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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

I was all eyes and ears in the muffled dark


My hiding-hole, as I have said, was in the very centre of the house; one side faced upon the back-hall; and the opposite down the front passage; and, of the other two, one upon the stairs and one upon the kitchen passage, and these two had the doors in them. Above me was the lobby; and beneath me, first the little way into the back-hall, and beneath that the cellars. It was strange how prominent the place was, and yet how well concealed. One might live ten years in the house without suspecting its presence.

Presently the whole house was full of talking; and the front door was opened; and I heard a gentleman's voice speaking. He was Mr. Harris, I learned afterwards, a Justice of the Peace from Puckeridge, whom Dangerfield had brought with him.

Much of what was said I could not hear; but I heard enough to understand why I was being looked for, and what would be the charges against me. Now the voices came muffled; and now clear; so that I would hear half a sentence and no more, as the speaker moved on.

"I tell you he left for Rome to-night," I heard my Cousin Tom say (which was an adroit lie indeed, as no one could tell whether I had or no), "and he hath taken his man with him."

"That is very well--" began the gentleman's voice; and then no more.

Presently I heard one of the men of the house, named Dick--a good friend of mine, ask what they were after me for; and some fellow, as he went by, answered:

"--Consorting with the Jesuits, and conspiring--" and no more.

So, then, I lay and listened. Much that I heard had no relevance at all, for it was the protesting of maids and such-like. The footsteps went continually up and down; sometimes voices rose in anger; sometimes it was only a whisper that went by. I heard presses open and shut; and once or twice the noise of hammering overhead; and then silence again; but no silence was for long.

Here again I find it very hard to say all that I felt during that search. My thoughts came and went like pictures upon the dark. Now my heart would so beat that it sickened me, of sheer terror that I should be found; and this especially when a man would stay for a while talking on the stairs within an arm's length of where I lay: now it was as I might say, more of the intellect; and I pondered on what I heard my Cousin Tom say, and marvelled at his shrewdness; for fear, if it does not drive away wits, sharpens them wonderfully. He had, of course, put me in greater peril, by saying that I was gone to Rome; but he had saved himself very adroitly, for no witness in the house could tell that I had not done so; for here was my chamber empty, and I and my man and my clothes and my books and my horses all vanished away. At one time, then, I was all eyes and ears in the muffled dark, hearing my heart thump as it had been another's; at another time I would be looking within and contemplating my own fear.

Again and again, however, I thought of my Cousin Dorothy and wondered where she was and what she was at. I had not heard her voice all that time; and, on a sudden, after the men had been in the house near an hour I should say, I heard her sob suddenly, close to me, in a terrified kind of voice.


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