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The Tavern Knight by Rafael Sabatini

Part 2 out of 5

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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

"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

"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!'

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



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

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

"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

"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

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

"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

"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

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

"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

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

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.



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

"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

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

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

"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

"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

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

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

"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

"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

"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

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

"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.



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

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

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

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!"



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

"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

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

"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

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

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

"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

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.



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

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

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

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

Gregory was speaking, his hands resting upon Kenneth's

"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

"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

"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

"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.



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

"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

"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

"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

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

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

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