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   Chapter 3 THE LETTER

The Tavern Knight By Rafael Sabatini Characters: 4804

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


It was with a countenance sadly dejected that Crispin returned to his chamber and sate himself wearily upon the bed. With elbows on his knees and chin in his palms he stared straight before him, the usual steely brightness of his grey eyes dulled by the despondency that sat upon his face and drew deep furrows down his fine brow.

With a sigh he rose at last and idly fingered the papers he had taken from the pocket of Kenneth's coat. As he did so his glance was arrested by the signature at the foot of one. "Gregory Ashburn" was the name he read.

Ashen grew his cheeks as his eyes fastened upon that name, whilst the hand, to which no peril ever brought a tremor, shook now like an aspen. Feverishly he spread the letter on his knee, and with a glance, from dull that it had been, grown of a sudden fierce and cruel, he read the contents.

DEAR KENNETH,

Again I write in the hope that I may prevail upon you to quit Scotland and your attachment to a king, whose fortunes prosper not, nor can prosper. Cynthia is pining, and if you tarry longer from Castle Marleigh she must perforce think you but a laggard lover. Than this I have no more powerful argument wherewith to draw you from Perth to Sheringham, but this I think should prevail where others have failed me. We await you then, and whilst we wait we daily drink your health. Cynthia commends herself to your memory as doth my brother, and soon we hope to welcome you at Castle Marleigh. Believe, my dear Kenneth, that whilst I am, I am yours in affection.

GREGORY ASHBURN

Twice Crispin read the letter through. Then with set teeth and straining eyes he sat lost in thought.

Here indeed was a strange chance! This boy whom he had met at Perth, and enrolled in his company, was a friend of Ashburn's-the lover of Cynthia. Who might this Cynthia be?

Long and deep were his ponderings upon the unfathomable ways of Fate-for Fate he now believed was here at work to help him, revealing herself by means of this sign even at the very moment when he decried his luck. In memory he reviewed his meeting with the lad in the yard of Perth Castle a fortnight ago. Something in the boy's bearing, in his air, had caught Crispin's eye. He had looked him over, then approached, and bluntly asked his name and on what business he was come there. The youth had answered him civilly enough that he was Kenneth Stewart of Bailienochy, an

d that he was come to offer his sword to the King. Thereupon he had interested himself in the lad's behalf and had gained him a lieutenancy in his own company. Why he was attracted to a youth on whom never before had he set eyes was a matter that puzzled him not a little. Now he held, he thought, the explanation of it. It was the way of Fate.

This boy was sent into his life by a Heaven that at last showed compassion for the deep wrongs he had suffered; sent him as a key wherewith, should the need occur, to open him the gates of Castle Marleigh.

In long strides he paced the chamber, turning the matter over in his mind. Aye, he would use the lad should the need arise. Why scruple? Had he ever received aught but disdain and scorn at the hands of Kenneth.

Day was breaking ere he sought his bed, and already the sun was up when at length he fell into a troubled sleep, vowing that he would mend his wild ways and seek to gain the boy's favour against the time when he might have need of him.

When later he restored the papers to Kenneth, explaining to what use he had put the coat, he refrained from questioning him concerning Gregory Ashburn. The docility of his mood on that occasion came as a surprise to Kenneth, who set it down to Sir Crispin's desire to conciliate him into silence touching the harbouring of Hogan. In that same connexion Crispin showed him calmly and clearly that he could not now inform without involving himself to an equally dangerous extent. And partly through the fear of this, partly won over by Crispin's persuasions, the lad determined to hold his peace.

Nor had he cause to regret it thereafter, for throughout that tedious march he found his roystering companion singularly meek and kindly. Indeed he seemed a different man. His old swagger and roaring bluster disappeared; he drank less, diced less, blasphemed less, and stormed less than in the old days before the halt at Penrith; but rode, a silent, thoughtful figure, so self-contained and of so godly a mien as would have rejoiced the heart of the sourest Puritan. The wild tantivy boy had vanished, and the sobriquet of "Tavern Knight" was fast becoming a misnomer.

Kenneth felt drawn more towards him, deeming him a penitent that had seen at last the error of his ways. And thus things prevailed until the almost triumphal entry into the city of Worcester on the twenty-third of August.

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