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   Chapter 8 No.8

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 4639

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Up on the high moors, in the frank-chase, here indeed was a day to make sad hearts rejoice. The air was soft, as if spring were come before his time; and in the great wind that blew continually from the south-west, bearing the high clouds swiftly against the blue, ruffling the stiff heather-twigs and bilberry beneath-here was wine enough for any mourners. Before them, as they went-two riding before, with falconers on either side a little behind and the lads with the dogs beside them, and the rest in a silent line some twenty yards to the rear-stretched the wide, flat moor like a tumbled table-cloth, broken here and there by groups of wind-tossed beech and oak, backed by the tall limestone crags like pillar-capitals of an upper world; with here and there a little shallow quarry whence marble had been taken for Derby. But more lovely than all were the valleys, seen from here, as great troughs up whose sides trooped the leafless trees-lit by the streams that threw back the sunlit sky from their bosoms; with here a mist of smoke blown all about from a village out of sight, here the shadow of a travelling cloud that fled as swift as the wind that drove it, extinguishing the flash of water only to release it again, darkening a sweep of land only to make the sunlight that followed it the more sweet.

Yet the two saw little of this, dear and familiar as they found it; since, first they rode together, and next, as it should be with young hearts, the sport presently began and drove all else away.

The sport was done in this way:

The two that rode in front selected each from the cadge one of his own falcons (it was peregrines that were used at the beginning of the day, since they were first after partridges), and so rode, carrying his falcon on his wrist, hooded, belled, and in the leash, ready to cast off. Immediately before them went a lad with a couple of dogs to nose the game-these also in a leash until they stiffened. Then the lad released them and stepped softly back, while the riders moved on at a foot's-pace, and the spaniels behind rose on their hind legs, choked by the chain, whimpering, fifty yards in the rear. Slowly the dogs advanced, each a frozen model of craft and blood-lust, till an instant afterwards, with a whir and a chattering like a broken clock, the covey whirl

ed from the thick growth underfoot, and flashed away northwards; and, a moment later, up went the peregrines behind them. Then, indeed, it was sauve qui peut, for the ground was full of holes here and there, though there were grass-stretches as well on which all rode with loose rein, the two whose falcons were sprung always in front, according to custom, and the rest in a medley behind. Away then went the birds, pursued and pursuers, till, like a falling star the falcon stooped, and then, maybe, the other a moment later, down upon the quarry; and a minute later there was the falcon back again shivering with pride and ecstasy, or all ruffle-feathered with shame, back on his master's wrist, and another torn partridge, or maybe two, in the bottom of the lad's bag; and arguments went full pelt, and cries, and sometimes sharp words, and faults were found, and praise was given, and so, on for another pair.

It was but natural that Robin and Marjorie should compete one against the other, for they were riding together and talked together. So presently Mr. Thomas called to them, and beckoned them to their places. Robin set aside Agnes on to the cadge and chose Magdalen, and Marjorie chose Sharpie. The array was set, and all moved forward.

It was a short chase and a merry one. Two birds rose from the heather and flew screaming, skimming low, as from behind them moved on the shadows of death, still as clouds, with great noiseless sweeps of sickle-shaped wings. Behind came the gallopers; Marjorie on her black horse, Robin on Cecily, seeming to compete, yet each content if either won, each, maybe-or at least Marjorie-desiring that the other should win. And the wind screamed past them as they went.

Then came the stoops-together as if fastened by one string-faultless and exquisite; and, as the two rode up and drew rein, there, side by side on the windy turf, two fierce statues of destiny-cruel-eyed, blood-stained on the beaks, resolute and suspicious-eyed them motionless, the claws sunk deeply through back and head-awaiting recapture.

Marjorie turned swiftly to the boy as he leaped off.

"In the chapel," she said, "at Padley."

Robin stared at her. Then he understood and nodded his head, as Mr. Thomas rode up, his beard all blown about by the wind, breathless but congratulatory.

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