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Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 3445

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Overhead lay the heavy sky of night-clouds like a curved sheet of dark steel, glimmering far away to the left with gashes of pale light. In front towered the twin gateway, seeming in the gloom to lean forward to its fall. Lights shone here and there in the windows, vanished and appeared again, flashing themselves back from the invisible water beneath. About, behind and on either side, there swayed and murmured this huge crowd-invisible in the darkness-peasants, gentlemen, clerks, grooms-all on an equality at last, awed by a common tragedy into silence, except for words exchanged here and there in an undertone, or whispered and left unanswered, or sudden murmured prayers to a God who hid Himself indeed. Now and again, from beyond the veiling walls came the tramp of men; once, three or four brisk notes blown on a horn; once, the sudden rumble of a drum; and once, when the silence grew profound, three or four blows of iron on wood. But at that the murmur rose into a groan and drowned it again….

So the minutes passed…. Since soon after midnight the folks had been gathering here. Many had not slept all night, ever since the report had run like fire through the little town last evening, that the sentence had been delivered to the prisoner. From that time onwards the road that led down past the Castle had never been empty. It was now moving on to dawn, the late dawn of February; and every instant the scene grew more distinct. It was possible for those pushed against the wall, or against the chains of the bridge that had been let down an hour ago, to look down into the chilly water of the moat; to see not the silhouette only of the huge fortress, but the battlements of the wall, and now and again a

steel cap and a pike-point pass beyond it as the sentry went to and fro. Noises within the Castle grew more frequent. The voice of an officer was heard half a dozen times; the rattle of pike-butts, the clash of steel. The melancholy bray of the horn-blower ran up a minor scale and down again; the dub-dub of a drum rang out, and was thrown back in throbs by the encircling walls. The galloping of horses was heard three or four times as a late-comer tore up the village street and was forced to halt far away on the outskirts of the crowd-some country squire, maybe, to whom the amazing news had come an hour ago. Still there was no movement of the great doors across the bridge. The men on guard there shifted their positions; nodded a word or two across to one another; changed their pikes from one hand to the other. It seemed as if day would come and find the affair no further advanced….

Then, without warning (for so do great climaxes always come), the doors wheeled back on their hinges, disclosing a line of pikemen drawn up under the vaulted entrance; a sharp command was uttered by an officer at their head, causing the two sentries to advance across the bridge; a great roaring howl rose from the surging crowd; and in an instant the whole lane was in confusion. Robin felt himself pushed this way and that; he struggled violently, driving his elbows right and left; was lifted for a moment clean from his feet by the pressure about him; slipped down again; gained a yard or two; lost them; gained three or four in a sudden swirl; and immediately found his feet on wood instead of earth; and himself racing desperately as a loose group of runners, across the bridge; and beneath the arch of the castle-gate.

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