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   Chapter 27 THE AUBERGE DU SOLEIL

The Tavern Knight By Rafael Sabatini Characters: 7869

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


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.

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