Chapter XLIV: The Shadow of Death

They both hurried out, and found Burt standing in front of the door. It was blowing half a gale now, and the wind was bitterly cold. There came a melancholy rasping and rustling from the leafless wood, and every now and again a sharp crackling sound would announce that some rotten branch had come crashing down. The clouds drove across the face of the moon, so that at times the cold, clear light silvered the dark wood and the old monastery, while at others all was plunged in darkness. From the open door a broad golden bar was shot across the lawn from the lamp in the hall. The three dark figures with their long fantastic shadows looked eerie and unnatural in the yellow glare.

“Are we to have a lantern?” asked Burt.

“No, no,” cried Ezra. “We shall see quite enough as it is. We don’t want a light.”

“I have one,” said the father. “We can use it if it is necessary. I think we had better take our places now. She may come sooner than we expect. It will be well to leave the door as it is. She will see that there is no obstacle in the way.”

“You’re not half sharp enough,” said Ezra. “If the door was left like that it might suggest a trap to her. Better close the dining-room door and then leave the hall door just a little ajar. That would look more natural. She would conclude that Burt and you were in there.”

“Where are Jorrocks and Rebecca?” Girdlestone asked, closing the door as suggested.

“Jorrocks is in her room. Rebecca, I have no doubt, is in hers also.”

“Things look safe enough. Come along, Burt. This way.”

The three tramped their way across the gravelled drive and over the slushy grass to the border of the wood.

“This is the withered oak,” said Girdlestone, as a dark mass loomed in front of them. It stood somewhat apart from the other trees, and the base of it was free from the brambles which formed a thick undergrowth elsewhere.

Burt walked round the great trunk and made as careful an examination of the ground as he could in the dark.

“Would the lantern be of any use to you?” Girdlestone asked.

“No, It’s all serene. I think I know how to fix it now. You two can get behind those trees, or where you like, as long as you’re not in the way. I don’t want no ‘sistance. When Jem Burt takes a job in hand he carries it through in a workmanlike manner. I don’t want nobody else foolin’ around.”

“We would not dream of interfering with your arrangements,” said

“You’d better not!” Burt growled. “I’ll lay down behind this oak, d’ye see. When she comes, she’ll think as he’s not arrived yet, and she’ll get standin’ around and waitin’. When I see my chance, I’ll get behind her, and she’ll never know that she has not been struck by lightnin’.”

“Excellent!” cried John Girdlestone; “excellent! We had best get into our places.”

“Mind you do it all in one crack,” Ezra said. “Don’t let us have any crying out afterwards. I could stand a good deal, but not that.”

“You should know how I hits,” Burt remarked with a malicious grin, which was hidden from his companion. “If your head wasn’t well nigh solid you wouldn’t be here now.”

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