Side by side stepped that oddly assorted pair along—the maiden whose soul was as pure and fresh as the breeze that blew upon them from the sea, and the man whose life years ago had been marred by a sorrow, the quest of whose forgetfulness had led him through the mire of untold sin; the girl upon the threshold of womanhood, her life all before her and seeming to her untainted mind a joyous, wholesome business; the man midway on his ill-starred career, his every hope blighted save the one odious hope of vengeance, which made him cling to a life he had proved worthless and ugly, and that otherwise he had likely enough cast from him. And as they walked:

“Sir Crispin,” she ventured timidly, “you are unhappy, are you not?”

Startled by her words and the tone of them, Galliard turned his head that he might observe her.

“I, unhappy?” he laughed; and it was a laugh calculated to acknowledge the fitness of her question, rather than to refute it as he intended. “Am I a clown, Cynthia, to own myself unhappy at such a season and while you honour me with your company?”

She made a wry face in protest that he fenced with her.

“You are happy, then?” she challenged him.

“What is happiness?” quoth he, much as Pilate may have questioned what was truth. Then before she could reply he hastened to add: “I have not been quite so happy these many years.”

“It is not of the present moment that I speak,” she answered reprovingly, for she scented no more than a compliment in his words, “but of your life.”

Now either was he imbued with a sense of modesty touching the deeds of that life of his, or else did he wisely realize that no theme could there be less suited to discourse upon with an innocent maid.

“Mistress Cynthia,” said he as though he had not heard her question, “I would say a word to you concerning Kenneth.”

At that she turned upon him with a pout.

“But it is concerning yourself that I would have you talk. It is not nice to disobey a lady. Besides, I have little interest in Master Stewart.”

“To have little interest in a future husband augurs ill for the time when he shall come to be your husband.”

“I thought that you, at least, understood me. Kenneth will never be husband of mine, Sir Crispin.”

“Cynthia!” he exclaimed.

“Oh, lackaday! Am I to wed a doll?” she demanded. “Is he—is he a man a maid may love, Sir Crispin?”

“Indeed, had you but seen the half of life that I have seen,” said he unthinkingly, “it might amaze you what manner of man a maid may love—or at least may marry. Come, Cynthia, what fault do you find with him?”

“Why, every fault.”

He laughed in unbelief.

“And whom are we to blame for all these faults that have turned you so against him?”


“Yourself, Cynthia. You use him ill, child. If his behaviour has been extravagant, you are to blame. You are severe with him, and he, in his rash endeavours to present himself in a guise that shall render him commendable in your eyes, has overstepped discretion.”

“Has my father bidden you to tell me this?”

“Since when have I enjoyed your father's confidence to that degree? No, no, Cynthia. I plead the boy's cause to you because—I know not because of what.”

“It is ill to plead without knowing why. Let us forget the valiant Kenneth. They tell me, Sir Crispin”—and she turned her glorious eyes upon him in a manner that must have witched a statue into answering her—“that in the Royal army you were known as the Tavern Knight.”

“They tell you truly. What of that?”

“Well, what of it? Do you blush at the very thought?”

“I blush?” He blinked, and his eyes were full of humour as they met her grave—almost sorrowing glance. Then a full-hearted peal of laughter broke from him, and scared a flight of gulls from the rocks of Sheringham Hithe below.

“Oh, Cynthia! You'll kill me!” he gasped. “Picture to yourself this Crispin Galliard blushing and giggling like a schoolgirl beset by her first lover. Picture it, I say! As well and as easily might you picture old Lucifer warbling a litany for the edification of a Nonconformist parson.”

Her eyes were severe in their reproach.

“It is always so with you. You laugh and jest and make a mock of everything. Such I doubt not has been your way from the commencement, and 'tis thus that you are come to this condition.”

Again he laughed, but this time it was in bitterness.

“Nay, sweet mistress, you are wrong—you are very wrong; it was not always thus. Time was—” He paused. “Bah! 'Tis the coward cries “time was”! Leave me the past, Cynthia. It is dead, and of the dead we should speak no ill,” he jested.

“What is there in your past?” she insisted, despite his words. “What is there in it so to have warped a character that I am assured was once—is, indeed, still—of lofty and noble purpose? What is it has brought you to the level you occupy—you who were born to lead; you who—”

“Have done, child. Have done,” he begged.

“Nay, tell me. Let us sit here.” And taking hold of his sleeve, she sat herself upon a mound, and made room for him beside her on the grass. With a half-laugh and a sigh he obeyed her, and there, on the cliff, in the glow of the September sun, he took his seat at her side.

A silence prevailed about them, emphasized rather than broken by the droning chant of a fisherman mending his nets on the beach below, the intermittent plash of the waves on the shingle, and the scream of the gulls that circled overhead. Before the eyes of his flesh was stretched a wide desert of sky and water, and before the eyes of his mind the hopeless desert of his thirty-eight years.

He was almost tempted to speak. The note of sympathy in her voice allured him, and sympathy was to him as drink to one who perishes of thirst. A passionate, indefinable longing impelled him to pour out the story that in Worcester he had related unto Kenneth, and thus to set himself better in her eyes; to have her realize indeed that if he was come so low it was more the fault of others than his own. The temptation drew him at a headlong pace, to be checked at last by the memory that those others who had brought him to so sorry a condition were her own people. The humour passed. He laughed softly, and shook his head.

“There is nothing that I can tell you, child. Let us rather talk of Kenneth.”

“I do not wish to talk of Kenneth.”

“Nay, but you must. Willy-nilly must you. Think you it is only a war-worn, hard-drinking, swashbuckling ruffler that can sin? Does it not also occur to you that even a frail and tender little maid may do wrong as well?”

“What wrong have I done?” she cried in consternation.

“A grievous wrong to this poor lad. Can you not realize how the only desire that governs him is the laudable one of appearing favourably in your eyes?”

“That desire gives rise, then, to curious manifestations.”

“He is mistaken in the means he adopts, that is all. In his heart his one aim is to win your esteem, and, after all, it is the sentiment that matters, not its manifestation. Why, then, are you unkind to him?”

“But I am not unkind. Or is it unkindness to let him see that I mislike his capers? Would it not be vastly more unkind to ignore them and encourage him to pursue their indulgence? I have no patience with him.”

“As for those capers, I am endeavouring to show you that you yourself have driven him to them.”

“Sir Crispin,” she cried out, “you grow tiresome.”

“Aye,” said he, “I grow tiresome. I grow tiresome because I preach of duty. Marry, it is in truth a tiresome topic.”

“How duty? Of what do you talk?” And a flush of incipient anger spread now on her fair cheek.

“I will be clearer,” said he imperturbably. “This lad is your betrothed. He is at heart a good lad, an honourable and honest lad—at times haply over-honest and over-honourable; but let that be. To please a whim, a caprice, you set yourself to flout him, as is the way of your sex when you behold a man your utter slave. From this—being all unversed in the obliquity of woman—he conceives, poor boy, that he no longer finds favour in your eyes, and to win back this, the only thing that in the world he values, he behaves foolishly. You flout him anew, and because of it. He is as jealous with you as a hen with her brood.”

“Jealous?” echoed Cynthia.

“Why, yes, jealous; and so far does he go as to be jealous even of me,” he cried, with infinitely derisive relish. “Think of it—he is jealous of me! Jealous of him they call the Tavern Knight!”

She did think of it as he bade her. And by thinking she stumbled upon a discovery that left her breathless.

Strange how we may bear a sentiment in our hearts without so much as suspecting its existence, until suddenly a chance word shall so urge it into life that it reveals itself with unmistakable distinctness. With her the revelation began in a vague wonder at the scorn with which Crispin invested the notion that Kenneth should have cause for jealousy on his score. Was it, she asked herself, so monstrously unnatural? Then in a flash the answer came—and it was, that far from being a matter for derision, such an attitude in Kenneth lacked not for foundation.

In that moment she knew that it was because of Crispin; because of this man who spoke with such very scorn of self, that Kenneth had become in her eyes so mean and unworthy a creature. Loved him she haply never had, but leastways she had tolerated—been even flattered by—his wooing. By contrasting him now with Crispin she had grown to despise him. His weakness, his pusillanimity, his meannesses of soul, stood out in sharp relief by contrast with the masterful strength and the high spirit of Sir Crispin.

So easily may our ideals change that the very graces of face and form that a while ago had pleased her in Kenneth, seemed now effeminate attributes, well-attuned to a vacillating, purposeless mind. Far greater beauty did her eyes behold in this grimfaced soldier of fortune; the man as firm of purpose as he was upright of carriage; gloomy, proud, and reckless; still young, yet past the callow age of adolescence. Since the day of his coming to Castle Marleigh she had brought herself to look upon him as a hero stepped from the romancers' tales that in secret she had read. The mystery that seemed to envelop him; those hints at a past that was not good—but the measure of whose evil in her pure innocence she could not guess; his very melancholy, his misfortunes, and the deeds she had heard assigned to him, all had served to fire her fancy and more besides, although, until that moment, she knew it not.

Subconsciously all this had long dwelt in her mind. And now of a sudden that self-deriding speech of Crispin's had made her aware of its presence and its meaning.

She loved him. That men said his life had not been nice, that he was a soldier of fortune, little better than an adventurer, a man of no worldly weight, were matters of no moment then to her. She loved him. She knew it now because he had mockingly bidden her to think whether Kenneth had cause to be jealous of him, and because upon thinking of it, she found that did Kenneth know what was in her heart, he must have more than cause.

She loved him with that rare love that will urge a woman to the last sacrifice a man may ask; a love that gives and gives, and seeks nothing in return; that impels a woman to follow the man at his bidding, be his way through the world cast in places never so rugged; cleaving to him where all besides shall have abandoned him; and, however dire his lot, asking of God no greater blessing than that of sharing it.

And to such a love as this Crispin was blind—blind to the very possibility of its existence; so blind that he laughed to scorn the idea of a puny milksop being jealous of him. And so, while she sat, her soul all mastered by her discovery, her face white and still for very awe of it, he to whom this wealth was given, pursued the odious task of wooing her for another.

“You have observed—you must have observed this insensate jealousy,” he was saying, “and how do you allay it? You do not. On the contrary, you excite it at every turn. You are exciting it now by having—and I dare swear for no other purpose—lured me to walk with you, to sit here with you and preach your duty to you. And when, through jealousy, he shall have flown to fresh absurdities, shall you regret your conduct and the fruits it has borne? Shall you pity the lad, and by kindness induce him to be wiser? No. You will mock and taunt him into yet worse displays. And through these displays, which are—though you may not have bethought you of it—of your own contriving, you will conclude that he is no fit mate for you, and there will be heart-burnings, and years hence perhaps another Tavern Knight, whose name will not be Crispin Galliard.”

She had listened with bent head; indeed, so deeply rapt by her discovery, that she had but heard the half of what he said. Now, of a sudden, she looked up, and meeting his glance:

“Is—is it a woman's fault that you are as you are?”

“No, it is not. But how does that concern the case of Kenneth?”

“It does not. I was but curious. I was not thinking of Kenneth.”

He stared at her, dumfounded. Had he been talking of Kenneth to her with such eloquence and such fervour, that she should calmly tell him as he paused that it was not of Kenneth she had been thinking?

“You will think of him, Cynthia?” he begged. “You will bethink you too of what I have said, and by being kinder and more indulgent with this youth you shall make him grow into a man you may take pride in. Deal fairly with him, child, and if anon you find you cannot truly love him, then tell him so. But tell him kindly and frankly, instead of using him as you are doing.”

She was silent a moment, and in their poignancy her feelings went very near to anger. Presently:

“I would, Sir Crispin, you could hear him talk of you,” said she.

“He talks ill, not a doubt of it, and like enough he has good cause.”

“Yet you saved his life.”

The words awoke Crispin, the philosopher of love, to realities. He recalled the circumstances of his saving Kenneth, and the price the boy was to pay for that service; and it suddenly came to him that it was wasted breath to plead Kenneth's cause with Cynthia, when by his own future actions he was, himself, more than likely to destroy the boy's every hope of wedding her. The irony of his attitude smote him hard, and he rose abruptly. The sun hung now a round, red globe upon the very brink of the sea.

“Hereafter he may have little cause to thank me,” muttered he. “Come, Mistress Cynthia, it grows late.”

She rose in mechanical obedience, and together they retraced their steps in silence, save for the stray word exchanged at intervals touching matters of no moment.

But he had not advocated Kenneth's cause in vain, for all that he little recked what his real argument had been, what influences he had evoked to urge her to make her peace with the lad. A melancholy listlessness of mind possessed her now. Crispin did not see, never would see, what was in her heart, and it might not be hers to show him. The life that might have signified was not to be lived, and since that was so it seemed to matter little what befell.

It was thus that when on the morrow her father returned to the subject, she showed herself tractable and docile out of her indifference, and to Gregory she appeared not averse to listen to what he had to advance in the boy's favour. Anon Kenneth's own humble pleading, allied to his contrite and sorrowful appearance, were received by her with that same indifference, as also with indifference did she allow him later to kiss her hand and assume the flattering belief that he was rehabilitated in her favour.

But pale grew Mistress Cynthia's cheeks, and sad her soul. Wistful she waxed, sighing at every turn, until it seemed to her—as haply it hath seemed to many a maid—that all her life must she waste in vain sighs over a man who gave no single thought to her.

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