Part 1 out of 5
THE TAVERN KNIGHT by Rafael Sabatini
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
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
THE TAVERN KNIGHT By Rafael Sabatini
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
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
"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
"When I joined Middleton's horse and accepted service under
you, I held you to be at least a gentleman," was his daring
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
"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
"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
"Hide me somewhere, Cris," he panted - his accent proclaiming
his Irish origin. "My God, hide me, or I'm a dead man this
"'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
"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
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
"Sirs, why this ado? Hath the Sultan Oliver descended upon
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
"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
"There are some, Sir Crispin, that have yet another name for
"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
"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 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
"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
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
"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.
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
"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
Pausing, they turned to confront a tall, gaunt man in a leather
jerkin and a broad hat decked by goose-quill, who came slowly
"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
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
"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
"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.
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"And now begone, sire," returned the knight. "Begone ere they
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
"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
"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."
"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
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
"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.
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
"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
"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
Sir Crispin paused and a sigh escaped him, followed by a laugh
"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
"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
"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."
"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