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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

I looked out of the stable door


about three o'clock I could bear it no more. God knows how many prayers I had said; for I think I prayed all the time, as even careless men will do at such crises. There was the grim house behind me, the leafless trees overhead, the lane stretching up northwards beyond the gate. All was very silent, except for the barking of a dog now and again. It was a very solitary place--the very place for a murder; there were no meadows near us, where men might be working, but only the deep woods. It was a clearish kind of day, with clouds in the west.

At about three o'clock then I went to the stables to see my horse. These were behind the house. There was no one about, and no other horse in the stables but Rumbald's own black mare that had carried him yesterday.

It came to me as I looked at my horse that no harm would be done if I put the saddle on him. Rumbald would but think me a little foolish for so confessing in action that I knew the King would not come; and for myself it would be some relief to my feelings to know that if by any mischance I did hear the sound of shots, I could at least ride up and do my best, though I knew it would be too late.

I saddled my horse then, and put on the bridle, as quickly as I could. Then, again, I thought there would be no harm done if I led him out to the gate and fastened him there. I looked out of the stable door, but there was no one in sight.

So I led my horse out, as quietly as I could, yet openly, and brought him round past the front of the house and so towards the gate. I thought nothing of my valise; for at that time I intended no more than what I had said. I was uneasy, and had no determined plans. I would tell Rumbald, if he came out, that I was but holding myself ready to ride out if I were needed.

Then, as I came past the front of the house, I heard, very distinctly in the still air, the tramp of horses far away on the hill to the north; and I knew enough of that sound to tell me that there were at least eight or nine coming, and coming fast.

Now it might have been the coach of anyone coming that way. The races were at Newmarket, and plenty went to and fro, though it is true that none had come this way all day. Yet at that sound my heart leapt up, both in excitement and terror. What if I had made any mistake, and enticed the King to his death? Well, it would be my death too--but I swear I did not think of that! All I know is that I broke into a run, and the horse into a trot after me; and as I reached the gate heard Rumbald run out of the house behind me.

I paid him no attention at all, though I heard his breathing at my shoulder. I was listening for the tramp and rattle of the hoofs again, for the sound had died away in a hollow of the road I suppose. Then again they rang out; and I thought they must be coming very near the place he had told me of; and I turned and looked at him; but I think he did not see me. He too was staring out, his face gone pale under its ruddiness, listening for what very well might be the end of all his hopes.

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