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Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 4128

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was two weeks to the day that Robin received his letter.

* * * * *

He had never before been so long in utter solitude; for the visits of David did not break it; and, for other men, he saw none except a hog-herd or two in the distance once or twice. The shepherd came but once a day, carrying a great jug and a parcel of food, and set them down without the hut; he seemed to avoid even looking within; but merely took the empty jug of the day before and went away again. He was an old, bent man, with a face like a limestone cliff, grey and weather-beaten; he lived half the year up here in the wild Peak country, caring for a few sheep, and going down to the village not more than once or twice a week. There was a little spring welling up in a hollow not fifty yards away from the hut, which itself stood in a deep, natural rift among the high hills, so that men might search for it a lifetime and not come across it.

Robin's daily round was very simple. He had leave to make a fire by day, but he must extinguish it at night lest its glow should be seen, so he began his morning by mixing a little oatmeal, and then preparing his dinner. About noon, so near as he could judge by the sun, he dined; sometimes off a partridge or rabbit; on Fridays off half a dozen tiny trout; and set aside part of the cold food for supper; he had one good loaf of nearly black bread every day, and the single jug of small beer.

The greater part of the day he spent within the hut, for safety's sake, sleeping a little, and thinking a good deal. He had no books with him; even his breviary had been forbidden, since David, as a shrewd man, had made conditions, first that he should not have to speak with any refugee, second, that if the man were a priest he should have nothing about him that could prove him to be so. Mr. Maine's beads, only, had been permitted, on condition that they were hidden always beneath a stone outside the hut.

After nightfall Robin went out to attend to his horse that was tethered in the next ravine, over a crag; to shift his peg

and bring him a good armful of cut grass and a bucket of water. (The saddle and bridle were hidden beneath a couple of great stones that leaned together not far away.) After doing what was necessary for his horse, he went to draw water for himself; and then took his exercise, avoiding carefully, according to instructions, every possible skyline. And it was then, for the most part, that he did his clear thinking…. He tried to fancy himself in a fortnight's retreat, such as he had had at Rheims before his reception of orders.

* * * * *

The evening of the twenty-fifth of July closed in stormy; and Robin, in an old cloak he had found placed in the hut for his own use, made haste to attend to what was necessary, and hurried back as quickly as he could. He sat a while, listening to the thresh of the rain and the cry of the wind; for, up here in the high land the full storm broke on him. (The hut was wattled of osiers and clay, and kept out the wet tolerably well.)

He could see nothing from the door of his hut except the dim outline of the nearer crag thirty or forty yards off; and he went presently to bed.

* * * * *

He awoke suddenly, wide awake-as is easy for a man who is sleeping in continual expectation of an alarm-at the flash of light in his eyes. But he was at once reassured by Dick's voice.

"I have come, sir; and I have brought the mistress' letter."

Robin sat up and took the packet. He saw now that the man carried a little lantern with a slide over it that allowed only a thin funnel of light to escape that could be shut off in an instant.

"All well, Dick? I did not hear you coming."

"The storm's too loud, sir."

"All well?"

"Mistress Manners thinks you had best stay here a week longer, sir."

"And … and the news?"

"It is all in the letter, sir."

Robin looked for the inscription, but there was none. Then he broke the two seals, opened the paper and began to read. For the next five minutes there was no sound, except the thresh of the rain and the cry of the wind. The letter ran as follows:

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