Part 3 out of 5
Since it was a ruffling gallant Cynthia required, he swore that
a ruffling gallant should she find him; nor had he wit enough
to see that his ribbons, his fopperies, and his capers served
but to make him ridiculous in her eyes. He did indeed
perceive, however, that in spite of this wondrous
transformation, he made no progress in her favour.
"What signify these fripperies?" she asked him, one day, "any
more than did your coat of decent black? Are these also
"You may take them for such, madam," he answered sulkily. "You
liked me not as I was - "
"And I like you less as you are," she broke in.
"Cynthia, you mock me," he cried angrily.
"Now, Heaven forbid! I do but mark the change," she answered
airily. "These scented clothes are but a masquerade, even as
your coat of black and your cant were a masquerade. Then you
simulated godliness; now you simulate Heaven knows what. But
now, as then, it is no more than a simulation, a pretence of
something that you are not."
He left her in a pet, and went in search of Gregory, into whose
ear he poured the story of his woes that had their source in
Cynthia's unkindness. From this resulted a stormy interview
'twixt Cynthia and her father, in which Cynthia at last
declared that she would not be wedded to a fop.
Gregory shrugged his shoulders and laughed cynically, replying
that it was the way of young men to be fools, and that through
folly lay the road to wisdom.
"Be that as it may," she answered him with spirit, "this folly
transcends all bounds. Master Stewart may return to his
Scottish heather; at Castle Marleigh he is wasting time."
"Cynthia!" he cried.
"Father," she pleaded, "why be angry? You would not have me
marry against the inclinations of my heart? You would not have
me wedded to a man whom I despise?"
"By what right do you despise him?" he demanded, his brow dark.
"By the right of the freedom of my thoughts - the only freedom
that a woman knows. For the rest it seems she is but a
chattel; of no more consideration to a man than his ox or his
ass with which the Scriptures rank her - a thing to be given or
taken, bought or sold, as others shall decree."
"Child, child, what know you of these things?" he cried. "You
are overwrought, sweetheart." And with the promise to wait
until a calmer frame of mind in her should be more propitious
to what he wished to say further on this score, he left her.
She went out of doors in quest of solitude among the naked
trees of the park; instead she found Sir Crispin, seated deep
in thought upon a fallen trunk.
Through the trees she espied him as she approached, whilst the
rustle of her gown announced to him her coming. He rose as she
drew nigh, and, doffing his hat, made shift to pass on.
"Sir Crispin," she called, detaining him. He turned.
"Your servant, Mistress Cynthia."
"Are you afraid of me, Sir Crispin?"
"Beauty, madam, is wont to inspire courage rather than fear,"
he answered, with a smile.
"That, sir, is an evasion, not an answer."
"If read aright, Mistress Cynthia, it is also an answer."
"That you do not fear me?"
"It is not a habit of mine."
"Why, then, have you avoided me these three days past?"
Despite himself Crispin felt his breath quickening - quickening
with a pleasure that he sought not to account for - at the
thought that she should have marked his absence from her side.
"Because perhaps if I did not," he answered slowly, "you might
come to avoid me. I am a proud man, Mistress Cynthia."
"Satan, sir, was proud, but his pride led him to perdition."
"So indeed may mine," he answered readily, "since it leads me
"Nay, sir," she laughed, "you go from me willingly enough."
"Not willingly, Cynthia. Oh, not willingly," he began. Then
of a sudden he checked his tongue, and asked himself what he
was saying. With a half-laugh and a courtier manner, he
continued, "Of two evils, madam, we must choose the lesser
"Madam," she echoed, disregarding all else that he had said.
"It is an ugly word, and but a moment back you called me
"Twas a liberty that methought my grey hairs warranted, and for
which you should have reproved me."
"You have not grey hairs enough to warrant it, Sir Crispin,"
she answered archly. "But what if even so I account it no
The heavy lids were lifted from her eyes, and as their glance,
frank and kindly, met his, he trembled. Then, with a polite
smile, he bowed.
"I thank you for the honour."
For a moment she looked at him in a puzzled way, then moved
past him, and as he stood, stiffly erect, watching her graceful
figure, he thought that she was about to leave him, and was
glad of it. But ere she had taken half a dozen steps:
"Sir Crispin," said she, looking back at him over her shoulder,
"I am walking to the cliffs."
Never was a man more plainly invited to become an escort; but
he ignored it. A sad smile crept into his harsh face.
"I shall tell Kenneth if I see him," said he.
At that she frowned.
"But I do not want him," she protested. "Sooner would I go
"Why, then, madam, I'll tell nobody."
Was ever man so dull? she asked herself.
"There is a fine view from the cliffs," said she.
"I have always thought so," he agreed.
She inclined to call him a fool; yet she restrained herself.
She had an impulse to go her way without him; but, then, she
desired his company, and Cynthia was unused to having her
desires frustrated. So finding him impervious to suggestion:
"Will you not come with me?" she asked at last, point-blank.
"Why, yes, if you wish it," he answered without alacrity.
"You may remain, sir."
Her offended tone aroused him now to the understanding that he
was impolite. Contrite he stood beside her in a moment.
"With your permission, mistress, I will go with you. I am a
dull fellow, and to-day I know not what mood is on me. So
sorry a one that I feared I should be poor company. Still, if
you'll endure me, I'll do my best to prove entertaining."
"By no means," she answered coldly. "I seek not the company of
dull fellows." And she was gone.
He stood where she had left him, and breathed a most ungallant
prayer of thanks. Next he laughed softly to himself, a laugh
that was woeful with bitterness.
"Fore George!" he muttered, "it is all that was wanting!"
He reseated himself upon the fallen tree, and there he set
himself to reflect, and to realize that he, war-worn and
callous, come to Castle Marleigh on such an errand as was his,
should wax sick at the very thought of it for the sake of a
chit of a maid, with a mind to make a mock and a toy of him.
Into his mind there entered even the possibility of flight,
forgetful of the wrongs he had suffered, abandoning the
vengeance he had sworn. Then with an oath he stemmed his
"God in heaven, am I a boy, beardless and green?" he asked
himself. "Am I turned seventeen again, that to look into a
pair of eyes should make me forget all things but their
existence?" Then in a burst of passion: "Would to Heaven," he
muttered, "they had left me stark on Worcester Field!"
He rose abruptly, and set out to walk aimlessly along, until
suddenly a turn in the path brought him face to face with
Cynthia. She hailed him with a laugh.
"Sir laggard, I knew that willy-nilly you would follow me," she
cried. And he, taken aback, could not but smile in answer, and
profess that she had conjectured rightly.
THE HEART OF CYNTHIA ASHBURN
Side by side stepped that oddly assorted pair along - the
maiden whose soul was as pure and fresh as the breeze that blew
upon them from the sea, and the man whose life years ago had
been marred by a sorrow, the quest of whose forgetfulness had
led him through the mire of untold sin; the girl upon the
threshold of womanhood, her life all before her and seeming to
her untainted mind a joyous, wholesome business; the man midway
on his ill-starred career, his every hope blighted save the one
odious hope of vengeance, which made him cling to a life he had
proved worthless and ugly, and that otherwise he had likely
enough cast from him. And as they walked:
"Sir Crispin," she ventured timidly, "you are unhappy, are you
Startled by her words and the tone of them, Galliard turned his
head that he might observe her.
"I, unhappy?" he laughed; and it was a laugh calculated to
acknowledge the fitness of her question, rather than to refute
it as he intended. "Am I a clown, Cynthia, to own myself
unhappy at such a season and while you honour me with your
She made a wry face in protest that he fenced with her.
"You are happy, then?" she challenged him.
"What is happiness?" quoth he, much as Pilate may have
questioned what was truth. Then before she could reply he
hastened to add: "I have not been quite so happy these many
"It is not of the present moment that I speak," she answered
reprovingly, for she scented no more than a compliment in his
words, "but of your life."
Now either was he imbued with a sense of modesty touching the
deeds of that life of his, or else did he wisely realize that
no theme could there he less suited to discourse upon with an
"Mistress Cynthia," said he as though he had not heard her
question, "I would say a word to you concerning Kenneth."
At that she turned upon him with a pout.
"But it is concerning yourself that I would have you talk. It
is not nice to disobey a lady. Besides, I have little interest
in Master Stewart."
"To have little interest in a future husband augurs ill for the
time when he shall come to be your husband."
"I thought that you, at least, understood me. Kenneth will
never be husband of mine, Sir Crispin."
"Cynthia!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, lackaday! Am I to wed a doll?" she demanded. "Is he - is
he a man a maid may love, Sir Crispin?"
"Indeed, had you but seen the half of life that I have seen,"
said he unthinkingly, "it might amaze you what manner of man a
maid may love - or at least may marry. Come, Cynthia, what
fault do you find with him?"
"Why, every fault."
He laughed in unbelief.
"And whom are we to blame for all these faults that have turned
you so against him?"
"Yourself, Cynthia. You use him ill, child. If his behaviour
has been extravagant, you are to blame. You are severe with
him, and he, in his rash endeavours to present himself in a
guise that shall render him commendable in your eyes, has
"Has my father bidden you to tell me this?"
"Since when have I enjoyed your father's confidence to that
degree? No, no, Cynthia. I plead the boy's cause to you
because - I know not because of what."
"It is ill to plead without knowing why. Let us forget the
valiant Kenneth. They tell me, Sir Crispin" - and she turned
her glorious eyes upon him in a manner that must have witched a
statue into answering her - "that in the Royal army you were
known as the Tavern Knight."
"They tell you truly. What of that?"
"Well, what of it? Do you blush at the very thought?"
"I blush?" He blinked, and his eyes were full of humour as
they met her grave - almost sorrowing glance. Then a
full-hearted peal of laughter broke from him, and scared a
flight of gulls from the rocks of Sheringham Hithe below.
"Oh, Cynthia! You'll kill me!" he gasped. "Picture to
yourself this Crispin Galliard blushing and giggling like a
schoolgirl beset by her first lover. Picture it, I say! As
well and as easily might you picture old Lucifer warbling a
litany for the edification of a Nonconformist parson."
Her eyes were severe in their reproach.
"It is always so with you. You laugh and jest and make a mock
of everything. Such I doubt not has been your way from the
commencement, and 'tis thus that you are come to this
Again he laughed, but this time it was in bitterness.
"Nay, sweet mistress, you are wrong - you are very wrong; it
was not always thus. Time was - " He paused. "Bah! 'Tis the
coward cries "time was"! Leave me the past, Cynthia. It is
dead, and of the dead we should speak no ill," he jested.
"What is there in your past?" she insisted, despite his words.
"What is there in it so to have warped a character that I am
assured was once - is, indeed, still - of lofty and noble
purpose? What is it has brought you to the level you occupy -
you who were born to lead; you who - "
"Have done, child. Have done," he begged.
"Nay, tell me. Let us sit here." And taking hold of his
sleeve, she sat herself upon a mound, and made room for him
beside her on the grass. With a half-laugh and a sigh he
obeyed her, and there, on the cliff, in the glow of the
September sun, he took his seat at her side.
A silence prevailed about them, emphasized rather than broken
by the droning chant of a fisherman mending his nets on the
beach below, the intermittent plash of the waves on the
shingle, and the scream of the gulls that circled overhead.
Before the eyes of his flesh was stretched a wide desert of sky
and water, and before the eyes of his mind the hopeless desert
of his thirty-eight years.
He was almost tempted to speak. The note of sympathy in her
voice allured him, and sympathy was to him as drink to one who
perishes of thirst. A passionate, indefinable longing impelled
him to pour out the story that in Worcester he had related unto
Kenneth, and thus to set himself better in her eyes; to have
her realize indeed that if he was come so low it was more the
fault of others than his own. The temptation drew him at a
headlong pace, to be checked at last by the memory that those
others who had brought him to so sorry a condition were her own
people. The humour passed. He laughed softly, and shook his
"There is nothing that I can tell you, child. Let us rather
talk of Kenneth."
"I do not wish to talk of Kenneth."
"Nay, but you must. Willy-nilly must you. Think you it is
only a war-worn, hard-drinking, swashbuckling ruffler that can
sin? Does it not also occur to you that even a frail and
tender little maid may do wrong as well?"
"What wrong have I done?" she cried in consternation.
"A grievous wrong to this poor lad. Can you not realize how
the only desire that governs him is the laudable one of
appearing favourably in your eyes?"
"That desire gives rise, then, to curious manifestations."
"He is mistaken in the means he adopts, that is all. In his
heart his one aim is to win your esteem, and, after all, it is
the sentiment that matters, not its manifestation. Why, then,
are you unkind to him?"
"But I am not unkind. Or is it unkindness to let him see that
I mislike his capers? Would it not be vastly more unkind to
ignore them and encourage him to pursue their indulgence? I
have no patience with him."
"As for those capers, I am endeavouring to show you that you
yourself have driven him to them."
"Sir Crispin," she cried out, "you grow tiresome."
"Aye," said he, "I grow tiresome. I grow tiresome because I
preach of duty. Marry, it is in truth a tiresome topic."
"How duty? Of what do you talk?" And a flush of incipient
anger spread now on her fair cheek.
"I will be clearer," said he imperturbably. "This lad is your
betrothed. He is at heart a good lad, an honourable and honest
lad - at times haply over-honest and over-honourable; but let
that be. To please a whim, a caprice, you set yourself to
flout him, as is the way of your sex when you behold a man your
utter slave. From this - being all unversed in the obliquity
of woman - he conceives, poor boy, that he no longer finds
favour in your eyes, and to win back this, the only thing that
in the world he values, he behaves foolishly. You flout him
anew, and because of it. He is as jealous with you as a hen
with her brood."
"Jealous?" echoed Cynthia.
"Why, yes, jealous; and so far does he go as to be jealous even
of me," he cried, with infinitely derisive relish. "Think of
it - he is jealous of me! Jealous of him they call the Tavern
She did think of it as he bade her. And by thinking she
stumbled upon a discovery that left her breathless.
Strange how we may bear a sentiment in our hearts without so
much as suspecting its existence, until suddenly a chance word
shall so urge it into life that it reveals itself with
unmistakable distinctness. With her the revelation began in a
vague wonder at the scorn with which Crispin invested the
notion that Kenneth should have cause for jealousy on his
score. Was it, she asked herself, so monstrously unnatural?
Then in a flash the answer came - and it was, that far from
being a matter for derision, such an attitude in Kenneth lacked
not for foundation.
In that moment she knew that it was because of Crispin; because
of this man who spoke with such very scorn of self, that
Kenneth had become in her eyes so mean and unworthy a creature.
Loved him she haply never had, but leastways she had tolerated
- been even flattered by - his wooing. By contrasting him now
with Crispin she had grown to despise him. His weakness, his
pusillanimity, his meannesses of soul, stood out in sharp
relief by contrast with the masterful strength and the high
spirit of Sir Crispin.
So easily may our ideals change that the very graces of face
and form that a while ago had pleased her in Kenneth, seemed
now effeminate attributes, well-attuned to a vacillating,
purposeless mind. Far greater beauty did her eyes behold in
this grimfaced soldier of fortune; the man as firm of purpose
as he was upright of carriage; gloomy, proud, and reckless;
still young, yet past the callow age of adolescence. Since the
day of his coming to Castle Marleigh she had brought herself to
look upon him as a hero stepped from the romancers' tales that
in secret she had read. The mystery that seemed to envelop
him; those hints at a past that was not good - but the measure
of whose evil in her pure innocence she could not guess; his
very melancholy, his misfortunes, and the deeds she had heard
assigned to him, all had served to fire her fancy and more
besides, although, until that moment, she knew it not.
Subconsciously all this had long dwelt in her mind. And now of
a sudden that self-deriding speech of Crispin's had made her
aware of its presence and its meaning.
She loved him. That men said his life had not been nice, that
he was a soldier of fortune, little better than an adventurer,
a man of no worldly weight, were matters of no moment then to
her. She loved him. She knew it now because he had mockingly
bidden her to think whether Kenneth had cause to be jealous of
him, and because upon thinking of it, she found that did
Kenneth know what was in her heart, he must have more than
She loved him with that rare love that will urge a woman to the
last sacrifice a man may ask; a love that gives and gives, and
seeks nothing in return; that impels a woman to follow the man
at his bidding, be his way through the world cast in places
never so rugged; cleaving to him where all besides shall have
abandoned him; and, however dire his lot, asking of God no
greater blessing than that of sharing it.
And to such a love as this Crispin was blind - blind to the
very possibility of its existence; so blind that he laughed to
scorn the idea of a puny milksop being jealous of him. And so,
while she sat, her soul all mastered by her discovery, her face
white. and still for very awe of it, he to whom this wealth
was given, pursued the odious task of wooing her for another.
"You have observed - you must have observed this insensate
jealousy," he was saying, "and how do you allay it? You do
not. On the contrary, you excite it at every turn. You are
exciting it now by having - and I dare swear for no other
purpose - lured me to walk with you, to sit here with you and
preach your duty to you. And when, through jealousy, he shall
have flown to fresh absurdities, shall you regret your conduct
and the fruits it has borne? Shall you pity the lad, and by
kindness induce him to be wiser? No. You will mock and taunt
him into yet worse displays. And through these displays, which
are - though you may not have bethought you of it - of your own
contriving, you will conclude that he is no fit mate for you,
and there will be heart-burnings, and years hence perhaps
another Tavern Knight, whose name will not be Crispin
She had listened with bent head; indeed, so deeply rapt by her
discovery, that she had but heard the half of what he said.
Now, of a sudden, she looked up, and meeting his glance:
"Is - is it a woman's fault that you are as you are?"
"No, it is not. But how does that concern the case of
"It does not. I was but curious. I was not thinking of
He stared at her, dumfounded. Had he been talking of Kenneth
to her with such eloquence and such fervour, that she should
calmly tell him as he paused that it was not of Kenneth she had
"You will think of him, Cynthia?" he begged. "You will bethink
you too of what I have said, and by being kinder and more
indulgent with this youth you shall make him grow into a man
you may take pride in. Deal fairly with him, child, and if
anon you find you cannot truly love him, then tell him so. But
tell him kindly and frankly, instead of using him as you are
She was silent a moment, and in their poignancy her feelings
went very near to anger. Presently:
"I would, Sir Crispin, you could hear him talk of you," said
"He talks ill, not a doubt of it, and like enough he has good
"Yet you saved his life."
The words awoke Crispin, the philosopher of love, to realities.
He recalled the circumstances of his saving Kenneth, and the
price the boy was to pay for that service; and it suddenly came
to him that it was wasted breath to plead Kenneth's cause with
Cynthia, when by his own future actions he was, himself, more
than likely to destroy the boy's every hope of wedding her.
The irony of his attitude smote him hard, and he rose abruptly.
The sun hung now a round, red globe upon the very brink of the
"Hereafter he may have little cause to thank me," muttered he.
"Come, Mistress Cynthia, it grows late."
She rose in mechanical obedience, and together they retraced
their steps in silence, save for the stray word exchanged at
intervals touching matters of no moment.
But he had not advocated Kenneth's cause in vain, for all that
he little recked what his real argument had been, what
influences he had evoked to urge her to make her peace with the
lad. A melancholy listlessness of mind possessed her now.
Crispin did not see, never would see, what was in her heart,
and it might not be hers to show him. The life that might have
signified was not to be lived, and since that was so it seemed
to matter little what befell.
It was thus that when on the morrow her father returned to the
subject, she showed herself tractable and docile out of her
indifference, and to Gregory she appeared not averse to listen
to what he had to advance in the boy's favour. Anon Kenneth's
own humble pleading, allied to his contrite and sorrowful
appearance, were received by her with that same indifference,
as also with indifference did she allow him later to kiss her
hand and assume the flattering belief that he was rehabilitated
in her favour.
But pale grew Mistress Cynthia's cheeks, and sad her soul.
Wistful she waxed, sighing at every turn, until it seemed to
her - as haply it hath seemed to many a maid - that all her
life must she waste in vain sighs over a man who gave no single
thought to her.
On his side Kenneth strove hard during the days that followed
to right himself in her eyes. But so headlong was he in the
attempt, and so misguided, that presently he overshot his mark
by dropping an unflattering word concerning Crispin, whereby he
attributed to the Tavern Knight's influence and example the
degenerate change that had of late been wrought in him.
Cynthia's eyes grew hard as he spoke, and had he been wise he
had better served his cause by talking in another vein. But
love and jealousy had so addled what poor brains the Lord had
bestowed upon him, that he floundered on, unmindful of any
warning that took not the blunt shape of words. At length,
however, she stemmed the flow of invective that his lips poured
"Have I not told you already, Kenneth, that it better becomes a
gentleman not to slander the man to whom he owes his life? In
fact, that a gentleman would scorn such an action?"
As he had protested before, so did he protest now, that what he
had uttered was no slander. And in his rage and mortification
at the way she used him, and for which he now bitterly
upbraided her, he was very near the point of tears, like the
blubbering schoolboy that at heart he was.
"And as for the debt, madam," he cried, striking the oaken
table of the hall with his clenched hand, "it is a debt that
shall be paid, a debt which this gentleman whom you defend
would not permit me to contract until I had promised payment -
aye, 'fore George! - and with interest, for in the payment I
may risk my very life."
"I see no interest in that, since you risk nothing more than
what you owe him," she answered, with a disdain that brought
the impending tears to his eyes. But if he lacked the
manliness to restrain them, he possessed at least the shame to
turn his back and hide them from her. "But tell me, sir," she
added, her curiosity awakened, "if I am to judge, what was the
nature of this bargain?"
He was silent for a moment, and took a turn in the hall -
mastering himself to speak - his hands clasped behind his back,
and his eyes bent towards the polished floor which the evening
sunlight, filtered through the gules of the leaded windows,
splashed here and there with a crimson stain. She sat in the
great leathern chair at the head of the board, and, watching
He was debating whether he was bound to secrecy in the matter,
and in the end he resolved that he was not. Thereupon, pausing
before her, he succinctly told the story Crispin had related to
him that night in Worcester - the story of a great wrong, that
none but a craven could have left unavenged. He added nothing
to it, subtracted nothing from it, but told the tale as it had
been told to him on that dreadful night, the memory of which
had still power to draw a shudder from him.
Cynthia sat with parted lips and eager eyes, drinking in that
touching narrative of suffering that was rather as some
romancer's fabrication than a true account of what a living man
had undergone. Now with sorrow and pity in her heart and
countenance, now with anger and loathing, she listened until he
had done, and even when he ceased speaking, and flung himself
into the nearest chair, she sat on in silence for a spell.
Then of a sudden she turned a pair of flashing eyes upon the
boy, and in tones charged with a scorn ineffable:
"You dare," she cried, "to speak of that man as you do, knowing
all this? Knowing what he has suffered, you dare to rail in
his absence against those sins to which his misfortunes have
driven him? How, think you, would it have fared with you, you
fool, had you stood in the shoes of this unfortunate? Had you
fallen on your craven knees, and thanked the Lord for allowing
you to keep your miserable life? Had you succumbed to the
blows of fate with a whine of texts upon your lips? Who are
you?" she went on, rising, breathless in her wrath, which
caused him to recoil in sheer affright before her. "Who are
you, and what are you, that knowing what you know of this man's
life, you dare to sit in judgment upon his actions and condemn
them? Answer me, you fool!"
But never a word had he wherewith to meet that hail of angry,
contemptuous questions. The answer that had been so ready to
his lips that night at Worcester, when, in a milder form the
Tavern Knight had set him the same question, he dared hot
proffer now. The retort that Sir Crispin had not cause enough
in the evil of others, which had wrecked his life, to risk the
eternal damnation of his soul, he dared no longer utter.
Glibly enough had he said to that stern man that which he dared
not say now to this sterner beauty. Perhaps it was fear of her
that made him dumb, perhaps that at last he knew himself for
what he was by contrast with the man whose vices he had so
heartily despised a while ago.
Shrinking back before her anger, he racked his shallow mind in
vain for a fitting answer. But ere he had found one, a heavy
step sounded in the gallery that overlooked the hall, and a
moment later Gregory Ashburn descended. His face was ghastly
white, and a heavy frown furrowed the space betwixt his brows.
In the fleeting glance she bestowed upon her father, she
remarked not the disorder of his countenance; whilst as for
Kenneth, he had enough to hold his attention for the time.
Gregory's advent set an awkward constraint upon them, nor had
he any word to say as he came heavily up the hall.
At the lower end of the long table he paused, and resting his
hand upon the board, he seemed on the point of speaking when of
a sudden a sound reached him that caused him to draw a sharp
breath; it was the rumble of wheels and the crack of a whip.
"It is Joseph!" he cried, in a voice the relief of which was so
marked that Cynthia noticed it. And with that exclamation he
flung past them, and out through the doorway to meet his
brother so opportunely returned.
He reached the terrace steps as the coach pulled up, and the
lean figure of Joseph Ashburn emerged from it.
"So, Gregory," he grumbled for greeting, "it was on a fool's
errand you sent me, after all. That knave, your messenger,
found me in London at last when I had outworn my welcome at
Whitehall. But, 'swounds, man," he cried, remarking the
pallor, of his brother's face, "what ails thee?"
"I have news for you, Joseph," answered Gregory, in a voice
"It is not Cynthia?" he inquired. "Nay, for there she stands
-and her pretty lover by her side. 'Slife, what a coxcomb the
And with that he hastened forward to kiss his niece, and
congratulate Kenneth upon being restored to her.
"I heard of it, lad, in London," quoth he, a leer upon his
sallow face - "the story of how a fire-eater named Galliard
befriended you, trussed a parson and a trooper, and dragged you
out of jail a short hour before hanging-time."
Kenneth flushed. He felt the sneer in Joseph's, words like a
stab. The man's tone implied that another had done for him
that which he would not have dared do for himself, and Kenneth
felt that this was so said in Cynthia's presence with
He was right. Partly it was Joseph's way to be spiteful and
venomous whenever chance afforded him the opportunity. Partly
he had been particularly soured at present by his recent
discomforts, suffered in a cause wherewith he had no, sympathy
- that of the union Gregory desired 'twixt Cynthia and Kenneth.
There was an evil smile on his thin lips, and his crooked eyes
rested tormentingly upon the young man. A fresh taunt trembled
on his viperish tongue, when Gregory plucked at the skirts of
his coat, and drew him aside. They entered the chamber where
they had held their last interview before Joseph had set out
for news of Kenneth. With an air of mystery Gregory closed the
door, then turned to face his brother. He stayed him in the
act of unbuckling his sword-belt.
"Wait, Joseph!" he cried dramatically. "This is no time to
disarm. Keep your sword on your thigh, man; you will need it
as you never yet have needed it." He paused, took a deep
breath, and hurled the news at his brother. "Roland Marleigh
is here." And he sat down like a man exhausted.
Joseph did not start; he did not cry out; he did not so much as
change countenance. A slight quiver of the eyelids was the
only outward sign he gave of the shock that his brother's
announcement had occasioned. The hand that had rested on the
buckle of his sword-belt slipped quietly to his side, and he
deliberately stepped up to Gregory, his eyes set searchingly
upon the pale, flabby face before him. A sudden suspicion
darting through his mind, he took his brother by the shoulders
and shook him vigorously.
"Gregory, you fool, you have drunk overdeep in my absence."
"I have, I have," wailed Gregory, "and, my God, 'twas he was my
table-fellow, and set me the example."
"Like enough, like enough," returned Joseph, with a
contemptuous laugh. "My poor Gregory, the wine has so fouled
your worthless wits at last, that they conjure up phantoms to
sit at the table with you. Come, man, what petticoat business
is this? Bestir yourself, fool."
At that Gregory caught the drift of Joseph's suspicions.
"Tis you are the fool," he retorted angrily, springing to his
feet, and towering above his brother.
"It was no ghost sat with me, but Roland Marleigh, himself, in
the flesh, and strangely changed by time. So changed that I
knew him not, nor should I know him now but for that which, not
ten minutes ago, I overheard."
His earnestness was too impressive, his sanity too obvious, and
Joseph's suspicions were all scattered before it.
He caught Gregory's wrist in a grip that made him wince, and
forced him back into his seat.
"Gadslife, man, what is it you mean?" he demanded through set
teeth. "Tell me."
And forthwith Gregory told him of the manner of Kenneth's
coming to Sheringham and to Castle Marleigh, accompanied by one
Crispin Galliard, the same that had been known for his mad
exploits in the late wars as "rakehelly Galliard," and that was
now known to the malignants as "The Tavern Knight" for his
debauched habits. Crispin's mention of Roland Marleigh on the
night of his arrival now returned vividly to Gregory's mind,
and he repeated it, ending with the story that that very
evening he had overheard Kenneth telling Cynthia.
"And this Galliard, then, is none other than that pup of
insolence, Roland Marleigh, grown into a dog of war?" quoth
He was calm - singularly calm for one who had heard such news.
"There remains no doubt of it."
"And you saw this man day by day, sat with him night by night
over your damned sack, and knew him not? Oddswounds, man,
where were your eyes?"
"I may have been blind. But he is greatly changed. I would
defy you, Joseph, to have recognized him."
Joseph sneered, and the flash of his eyes told of the contempt
wherein he held his brother's judgment and opinions.
"Think not that, Gregory. I have cause enough to remember
him," said Joseph, with an unpleasant laugh. Then as suddenly
changing his tone for one of eager anxiety:
"But the lad, Gregory, does he suspect, think you?"
"Not a whit. In that lies this fellow's diabolical cunning.
Learning of Kenneth's relations with us, he seized the
opportunity Fate offered him that night at Worcester, and bound
the lad on oath to help him when he should demand it, without
disclosing the names of those against whom he should require
his services. The boy expects at any moment to be bidden to go
forth with him upon his mission of revenge, little dreaming
that it is here that that tragedy is to be played out."
"This comes of your fine matrimonial projects for Cynthia,"
muttered Joseph acridly. He laughed his unpleasant laugh
again, and for a spell there was silence.
"To think, Gregory," he broke out at last, "that for a
fortnight he should have been beneath this roof, and you should
have found no means of doing more effectively that which was
done too carelessly eighteen years ago."
He spoke as coldly as though the matter were a trivial one.
Gregory shuddered and looked at his brother in alarm.
"What now, fool?" cried Joseph, scowling. "Are you as cowardly
as you are blind? Damn me, sir, it seems well that I am
returned. I'll have no Marleigh plague my old age for me." He
paused a moment, then continued in a quieter voice, but one
whose ring was sinister beyond words: "Tomorrow I shall find a
way to draw this your dog of war to some secluded ground. I
have some skill," he pursued, tapping his hilt as he spoke,
"besides, you shall be there, Gregory." And he smiled darkly.
"Is there no other way?" asked Gregory, in distress.
"There was," answered Joseph. "There was in Parliament. At
Whitehall I met a man - one Colonel Pride - a bloodthirsty old
Puritan soldier, who would give his right hand to see this
Galliard hanged. Galliard, it seems, slew the fellow's son at
Worcester. Had I but known," he added regretfully - "had your
wits been keener, and you had discovered it and sent me word, I
had found means to help Colonel Pride to his revenge. As it
is" - he shrugged his shoulders - "there is not time."
"It may be - " began Gregory, then stopped abruptly with an
exclamation that caused Joseph to wheel sharply round. The
door had opened, and on the threshold Sir Crispin Galliard
stood, deferentially, hat in hand.
Joseph's astonished glance played rapidly over him for a
"Who the devil may you be?" he blurted out.
Despite his anxiety, Gregory chuckled at the question. The
Tavern Knight came forward. "I am Sir Crispin Galliard, at
your service," said he, bowing. "I was told that the master of
Marleigh was returned, and that I should find you here, and I
hasten, sir, to proffer you my thanks for the generous shelter
this house has given me this fortnight past."
Whilst he spoke he measured Joseph with his eyes, and his
glance was as hateful as his words were civil. Joseph was lost
in amazement. Little trace was there in this fellow of the
Roland Marleigh he had known. Moreover, he had looked to find
an older man, forgetting that Roland's age could not exceed
thirty-eight. Then, again, the fading light, whilst revealing
the straight, supple lines of his lank figure, softened the
haggardness of the face and made him appear yet younger than
the light of day would have shown him.
In an instant Joseph had recovered from his surprise, and for
all that his mind misgave him tortured by a desire to learn
whether Crispin was aware of their knowledge concerning him -
his smile was serene, and his tones level and pleasant, as he
"Sir, you are very welcome. You have valiantly served one dear
to us, and the entertainment of our poor house for as long as
you may deign to honour it is but the paltriest of returns."
Sir Crispin had heard naught of what was being said as he
entered the room wherein the brothers plotted against him, and
he little dreamt that his identity was discovered. He had but
hastened to perform that which, under ordinary circumstances,
would have been a natural enough duty towards the master of the
house. He had been actuated also by an impatience again to
behold this Joseph Ashburn - the man who had dealt him that
murderous sword-thrust eighteen years ago. He watched him
attentively, and gathering from his scrutiny that here was a
dangerous, subtle man, different, indeed, to his dull-witted
brother, he had determined to act at once.
And so when he appeared in the hall at suppertime, he came
armed and booted, and equipped as for a journey.
Joseph was standing alone by the huge fire-place, his face to
the burning logs, and his foot resting upon one of the
andirons. Gregory and his daughter were talking together in
the embrasure of a window. By the other window, across the
hall, stood Kenneth, alone and disconsolate, gazing out at the
drizzling rain that had begun to fall.
As Galliard descended, Joseph turned his head, and his eyebrows
shot up and wrinkled his forehead at beholding the knight's
"How is this, Sir Crispin?" said he. "You are going a
"Too long already have I imposed myself upon the hospitality of
Castle Marleigh," Crispin answered politely as he came and
stood before the blazing logs. "To-night, Mr. Ashburn, I go
A curious expression flitted across Joseph's face. The next
moment, his brows still knit as he sought to fathom his sudden
action, he was muttering the formal regrets that courtesy
dictated. But Crispin had remarked that singular expression on
Joseph's face - fleeting though it had been - and it flashed
across his mind that Joseph knew him. And as he moved away
towards Cynthia and her father, he thanked Heaven that he had
taken such measures as he had thought wise and prudent for the
carrying out of his resolve.
Following him with a glance, Joseph asked himself whether
Crispin had discovered that he was recognized, and had
determined to withdraw, leaving his vengeance for another and
more propitious season. In answer - little knowing the measure
of the man he dealt with - he told himself it must be so, and
having arrived at that conclusion, he there and then determined
that Crispin should not depart free to return and plague them
when he listed. Since Galliard shrank from forcing matters to
an issue, he himself would do it that very night, and thereby
settle for all time his business. And so ere he sat down to
sup Joseph looked to it that his sword lay at hand behind his
chair at the table-head.
The meal was a quiet one enough. Kenneth was sulking 'neath
the fresh ill-usage - as he deemed it - that he had suffered at
Cynthia's hands. Cynthia, in her turn, was grave and silent.
That story of Sir Crispin's sufferings gave her much to think
of, as did also his departure, and more than once did Galliard
find her eyes fixed upon him with a look half of pity, half of
some other feeling that he was at a loss to interpret.
Gregory's big voice was little heard. The sinister glitter in
his brother's eye made him apprehensive and ill at ease. For
him the hour was indeed in travail and like to bring forth
strange doings - but not half so much as it was for Crispin and
Joseph, each bent upon forcing matters to a head ere they
quitted that board. And yet but for these two the meal would
have passed off in dismal silence. Joseph was at pains to keep
suspicion from his guest, and with that intent he talked gaily
of this and that, told of slight matters that had befallen him
on his recent journey and of the doings that in London he had
witnessed, investing each trifling incident with a garb of wit
that rendered it entertaining.
And Galliard - actuated by the same motives grew reminiscent
whenever Joseph paused and let his nimble tongue - even
nimblest at a table amuse those present, or seem to amuse them,
by a score of drolleries.
He drank deeply too, and this Joseph observed with
satisfaction. But here again he misjudged his man. Kenneth,
who ate but little, seemed also to have developed an enormous
thirst, and Crispin grew at length alarmed at that ever empty
goblet so often filled. He would have need of Kenneth ere the
hour was out, and he rightly feared that did matters thus
continue, the lad's aid was not to be reckoned with. Had
Kenneth sat beside him he might have whispered a word of
restraint in his eat, but the lad was on the other side of the
At one moment Crispin fancied that a look of intelligence
passed from Joseph to Gregory, and when presently Gregory set
himself to ply both him and the boy with wine, his suspicions
became certainties, and he grew watchful and wary.
Anon Cynthia rose. Upon the instant Galliard was also on his
feet. He escorted her to the foot of the staircase, and there:
"Permit me, Mistress Cynthia," said he, "to take my leave of
you. In an hour or so I shall be riding away from Castle
Her eyes sought the ground, and had he been observant of her he
might have noticed that she paled slightly.
"Fare you well, sir," said she in a low voice. "May happiness
"Madam, I thank you. Fare you well."
He bowed low. She dropped him a slight curtsey, and ascended
the stairs. Once as she reached the gallery above she turned.
He had resumed his seat at table, and was in the act of filling
his glass. The servants had withdrawn, and for half an hour
thereafter they sat on, sipping their wine, and making
conversation - while Crispin drained bumper after bumper and
grew every instant more boisterous, until at length his
boisterousness passed into incoherence. His eyelids drooped
heavily, and his chin kept ever and anon sinking forward on to
Kenneth, flushed with wine, yet master of his wits, watched him
with contempt. This was the man Cynthia preferred to him!
Contempt was there also in Joseph Ashburn's eye, mingled with
satisfaction. He had not looked to find the task so easy. At
length he deemed the season ripe.
"My brother tells me that you were once acquainted with Roland
Marleigh," said he.
"Aye," he answered thickly. "I knew the dog - a merry,
reckless soul, d -n me. 'Twas his recklessness killed him,
poor devil - that and your hand, Mr. Ashburn, so the story
"What story?" echoed Crispin. "The story that I heard. Do you
say I lie?" And, swaying in his chair, he sought to assume an
air of defiance.
Joseph laughed in a fashion that made Kenneth's blood run cold.
"Why, no, I don't deny it. It was in fair fight he fell.
Moreover, he brought the duel upon himself."
Crispin spoke no word in answer, but rose unsteadily to his
feet, so unsteadily that his chair was overset and fell with a
crash behind him. For a moment he surveyed it with a drunken
leer, then went lurching across the hall towards the door that
led to the servants' quarters. The three men sat on, watching
his antics in contempt, curiosity, and amusement. They saw him
gain the heavy oaken door and close it. They heard the bolts
rasp as he shot them home, and the lock click; and they saw him
withdraw the key and slip it into his pocket.
The cold smile still played round Joseph's lips as Crispin
turned to face them again, and on Joseph's lips did that same
smile freeze as he saw him standing there, erect and firm, his
drunkenness all vanished, and his eyes keen and fierce; as he
heard the ring of his metallic voice:
"You lie, Joseph Ashburn. It was no fair fight. It was no
duel. It was a foul, murderous stroke you dealt him in the
back, thinking to butcher him as you butchered his wife and his
babe. But there is a God, Master Ashburn" he went on in an
ever-swelling voice, "and I lived. Like a salamander I came
through the flames in which you sought to destroy all trace of
your vile deed. I lived, and I, Crispin Galliard, the
debauched Tavern Knight that was once Roland Marleigh, am here
to demand a reckoning."
The very incarnation was he then of an avenger, as he stood
towering before them, his grim face livid with the passion into
which he had lashed himself as he spoke, his blazing eyes
watching them in that cunning, half-closed way that was his
when his mood was dangerous. And yet the only one that quailed
was Kenneth, his ally, upon whom comprehension burst with
Joseph recovered quickly from the surprise of Crispin's
suddenly reassumed sobriety. He understood the trick that
Galliard had played upon them so that he might cut off their
retreat in the only direction in which they might have sought
assistance, and he cursed himself for not having foreseen it.
Still, anxiety he felt none; his sword was to his hand, and
Gregory was armed; at the very worst they were two calm and
able men opposed to a half-intoxicated boy, and a man whom
fury, he thought, must strip of half his power. Probably,
indeed, the lad would side with them, despite his plighted
word. Again, he had but to raise his voice, and, though the
door that Crispin had fastened was a stout one,, he never
doubted but that his call would penetrate it and bring his
servants to his rescue.
And so, a smile of cynical unconcern returned to his lips and
his answer was delivered in a cold, incisive voice.
"The reckoning you have come to demand shall be paid you, sir.
Rakehelly Galliard is the hero of many a reckless deed, but my
judgment is much at fault if this prove not his crowning
recklessness and his last one. Gadswounds, sir, are you mad to
come hither single-handed to beard the lion in his den?"
"Rather the cur in his kennel," sneered Crispin back. "Blood
and wounds, Master Joseph, think you to affright me with
Still Joseph smiled, deeming himself master of the situation.
"Were help needed, the raising of my voice would bring it me.
But it is not. We are three to one."
"You reckon wrongly. Mr. Stewart belongs to me to-night -
bound by an oath that 'twould damn his soul to break, to help
me when and where I may call upon him; and I call upon him now.
Kenneth, draw your sword."
Kenneth groaned as he stood by, clasping and unclasping his
"God's curse on you," he burst out. "You have tricked me, you
have cheated me."
"Bear your oath in mind," was the cold answer. "If you deem
yourself wronged by me, hereafter you shall have what
satisfaction you demand. But first fulfil me what you have
sworn. Out with your blade, man."
Still Kenneth hesitated, and but for Gregory's rash action at
that critical juncture, it is possible that he would have
elected to break his plighted word. But Gregory fearing that
he might determine otherwise, resolved there and then to remove
the chance of it. Whipping out his sword, he made a vicious
pass at the lad's breast. Kenneth avoided it by leaping
backwards, but in an instant Gregory had sprung after him, and
seeing himself thus beset, Kenneth was forced to draw that he
might protect himself.
They stood in the space between the table and that part of the
hall that abutted on to the terrace; opposite to them, by the
door which he had closed, stood Crispin. At the table-head
Joseph still sat cool, self-contained, even amused.
He realized the rashness of Gregory's attack upon one that
might yet have been won over to their side; but he never
doubted that a few passes would dispose of the lad's
opposition, and he sought not to interfere. Then he saw
Crispin advancing towards him slowly, his rapier naked in his
hand, and he was forced to look to himself. He caught at the
sword that stood behind him, and leaping to his feet he sprang
forward to meet his grim antagonist. Galliard's eyes flashed
out a look of joy, he raised his rapier, and their blades met.
To the clash of their meeting came an echoing clash from beyond
"Hold, sir!" Kenneth had cried, as Gregory bore down upon him.
But Gregory's answer had been a lunge which the boy had been
forced to parry. Taking that crossing of blades for a sign of
opposition, Gregory thrust again more viciously. Kenneth
parried narrowly, his blade pointing straight at his aggressor.
He saw the opening, and both instinct and the desire to repel
Gregory's onslaught drew him into attempting a riposte, which
drove Gregory back until his shoulders touched the panels of
the wall. Simultaneously the boy's foot struck the back of the
chair which in rising Crispin had overset, and he stumbled.
How it happened he scarcely knew, but as he hurtled forward his
blade slid along his opponent's, and entering Gregory's right
shoulder pinned him to the wainscot.
Joseph heard the tinkle of a falling blade, and assumed it to
be Kenneth's. For the rest he was just then too busy to dare
withdraw for a second his eyes from Crispin's. Until that hour
Joseph Ashburn had accounted himself something of a swordsman,
and more than a match for most masters of the weapon. But in
Crispin he found a fencer of a quality such as he had never yet
encountered. Every feint, every botte in his catalogue had he
paraded in quick succession, yet ever with the same result -
his point was foiled and put aside with ease.
Desperately he fought now, darting that point of his hither and
thither in and out whenever the slightest opening offered; yet
ever did it meet the gentle averting pressure of Crispin's
blade. He fought on and marvelled as the seconds went by that
Gregory came not to his aid. Then the sickening thought that
perhaps Gregory was overcome occurred to him. In such a case
he must reckon upon himself alone. He cursed the
over-confidence that had led him into that ever-fatal error of
underestimating his adversary. He might have known that one
who had acquired Sir Crispin's fame was no ordinary man, but
one accustomed to face great odds and master them. He might
call for help.
He marvelled as the thought occurred to him that the clatter of
their blades had not drawn his servants from their quarters.
Fencing still, he raised his voice:
"Ho, there! John, Stephen!"
"Spare your breath," growled the knight. "I dare swear you'll
have need of it. None will hear you, call as you will. I gave
your four henchmen a flagon of wine wherein to drink to my safe
journey hence. They have emptied it ere this, I make no doubt,
and a single glass of it would set the hardest toper asleep for
the round of the clock."
An oath was Joseph's only answer - a curse it was upon his own
folly and assurance. A little while ago he had thought to have
drawn so tight a net about this ruler, and here was he now
taken in its very toils, well-nigh exhausted and in his enemy's
It occurred to him then that Crispin stayed his hand. That he
fenced only on the defensive, and he wondered what might his
motive be. He realized that he was mastered, and that at any
moment Galliard might send home his blade. He was bathed from
head to foot in a sweat that was at once of exertion and
despair. A frenzy seized him. Might he not yet turn to
advantage this hesitancy of Crispin's to strike the final blow?
He braced himself for a supreme effort, and turning his wrist
from a simulated thrust in the first position, he doubled, and
stretching out, lunged vigorously in quarte. As he lengthened
his arm in the stroke there came a sudden twitch at his wrist;
the weapon was twisted from his grasp, and he stood disarmed at
A gurgling cry broke despite him from his lips, and his eyes
grew wide in a sickly terror as they encountered the knight's
sinister glance. Not three paces behind him was the wall, and
on it, within the hand's easy reach, hung many a trophied
weapon that might have served him then. But the fascination of
fear was upon him, benumbing his wits and paralysing his limbs,
with the thought that the next pulsation of his tumultuous
heart would prove its last. The calm, unflinching courage that
had been Joseph's only virtue was shattered, and his iron will
that had unscrupulously held hitherto his very conscience in
bondage was turned to water now that he stood face to face with
Eons of time it seemed to him were sped since the sword was
wrenched from his hand, and still the stroke he awaited came
not; still Crispin stood, sinister and silent before him,
watching him with magnetic, fascinating eyes - as the snake
watches the bird - eyes from which Joseph could not withdraw
his own, and yet before which it seemed to him that he quaked
The candles were burning low in their sconces, and the corners
of that ample, gloomy hall were filled with mysterious shadows
that formed a setting well attuned to the grim picture made by
those two figures - the one towering stern and vengeful, the
other crouching palsied and livid.
Beyond the table, and with the wounded Gregory - lying
unconscious and bleeding - at his feet, stood Kenneth looking
on in silence, in wonder and in some horror too.
To him also, as he watched, the seconds seemed minutes from the
time when Crispin had disarmed his opponent until with a laugh
- short and sudden as a stab - he dropped his sword and caught
his victim by the throat.
However fierce the passion that had actuated Crispin, it had
been held hitherto in strong subjection. But now at last it
suddenly welled up and mastered him, causing him to cast all
restraint to the winds, to abandon reason, and to give way to
the lust of rage that rendered ungovernable his mood.
Like a burst of flame from embers that have been smouldering
was the upleaping of his madness, transfiguring his face and
transforming his whole being. A new, unconquerable strength
possessed him; his pulses throbbed swiftly and madly with the
quickened coursing of his blood, and his soul was filled with
the cruel elation that attends a lust about to be indulged the
elation of the beast about to rend its prey.
He was pervaded by the desire to wreak slowly and with his
hands the destruction of his broken enemy. To have passed his
sword through him would have been too swiftly done; the man
would have died, and Crispin would have known nothing of his
sufferings. But to take him thus by the throat; slowly to
choke the life's breath out of him; to feel his desperate,
writhing struggles; to be conscious of every agonized twitch of
his sinews, to watch the purpling face, the swelling veins, the
protruding eyes filled with the dumb horror of his agony; to
hold him thus - each second becoming a distinct, appreciable
division of time - and thus to take what payment he could for
all the blighted years that lay behind him - this he felt would
be something like revenge.
Meanwhile the shock of surprise at the unlooked-for movement
had awakened again the man in Joseph. For a second even Hope
knocked at his heart. He was sinewy and active, and perchance
he might yet make Galliard repent that he had discarded his
rapier. The knight's reason for doing so he thought he had in
Crispin's contemptuous words:
"Good steel were too great an honour for you, Mr. Ashburn."
And as he spoke, his lean, nervous fingers tightened about
Joseph's throat in a grip that crushed the breath from him, and
with it the new-born hope of proving master in his fresh
combat. He had not reckoned with this galley-weaned strength
of Crispin's, a strength that was a revelation to Joseph as he
felt himself almost lifted from the ground, and swung this way
and that, like a babe in the hands of a grown man. Vain were
his struggles. His strength ebbed fast; the blood, held
overlong in his head, was already obscuring his vision, when at
last the grip relaxed, and his breathing was freed. As his
sight cleared again he found himself back in his chair at the
table-head, and beside him Sir Crispin, his left hand resting
upon the board, his right grasping once more the sword, and his
eyes bent mockingly and evilly upon his victim.
Kenneth, looking on, could not repress a shudder. He had known
Crispin for a tempestuous man quickly moved to wrath, and he
had oftentimes seen anger make terrible his face and glance.
But never had he seen aught in him to rival this present
frenzy; it rendered satanical the baleful glance of his eyes
and the awful smile of hate and mockery with which be gazed at
last upon the helpless quarry that he had waited eighteen years
to bring to earth. "I would," said Crispin, in a harsh,
deliberate voice, "that you had a score of lives, Master
Joseph. As it is I have done what I could. Two agonies have
you undergone already, and I am inclined to mercy. The end is
at hand. If you have prayers to say, say them, Master Ashburn,
though I doubt me it will be wasted breath - you are over-ripe
"You mean to kill me," he gasped, growing yet a shade more
"Does the suspicion of it but occur to you?" laughed Crispin,
"and yet twice already have I given you a foretaste of death.
Think you I but jested?"
Joseph's teeth clicked together in a snap of determination.
That sneer of Crispin's acted upon him as a blow - but as a
blow that arouses the desire to retaliate rather than lays low.
He braced himself for fresh resistance; not of action, for that
he realized was futile, but of argument.
"It is murder that you do," he cried.
"No; it is justice. It has been long on the way, but it has
come at last."
"Bethink you, Mr. Marleigh - "
"Call me not by that name," cried the other harshly, fearfully.
"I have not borne it these eighteen years, and thanks to what
you have made me, it is not meet that I should bear it now."
There was a pause. Then Joseph spoke again with great calm and
"Bethink you, Sir Crispin, of what you are about to do. It can
benefit you in naught."
"Oddslife, think you it cannot? Think you it will benefit me
naught to see you earn at last your reward?"
"You may have dearly to pay for what at best must prove a
"Not a fleeting one, Joseph," he laughed. "But one the memory
of which shall send me rejoicing through what years or days of
life be left me. A satisfaction that for eighteen years I have
been waiting to experience; though the moment after it be mine
find me stark and cold."
"Sir Crispin, you are in enmity with the Parliament - an outlaw
almost. I have some influence much influence. By exerting it
"Have done, sir!" cried Crispin angrily. "You talk in vain.
What to me is life, or aught that life can give? If I have so
long endured the burden of it, it has been so that I might draw
from it this hour. Do you think there is any bribe you could
offer would turn me from my purpose?"
A groan from Gregory, who was regaining consciousness, drew his
"Truss him up,, Kenneth," he commanded, pointing to the
recumbent figure. "How? Do you hesitate? Now, as God lives,
I'll be obeyed; or you shall have an unpleasant reminder of the
oath you swore me!"
With a look of loathing the lad dropped on his knees to do as
he was bidden. Then of a sudden:
"I have not the means," he announced.
"Fool, does he not wear a sword-belt and a sash? Come, attend
"Why do you force me to do this?" the lad still protested
passionately. "You have tricked and cheated me, yet I have
kept my oath and rendered you the assistance you required.
They are in your power now, can you not do the rest yourself?"
"On my soul, Master Stewart, I am over-patient with you! Are
we to wrangle at every step before you'll take it? I will have
your assistance through this matter as you swore to give it.
Come, truss me that fellow, and have done with words."
His fierceness overthrew the boy's outburst of resistance.
Kenneth had wit enough to see that his mood was not one to
brook much opposition, and so, with an oath and a groan, he
went to work to pinion Gregory.
Then Joseph spoke again. "Weigh well this act of yours, Sir
Crispin," he cried. "You are still young; much of life lies
yet before you. Do not wantonly destroy it by an act that
cannot repair the past."
"But it can avenge it, Joseph. As for my life, you destroyed
it years ago. The future has naught to offer me; the present
has this." And he drew back his sword to strike.
JOSEPH DRIVES A BARGAIN
A new terror leapt into Joseph's eyes at that movement of
Crispin's, and for the third time that night did he taste the
agony that is Death's forerunner. Yet Galliard delayed the
stroke. He held his sword poised, the point aimed at Joseph's
breast, and holding, he watched him, marking each phase of the
terror reflected upon his livid countenance. He was loth to
strike, for to strike would mean to end this exquisite torture
of horror to which he was subjecting him.
Broken Joseph had been before and passive; now of a sudden he
grew violent again, but in a different way. He flung himself
upon his knees before Sir Crispin, and passionately he pleaded
for the sparing of his miserable life.
Crispin looked on with an eye both of scorn and of cold relish.
It was thus he wished to see him, broken and agonized,
suffering thus something of all that which he himself had
suffered through despair in the years that were sped. With
satisfaction then he watched his victim's agony; he watched it
too with scorn and some loathing - for a craven was in his eyes
an ugly sight, and Joseph in that moment was truly become as
vile a coward as ever man beheld. His parchment-like face was
grey and mottled, his brow bedewed with sweat; his lips were
blue and quivering, his eyes bloodshot and almost threatening
In the silence of one who waits stood Crispin, listening, calm
and unmoved, as though he heard not, until Joseph's whining
prayers culminated in an offer to make reparation. Then
Crispin broke in at length with an impatient gesture.
"What reparation can you make, you murderer? Can you restore
to me the wife and child you butchered eighteen years ago?"
"I can restore your child at least," returned the other. "I
can and will restore him to you if you but stay your hand.
That and much more will I do to repair the past."
Unconsciously Crispin lowered his sword-arm, and for a full
minute he stood and stared at Joseph. His jaw was fallen and
the grim firmness all gone from his face, and replaced by
amazement, then unbelief followed by inquiry; then unbelief
again. The pallor of his cheeks seemed to intensify. At last,
however, he broke into a hard laugh.
"What lie is this you offer me? Zounds, man, are you not
"It is no lie," Joseph cried, in accents so earnest that some
of the unbelief passed again from Galliard's face. "It is the
truth-God's truth. Your son lives."
"Hell-hound, it is a lie! On that fell night, as I swooned
under your cowardly thrust, I heard you calling to your brother
to slit the squalling bastard's throat. Those were your very
words, Master Joseph."
"I own I bade him do it, but I was not obeyed. He swore we
should give the babe a chance of life. It should never know
whose son it was, he said, and I agreed. We took the boy away.
He has lived and thrived."
The knight sank on to a chair as though bereft of strength. He
sought to think, but thinking coherently he could not. At
"How shall I know that you are not lying? What proof can you
advance?" he demanded hoarsely.
"I swear that what I have told you is true. I swear it by the
cross of our Redeemer!" he protested, with a solemnity that was
not without effect upon Crispin. Nevertheless, he sneered.
"I ask for proofs, man, not oaths. What proofs can you afford
"There are the man and the woman whom the lad was reared by."
"And where shall I find them?"
Joseph opened his lips to answer, then closed them again. In
his eagerness he had almost parted with the information which
he now proposed to make the price of his life. He regained
confidence at Crispin's tone and questions, gathering from both
that the knight was willing to believe if proof were set before
him. He rose to his feet, and when next he spoke his voice had
won back much of its habitual calm deliberateness.
"That," said he, "I will tell you when you have promised to go
hence, leaving Gregory and me unharmed. I will supply you with
what money you may need, and I will give you a letter to those
people, so couched that what they tell you by virtue of it
shall be a corroboration of my words."
His elbow resting upon the table, and his hand to his brow so
that it shaded his eyes, sat Crispin long in thought, swayed by
emotions and doubts, the like of which he had never yet known
in the whole of his chequered life. Was Joseph lying to him?
That was the question that repeatedly arose, and oddly enough,
for all his mistrust of the man, he was inclined to account
true the ring of his words. Joseph watched him with much
anxiety and some hope.
At length Crispin withdrew his hands from eyes that were grown
haggard, and rose.
"Let us see the letter that you will write," said he. "There
you have pen, ink, and paper. Write."
"You promise?" asked Joseph.
"I will tell you when you have written."
In a hand that shook somewhat, Joseph wrote a few lines, then
handed Crispin the sheet, whereon he read:
The bearer of this is Sir Crispin Galliard, who is intimately
interested in the matter that lies betwixt us, and whom I pray
you answer fully and accurately the questions he may put you in
"I understand," said Crispin slowly. "Yes, it will serve. Now
the superscription." And he returned the paper.
Ashburn was himself again by now. He realized the advantage he
had gained, and he would not easily relinquish it.
"I shall add the superscription," said he calmly, "when you
swear to depart without further molesting us."
Crispin paused a moment, weighing the position well in his
mind. If Joseph lied to him now, he would find means to
return, he told himself, and so he took the oath demanded.
Joseph dipped his pen, and paused meditatively to watch a drop
of ink, wherewith it was overladen, fall back into the horn.
The briefest of pauses was it, yet it was not the accident it
appeared to be. Hitherto Joseph had been as sincere as he had
been earnest, intent alone upon saving his life at all costs,
and forgetting in his fear of the present the dangers that the
future might hold for him were Crispin Galliard still at large.
But in that second of dipping his quill, assured that the peril
of the moment was overcome, and that Crispin would go forth as
he said, the devil whispered in his ear a cunning and vile
suggestion. As he watched the drop of ink roll from his
pen-point, he remembered that in London there dwelt at the sign
of the Anchor, in Thames Street, one Colonel Pride, whose son
this Galliard had slain, and who, did he once lay hands upon
him, was not like to let him go again. In a second was the
thought conceived and the determination taken, and as he folded
the letter and set upon it the superscription, Joseph felt that
he could have cried out in his exultation at the cunning manner
in which he was outwitting his enemy.
Crispin took the package, and read thereon:
This is to Mr. Henry Lane, at the sign of the Anchor, Thames
The name was a fictitious one - one that Joseph had set down
upon the spur of the moment, his intention being to send a
messenger that should outstrip Sir Crispin, and warn Colonel
Pride of his coming.
"It is well," was Crispin's only comment. He, too, was grown
calm again and fully master of himself. He placed the letter
carefully within the breast of his doublet.
"If you have lied to me, if this is but a shift to win your
miserable life, rest assured, Master Ashburn, that you have but
put off the day for a very little while."
It was on Joseph's lips to answer that none of us are immortal,
but he bethought him that the pleasantry might be ill-timed,
and bowed in silence.
Galliard took his hat and cloak from the chair on which he had
placed them upon descending that evening. Then he turned again
"You spoke of money a moment ago," he said, in the tones of one
demanding what is his own the tones of a gentleman speaking to
his steward. "I will take two hundred Caroluses. More I
cannot carry in comfort."
Joseph gasped at the amount. For a second it even entered his
mind to resist the demand. Then he remembered that there was a
brace of pistols in his study; if he could get those he would
settle matters there and then without the aid of Colonel Pride.
"I will fetch the money," said he, betraying his purpose by his
"By your leave, Master Ashburn, I will come with you."
Joseph's eyes flashed him a quick look of baffled hate.
"As you will," said he, with an ill grace.
As they passed out, Crispin turned to Kenneth.
"Remember, sir, you are still in my service. See that you keep
Kenneth bent his head without replying. But Master Gregory
required little watching. He lay a helpless, half-swooning
heap upon the floor, which he had smeared with the blood oozing
from his wounded shoulder. Even were he untrussed, there was
little to be feared from him.
During the brief while they were alone together, Kenneth did
not so much as attempt to speak to him. He sat himself down
upon the nearest chair, and with his chin in his hands and his
elbows on his knees he pondered over the miserable predicament
into which Sir Crispin had got him, and more bitter than ever
it had been was his enmity at that moment towards the knight.
That Galliard should be upon the eve of finding his son, and a
sequel to the story he had heard from him that night in
Worcester, was to Kenneth a thing of no interest or moment.
Galliard had ruined him with these Ashburns. He could never
now hope to win the hand of Cynthia, to achieve which he had
been willing to turn both fool and knave - aye, had turned
both. There was naught left him but to return him to the
paltry Scottish estate of his fathers, there to meet the sneers
of those who no doubt had heard that he was gone South to marry
a great English heiress.
That at such a season he could think of this but serves to
prove the shallow nature of his feelings. A love was his that
had gain and vanity for its foundation - in fact, it was no
love at all. For what he accounted love for Cynthia was but
the love of himself, which through Cynthia he sought to
He cursed the ill-luck that had brought Crispin into his life.
He cursed Crispin for the evil he had suffered from him,
forgetting that but for Crispin he would have been carrion a
month ago and more.
Deep at his bitter musings was he when the door opened again to
admit Joseph, followed by Galliard. The knight came across the
hall and stooped to look at Gregory.
"You may untruss him, Kenneth, when I am gone," said he. "And
in a quarter of an hour from now you are released from your
oath to me. Fare you well," he added with unusual gentleness,
and turning a glance that was almost regretful upon the lad.
"We are not like to meet again, but should we, I trust it may
be in happier times. If I have harmed you in this business,
remember that my need was great. Fare you well." And he held
out his hand.
"Take yourself to hell, sir!" answered Kenneth, turning his
back upon him. The ghost of an evil smile played round Joseph
Ashburn's lips as he watched them.
So soon as Sir Crispin had taken his departure, and whilst yet
the beat of his horse's hoofs was to be distinguished above the
driving storm of rain and wind without, Joseph hastened across
the hall to the servants' quarters. There he found his four
grooms slumbering deeply, their faces white and clammy, and
their limbs twisted into odd, helpless attitudes. Vainly did
he rain down upon them kicks and curses; arouse them he could
not from the stupor in whose thrall they lay.
And so, seizing a lanthorn, he passed out to the stables,
whence Crispin had lately taken his best nag, and with his own
hands he saddled a horse. His lips were screwed into a curious
smile - a smile that still lingered upon them when presently he
retraced his steps to the room where his brother sat with
In his absence the lad had dressed Gregory's wound; he had
induced him to take a little wine, and had set him upon a
chair, in which he now lay back, white and exhausted.
"The quarter of an hour is passed, sir," said Joseph coldly, as
Kenneth made no sign that he heard. He sat on like a man in a
dream. His eyes that saw nothing were bent upon Gregory's
pale, flabby face.
"The quarter of an hour is passed, sir," Joseph repeated in a
Kenneth looked up, then rose and sighed, passing his hand
wearily across his forehead.
"I understand, sir," he replied in a low voice. "You mean that
I must go?"
Joseph waited a moment before replying. Then:
"It is past midnight," he said slowly, "and the weather is
wild. You may lie here until morning, if you are so minded.
But go you must then," he added sternly. "I need scarce say,
sir, that you must have no speech with Mistress Cynthia, nor
that never again must you set foot within Castle Marleigh."
"I understand, sir; I understand. But you deal hardly with
Joseph raised his eyebrows in questioning surprise.
"I was the victim of my oath, given when I knew not against
whom my hand was to be lifted. Oh, sir, am I to suffer all my
life for a fault that was not my own? You, Master Gregory," he
cried, turning passionately to Cynthia's father, "you are
perchance more merciful? You understand my position - how I
was forced into it."
Gregory opened his heavy eyes.
"A plague on you, Master Stewart," he groaned. "I understand
that you have given me a wound that will take a month to heal."
"It was an accident, sir. I swear it was an accident!"
"To swear this and that appears to be your chief diversion in
life," growled Gregory for answer. "You had best go; we are
not likely to listen to excuses."
"Did you rather suggest a remedy," Joseph put in quietly, "we
might hear you."
Kenneth swung round and faced him, hope brightening his eyes.
"What remedy is there? How can I undo what I have done? Show
me but the way, and I'll follow it, no matter where it leads!"
Such protestations had Joseph looked to hear, and he was hard
put to it to dissemble his satisfaction. For a while he was
silent, making pretence to ponder. At length:
"Kenneth," he said, "you may in some measure repair the evil
you have done, and if you are ready to undergo some slight
discomfort, I shall be willing on my side to forget this
"Tell me how, sir, and whatever the cost I will perform it!"
He gave no thought to the fact that Crispin's grievance against
the Ashburns was well-founded; that they had wrecked his life
even as they had sought to destroy it; even as eighteen years
ago they had destroyed his wife's. His only thought was
Cynthia; his only wish was to possess her. Besides that,
justice and honour itself were of small account.
"It is but a slight matter," answered Joseph. "A matter that I
might entrust to one of my grooms."
That whilst his grooms lay drugged the matter was so pressing
that his messenger must set out that very night, Joseph did not
think of adding.
"I would, sir," answered the boy, "that the task were great and
"Yes, yes," answered Joseph with biting sarcasm, "we are
acquainted with both your courage and your resource." He sat
silent and thoughtful for some moments, then with a sudden
sharp glance at the lad:
"You shall have this chance of setting yourself right with us,"
he said. Then abruptly he added.
"Go make ready for a journey. You must set out within the hour
for London. Take what you may require and arm yourself; then
return to me here."
Gregory, who, despite his sluggish wits, divined - partly, at
least - what was afoot, made shift to speak. But his brother
silenced him with a glance.
"Go," Joseph said to the boy. And, without comment, Kenneth
rose and left them.
"What would you do?" asked Gregory when the door had closed.
"Make doubly sure of that ruffian," answered Joseph coldly.
"Colonel Pride might be absent when he arrives, and he might
learn that none of the name of Lane dwells at the Anchor in
Thames Street. It would be fatal to awaken his suspicions and
bring him back to us."
"But surely Richard or Stephen might carry your errand?"
"They might were they not so drugged that they cannot be
aroused. I might even go myself, but it is better so." He
laughed softly. "There is even comedy in it. Kenneth shall
outride our bloodthirsty knight to warn Pride of his coming,
and when he comes he will walk into the hands of the hangman.
It will be a surprise for him. For the rest I shall keep my
promise concerning his son. He shall have news of him from
Pride - but when too late to be of service."
"Fore God, Joseph, 'tis a foul thing you do," he cried.
"Sooner would I never set eyes on the lad again. Let him go
his ways as you intended."
"I never did intend it. What trustier messenger could I find
now that I have lent him zest by fright? To win Cynthia, we
may rely upon him safely to do that in which another might
"Joseph, you will roast in hell for it."
Joseph laughed him to scorn.
"To bed with you, you canting hypocrite; your wound makes you
It was a half-hour ere Kenneth returned, booted, cloaked, and
ready for his journey. He found Joseph alone, busily writing,
and in obedience to a sign he sat him down to wait.
A few minutes passed, then, with a final scratch and splutter
Joseph flung down his pen. With the sandbox tilted in the air,
like a dicer about to make his throw, he looked at the lad.
"You will spare neither whip nor spur until you arrive in
London, Master Kenneth. You must ride night and day; the
matter is of the greatest urgency."
Kenneth nodded that he understood, and Joseph sprinkled the
sand over the written page.
"I know not when you should reach London so that you may be in
time, but," he continued, and as he spoke he creased the paper
and poured the superfluous sand back into the box, "I should
say that by midnight to-morrow your message should be
delivered. Aye," he continued, in answer to the lad's gasp of
surprise, "it is hard riding, I know, but if you would win
Cynthia you must do it. Spare neither money nor horseflesh,
and keep to the saddle until you are in Thames Street."
He folded the letter, sealed it, and wrote the superscription:
"This to Colonel Pride, at the sign of the Anchor in Thames
He rose and handed the package to Kenneth, to whom the
superscription meant nothing, since he had not seen that borne
by the letter which Crispin had received.
"You will deliver this intact, and with your own hands, to
Colonel Pride in person - none other. Should he be absent from
Thames Street upon your arrival, seek him out instantly,
wherever he may be, and give him this. Upon your faithful
observance of these conditions remember that your future
depends. If you are in time, as indeed I trust and think you
will be, you may account yourself Cynthia's husband. Fail and
- well, you need not return here."
"I shall not fail, sir," cried Kenneth. "What man can do to
accomplish the journey within twenty-four hours, I will do."
He would have stopped to thank Joseph for the signal favour of
this chance of rehabilitation, but Joseph cut him short.
"Take this purse," he cried impatiently. "You will find a
horse ready saddled in the stables. Ride it hard. It will
bear you to Norton at least. There get you a fresh one, and
when that is done, another. Now be off."
THE INTERRUPTED JOURNEY
When the Tavern Knight left the gates of Marleigh Park behind
him on that wild October night, he drove deep the rowels of his
spurs, and set his horse at a perilous gallop along the road to
Norwich. The action was of instinct rather than of thought.
In the turbulent sea of his mind, one clear current there was,
and one only - the knowledge that he was bound for London for
news of this son of his whom Joseph told him lived. He paused
not even to speculate what manner of man his child was grown,
nor yet what walk of life he had been reared to tread. He
lived: he was somewhere in the world; that for the time
sufficed him. The Ashburns had not, it seemed, destroyed quite
everything that made his life worth enduring - the life that so
often and so wantonly he had exposed.
His son lived, and in London he should have news of him. To
London then must he get himself with all dispatch, and he swore
to take no rest until he reached it. And with that firm
resolve to urge him, he ploughed his horse's flanks, and sped
on through the night. The rain beat in his face, yet he scarce
remarked it, as again more by instinct than by reason - he
buried his face to the eyes in the folds of his cloak.
Later the rain ceased, and clearer grew the line of light
betwixt the hedgerows, by which his horse had steered its
desperate career. Fitfully a crescent moon peered out from
among the wind-driven clouds. The poor ruffler was fallen into
meditation, and noted not that his nag did no more than amble.
He roused himself of a sudden when half-way down a gentle slope
some five miles from Norwich, and out of temper at discovering
the sluggishness of the pace, he again gave the horse a taste
of the spurs. The action was fatal. The incline was become a
bed of sodden clay, and he had not noticed with what misgivings
his horse pursued the treacherous footing. The sting of the
spur made the animal bound forward, and the next instant a
raucous oath broke from Crispin as the nag floundered and
dropped on its knees. Like a stone from a catapult Galliard
flew over its head and rolled down the few remaining yards of
the slope into a very lake of slimy water at the bottom.
Down this same hill, some twenty minutes later, came Kenneth
Stewart with infinite precaution. He was in haste - a haste
more desperate far than even Crispin's. But his character held
none of Galliard's recklessness, nor were his wits fogged by
such news as Crispin had heard that night. He realized that to
be swift he must be cautious in his night-riding. And so,
carefully he came, with a firm hand on the reins, yet leaving
it to his horse to find safe footing.
He had reached the level ground in safety, and was about to put
his nag to a smarter pace, when of a sudden from the darkness
of the hedge he was hailed by a harsh, metallic voice, the
sound of which sent a tremor through him.
"Sir, you are choicely met, whoever you may be. I have
suffered a mischance down that cursed hill, and my horse has
Kenneth kept his cloak over his mouth, trusting that the
muffling would sufficiently disguise his accents as he made
"I am in haste, my master. What is your will?"