Noughts and Crosses eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 168 pages of information about Noughts and Crosses.

I was on the downs, and had walked, perhaps, six miles, when again I saw the red speck ahead of me.  It was the post-boy—­a post-boy returning on foot, of all miracles.  He came straight up to meet me, and then stood in the road, barring my path, and tapping his riding-boot with the butt of his whip—­a handsome young fellow, well proportioned and well set up.

“I want you,” he said, “to walk back with me to Bleakirk.”

“Upon my word!” I cried out.  “Considering that Bleakirk is six miles away, that I am walking in the other direction, and that, two hours back, you gave me a cursed cut over the legs with that whip, I fancy I see myself obliging you!”

He regarded me moodily for about a minute, but did not shift his position.

“Why are you on foot?” I asked.

“Oh, my God!” he cried out quickly, as a man might that was stabbed; “I couldn’t trust myself to ride; I couldn’t.”  He shuddered, and put a hand over his eyes.  “Look here,” he said, “you must walk home with me, or at least see me past the Chalk-pit.”

Now the Chalk-pit, when spelt with a capital letter, is an especially deep and ugly one on the very edge of the Bleakirk road, about two miles out of the village.  A weak fence only separates its lip from the macadam.  It is a nasty place to pass by night with a carriage; but here it was broad day, and the fellow was walking.  So I didn’t take him at all.

“Listen to me,” he went on in a dull voice; “do you remember sitting beside this road, close on ten years back?  And a boy and girl who came along this road together and asked you to marry them?”

“Bless my soul!  Were you that boy?”

He nodded.  “Yes:  and the young lady in the chaise to-day was that girl.  Old man, I know you reckon yourself clever,—­I’ve heard you talk:  but that when I met her to-day, three hours married, and she didn’t know me, I had a hell in my heart as I drove past the Chalk-pit, is a thing that passes your understanding, perhaps.  They were laughing together, mark you, and yet they weren’t a hair’s breadth from death.  And, by the Lord, you must help me past that pit!”

“Young man,” I said, musing, “when first I met you, you were ten years old, and I thought you a fool.  To-day you have grown into an unmitigated ass.  But you are dangerous; and therefore I respect you, and will see you home.”

I turned back with him.  When we came to the Chalk-pit, I kept him on the farther side of the road, though it cost me some terror to walk between him and the edge; for I have too much imagination to be a thoroughly brave man.

The sun was sinking as we walked down to Bleakirk; and the recruiting sergeant sat asleep outside the “Woolpack,” with his head on the window-sill.  I woke him up; and within half an hour my post-boy wore a bunch of ribbons on his cap—­red, white, and blue.

I believe he has seen some fighting since then; and has risen in the ranks.

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Noughts and Crosses from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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