from your
oath to me.  Fare you well," he added with unusual gentleness,
and turning a glance that was almost regretful upon the lad. 
"We are not like to meet again, but should we, I trust it may
be in happier times.  If I have harmed you in this business,
remember that my need was great.  Fare you well."  And he held
out his hand.

"Take yourself to hell, sir!" answered Kenneth, turning his
back upon him.  The ghost of an evil smile played round Joseph
Ashburn's lips as he watched them.




CHAPTER XVIII

COUNTER-PLOT


So soon as Sir Crispin had taken his departure, and whilst yet
the beat of his horse's hoofs was to be distinguished above the
driving storm of rain and wind without, Joseph hastened across
the hall to the servants' quarters.  There he found his four
grooms slumbering deeply, their faces white and clammy, and
their limbs twisted into odd, helpless attitudes.  Vainly did
he rain down upon them kicks and curses; arouse them he could
not from the stupor in whose thrall they lay.

And so, seizing a lanthorn, he passed out to the stables,
whence Crispin had lately taken his best nag, and with his own
hands he saddled a horse.  His lips were screwed into a curious
smile - a smile that still lingered upon them when presently he
retraced his steps to the room where his brother sat with
Kenneth.

In his absence the lad had dressed Gregory's wound; he had
induced him to take a little wine, and had set him upon a
chair, in which he now lay back, white and exhausted.

"The quarter of an hour is passed, sir," said Joseph coldly, as
he entered.

Kenneth made no sign that he heard.  He sat on like a man in a
dream.  His eyes that saw nothing were bent upon Gregory's
pale, flabby face.

"The quarter of an hour is passed, sir," Joseph repeated in a
louder voice.

Kenneth looked up, then rose and sighed, passing his hand
wearily across his forehead.

"I understand, sir," he replied in a low voice.  "You mean that
I must go?"

Joseph waited a moment before replying.  Then:

"It is past midnight," he said slowly, "and the weather is
wild.  You may lie here until morning, if you are so minded. 
But go you must then," he added sternly.  "I need scarce say,
sir, that you must have no speech with Mistress Cynthia, nor
that never again must you set foot within Castle Marleigh."

"I understand, sir; I understand.  But you deal hardly with
me."

Joseph raised his eyebrows in questioning surprise.

"I was the victim of my oath, given when I knew not against
whom my hand was to be lifted.  Oh, sir, am I to suffer all my
life for a fault that was not my own?  You, Master Gregory," he
cried, turning passionately to Cynthia's father, "you are
perchance more merciful?  You understand my position - how I
was forced into it."

Gregory opened his heavy eyes.

"A plague on you, Master Stewart," he groaned.  "I understand
that you have given me a wound that will take a month to heal."

"It was an accident, sir.  I swear it was an accident!"

"To swear this and that appears to be your chief diversion in
life," growled Gregory for answer.  "You had best go; we are
not likely to listen to excuses."

"Did you rather suggest a remedy," Joseph put in quietly, "we
might hear you."

Kenneth swung round and faced him, hope brightening his eyes.

"What remedy is there?  How can I undo what I have done?  Show
me but the way, and I'll follow it, no matter where it leads!"

Such protestations had Joseph looked to hear, and he was hard
put to it to dissemble his satisfaction.  For a while he was
silent, making pretence to ponder.  At length:

"Kenneth," he said, "you may in some measure repair the evil
you have done, and if you are ready to undergo some slight
discomfort, I shall be willing on my side to forget this
night."

"Tell me how, sir, and whatever the cost I will perform it!"

He gave no thought to the fact that Crispin's grievance against
the Ashburns was well-founded; that they had wrecked his life
even as they had sought to destroy it; even as eighteen years
ago they had destroyed his wife's.  His only thought was
Cynthia; his only wish was to possess her.  Besides that,
justice and honour itself were of small account.

"It is but a slight matter," answered Joseph.  "A matter that I
might entrust to one of my grooms."

That whilst his grooms lay drugged the matter was so pressing
that his messenger must set out that very night, Joseph did not
think of adding.

"I would, sir," answered the boy, "that the task were great and
difficult."

"Yes, yes," answered Joseph with biting sarcasm, "we are
acquainted with both your courage and your resource."  He sat
silent and thoughtful for some moments, then with a sudden
sharp glance at the lad:

"You shall have this chance of setting yourself right with us,"
he said.  Then abruptly he added.

"Go make ready for a journey.  You must set out within the hour
for London.  Take what you may require and arm yourself; then
return to me here."

Gregory, who, despite his sluggish wits, divined - partly, at
least - what was afoot, made shift to speak.  But his brother
silenced him with a glance.

"Go," Joseph said to the boy.  And, without comment, Kenneth
rose and left them.

"What would you do?" asked Gregory when the door had closed.

"Make doubly sure of that ruffian," answered Joseph coldly. 
"Colonel Pride might be absent when he arrives, and he might
learn that none of the name of Lane dwells at the Anchor in
Thames Street.  It would be fatal to awaken his suspicions and
bring him back to us."

"But surely Richard or Stephen might carry your errand?"

"They might were they not so drugged that they cannot be
aroused.  I might even go myself, but it is better so."  He
laughed softly.  "There is even comedy in it.  Kenneth shall
outride our bloodthirsty knight to warn Pride of his coming,
and when he comes he will walk into the hands of the hangman. 
It will be a surprise for him.  For the rest I shall keep my
promise concerning his son.  He shall have news of him from
Pride - but when too late to be of service."

Gregory shuddered.

"Fore God, Joseph, 'tis a foul thing you do," he cried. 
"Sooner would I never set eyes on the lad again.  Let him go
his ways as you intended."

"I never did intend it.  What trustier messenger could I find
now that I have lent him zest by fright?  To win Cynthia, we
may rely upon him safely to do that in which another might
fail."

"Joseph, you will roast in hell for it."

Joseph laughed him to scorn.

"To bed with you, you canting hypocrite; your wound makes you
light-headed."

It was a half-hour ere Kenneth returned, booted, cloaked, and
ready for his journey.  He found Joseph alone, busily writing,
and in obedience to a sign he sat him down to wait.

A few minutes passed, then, with a final scratch and splutter
Joseph flung down his pen.  With the sandbox tilted in the air,
like a dicer about to make his throw, he looked at the lad.

"You will spare neither whip nor spur until you arrive in
London, Master Kenneth.  You must ride night and day; the
matter is of the greatest urgency."

Kenneth nodded that he understood, and Joseph sprinkled the
sand over the written page.

"I know not when you should reach London so that you may be in
time, but," he continued, and as he spoke he creased the paper
and poured the superfluous sand back into the box, "I should
say that by midnight to-morrow your message should be
delivered.  Aye," he continued, in answer to the lad's gasp of
surprise, "it is hard riding, I know, but if you would win
Cynthia you must do it.  Spare neither money nor horseflesh,
and keep to the saddle until you are in Thames Street."

He folded the letter, sealed it, and wrote the superscription:
"This to Colonel Pride, at the sign of the Anchor in Thames
Street."

He rose and handed the package to Kenneth, to whom the
superscription meant nothing, since he had not seen that borne
by the letter which Crispin had received.

"You will deliver this intact, and with your own hands, to
Colonel Pride in person - none other.  Should he be absent from
Thames Street upon your arrival, seek him out instantly,
wherever he may be, and give him this.  Upon your faithful
observance of these conditions remember that your future
depends.  If you are in time, as indeed I trust and think you
will be, you may account yourself Cynthia's husband.  Fail and
- well, you need not return here."

"I shall not fail, sir," cried Kenneth.  "What man can do to
accomplish the journey within twenty-four hours, I will do."

He would have stopped to thank Joseph for the signal favour of
this chance of rehabilitation, but Joseph cut him short.

"Take this purse," he cried impatiently.  "You will find a
horse ready saddled in the stables.  Ride it hard.  It will
bear you to Norton at least.  There get you a fresh one, and
when that is done, another.  Now be off."




CHAPTER XIX

THE INTERRUPTED JOURNEY


When the Tavern Knight left the gates of Marleigh Park behind
him on that wild October night, he drove deep the rowels of his
spurs, and set his horse at a perilous gallop along the road to
Norwich.  The action was of instinct rather than of thought. 
In the turbulent sea of his mind, one clear current there was,
and one only - the knowledge that he was bound for London for
news of this son of his whom Joseph told him lived.  He paused
not even to speculate what manner of man his child was grown,
nor yet what walk of life he had been reared to tread.  He
lived: he was somewhere in the world; that for the time
sufficed him.  The Ashburns had not, it seemed, destroyed quite
everything that made his life worth enduring - the life that so
often and so wantonly he had exposed.

His son lived, and in London he should have news of him.  To
London then must he get himself with all dispatch, and he swore
to take no rest until he reached it.  And with that firm
resolve to urge him, he ploughed his horse's flanks, and sped
on through the night.  The rain beat in his face, yet he scarce
remarked it, as again more by instinct than by reason - he
buried his face to the eyes in the folds of his cloak.

Later the rain ceased, and clearer grew the line of light
betwixt the hedgerows, by which his horse had steered its
desperate career.  Fitfully a crescent moon peered out from
among the wind-driven clouds.  The poor ruffler was fallen into
meditation, and noted not that his nag did no more than amble. 
He roused himself of a sudden when half-way down a gentle slope
some five miles from Norwich, and out of temper at discovering
the sluggishness of the pace, he again gave the horse a taste
of the spurs.  The action was fatal.  The incline was become a
bed of sodden clay, and he had not noticed with what misgivings
his horse pursued the treacherous footing.  The sting of the
spur made the animal bound forward, and the next instant a
raucous oath broke from Crispin as the nag floundered and
dropped on its knees.  Like a stone from a catapult Galliard
flew over its head and rolled down the few remaining yards of
the slope into a very lake of slimy water at the bottom.

Down this same hill, some twenty minutes later, came Kenneth
Stewart with infinite precaution.  He was in haste - a haste
more desperate far than even Crispin's.  But his character held
none of Galliard's recklessness, nor were his wits fogged by
such news as Crispin had heard that night.  He realized that to
be swift he must be cautious in his night-riding.  And so,
carefully he came, with a firm hand on the reins, yet leaving
it to his horse to find safe footing.

He had reached the level ground in safety, and was about to put
his nag to a smarter pace, when of a sudden from the darkness
of the hedge he was hailed by a harsh, metallic voice, the
sound of which sent a tremor through him.

"Sir, you are choicely met, whoever you may be.  I have
suffered a mischance down that cursed hill, and my horse has
gone lame."

Kenneth kept his cloak over his mouth, trusting that the
muffling would sufficiently disguise his accents as he made
answer.

"I am in haste, my master.  What is your will?"

"Why, marry, so am I in haste.  My will is your horse, sir. 
Oh, I'm no robber.  I'll pay you for it, and handsomely.  But
have it I must.  'Twill be no great discomfort for you to walk
to Norwich.  You may do it in an hour."

"My horse, sir, is not for sale," was Kenneth's brief answer. 
"Give you good night."

"Hold, man!  Blood and hell, stop!  If you'll not sell the
worthless beast to serve a gentleman, I'll shoot it under you. 
Make your choice."

Kenneth caught the gleam of a pistol-barrel pointed at him from
the hedge, and he shivered.  What was he to do?  Every instant
was precious to him.  As in a flash it came to him that
perchance Sir Crispin also rode to London, and that it was
expected of him to arrive there first if he were to be in time. 
Swiftly he weighed the odds in his mind, and took the
determination to dash past Sir Crispin, risking his aim and
trusting to the dark to befriend him.

But even as he determined thus, what moon there was became
unveiled, and the light of it fell upon his face, which was
turned towards Galliard.  An exclamation of surprise escaped
Sir Crispin.

"'Slife, Master Stewart, I knew not your voice.  Whither do you
ride?"

"What is it to you?  Have you not wrought enough of evil for
me?  Am I never to be rid of you?  Castle Marleigh," he added,
with well-feigned anger, "has closed its doors upon me.  What
does it signify to you whither I ride?  Suffer me leastways to
pass unmolested, and to leave you."

Kenneth's passionate reproaches cut Galliard keenly.  He held
himself at that moment a very knave for having dragged this boy
into his work of vengeance, and thereby cast a blight upon his
life.  He sought for words wherein to give expression to
something of what he felt, then realizing how futile and effete
all words must prove, he waved his hand in the direction of the
road.

"Go, Master Stewart," he muttered.  "Your way is clear."

And Kenneth, waiting for no second invitation, rode on and left
him.  He rode with gratitude in his heart to the Providence
that had caused him so easily to overcome an obstacle that at
first he had held impassable.  Stronger grew in his mind the
conviction that to fulfil the mission Joseph required of him,
he must reach London before Sir Crispin.  The knowledge that he
was ahead of him, and that he must derive an ample start from
Galliard's mishap, warmed him like wine.

His mind thus relieved from its weight of anxiety, he little
recked fatigue, and such excellent use did he make of his horse
that he reached Newmarket on it an hour before the morrow's
moon.

An hour he rested there, and broke his fast.  Then on a fresh
horse - a powerful and willing animal he set out once more.

By half-past two he was at Newport.  But so hard had he ridden
that man and beast alike were in a lather of sweat, and whilst
he himself felt sick and tired, the horse was utterly unfit to
bear him farther.  For half an hour he rested there, and made a
meal whose chief constituent was brandy.  Then on a third horse
he started upon the last stage of his journey.

The wind was damp and penetrating; the roads veritable morasses
of mud, and overhead gloomy banks of dark, grey clouds moved
sluggishly, the light that was filtered through them giving the
landscape a bleak and dreary aspect.  In his jaded condition
Kenneth soon became a prey to the depression of it.  His
lightness of heart of some dozen hours ago was now all gone,
and not even the knowledge that his mission was well-nigh
accomplished sufficed to cheer him.  To add to his discomfort a
fine rain set in towards four o'clock, and when a couple of
hours later he clattered along the road cut through a wooded
slope in the direction of Waltham, he was become a very limp
and lifeless individual.

He noticed not the horsemen moving cautiously among the
closely-set trees on either side of the road.  It was growing
prematurely dark, and objects were none too distinct.  And thus
it befell that when from the reverie of dejection into which he
had fallen he was suddenly aroused by the thud of hoofs, he
looked up to find two mounted men barring the road some ten
yards in front of him.  Their attitude was unmistakable, and it
crossed poor Kenneth's mind that he was beset by robbers.  But
a second glance showed him their red cloaks and military steel
caps, and he knew them for soldiers of the Commonwealth.

Hearing the beat of hoofs behind him, he looked over his
shoulder to see four other troopers closing rapidly down upon
him.  Clearly he was the object of their attention.  He had
been a fool not to have perceived this earlier, and his heart
misgave him, for all that had he paused to think he must have
realized that he had naught to fear, and that in this some
mistake must lie.

"Halt!" thundered the deep voice of the sergeant, who, with a
trooper, held the road in front.

Kenneth drew up within a yard of them, conscious that the man's
dark eyes were scanning him sharply from beneath his morion.

"Who are you, sir?" the bass voice demanded.

Alas for the vanity of poor human mites!  Even Kenneth, who
never yet had achieved aught for the cause he served, grew of a
sudden chill to think that perchance this sergeant might
recognize his name for one that he had heard before associated
with deeds performed on the King's behalf.

For a second he hesitated; then:

"Blount," he stammered, "Jasper Blount."

He little thought how that fruit of his vanity was to prove his
undoing thereafter.

"Verily," sneered the sergeant, "it almost seemed you had
forgotten it."  And from that sneer Kenneth gathered with fresh
dread that the fellow mistrusted him.

"Whence are you, Master Blount?"

Again Kenneth hesitated.  Then recalling Ashburn's high favour
with the Parliament, and seeing that it could but advance his
cause to state the true sum of his journey:

"From Castle Marleigh," he replied.

"Verily, sir, you seem yet in some doubt.  Whither do you go?"

"To London."

"On what errand?"  The sergeant's questions fell swift as
sword-strokes.

"With letters for Colonel Pride."

The reply, delivered more boldly than Kenneth had spoken
hitherto, was not without its effect.

"From whom are these letters?"

"From Mr. Joseph Ashburn, of Castle Marleigh."

"Produce them."

With trembling fingers Kenneth complied.  This the sergeant
observed as he took the package.

"What ails you, man?" quoth he.

"Naught, sir 'tis the cold."

The sergeant scanned the package and its seal.  In a measure it
was a passport, and he was forced to the conclusion that this
man was indeed the messenger he represented himself.  Certainly
he had not the air nor the bearing of him for whom they waited,
nor did the sergeant think that their quarry would have armed
himself with a dummy package against such a strait.  And yet
the sergeant was not master after all, and did he let this
fellow pursue his journey, he might reap trouble for it
hereafter; whilst likewise if he detained him, Colonel Pride,
he knew, was not an over-patient man.  He was still debating
what course to take, and had turned to his companion with the
muttered question: "What think you, Peter?" when by his
precipitancy Kenneth ruined his slender chance of being
permitted to depart.

"I pray you, sir, now that you know my errand, suffer me to
pass on."

There was an eager tremor in his voice that the sergeant
mistook for fear.  He noted it, and remembering the boy's
hesitancy in answering his earlier questions, he decided upon
his course of action.

"We shall not delay your journey, sir," he answered, eyeing
Kenneth sharply, "and as your way must lie through Waltham, I
will but ask you to suffer us to ride with you thus far, so
that there you may answer any questions our captain may have to
ask ere you proceed."

"But, sir - "

"No more, master courier," snarled the sergeant.  Then,
beckoning a trooper to his side, he whispered an order in his
ear.

As the man withdrew they wheeled their horses, and at a sharp
word of command Kenneth rode on towards Waltham between the
sergeant and a trooper.




CHAPTER XX

THE CONVERTED HOGAN


Night black and impenetrable had set in ere Kenneth and his
escort clattered over the greasy stones of Waltham's High
Street, and drew up in front of the Crusader Inn.

The door stood wide and hospitable, and a warm shaft of light
fell from it and set a glitter upon the wet street.  Avoiding
the common-room, the sergeant led Kenneth through the inn-yard,
and into the hostelry by a side entrance.  He urged the youth
along a dimly-lighted passage.  On a door at the end of this he
knocked, then, lifting the latch, he ushered Kenneth into a
roomy, oak-panelled chamber.

At the far end a huge fire burnt cheerfully, and with his back
to it, his feet planted wide apart upon the hearth, stood a
powerfully built man of medium height, whose youthful face and
uprightness of carriage assorted ill with the grey of his hair,
pronouncing that greyness premature.  He seemed all clad in
leather, for where his jerkin stopped his boots began.  A
cuirass and feathered headpiece lay in a corner, whilst on the
table Kenneth espied a broad-brimmed hat, a huge sword, and a
brace of pistols.

As the boy's eyes came back to the burly figure on the hearth,
he was puzzled by a familiar, intangible something in the
fellow's face.

He was racking his mind to recall where last he had seen it,
when with slightly elevated eyebrows and a look of recognition
in his somewhat prominent blue eyes

"Soul of my body," exclaimed the man in surprise, "Master
Stewart, as I live."

"Stuart!" cried both sergeant and trooper in a gasp, starting
forward to scan their prisoner's face.

At that the burly captain broke into a laugh.

"Not the young man Charles Stuart," said he; "no, no.  Your
captive is none so precious.  It is only Master Kenneth
Stewart, of Bailienochy."

"Then it is not even our man," grumbled the soldier.

"But Stewart is not the name he gave," cried the sergeant. 
"Jasper Blount he told me he was called.  It seems that after
all we have captured a malignant, and that I was well advised
to bring him to you."

The captain made a gesture of disdain.  In that moment Kenneth
recognized him.  He was Harry Hogan - the man whose life
Galliard had saved in Penrith.

"Bah, a worthless capture, Beddoes," he said.

"I know not that," retorted the sergeant.  "He carries papers
which he states are from Joseph Ashburn, of Castle Marleigh, to
Colonel Pride.  Colonel Pride's name is on the package, but may
not that be a subterfuge?  Why else did he say he was called
Blount?"

Hogan's brows were of a sudden knit.

"Faith, Beddoes, you are right.  Remove his sword and search
him."

Calmly Kenneth suffered them to carry out this order.  Inwardly
he boiled at the delay, and cursed himself for having so
needlessly given the name of Blount.  But for that, it was
likely Hogan would have straightway dismissed him.  He cheered
himself with the thought that after all they would not long
detain him.  Their search made, and finding nothing upon him
but Ashburn's letter, surely they would release him.

But their search was very thorough.  They drew off his boots,
and well-nigh stripped him naked, submitting each article of
his apparel to a careful examination.  At length it was over,
and Hogan held Ashburn's package, turning it over in his hands
with a thoughtful expression.

"Surely, sir, you will now allow me to proceed," cried Kenneth. 
"I assure you the matter is of the greatest urgency, and unless
I am in London by midnight I shall be too late."

"Too late for what?" asked Hogan.

"I - I don't know."

"Oh?"  The Irishman laughed unpleasantly.  Colonel Pride and he
were on anything but the best of terms.  The colonel knew him
for a godless soldier of fortune bound to the Parliament's
cause by no interest beyond that of gain; and, himself a
zealot, Colonel Pride had with distasteful frequency shown
Hogan the quality of his feelings towards him.  That Hogan was
not afraid of him, was because it was not in Hogan's nature to
be afraid of anyone.  But he realized at least that he had
cause to be, and at the present moment it occurred to him that
it would be passing sweet to find a flaw in the old Puritan's
armour.  If the package were harmless his having opened it was
still a matter that the discharge of his duty would sanction. 
Thus he reasoned; and he resolved to break the seal and make
himself master of the contents of that letter.

Hogan's unpleasant laugh startled Kenneth.  It suggested to him
that perhaps, after all, his delay was by no means at an end;
that Hogan suspected him of something - he could not think of
what.

Then in a flash an idea came to him.

"May I speak to you privately for a moment, Captain Hogan?" he
inquired in such a tone of importance - imperiousness, almost -
that the Irishman was impressed by it.  He scented disclosure.

"Faith, you may if you have aught to tell me," and he signed to
Beddoes and his companion to withdraw.

"Now, Master Hogan," Kenneth began resolutely as soon as they
were alone, "I ask you to let me go my way unmolested.  Too
long already has the stupidity of your followers detained me
here unjustly.  That I reach London by midnight is to me a
matter of the gravest moment, and you shall let me."

"Soul of my body, Mr. Stewart, what a spirit you have acquired
since last we met."

"In your place I should leave our last meeting unmentioned,
master turncoat."

The Irishman's eyebrows shot up.

"By the Mass, young cockerel, I mislike your tone - "

"You'll have cause to dislike it more if you detain me."  He
was desperate now.  "What would your saintly, crop-eared
friends say if they knew as much of your past history as I do?"

"Tis a matter for conjecture," said Hogan, humouring him.

"How think you would they welcome the story of the roystering
rake and debauchee who deserted the army of King Charles
because they were about to hang him for murder?"

"Ah! how, indeed?" sighed Hogan.

"What manner of reputation, think you, that for a captain of
the godly army of the Commonwealth?"

"A vile one, truly," murmured Hogan with humility.

"And now, Mr. Hogan," he wound up loftily, "you had best return
me that package, and be rid of me before I sow mischief enough
to bring you a crop of hemp."

Hogan stared at the lad's flushed face with a look of whimsical
astonishment, and for a brief spell there was silence between
them.  Slowly then, with his eyes still fixed upon Kenneth's,
the captain unsheathed a dagger.  The boy drew back, with a
sudden cry of alarm.  Hogan vented a horse-laugh, and ran the
blade under the seal of Ashburn's letter.

"Be not afraid, my man of threats," he said pleasantly.  "I
have no thought of hurting you - leastways, not yet."  He
paused in the act of breaking the seal.  "Lest you should
treasure uncomfortable delusions, dear Master Stewart, let me
remind you that I am an Irishman - not a fool.  Do you conceive
my fame to be so narrow a thing that when I left the beggarly
army of King Charles for that of the Commonwealth, I did not
realize how at any moment I might come face to face with
someone who had heard of my old exploits, and would denounce
me?  You do not find me masquerading under an assumed name.  I
am here, sir, as Harry Hogan, a sometime dissolute follower of
the Egyptian Pharaoh, Charles Stuart; an erstwhile besotted,
blinded soldier in the army of the Amalekite, a whilom erring
malignant, but converted by a crowning mercy into a zealous,
faithful servant of Israel.  There were vouchsafings and
upliftings, and the devil knows what else, when this stray lamb
was gathered to the fold."

He uttered the words with a nasal intonation, and a whimsical
look at Kenneth.

"Now, Mr. Stewart, tell them what you will, and they will tell
you yet more in return, to show you how signally the light of
grace hath been shed over me."

He laughed again, and broke the seal.  Kenneth, crestfallen and
abashed, watched him, without attempting further interference. 
Of what avail?

"You had been better advised, young sir, had you been less
hasty and anxious.  It is a fatal fault of youth's, and one of
which nothing but time - if, indeed, you live - will cure you. 
Your anxiety touching this package determines me to open it."

Kenneth sneered at the man's conclusions, and, shrugging his
shoulders, turned slightly aside.

"Perchance, master wiseacres, when you have read it, you will
appreciate how egotism may also lead men into fatal errors. 
Haply, too, you will be able to afford Colonel Pride some
satisfactory reason for tampering with his correspondence."

But Hogan heard him not.  He had unfolded the letter, and at
the first words he beheld, a frown contracted his brows.  As he
read on the frown deepened, and when he had done, an oath broke
from his lips.  "God's life!" he cried, then again was silent,
and so stood a moment with bent head.  At last he raised his
eyes, and let them rest long and searchingly upon Kenneth, who
now observed him in alarm.

"What - what is it?" the lad asked, with hesitancy.

But Hogan never answered.  He strode past him to the door, and
flung it wide.

"Beddoes!" he called.  A step sounded in the passage, and the
sergeant appeared.  "Have you a trooper there?"

"There is Peter, who rode with me."

"Let him look to this fellow.  Tell him to set him under lock
and bolt here in the inn until I shall want him, and tell him
that he shall answer for him with his neck."

Kenneth drew back in alarm.

"Sir - Captain Hogan - will you explain "

"Marry, you shall have explanations to spare before morning,
else I'm a fool.  But have no fear, for we intend you no hurt,"
he added more softly.  "Take him away, Beddoes; then return to
me here."

When Beddoes came back from consigning Kenneth into the hands
of his trooper, he found Hogan seated in the leathern
arm-chair, with Ashburn's letter spread before him on the
table.

"I was right in my suspicions, eh?" ventured Beddoes
complacently.

"You were more than right, Beddoes, you were Heaven-inspired. 
It is no State matter that you have chanced upon, but one that
touches a man in whom I am interested very nearly."

The sergeant's eyes were full of questions, but Hogan
enlightened him no further.

"You will ride back to your post at once, Beddoes," he
commanded.  "Should Lord Oriel fall into your hands, as we
hope, you will send him to me.  But you will continue to patrol
the road, and demand the business of all comers.  I wish one
Crispin Galliard, who should pass this way ere long, detained,
and brought to me.  He is a tall, lank man - "

"I know him, sir," Beddoes interrupted.  "The Tavern Knight
they called him in the malignant army - a rakehelly, dissolute
brawler.  I saw him in Worcester when he was taken after the
fight."

Hogan frowned.  The righteous Beddoes knew overmuch.  "That is
the man," he answered calmly.  "Go now, and see that he does
not ride past you.  I have great and urgent need of him."

Beddoes' eyes were opened in surprise.

"He is possessed of valuable information," Hogan explained. 
"Away with you, man."

When alone, Harry Hogan turned his arm-chair sideways towards
the fire.  Then, filling himself a pipe - for in his foreign
campaigning he had acquired the habit of tobacco-smoking - he
stretched his sinewy legs across a second chair, and composed
himself for meditation.  An hour went by; the host looked in to
see if the captain required anything.  Another hour sped on,
and the captain dozed.

He awoke with a start.  The fire had burned low, and the hands
of the huge clock in the corner pointed to midnight.  From the
passage came to him the sound of steps and angry voices.

Before Hogan could rise, the door was flung wide, and a tall,
gaunt man was hustled across the threshold by two soldiers. 
His head was bare, and his hair wet and dishevelled.  His
doublet was torn and his shoulder bleeding, whilst his empty
scabbard hung like a lambent tail behind him.

"We have brought him, captain," one of the men announced.

"Aye, you crop-eared, psalm-whining cuckolds, you've brought
me, d -n you," growled Sir Crispin, whose eyes rolled fiercely.

As his angry glance lighted upon Hogan's impressive face, he
abruptly stemmed the flow of invective that rushed to his lips.

The Irishman rose, and looked past him at the troopers.  "Leave
us," he commanded shortly.

He remained standing by the hearth until the footsteps of his
men had died away, then he crossed the chamber, passed Crispin
without a word, and quietly locked the door.  That done, he
turned a friendly smile on his tanned face - and holding out
his hand:

"At last, Cris, it is mine to thank you and to repay you in
some measure for the service you rendered me that night at
Penrith."




CHAPTER XXI

THE MESSAGE KENNETH BORE


In bewilderment Crispin took the outstretched hand of his old
fellow-roysterer.

"Oddslife," he growled, "if to have me waylaid, dragged from my
horse and wounded by those sons of dogs, your myrmidons, be
your manner of expressing gratitude, I'd as lief you had let me
go unthanked."

"And yet, Cris, I dare swear you'll thank me before another
hour is sped.  Ough, man, how cold you are!  There's a bottle
of strong waters yonder - "

Then, without completing his sentence, Hogan had seized the
black jack and poured half a glass of its contents, which he
handed Crispin.

"Drink, man," he said briefly, and Crispin, nothing loath,
obeyed him.

Next Hogan drew the torn and sodden doublet from his guest's
back, pushed a chair over to the table, and bade him sit. 
Again, nothing loath, Crispin did as he was bidden.  He was
stiff from long riding, and so with a sigh of satisfaction he
settled himself down and stretched out his long legs.

Hogan slowly took the seat opposite to him, and coughed.  He
was at a loss how to open the parlous subject, how to
communicate to Crispin the amazing news upon which he had
stumbled.

"Slife' Hogan," laughed Crispin dreamily, "I little thought it
was to you those crop-ears carried me with such violence.  I
little thought, indeed, ever to see you again.  But you have
prospered, you knave, since that night you left Penrith."

And he turned his head the better to survey the Irishman.

"Aye, I have prospered," Hogan assented.  "My life is a sort of
parable of the fatted son and the prodigal calf.  They tell me
there is greater joy in heaven over the repentance of a sinner
than - than - Plague on it!  How does it go?"

"Than over the downfall of a saint?" suggested Crispin.

"I'll swear that's not the text, but any of my troopers could
quote it you; every man of them is an incarnate Church
militant."  He paused, and Crispin laughed softly.  Then
abruptly: "And so you were riding to London?" said he.

"How know you that?"

"Faith, I know more - much more.  I can even tell you to what
house you rode, and on what errand.  You were for the sign of
the Anchor in Thames Street, for news of your son, whom Joseph
Ashburn hath told you lives."

Crispin sat bolt upright, a look of mingled wonder and
suspicion on his face.

"You are well informed, you gentlemen of the Parliament," he
said.

"On the matter of your errand," the Irishman returned quietly,
"I am much better informed than are you.  Shall I tell you who
lives at the sign of the Anchor - not whom you have been told
lives there, but who really does occupy the house?"  Hogan
paused a second as though awaiting some reply; then softly he
answered his own question: "Colonel Pride."  And he sat back to
await results.

There were none.  For the moment the name awoke no
recollections, conveyed no meaning to Crispin.

"Who may Colonel Pride be?" he asked, after a pause.

Hogan was visibly disappointed.

"A certain powerful and vindictive member of the Rump, whose
son you killed at Worcester."

This time the shaft went home.  Galliard sprang out of the
chair, his brows darkening, and his cheeks pale beyond their
wont.

"Zounds, Hogan, do you mean that Joseph Ashburn was betraying
me into this man's hands?"

"You have said it."

"But - "

Crispin stopped short.  The pallor of his face increased; it
became ashen, and his eyes glittered as though a fever consumed
him.  He sank back into his chair, and setting both hands upon
the table before him, he looked straight at Hogan.

"But my son, Hogan, my son?" he pleaded, and his voice was
broken as no man had heard it yet.  "Oh, God in heaven!" he
cried in a sudden frenzy.  "What hell's work is this?"

Behind his blue lips his teeth were chattering now.  His hands
shook as he held them, still clenched, before him.  Then, in a
dull, concentrated voice:

"Hogan," he vowed, "I'll kill him for it.  Fool, blind, pitiful
fool that I am."

Then - his face distorted by passion - he broke into a torrent
of imprecations that was at length stemmed by Hogan.

"Wait, Cris," said he, laying his hand upon the other's arm. 
"It is not all false.  Joseph Ashburn sought, it is true, to
betray you into the hands of Colonel Pride, sending you to the
sign of the Anchor with the assurance that there you should
have news of your son.  That was false; yet not all false. 
Your son does live, and at the sign of the Anchor it is likely
you would have had the news of him you sought.  But that news
would have come when too late to have been of value to you."

Crispin tried to speak, but failed.  Then, mastering himself by
an effort, and in a voice that was oddly shaken:

"Hogan," he cried, "you are torturing me! What is the sum of
your knowledge?"

At last the Irishman produced Ashburn's letter to Colonel
Pride.

"My men," said he, "are patrolling the roads in wait for a
malignant that has incurred the Parliament's displeasure.  We
have news that he is making for Harwich, where a vessel lies
waiting to carry him to France, and we expect that he will ride
this way.  Three hours ago a young man unable clearly to
account for himself rode into our net, and was brought to me. 
He was the bearer of a letter to Colonel Pride from Joseph
Ashburn.  He had given my sergeant a wrong name, and betrayed
such anxiety to be gone that I deemed his errand a suspicious
one, and broke the seal of that letter.  You may thank God,
Galliard, every night of your life that I did so."

"Was this youth Kenneth Stewart?" asked Crispin.

"You have guessed it."

"D -n the lad," he began furiously.  Then repressing himself,
he sighed, and in an altered tone, "No, no," said he.  "I have
grievously wronged him! have wrecked his life - or at least he
thinks so now.  I can hardly blame him for seeking to be quits
with me."

"The lad," returned Hogan, "must be himself a dupe.  He can
have had no suspicion of the message he carried.  Let me read
it to you; it will make all clear."

Hogan drew a taper nearer, and spreading the paper upon the
table, he smoothed it out, and read:

HONOURED SIR,

The bearer of the present should, if he rides well, outstrip
another messenger I have dispatched to you upon a fool's
errand, with a letter addressed to one Mr. Lane at the sign of
the Anchor.  The bearer of that is none other than the
notorious malignant, Sir Crispin Galliard, by whose hand your
son was slain under your very eyes at Worcester, whose capture
I know that you warmly desire and with whom I doubt not you
will know how to deal.  To us he has been a source of no little
molestation; his liberty, in fact, is a perpetual menace to our
lives.  For some eighteen years this Galliard has believed dead
a son that my cousin bore him.  News of this son, whom I have
just informed him lives - as indeed he does - is the bait
wherewith I have lured him to your address.  Forewarned by the
present, I make no doubt you will prepare to receive him
fittingly.  But ere that justice he escaped at Worcester be
meted out to him at Tyburn or on Tower Hill, I would have you
give him that news touching his son which I am sending him to
you to receive.  Inform him, sir, that his son, Jocelyn
Marleigh ...

Hogan paused, and shot a furtive glance at Galliard.  The
knight was leaning forward now, his eyes strained, his forehead
beaded with perspiration, and his breathing heavy.

"Read on," he begged hoarsely.

His son, Jocelyn Marleigh, is the bearer of this letter, the
man whom he has injured and who detests him, the youth with
whom he has, by a curious chance, been in much close
association, and whom he has known as Kenneth Stewart.

"God!" gasped Crispin.  Then with sudden vigour, "Oh, 'tis a
lie," he cried, "a fresh invention of that lying brain to
torture me."

Hogan held up his hand.

"There is a little more," he said, and continued:

Should he doubt this, bid him look closely into the lad's face,
and ask him, after he has scrutinized it, what image it evokes. 
Should he still doubt thereafter, thinking the likeness to
which he has been singularly blind to be no more than
accidental, bid them strip the lad's right foot.  It bears a
mark that I think should convince him.  For the rest, honoured
sir, I beg you to keep all information touching his parentage
from the boy himself, wherein I have weighty ends to serve. 
Within a few days of your receipt of this letter, I look to
have the honour of waiting upon you.  In the meanwhile,
honoured sir, believe that while I am, I am your obedient
servant,

                                               JOSEPH ASHBURN

Across the narrow table the two men's glances met - Hogan's
full of concern and pity, Crispin's charged with amazement and
horror.  A little while they sat thus, then Crispin rose slowly
to his feet, and with steps uncertain as a drunkard's he
crossed to the window.  He pushed it open, and let the icy wind
upon his face and head, unconscious of its sting.  Moments
passed, during which the knight went over the last few months
of his turbulent life since his first meeting at Perth with
Kenneth Stewart.  He recalled how strangely and unaccountably
he had been drawn to the boy when first he beheld him in the
castle yard, and how, owing to a feeling for which he could not
account, since the lad's character had little that might
commend him to such a man as Crispin, he had contrived that
Kenneth should serve in his company.

He recalled how at first - aye, and often afterwards even - he
had sought to win the boy's affection, despite the fact that
there was naught in the boy that he truly admired, and much
that he despised.  Was it possible that these his feelings were
dictated by Nature to his unconscious mind?  It must indeed be
so, and the written words of Joseph Ashburn to Colonel Pride
were true.  Kenneth was indeed his son; the conviction was upon
him.  He conjured up the lad's face, and a cry of discovery
escaped him.  How blind he had been not to have seen before the
likeness of Alice - his poor, butchered girl-wife of eighteen
years ago.  How dull never before to have realized that that
likeness it was had drawn him to the boy.

He was calm by now, and in his calm he sought to analyse his
thoughts, and he was shocked to find that they were not joyous. 
He yearned - as he had yearned that night in Worcester - for
the lad's affection, and yet, for all his yearning, he realized
that with the conviction that Kenneth was his offspring came a
dull sense of disappointment.  He was not such a son as the
rakehelly knight would have had him.  Swiftly he put the
thought from him.  The craven hands that had reared the lad had
warped his nature; he would guide it henceforth; he would
straighten it out into a nobler shape.

Then he smiled bitterly to himself.  What manner of man was he
to train a youth to loftiness and honour? - he, a debauched
ruler with a nickname for which, had he any sense of shame, he
would have blushed!  Again he remembered the lad's disposition
towards himself; but these, he thought, he hoped, he knew that
he would now be able to overcome.

He closed the window, and turned to face his companion.  He was
himself again, and calm, for all that his face was haggard
beyond its wont.

"Hogan, where is the boy?"

"I have detained him in the inn.  Will you see him now?"

"At once, Hogan.  I am convinced."

The Irishman crossed the chamber, and opening the door he
called an order to the trooper waiting in the passage.

Some minutes they waited, standing, with no word uttered
between them.  At last steps sounded in the corridor, and a
moment later Kenneth was rudely thrust into the room.  Hogan
signed to the trooper, who closed the door and withdrew.

As Kenneth entered, Crispin advanced a step and paused, his
eyes devouring the lad and receiving in exchange a glance that
was full of malevolence.

"I might have known, sir, that you were not far away," he
exclaimed bitterly, forgetting for the moment how he had left
Crispin behind him on the previous night.  "I might have
guessed that my detention was your work."

"Why so?" asked Crispin quietly, his eyes ever scanning the
lad's face with a pathetic look.

"Because it is your way, I know not why, to work my ruin in all
things.  Not satisfied with involving me in that business at
Castle Marleigh, you must needs cross my path again when I am
about to make amends, and so blight my last chance.  My God,
sir, am I never to be rid of you?  What harm have I done you?"

A spasm of pain, like a ripple over water, crossed the knight's
swart face.

"If you but consider, Kenneth," he said, speaking very quietly,
"you must see the injustice of your words.  Since when has
Crispin Galliard served the Parliament, that Roundhead troopers
should do his bidding as you suggest?  And touching that
business at Sheringham you are over-hard with me.  It was a
compact you made, and but for which, you forget that you had
been carrion these three weeks."

"Would to Heaven that I had been," the boy burst out, "sooner
than pay such a price for keeping my life!"

"As for my presence here," Crispin continued, leaving the
outburst unheeded, "it has naught to do with your detention."

"You lie!"

Hogan caught his breath with a sharp hiss, and a dead silence
followed.  That silence struck terror into Kenneth's heart.  He
encountered Crispin's eye bent upon him with a look he could
not fathom, and much would he now have given to recall the two
words that had burst from him in the heat of his rage.  He
bethought him of the unscrupulous, deadly character attributed
to the man to whom he had addressed them, and in his coward's
fancy he saw already payment demanded.  Already he pictured
himself lying cold and stark in the streets of Waltham with a
sword-wound through his middle.  His face went grey and his
lips trembled.

Then Galliard spoke at last, and the mildness of his tone
filled Kenneth with a new dread.  In his experience of
Crispin's ways he had come to look upon mildness as the man's
most dangerous phase:

"You are mistaken," Crispin said.  "I spoke the truth; it is a
habit of mine - haply the only gentlemanly habit left me.  I
repeat, I have had naught to do with your detention.  I arrived
here half an hour ago, as the captain will inform you, and I
was conducted hither by force, having been seized by his men,
even as you were seized.  No," he added, with a sigh, "it was
not my hand that detained you; it was the hand of Fate."  Then
suddenly changing his voice to a more vehement key, "Know you
on what errand you rode to London?" he demanded.  "To betray
your father into the hands of his enemies; to deliver him up to
the hangman."

Kenneth's eyes grew wide; his mouth fell open, and a frown of
perplexity drew his brows together.  Dully, uncomprehendingly
he met Sir Crispin's sad gaze.

"My father," he gasped at last.  "'Sdeath, sir, what is it you
mean?  My father has been dead these ten years.  I scarce
remember him."

Crispin's lips moved, but no word did he utter.  Then with a
sudden gesture of despair he turned to Hogan, who stood apart,
a silent witness.

"My God, Hogan," he cried.  "How shall I tell him?"

In answer to the appeal, the Irishman turned to Kenneth.

"You have been in error, sir, touching your parentage," quoth
he bluntly.  "Alan Stewart, of Bailienochy, was not your
father."

Kenneth looked from one to the other of them.

"Sirs, is this a jest?" he cried, reddening.  Then, remarking
at length the solemnity of their countenances, he stopped
short.  Crispin came close up to him, and placed a hand upon
his shoulder.  The boy shrank visibly beneath the touch, and
again an expression of pain crossed the poor ruffler's face.

"Do you recall, Kenneth," he said slowly, almost sorrowfully,
"the story that I told you that night in Worcester, when we sat
waiting for dawn and the hangman?"

The lad nodded vacantly.

"Do you remember the details?  Do you remember I told you how,
when I swooned beneath the stroke of Joseph Ashburn's sword,
the last words I heard were those in which he bade his brother
slit the throat of the babe in the cradle?  You were, yourself,
present yesternight at Castle Marleigh when Joseph Ashburn told
me Gregory had been mercifully inclined; that my child had not
died; that if I gave him his life he would restore him to me. 
You remember?"

Again Kenneth nodded.  A vague, numbing fear was creeping round
his heart, and his blood seemed chilled by it and stagnant. 
With fascinated eyes he watched the knight's face - drawn and
haggard.

"It was a trap that Joseph Ashburn set for me.  Yet he did not
altogether lie.  The child Gregory had indeed spared, and it
seems from what I have learned within the last half-hour that
he had entrusted his rearing to Alan Stewart, of Bailienochy,
seeking afterwards - I take it - to wed him to his daughter, so
that should the King come to his own again, they should have
the protection of a Marleigh who had served his King."

"You mean," the lad almost whispered, and his accents were
unmistakably of horror, "you mean that I am your - Oh, God,
I'll not believe it!" he cried out, with such sudden loathing
and passion that Crispin recoiled as though he had been struck. 
A dull flush crept into his cheeks to fade upon the instant and
give place to a pallor, if possible, intenser than before.

"I'll not believe it!  I'll not believe it!" the boy repeated,
as if seeking by that reiteration to shut out a conviction by
which he was beset.  "I'll not believe it!" he cried again; and
now his voice had lost its passionate vehemence, and was sunk
almost to a moan.

"I found it hard to believe myself," was Crispin's answer, and
his voice was not free from bitterness.  "But I have a proof
here that seems incontestable, even had I not the proof of your
face to which I have been blind these months.  Blind with the
eyes of my body, at least.  The eyes of my soul saw and
recognized you when first they fell on you in Perth.  The voice
of the blood ordered me then to your side, and though I heard
its call, I understood not what it meant.  Read this letter,
boy - the letter that you were to have carried to Colonel
Pride."

With his eyes still fixed in a gaze of stupefaction upon
Galliard's face, Kenneth took the paper.  Then slowly,
involuntarily almost it seemed, he dropped his glance to it,
and read.  He was long in reading, as though the writing
presented difficulties, and his two companions watched him the
while, and waited.  At last he turned the paper over, and
examined seal and superscription as if suspicious that he held
a forgery.

But in some subtle, mysterious way - that voice of the blood
perchance to which Crispin had alluded - he felt conviction
stealing down upon his soul.  Mechanically he moved across to
the table, and sat down.  Without a word, and still holding the
crumpled letter in his clenched hand, he set his elbows on the
table, and, pressing his temples to his palms, he sat there
dumb.  Within him a very volcano raged, and its fires were fed
with loathing - loathing for this man whom he had ever hated,
yet never as he hated him now, knowing him to be his father. 
It seemed as if to all the wrongs which Crispin had done him
during the months of their acquaintanceship he had now added a
fresh and culminating wrong by discovering this parentage.

He sat and thought, and his soul grew sick.  He probed for some
flaw, sought for some mistake that might have been made.  And
yet the more he thought, the more he dwelt upon his youth in
Scotland, the more convinced was he that Crispin had told him
the truth.  Pre-eminent argument of conviction to him was the
desire of the Ashburns that he should marry Cynthia.  Oft he
had marvelled that they, wealthy, and even powerful, selfish
and ambitious, should have selected him, the scion of an
obscure and impoverished Scottish house, as a bridegroom for
their daughter.  The news now before him made their motives
clear; indeed, no other motive could exist, no other
explanation could there be.  He was the heir of Castle
Marleigh, and the usurpers sought to provide against the day
when another revolution might oust them and restore the
rightful owners.

Some elation his shallow nature felt at realizing this, but
that elation was short-lived, and dashed by the thought that
this ruler, this debauchee, this drunken, swearing, roaring
tavern knight was his father; dashed by the knowledge that
meanwhile the Parliament was master, and that whilst matters
stood so, the Ashburns could defy - could even destroy him, did
they learn how much he knew; dashed by the memory that Cynthia,
whom in his selfish way - out of his love for himself - he
loved, vas lost to him for all time.

And here, swinging in a circle, his thoughts reverted to the
cause of this - Crispin Galliard, the man who had betrayed him
into yesternight's foul business and destroyed his every chance
of happiness; the man whom he hated, and whom, had he possessed
the courage as he was possessed by the desire, he had risen up
and slain; the man that now announced himself his father.

And thinking thus, he sat on in silent, resentful vexation.  He
started to feel a hand upon his shoulder, and to hear the voice
of Galliard evidently addressing him, yet using a name that was
new to him.

"Jocelyn, my boy," the voice trembled.  "You have thought, and
you have realized - is it not so?  I too thought, and thought
brought me conviction that what that paper tells is true."

Vaguely then the boy remembered that Jocelyn was the name the
letter gave him.  He rose abruptly, and brushed the caressing
hand from his shoulder.  His voice was hard - possibly the
knowledge that he had gained told him that he had nothing to
fear from this man, and in that assurance his craven soul grew
brave and bold and arrogant.

"I have realized naught beyond the fact that I owe you nothing
but unhappiness and ruin.  By a trick, by a low fraud, you
enlisted me into a service that has proved my undoing.  Once a
cheat always a cheat.  What credit in the face of that can I
give this paper?" he cried, talking wildly.  "To me it is
incredible, nor do I wish to credit it, for though it were
true, what then?  What then?" he repeated, raising his voice
into accents of defiance.

Grief and amazement were blended in Galliard's glance, and
also, maybe, some reproach.

Hogan, standing squarely upon the hearth, was beset by the
desire to kick Master Kenneth, or Master Jocelyn, into the
street.  His lip curled into a sneer of ineffable contempt, for
his shrewd eyes read to the bottom of the lad's mean soul and
saw there clearly writ the confidence that emboldened him to
voice that insult to the man he must know for his father. 
Standing there, he compared the two, marvelling deeply how they
came to be father and son.  A likeness he saw now between them,
yet a likeness that seemed but to mark the difference.  The one
harsh, resolute, and manly, for all his reckless living and his
misfortunes; the other mild, effeminate, hypocritical and
shifty.  He read it not on their countenances alone, but in
every line of their figures as they stood, and in his heart he
cursed himself for having been the instrument to disclose the
relationship in which they stood.

The youth's insolent question was followed by a spell of
silence.  Crispin could not believe that he had heard aright. 
At last he stretched out his hands in a gesture of supplication
- he who throughout his thirty-eight years of life, and despite
the misfortunes that had been his, had never yet stooped to
plead from any man.

"Jocelyn," he cried, and the pain in his voice must have melted
a heart of steel, "you are hard.  Have you forgotten the story
of my miserable life, the story that I told you in Worcester? 
Can you not understand how suffering may destroy all that is
lofty in a man; how the forgetfulness of the winecup may come
to be his only consolation; the hope of vengeance his only
motive for living on, withholding him from self-destruction? 
Can you not picture such a life, and can you not pity and
forgive much of the wreck that it may make of a man once
virtuous and honourable?"

Pleadingly he looked into the lad's face.  It remained cold and
unmoved.

"I understand," he continued brokenly, "that I am not such a
man as any lad might welcome for a father.  But you who know
what my life has been, Jocelyn, you can surely find it in your
heart to pity.  I had naught that was good or wholesome to live
for, Jocelyn; naught to curb the evil moods that sent me along
evil ways to seek forgetfulness and reparation.

"But from to-night, Jocelyn, my life in you must find a new
interest, a new motive.  I will abandon my old ways.  For your
sake, Jocelyn, I will seek again to become what I was, and you
shall have no cause to blush for your father."

Still the lad stood silent.

"Jocelyn!  My God, do I talk in vain?" cried the wretched man. 
"Have you no heart, no pity, boy?"

At last the youth spoke.  He was not moved.  The agony of this
strong man, the broken pleading of one whom he had ever known
arrogant and strong had no power to touch his mean, selfish
mind, consumed as it was by the contemplation of his undoing -
magnified a hundredfold - which this man had wrought.

"You have ruined my life," was all he said.

"I will rebuild it, Jocelyn," cried Galliard eagerly.  "I have
friends in France - friends high in power who lack neither the
means nor the will to aid me.  You are a soldier, Jocelyn."

"As much a soldier as I'm a saint," sneered Hogan to himself.

"Together we will find service in the armies of Louis," Crispin
pursued.  "I promise it.  Service wherein you shall gain honour
and renown.  There we will abide until this England shakes
herself out of her rebellious nightmare.  Then, when the King
shall come to his own, Castle Marleigh will be ours again. 
Trust in me, Jocelyn."  Again his arms went out appealingly:
"Jocelyn my son!"

But the boy made no move to take the outstretched hands, gave
no sign of relenting.  His mind nurtured its resentment -
cherished it indeed.

"And Cynthia?" he asked coldly.

Crispin's hands fell to his sides; they grew clenched, and his
eyes lighted of a sudden.

"Forgive me, Jocelyn.  I had forgotten!  I understand you now. 
Yes, I dealt sorely with you there, and you are right to be
resentful.  What, after all, am I to you what can I be to you
compared with her whose image fills your soul?  What is aught
in the world to a man, compared with the woman on whom his
heart is set?  Do I not know it?  Have I not suffered for it?

"But mark me, Jocelyn" - and he straightened himself suddenly -
"even in this, that which I have done I will undo.  As I have
robbed you of your mistress, so will I win her back for you.  I
swear it.  And when that is done, when thus every harm I have
caused you is repaired, then, Jocelyn, perhaps you will come to
look with less repugnance upon your father, and to feel less
resentment towards him."

"You promise much, sir," quoth the boy, with an illrepressed
sneer.  "How will you accomplish it?"

Hogan grunted audibly.  Crispin drew himself up, erect, lithe
and supple - a figure to inspire confidence in the most
despairing.  He placed a hand, nervous, and strong as steel,
upon the boy's shoulder, and the clutch of his fingers made
Jocelyn wince.

"Low though your father be fallen," said he sternly, "he has
never yet broken his word.  I have pledged you mine, and
to-morrow I shall set out to perform what I have promised.  I
shall see you ere I start.  You will sleep here, will you not?"

Jocelyn shrugged his shoulders.

"It signifies little where I lie."

Crispin smiled sadly, and sighed.

"You have no faith in me yet.  But I shall earn it, or" - and
his voice fell suddenly - "or rid you of a loathsome parent. 
Hogan, can you find him quarters?"

Hogan replied that there was the room he had already been
confined in, and that he could lie in it.  And deeming that
there was nothing to be gained by waiting, he thereupon led the
youth from the room and down the passage.  At the foot of the
stairs the Irishman paused in the act of descending, and raised
the taper aloft so that its light might fall full upon the face
of his companion.

"Were I your father," said he grimly, "I would kick you from
one end of Waltham to the other by way of teaching you filial
piety!  And were you not his son, I would this night read you a
lesson you'd never live to practise.  I would set you to sleep
a last long sleep in the kennels of Waltham streets.  But since
you are - marvellous though it seem - his offspring, and since
I love him and may not therefore hurt you, I must rest content
with telling you that you are the vilest thing that breathes. 
You despise him for a roysterer, for a man of loose ways.  Let
me, who have seen something of men, and who read you to-night
to the very dregs of your contemptible soul, tell you that
compared with you he is a very god.  Come, you white-livered
cur!" he ended abruptly.  "I will light you to your chamber."

When presently Hogan returned to Crispin he found the Tavern
Knight - that man of iron in whom none had ever seen a trace of
fear or weakness seated with his arms before him on the table,
and his face buried in them, sobbing like a poor, weak woman.




CHAPTER XXII

SIR CRISPIN'S UNDERTAKING


Through the long October night Crispin and Hogan sat on, and
neither sought his bed.  Crispin's quick wits his burst of
grief once over - had been swift to fasten on a plan to
accomplish that which he had undertaken.

One difficulty confronted him, and until he had mentioned it to
Hogan seemed unsurmountable he had need of a ship.  But in this
the Irishman could assist him.  He knew of a vessel then at
Greenwich, whose master was in his debt, which should suit the
purpose.  Money, however, would be needed.  But when Crispin
announced that he was master of some two hundred Caroluses,
Hogan, with a wave of the hand, declared the matter settled. 
Less than half that sum would hire the man he knew of.  That
determined, Crispin unfolded his project to Hogan, who laughed
at the simplicity of it, for all that inwardly he cursed the
risk Sir Crispin must run for the sake of one so unworthy.

"If the maid loves him, the thing is as good as done."

"The maid does not love him; leastways, I fear not."

Hogan was not surprised.

"Why, then it will be difficult, well-nigh impossible."  And
the Irishman became grave.

But Crispin laughed unpleasantly.  Years and misfortune had
made him cynical.

"What is the love of a maid?" quoth he derisively.  "A caprice,
a fancy, a thing that may be guided, overcome or compelled as
the occasion shall demand.  Opportunity is love's parent,
Hogan, and given that, any maid may love any man.  Cynthia
shall love my son."

"But if she prove rebellious?  If she say nay to your proposals
? There are such women."

"How then?  Am I not the stronger?  In such a case it shall be
mine to compel her, and as I find her, so shall I carry her
away.  It will be none so poor a vengeance on the Ashburns
after all."  His brow grew clouded.  "But not what I had
dreamed of; what I should have taken had he not cheated me.  To
forgo it now - after all these years of waiting - is another
sacrifice I make to Jocelyn.  To serve him in this matter I
must proceed cautiously.  Cynthia may fret and fume and stamp,
but willy-nilly I shall carry her away.  Once she is in France,
friendless, alone, I make no doubt that she will see the
convenience of loving Jocelyn - leastways of wedding him and
thus shall I have more than repaired the injuries I have done
him.

The Irishman's broad face was very grave; his reckless merry
eye fixed Galliard with a look of sorrow, and this grey-haired,
sinning soldier of fortune, who had never known a conscience,
muttered softly:

"It is not a nice thing you contemplate, Cris."

Despite himself, Galliard winced, and his glance fell before
Hogan's.  For a moment he saw the business in its true light,
and he wavered in his purpose.  Then, with a short bark of
laughter:

"Gadso, you are sentimental, Harry!" said he, to add, more
gravely: "There is my son, and in this lies the only way to his
heart.".

Hogan stretched a hand across the table, and set it upon
Crispin's arm.

"Is he worth such a stain upon your honour, Crispin?"

There was a pause.

"Is it not late in the day, Hogan, for you and me to prate of
honour?" asked Crispin bitterly, yet with averted gaze.  "God
knows my honour is as like honour as a beggar's rags are like
unto a cloak of ermine.  What signifies another splash, another
rent in that which is tattered beyond all semblance of its
original condition?"

"I asked you," the Irishman persisted, "whether your son was
worth the sacrifice that the vile deed you contemplate
entails?"

Crispin shook his arm from the other's grip, and rose abruptly. 
He crossed to the window, and drew back the curtain.

"Day is breaking," said he gruffly.  Then turning, and facing
Hogan across the room, "I have pledged my word to Jocelyn," he
said.  "The way I have chosen is the only one, and I shall
follow it.  But if your conscience cries out against it, Hogan,
I give you back your promise of assistance, and I shall shift
alone.  I have done so all my life."

Hogan shrugged his massive shoulders, and reached out for the
bottle of strong waters.

"If you are resolved, there is an end to it.  My conscience
shall not trouble me, and upon what aid I have promised and
what more I can give, you may depend.  I drink to the success
of your undertaking."

Thereafter they discussed the matter of the vessel that Crispin
would require, and it was arranged between them that Hogan
should send a message to the skipper, bidding him come to
Harwich, and there await and place himself at the command of
Sir Crispin Galliard.  For fifty pounds Hogan thought that he
would undertake to land Sir Crispin in France.  The messenger
might be dispatched forthwith, and the Lady Jane should be at
Harwich, two days later.

By the time they had determined upon this, the inmates of the
hostelry were astir, and from the innyard came to them the
noise of bustle and preparation for the day.

Presently they left the chamber where they had sat so long, and
at the yard pump the Tavern Knight performed a rude morning
toilet.  Thereafter, on a simple fare of herrings and brown
ale, they broke their fast; and ere that meal was done,
Kenneth, pale and worn, with dark circles round his eyes,
entered the common room, and sat moodily apart.  But when later
Hogan went to see to the dispatching of his messenger, Crispin
rose and approached the youth.

Kenneth watched him furtively, without pausing in his meal.  He
had spent a very miserable night pondering over the future,
which looked gloomy enough, and debating whether - forgetting
and ignoring what had passed - he should return to the genteel
poverty of his Scottish home, or accept the proffered service
of this man who announced himself - and whom he now believed -
to be his father.  He had thought, but he was far from having
chosen between Scotland and France, when Crispin now greeted
him, not without constraint.

"Jocelyn," he said, speaking slowly, almost humbly.  "In an
hour's time I shall set out to return to Marleigh to fulfil my
last night's promise to you.  How I shall accomplish it I
scarce know as yet; but accomplish it I shall.  I have arranged
to have a vessel awaiting me, and within three days - or four
at the most - I look to cross to France, bearing your bride
with me."

He paused for some reply, but none came.  The boy sat on with
an impassive face, his eyes glued to the table, but his mind
busy enough upon that which his father was pouring into his
ear.  Presently Crispin continued:

"You cannot refuse to do as I suggest, Jocelyn.  I shall make
you the fullest amends for the harm that I have done you, if
you but obey my directions.  You must quit this place as soon
as possible, and proceed on your way to London.  There you must
find a boat to carry you to France, and you will await me at
the Auberge du Soleil at Calais.  You are agreed, Jocelyn?"

There was a slight pause, and Jocelyn took his resolution.  Yet
there was still a sullen look in the eyes he lifted to his
father's face.

"I have little choice, sir," he made answer, "and so I must
agree.  If you accomplish what you promise, I own that you will
have made amends, and I shall crave your pardon for my
yesternight's want of faith.  I shall await you at Calais."

Crispin sighed, and for a second his face hardened.  It was not
the answer to which he held himself entitled, and for a moment
it rose to the lips of this man of fierce and sudden moods to
draw back and let the son, whom at the moment he began to
detest, go his own way, which assuredly would lead him to
perdition.  But a second's thought sufficed to quell that mood
of his.

"I shall not fail you," he said coldly.  "Have you money for
the journey?"

The boy flushed as he remembered that little was left of what
Joseph Ashburn had given him.  Crispin saw the flush, and
reading aright its meaning, he drew from his pocket a purse
that he had been fingering, and placed it quietly upon the
table.  "There are fifty Caroluses in that bag.  That should
suffice to carry you to France.  Fare you well until we meet at
Calais."

And without giving the boy time to utter thanks that might be
unwilling, he quickly left the room.

Within the hour he was in the saddle, and his horse's head was
turned northwards once more.

He rode through Newport some three hours later without drawing
rein.  By the door of the Raven Inn stood a travelling
carriage, upon which he did not so much as bestow a look.

By the merest thread hangs at times the whole of a man's future
life, the destinies even of men as yet unborn.  So much may
depend indeed upon a glance, that had not Crispin kept his eyes
that morning upon the grey road before him, had he chanced to
look sideways as he passed the Raven Inn at Newport, and seen
the Ashburn arms displayed upon the panels of that coach, he
would of a certainty have paused.  And had he done so, his
whole destiny would assuredly have shaped a different course
from that which he was unconsciously steering.




CHAPTER XXIII

GREGORY'S ATTRITION


Joseph's journey to London was occasioned by his very natural
anxiety to assure himself that Crispin was caught in the toils
of the net he had so cunningly baited for him, and that at
Castle Marleigh he would trouble them no more.  To this end he
quitted Sheringham on the day after Crispin's departure.

Not a little perplexed was Cynthia at the topsy-turvydom in
which that morning she had found her father's house.  Kenneth
was gone; he had left in the dead of night, and seemingly in
haste and suddenness, since on the previous evening there had
been no talk of his departing.  Her father was abed with a
wound that made him feverish.  Their grooms were all sick, and
wandered in a dazed and witless fashion about the castle, their
faces deadly pale and their eyes lustreless.  In the hall she
had found a chaotic disorder upon descending, and one of the
panels of the wainscot she saw was freshly cracked.

Slowly the idea forced itself upon her mind that there had been
brawling the night before, yet was she far from surmising the
motives that could have led to it.  The conclusion she came to
in the end was that the men had drunk deep, that in their cups
they had waxed quarrelsome, and that swords had been drawn.

Of Joseph then she sought enlightenment, and Joseph lied right
handsomely, like the ready-witted knave he was.  A wondrously
plausible story had he for her ear; a story that played
cunningly upon her knowledge of the compact that existed
between Kenneth and Sir Crispin.

"You may not know,' said he - full well aware that she did know
- "that when Galliard saved Kenneth's life at Worcester he
exacted from the lad the promise that in return Kenneth should
aid him in some vengeful business he had on hand."

Cynthia nodded that she understood or that she knew, and glibly
Joseph pursued:

"Last night, when on the point of departing, Crispin, who had
drunk over-freely, as is his custom, reminded Kenneth of his
plighted word, and demanded of the boy that he should upon the
instant go forth with him.  Kenneth replied that the hour was
overlate to be setting out upon a journey, and he requested
Galliard to wait until to-day, when he would be ready to fulfil
what he had promised.  But Crispin retorted that Kenneth was
bound by his oath to go with him when he should require it, and
again he bade the boy make ready at once.  Words ensued between
them, the boy insisting upon waiting until to-day, and Crispin
insisting upon his getting his boots and cloak and coming with
him there and then.  More heated grew the argument, till in the
end Galliard, being put out of temper, snatched at his sword,
and would assuredly have spitted the boy had not your father
interposed, thereby getting himself wounded.  Thereafter, in
his drunken lust Sir Crispin went the length of wantonly
cracking that panel with his sword by way of showing Kenneth
what he had to expect unless he obeyed him.  At that I
intervened, and using my influence, I prevailed upon Kenneth to
go with Galliard as he demanded.  To this, for all his
reluctance, Kenneth ended by consenting, and so they are gone."

By that most glib and specious explanation Cynthia was
convinced.  True, she added a question touching the amazing
condition of the grooms, in reply to which Joseph afforded her
a part of the truth.

"Sir Crispin sent them some wine, and they drank to his
departure so heartily that they are not rightly sober yet."

Satisfied with this explanation Cynthia repaired to her father.

Now Gregory had not agreed with Joseph what narrative they were
to offer Cynthia, for it had never crossed his dull mind that
the disorder of the hall and the absence of Kenneth might cause
her astonishment.  And so when she touched upon the matter of
his wound, like the blundering fool he was, he must needs let
his tongue wag upon a tale which, if no less imaginative than
Joseph's, was vastly its inferior in plausibility and had yet
the quality of differing from it totally in substance.

"Plague on that dog, your lover, Cynthia," he growled from the
mountain of pillows that propped him.  "If he should come to
wed my daughter after pinning me to the wainscot of my own hall
may I be for ever damned."

"How?" quoth she.  "Do you say that Kenneth did it?"

"Aye, did he.  He ran at me ere I could draw, like the coward
he is, sink him, and had me through the shoulder in the
twinkling of an eye."

Here was something beyond her understanding.  What were they
concealing from her?  She set her wits to the discovery and
plied her father with another question.

"How came you to quarrel?"

"How? 'Twas - 'twas concerning you, child," replied Gregory at
random, and unable to think of a likelier motive.

"How, concerning me?"

"Leave me, Cynthia," he groaned in despair.  "Go, child.  I am
grievously wounded.  I have the fever, girl.  Go; let me
sleep."

"But tell me, father, what passed."

"Unnatural child," whined Gregory feebly, "will you plague a
sick man with questions?  Would you keep him from the sleep
that may mean recovery to him?"

"Father, dear," she murmured softly, "if I thought it was as
you say, I would leave you.  But you know that you are but
attempting to conceal something from me something that I should
know, that I must know.  Bethink you that it is of my lover
that you have spoken."

By a stupendous effort Gregory shaped a story that to him
seemed likely.

"Well, then, since know you must," he answered, "this is what
befell: we had all drunk over-deep to our shame do I confess it
- and growing tenderhearted for you, and bethinking me of your
professed distaste to Kenneth's suit, I told him that for all
the results that were likely to attend his sojourn at Castle
Marleigh, he might as well bear Crispin company in his
departure.  He flared up at that, and demanded of me that I
should read him my riddle.  Faith, I did by telling him that we
were like to have snow on midsummer's day ere he 'became your
husband.  That speech of mine so angered him, being as he was
all addled with wine and ripe for any madness, that he sprang
up and drew on me there and then.  The others sought to get
between us, but he was over-quick, and before I could do more
than rise from the table his sword was through my shoulder and
into the wainscot at my back.  After that it was clear he could
not remain here, and I demanded that he should leave upon the
instant.  Himself he was nothing loath, for he realized his
folly, and he misliked the gleam of Joseph's eye - which can be
wondrous wicked upon occasion.  Indeed, but for my intercession
Joseph had laid him stark."

That both her uncle and her father had lied to her - the one
cunningly, the other stupidly - she had never a doubt, and
vaguely uneasy was Cynthia to learn the truth.  Later that day
the castle was busy with the bustle of Joseph's departure, and
this again was a matter that puzzled her.

"Whither do you journey, uncle?" she asked of him as he was in
the act of stepping out to enter the waiting carriage.

"To London, sweet cousin," was his brisk reply.  "I am, it
seems, becoming a very vagrant in my old age.  Have you
commands for me?"

"What is it you look to do in London?"

"There, child, let that be for the present.  I will tell you
perhaps when I return.  The door, Stephen."

She watched his departure with uneasy eyes and uneasy heart.  A
fear pervaded her that in all that had befallen, in all that
was befalling still - what ever it might be - some evil was at
work, and an evil that had Crispin for its scope.  She had
neither reason nor evidence from which to draw this inference. 
It was no more than the instinct whose voice cries out to us at
times a presage of ill, and oftentimes compels our attention in
a degree far higher than any evidence could command.

The fear that was in her urged her to seek what information she
could on every hand, but without success.  From none could she
cull the merest scrap of evidence to assist her.

But on the morrow she had information as prodigal as it was
unlooked-for, and from the unlikeliest of sources - her father
himself.  Chafing at his inaction and lured into indiscretions
by the subsiding of the pain of his wound, Gregory quitted his
bed and came below that night to sup with his daughter.  As his
wont had been for years, he drank freely.  That done, alive to
the voice of his conscience, and seeking to drown its loud-
tongued cry, he drank more freely still, so that in the end his
henchman, Stephen, was forced to carry him to bed.

This Stephen had grown grey in the service of the Ashburns, and
amongst much valuable knowledge that he had amassed, was a
skill in dealing with wounds and a wide understanding of the
ways to go about healing them.  This knowledge made him realize
how unwise at such a season was Gregory's debauch, and
sorrowfully did he wag his head over his master's condition of
stupor.

Stephen had grave fears concerning him, and these fears were
realized when upon the morrow Gregory awoke on fire with the
fever.  They summoned a leech from Sheringham, and this cunning
knave, with a view to adding importance to the cure he was come
to effect, and which in reality presented no alarming
difficulty, shook his head with ominous gravity, and whilst
promising to do "all that his skill permitted, he spoke of a
clergyman to help Gregory make his peace with God.  For the
leech had no cause to suspect that the whole of the Sacred
College might have found the task beyond its powers.

A wild fear took Gregory in its grip.  How could he die with
such a load as that which he now carried upon his soul?  And
the leech, seeing how the matter preyed upon his patient's
mind, made shift - but too late - to tranquillize him with
assurances that he was not really like to die, and that he had
but mentioned a parson so that Gregory in any case should be
prepared.

The storm once raised, however, was not so easily to be
allayed, and the conviction remained with Gregory that his
sands were well-nigh run, and that the end could be but a
matter of days in coming.

Realizing as he did how richly he had earned damnation, a
frantic terror was upon him, and all that day he tossed and
turned, now blaspheming, now praying, now weeping.  His life
had been indeed one protracted course of wrong-doing, and many
had suffered by Gregory's evil ways - many a man and many a
woman.  But as the stars pale and fade when the sun mounts the
sky, so too were the lesser wrongs that marked his earthly
pilgrimage of sin rendered pale or blotted into insignificance
by the greater wrong he had done Ronald Marleigh - a wrong
which was not ended yet, but whose completion Joseph was even
then working to effect.  If only he could save Crispin even now
in the eleventh hour; if by some means he could warn him not to
repair to the sign of the Anchor in Thames Street.  His
disordered mind took no account of the fact that in the time
that was sped since Galliard's departure, the knight should
already have reached London.

And so it came about that, consumed at once by the desire to
make confession to whomsoever it might be, and the wish to
attempt yet to avert the crowning evil of whose planning he was
partly guilty inasmuch as he had tacitly consented to Joseph's
schemes, Gregory called for his daughter.  She came readily
enough, hoping for exactly that which was about to take place,
yet fearing sorely that her hopes would suffer frustration, and
that she would learn nothing from her father.

"Cynthia," he cried, in mingled dread and sorrow, "Cynthia, my
child, I am about to die."

She knew both from Stephen and from the leech that this was far
from being his condition.  Nevertheless her filial piety was at
that moment a touching sight.  She smoothed his pillows with a
gentle grace that was in itself a soothing caress, even as her
soft sympathetic voice was a caress.  She took his hand, and
spoke to him endearingly, seeking to relieve the sombre mood
whose prey he was become, assuring him that the leech had told
her his danger was none so imminent, and that with quiet and a
little care he would be up and about again ere many days were
sped.  But Gregory rejected hopelessly all efforts at
consolation.

"I am on my death-bed, Cynthia," he insisted, "and when I am
gone I know not whom there may be to cheer and comfort your lot
in life.  Your lover is away on an errand of Joseph's, and it
may well betide that he will never again cross the threshold of
Castle Marleigh.  Unnatural though I may seem, sweetheart, my
dying wish is that this may be so."

She looked up in some surprise.

"Father, if that be all that grieves you, I can reassure you. 
I do not love Kenneth."

"You apprehend me amiss," said he tartly.  "Do you recall the
story of Sir Crispin Galliard's life that you had from Kenneth
on the night of Joseph's return?"  His voice shook as he put
the question.

"Why, yes.  I am not like to forget it, and nightly do I pray,"
she went on, her tongue outrunning discretion and betraying her
feelings for Galliard, "that God may punish those murderers who
wrecked his existence."

"Hush, girl," he whispered in a quavering voice.  "You know not
what you say."

"Indeed I do; and as there is a just God my prayer shall be
answered."

"Cynthia," he wailed.  His eyes were wild, and the hand that
rested in hers trembled violently.  "Do you know that it is
against your father and your father's brother that you invoke
God's vengeance?"

She had been kneeling at his bedside; but now, when he
pronounced those words, she rose slowly and stood silent for a
spell, her eyes seeking his with an awful look that he dared
not meet.  At last:

"Oh, you rave," she protested, "it is the fever."

"Nay, child, my mind is clear, and what I have said is true."

"True?" she echoed, no louder than a whisper, and her eyes grew
round with horror.  "True that you and my uncle are the
butchers who slew their cousin, this man's wife, and sought to
murder him as well - leaving him for dead?  True that you are
the thieves who claiming kinship by virtue of that very
marriage have usurped his estates and this his castle during
all these years, whilst he himself went an outcast, homeless
and destitute?  Is that what you ask me to believe?"

"Even so," he assented, with a feeble sob.

Her face was pale - white to the very lips, and her blue eyes
smouldered behind the shelter of her drooping lids.  She put
her hand to her breast, then to her brow, pushing back the
brown hair by a mechanical gesture that was pathetic in the
tale of pain it told.  For support she was leaning now against
the wall by the head of his couch.  In silence she stood so
while you might count to twenty; then with a sudden vehemence
revealing the passion of anger and grief that swayed her:

"Why," she cried, "why in God's name do you tell me this?"

"Why?"  His utterance was thick, and his eyes, that were grown
dull as a snake's, stared straight before him, daring not to
meet his daughter's glance.  "I tell it you," he said, "because
I am a dying man."  And he hoped that the consideration of that
momentous fact might melt her, and might by pity win her back
to him - that she was lost to him he realized.

"I tell you because I am a dying man," he repeated.  "I tell it
you because in such an hour I fain would make confession and
repent, that God may have mercy upon my soul.  I tell it you,
too, because the tragedy begun eighteen years ago is not yet
played out, and it may yet be mine to avert the end we had
prepared - Joseph and I.  Thus perhaps a merciful God will
place it in my power to make some reparation.  Listen, child. 
It was against us, as you will have guessed, that Galliard
enlisted Kenneth's services, and here on the night of Joseph's
return he called upon the boy to fulfil him what he had sworn. 
The lad had no choice but to obey; indeed, I forced him to it
by attacking him and compelling him to draw, which is how I
came by this wound.

"Crispin had of a certainty killed Joseph but that your uncle
bethought him of telling him that his son lived."

"He saved his life by a lie!  That was worthy of him," said
Cynthia scornfully.

"Nay, child, he spoke the truth, and when Joseph offered to
restore the boy to him, he had every intention of so doing. 
But in the moment of writing the superscription to the letter
Crispin was to bear to those that had reared the child, Joseph
bethought him of a foul scheme for Galliard's final
destruction.  And so he has sent him to London instead, to a
house in Thames Street, where dwells one Colonel Pride, who
bears Sir Crispin a heavy grudge, and into whose hands he will
be thus delivered.  Can aught be done, Cynthia, to arrest this
- to save Sir Crispin from Joseph's snare?"

"As well might you seek to restore the breath to a dead man,"
she answered, and her voice was so oddly calm, so cold and bare
of expression, that Gregory shuddered to hear it.

"Do not delude yourself," she added.  "Sir Crispin will have
reached London long ere this, and by now Joseph will be well on
his way to see that there is no mistake made, and that the life
you ruined hopelessly years ago is plucked at last from this
unfortunate man.  Merciful God! am I truly your daughter?" she
cried.  "Is my name indeed Ashburn, and have I been reared upon
the estates that by crime you gained possession of?  Estates
that by crime you hold - for they are his; every stone, every
stick that goes to make the place belongs to him, and now he
has gone to his death by your contriving."

A moan escaped her, and she covered her face with her hands.  A
moment she stood rocking there - a fair, lissom plant swept by
a gale of ineffable emotion.  Then the breath seemed to go all
out of her in one great sigh, and Gregory, who dared not look
her way, heard the swish of her gown, followed by a thud as she
collapsed and lay swooning on the ground.

So disturbed at that was Gregory's spirit that, forgetting his
wound, his fever, and the death which he had believed
impending, he leapt from his couch, and throwing wide the door,
bellowed lustily for Stephen.  In frightened haste came his
henchman to answer the petulant summons, and in obedience to
Gregory's commands he went off again as quickly in quest of
Catherine - Cynthia's woman.

Between them they bore the unconscious girl to her chamber,
leaving Gregory to curse himself for having been lured into a
confession that it now seemed to him had been unnecessary,
since in his newly found vitality he realized that death was
none so near a thing as that scoundrelly fool of a leech had
led him to believe.




CHAPTER XXIV

THE WOOING OF CYNTHIA


Cynthia's swoon was after all but brief.  Upon recovering
consciousness her first act was to dismiss her woman.  She had
need to be alone - the need of the animal that is wounded to
creep into its lair and hide itself.  And so alone with her
sorrow she sat through that long day.

That her father's condition was grievous she knew to be untrue,
so that concerning him there was not even that pity that she
might have felt had she believed - as he would have had her
believe that he was dying.

As she pondered the monstrous disclosure he had made, her heart
hardened against him, and even as she had asked him whether
indeed she was his daughter, so now she vowed to herself that
she would be his daughter no longer.  She would leave Castle
Marleigh, never again to set eyes upon her father, and she
hoped that during the little time she must yet remain there - a
day, or two at most - she might be spared the ordeal of again
meeting a parent for whom respect was dead, and who inspired
her with just that feeling of horror she must have for any man
who confessed himself a murderer and a thief.

She resolved to repair to London to a sister of her mother's,
where for her dead mother's sake she would find a haven
extended readily.

At eventide she came at last from her chamber.

She had need of air, need of the balm that nature alone can
offer in solitude to poor wounded human souls.

It was a mild and sunny evening, worthy rather of August than
of October, and aimlessly Mistress Cynthia wandered towards the
cliffs overlooking Sheringham Hithe.  There she sate herself in
sad dejection upon the grass, and gazed wistfully seaward, her
mind straying now from the sorry theme that had held dominion
in it, to the memories that very spot evoked.

It was there, sitting as she sat now, her eyes upon the
shimmering waste of sea, and the gulls circling overhead, that
she had awakened to the knowledge of her love for Crispin.  And
so to him strayed now her thoughts, and to the fate her father
had sent him to; and thus back again to her father and the evil
he had wrought.  It is matter for conjecture whether her
loathing for Gregory would have been as intense as it was, had
another than Crispin Galliard been his victim.

Her life seemed at an end as she sat that October evening on
the cliffs.  No single interest linked her to existence;
nothing, it seemed, was left her to hope for till the end
should come - and no doubt it would be long in coming, for time
moves slowly when we wait.

Wistful she sat and thought, and every thought begat a sigh,
and then of a sudden - surely her ears had tricked her,
enslaved by her imagination - a crisp, metallic voice rang out
close behind her.

"Why are we pensive, Mistress Cynthia?"

There was a catch in her breath as she turned her head.  Her
cheeks took fire, and for a second were aflame.  Then they went
deadly white, and it seemed that time and life and the very
world had paused in its relentless progress towards eternity. 
For there stood the object of her thoughts and sighs, sudden
and unexpected, as though the earth had cast him up on to her
surface.

His thin lips were parted in a smile that softened wondrously
the harshness of his face, and his eyes seemed then to her
alight with kindness.  A moment's pause there was, during which
she sought her voice, and when she had found it, all that she
could falter was:

"Sir, how came you here?  They told me that you rode to
London."

"Why, so I did.  But on the road I chanced to halt, and having
halted I discovered reason why I should return."

He had discovered a reason.  She asked herself breathlessly
what might that reason be, and finding herself no answer to the
question, she put it next to him.

He drew near to her before replying.  "May I sit with you
awhile, Cynthia?"

She moved aside to make room for him, as though the broad cliff
had been a narrow ledge, and with the sigh of a weary man
finding a resting-place at last, he sank down beside her.

There was a tenderness in his voice that set her pulses
stirring wildly.  Did she guess aright the reason that had
caused him to break his journey and return?  That he had done
so - no matter what the reason - she thanked God from her
inmost heart, as for a miracle that had saved him from the doom
awaiting him in London town.

"Am I presumptuous, child, to think that haply the meditation
in which I found you rapt was for one, unworthy though he be,
who went hence but some few days since?"

The ambiguous question drove every thought from her mind,
filling it to overflowing with the supreme good of his
presence, and the frantic hope that she had read aright the
reason of it.

"Have I conjectured rightly?" he asked, since she kept silence.

"Mayhap you have," she whispered in return, and then,
marvelling at her boldness, blushed.  He glanced sharply at her
from narrowing eyes.  It was not the answer he had looked to
hear.

As a father might have done he took the slender hand that
rested upon the grass beside him, and she, poor child,
mistaking the promptings of that action, suffered it to lie in
his strong grasp.  With averted head she gazed upon the sea
below, until a mist of tears rose up to blot it out.  The
breeze seemed full of melody and gladness.  God was very good
to her, and sent her in her hour of need this great consolation
- a consolation indeed that must have served to efface whatever
sorrow could have beset her.

"Why then, sweet lady, is my task that I had feared to find all
fraught with difficulty, grown easy indeed."

And hearing him pause:

"What task is that, Sir Crispin?" she asked, intent on helping
him.

He did not reply at once.  He found it difficult to devise an
answer.  To tell her brutally that he was come to bear her
away, willing or unwilling, on behalf of another, was not easy. 
Indeed, it was impossible, and he was glad that inclinations in
her which he had little dreamt of, put the necessity aside.

"My task, Mistress Cynthia, is to bear you hence.  To ask you
to resign this peaceful life, this quiet home in a little
corner of the world, and to go forth to bear life's hardships
with one who, whatever be his shortcomings, has the
all-redeeming virtue of loving you beyond aught else in life."

He gazed intently at her as he spoke, and her eyes fell before
his glance.  He noted the warm, red blood suffusing her cheeks,
her brow, her very neck; and he could have laughed aloud for
joy at finding so simple that which he had feared would prove
so hard.  Some pity, too, crept unaccountably into his stern
heart, fathered by the little faith which in his inmost soul he
reposed in Jocelyn.  And where, had she resisted him, he would
have grown harsh and violent, her acquiescence struck the
weapons from his hands, and he caught himself well-nigh warning
her against accompanying him.

"It is much to ask," he said.  "But love is selfish, and love
asks much."

"No, no," she protested softly, "it is not much to ask.  Rather
is it much to offer."

At that he was aghast.  Yet he continued:

"Bethink you, Mistress Cynthia, I have ridden back to
Sheringham to ask you to come with me into France, where my son
awaits us?"

He forgot for the moment that she was in ignorance of his
relationship to him he looked upon as her lover, whilst she
gave this mention of his son, of whose existence she had
already heard from her; father, little thought at that moment. 
The hour was too full of other things that touched her more
nearly.

"I ask you to abandon the ease and peace of Sheringham for a
life as a soldier's bride that may be rough and precarious for
a while, though, truth to tell, I have some influence at the
Luxembourg, and friends upon whose assistance I can safely
count, to find your husband honourable employment, and set him
on the road to more.  And how, guided by so sweet a saint, can
he but mount to fame and honour?"

She spoke no word, but the hand resting in his entwined his
fingers in an answering pressure.

"Dare I then ask so much?" cried he.  And as if the ambiguity
which had marked his speech were not enough, he must needs, as
he put this question, bend in his eagerness towards her until
her brown tresses touched his swart cheek.  Was it then strange
that the eagerness wherewith he urged another's suit should
have been by her interpreted as her heart would have had it?

She set her hands upon his shoulders, and meeting his eager
gaze with the frank glance of the maid who, out of trust, is
fearless in her surrender:

"Throughout my life I shall thank God that you have dared it,"
she made answer softly.

A strange reply he deemed it, yet, pondering, he took her
meaning to be that since Jocelyn had lacked the courage to woo
boldly, she was glad that he had sent an ambassador less timid.

A pause followed, and for a spell they sat silent, he thinking
of how to frame his next words; she happy and content to sit
beside him without speech.

She marvelled somewhat at the strangeness of his wooing, which
was like unto no wooing her romancer's tales had told her of,
but then she reflected how unlike he was to other men, and
therein she saw the explanation.

"I wish," he mused, "that matters were easier; that it might be
mine to boldly sue your hand from your father, but it may not
be.  Even had events not fallen out as they have done, it had
been difficult; as it is, it is impossible."

Again his meaning was obscure, and when he spoke of suing for
her hand from her father, he did not think of adding that he
would have sued it for his son.

"I have no father," she replied.  "This very day have I
disowned him."  And observing the inquiry with which his eyes
were of a sudden charged: "Would you have me own a thief, a
murderer, my father?" she demanded, with a fierceness of
defiant shame.

"You know, then?" he ejaculated.

"Yes," she answered sorrowfully, "I know all there is to be
known.  I learnt it all this morning.  All day have I pondered
it in my shame to end in the resolve to leave Sheringham.  I
had intended going to London to my mother's sister.  You are
very opportunely come."  She smiled up at him through the tears
that were glistening in her eyes.  "You come even as I was
despairing - nay, when already I had despaired."

Sir Crispin was no longer puzzled by the readiness of her
acquiescence.  Here was the explanation of it.  Forced by the
honesty of her pure soul to abandon the house of a father she
knew at last for what he was, the refuge Crispin now offered
her was very welcome.  She had determined before he came to
quit Castle Marleigh, and timely indeed was his offer of the
means of escape from a life that was grown impossible.  A great
pity filled his heart.  She was selling herself, he thought;
accepting the proposal which, on his son's behalf, he made, and
from which at any other season, he feared, she would have
shrunk in detestation.

That pity was reflected on his countenance now, and noting its
solemnity, and misconstruing it, she laughed outright, despite
herself.  He did not ask her why she laughed, he did not notice
it; his thoughts were busy already upon another matter.

When next he spoke, it was to describe to her the hollow of the
road where on the night of his departure from the castle he had
been flung from his horse.  She knew the spot, she told him,
and there at dusk upon the following day she would come to him. 
Her woman must accompany her, and for all that he feared such
an addition to the party might retard their flight, yet he
could not gainsay her resolution.  Her uncle, he learnt from
her, was absent from Sheringham; he had set out four days ago
for London.  For her father she would leave a letter, and in
this matter Crispin urged her to observe circumspection, giving
no indication of the direction of her journey.

In all he said, now that matters were arranged he was calm,
practical, and unloverlike, and for all that she would he had
been less self-possessed, her faith in him caused her, upon
reflection, even to admire this which she conceived to be
restraint.  Yet, when at parting he did no more than
courteously bend before her, and kiss her hand as any simpering
gallant might have done, she was all but vexed, and not to be
outdone in coldness, she grew frigid.  But it was lost upon
him.  He had not a lover's discernment, quickened by anxious
eyes that watch for each flitting change upon his mistress's
face.

They parted thus, and into the heart of Mistress Cynthia there
crept that night a doubt that banished sleep.  Was she wise in
entrusting herself so utterly to a man of whom she knew but
little, and that learnt from rumours which had not been good? 
But scarcely was it because of that that doubts assailed her. 
Rather was it because of his cool deliberateness which argued
not the great love wherewith she fain would fancy him inspired.

For consolation she recalled a line that had it great fires
were soon burnt out, and she sought to reassure herself that
the flame of his love, if not all-consuming, would at least
burn bright and steadfastly until the end of life.  And so she
fell asleep, betwixt hope and fear, yet no longer with any
hesitancy touching the morrow's course.

In the morning she took her woman into her confidence, and
scared her with it out of what little sense the creature owned. 
Yet to such purpose did she talk, that when that evening, as
Crispin waited by the coach he had taken, in the hollow of the
road, he saw approaching him a portly, middle-aged dame with a
valise.  This was Cynthia's woman, and Cynthia herself was not
long in following, muffled in a long, black cloak.

He greeted her warmly - affectionately almost yet with none of
the rapture to which she held herself entitled as some little
recompense for all that on his behalf she left behind.

Urbanely he handed her into the coach, and, after her, her
woman.  Then seeing that he made shift to close the door:

"How is this?" she cried.  "Do you not ride with us?"

He pointed to a saddled horse standing by the roadside, and
which she had not noticed.

"It will be better so.  You will be at more comfort in the
carriage without me.  Moreover, it will travel the lighter and
the swifter, and speed will prove our best friend."

He closed the door, and stepped back with a word of command to
the driver.  The whip cracked, and Cynthia flung herself back
almost in a pet.  What manner of lover, she asked herself, was
thin and what manner of woman she, to let herself be borne away
by one who made so little use of the arts and wiles of sweet
persuasion?  To carry her off, and yet not so much as sit
beside her, was worthy only of a man who described such a
journey as tedious.  She marvelled greatly at it, yet more she
marvelled at herself that she did not abandon this mad
undertaking.

The coach moved on and the flight from Sheringham was begun.




CHAPTER XXV


CYNTHIA'S FLIGHT


Throughout the night they went rumbling on their way at a pace
whose sluggishness elicited many an oath from Crispin as he
rode a few yards in the rear, ever watchful of the possibility
of pursuit.  But there was none, nor none need he have feared,
since whilst he rode through the cold night, Gregory Ashburn
slept as peacefully as a man may with the fever and an evil
conscience, and imagined his dutiful daughter safely abed.

With the first streaks of steely light came a thin rain to
heighten Crispin's discomfort, for of late he had been overmuch
in the saddle, and strong though he was, he was yet flesh and
blood, and subject to its ills.  Towards ten o'clock they
passed through Denham.  When they were clear of it Cynthia put
her head from the window.  She had slept well, and her mood was
lighter and happier.  As Crispin rode a yard or so behind, he
caught sight of her fresh, smiling face, and it affected him
curiously.  The tenderness that two days ago had been his as he
talked to her upon the cliffs was again upon him, and the
thought that anon she would be linked to him by the ties of
relationship, was pleasurable.  She gave him good morrow
prettily, and he, spurring his horse to the carriage door, was
solicitous to know of her comfort.  Nor did he again fall
behind until Stafford was reached at noon.  Here, at the sign
of the Suffolk Arms, he called a halt, and they broke their
fast on the best the house could give them.

Cynthia was gay, and so indeed was Crispin, yet she noted in
him that coolness which she accounted restraint, and gradually
her spirits sank again before it.

To Crispin's chagrin there were no horses to be had.  Someone
in great haste had ridden through before them, and taken what
relays the hostelry could give, leaving four jaded beasts in
the stable.  It seemed, indeed, that they must remain there
until the morrow, and in coming to that conclusion, Sir
Crispin's temper suffered sorely.

"Why need it put you so about," cried Cynthia, in arch
reproach, "since I am with you?"

"Blood and fire, madam," roared Galliard, "it is precisely for
that reason that I am exercised.  What if your father came upon
us here?"

"My father, sir, is abed with a sword-wound and a fever," she
replied, and he remembered then how Kenneth had spitted Gregory
through the shoulder.

"Still," he returned, "he will have discovered your flight, and
I dare swear we shall have his myrmidons upon our heels. 
Should they come up with us we shall hardly find them more
gentle than he would be."

She paled at that, and for a second there was silence.  Then
her hand stole forth upon his arm, and she looked at him with
tightened lips and a defiant air.

"What, indeed, if they do?  Are you not with me?"  A king had
praised his daring, and for his valour had dubbed him knight
upon a field of stricken battle; yet the honour of it had not
brought him the elation those words - expressive of her utter
faith in him and his prowess - begat in his heart.  Upon the
instant the delay ceased to fret him.

"Madam," he laughed, "since you put it so, I care not who
comes.  The Lord Protector himself shall not drag you from me."

It was the nearest he had gone to a passionate speech since
they had left Sheringham, and it pleased her; yet in uttering
it he had stood a full two yards away, and in that she had
taken no pleasure.

Bidding her remain and get what rest she might, he left her,
and she, following his straight, lank figure - so eloquent of
strength - and the familiar poise of his left hand upon the
pummel of his sword, felt proud indeed that he belonged to her,
and secure in his protection.  She sat herself at the window
when he was gone, and whilst she awaited his return, she hummed
a gay measure softly to herself.  Her eyes were bright, and
there was a flush upon her cheeks.  Not even in the wet, greasy
street could she find any unsightliness that afternoon.  But as
she waited, and the minutes grew to hours, that flush faded,
and the sparkle died gradually from her eyes.  The measure that
she had hummed was silenced, and her shapely mouth took on a
pout of impatience, which anon grew into a tighter mould, as he
continued absent.

A frown drew her brows together, and Mistress Cynthia's
thoughts were much as they had been the night before she left
Castle Marleigh.  Where was he?  Why came he not?  She took up
a book of plays that lay upon the table, and sought to while
away the time by reading.  The afternoon faded into dusk, and
still he did not come.  Her woman appeared, to ask whether she
should call for lights and at that Cynthia became almost
violent

"Where is Sir Crispin?" she demanded.  And to the dame's
quavering answer that she knew not, she angrily bade her go
ascertain.

In a pet, Cynthia paced the chamber whilst Catherine was gone
upon that errand.  Did this man account her a toy to while away
the hours for which he could find no more profitable diversion,
and to leave her to die of ennui when aught else offered?  Was
it a small thing that he had asked of her, to go with him into
a strange land, that he should show himself so little sensible
of the honour done him?

With such questions did she plague herself, and finding them
either unanswerable, or answerable only by affirmatives, she
had well-nigh resolved upon leaving the inn, and making her way
back to London to seek out her aunt, when the door opened and
her woman reappeared.

"Well?" cried Cynthia, seeing her alone.  "Where is Sir
Crispin?"

"Below, madam."

"Below?" echoed she.  "And what, pray, doth he below?"

"He is at dice with a gentleman from London."

In the dim light of the October twilight the woman saw not the
sudden pallor of her mistress's cheeks, but she heard the gasp
of pain that was almost a cry.  In her mortification, Cynthia
could have wept had she given way to her feelings.  The man who
had induced her to elope with him sat at dice with a gentleman
from London!  Oh, it was monstrous!  At the thought of it she
broke into a laugh that appalled her tiring-woman; then
mastering her hysteria, she took a sudden determination.

"Call me the host," she cried, and the frightened Catherine
obeyed her at a run.

When the landlord came, bearing lights, and bending his aged
back obsequiously:

"Have you a pillion?" she asked abruptly.  "Well, fool, why do
you stare?  Have you a pillion?"

"I have, madam."

"And a knave to ride with me, and a couple more as escort?"

"I might procure them, but - "

"How soon?"

"Within half an hour, but - "

"Then go see to it," she broke in, her foot beating the ground
impatiently.

"But, madam - "

"Go, go, go!" she cried, her voice rising at each utterance of
that imperative.

"But, madam," the host persisted despairingly, and speaking
quickly so that he might get the words out, "I have no horses
fit to travel ten miles."

"I need to go but five," she retorted quickly, her only thought
being to get the beasts, no matter what their condition.  "Now,
go, and come not back until all is ready.  Use dispatch and I
will pay you well, and above all, not a word to the gentleman
who came hither with me."

The sorely-puzzled host withdrew to do her bidding, won to it
by her promise of good payment.

Alone she sat for half an hour, vainly fostering the hope that
ere the landlord returned to announce the conclusion of his
preparations, Crispin might have remembered her and come.  But
he did not appear, and in her solitude this poor little maid
was very miserable, and shed some tears that had still more of
anger than sorrow in their source.  At length the landlord
came.  She summoned her woman, and bade her follow by post on
the morrow.  The landlord she rewarded with a ring worth twenty
times the value of the service, and was led by him through a
side door into the innyard.

Here she found three horses, one equipped with the pillion on
which she was to ride behind a burly stableboy.  The other two
were mounted by a couple of stalwart and well-armed men, one of
whom carried a funnel-mouthed musketoon with a swagger that
promised prodigies of valour.

Wrapped in her cloak, she mounted behind the stable-boy, and
bade him set out and take the road to Denham.  Her dream was at
an end.

Master Quinn, the landlord, watched her departure with eyes
that were charged with doubt and concern.  As he made fast the
door of the stableyard after she had passed out, he ominously
shook his hoary head and muttered to himself humble,
hostelry-flavoured philosophies touching the strange ways of
men with women, and the stranger ways of women with men.  Then,
taking up his lanthorn, he slowly retraced his steps to the
buttery where his wife was awaiting him.

With sleeves rolled high above her pink and deeply-dimpled
elbows stood Mistress Quinn at work upon the fashioning of a
pastry, when her husband entered and set down his lanthorn with
a sigh.

"To be so plagued," he growled.  "To be browbeaten by a slip of
a wench - a fine gentleman's baggage with the airs and vapours
of a lady of quality.  Am I not a fool to have endured it?"

"Certainly you are a fool," his wife agreed, kneading
diligently, "whatever you may have endured.  What now?"

His fat face was puckered into a thousand wrinkles.  His little
eyes gazed at her with long-suffering malice.

"You are my wife," he answered pregnantly, as who would say:
Thus is my folly clearly proven! and seeing that the assertion
was not one that admitted of dispute, Mistress Quinn was
silent.

"Oh, 'tis ill done!" he broke out a moment later.  "Shame on me
for it; it is ill done!"

"If you have done it 'tis sure to be ill done, and shame on you
in good sooth - but for what?" put in his wife.

"For sending those poor jaded beasts upon the road."

"What beasts?"

"What beasts?  Do I keep turtles?  My horses, woman."

"And whither have you sent them?"

"To Denham with the baggage that came hither this morning in
the company of that very fierce gentleman who was in such a pet
because we had no horses."

"Where is he?" inquired the hostess.

"At dice with those other gallants from town."

"At dice quotha?  And she's gone, you say?" asked Mrs. Quinn,
pausing in her labours squarely to face her husband.

"Aye," said he.

"Stupid!" rejoined his docile spouse, vexed by his laconic
assent.  "Do you mean she has run away?"

"Tis what anyone might take from what I have told you," he
answered sweetly.

"And you have lent her horses and helped her to get away, and
you leave her husband at play in there?"

"You have seen her marriage lines, I make no doubt," he sneered
irrelevantly.

"You dolt!  If the gentleman horsewhips you, you will have
richly earned it."

"Eh?  What?" gasped he, and his rubicund cheeks lost something
of their high colour, for here was a possibility that had not
entered into his calculations.  But Mistress Quinn stayed not
to answer him.  Already she was making for the door, wiping the
dough from her hands on to her apron as she went.  A suspicion
of her purpose flashed through her husband's mind.

"What would you do?" he inquired nervously.

"Tell the gentleman what has taken place."

"Nay," he cried, resolutely barring her way.  "Nay.  That you
shall not.  Would you - would you ruin me?"

She gave him a look of contempt, and dodging his grasp she
gained the door and was half-way down the passage towards the
common room before he had overtaken her and caught her round
the middle.

"Are you mad, woman?" he shouted.  "Will you undo me?"

"Do you undo me," she bade him, snatching at his hands.  But he
clutched with the tightness of despair.

"You shall not go," he swore.  "Come back and leave the
gentleman to make the discovery for himself.  I dare swear it
will not afflict him overmuch.  He has abandoned her sorely
since they came; not a doubt of it but that he is weary of her. 
At least he need not know I lent her horses.  Let him think she
fled a-foot, when he discovers her departure."

"I will go," she answered stubbornly, dragging him with her a
yard or two nearer the door.  "The gentleman shall be warned. 
Is a woman to run away from her husband in my house, and the
husband never be warned of it?"

"I promised her," he began.

"What care I for your promises?" she asked.  "I will tell him,
so that he may yet go after her and bring her back."

"You shall not," he insisted, gripping her more closely.  But
at that moment a delicately mocking voice greeted their ears.

"Marry, 'tis vastly diverting to hear you," it said.  They
looked round, to find one of the party of town sparks that had
halted at the inn standing arms akimbo in the narrow passage,
clearly waiting for them to make room.  "A touching sight,
sir," said he sardonically to the landlord.  "A wondrous
touching sight to behold a man of your years playing the
turtle-dove to his good wife like the merest fledgeling.  It
grieves me to intrude myself so harshly upon your cooing,
though if you'll but let me pass you may resume your chaste
embrace without uneasiness, for I give you my word I'll never
look behind me."

Abashed, the landlord and his dame fell apart.  Then, ere the
gentleman could pass her, Mistress Quinn, like a true
opportunist, sped swiftly down the passage and into the common
room before her husband could again detain her.

Now, within the common room of the Suffolk Arms Sir Crispin sat
face to face with a very pretty fellow, all musk and ribbons,
and surrounded by some half-dozen gentlemen on their way to
London who had halted to rest at Stafford.

The pretty gentleman swore lustily, affected a monstrous wicked
look, assured that he was impressing all who stood about with
some conceit of the rakehelly ways he pursued in town.

A game started with crowns to while away the tedium of the
enforced sojourn at the inn had grown to monstrous proportions. 
Fortune had favoured the youth at first, but as the stakes grew
her favours to him diminished, and at the moment that Cynthia
rode out of the inn-yard, Mr. Harry Foster flung his last gold
piece with an oath upon the table.

"Rat me," he groaned, "there's the end of a hundred."

He toyed sorrowfully with the red ribbon in his black hair, and
Crispin, seeing that no fresh stake was forthcoming, made shift
to rise.  But the coxcomb detained him.

"Tarry, sir," he cried, "I've not yet done.  'Slife, we'll make
a night of it."

He drew a ring from his finger, and with a superb gesture of
disdain pushed it across the board.

"What'll ye stake?" And, in the same breath, "Boy, another
stoup," he cried.

Crispin eyed the gem carelessly.

"Twenty Caroluses," he muttered.

"Rat me, sir, that nose of yours proclaims you a jew, without
more.  Say twenty-five, and I'll cast."

With a tolerant smile, and the shrug of a man to whom
twenty-five or a hundred are of like account, Crispin
consented.  They threw; Crispin passed and won.

"What'll ye stake?" cried Mr.  Foster, and a second ring
followed the first.

Before Crispin could reply, the door leading to the interior of
the inn was flung open, and Mrs. Quinn, breathless with
exertion and excitement, came scurrying across the room.  In
the doorway stood the host in hesitancy and fear.  Bending to
Crispin's ear, Mrs. Quinn delivered her message in a whisper
that was heard by most of those who were about.

"Gone!" cried Crispin in consternation.

The woman pointed to her husband, and Crispin, understanding
from this that she referred him to the host, called to him.

"What know you, landlord?" he shouted.  "Come hither, and tell
me whither is she gone!"

"I know not," replied the quaking host, adding the particulars
of Cynthia's departure, and the information that the lady
seemed in great anger.

"Saddle me a horse," cried Crispin, leaping to his feet, and
pitching Mr. Foster's trinket upon the table as though it were
a thing of no value.  "Towards Denham you say they rode? 
Quick, man!"  And as the host departed he swept the gold and
the ring he had won into his pockets preparing to depart.

"Hoity toity!" cried Mr. Foster.  "What sudden haste is this?"

"I am sorry, sir, that Fortune has been unkind to you, but I
must go.  Circumstances have arisen which - "

"D -n your circumstances!" roared Foster, get ting on his feet. 
"You'll not leave me thus!"

"With your permission, sir, I will."

"But you shall not have my permission!"

"Then I shall be so unfortunate as to go without it.  But I
shall return."

"Sir, 'tis an old legend, that!"

Crispin turned about in despair.  To be embroiled now might
ruin everything, and by a miracle he kept his temper.  He had a
moment to spare while his horse was being saddled.

"Sir," he said, "if you have upon your pretty person trinkets
to half the value of what I have won from you, I'll stake the
whole against them on one throw, after which, no matter what
the result, I take my departure.  Are you agreed?"

There was a murmur of admiration from those present at the
recklessness and the generosity of the proposal, and Foster was
forced to accept it.  Two more rings he drew forth, a diamond
from the ruffles at his throat, and a pearl that he wore in his
ear.  The lot he set upon the board, and Crispin threw the
winning cast as the host entered to say that his horse was
ready.

He gathered the trinkets up, and with a polite word of regret
he was gone, leaving Mr. Harry Foster to meditate upon the
pledging of one of his horses to the landlord in discharge of
his lodging.

And so it fell out that before Cynthia had gone six miles along
the road to Denham, one of her attendants caught a rapid beat
of hoofs behind them, and drew her attention to it, suggesting
that they were being followed.  Faster Cynthia bade them
travel, but the pursuer gained upon them at every stride. 
Again the man drew her attention to it, and proposed that they
should halt and face him who followed.  The possession of the
musketoon gave him confidence touching the issue.  But Cynthia
shuddered at the thought, and again, with promises of rich
reward, urged them to go faster.  Another mile they went, but
every moment brought the pursuing hoof-beats nearer and nearer,
until at last a hoarse challenge rang out behind them, and they
knew that to go farther would be vain; within the next
half-mile, ride as they might, their pursuer would be upon
them.

The night was moonless, yet sufficiently clear for objects to
be perceived against the sky, and presently the black shadow of
him who rode behind loomed up upon the road, not a hundred
paces off.

Despite Cynthia's orders not to fire, he of the musketoon
raised his weapon under cover of the darkness and blazed at the
approaching shadow.

Cynthia cried out - a shriek of dismay it was; the horses
plunged, and Sir Crispin laughed aloud as he bore down upon
them.  He of the musketoon heard the swish of a sword being
drawn, and saw the glitter of the blade in the dark.  A second
later there was a shock as Crispin's horse dashed into his, and
a crushing blow across the forehead, which Galliard delivered
with the hilt of his rapier, sent him hurtling from the saddle. 
His comrade clapped spurs to his horse at that and was running
a race with the night wind in the direction of Denham.

Before Cynthia quite knew what had happened the seat on the
pillion in front of her was empty, and she was riding back to
Stafford with Crispin beside her, his hand upon the bridle of
her horse.

"You little fool!" he said half-angrily, half-gibingly; and
thereafter they rode in silence - she too mortified with shame
and anger to venture upon words.

That journey back to Stafford was a speedy one, and soon they
stood again in the inn-yard out of which she had ridden but an
hour ago.  Avoiding the common room, Crispin ushered her
through the side door by which she had quitted the house.  The
landlord met them in the passage, and looking at Crispin's face
the pallor and fierceness of it drove him back without a word.

Together they ascended to the chamber where in solitude she had
spent the day.  Her feelings were those of a child caught in an
act of disobedience, and she was angry with herself and her
weakness that it should be so.  Yet within the room she stood
with bent head, never glancing at her companion, in whose eyes
there was a look of blended anger and amazement as he observed
her.  At length in calm, level tones:

"Why did you run away?" he asked.

The question was to her anger as a gust of wind to a
smouldering fire.  She threw back her head defiantly, and fixed
him with a glance as fierce as his own.

"I will tell you," she cried, and suddenly stopped short.  The
fire died from her eyes, and they grew wide in wonder - in
fascinated wonder - to see a deep stain overspreading one side
of his grey doublet, from the left shoulder downwards.  Her
wonder turned to horror as she realized the nature of that
stain and remembered that one of her men had fired upon him.

"You are wounded?" she faltered.

A sickly smile came into his face, and seemed to accentuate its
pallor.  He made a deprecatory gesture.  Then, as if in that
gesture he had expended his last grain of strength, he swayed
suddenly as he stood.  He made as if to reach a chair, but at
the second step he stumbled, and without further warning he
fell prone at her feet, his left hand upon his heart, his right
outstretched straight from the shoulder.  The loss of blood he
had sustained, following upon the fatigue and sleeplessness
that had been his of late, had demanded its due from him, man
of iron though he was.

Upon the instant her anger vanished.  A great fear that he was
dead descended upon her, and to heighten the horror of it came
the thought that he had received his death-wound through her
agency.  With a moan of anguish she went down upon her knees
beside him.  She raised his head and pillowed it in her lap,
calling to him by name, as though her voice alone must suffice
to bring him back to life and consciousness.  Instinctively she
unfastened his doublet at the neck, and sought to draw it away
that she might see the nature of his hurt and staunch the wound
if possible, but her strength ebbed away from her, and she
abandoned her task, unable to do more than murmur his name.

"Crispin, Crispin, Crispin!"

She stooped and kissed the white, clammy forehead, then his
lips, and as she did so a tremor ran through her, and he opened
his eyes.  A moment they looked dull and lifeless, then they
waxed questioning.

A second ago these two had stood in anger with the width of the
room betwixt them; now, in a flash, he found his head on her
lap, her lips on his.  How came he there?  What meant it?

"Crispin, Crispin," she cried, "thank God you did but swoon!"

Then the awakening of his soul came swift upon the awakening of
his body.  He lay there, oblivious of his wound, oblivious of
his mission, oblivious of his son.  He lay with senses still
half dormant and comprehension dulled, but with a soul alert he
lay, and was supremely happy with a happiness such as he had
never known in all his ill-starred life.

In a feeble voice he asked:

"Why did you run away?"

"Let us forget it," she answered softly.

"Nay - tell me first."

"I thought - I thought - " she stammered; then, gathering
courage, "I thought you did not really care, that you made a
toy of me," said she.  "When they told me that you sat at dice
with a gentleman from London I was angry at your neglect.  If
you loved me, I told myself, you would not have used me so, and
left me to mope alone."

For a moment Crispin let his grey eyes devour her blushing
face.  Then he closed them and pondered what she had said,
realization breaking upon him now like a great flood.  The
light came to him in one blinding yet all-illuming flash.  A
hundred things that had puzzled him in the last two days grew
of a sudden clear, and filled him with a joy unspeakable.  He
dared scarce believe that he was awake, and Cynthia by him -
that he had indeed heard aright what she had said.  How blind
he had been, how nescient of himself!

Then, as his thoughts travelled on to the source of the
misapprehension he remembered his son, and the memory was like
an icy hand upon his temples that chilled him through and
through.  Lying there with eyes still closed he groaned. 
Happiness was within his grasp at last.  Love might be his
again did he but ask it, and the love of as pure and sweet a
creature as ever God sent to chasten a man's life.  A great
tenderness possessed him.  A burning temptation to cast to the
winds his plighted word, to make a mock of faith, to deride
honour, and to seize this woman for his own.  She loved him he
knew it now; he loved her - the knowledge had come as suddenly
upon him.  Compared with this what could his faith, his word,
his honour give him?  What to him, in the face of this, was
that paltry fellow, his son, who had spurned him!

The hardest fight he ever fought, he fought it there, lying
supine upon the ground, his head in her lap.

Had he fought it out with closed eyes, perchance honour and his
plighted word had won the day; but he opened them, and they met
Cynthia's.

A while they stayed thus; the hungry glance of his grey eyes
peering into the clear blue depths of hers; and in those depths
his soul was drowned, his honour stifled.

"Cynthia,' he cried, "God pity me, I love you!"  And he swooned
again.




CHAPTER XXVI

TO FRANCE


That cry, which she but half understood, was still ringing in
her ears, when the door was of a sudden flung open, and across
the threshold a very daintily arrayed young gentleman stepped
briskly, the expostulating landlord following close upon his
heels.

"I tell thee, lying dog," he cried, "I saw him ride into the
yard, and, "fore George, he shall give me the chance of mending
my losses.  Be off to your father, you Devil's natural."

Cynthia looked up in alarm, whereupon that merry blood catching
sight of her, halted in some confusion at what he saw.

"Rat me, madam," he cried, "I did not know - I had not looked
to - "  He stopped, and remembering at last his manners he made
her a low bow.

"Your servant, madam," said he, "your servant Harry Foster."

She gazed at him, her eyes full of inquiry, but said nothing,
whereat the pretty gentleman plucked awkwardly at his ruffles
and wished himself elsewhere.

"I did not know, madam, that your husband was hurt."

"He is not my husband, sir," she answered, scarce knowing what
she said.

"Gadso!" he ejaculated.  "Yet you ran away from him?"

Her cheeks grew crimson.

"The door, sir, is behind you."

"So, madam, is that thief the landlord," he made answer, no
whit abashed.  "Come hither, you bladder of fat, the gentleman
is hurt."

Thus courteously summoned, the landlord shuffled forward, and
Mr. Foster begged Cynthia to allow him with the fellow's aid to
see to the gentleman's wound.  Between them they laid Crispin
on a couch, and the town spark went to work with a dexterity
little to have been expected from his flippant exterior.  He
dressed the wound, which was in the shoulder and not in itself
of a dangerous character, the loss of blood it being that had
brought some gravity to the knight's condition.  They propped
his head upon a pillow, and presently he sighed and, opening
his eyes, complained of thirst, and was manifestly surprised at
seeing the coxcomb turned leech.

"I came in search of you to pursue our game," Foster explained
when they had ministered to him, "and, 'fore George, I am
vastly grieved to find you in this condition."

"Pish, sir, my condition is none so grievous - a scratch, no
more, and were my heart itself pierced the knowledge that I
have gained - "  He stopped short.  "But there, sir," he added
presently, "I am grateful beyond words for your timely
ministration, and if to my debt you will add that of leaving me
awhile to rest, I shall appreciate it."

His glance met Cynthia's and he smiled.  The host coughed
significantly, and shuffled towards the door.  But Master
Foster made no shift to move; but stood instead beside
Galliard, though in apparent hesitation.

"I should like a word with you ere I go," he said at length. 
Then turning and perceiving the landlord standing by the door
in an attitude of eloquent waiting: "Take yourself off," he
cried to him.  "Crush me, may not one gentleman say a word to
another without being forced to speak into your inquisitive
ears as well?  You will forgive my heat, madam, but, God
a"mercy, that greasy rascal tries me sorely."

"Now, sir," he resumed, when the host was gone.  "I stand thus:
I have lost to you to-day a sum of money which, though some
might account considerable, is in itself no more than a trifle.

"I am, however, greatly exercised at the loss of certain
trinkets which have to me a peculiar value, and which, to be
frank, I staked in a moment of desperation.  I had hoped, sir,
to retrieve my losses o'er a friendly main this evening, for I
have still to stake a coach and four horses - as noble a set of
beasts as you'll find in England, aye rat me.  Your wound, sir,
renders it impossible for me to ask you to give yourself the
fatigue of obliging me.  I come, then, to propose that you
return me those trinkets against my note of hand for the amount
that was staked on them.  I am well known in town, sir," he
added hurriedly, "and you need have no anxiety."

Crispin stopped him with a wave of the hand.

"I have none, sir, in that connexion, and I am willing to do as
you suggest."  He thrust his hand into his pocket, and drew
forth the rings, the brooch and the ear-ring he had won. 
"Here, sir, are your trinkets."

"Sir," cried Mr.  Foster, thrown into some confusion by
Galliard's unquestioning generosity, "I am indebted to you. 
Rat me, sir, I am indeed.  You shall have my note of hand on
the instant.  How much shall we say?"

"One moment, Mr.  Foster," said Crispin, an idea suddenly
occurring to him.  "You mentioned horses.  Are they fresh?"

"As June roses."

"And you are returning to London, are you not?"

"I am."

"When do you wish to proceed?"

"To-morrow."

"Why, then, sir, I have a proposal to make which will remove
the need of your note of hand.  Lend me your horses, sir, to
reach Harwich.  I wish to set out at once "

"But your wound?" cried Cynthia.  "You are still faint."

"Faint!  Not I.  I am awake and strong.  My wound is no wound,
for a scratch may not be given that name.  So there,
sweetheart."  He laughed, and drawing down her head, he
whispered the words: "Your father."  Then turning again to
Foster.  "Now, sir," he continued, "there are four tolerable
posthorses of mine below, on which you can follow tomorrow to
Harwich, there exchanging them again for your own, which you
shall find awaiting you, stabled at the Garter Inn.  For this
service, to me of immeasurable value, I will willingly cede
those gewgaws to you."

"But, rat me, sir," cried Foster in bewilderment, "tis too
generous - 'pon honour it is.  I can't consent to it.  No, rat
me, I can't."

"I have told you how great a boon you will confer.  Believe me,
sir, to me it is worth twice, a hundred times the value of
those trinkets."

"You shall have my horses, sir, and my note of hand as well,"
said Foster firmly.

"Your note of hand is of no value to me, sir.  I look to leave
England to-morrow, and I know not when I may return."

Thus in the end it came about that the bargain was concluded. 
Cynthia's maid was awakened and bidden to rise.  The horses
were harnessed to Crispin's coach, and Crispin, leaning upon
Harry Foster's arm, descended and took his place within the
carriage.

Leaving the London blood at the door of the Suffolk Arms,
crushing, burning, damning and ratting himself at Crispin's
magnificence, they rolled away through the night in the
direction of Ipswich.

Ten o"clock in the morning beheld them at the door of the
Garter Inn at Harwich.  But the jolting of the coach had so
hardly used Crispin that he had to be carried into the
hostelry.  He was much exercised touching the Lady Jane and his
inability to go down to the quay in quest of her, when he was
accosted by a burly, red-faced individual who bluntly asked him
was he called Sir Crispin Galliard.  Ere he could frame an
answer the man had added that he was Thomas Jackson, master of
the Lady Jane - at which piece of good news Crispin felt like
to shout for joy.

But his reflection upon his present position, when at last he
lay in the schooner's cabin, brought him the bitter reverse of
pleasure.  He had set out to bring Cynthia to his son; he had
pledged his honour to accomplish it.  How was he fulfilling his
trust?  In his despondency, during a moment when alone, he
cursed the knave that had wounded him for his clumsiness in not
having taken a lower aim when he fired, and thus solved him
this ugly riddle of life for all time.

Vainly did he strive to console himself and endeavour to
palliate the wrong he had done with the consideration that he
was the man Cynthia loved, and not his son; that his son was
nothing to her, and that she would never have accompanied him
had she dreamt that he wooed her for another.

No.  The deed was foul, and rendered fouler still by virtue of
those other wrongs in whose extenuation it had been undertaken. 
For a moment he grew almost a coward.  He was on the point of
bidding Master Jackson avoid Calais and make some other port
along the coast.  But in a moment he had scorned the craven
argument of flight, and determined that come what might he
would face his son, and lay the truth before him, leaving him
to judge how strong fate had been.  As he lay feverish and
fretful in the vessel's cabin, he came well-nigh to hating
Kenneth; he remembered him only as a poor, mean creature, now a
bigot, now a fop, now a psalm-monger, now a roysterer, but ever
a hypocrite, ever a coward, and never such a man as he could
have taken pride in presenting as his offspring.

They had a fair wind, and towards evening Cynthia, who had been
absent from his side a little while, came to tell him that the
coast of France grew nigh.

His answer was a sigh, and when she chid him for it, he essayed
a smile that was yet more melancholy.  For a second he was
tempted to confide in her; to tell her of the position in which
he found himself and to lighten his load by sharing it with
her.  But this he dared not do.  Cynthia must never know.




CHAPTER XXVII

THE AUBERGE DU SOLEIL


In a room of the first floor of the Auberge du Soleil, at
Calais, the host inquired of Crispin if he were milord
Galliard.  At that question Crispin caught his breath in
apprehension, and felt himself turn pale.  What it portended,
he guessed; and it stifled the hope that had been rising in him
since his arrival, and because he had not found his son
awaiting him either on the jetty or at the inn.  He dared ask
no questions, fearing that the reply would quench that hope,
which rose despite himself, and begotten of a desire of which
he was hardly conscious.

He sighed before replying, and passing his brown, nervous hand
across his brow, he found it moist.

"My name, M. l"hote, is Crispin Galliard.  What news have you
for me?"

"A gentleman - a countryman of milord's - has been here these
three days awaiting him."

For a little while Crispin sat quite still, stripped of his
last rag of hope.  Then suddenly bracing himself, he sprang up,
despite his weakness.

"Bring him to me.  I will see him at once."

"Tout-a-l"heure, monsieur," replied the landlord.  "At the
moment he is absent.  He went out to take the air a couple of
hours ago, and is not yet returned."

"Heaven send he has walked into the sea!" Crispin broke out
passionately.  Then as passionately he checked himself.  "No,
no, my God - not that!  I meant not that."

"Monsieur will sup?"

"At once, and let me have lights."  The host withdrew, to
return a moment later with a couple of lighted tapers, which he
set upon the table.

As he was retiring, a heavy step sounded on the stair,
accompanied by the clank of a scabbard against the baluster.

"Here comes milord's countryman," the landlord announced.

And Crispin, looking up in apprehension, saw framed in the
doorway the burly form of Harry Hogan.

He sat bolt upright, staring as though he beheld an apparition. 
With a sad smile, Hogan advanced, and set his hand
affectionately upon Galliard's shoulder.

"Welcome to France, Crispin," said he.  "If not him whom you
looked to find, you have at least a loyal friend to greet you."

"Hogan!" gasped the knight.  "What make you here?  How came you
here?  Where is Jocelyn?"

The Irishman looked at him gravely for a moment, then sighed
and sank down upon a chair.  "You have brought the lady?" he
asked.

"She is here.  She will be with us presently."

Hogan groaned and shook his grey head sorrowfully.

"But where is Jocelyn?" cried Galliard again, and his haggard
face looked very wan and white as he turned it inquiringly upon
his companion.  "Why is he not here?"

"I have bad news."

"Bad news?" muttered Crispin, as though he understood not the
meaning of the words.  "Bad news?" he repeated musingly.  Then
bracing himself, "What is this news?"

"And you have brought the lady too!" Hogan complained.  "Faith,
I had hoped that you had failed in that at least."

"Sdeath, Harry," Crispin exclaimed.  "Will you tell me the
news?"

Hogan pondered a moment.  Then:

"I will relate the story from the very beginning," said he. 
"Some four hours after your departure from Waltham) my men
brought in the malignant we were hunting.  I dispatched my
sergeant and the troop forthwith to London with the prisoner,
keeping just two troopers with me.  An hour or so later a coach
clattered into the yard, and out of it stepped a short, lean
man in black, with a very evil face and a crooked eye, who
bawled out that he was Joseph Ashburn of Castle Marleigh, a
friend of the Lord General's, and that he must have horses on
the instant to proceed upon his journey to London.  I was in
the yard at the time, and hearing the full announcement I
guessed what his business in London was.  He entered the inn to
refresh himself and I followed him.  In the common room the
first man his eyes lighted on was your son.  He gasped at sight
of him, and when he had recovered his breath he let fly as
round a volley of blasphemy as ever I heard from the lips of a
Puritan.  When that was over, "Fool," he yells, "what make you
here?"  The lad stammered and grew confused.  At last - "I was
detained here," says he.  "Detained!" thunders the other, "and
by whom?"  "By my father, you murdering villain!" was the hot
answer.

"At that Master Ashburn grows very white and very evil-looking. 
"So," he says, in a playful voice, "you have learnt that, have
you?  Well, by God! the lesson shall profit neither you nor
that rascal your father.  But I'll begin with you, you cur." 
And with that he seizes a jug of ale that stood on the table,
and empties it over the boy's face.  Soul of my body!  The lad
showed such spirit then as I had never looked to find in him. 
"Outside," yells he, tugging at his sword with one hand, and
pointing to the door with the other.  "Outside, you hound,
where I can kill you!"  Ashburn laughed and cursed him, and
together they flung past me into the yard.  The place was empty
at the moment, and there, before the clash of their blades had
drawn interference, the thing was over - and Ashburn had sent
his sword through Jocelyn's heart."

Hogan paused, and Crispin sat very still and white, his soul in
torment.

"And Ashburn?" he asked presently, in a voice that was
singularly hoarse and low.  "What became of him?  Was he not
arrested?"

"No," said Hogan grimly, "he was not arrested.  He was buried. 
Before he had wiped his blade I had stepped up to him and
accused him of murdering a beardless boy.  I remembered the
reckoning he owed you, I remembered that he had sought to send
you to your death; I saw the boy's body still warm and bleeding
upon the ground, and I struck him with my knuckles on the
mouth.  Like the cowardly ruffian he was, he made a pass at me
with his sword before I had got mine out.  I avoided it
narrowly, and we set to work.

"People rushed in and would have stopped us, but I cursed them
so whilst I fenced, swearing to kill any man that came between
us, that they held off and waited.  I didn't keep them
overlong.  I was no raw youngster fresh from the hills of
Scotland.  I put the point of my sword through Joseph Ashburn's
throat within a minute of our engaging.

"It was then as I stood in that shambles and looked down upon
my handiwork that I recalled in what favour Master Ashburn was
held by the Parliament, and I grew sick to think of what the
consequences might be.  To avoid them I got me there and then
to horse, and rode in a straight line for Greenwich, hoping to
find the Lady Jane still there.  But my messenger had already
sent her to Harwich for you.  I was well ahead of possible
pursuit, and so I pushed on to Dover, and thence I crossed,
arriving here three days ago."

Crispin rose and stepped up to Hogan.  "The last time you came
to me after killing a man, Harry, I was of some service to you. 
You shall find me no less useful now.  You will come to Paris
with me?"

"But the lady?" gasped Hogan, amazed at Crispin's lack of
thought for her.

"I hear her step upon the stairs.  Leave me now, Harry, but as
you go, desire the landlord to send for a priest.  The lady
remains."

One look of utter bewilderment did Hogan bestow upon Sir
Crispin, and for once his glib, Irish tongue could shape no
other words than:

"Soul of my body!"

He wrung Crispin's hand, and in a state of ineffable perplexity
he hurried from the room to do what was required of him.

For a moment Crispin stood by the window, and looking out into
the night he thanked God from his heart for his solution of the
monstrous riddle that had been set him.

Then the rustle of a gown drew his attention, and he swung
round to find Cynthia smiling upon him from the threshold.

He advanced to meet her, and setting his hands upon her
shoulders, he held her at arm's length, looking down into her
eyes.

"Cynthia, my Cynthia!" he cried.  And she, breaking past the
barrier of his grasp, nestled up to him with a sigh of sweet
and unalloyed content.




THE END





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