MoboReader> Literature > Come Rack! Come Rope!

   Chapter 1 No.1

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 15488

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The sun stood half-way towards his setting as Robin rode up from the valley, past Padley, over the steep ascent that led towards Booth's Edge. The boy was brighter a little as he came up; he had counted above eighty snipe within the last mile and a half, and he was coming near to Marjorie. About him, rising higher as he rose, stood the great low-backed hills. Cecily stepped out more sharply, snuffing delicately, for she knew her way well enough by now, and looked for a feed; and the boy's perplexities stood off from him a little. Matters must surely be better so soon as Marjorie's clear eyes looked upon them.

Then the roofs of Padley disappeared behind him, and he saw the smoke going up from the little timbered Hall, standing back against its bare wind-blown trees.

A great clatter and din of barking broke out as the mare's hoofs sounded on the half-paved space before the great door; and then, in the pause, a gaggling of geese, solemn and earnest, from out of sight. Jacob led the outcry, a great mastiff, chained by the entrance, of the breed of which three are set to meet a bear and four a lion. Then two harriers whipped round the corner, and a terrier's head showed itself over the wall of the herb-garden on the left, as a man, bareheaded, in his shirt and breeches, ran out suddenly with a thonged whip, in time to meet a pair of spaniels in full career. Robin sat his horse silently till peace was restored, his right leg flung across the pommel, untwisting Agnes' leash from his fist. Then he asked for Mistress Marjorie, and dropped to the ground, leaving his mare and falcon in the man's hands, with an air.

He flicked his fingers to growling Jacob as he went past to the side entrance on the east, stepped in through the little door that was beside the great one, and passed on as he had been bidden into the little court, turned to the left, went up an outside staircase, and so down a little passage to the ladies' parlour, where he knocked upon the door. The voice he knew called to him from within; and he went in, smiling to himself. Then he took the girl who awaited him there in both his arms, and kissed her twice-first her hands and then her lips, for respect should come first and ardour second.

"My love," said Robin, and threw off his hat with the pheasant's tail, for coolness' sake.

* * * * *

It was a sweet room this which he already knew by heart; for it was here that he had sat with Marjorie and her mother, silent and confused, evening after evening, last autumn; it was here, too, that she had led him last Christmas Eve, scarcely ten days ago, after he had kissed her in the enclosed garden. But the low frosty sunlight lay in it now, upon the blue painted wainscot that rose half up the walls, the tall presses where the linen lay, the pieces of stuff, embroidered with pale lutes and wreaths that Mistress Manners had bought in Derby, hanging now over the plaster spaces. There was a chimney, too, newly built, that was thought a great luxury; and in it burned an armful of logs, for the girl was setting out new linen for the household, and the scents of lavender and burning wood disputed the air between them.

"I thought it would be you," she said, "when I heard the dogs."

She piled the last rolls of linen in an ordered heap, and came to sit beside him. Robin took one hand in his and sat silent.

She was of an age with him, perhaps a month the younger; and, as it ought to be, was his very contrary in all respects. Where he was fair, she was pale and dark; his eyes were blue, hers black; he was lusty and showed promise of broadness, she was slender.

"And what news do you bring with you now?" she said presently.

He evaded this.

"Mistress Manners?" he asked.

"Mother has a megrim," she said; "she is in her chamber." And she smiled at him again. For these two, as is the custom of young persons who love one another, had said not a word on either side-neither he to his father nor she to her parents. They believed, as young persons do, that parents who bring children into the world, hold it as a chief danger that these children should follow their example, and themselves be married. Besides, there is something delicious in secrecy.

"Then I will kiss you again," he said, "while there is opportunity."

* * * * *

Making love is a very good way to pass the time, above all when that same time presses and other disconcerting things should be spoken of instead; and this device Robin now learned. He spoke of a hundred things that were of no importance: of the dress that she wore-russet, as it should be, for country girls, with the loose sleeves folded back above her elbows that she might handle the linen; her apron of coarse linen, her steel-buckled shoes. He told her that he loved her better in that than in her costume of state-the ruff, the fardingale, the brocaded petticoat, and all the rest-in which he had seen her once last summer at Babington House. He talked then, when she would hear no more of that, of Tuesday seven-night, when they would meet for hawking in the lower chase of the Padley estates; and proceeded then to speak of Agnes, whom he had left on the fist of the man who had taken his mare, of her increasing infirmities and her crimes of crabbing; and all the while he held her left hand in both of his, and fitted her fingers between his, and kissed them again when he had no more to say on any one point; and wondered why he could not speak of the matter on which he had come, and how he should tell her. And then at last she drew it from him.

"And now, my Robin," she said, "tell me what you have in your mind. You have talked of this and that and Agnes and Jock, and Padley chase, and you have not once looked me in the eyes since you first came in."

Now it was not shame that had held him from telling her, but rather a kind of bewilderment. The affair might hold shame, indeed, or anger, or sorrow, or complacence, but he did not know; and he wished, as young men of decent birth should wish, to present the proper emotion on its right occasion. He had pondered on the matter continually since his father had spoken to him on Saint Stephen's night; and at one time it seemed that his father was acting the part of a traitor and at another of a philosopher. If it were indeed true, after all, that all men were turning Protestant, and that there was not so much difference between the two religions, then it would be the act of a wise man to turn Protestant too, if only for a while. And on the other hand his pride of birth and his education by his mother and his practice ever since drew him hard the other way. He was in a strait between the two. He did not know what to think, and he feared what Marjorie might think.

It was this, then, that had held him silent. He feared what Marjorie might think, for that was the very thing that he thought that he thought too, and he foresaw a hundred inconveniences and troubles if it were so.

"How did you know I had anything in my mind?" he asked. "Is it not enough reason for my coming that you should be here?"

She laughed softly, with a pleasant scornfulness.

"I read you like a printed book," she said. "What else are women's wits given them for?"

He fell to stroking her hand again at that, but she drew it away.

"Not until you have told me," she said.

So then he told her.

It was a long tale, for it began as far ago as last August, when his father had come back from giving evidence before the justices at Derby on a matter of witchcraft, and had been questioned again about his religion. It was then that Robin had seen moodiness succeed to anger, and long silence to moodiness. He told the tale with a true lover's art,

for he watched her face and trained his tone and his manner as he saw her thoughts come and go in her eyes and lips, like gusts of wind across standing corn; and at last he told her outright what his father had said to him on St. Stephen's night, and how he himself had kept silence.

Marjorie's face was as white as a moth's wing when he was finishing, and her eyes like sunset pools; but she flamed up bright and rosy as he finished.

"You kept silence!" she cried.

"I did not wish to anger him, my dear; he is my father," he said gently.

The colour died out of her face again and she nodded once or twice, and a great pensiveness came down on her. He took her hand again softly, and she did not resist.

"The only doubt," she said presently, as if she talked to herself, "is whether you had best be gone at Easter, or stay and face it out."

"Yes," said Robin, with his dismay come fully to the birth.

Then she turned on him, full of a sudden tenderness and compassion.

"Oh! my Robin," she cried, "and I have not said a word about you and your own misery. I was thinking but of Christ's honour. You must forgive me…. What must it be for you!… That it should be your father! You are sure that he means it?"

"My father does not speak until he means it. He is always like that. He asks counsel from no one. He thinks and he thinks, and then he speaks; and it is finished."

She fell then to thinking again, her sweet lips compressed together, and her eyes frightened and wondering, searching round the hanging above the chimney-breast. (It presented Icarus in the chariot of the sun; and it was said in Derby that it had come from my lord Abbot's lodging at Bolton.)

Meantime Robin thought too. He was as wax in the hands of this girl, and knew it, and loved that it should be so. Yet he could not help his dismay while he waited for her seal to come down on him and stamp him to her model. For he foresaw more clearly than ever now the hundred inconveniences that must follow, now that it was evident that to Marjorie's mind (and therefore to God Almighty's) there must be no tampering with the old religion. He had known that it must be so; yet he had thought, on the way here, of a dozen families he knew who, in his own memory, had changed from allegiance to the Pope of Rome to that of her Grace, without seeming one penny the worse. There were the Martins, down there in Derby; the Squire and his lady of Ashenden Hall; the Conways of Matlock; and the rest-these had all changed; and though he did not respect them for it, yet the truth was that they were not yet stricken by thunderbolts or eaten by the plague. He had wondered whether there were not a way to do as they had done, yet without the disgrace of it…. However, this was plainly not to be so with him. He must put up with the inconveniences as well as he could, and he just waited to hear from Marjorie how this must be done.

She turned to him again at last. Twice her lips opened to speak, and twice she closed them again. Robin continued to stroke her hand and wait for judgment. The third time she spoke.

"I think you must go away," she said, "for Easter. Tell your father that you cannot change your religion simply because he tells you so. I do not see what else is to be done. He will think, perhaps, that if you have a little time to think you will come over to him. Well, that is not so, but it may make it easier for him to believe it for a while…. You must go somewhere where there is a priest…. Where can you go?"

Robin considered.

"I could go to Dethick," he said.

"That is not far enough away, I think."

"I could come here," he suggested artfully.

A smile lit in her eyes, shone in her mouth, and passed again into seriousness.

"That is scarcely a mile further," she said. "We must think…. Will he be very angry, Robin?"

Robin smiled grimly.

"I have never withstood him in a great affair," he said. "He is angry enough over little things."

"Poor Robin!"

"Oh! he is not unjust to me. He is a good father to me."

"That makes it all the sadder," she said.

"And there is no other way?" he asked presently.

She glanced at him.

"Unless you would withstand him to the face. Would you do that, Robin?"

"I will do anything you tell me," he said simply.

"You darling!… Well, Robin, listen to me. It is very plain that sooner or later you will have to withstand him. You cannot go away every time there is communion at Matstead, or, indeed, every Sunday. Your father would have to pay the fines for you, I have no doubt, unless you went away altogether. But I think you had better go away for this time. He will almost expect it, I think. At first he will think that you will yield to him; and then, little by little (unless God's grace brings himself back to the Faith), he will learn to understand that you will not. But it will be easier for him that way; and he will have time to think what to do with you, too…. Robin, what would you do if you went away?"

Robin considered again.

"I can read and write," he said. "I am a Latinist: I can train falcons and hounds and break horses. I do not know if there is anything else that I can do."

"You darling!" she said again.

* * * * *

These two, as will have been seen, were as simple as children, and as serious. Children are not gay and light-hearted, except now and then (just as men and women are not serious except now and then). They are grave and considering: all that they lack is experience. These two, then, were real children; they were grave and serious because a great thing had disclosed itself to them in which two or three large principles were present, and no more. There was that love of one another, whose consummation seemed imperilled, for how could these two ever wed if Robin were to quarrel with his father? There was the Religion which was in their bones and blood-the Religion for which already they had suffered and their fathers before them. There was the honour and loyalty which this new and more personal suffering demanded now louder than ever; and in Marjorie at least, as will be seen more plainly later, there was a strong love of Jesus Christ and His Mother, whom she knew, from her hidden crucifix and her beads, and her Jesus Psalter-which she used every day-as well as in her own soul-to be wandering together once more among the hills of Derbyshire, sheltering, at peril of Their lives, in stables and barns and little secret chambers, because there was no room for Them in Their own places. It was this last consideration, as Robin had begun to guess, that stood strongest in the girl; it was this, too, as again he had begun to guess, that made her all that she was to him, that gave her that strange serious air of innocency and sweetness, and drew from him a love that was nine-tenths reverence and adoration. (He always kissed her hands first, it will be remembered, before her lips.)

So then they sat and considered and talked. They did not speak much of her Grace, nor of her Grace's religion, nor of her counsellors and affairs of state: these things were but toys and vanities compared with matters of love and faith; neither did they speak much of the Commissioners that had been to Derbyshire once and would come again, or of the alarms and the dangers and the priest hunters, since those things did not at present touch them very closely. It was rather of Robin's father, and whether and when the maid should tell her parents, and how this new trouble would conflict with their love. They spoke, that is to say, of their own business and of God's; and of nothing else. The frosty sunshine crept down the painted wainscot and lay at last at their feet, reddening to rosiness….

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