The Tavern Knight
On his side Kenneth strove hard during the days that followed to right himself in her
eyes. But so headlong was he in the attempt, and so misguided, that presently he overshot
his mark by dropping an unflattering word concerning Crispin, whereby he attributed to
the Tavern Knight's influence and example the degenerate change that had of late been
wrought in him.
Cynthia's eyes grew hard as he spoke, and had he been wise he had better served his
cause by talking in another vein. But love and jealousy had so addled what poor brains
the Lord had bestowed upon him, that he floundered on, unmindful of any warning that
took not the blunt shape of words. At length, however, she stemmed the flow of invective
that his lips poured forth.
"Have I not told you already, Kenneth, that it better becomes a gentleman not to slander
the man to whom he owes his life? In fact, that a gentleman would scorn such an action?"
As he had protested before, so did he protest now, that what he had uttered was no
slander. And in his rage and mortification at the way she used him, and for which he now
bitterly upbraided her, he was very near the point of tears, like the blubbering schoolboy
that at heart he was.
"And as for the debt, madam," he cried, striking the oaken table of the hall with his
clenched hand, "it is a debt that shall be paid, a debt which this gentleman whom you
defend would not permit me to contract until I had promised payment - aye, 'fore George!
- and with interest, for in the payment I may risk my very life."
"I see no interest in that, since you risk nothing more than what you owe him," she
answered, with a disdain that brought the impending tears to his eyes. But if he lacked the
manliness to restrain them, he possessed at least the shame to turn his back and hide them
from her. "But tell me, sir," she added, her curiosity awakened, "if I am to judge, what
was the nature of this bargain?"
He was silent for a moment, and took a turn in the hall - mastering himself to speak - his
hands clasped behind his back, and his eyes bent towards the polished floor which the
evening sunlight, filtered through the gules of the leaded windows, splashed here and
there with a crimson stain. She sat in the great leathern chair at the head of the board,
and, watching him, waited.
He was debating whether he was bound to secrecy in the matter, and in the end he
resolved that he was not. Thereupon, pausing before her, he succinctly told the story
Crispin had related to him that night in Worcester - the story of a great wrong, that none
but a craven could have left unavenged. He added nothing to it, subtracted nothing from
it, but told the tale as it had been told to him on that dreadful night, the memory of which
had still power to draw a shudder from him.