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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Came a single step on the paved path


This

passed through my mind like a picture; and then I remembered that it was no more than a step on a paved path.

"If it is they," I whispered, "they will be round the house by now. We had best look from a dark window."

But my Cousin Tom seized me suddenly by the arm in so fierce a grip that I winced and all but cried out; and so we stood.

"If you have brought ruin on me--" he began presently in a horrid kind of whisper; and then he gripped me again; for again, so that no man could mistake it, came a single step on the paved path; and in my mind I saw how two men had crossed from lawn to lawn, to get all round the house, each stepping once upon the stones. They must have entered from the yard.

In those moments there came to me too a knowledge, of the truth of which I neither had nor have any doubt at all, that my Cousin Tom was considering whether he might save himself or no by handing me forthwith to the searchers. But I suppose he thought not; for presently his hand relaxed.

"In with you," he whispered; and made a back for me to climb up into the hiding-hole. I looked at my Cousin Dolly, and she nodded at me ever so gently; so I set my foot on my Cousin Tom's broad back, and my hands to the ledge, and raised myself up. It was a pretty wide space within, sufficient to hold three or four men, though my clothes

and a few books covered most of the floor; but the only light I had was from the candle that my Cousin Dolly carried in her hand. As I turned to the door again, I caught a sight of her face, very pretty and very pale, looking up at me: I remember even now the shadow on her eyes and beneath her hair; and then the door was put to quickly, and I was all in the dark.

* * * * *

It was a very strange experience to lie there and to hear all that went on in the house, scarcely a hand's-breadth away.

I lay there, I should think, ten minutes or a quarter of an hour before the assault was made; and during that time too I could tell pretty well all that went on. There remained for a minute or thereabouts, a line of light upon the roof of my little chamber from the candle that my Cousin Dolly carried; (and that line of light was as a star to me); then I heard a little whispering; the light went out; and I heard soft steps going upstairs. Then I heard first the door of my Cousin Dolly's chamber close, and then another door which was my Cousin Tom's. Then followed complete silence; and I knew that the two would go to bed, and be found there, as if ignorant of everything.

The assault was made on two doors at once, at front and back. They had another man or two, I have no doubt, in the stable-yard; and more beneath the windows everywhere, so that I could not escape any way. There came on a sudden loud hammerings and voices shouting altogether; but I could not tell what it was that they cried; but I suppose it must have been, "Open in the King's name!"

Then the house awakened, all, that is, that were asleep; and the rest feigned to do so. I heard steps run down the stairs, and voices everywhere; as the maids over the kitchen awakened and screamed as maids will, and the men awakened and ran down from the garret. Then, overhead, across the lobby I heard my Cousin Tom's footsteps, and I nearly laughed to myself at the thought of the part that he must play, and of how ill he would play it. And all the while the beating on the doors went on; and I heard voices through the lath and plaster from the back-hall; and then the sound of unbolting, and the knocking ceased on that side, though it still went on upon the, other.


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