« PreviousContinue »
The horseman gave an incredulous whistle, and then began to shout, his voice winding mournfully uphill, "Hallo! Hallomaro." An echo stole back, Hallo! Hallo-o-o”; then a number of voices. The horse stood, drooping its head, and the man turned in his saddle. Runners," he shouted, “Bow Street runners! Come along, come along, boys! We'll roast 'em.
Runners! Runners!” The sound of heavy horses at a jolting trot came to our ears.
“We're in for it,” Lillywhite grunted. “D-n this county of Kent.”
Thoms never loosed his hold of my collar. At the steep of the hill the men and horses came into sight against the white sky, a confused crowd of ominous things.
"Turn that lanthorn off’n me,” the horseman said. “Don't you see you frighten my horse? Now, boys, get round them. .
The great horses formed an irregular half-circle round us; men descended clumsily, like sacks of corn. The lanthorn was seized and flashed upon us; there was a confused hubbub. I caught my
“Yes, I'm Kemp
John Kemp," I called.
“ I'm true blue.”
"Blue be hanged!" a voice shouted back. "What be you a-doing with runners ?
The riot went on—forty or fifty voices. The runners were seized; several hands caught at me. It was impossible to make myself heard; a fist struck me on the cheek.
“Gibbet 'em," somebody shrieked; "they hung my nephew! Gibbet 'em all the three. Young Kemp's mother's a bad 'un. An informer he is. Up with 'em!'
I was pulled down on my knees, then thrust forward, and then left to myself while they rushed to bonnet Lillywhite. I stumbled against a great, quiet farm horse.
A continuous scuffling went on; an imperious voice cried, “ Hold your tongues, you fools! Hold your tongues!
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. I 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
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-you
As for me I was in a dream. “ Jack," I said, "Jack, you won't
"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 snarled. "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.
“ 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. "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 humor. 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.
HE 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 Free-trading 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 pretense 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 aint 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, white, damp, and clogging. Ralph reined his horse beside mine.
“I'm sorry," he began again, “ I'm miserably sorry I got you into this scrape. I swear I wouldn't have had it happen, not for a thousand pounds—not for ten." " It doesn't matter," I said cheerfully. Ah, but,” Rooksby said, “ you'll have to leave the country for
Until I can arrange. I will. You can trust me." “Oh, he'll have to leave the country, for sure,” Rangsley said jovially, “if he wants to live it down. There's five-and-forty warrants out against me-but they dursent serve 'em. But he's
“It's a miserable business," Ralph said. He had an air of the profoundest dejection. In the misty light he looked like a man mortally wounded, riding from a battle-field.
Let him come with us," the musical voice of Carlos came