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Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 3976

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was a horrible delight to sit, wrapped in her cloak with the hood over her head, listening to his story in the hall, and to know that it was to her house that he had come for safety. It was horrible to her that he needed it-so horrible that every shred of interior peace had left her; she was composed only in her speech, and it was a strange delight that he had come so simply. He sat there; she could see his outline and the pallor of his face under his hat, and his voice was perfectly resolute and quiet. This was his tale.

"Twice this afternoon," he said, "I saw a man against the sky, opposite my hut. It was the same man both times; he was not a shepherd or a farmer's man. The night before, when David came, he did not speak to me; but for the first time he put his head in at the hut-door when he brought the food and made gestures that I could not understand. I looked at him and shook my head, but he would say nothing, and I remembered the bond and said nothing myself. All that he would do was to shut his eyes and wave his hands. Then this last night he brought no food at all.

"I was uneasy at the sight of the man, too, in the afternoon. I think he thought that I was asleep; for when I saw him for the first time I was lying down and looking at the crag opposite. And I saw him raise himself on his hands against the sky, as if he had been lying flat on his face in the heather. I looked at him for a while, and then I flung my hand out of bed suddenly, and he was gone in a whisk. I went to the door after a time, stretching myself as if I were just awakened, and there was no sign of him.

"About an hour before sunset I was watching again; and I saw, on a sudden, a covey of birds rise suddenly about two hundred yards away to the north of the hut-that is, by the way that I should have to go down to the valleys again. They rose as if they were frightened. I kept my eyes on the place, and presently I saw a man's hat moving very slowly. It was the movemen

t of a man crawling on his hands, drawing his legs after him.

"Then I waited for David to come, but he did not come, and I determined then to make my way down here as well as I could after dark. If there were any fellows after me, I should have a better chance of escape than if I stayed in the hut, I thought, until they could fetch up the rest; and, if not, I could lose nothing by coming a day too soon."

"But-" began the girl eagerly.

"Wait," said Robin quietly. "That is not all. I made very poor way on foot (for I thought it better to come quietly than on a horse), and I went round about again and again in the precipitous ground so that, if there were any after me, they could not tell which way I meant to go. For about two hours I heard and saw nothing of any man, and I began to think I was a fool for all my pains. So I sat down a good while and rested, and even thought that I would go back again. But just as I was about to get up again I heard a stone fall a great way behind me: it was on some rocky ground about two hundred yards away. The night was quite still, and I could hear the stone very plainly…. It was I that crawled then, further down the hill, and it was then that I saw once more a man's head move against the stars.

"I went straight on then, as quietly as I could. I made sure that it was but one that was after me, and that he would not try to take me by himself, and I saw no more of him till I came down near Padley-"

"Near Padley? Why-"

"I meant to go there first," said the priest, "and lie, there till morning. But as I came down the hill I heard the steps of him again a great way off. So I turned sharp into a little broken ground that lies there, and hid myself among the rocks-"

* * * * *

Mistress Alice lifted her hand suddenly.

"Hark!" she whispered.

Then as the three sat motionless, there came, distinct and clear, from a little distance down the hill, the noise of two or three horses walking over stony ground.

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