A new terror leapt into Joseph's eyes at that movement of Crispin's, and for the third time that night did he taste the agony that is Death's forerunner. Yet Galliard delayed the stroke. He held his sword poised, the point aimed at Joseph's breast, and holding, he watched him, marking each phase of the terror reflected upon his livid countenance. He was loth to strike, for to strike would mean to end this exquisite torture of horror to which he was subjecting him.

Broken Joseph had been before and passive; now of a sudden he grew violent again, but in a different way. He flung himself upon his knees before Sir Crispin, and passionately he pleaded for the sparing of his miserable life.

Crispin looked on with an eye both of scorn and of cold relish. It was thus he wished to see him, broken and agonized, suffering thus something of all that which he himself had suffered through despair in the years that were sped. With satisfaction then he watched his victim's agony; he watched it too with scorn and some loathing—for a craven was in his eyes an ugly sight, and Joseph in that moment was truly become as vile a coward as ever man beheld. His parchment-like face was grey and mottled, his brow bedewed with sweat; his lips were blue and quivering, his eyes bloodshot and almost threatening tears.

In the silence of one who waits stood Crispin, listening, calm and unmoved, as though he heard not, until Joseph's whining prayers culminated in an offer to make reparation. Then Crispin broke in at length with an impatient gesture.

“What reparation can you make, you murderer? Can you restore to me the wife and child you butchered eighteen years ago?”

“I can restore your child at least,” returned the other. “I can and will restore him to you if you but stay your hand. That and much more will I do to repair the past.”

Unconsciously Crispin lowered his sword-arm, and for a full minute he stood and stared at Joseph. His jaw was fallen and the grim firmness all gone from his face, and replaced by amazement, then unbelief followed by inquiry; then unbelief again. The pallor of his cheeks seemed to intensify. At last, however, he broke into a hard laugh.

“What lie is this you offer me? Zounds, man, are you not afraid?”

“It is no lie,” Joseph cried, in accents so earnest that some of the unbelief passed again from Galliard's face. “It is the truth-God's truth. Your son lives.”

“Hell-hound, it is a lie! On that fell night, as I swooned under your cowardly thrust, I heard you calling to your brother to slit the squalling bastard's throat. Those were your very words, Master Joseph.”

“I own I bade him do it, but I was not obeyed. He swore we should give the babe a chance of life. It should never know whose son it was, he said, and I agreed. We took the boy away. He has lived and thrived.”

The knight sank on to a chair as though bereft of strength. He sought to think, but thinking coherently he could not. At last:

“How shall I know that you are not lying? What proof can you advance?” he demanded hoarsely.

“I swear that what I have told you is true. I swear it by the cross of our Redeemer!” he protested, with a solemnity that was not without effect upon Crispin. Nevertheless, he sneered.

“I ask for proofs, man, not oaths. What proofs can you afford me?”

“There are the man and the woman whom the lad was reared by.”

“And where shall I find them?”

Joseph opened his lips to answer, then closed them again. In his eagerness he had almost parted with the information which he now proposed to make the price of his life. He regained confidence at Crispin's tone and questions, gathering from both that the knight was willing to believe if proof were set before him. He rose to his feet, and when next he spoke his voice had won back much of its habitual calm deliberateness.

“That,” said he, “I will tell you when you have promised to go hence, leaving Gregory and me unharmed. I will supply you with what money you may need, and I will give you a letter to those people, so couched that what they tell you by virtue of it shall be a corroboration of my words.”

His elbow resting upon the table, and his hand to his brow so that it shaded his eyes, sat Crispin long in thought, swayed by emotions and doubts, the like of which he had never yet known in the whole of his chequered life. Was Joseph lying to him?

That was the question that repeatedly arose, and oddly enough, for all his mistrust of the man, he was inclined to account true the ring of his words. Joseph watched him with much anxiety and some hope.

At length Crispin withdrew his hands from eyes that were grown haggard, and rose.

“Let us see the letter that you will write,” said he. “There you have pen, ink, and paper. Write.”

“You promise?” asked Joseph.

“I will tell you when you have written.”

In a hand that shook somewhat, Joseph wrote a few lines, then handed Crispin the sheet, whereon he read:

The bearer of this is Sir Crispin Galliard, who is intimately interested in the matter that lies betwixt us, and whom I pray you answer fully and accurately the questions he may put you in that connexion.

“I understand,” said Crispin slowly. “Yes, it will serve. Now the superscription.” And he returned the paper.

Ashburn was himself again by now. He realized the advantage he had gained, and he would not easily relinquish it.

“I shall add the superscription,” said he calmly, “when you swear to depart without further molesting us.”

Crispin paused a moment, weighing the position well in his mind. If Joseph lied to him now, he would find means to return, he told himself, and so he took the oath demanded.

Joseph dipped his pen, and paused meditatively to watch a drop of ink, wherewith it was overladen, fall back into the horn. The briefest of pauses was it, yet it was not the accident it appeared to be. Hitherto Joseph had been as sincere as he had been earnest, intent alone upon saving his life at all costs, and forgetting in his fear of the present the dangers that the future might hold for him were Crispin Galliard still at large. But in that second of dipping his quill, assured that the peril of the moment was overcome, and that Crispin would go forth as he said, the devil whispered in his ear a cunning and vile suggestion. As he watched the drop of ink roll from his pen-point, he remembered that in London there dwelt at the sign of the Anchor, in Thames Street, one Colonel Pride, whose son this Galliard had slain, and who, did he once lay hands upon him, was not like to let him go again. In a second was the thought conceived and the determination taken, and as he folded the letter and set upon it the superscription, Joseph felt that he could have cried out in his exultation at the cunning manner in which he was outwitting his enemy.

Crispin took the package, and read thereon:

This is to Mr. Henry Lane, at the sign of the Anchor, Thames Street, London.

The name was a fictitious one—one that Joseph had set down upon the spur of the moment, his intention being to send a messenger that should outstrip Sir Crispin, and warn Colonel Pride of his coming.

“It is well,” was Crispin's only comment. He, too, was grown calm again and fully master of himself. He placed the letter carefully within the breast of his doublet.

“If you have lied to me, if this is but a shift to win your miserable life, rest assured, Master Ashburn, that you have but put off the day for a very little while.”

It was on Joseph's lips to answer that none of us are immortal, but he bethought him that the pleasantry might be ill-timed, and bowed in silence.

Galliard took his hat and cloak from the chair on which he had placed them upon descending that evening. Then he turned again to Joseph.

“You spoke of money a moment ago,” he said, in the tones of one demanding what is his own the tones of a gentleman speaking to his steward. “I will take two hundred Caroluses. More I cannot carry in comfort.”

Joseph gasped at the amount. For a second it even entered his mind to resist the demand. Then he remembered that there was a brace of pistols in his study; if he could get those he would settle matters there and then without the aid of Colonel Pride.

“I will fetch the money,” said he, betraying his purpose by his alacrity.

“By your leave, Master Ashburn, I will come with you.”

Joseph's eyes flashed him a quick look of baffled hate.

“As you will,” said he, with an ill grace.

As they passed out, Crispin turned to Kenneth.

“Remember, sir, you are still in my service. See that you keep good watch.”

Kenneth bent his head without replying. But Master Gregory required little watching. He lay a helpless, half-swooning heap upon the floor, which he had smeared with the blood oozing from his wounded shoulder. Even were he untrussed, there was little to be feared from him.

During the brief while they were alone together, Kenneth did not so much as attempt to speak to him. He sat himself down upon the nearest chair, and with his chin in his hands and his elbows on his knees he pondered over the miserable predicament into which Sir Crispin had got him, and more bitter than ever it had been was his enmity at that moment towards the knight. That Galliard should be upon the eve of finding his son, and a sequel to the story he had heard from him that night in Worcester, was to Kenneth a thing of no interest or moment. Galliard had ruined him with these Ashburns. He could never now hope to win the hand of Cynthia, to achieve which he had been willing to turn both fool and knave—aye, had turned both. There was naught left him but to return him to the paltry Scottish estate of his fathers, there to meet the sneers of those who no doubt had heard that he was gone South to marry a great English heiress.

That at such a season he could think of this but serves to prove the shallow nature of his feelings. A love was his that had gain and vanity for its foundation—in fact, it was no love at all. For what he accounted love for Cynthia was but the love of himself, which through Cynthia he sought to indulge.

He cursed the ill-luck that had brought Crispin into his life. He cursed Crispin for the evil he had suffered from him, forgetting that but for Crispin he would have been carrion a month ago and more.

Deep at his bitter musings was he when the door opened again to admit Joseph, followed by Galliard. The knight came across the hall and stooped to look at Gregory.

“You may untruss him, Kenneth, when I am gone,” said he. “And in a quarter of an hour from now you are released from your oath to me. Fare you well,” he added with unusual gentleness, and turning a glance that was almost regretful upon the lad. “We are not like to meet again, but should we, I trust it may be in happier times. If I have harmed you in this business, remember that my need was great. Fare you well.” And he held out his hand.

“Take yourself to hell, sir!” answered Kenneth, turning his back upon him. The ghost of an evil smile played round Joseph Ashburn's lips as he watched them.

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