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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And another door beyond the hearth


I

did not know precisely where was the Rye, nor what it was like; for I had avoided the place, of design. I supposed it only a little place, perhaps in a village. I was a trifle disconcerted therefore when, as we crossed the Lea by a wooden bridge, he pointed with his whip, in silence, to a very solid-looking house that even had battlemented roofs--not two hundred yards away, to the left of the road. There was no other building that I could see, except the roofs of an outhouse or two, and suchlike. However, I nodded, and said nothing. No words were best: in silence we rode on over the bridge, and beyond; and in silence we turned in through a gateway, and up to the house, crossing a moat as we went.

Indeed, now I was astonished more than ever at the house. It was liker a castle. There was an arched entrance, very solid, all of brick, with the teeth even of a portcullis shewing. An old man came out of a door on our right, as our hoofs rang out; but he made no sign or salute; he took our horses' heads as we dismounted, and I heard him presently leading them away.

Still without speaking, the Colonel led me through the little guard-room on the right, hung round with old weapons of the Civil War, and up a staircase at the further end. At the head of the staircase a door was open on the right, and I saw a bed within; but we went up a couple more steps on the left, and came out into the principal living-room of the house.

style="text-align: justify;">It was a very good chamber, this, panelled about eight feet up the walls, with the bricks shewing above, but whitewashed. A hearth was on the right; a couple of windows in the wall opposite, and another door beyond the hearth. The furniture was very plain but very good: a great table stood under the windows with three or four chairs about it. The walls seemed immensely strong and well-built; and, though the place could not stand out for above an hour or two against guns, in the old days it could have faced a little siege of men-at-arms, very well.

Rumbald, when he had seen me shut the door behind me, went across to the table and put down his whip upon it.

"Sit down, sir," he said. "Here is my little stronghold."

He said it with a grim kind of geniality, at which I did not know whether to be encouraged or not: I did as he told me, and looked about me with as easy an air as I could muster.

"A little stronghold indeed," I said.

He paid no attention.

"Now, sir," he said, "we have not very much time. Supper will be up in half in hour; we had best have our talk first, and then you may send for your servant. Old Alick will find him out."

"With all my heart," I said, wondering that he made so much of my servant.

He sat down suddenly, and looked at me very heavily and penetratingly.

"Sir," he said, "you are going to hear the truth at last, I said we had not much time. Well; we have not."

"Then let me have the truth quickly," I said.


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