The Tavern Knight
The House That Was Roland Marleigh's
It was high noon next day, and Gregory Ashburn was taking the air upon the noble
terrace of Castle Marleigh, when the beat of hoofs, rapidly approaching up the avenue,
arrested his attention. He stopped in his walk, and, turning, sought to discover who came.
His first thought was of his brother; his second, of Kenneth. Through the half-denuded
trees he made out two mounted figures, riding side by side; and from the fact of there
being two, he adduced that this could not be Joseph returning.
Even as he waited he was joined by Cynthia, who took her stand beside him, and voiced
the inquiry that was in his mind. But her father could no more than answer that he hoped
it might be Kenneth.
Then the horsemen passed from behind the screen of trees and came into the clearing
before the terrace, and unto the waiting glances of Ashburn and his daughter was
revealed a curiously bedraggled and ill-assorted pair. The one riding slightly in advance
looked like a Puritan of the meaner sort, in his battered steeple-hat and cloak of rusty
black. The other was closely wrapped in a red mantle, uptilted behind by a sword of
prodigious length, and for all that his broad, grey hat was unadorned by any feather, it
was set at a rakish, ruffling, damn-me angle that pronounced him no likely comrade for
the piously clad youth beside him.
But beneath that brave red cloak - alack! - as was presently seen when they dismounted,
that gentleman was in a sorry plight. He wore a leather jerkin, so cut and soiled that any
groom might have disdained it; a pair of green breeches, frayed to their utmost; and
coarse boots of untanned leather, adorned by rusty spurs.
On the terrace Gregory paused a moment to call his groom to attend the new-comers,
then he passed down the steps to greet Kenneth with boisterous effusion. Behind him,
slow and stately as a woman of twice her years, came Cynthia. Calm was her greeting of
her lover, contained in courteous expressions of pleasure at beholding him safe, and
suffering him to kiss her hand.
In the background, his sable locks uncovered out of deference to the lady, stood Sir
Crispin, his face pale and haggard, his lips parted, and his grey eyes burning as they fell
again, after the lapse of years, upon the stones of this his home - the castle to which he
was now come, hat in hand, to beg for shelter.
Gregory was speaking, his hands resting upon Kenneth's shoulder.
"We have been much exercised concerning you, lad," he was saying. "We almost feared
the worst, and yesterday Joseph left us to seek news of you at Cromwell's hands. Where
have you tarried?"
"Anon, sir; you shall learn anon. The story is a long one."