The Tavern Knight
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 gone lame."