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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

That there was no ambushment ready


He

took his eyes from my face. I was glad of that; as I did not greatly like his regard. What, thought I, if I be alone with a madman?

"Well, sir," he said, "we are driven desperate, as you may have guessed. I say, we; for you have identified yourself with our cause a hundred times over. My Lord Shaftesbury is gone; my Lord Essex is hanging back. Well; but those are not all. We have other men besides those that have been urged on and urged on, and now cannot be restrained. I have tried to restrain them myself"--(here he gulped in his throat: lying was not very easy to this man, I think)--"and I have failed. Well, sir, I must trust you more than I have ever trusted you before."

Again he stopped.

Then all came out with a rush.

"Not half a mile from here," said he, "along the Newmarket road there be twenty men, with blunderbusses and other arms, waiting for His Majesty and the Duke, who will come to-morrow."

"But how do you know?" cried I--all bewildered for the instant.

His head shook with passion.

"Listen," said he. "We have had certain information that they come this way--Why, do you think we have not--" (again he broke off; but I knew well enough what he would have said!) "I tell you we know it. The King is not lying at Royston, to-night.

He comes by this road to-morrow. Now then, sir--what do you say to that?"

My mind was still all in a whirl. I had looked for sudden danger, but not so sudden as this. Half a dozen questions flashed before me. I put the first into words:

"Why have you told me?" I cried.

His face contracted suddenly. (It was growing very dark by now, and we had no candles. The muscles of his face stood out like cords.)

"Not so loud!" said he; and then: "Well, are you not one of us? You are pledged very deeply, sir; I tell you."

Then came the blessed relief. For the first moment, so genuine appeared his passion, I had believed him; and that the ambushment was there, as he had said. Then, like a train of gunpowder, light ran along my mind and I understood that it was the same game still that they were playing with me; that there was no ambushment ready; that they had indeed fixed upon this journey of the King's; but that they were unprepared and desired delay. His anxiety about my servant; his evident displeasure and impatience; his sending for me at all when he must have known over and over again that I was not of his party--each detail fitted in like a puzzle. And yet I must not shew a sign of it!

I hid my face in my hands for a moment, to think what I could answer. Then I looked up.

"Mr. Rumbald," said I, "you are right. I am too deeply pledged. Tell me what I am to do. It is sink or swim with me now."


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