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A strange reply he deemed it, yet, pondering, he took her meaning to be that since Jocelyn had lacked the courage to woo boldly, she was glad that he had sent an ambassador less timid.

A pause followed, and for a spell they sat silent, he thinking of how to frame his next words; she happy and content to sit beside him without speech.

She marvelled somewhat at the strangeness of his wooing, which was like unto no wooing her romancer’s tales had told her of, but then she reflected how unlike he was to other men, and therein she saw the explanation.

“I wish,” he mused, “that matters were easier; that it might be mine to boldly sue your hand from your father, but it may not be. Even had events not fallen out as they have done, it had been difficult; as it is, it is impossible.”

Again his meaning was obscure, and when he spoke of suing for her hand from her father, he did not think of adding that he would have sued it for his son.

“I have no father,” she replied. “This very day have I disowned him.” And observing the inquiry with which his eyes were of a sudden charged: “Would you have me own a thief, a murderer, my father?” she demanded, with a fierceness of defiant shame.

“You know, then?” he ejaculated.

“Yes,” she answered sorrowfully, “I know all there is to be known. I learnt it all this morning. All day have I pondered it in my shame to end in the resolve to leave Sheringham. I had intended going to London to my mother’s sister. You are very opportunely come.” She smiled up at him through the tears that were glistening in her eyes. “You come even as I was despairing – nay, when already I had despaired.”

Sir Crispin was no longer puzzled by the readiness of her acquiescence. Here was the explanation of it. Forced by the honesty of her pure soul to abandon the house of a father she knew at last for what he was, the refuge Crispin now offered her was very welcome. She had determined before he came to quit Castle Marleigh, and timely indeed was his offer of the means of escape from a life that was grown impossible. A great pity filled his heart. She was selling herself, he thought; accepting the proposal which, on his son’s behalf, he made, and from which at any other season, he feared, she would have shrunk in detestation.

That pity was reflected on his countenance now, and noting its solemnity, and misconstruing it, she laughed outright, despite herself. He did not ask her why she laughed, he did not notice it; his thoughts were busy already upon another matter.

When next he spoke, it was to describe to her the hollow of the road where on the night of his departure from the castle he had been flung from his horse. She knew the spot, she told him, and there at dusk upon the following day she would come to him. Her woman must accompany her, and for all that he feared such an addition to the party might retard their flight, yet he could not gainsay her resolution. Her uncle, he learnt from her, was absent from Sheringham; he had set out four days ago for London. For her father she would leave a letter, and in this matter Crispin urged her to observe circumspection, giving no indication of the direction of her journey.

In all he said, now that matters were arranged he was calm, practical, and unloverlike, and for all that she would he had been less self-possessed, her faith in him caused her, upon reflection, even to admire this which she conceived to be restraint. Yet, when at parting he did no more than courteously bend before her, and kiss her hand as any simpering gallant might have done, she was all but vexed, and not to be outdone in coldness, she grew frigid. But it was lost upon him. He had not a lover’s discernment, quickened by anxious eyes that watch for each flitting change upon his mistress’s face.

They parted thus, and into the heart of Mistress Cynthia there crept that night a doubt that banished sleep. Was she wise in entrusting herself so utterly to a man of whom she knew but little, and that learnt from rumours which had not been good? But scarcely was it because of that that doubts assailed her. Rather was it because of his cool deliberateness which argued not the great love wherewith she fain would fancy him inspired.

For consolation she recalled a line that had it great fires were soon burnt out, and she sought to reassure herself that the flame of his love, if not all-consuming, would at least burn bright and steadfastly until the end of life. And so she fell asleep, betwixt hope and fear, yet no longer with any hesitancy touching the morrow’s course.

In the morning she took her woman into her confidence, and scared her with it out of what little sense the creature owned. Yet to such purpose did she talk, that when that evening, as Crispin waited by the coach he had taken, in the hollow of the road, he saw approaching him a portly, middle-aged dame with a valise. This was Cynthia’s woman, and Cynthia herself was not long in following, muffled in a long, black cloak.

He greeted her warmly – affectionately almost yet with none of the rapture to which she held herself entitled as some little recompense for all that on his behalf she left behind.

Urbanely he handed her into the coach, and, after her, her woman. Then seeing that he made shift to close the door:

“How is this?” she cried. “Do you not ride with us?”

He pointed to a saddled horse standing by the roadside, and which she had not noticed.

“It will be better so. You will be at more comfort in the carriage without me. Moreover, it will travel the lighter and the swifter, and speed will prove our best friend.”

He closed the door, and stepped back with a word of command to the driver. The whip cracked, and Cynthia flung herself back almost in a pet. What manner of lover, she asked herself, was thin and what manner of woman she, to let herself be borne away by one who made so little use of the arts and wiles of sweet persuasion? To carry her off, and yet not so much as sit beside her, was worthy only of a man who described such a journey as tedious. She marvelled greatly at it, yet more she marvelled at herself that she did not abandon this mad undertaking.

The coach moved on and the flight from Sheringham was begun.

CHAPTER XXV

CYNTHIA’S FLIGHT

Throughout the night they went rumbling on their way at a pace whose sluggishness elicited many an oath from Crispin as he rode a few yards in the rear, ever watchful of the possibility of pursuit. But there was none, nor none need he have feared, since whilst he rode through the cold night, Gregory Ashburn slept as peacefully as a man may with the fever and an evil conscience, and imagined his dutiful daughter safely abed.

With the first streaks of steely light came a thin rain to heighten Crispin’s discomfort, for of late he had been overmuch in the saddle, and strong though he was, he was yet flesh and blood, and subject to its ills. Towards ten o’clock they passed through Denham. When they were clear of it Cynthia put her head from the window. She had slept well, and her mood was lighter and happier. As Crispin rode a yard or so behind, he caught sight of her fresh, smiling face, and it affected him curiously. The tenderness that two days ago had been his as he talked to her upon the cliffs was again upon him, and the thought that anon she would be linked to him by the ties of relationship, was pleasurable. She gave him good morrow prettily, and he, spurring his horse to the carriage door, was solicitous to know of her comfort. Nor did he again fall behind until Stafford was reached at noon. Here, at the sign of the Suffolk Arms, he called a halt, and they broke their fast on the best the house could give them.

Cynthia was gay, and so indeed was Crispin, yet she noted in him that coolness which she accounted restraint, and gradually her spirits sank again before it.

To Crispin’s chagrin there were no horses to be had. Someone in great haste had ridden through before them, and taken what relays the hostelry could give, leaving four jaded beasts in the stable. It seemed, indeed, that they must remain there until the morrow, and in coming to that conclusion, Sir Crispin’s temper suffered sorely.

“Why need it put you so about,” cried Cynthia, in arch reproach, “since I am with you?”

“Blood and fire, madam,” roared Galliard, “it is precisely for that reason that I am exercised. What if your father came upon us here?”

“My father, sir, is abed with a sword-wound and a fever,” she replied, and he remembered then how Kenneth had spitted Gregory through the shoulder.

“Still,” he returned, “he will have discovered your flight, and I dare swear we shall have his myrmidons upon our heels. Should they come up with us we shall hardly find them more gentle than he would be.”

She paled at that, and for a second there was silence. Then her hand stole forth upon his arm, and she looked at him with tightened lips and a defiant air.

“What, indeed, if they do? Are you not with me?” A king had praised his daring, and for his valour had dubbed him knight upon a field of stricken battle; yet the honour of it had not brought him the elation those words – expressive of her utter faith in him and his prowess – begat in his heart. Upon the instant the delay ceased to fret him.

“Madam,” he laughed, “since you put it so, I care not who comes. The Lord Protector himself shall not drag you from me.”

It was the nearest he had gone to a passionate speech since they had left Sheringham, and it pleased her; yet in uttering it he had stood a full two yards away, and in that she had taken no pleasure.

Bidding her remain and get what rest she might, he left her, and she, following his straight, lank figure – so eloquent of strength – and the familiar poise of his left hand upon the pummel of his sword, felt proud indeed that he belonged to her, and secure in his protection. She sat herself at the window when he was gone, and whilst she awaited his return, she hummed a gay measure softly to herself. Her eyes were bright, and there was a flush upon her cheeks. Not even in the wet, greasy street could she find any unsightliness that afternoon. But as she waited, and the minutes grew to hours, that flush faded, and the sparkle died gradually from her eyes. The measure that she had hummed was silenced, and her shapely mouth took on a pout of impatience, which anon grew into a tighter mould, as he continued absent.

A frown drew her brows together, and Mistress Cynthia’s thoughts were much as they had been the night before she left Castle Marleigh. Where was he? Why came he not? She took up a book of plays that lay upon the table, and sought to while away the time by reading. The afternoon faded into dusk, and still he did not come. Her woman appeared, to ask whether she should call for lights and at that Cynthia became almost violent

“Where is Sir Crispin?” she demanded. And to the dame’s quavering answer that she knew not, she angrily bade her go ascertain.

In a pet, Cynthia paced the chamber whilst Catherine was gone upon that errand. Did this man account her a toy to while away the hours for which he could find no more profitable diversion, and to leave her to die of ennui when aught else offered? Was it a small thing that he had asked of her, to go with him into a strange land, that he should show himself so little sensible of the honour done him?

With such questions did she plague herself, and finding them either unanswerable, or answerable only by affirmatives, she had well-nigh resolved upon leaving the inn, and making her way back to London to seek out her aunt, when the door opened and her woman reappeared.

“Well?” cried Cynthia, seeing her alone. “Where is Sir Crispin?”

“Below, madam.”

“Below?” echoed she. “And what, pray, doth he below?”

“He is at dice with a gentleman from London.”

In the dim light of the October twilight the woman saw not the sudden pallor of her mistress’s cheeks, but she heard the gasp of pain that was almost a cry. In her mortification, Cynthia could have wept had she given way to her feelings. The man who had induced her to elope with him sat at dice with a gentleman from London! Oh, it was monstrous! At the thought of it she broke into a laugh that appalled her tiring-woman; then mastering her hysteria, she took a sudden determination.

“Call me the host,” she cried, and the frightened Catherine obeyed her at a run.

When the landlord came, bearing lights, and bending his aged back obsequiously:

“Have you a pillion?” she asked abruptly. “Well, fool, why do you stare? Have you a pillion?”

“I have, madam.”

“And a knave to ride with me, and a couple more as escort?”

“I might procure them, but – “

“How soon?”

“Within half an hour, but – “

“Then go see to it,” she broke in, her foot beating the ground impatiently.

“But, madam – “

“Go, go, go!” she cried, her voice rising at each utterance of that imperative.

“But, madam,” the host persisted despairingly, and speaking quickly so that he might get the words out, “I have no horses fit to travel ten miles.”

“I need to go but five,” she retorted quickly, her only thought being to get the beasts, no matter what their condition. “Now, go, and come not back until all is ready. Use dispatch and I will pay you well, and above all, not a word to the gentleman who came hither with me.”

The sorely-puzzled host withdrew to do her bidding, won to it by her promise of good payment.

Alone she sat for half an hour, vainly fostering the hope that ere the landlord returned to announce the conclusion of his preparations, Crispin might have remembered her and come. But he did not appear, and in her solitude this poor little maid was very miserable, and shed some tears that had still more of anger than sorrow in their source. At length the landlord came. She summoned her woman, and bade her follow by post on the morrow. The landlord she rewarded with a ring worth twenty times the value of the service, and was led by him through a side door into the innyard.

Here she found three horses, one equipped with the pillion on which she was to ride behind a burly stableboy. The other two were mounted by a couple of stalwart and well-armed men, one of whom carried a funnel-mouthed musketoon with a swagger that promised prodigies of valour.

Wrapped in her cloak, she mounted behind the stable-boy, and bade him set out and take the road to Denham. Her dream was at an end.

Master Quinn, the landlord, watched her departure with eyes that were charged with doubt and concern. As he made fast the door of the stableyard after she had passed out, he ominously shook his hoary head and muttered to himself humble, hostelry-flavoured philosophies touching the strange ways of men with women, and the stranger ways of women with men. Then, taking up his lanthorn, he slowly retraced his steps to the buttery where his wife was awaiting him.

With sleeves rolled high above her pink and deeply-dimpled elbows stood Mistress Quinn at work upon the fashioning of a pastry, when her husband entered and set down his lanthorn with a sigh.

“To be so plagued,” he growled. “To be browbeaten by a slip of a wench – a fine gentleman’s baggage with the airs and vapours of a lady of quality. Am I not a fool to have endured it?”

“Certainly you are a fool,” his wife agreed, kneading diligently, “whatever you may have endured. What now?”

His fat face was puckered into a thousand wrinkles. His little eyes gazed at her with long-suffering malice.

“You are my wife,” he answered pregnantly, as who would say: Thus is my folly clearly proven! and seeing that the assertion was not one that admitted of dispute, Mistress Quinn was silent.

“Oh, ’tis ill done!” he broke out a moment later. “Shame on me for it; it is ill done!”

“If you have done it ’tis sure to be ill done, and shame on you in good sooth – but for what?” put in his wife.

“For sending those poor jaded beasts upon the road.”

“What beasts?”

“What beasts? Do I keep turtles? My horses, woman.”

“And whither have you sent them?”

“To Denham with the baggage that came hither this morning in the company of that very fierce gentleman who was in such a pet because we had no horses.”

“Where is he?” inquired the hostess.

“At dice with those other gallants from town.”

“At dice quotha? And she’s gone, you say?” asked Mrs. Quinn, pausing in her labours squarely to face her husband.

“Aye,” said he.

“Stupid!” rejoined his docile spouse, vexed by his laconic assent. “Do you mean she has run away?”

“Tis what anyone might take from what I have told you,” he answered sweetly.

“And you have lent her horses and helped her to get away, and you leave her husband at play in there?”

“You have seen her marriage lines, I make no doubt,” he sneered irrelevantly.

“You dolt! If the gentleman horsewhips you, you will have richly earned it.”

“Eh? What?” gasped he, and his rubicund cheeks lost something of their high colour, for here was a possibility that had not entered into his calculations. But Mistress Quinn stayed not to answer him. Already she was making for the door, wiping the dough from her hands on to her apron as she went. A suspicion of her purpose flashed through her husband’s mind.

“What would you do?” he inquired nervously.

“Tell the gentleman what has taken place.”

“Nay,” he cried, resolutely barring her way. “Nay. That you shall not. Would you – would you ruin me?”

She gave him a look of contempt, and dodging his grasp she gained the door and was half-way down the passage towards the common room before he had overtaken her and caught her round the middle.

“Are you mad, woman?” he shouted. “Will you undo me?”

“Do you undo me,” she bade him, snatching at his hands. But he clutched with the tightness of despair.

“You shall not go,” he swore. “Come back and leave the gentleman to make the discovery for himself. I dare swear it will not afflict him overmuch. He has abandoned her sorely since they came; not a doubt of it but that he is weary of her. At least he need not know I lent her horses. Let him think she fled a-foot, when he discovers her departure.”

“I will go,” she answered stubbornly, dragging him with her a yard or two nearer the door. “The gentleman shall be warned. Is a woman to run away from her husband in my house, and the husband never be warned of it?”

“I promised her,” he began.

“What care I for your promises?” she asked. “I will tell him, so that he may yet go after her and bring her back.”

“You shall not,” he insisted, gripping her more closely. But at that moment a delicately mocking voice greeted their ears.

“Marry, ’tis vastly diverting to hear you,” it said. They looked round, to find one of the party of town sparks that had halted at the inn standing arms akimbo in the narrow passage, clearly waiting for them to make room. “A touching sight, sir,” said he sardonically to the landlord. “A wondrous touching sight to behold a man of your years playing the turtle-dove to his good wife like the merest fledgeling. It grieves me to intrude myself so harshly upon your cooing, though if you’ll but let me pass you may resume your chaste embrace without uneasiness, for I give you my word I’ll never look behind me.”

Abashed, the landlord and his dame fell apart. Then, ere the gentleman could pass her, Mistress Quinn, like a true opportunist, sped swiftly down the passage and into the common room before her husband could again detain her.

Now, within the common room of the Suffolk Arms Sir Crispin sat face to face with a very pretty fellow, all musk and ribbons, and surrounded by some half-dozen gentlemen on their way to London who had halted to rest at Stafford.

The pretty gentleman swore lustily, affected a monstrous wicked look, assured that he was impressing all who stood about with some conceit of the rakehelly ways he pursued in town.

A game started with crowns to while away the tedium of the enforced sojourn at the inn had grown to monstrous proportions. Fortune had favoured the youth at first, but as the stakes grew her favours to him diminished, and at the moment that Cynthia rode out of the inn-yard, Mr. Harry Foster flung his last gold piece with an oath upon the table.

“Rat me,” he groaned, “there’s the end of a hundred.”

He toyed sorrowfully with the red ribbon in his black hair, and Crispin, seeing that no fresh stake was forthcoming, made shift to rise. But the coxcomb detained him.

“Tarry, sir,” he cried, “I’ve not yet done. ‘Slife, we’ll make a night of it.”

He drew a ring from his finger, and with a superb gesture of disdain pushed it across the board.

“What’ll ye stake?” And, in the same breath, “Boy, another stoup,” he cried.

Crispin eyed the gem carelessly.

“Twenty Caroluses,” he muttered.

“Rat me, sir, that nose of yours proclaims you a jew, without more. Say twenty-five, and I’ll cast.”

With a tolerant smile, and the shrug of a man to whom twenty-five or a hundred are of like account, Crispin consented. They threw; Crispin passed and won.

“What’ll ye stake?” cried Mr. Foster, and a second ring followed the first.

Before Crispin could reply, the door leading to the interior of the inn was flung open, and Mrs. Quinn, breathless with exertion and excitement, came scurrying across the room. In the doorway stood the host in hesitancy and fear. Bending to Crispin’s ear, Mrs. Quinn delivered her message in a whisper that was heard by most of those who were about.

“Gone!” cried Crispin in consternation.

The woman pointed to her husband, and Crispin, understanding from this that she referred him to the host, called to him.

“What know you, landlord?” he shouted. “Come hither, and tell me whither is she gone!”

“I know not,” replied the quaking host, adding the particulars of Cynthia’s departure, and the information that the lady seemed in great anger.

“Saddle me a horse,” cried Crispin, leaping to his feet, and pitching Mr. Foster’s trinket upon the table as though it were a thing of no value. “Towards Denham you say they rode? Quick, man!” And as the host departed he swept the gold and the ring he had won into his pockets preparing to depart.

“Hoity toity!” cried Mr. Foster. “What sudden haste is this?”

“I am sorry, sir, that Fortune has been unkind to you, but I must go. Circumstances have arisen which – “

“D -n your circumstances!” roared Foster, get ting on his feet. “You’ll not leave me thus!”

“With your permission, sir, I will.”

“But you shall not have my permission!”

“Then I shall be so unfortunate as to go without it. But I shall return.”

“Sir, ’tis an old legend, that!”

Crispin turned about in despair. To be embroiled now might ruin everything, and by a miracle he kept his temper. He had a moment to spare while his horse was being saddled.

“Sir,” he said, “if you have upon your pretty person trinkets to half the value of what I have won from you, I’ll stake the whole against them on one throw, after which, no matter what the result, I take my departure. Are you agreed?”

There was a murmur of admiration from those present at the recklessness and the generosity of the proposal, and Foster was forced to accept it. Two more rings he drew forth, a diamond from the ruffles at his throat, and a pearl that he wore in his ear. The lot he set upon the board, and Crispin threw the winning cast as the host entered to say that his horse was ready.

He gathered the trinkets up, and with a polite word of regret he was gone, leaving Mr. Harry Foster to meditate upon the pledging of one of his horses to the landlord in discharge of his lodging.

And so it fell out that before Cynthia had gone six miles along the road to Denham, one of her attendants caught a rapid beat of hoofs behind them, and drew her attention to it, suggesting that they were being followed. Faster Cynthia bade them travel, but the pursuer gained upon them at every stride. Again the man drew her attention to it, and proposed that they should halt and face him who followed. The possession of the musketoon gave him confidence touching the issue. But Cynthia shuddered at the thought, and again, with promises of rich reward, urged them to go faster. Another mile they went, but every moment brought the pursuing hoof-beats nearer and nearer, until at last a hoarse challenge rang out behind them, and they knew that to go farther would be vain; within the next half-mile, ride as they might, their pursuer would be upon them.

The night was moonless, yet sufficiently clear for objects to be perceived against the sky, and presently the black shadow of him who rode behind loomed up upon the road, not a hundred paces off.

Despite Cynthia’s orders not to fire, he of the musketoon raised his weapon under cover of the darkness and blazed at the approaching shadow.

Cynthia cried out – a shriek of dismay it was; the horses plunged, and Sir Crispin laughed aloud as he bore down upon them. He of the musketoon heard the swish of a sword being drawn, and saw the glitter of the blade in the dark. A second later there was a shock as Crispin’s horse dashed into his, and a crushing blow across the forehead, which Galliard delivered with the hilt of his rapier, sent him hurtling from the saddle. His comrade clapped spurs to his horse at that and was running a race with the night wind in the direction of Denham.

Before Cynthia quite knew what had happened the seat on the pillion in front of her was empty, and she was riding back to Stafford with Crispin beside her, his hand upon the bridle of her horse.

“You little fool!” he said half-angrily, half-gibingly; and thereafter they rode in silence – she too mortified with shame and anger to venture upon words.

That journey back to Stafford was a speedy one, and soon they stood again in the inn-yard out of which she had ridden but an hour ago. Avoiding the common room, Crispin ushered her through the side door by which she had quitted the house. The landlord met them in the passage, and looking at Crispin’s face the pallor and fierceness of it drove him back without a word.

Together they ascended to the chamber where in solitude she had spent the day. Her feelings were those of a child caught in an act of disobedience, and she was angry with herself and her weakness that it should be so. Yet within the room she stood with bent head, never glancing at her companion, in whose eyes there was a look of blended anger and amazement as he observed her. At length in calm, level tones:

“Why did you run away?” he asked.

The question was to her anger as a gust of wind to a smouldering fire. She threw back her head defiantly, and fixed him with a glance as fierce as his own.

“I will tell you,” she cried, and suddenly stopped short. The fire died from her eyes, and they grew wide in wonder – in fascinated wonder – to see a deep stain overspreading one side of his grey doublet, from the left shoulder downwards. Her wonder turned to horror as she realized the nature of that stain and remembered that one of her men had fired upon him.

“You are wounded?” she faltered.

A sickly smile came into his face, and seemed to accentuate its pallor. He made a deprecatory gesture. Then, as if in that gesture he had expended his last grain of strength, he swayed suddenly as he stood. He made as if to reach a chair, but at the second step he stumbled, and without further warning he fell prone at her feet, his left hand upon his heart, his right outstretched straight from the shoulder. The loss of blood he had sustained, following upon the fatigue and sleeplessness that had been his of late, had demanded its due from him, man of iron though he was.

Upon the instant her anger vanished. A great fear that he was dead descended upon her, and to heighten the horror of it came the thought that he had received his death-wound through her agency. With a moan of anguish she went down upon her knees beside him. She raised his head and pillowed it in her lap, calling to him by name, as though her voice alone must suffice to bring him back to life and consciousness. Instinctively she unfastened his doublet at the neck, and sought to draw it away that she might see the nature of his hurt and staunch the wound if possible, but her strength ebbed away from her, and she abandoned her task, unable to do more than murmur his name.

“Crispin, Crispin, Crispin!”

She stooped and kissed the white, clammy forehead, then his lips, and as she did so a tremor ran through her, and he opened his eyes. A moment they looked dull and lifeless, then they waxed questioning.

A second ago these two had stood in anger with the width of the room betwixt them; now, in a flash, he found his head on her lap, her lips on his. How came he there? What meant it?

“Crispin, Crispin,” she cried, “thank God you did but swoon!”

Then the awakening of his soul came swift upon the awakening of his body. He lay there, oblivious of his wound, oblivious of his mission, oblivious of his son. He lay with senses still half dormant and comprehension dulled, but with a soul alert he lay, and was supremely happy with a happiness such as he had never known in all his ill-starred life.

In a feeble voice he asked:

“Why did you run away?”

“Let us forget it,” she answered softly.

“Nay – tell me first.”

“I thought – I thought – ” she stammered; then, gathering courage, “I thought you did not really care, that you made a toy of me,” said she. “When they told me that you sat at dice with a gentleman from London I was angry at your neglect. If you loved me, I told myself, you would not have used me so, and left me to mope alone.”

For a moment Crispin let his grey eyes devour her blushing face. Then he closed them and pondered what she had said, realization breaking upon him now like a great flood. The light came to him in one blinding yet all-illuming flash. A hundred things that had puzzled him in the last two days grew of a sudden clear, and filled him with a joy unspeakable. He dared scarce believe that he was awake, and Cynthia by him – that he had indeed heard aright what she had said. How blind he had been, how nescient of himself!

Then, as his thoughts travelled on to the source of the misapprehension he remembered his son, and the memory was like an icy hand upon his temples that chilled him through and through. Lying there with eyes still closed he groaned. Happiness was within his grasp at last. Love might be his again did he but ask it, and the love of as pure and sweet a creature as ever God sent to chasten a man’s life. A great tenderness possessed him. A burning temptation to cast to the winds his plighted word, to make a mock of faith, to deride honour, and to seize this woman for his own. She loved him he knew it now; he loved her – the knowledge had come as suddenly upon him. Compared with this what could his faith, his word, his honour give him? What to him, in the face of this, was that paltry fellow, his son, who had spurned him!

The hardest fight he ever fought, he fought it there, lying supine upon the ground, his head in her lap.

Had he fought it out with closed eyes, perchance honour and his plighted word had won the day; but he opened them, and they met Cynthia’s.

A while they stayed thus; the hungry glance of his grey eyes peering into the clear blue depths of hers; and in those depths his soul was drowned, his honour stifled.

“Cynthia,’ he cried, “God pity me, I love you!” And he swooned again.

CHAPTER XXVI

TO FRANCE

That cry, which she but half understood, was still ringing in her ears, when the door was of a sudden flung open, and across the threshold a very daintily arrayed young gentleman stepped briskly, the expostulating landlord following close upon his heels.

“I tell thee, lying dog,” he cried, “I saw him ride into the yard, and, “fore George, he shall give me the chance of mending my losses. Be off to your father, you Devil’s natural.”

Cynthia looked up in alarm, whereupon that merry blood catching sight of her, halted in some confusion at what he saw.

“Rat me, madam,” he cried, “I did not know – I had not looked to – ” He stopped, and remembering at last his manners he made her a low bow.

“Your servant, madam,” said he, “your servant Harry Foster.”

She gazed at him, her eyes full of inquiry, but said nothing, whereat the pretty gentleman plucked awkwardly at his ruffles and wished himself elsewhere.

“I did not know, madam, that your husband was hurt.”

“He is not my husband, sir,” she answered, scarce knowing what she said.

“Gadso!” he ejaculated. “Yet you ran away from him?”

Her cheeks grew crimson.

“The door, sir, is behind you.”

“So, madam, is that thief the landlord,” he made answer, no whit abashed. “Come hither, you bladder of fat, the gentleman is hurt.”

Thus courteously summoned, the landlord shuffled forward, and Mr. Foster begged Cynthia to allow him with the fellow’s aid to see to the gentleman’s wound. Between them they laid Crispin on a couch, and the town spark went to work with a dexterity little to have been expected from his flippant exterior. He dressed the wound, which was in the shoulder and not in itself of a dangerous character, the loss of blood it being that had brought some gravity to the knight’s condition. They propped his head upon a pillow, and presently he sighed and, opening his eyes, complained of thirst, and was manifestly surprised at seeing the coxcomb turned leech.

“I came in search of you to pursue our game,” Foster explained when they had ministered to him, “and, ‘fore George, I am vastly grieved to find you in this condition.”

“Pish, sir, my condition is none so grievous – a scratch, no more, and were my heart itself pierced the knowledge that I have gained – ” He stopped short. “But there, sir,” he added presently, “I am grateful beyond words for your timely ministration, and if to my debt you will add that of leaving me awhile to rest, I shall appreciate it.”

His glance met Cynthia’s and he smiled. The host coughed significantly, and shuffled towards the door. But Master Foster made no shift to move; but stood instead beside Galliard, though in apparent hesitation.

“I should like a word with you ere I go,” he said at length. Then turning and perceiving the landlord standing by the door in an attitude of eloquent waiting: “Take yourself off,” he cried to him. “Crush me, may not one gentleman say a word to another without being forced to speak into your inquisitive ears as well? You will forgive my heat, madam, but, God a”mercy, that greasy rascal tries me sorely.”

“Now, sir,” he resumed, when the host was gone. “I stand thus: I have lost to you to-day a sum of money which, though some might account considerable, is in itself no more than a trifle.

“I am, however, greatly exercised at the loss of certain trinkets which have to me a peculiar value, and which, to be frank, I staked in a moment of desperation. I had hoped, sir, to retrieve my losses o’er a friendly main this evening, for I have still to stake a coach and four horses – as noble a set of beasts as you’ll find in England, aye rat me. Your wound, sir, renders it impossible for me to ask you to give yourself the fatigue of obliging me. I come, then, to propose that you return me those trinkets against my note of hand for the amount that was staked on them. I am well known in town, sir,” he added hurriedly, “and you need have no anxiety.”

Crispin stopped him with a wave of the hand.

“I have none, sir, in that connexion, and I am willing to do as you suggest.” He thrust his hand into his pocket, and drew forth the rings, the brooch and the ear-ring he had won. “Here, sir, are your trinkets.”

“Sir,” cried Mr. Foster, thrown into some confusion by Galliard’s unquestioning generosity, “I am indebted to you. Rat me, sir, I am indeed. You shall have my note of hand on the instant. How much shall we say?”

“One moment, Mr. Foster,” said Crispin, an idea suddenly occurring to him. “You mentioned horses. Are they fresh?”

“As June roses.”

“And you are returning to London, are you not?”

“I am.”

“When do you wish to proceed?”

“To-morrow.”

“Why, then, sir, I have a proposal to make which will remove the need of your note of hand. Lend me your horses, sir, to reach Harwich. I wish to set out at once “

“But your wound?” cried Cynthia. “You are still faint.”

“Faint! Not I. I am awake and strong. My wound is no wound, for a scratch may not be given that name. So there, sweetheart.” He laughed, and drawing down her head, he whispered the words: “Your father.” Then turning again to Foster. “Now, sir,” he continued, “there are four tolerable posthorses of mine below, on which you can follow tomorrow to Harwich, there exchanging them again for your own, which you shall find awaiting you, stabled at the Garter Inn. For this service, to me of immeasurable value, I will willingly cede those gewgaws to you.”

“But, rat me, sir,” cried Foster in bewilderment, “tis too generous – ‘pon honour it is. I can’t consent to it. No, rat me, I can’t.”

“I have told you how great a boon you will confer. Believe me, sir, to me it is worth twice, a hundred times the value of those trinkets.”

“You shall have my horses, sir, and my note of hand as well,” said Foster firmly.

“Your note of hand is of no value to me, sir. I look to leave England to-morrow, and I know not when I may return.”

Thus in the end it came about that the bargain was concluded. Cynthia’s maid was awakened and bidden to rise. The horses were harnessed to Crispin’s coach, and Crispin, leaning upon Harry Foster’s arm, descended and took his place within the carriage.

Leaving the London blood at the door of the Suffolk Arms, crushing, burning, damning and ratting himself at Crispin’s magnificence, they rolled away through the night in the direction of Ipswich.

Ten o”clock in the morning beheld them at the door of the Garter Inn at Harwich. But the jolting of the coach had so hardly used Crispin that he had to be carried into the hostelry. He was much exercised touching the Lady Jane and his inability to go down to the quay in quest of her, when he was accosted by a burly, red-faced individual who bluntly asked him was he called Sir Crispin Galliard. Ere he could frame an answer the man had added that he was Thomas Jackson, master of the Lady Jane – at which piece of good news Crispin felt like to shout for joy.

But his reflection upon his present position, when at last he lay in the schooner’s cabin, brought him the bitter reverse of pleasure. He had set out to bring Cynthia to his son; he had pledged his honour to accomplish it. How was he fulfilling his trust? In his despondency, during a moment when alone, he cursed the knave that had wounded him for his clumsiness in not having taken a lower aim when he fired, and thus solved him this ugly riddle of life for all time.

Vainly did he strive to console himself and endeavour to palliate the wrong he had done with the consideration that he was the man Cynthia loved, and not his son; that his son was nothing to her, and that she would never have accompanied him had she dreamt that he wooed her for another.

No. The deed was foul, and rendered fouler still by virtue of those other wrongs in whose extenuation it had been undertaken. For a moment he grew almost a coward. He was on the point of bidding Master Jackson avoid Calais and make some other port along the coast. But in a moment he had scorned the craven argument of flight, and determined that come what might he would face his son, and lay the truth before him, leaving him to judge how strong fate had been. As he lay feverish and fretful in the vessel’s cabin, he came well-nigh to hating Kenneth; he remembered him only as a poor, mean creature, now a bigot, now a fop, now a psalm-monger, now a roysterer, but ever a hypocrite, ever a coward, and never such a man as he could have taken pride in presenting as his offspring.

They had a fair wind, and towards evening Cynthia, who had been absent from his side a little while, came to tell him that the coast of France grew nigh.

His answer was a sigh, and when she chid him for it, he essayed a smile that was yet more melancholy. For a second he was tempted to confide in her; to tell her of the position in which he found himself and to lighten his load by sharing it with her. But this he dared not do. Cynthia must never know.

CHAPTER XXVII

THE AUBERGE DU SOLEIL

In a room of the first floor of the Auberge du Soleil, at Calais, the host inquired of Crispin if he were milord Galliard. At that question Crispin caught his breath in apprehension, and felt himself turn pale. What it portended, he guessed; and it stifled the hope that had been rising in him since his arrival, and because he had not found his son awaiting him either on the jetty or at the inn. He dared ask no questions, fearing that the reply would quench that hope, which rose despite himself, and begotten of a desire of which he was hardly conscious.

He sighed before replying, and passing his brown, nervous hand across his brow, he found it moist.

“My name, M. l”hote, is Crispin Galliard. What news have you for me?”

“A gentleman – a countryman of milord’s – has been here these three days awaiting him.”

For a little while Crispin sat quite still, stripped of his last rag of hope. Then suddenly bracing himself, he sprang up, despite his weakness.

“Bring him to me. I will see him at once.”

“Tout-a-l”heure, monsieur,” replied the landlord. “At the moment he is absent. He went out to take the air a couple of hours ago, and is not yet returned.”

“Heaven send he has walked into the sea!” Crispin broke out passionately. Then as passionately he checked himself. “No, no, my God – not that! I meant not that.”

“Monsieur will sup?”

“At once, and let me have lights.” The host withdrew, to return a moment later with a couple of lighted tapers, which he set upon the table.

As he was retiring, a heavy step sounded on the stair, accompanied by the clank of a scabbard against the baluster.

“Here comes milord’s countryman,” the landlord announced.

And Crispin, looking up in apprehension, saw framed in the doorway the burly form of Harry Hogan.

He sat bolt upright, staring as though he beheld an apparition. With a sad smile, Hogan advanced, and set his hand affectionately upon Galliard’s shoulder.

“Welcome to France, Crispin,” said he. “If not him whom you looked to find, you have at least a loyal friend to greet you.”

“Hogan!” gasped the knight. “What make you here? How came you here? Where is Jocelyn?”

The Irishman looked at him gravely for a moment, then sighed and sank down upon a chair. “You have brought the lady?” he asked.

“She is here. She will be with us presently.”

Hogan groaned and shook his grey head sorrowfully.

“But where is Jocelyn?” cried Galliard again, and his haggard face looked very wan and white as he turned it inquiringly upon his companion. “Why is he not here?”

“I have bad news.”

“Bad news?” muttered Crispin, as though he understood not the meaning of the words. “Bad news?” he repeated musingly. Then bracing himself, “What is this news?”

“And you have brought the lady too!” Hogan complained. “Faith, I had hoped that you had failed in that at least.”

“Sdeath, Harry,” Crispin exclaimed. “Will you tell me the news?”

Hogan pondered a moment. Then:

“I will relate the story from the very beginning,” said he. “Some four hours after your departure from Waltham) my men brought in the malignant we were hunting. I dispatched my sergeant and the troop forthwith to London with the prisoner, keeping just two troopers with me. An hour or so later a coach clattered into the yard, and out of it stepped a short, lean man in black, with a very evil face and a crooked eye, who bawled out that he was Joseph Ashburn of Castle Marleigh, a friend of the Lord General’s, and that he must have horses on the instant to proceed upon his journey to London. I was in the yard at the time, and hearing the full announcement I guessed what his business in London was. He entered the inn to refresh himself and I followed him. In the common room the first man his eyes lighted on was your son. He gasped at sight of him, and when he had recovered his breath he let fly as round a volley of blasphemy as ever I heard from the lips of a Puritan. When that was over, “Fool,” he yells, “what make you here?” The lad stammered and grew confused. At last – “I was detained here,” says he. “Detained!” thunders the other, “and by whom?” “By my father, you murdering villain!” was the hot answer.

“At that Master Ashburn grows very white and very evil-looking. “So,” he says, in a playful voice, “you have learnt that, have you? Well, by God! the lesson shall profit neither you nor that rascal your father. But I’ll begin with you, you cur.” And with that he seizes a jug of ale that stood on the table, and empties it over the boy’s face. Soul of my body! The lad showed such spirit then as I had never looked to find in him. “Outside,” yells he, tugging at his sword with one hand, and pointing to the door with the other. “Outside, you hound, where I can kill you!” Ashburn laughed and cursed him, and together they flung past me into the yard. The place was empty at the moment, and there, before the clash of their blades had drawn interference, the thing was over – and Ashburn had sent his sword through Jocelyn’s heart.”

Hogan paused, and Crispin sat very still and white, his soul in torment.

“And Ashburn?” he asked presently, in a voice that was singularly hoarse and low. “What became of him? Was he not arrested?”

“No,” said Hogan grimly, “he was not arrested. He was buried. Before he had wiped his blade I had stepped up to him and accused him of murdering a beardless boy. I remembered the reckoning he owed you, I remembered that he had sought to send you to your death; I saw the boy’s body still warm and bleeding upon the ground, and I struck him with my knuckles on the mouth. Like the cowardly ruffian he was, he made a pass at me with his sword before I had got mine out. I avoided it narrowly, and we set to work.

“People rushed in and would have stopped us, but I cursed them so whilst I fenced, swearing to kill any man that came between us, that they held off and waited. I didn’t keep them overlong. I was no raw youngster fresh from the hills of Scotland. I put the point of my sword through Joseph Ashburn’s throat within a minute of our engaging.

“It was then as I stood in that shambles and looked down upon my handiwork that I recalled in what favour Master Ashburn was held by the Parliament, and I grew sick to think of what the consequences might be. To avoid them I got me there and then to horse, and rode in a straight line for Greenwich, hoping to find the Lady Jane still there. But my messenger had already sent her to Harwich for you. I was well ahead of possible pursuit, and so I pushed on to Dover, and thence I crossed, arriving here three days ago.”

Crispin rose and stepped up to Hogan. “The last time you came to me after killing a man, Harry, I was of some service to you. You shall find me no less useful now. You will come to Paris with me?”

“But the lady?” gasped Hogan, amazed at Crispin’s lack of thought for her.

“I hear her step upon the stairs. Leave me now, Harry, but as you go, desire the landlord to send for a priest. The lady remains.”

One look of utter bewilderment did Hogan bestow upon Sir Crispin, and for once his glib, Irish tongue could shape no other words than:

“Soul of my body!”

He wrung Crispin’s hand, and in a state of ineffable perplexity he hurried from the room to do what was required of him.

For a moment Crispin stood by the window, and looking out into the night he thanked God from his heart for his solution of the monstrous riddle that had been set him.

Then the rustle of a gown drew his attention, and he swung round to find Cynthia smiling upon him from the threshold.

He advanced to meet her, and setting his hands upon her shoulders, he held her at arm’s length, looking down into her eyes.

“Cynthia, my Cynthia!” he cried. And she, breaking past the barrier of his grasp, nestled up to him with a sigh of sweet and unalloyed content.