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Master John Horseleigh, Knight
by [?]

‘Edith–I’ve seen them; wife and family–all. How canst–‘

They were sitting in the gathered darkness, and at that moment steps were heard without. ‘Go out this way,’ she said. ‘It is my husband. He must not see thee in this mood. Get away till to-morrow, Roger, as you care for me.’

She pushed her brother through a door leading to the back stairs, and almost as soon as it was closed her visitor entered. Roger, however, did not retreat down the stairs; he stood and looked through the bobbin-hole. If the visitor turned out to be Sir John, he had determined to confront him.

It was the knight. She had struck a light on his entry, and he kissed the child, and took Edith tenderly by the shoulders, looking into her face.

‘Something’s gone awry wi’ my dear!’ he said. ‘What is it? What’s the matter?’

‘O, Jack!’ she cried. ‘I have heard such a fearsome rumour–what doth it mean? He who told me is my best friend. He must be deceived! But who deceived him, and why? Jack, I was just told that you had a wife living when you married me, and have her still!’

‘A wife?–H’m.’

‘Yes, and children. Say no, say no!’

‘By God! I have no lawful wife but you; and as for children, many or few, they are all bastards, save this one alone!’

‘And that you be Sir John Horseleigh of Clyfton?’

‘I mid be. I have never said so to ‘ee.’

‘But Sir John is known to have a lady, and issue of her!’

The knight looked down. ‘How did thy mind get filled with such as this?’ he asked.

‘One of my kindred came.’

‘A traitor! Why should he mar our life? Ah! you said you had a brother at sea–where is he now?’

‘Here!’ came from close behind him. And flinging open the door, Roger faced the intruder. ‘Liar!’ he said, ‘to call thyself her husband!’

Sir John fired up, and made a rush at the sailor, who seized him by the collar, and in the wrestle they both fell, Roger under. But in a few seconds he contrived to extricate his right arm, and drawing from his belt a knife which he wore attached to a cord round his neck he opened it with his teeth, and struck it into the breast of Sir John stretched above him. Edith had during these moments run into the next room to place the child in safety, and when she came back the knight was relaxing his hold on Roger’s throat. He rolled over upon his back and groaned.

The only witness of the scene save the three concerned was the nursemaid, who had brought in the child on its father’s arrival. She stated afterwards that nobody suspected Sir John had received his death wound; yet it was so, though he did not die for a long while, meaning thereby an hour or two; that Mistress Edith continually endeavoured to staunch the blood, calling her brother Roger a wretch, and ordering him to get himself gone; on which order he acted, after a gloomy pause, by opening the window, and letting himself down by the sill to the ground.

It was then that Sir John, in difficult accents, made his dying declaration to the nurse and Edith, and, later, the apothecary; which was to this purport, that the Dame Horseleigh who passed as his wife at Clyfton, and who had borne him three children, was in truth and deed, though unconsciously, the wife of another man. Sir John had married her several years before, in the face of the whole county, as the widow of one Decimus Strong, who had disappeared shortly after her union with him, having adventured to the North to join the revolt of the Nobles, and on that revolt being quelled retreated across the sea. Two years ago, having discovered this man to be still living in France, and not wishing to disturb the mind and happiness of her who believed herself his wife, yet wishing for legitimate issue, Sir John had informed the King of the facts, who had encouraged him to wed honestly, though secretly, the young merchant’s widow at Havenpool; she being, therefore, his lawful wife, and she only. That to avoid all scandal and hubbub he had purposed to let things remain as they were till fair opportunity should arise of making the true case known with least pain to all parties concerned, but that, having been thus suspected and attacked by his own brother-in-law, his zest for such schemes and for all things had died out in him, and he only wished to commend his soul to God.