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He left her in a pet, and went in search of Gregory, into whose ear he poured the story of his woes that had their source in Cynthia's unkindness. From this resulted a stormy interview 'twixt Cynthia and her father, in which Cynthia at last declared that she would not be wedded to a fop.
Gregory shrugged his shoulders and laughed cynically, replying that it was the way of young men to be fools, and that through folly lay the road to wisdom.
"Be that as it may," she answered him with spirit, "this folly transcends all bounds. Master Stewart may return to his Scottish heather; at Castle Marleigh he is wasting time."
"Cynthia!" he cried.
"Father," she pleaded, "why be angry? You would not have me marry against the inclinations of my heart? You would not have me wedded to a man whom I despise?"
"By what right do you despise him?" he demanded, his brow dark.
"By the right of the freedom of my thoughts - the only freedom that a woman knows. For the rest it seems she is but a chattel; of no more consideration to a man than his ox or his ass with which the Scriptures rank her - a thing to be given or taken, bought or sold, as others shall decree."
"Child, child, what know you of these things?" he cried. "You are overwrought, sweetheart." And with the promise to wait until a calmer frame of mind in her should be more propitious to what he wished to say further on this score, he left her.
She went out of doors in quest of solitude among the naked trees of the park; instead she found Sir Crispin, seated deep in thought upon a fallen trunk.
Through the trees she espied him as she approached, whilst the rustle of her gown announced to him her coming. He rose as she drew nigh, and, doffing his hat, made shift to pass on.
"Sir Crispin," she called, detaining him. He turned.
"Your servant, Mistress Cynthia."
"Are you afraid of me, Sir Crispin?"
"Beauty, madam, is wont to inspire courage rather than fear," he answered, with a smile.
"That, sir, is an evasion, not an answer."
"If read aright, Mistress Cynthia, it is also an answer."
"That you do not fear me?"
"It is not a habit of mine."
"Why, then, have you avoided me these three days past?"
Despite himself Crispin felt his breath quickening - quickening with a pleasure that he sought not to account for - at the thought that she should have marked his absence from her side.
"Because perhaps if I did not," he answered slowly, "you might come to avoid me. I am a proud man, Mistress Cynthia."
"Satan, sir, was proud, but his pride led him to perdition."
"So indeed may mine," he answered readily, "since it leads me from you."
"Nay, sir," she laughed, "you go from me willingly enough."
"Not willingly, Cynthia. Oh, not willingly," he began. Then of a sudden he checked his tongue, and asked himself what he was saying. With a half-laugh and a courtier manner, he continued, "Of two evils, madam, we must choose the lesser one."
"Madam," she echoed, disregarding all else that he had said. "It is an ugly word, and but a moment back you called me Cynthia "
"Twas a liberty that methought my grey hairs warranted, and for which you should have reproved me."
"You have not grey hairs enough to warrant it, Sir Crispin," she answered archly. "But what if even so I account it no liberty?"
The heavy lids were lifted from her eyes, and as their glance, frank and kindly, met his, he trembled. Then, with a polite smile, he bowed.
"I thank you for the honour."
For a moment she looked at him in a puzzled way, then moved past him, and as he stood, stiffly erect, watching her graceful figure, he thought that she was about to leave him, and was glad of it. But ere she had taken half a dozen steps:
"Sir Crispin," said she, looking back at him over her shoulder, "I am walking to the cliffs."
Never was a man more plainly invited to become an escort; but he ignored it. A sad smile crept into his harsh face.
"I shall tell Kenneth if I see him," said he.
At that she frowned.
"But I do not want him," she protested. "Sooner would I go alone."
"Why, then, madam, I'll tell nobody."
Was ever man so dull? she asked herself.
"There is a fine view from the cliffs," said she.
"I have always thought so," he agreed.
She inclined to call him a fool; yet she restrained herself. She had an impulse to go her way without him; but, then, she desired his company, and Cynthia was unused to having her desires frustrated. So finding him impervious to suggestion:
"Will you not come with me?" she asked at last, point-blank.
"Why, yes, if you wish it," he answered without alacrity.
"You may remain, sir."
Her offended tone aroused him now to the understanding that he was impolite. Contrite he stood beside her in a moment.
"With your permission, mistress, I will go with you. I am a dull fellow, and to-day I know not what mood is on me. So sorry a one that I feared I should be poor company. Still, if you'll endure me, I'll do my best to prove entertaining."
"By no means," she answered coldly. "I seek not the company of dull fellows." And she was gone.
He stood where she had left him, and breathed a most ungallant prayer of thanks. Next he laughed softly to himself, a laugh that was woeful with bitterness.
"Fore George!" he muttered, "it is all that was wanting!"
He reseated himself upon the fallen tree, and there he set himself to reflect, and to realize that he, war-worn and callous, come to Castle Marleigh on such an errand as was his, should wax sick at the very thought of it for the sake of a chit of a maid, with a mind to make a mock and a toy of him. Into his mind there entered even the possibility of flight, forgetful of the wrongs he had suffered, abandoning the vengeance he had sworn. Then with an oath he stemmed his thoughts.
"God in heaven, am I a boy, beardless and green?" he asked himself. "Am I turned seventeen again, that to look into a pair of eyes should make me forget all things but their existence?" Then in a burst of passion: "Would to Heaven," he muttered, "they had left me stark on Worcester Field!"
He rose abruptly, and set out to walk aimlessly along, until suddenly a turn in the path brought him face to face with Cynthia. She hailed him with a laugh.
"Sir laggard, I knew that willy-nilly you would follow me," she cried. And he, taken aback, could not but smile in answer, and profess that she had conjectured rightly.
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The Tavern Knight -by- Rafael Sabatini