Chapter XLIV: The Shadow of Death

Ezra’s hand involuntarily went up to the old scar. “I think such a one as that would settle her!” he said, as he withdrew with his father. The two took up their position under the shadow of some trees fifty yards off or more. Burt crouched down behind the withered oak with his weapon in his hand and waited for the coming of his victim.

Ezra, though usually resolute and daring, had completely lost his nerve, and his teeth were chattering in his head. His father, on the other hand, was emotionless and impassive as ever.

“It’s close upon nine o’clock,” Ezra whispered.

“Ten minutes to,” said the other, peering at his great golden chronometer through the darkness.

“What if she fails to come?”

“We must devise other means of bringing her out.”

From the spot where they stood they had a view of the whole of the Priory. She could not come out without being seen. Above the door was a long narrow window which opened upon the staircase. On this Girdlestone and his son fixed their eyes, for they knew that on her way down she would be visible at it. As they looked, the dim light which shone through it was obscured and then reappeared.

“She has passed!”


Another moment and the door was stealthily opened. Once again the broad golden bar shot out across the lawn almost to the spot where the confederates were crouching. In the centre of the zone of light there stood a figure—the figure of the girl. Even at that distance they could distinguish the pearl-grey mantle which she usually wore and the close-fitting bonnet. She had wrapped a shawl round the lower part of her face to protect her from the boisterous wind. For a minute or more she stood peering out into the darkness of the night, as though uncertain whether to proceed or to go back. Then, with a quick, sudden gesture she closed the door behind her. The light was no longer there, but they knew that she was outside the house, and that the appointment would be kept.

What an age it seemed before they heard her footsteps. She came very slowly, putting one foot gingerly before the other, as if afraid of falling over something in the darkness. Once or twice she stopped altogether, looking round, no doubt, to make sure of her whereabouts. At that instant the moon shone out from behind a cloud, and they saw her dark figure a short distance on. The light enabled her to see the withered oak, for she came rapidly towards it. As she approached, she satisfied herself apparently that she was the first on the ground, for she slackened her pace once more and walked in the listless way that people assume when they are waiting. The clouds were overtaking the moon again, and the light was getting dimmer.

“I can see her still,” said Ezra in a whisper, grasping his father’s wrist in his excitement.

The old man said nothing, but he peered through the darkness with eager, straining eyes.

“There she is, standing out a little from the oak,” the young merchant said, pointing with a quivering finger. “She’s not near enough for him to reach her.”

“He’s coming out from the shadow now,” the other said huskily.
“Don’t you see him crawling along the ground?”

“I see him,” returned the other in the same subdued, awestruck voice. “Now he has stopped; now he goes on again! My God, he’s close behind her! She is looking the other way.”

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