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Someone else called: “Hear to Jack Rangsley. Hear to him!”
There was a silence. I saw a hand light a torch at the lanthorn, and the crowd of faces, the muddle of limbs, the horses' heads, and the quiet trees above, flickered into sight.
“Don't let them hang me, Jack Rangsley,” I sobbed. “You know I'm no spy.
Don't let 'em hang me, Jack.”
He rode his horse up to me, and caught me by the collar.
“Hold your tongue,” he said roughly. He began to make a set speech, anathematizing runners. He moved to tie our feet, and hang us by our finger-nails over the quarry edge.
A hubbub of assent and dissent went up; then the crowd became unanimous. Rangsley slipped from his horse.
“Blindfold 'em, lads,” he cried, and turned me sharply round.
“Don't struggle,” he whispered in my ear; his silk handkerchief came cool across my eyelids. I felt hands fumbling with a knot at the back of my head. “You're all right,” he said again. The hubbub of voices ceased suddenly. “Now, lads, bring 'em along.”
A voice I knew said their watchword, “Snuff and enough," loudly, and then, “What’s agate?”
Someone else answered, “It's Rooksby, it's Sir Ralph.” The voice interrupted sharply, “No names, now.
1 don't want hanging.” The hand left my arm; there was a pause in the motion of the procession. I caught a moment's sound of whispering. Then a new voice cried, “Strip the runners to the shirt. Strip 'em, That's it." I heard some groans and a cry, “You won't
murder us.” Then a nasal drawl, "We will surely.” Someone else, Rangsley, I think, called, “Bring 'em along—this way now.'
After a period of turmoil we seemed to come out of the crowd upon a very rough, descending path; Rangsley had called out, “Now, then, the rest of you be off; we've got enough here”; and the hoofs of heavy horses sounded again. Then we came to a halt, and Rangsley called sharply from close to me:
“Now, you runners—and you, John Kemp—here you be on the brink of eternity, above the old quarry. There's a sheer drop of a hundred feet. We'll tie your legs and hang you by your fingers. If you hang long enough, you'll have time to say your prayers. Look alive, lads!”
The voice of one of the runners began to shout, "You'll swing for this—youAs for me I was in a dream. "Jack," I said, “Jack,
“Oh, that's all right," the voice said in a whisper. “Mum, now! It's all right."
It withdrew itself a little from my ear and called, “Now then, ready with them. When I say three. .
I heard groans and curses, and began to shout for help. My voice came back in an echo, despairingly. Suddenly I was dragged backward, and the bandage pulled from my eyes.
“Come along," Rangsley said, leading me gently enough to the road, which was five steps behind. “It's all a joke,” he snaried. “A pretty bad one for those catchpolls. Hear 'em groan. The drop's not two feet.”
We made a few paces down the road; the pitiful voices of the runners crying for help came plainly to my ears.
‘You—they—aren't murdering them”” I asked.
“No, no,” he answered. “Can't afford to. Wish we could; but they'd make it too hot for us.
We began to descend the hill. From the quarry a voice shrieked:
“Help-help-for the love of God—I can't.
There was a grunt and the sound of a fall; then a precisely similar sequence of sounds. . 1 -“That'll teach 'em," Rangsley said ferociously. “Come along—they've only rolled down a bank. They weren't over the quarry. It's all right, I swear it is.
And, as a matter of fact, that was the smugglers' ferocious idea of humour. They would hang any undesirable man, like these runners, whom it would make too great a stir to murder outright, over the edge of a low bank, and swear to him that he was clawing the brink of Shakespeare's Cliff or any other hundred-foot drop. The wretched creatures suffered all the tortures of death before they let go, and, as a rule, they never returned to our parts.
THE spirit of the age has changed; everything has changed so utterly that one can hardly believe in the existence of one's earlier self." But I can still remember how, at that moment, I made the acquaintance of my heart-a thing that bounded and leapt within my chest, a little sickeningly. The other details I forget.
Jack Rangsley was a tall, big-boned, thin man, with something sinister in the lines of his horseman's cloak, and something reckless in the way he set his spurred heel on the ground. He was the son of an old Marsh squire. Old Rangsley had been head of the last of the Owlers—the aristocracy of-export smugglers—and Jack had sunk a little in becoming the head of the Old Bourne Tap importers. But he was hard enough, tyrannical enough, and had nerve enough to keep Freetrading alive in our parts until long after it had become an anachronism. He ended his days on the gallows, of course, but that was long afterwards.
“I'd give a dollar to know what's going on in those runners' heads,” Rangsley said, pointing back with his crop. He laughed gayly. The great white face of the quarry rose up pale in the moonlight; the dusky red fires of the limekilns glowed at the base, sending up a blood-red dust of sullen smoke. “I'll swear they think they've dropped straight into hell.
“You'll have to cut the country, John,” he added suddenly, "they'll have got your name uncommon pat. I did my best for you. He had had me tied up like
that before the runners' eyes in order to take their suspicions off me. He had made a pretence to murder me with the same idea. But he didn't believe they were taken in. “There'll be warrants out before morning, if they ain't too shaken. But what were you doing in the business? The two Spaniards were lying in the fern looking on when you come blundering your clumsy nose in. If it hadn't been for Rooksby you might have Hullo, there!” he broke off.
An answer came from the black shadow of a clump of roadside elms. I made out the forms of three or four horses standing with their heads together.
“Come along,” Rangsley said; "up with you. We'll talk as we go.
Someone helped me into a saddle; my legs trembled in the stirrups as if I had ridden a thousand miles on end already. I imagine I must have fallen into a stupor; for I have only a vague impression of somebody's exculpating himself to me. As a matter of fact, Ralph, after having egged me on, in the intention of staying at home, had had qualms of conscience, and had come to the quarry. It was he who had cried the watchword, “Snuff and enough,” and who had held the whispered consultation. Carlos and Castro had waited in their hiding-place, having been spectators of the arrival of the runners and of my capture. I gathered this long afterwards. At that moment I was conscious only of the motion of the horse beneath me, of intense weariness, and of the voice of Ralph, who was lamenting his own cowardice.
"If it had come at any other time!” he kept on repeating. “But now, with Veronica to think of!You take me, Johnny, don't you?”
My companions rode silently. After we had passed the houses of a little village a heavy mist fell upon us,