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   Chapter 2 ARCADES AMBO

The Tavern Knight By Rafael Sabatini Characters: 11386

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But not to slay, Hogan!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Was it not also his father's kingdom?" broke in the impetuous Hogan. "Yet times are sorely changed since we followed the fortunes of the Martyr. In those days you might help yourself to a capon, a horse, a wench, o

r any other trifle of the enemy's, without ever a word of censure or a question asked. Why, man, it is but two days since His Majesty had a poor devil hanged at Kendal for laying violent hands upon a pullet. Pox on it, Cris, my gorge rises at the thought! When I saw that wretch strung up, I swore to fall behind at the earliest opportunity, and to-night's affair makes this imperative."

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

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

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

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

"Maybe I am," replied Crispin carelessly.

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

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

"You forget, Harry."

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

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

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

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

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

"Danger? To me?" echoed Crispin.

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

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

"There is your lieutenant, Kenneth Stewart."

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

Hogan rose with a sigh.

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

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

"Where have you such a coat?"

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

"But I am twice his bulk!"

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

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

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

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

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

Hogan obeyed him with a sigh.

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

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

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

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

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