When the Tavern Knight left the gates of Marleigh Park behind him on that wild October night, he drove deep the rowels of his spurs, and set his horse at a perilous gallop along the road to Norwich. The action was of instinct rather than of thought. In the turbulent sea of his mind, one clear current there was, and one only—the knowledge that he was bound for London for news of this son of his whom Joseph told him lived. He paused not even to speculate what manner of man his child was grown, nor yet what walk of life he had been reared to tread. He lived: he was somewhere in the world; that for the time sufficed him. The Ashburns had not, it seemed, destroyed quite everything that made his life worth enduring—the life that so often and so wantonly he had exposed.

His son lived, and in London he should have news of him. To London then must he get himself with all dispatch, and he swore to take no rest until he reached it. And with that firm resolve to urge him, he ploughed his horse's flanks, and sped on through the night. The rain beat in his face, yet he scarce remarked it, as again more by instinct than by reason—he buried his face to the eyes in the folds of his cloak.

Later the rain ceased, and clearer grew the line of light betwixt the hedgerows, by which his horse had steered its desperate career. Fitfully a crescent moon peered out from among the wind-driven clouds. The poor ruffler was fallen into meditation, and noted not that his nag did no more than amble. He roused himself of a sudden when half-way down a gentle slope some five miles from Norwich, and out of temper at discovering the sluggishness of the pace, he again gave the horse a taste of the spurs. The action was fatal. The incline was become a bed of sodden clay, and he had not noticed with what misgivings his horse pursued the treacherous footing. The sting of the spur made the animal bound forward, and the next instant a raucous oath broke from Crispin as the nag floundered and dropped on its knees. Like a stone from a catapult Galliard flew over its head and rolled down the few remaining yards of the slope into a very lake of slimy water at the bottom.

Down this same hill, some twenty minutes later, came Kenneth Stewart with infinite precaution. He was in haste—a haste more desperate far than even Crispin's. But his character held none of Galliard's recklessness, nor were his wits fogged by such news as Crispin had heard that night. He realized that to be swift he must be cautious in his night-riding. And so, carefully he came, with a firm hand on the reins, yet leaving it to his horse to find safe footing.

He had reached the level ground in safety, and was about to put his nag to a smarter pace, when of a sudden from the darkness of the hedge he was hailed by a harsh, metallic voice, the sound of which sent a tremor through him.

“Sir, you are choicely met, whoever you may be. I have suffered a mischance down that cursed hill, and my horse has gone lame.”

Kenneth kept his cloak over his mouth, trusting that the muffling would sufficiently disguise his accents as he made answer.

“I am in haste, my master. What is your will?”

“Why, marry, so am I in haste. My will is your horse, sir. Oh, I'm no robber. I'll pay you for it, and handsomely. But have it I must. 'Twill be no great discomfort for you to walk to Norwich. You may do it in an hour.”

“My horse, sir, is not for sale,” was Kenneth's brief answer. “Give you good night.”

“Hold, man! Blood and hell, stop! If you'll not sell the worthless beast to serve a gentleman, I'll shoot it under you. Make your choice.”

Kenneth caught the gleam of a pistol-barrel pointed at him from the hedge, and he shivered. What was he to do? Every instant was precious to him. As in a flash it came to him that perchance Sir Crispin also rode to London, and that it was expected of him to arrive there first if he were to be in time. Swiftly he weighed the odds in his mind, and took the determination to dash past Sir Crispin, risking his aim and trusting to the dark to befriend him.

But even as he determined thus, what moon there was became unveiled, and the light of it fell upon his face, which was turned towards Galliard. An exclamation of surprise escaped Sir Crispin.

“'Slife, Master Stewart, I knew not your voice. Whither do you ride?”

“What is it to you? Have you not wrought enough of evil for me? Am I never to be rid of you? Castle Marleigh,” he added, with well-feigned anger, “has closed its doors upon me. What does it signify to you whither I ride? Suffer me leastways to pass unmolested, and to leave you.”

Kenneth's passionate reproaches cut Galliard keenly. He held himself at that moment a very knave for having dragged this boy into his work of vengeance, and thereby cast a blight upon his life. He sought for words wherein to give expression to something of what he felt, then realizing how futile and effete all words must prove, he waved his hand in the direction of the road.

“Go, Master Stewart,” he muttered. “Your way is clear.”

And Kenneth, waiting for no second invitation, rode on and left him. He rode with gratitude in his heart to the Providence that had caused him so easily to overcome an obstacle that at first he had held impassable. Stronger grew in his mind the conviction that to fulfil the mission Joseph required of him, he must reach London before Sir Crispin. The knowledge that he was ahead of him, and that he must derive an ample start from Galliard's mishap, warmed him like wine.

His mind thus relieved from its weight of anxiety, he little recked fatigue, and such excellent use did he make of his horse that he reached Newmarket on it an hour before the morrow's moon.

An hour he rested there, and broke his fast. Then on a fresh horse—a powerful and willing animal he set out once more.

By half-past two he was at Newport. But so hard had he ridden that man and beast alike were in a lather of sweat, and whilst he himself felt sick and tired, the horse was utterly unfit to bear him farther. For half an hour he rested there, and made a meal whose chief constituent was brandy. Then on a third horse he started upon the last stage of his journey.

The wind was damp and penetrating; the roads veritable morasses of mud, and overhead gloomy banks of dark, grey clouds moved sluggishly, the light that was filtered through them giving the landscape a bleak and dreary aspect. In his jaded condition Kenneth soon became a prey to the depression of it. His lightness of heart of some dozen hours ago was now all gone, and not even the knowledge that his mission was well-nigh accomplished sufficed to cheer him. To add to his discomfort a fine rain set in towards four o'clock, and when a couple of hours later he clattered along the road cut through a wooded slope in the direction of Waltham, he was become a very limp and lifeless individual.

He noticed not the horsemen moving cautiously among the closely-set trees on either side of the road. It was growing prematurely dark, and objects were none too distinct. And thus it befell that when from the reverie of dejection into which he had fallen he was suddenly aroused by the thud of hoofs, he looked up to find two mounted men barring the road some ten yards in front of him. Their attitude was unmistakable, and it crossed poor Kenneth's mind that he was beset by robbers. But a second glance showed him their red cloaks and military steel caps, and he knew them for soldiers of the Commonwealth.

Hearing the beat of hoofs behind him, he looked over his shoulder to see four other troopers closing rapidly down upon him. Clearly he was the object of their attention. He had been a fool not to have perceived this earlier, and his heart misgave him, for all that had he paused to think he must have realized that he had naught to fear, and that in this some mistake must lie.

“Halt!” thundered the deep voice of the sergeant, who, with a trooper, held the road in front.

Kenneth drew up within a yard of them, conscious that the man's dark eyes were scanning him sharply from beneath his morion.

“Who are you, sir?” the bass voice demanded.

Alas for the vanity of poor human mites! Even Kenneth, who never yet had achieved aught for the cause he served, grew of a sudden chill to think that perchance this sergeant might recognize his name for one that he had heard before associated with deeds performed on the King's behalf.

For a second he hesitated; then:

“Blount,” he stammered, “Jasper Blount.”

He little thought how that fruit of his vanity was to prove his undoing thereafter.

“Verily,” sneered the sergeant, “it almost seemed you had forgotten it.” And from that sneer Kenneth gathered with fresh dread that the fellow mistrusted him.

“Whence are you, Master Blount?”

Again Kenneth hesitated. Then recalling Ashburn's high favour with the Parliament, and seeing that it could but advance his cause to state the true sum of his journey:

“From Castle Marleigh,” he replied.

“Verily, sir, you seem yet in some doubt. Whither do you go?”

“To London.”

“On what errand?” The sergeant's questions fell swift as sword-strokes.

“With letters for Colonel Pride.”

The reply, delivered more boldly than Kenneth had spoken hitherto, was not without its effect.

“From whom are these letters?”

“From Mr. Joseph Ashburn, of Castle Marleigh.”

“Produce them.”

With trembling fingers Kenneth complied. This the sergeant observed as he took the package.

“What ails you, man?” quoth he.

“Naught, sir 'tis the cold.”

The sergeant scanned the package and its seal. In a measure it was a passport, and he was forced to the conclusion that this man was indeed the messenger he represented himself. Certainly he had not the air nor the bearing of him for whom they waited, nor did the sergeant think that their quarry would have armed himself with a dummy package against such a strait. And yet the sergeant was not master after all, and did he let this fellow pursue his journey, he might reap trouble for it hereafter; whilst likewise if he detained him, Colonel Pride, he knew, was not an over-patient man. He was still debating what course to take, and had turned to his companion with the muttered question: “What think you, Peter?” when by his precipitancy Kenneth ruined his slender chance of being permitted to depart.

“I pray you, sir, now that you know my errand, suffer me to pass on.”

There was an eager tremor in his voice that the sergeant mistook for fear. He noted it, and remembering the boy's hesitancy in answering his earlier questions, he decided upon his course of action.

“We shall not delay your journey, sir,” he answered, eyeing Kenneth sharply, “and as your way must lie through Waltham, I will but ask you to suffer us to ride with you thus far, so that there you may answer any questions our captain may have to ask ere you proceed.”

“But, sir—”

“No more, master courier,” snarled the sergeant. Then, beckoning a trooper to his side, he whispered an order in his ear.

As the man withdrew they wheeled their horses, and at a sharp word of command Kenneth rode on towards Waltham between the sergeant and a trooper.

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