The Tavern Knight HTML version
The Twisted Bar
Nature asserted herself, and, despite his condition, Crispin slept. Kenneth sat huddled on
his chair, and in awe and amazement he listened to his companion's regular breathing. He
had not Galliard's nerves nor Galliard's indifference to death, so that neither could he
follow his example, nor yet so much as realize how one should slumber upon the very
brink of eternity.
For a moment his wonder stood perilously near to admiration; then his religious training
swayed him, and his righteousness almost drew from him a contempt of this man's
apathy. There was much of the Pharisee's attitude towards the publican in his mood.
Anon that regular breathing grew irritating to him; it drew so marked a contrast 'twixt
Crispin's frame of mind and his own. Whilst Crispin had related his story, the interest it
awakened had served to banish the spectre of fear which the thought of the morrow
conjured up. Now that Crispin was silent and asleep, that spectre returned, and the lad
grew numb and sick with the horror of his position.
Thought followed thought as he sat huddled there with sunken head and hands clasped
tight between his knees, and they were mostly of his dull uneventful days in Scotland,
and ever and anon of Cynthia, his beloved. Would she hear of his end? Would she weep
for him? - as though it mattered! And every train of thought that he embarked upon
brought him to the same issue - to-morrow! Shuddering he would clench his hands still
tighter, and the perspiration would stand' out in beads upon his callow brow.
At length he flung himself upon his knees to address not so much a prayer as a maudlin
grievance to his Creator. He felt himself a craven - doubly so by virtue of the peaceful
breathing of that sinner he despised - and he told himself that it was not in fear a
gentleman should meet his end.
"But I shall be brave to-morrow. I shall be brave," he muttered, and knew not that it was
vanity begat the thought, and vanity that might uphold him on the morrow when there
were others by, however broken might be his spirit now.
Meanwhile Crispin slept. When he awakened the light of a lanthorn was on his face, and
holding it stood beside him a tall black figure in a cloak and a slouched hat whose broad
brim left the features unrevealed.
Still half asleep, and blinking like an owl, he sat up.
"I have always held burnt sack to be well enough, but - "
He stopped short, fully awake at last, and, suddenly remembering his condition and
thinking they were come for him, he drew a sharp breath and in a voice as indifferent as
he could make it: