The dry grass was like polished wood under Simon's feet, giving no grip as he slipped and slithered
down the hillside; now on his feet, now flat on his back and elbows, holding one arm up always to keep the manuscript from damage. Behind him he heard the noise of the boy from the village slipping and stumbling more heavily, his breath rasping in his throat, and an occasional gasping curse as he lost his footing and fell.
Facing outwards across the harbour as he ran down, Simon felt that he could almost jump straight out
into the sea. The slope seemed much steeper than when they had climbed up by the path, dropping below
him in an endless green curve. His heart was thumping wildly, and he was too intent on getting away to imagine what might happen if the boy caught up with him. But gradually, minute by minute, the panic at the pit of his stomach was disappearing.
Everything depended on him now -- to keep the manuscript safe, and get away. He was almost enjoying
himself. This was something that he could understand; it was like a race or a fight at school, himself against the boy Bill. And he wanted to win. Panting, he glanced over his shoulder. The boy seemed to be gaining on him a little. Simon flung himself down the rest of the slope, sliding and bumping on his back, alarmingly fast, now and again coming to his feet for a couple of staggering steps.
And then suddenly he was at the bottom of the slope stumbling and gulping for breath. With a grief
glance up at the pursuing Bill, who yelled and glared at him as he saw him looking round, Simon was off and away over the field, running like a hare and feeling confidence surge stronger as he ran. But he could not lose the boy behind him. Stronger, bigger and longer-legged, the village boy pounded after him with grim determination, striding more heavily but never losing ground.
Simon made for a stile in the hedge at the far side of the field and leapt over, gripping the shaky wooden bar at its top with one hand. He came out at the other side into a quiet lane, pitted with deep dry ruts hard as rock, lined with trees, arching overhead in a thick-leaved roof. With the sunlight quite gone now, it was half dark under the branches, and both ends of the lane vanished within a few yards into impenetrable shadow.
Simon looked wildly up and down, clutching the manuscript and feeling the sweat damp in the palms of his hands. Which way would lead him to the Grey House? He could no longer hear the sea.
Making a blind choice, he turned right and ran up the lane. Behind him he heard the clatter of the boy's boots climbing over the stile. The lane seemed never-ending as he ran, dodging light-footed from side to side to avoid the ruts. Round every bend there stretched another, curving on in a gloomy tunnel of branches and banks, with no break anywhere into a gateway or another field.
He could hear the beat of the boy's feet behind him on the hard dry mud of the lane.
The boy shouted nothing now, but pounded along in grim silence. Simon felt a thread of panic creep back into his mind, and he ran more wildly, longing to get out of the cavernous lane and into the open air.
Then facing him round the next bend he saw the sky, bright after the gloom, and within moments he was out again, running on a paved road past quiet walls and trees. Again he turned automatically without time to think where he was going, and the rubber soles of his sneakers pattered softly along the
The long high grey wall along one side, and the hedge of a field on the other, gave no sign to tell him where he was running -- more slowly now, he knew, for try as he might he was beginning to tire. He began to long for someone, anyone, to appear walking along the road.
The boy's footsteps rang more loudly behind him now, over the quiet evening twitter of birds hidden in the trees. The sound of the feet so much noisier than his own gave Simon the beginnings of an idea, and when at last the road branched off he put on a desperate burst of speed and ran down the side turning.
The wall ended at two battered gate-posts through which he glimpsed an overgrown drive. Further down the road he caught sight of the rising tower of Trewissick church, and his heart sank as he realised how far he was from home.
The boy Bill had not fumed the corner yet; Simon could hear his steps gradually growing louder from the main road. Quickly he slipped inside the deserted gateway of the long drive and wriggled into the bushes which grew in an unruly tangle beside the gate-post. He jumped with pain as thorns and sharp twigs stuck into him from all sides. But he crouched quite still behind the leaves, trying to quieten his gasping breaths, certain that the pounding of his heart must be audible all up and down the road.
The idea worked. He saw Bill, dishevelled and scarlet, pause at the end of the road, peering up and down. He looked puzzled and angry, listening with his head cocked for the sound of feet. Then he turned and walked slowly towards Simon's hiding-place down the side road, glancing back uncertainly over his shoulder.
Simon held his breath, and crouched further back into the bushes.
Unexpectedly he heard a noise from behind him. Turning his head sharply, wincing as a fat purple fuchsia blossom bobbed into his eye, he listened. In a moment he recognised the sound of feet crunching on gravel, coming towards the road down the drive. The gaps of light through the branches darkened for an instant as the figure of a man passed very close to him, walking down the drive and out through the gateway. Simon saw that he was very tall, and had dark hair, but he could not see his face.
The figure wandered idly out into the road. Simon saw now that he was dressed all in black; long thin black legs like a heron, and a black silk jacket with the light glinting silvery over the shoulders. The boy Bill's sullen face brightened as he caught sight of the man, and he ran forward to meet him in the middle of the road. They stood talking, but out of earshot, so that Simon could hear their voices only as an indistinct low blur. Bill was waving his hands and pointing back behind him to the road and then down the drive. Simon saw the tall dark man shake his head, but still he could not see his face.
Then they both turned back towards the drive and began to walk in his direction, Bill still talking eagerly. Simon shrank nervously back into his hiding-place, feeling suddenly more frightened than he had been since the chase began. This was no stranger to Bill. The boy was smiling. This man was someone he had recognised with relief. Someone else on the enemy side....
He could see nothing now but the leaves before his face, and did not dare move forward to peer through a gap. But the footsteps ringing on the metalled road outside did not change to the crunch of gravel; they went past, outside the wall, and on up the road. Simon heard the murmur of voices, but could distinguish nothing except one phrase when the village boy raised his voice. "...got to get 'n, she said, 'tis surely the right one, and now I've lost..."
Lost me, thought Simon with a grin. His terror faded as their footsteps died away, and he began to feel triumphant at having outwitted the bigger boy. He glanced down at the manuscript in his hand and gave it a conspiratorial squeeze. There was silence again now, and he could hear nothing but the song of the birds in the approaching dusk. He wondered how late it was. The chase seemed to have lasted for a week. The muscles of his legs began to nag protestingly at their long cramped stillness. But still he waited, straining his ears for any sound showing that the man and the boy were still near.
At last he decided that they must have gone out of sight down the road. Clutching the manuscript firmly, he parted the bushes before his face with one hand and stepped out into the drive. No one was there. Nothing moved.
Simon tiptoed gingerly across the gravel and peered up and down round the gate-post. He could see no one, and with growing cheerfulness he crossed from the gateway to make his way back to the road from which he had come.
It was not until he was several paces out in the open that he saw the boy Bill and the dark man standing together beside the wall fifty yards away, in clear view.
Simon gasped, and felt his stomach twist with panic. For a moment he stood there, uncertain whether to bolt back to the shelter of the drive before they could see him. But as he hesitated, mesmerized, Bill turned his head, shouted and began to run, and the man with him, realising, turned to follow. Simon swung round and dashed for the main road. The silence all round seemed suddenly as menacing as the leaf-roofed lane had been; he ached for the safety of crowds, people and cars, so that at least he would lose the awful sensation of being alone, with feet pounding after him in implacable pursuit.
Down the side road, round the corner and along the wall of the churchyard, faster, faster; Simon's heart sank as he ran. His legs were stiff after the cramped pause in the bushes, and his whole body was very tired. He knew that he would not be able to last very much longer.
A car passed him, travelling fast in the opposite direction. Wild thoughts flickered through Simon's mind, as he felt the road beating hard through his thin rubber soles: he could shout and wave at a car, perhaps, or run for refuge into one of the little houses that were fringing the road as he neared the village. But the boy Bill had a man with him now, and the man could tell some story to any stranger Simon approached, and the stranger would probably believe that instead....
"Stop!" a deep voice called behind him. Desperately Simon tried to fling himself forward faster. Everything would be over if they caught him. They would have the manuscript, they would have the whole secret. There would be nothing left to do. He would have broken the trust, he would have let Gumerry down....
His breath began to come in great painful gasps, and he staggered as he ran. There was a cross roads ahead. The fast decisive footsteps behind him sounded louder and louder; almost he heard his pursuers breathing in his ears. He heard the boy call, on a note of triumph: "Quick...now..." The voice was farther away than the footsteps. It must be the man who was behind him, almost at his heels, his feet thudding nearer, nearer....
Simon's ears were singing with the fight for breath. The cross roads loomed ahead, but he could hardly see them. He heard half consciously the noisy roar of a car's engine, very near, but it barely registered in his weary brain. There was a rattle and a squeal of brakes, and half-way across the cross roads he almost collided with the rusting hood of a big car.
Simon slithered to a halt and made to dodge round it, aware only of the danger at his heels. And then, as if the darkening twilit sky were once more suddenly flooded with sunlight, he realized Great-Uncle Merry was leaning from the window of the car.
The car's engine revved up again with a thunderous roar. "The other side! Get in!" Great-Uncle Merry yelled at Simon through the window.
Sobbing with relief, Simon stumbled round the back of the big estate car and wrenched at the handle of the door on the other side. He collapsed into the creaking seat and pulled the door shut as Great-Uncle Merry let in the clutch and slammed his foot down on the accelerator. The car leapt forward, jerking round the corner, and then they were down the road and away.
Excerpted from Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper Copyright © 1989 by Susan Cooper. Excerpted by permission.
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