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.”

“True; you will be tired, and perchance you would first rest a while. Cynthia will see to it. But what scarecrow have you there? What tatterdemalion is this?” he cried, pointing to Galliard. He had imagined him a servant, but the dull flush that overspread Sir Crispin's face told him of his error.

“I would have you know, sir,” Crispin began, with some heat, when Kenneth interrupted him.

“Tis to this gentleman, sir, that I owe my presence here. He was my fellow-prisoner, and but for his quick wit and stout arm I should be stiff by now. Anon, sir, you shall hear the story of it, and I dare swear it will divert you. This gentleman is Sir Crispin Galliard, lately a captain of horse with whom I served in Middleton's Brigade.”

Crispin bowed low, conscious of the keen scrutiny in which Gregory's eyes were bent upon him. In his heart there arose a fear that, haply after all, the years that were sped had not wrought sufficient change in him.

“Sir Crispin Galliard,” Ashburn was saying, after the manner of one who is searching his memory. “Galliard, Galliard—not he whom they called 'Rakehelly Galliard,' and who gave us such trouble in the late King's time?”

Crispin breathed once more. Ashburn's scrutiny was explained.

“The same, sir,” he answered, with a smile and a fresh bow. “Your servant, sir; and yours, madam.”

Cynthia looked with interest at the lank, soldierly figure. She, too, had heard—as who had not?—wild stories of this man's achievements. But of no feat of his had she been told that could rival that of his escape from Worcester; and when, that same evening, Kenneth related it, as they supped, her low-lidded eyes grew very wide, and as they fell on Crispin, admiration had taken now the place of interest.

Romance swayed as great a portion of her heart as it does of most women's. She loved the poets and their songs of great deeds; and here was one who, in the light of that which they related of him, was like an incarnation of some hero out of a romancer's ballad.

Kenneth she never yet had held in over high esteem; but of a sudden, in the presence of this harsh-featured dog of war, this grim, fierce-eyed ruffler, he seemed to fade, despite his comeliness of face and form, into a poor and puny insignificance. And when, presently, he unwisely related how, when in the boat he had fainted, the maiden laughed outright for very scorn.

At this plain expression of contempt, her father shot her a quick, uneasy glance. Kenneth stopped short, bringing his narrative abruptly to a close. Reproachfully he looked at her, turning first red, then white, as anger chased annoyance through his soul. Galliard looked on with quiet relish; her laugh had contained that which for days he had carried in his heart. He drained his bumper slowly, and made no attempt to relieve the awkward silence that sat upon the company.

Truth to tell, there was emotion enough in the soul of him who was wont to be the life of every board he sat at to hold him silent and even moody.

Here, after eighteen years, was he again in his ancestral home of Marleigh. But how was he returned? As one who came under a feigned name, to seek from usurping hands a shelter 'neath his own roof; a beggar of that from others which it should have been his to grant or to deny those others. As an avenger he came. For justice he came, and armed with retribution; the flame of a hate unspeakable burning in his heart, and demanding the lives—no less—of those that had destroyed him and his. Yet was he forced to sit a mendicant almost at that board whose head was his by every right; forced to sit and curb his mood, giving no outward sign of the volcano that boiled and raged within his soul as his eye fell upon the florid, smiling face and portly, well-fed frame of Gregory Ashburn. For the time was not yet. He must wait; wait until Joseph's return, so that he might spend his vengeance upon both together.

Patient had he been for eighteen years, confident that ere he died, a just and merciful God would give him this for which he lived and waited. Yet now that the season was at hand; now upon the very eve of that for which he had so long been patient, a frenzy of impatience fretted him.

He drank deep that night, and through deep drinking his manner thawed—for in his cups it was not his to be churlish to friend or foe. Anon Cynthia withdrew; next Kenneth, who went in quest of her. Still Crispin sat on, and drank his host's health above his breath, and his perdition under it, till in the end Gregory, who never yet had found his master at the bottle, grew numb and drowsy, and sat blinking at the tapers.

Until midnight they remained at table, talking of this and that, and each understanding little of what the other said. As the last hour of night boomed out through the great hall, Gregory spoke of bed.

“Where do I lie to-night?” asked Crispin.

“In the northern wing,” answered Gregory with a hiccough.

“Nay, sir, I protest,” cried Galliard, struggling to his feet, and swaying somewhat as he stood. “I'll sleep in the King's chamber, none other.”

“The King's chamber?” echoed Gregory, and his face showed the confused struggles of his brain. “What know you of the King's chamber?”

“That it faces the east and the sea, and that it is the chamber I love best.”

“What can you know of it since, I take it, you have never seen it!”

“Have I not?” he began, in a voice that was awful in its threatening calm. Then, recollecting himself, and shaking some of the drunkenness from him: “In the old days, when the Marleighs were masters here,” he mumbled, “I was often within these walls. Roland Marleigh was my friend. The King's chamber was ever accorded me, and there, for old time's sake, I'll lay these old bones of mine to-night.”

“You were Roland Marleigh's friend?” gasped Gregory. He was very white now, and there was a sheen of moisture on his face. The sound of that name had well-nigh sobered him. It was almost as if the ghost of Roland Marleigh stood before him. His knees were loosened, and he sank back into the chair from which he had but risen.

“Aye, I was his friend!” assented Crispin. “Poor Roland! He married your sister, did he not, and it was thus that, having no issue and the family being extinct, Castle Marleigh passed to you?”

“He married our cousin,” Gregory amended. “They were an ill-fated family.”

“Ill-fated, indeed, an all accounts be true,” returned Crispin in a maudlin voice. “Poor Roland! Well, for old time's sake, I'll sleep in the King's chamber, Master Ashburn.”

“You shall sleep where you list, sir,” answered Gregory, and they rose.

“Do you look to honour us long at Castle Marleigh, Sir Crispin?” was Gregory's last question before separating from his guest.

“Nay, sir, 'tis likely I shall go hence to-morrow,” answered Crispin, unmindful of what he said.

“I trust not,” said Gregory, in accents of relief that belied him. “A friend of Roland Marleigh's must ever be welcome in the house that was Roland Marleigh's.”

“The house that was Roland Marleigh's,” Crispin muttered. “Heigho! Life is precarious as the fall of a die at best an ephemeral business. To-night you say the house that was Roland Marleigh's; presently men will be saying the house that the Ashburns lived—aye, and died—in. Give you good night, Master Ashburn.”

He staggered off, and stumbled up the broad staircase at the head of which a servant now awaited, taper in hand, to conduct him to the chamber he demanded.

Gregory followed him with a dull, frightened eye. Galliard's halting, thickly uttered words had sounded like a prophecy in his ears.

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