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   Chapter 2 No.2

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 16535

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Robin rode away at last with a very clear idea of what he was to do in the immediate present, and with no idea at all of what was to be done later. Marjorie had given him three things-advice; a pair of beads that had been the property of Mr. Cuthbert Maine, seminary priest, recently executed in Cornwall for his religion; and a kiss-the first deliberate, free-will kiss she had ever given him. The first he was to keep, the second he was to return, the third he was to remember; and these three things, or, rather, his consideration of them, worked upon him as he went. Her advice, besides that which has been described, was, principally, to say his Jesus Psalter more punctually, to hear mass whenever that were possible, to trust in God, and to be patient and submissive with his father in all things that did not touch divine love and faith. The pair of beads that were once Mr. Maine's, he was to keep upon him always, day and night, and to use them for his devotions. The kiss-well, he was to remember this, and to return it to her upon their next meeting.

A great star came out as he drew near home. His path took him not through the village, but behind it, near enough for him to hear the barkings of the dogs and to smell upon the frosty air the scent of the wood fires. The house was a great one for these parts. There was a small gate-house before it, built by his father for dignity, with a lodge on either side and an arch in the middle, and beyond this lay the short road, straight and broad, that went up to the court of the house. This court was, on three sides of it, buildings; the hall and the buttery and the living-rooms in the midst, with the stables and falconry on the left, and the servants' lodgings on the right; the fourth side, that which lay opposite to the little gate-house, was a wall, with a great double gate in it, hung on stone posts that had, each of them, a great stone dog that held a blank shield. All this later part, the wall with the gate, the stables and the servants' lodgings, as well as the gatehouse without, had been built by the lad's father twenty years ago, to bring home his wife to; for, until that time, the house had been but a little place, though built of stone, and solid and good enough. The house stood half-way up the rise of the hill, above the village, with woods about it and behind it; and it was above these woods behind that the great star came out like a diamond in enamel-work; and Robin looked at it, and fell to thinking of Marjorie again, putting all other thoughts away. Then, as he rode through into the court on to the cobbled stones, a man ran out from the stable to take his mare from him.

"Master Babington is here," he said. "He came half an hour ago."

"He is in the hall?"

"Yes, sir; they are at supper."

* * * * *

The hall at Matstead was such as that of most esquires of means. Its da?s was to the south end, and the buttery entrance and the screens to the north, through which came the servers with the meat. In the midst of the floor stood the reredos with the fire against it, and a round vent overhead in the roof through which went the smoke and came the rain. The tables stood down the hall, one on either side, with the master's table at the da?s end set cross-ways. It was not a great hall, though that was its name; it ran perhaps forty feet by twenty. It was lighted, not only by the fire that burned there through the winter day and night, but by eight torches in cressets that hung against the walls and sadly smoked them; and the master's table was lighted by six candles, of latten on common days and of silver upon festivals.

There were but two at the master's table this evening, Mr. Audrey himself, a smallish, high-shouldered man, ruddy-faced, with bright blue eyes like his son's, and no hair upon his face (for this was the way of old men then, in the country, at least); and Mr. Anthony Babington, a young man scarcely a year older than Robin himself, of a brown complexion and a high look in his face, but a little pale, too, with study, for he was learned beyond his years and read all the books that he could lay hand to. It was said even that his own verses, and a prose-lament he had written upon the Death of a Hound, were read with pleasure in London by the lords and gentlemen. It was as long ago as '71, that his verses had first become known, when he was still serving in the school of good manners as page in my Lord Shrewsbury's household. They were considered remarkable for so young a boy. So it was to this company that Robin came, walking up between the tables after he had washed his hands at the lavatory that stood by the screens.

"You are late, lad," said his father.

"I was over to Padley, sir…. Good-day, Anthony."

Then silence fell again, for it was the custom in good houses to keep silence, or very nearly, at dinner and supper. At times music would play, if there was music to be had; or a scholar would read from a book for awhile at the beginning, from the holy gospels in devout households, or from some other grave book. But if there were neither music nor reading, all would hold their tongues.

Robin was hungry from his riding and the keen air; and he ate well. First he stayed his appetite a little with a hunch of cheat-bread, and a glass of pomage, while the servant was bringing him his entry of eggs cooked with parsley. Then he ate this; and next came half a wild-duck cooked with sage and sweet potatoes; and last of all a florentine which he ate with a cup of Canarian. He ate heartily and quickly, while the two waited for him and nibbled at marchpane. Then, when the doors were flung open and the troop of servants came in to their supper, Mr. Audrey blessed himself, and for them, too; and they went out by a door behind into the wainscoted parlour, where the new stove from London stood, and where the conserves and muscadel awaited them. For this, or like it, had been the procedure in Matstead hall ever since Robin could remember, when first he had come from the women to eat his food with the men.

"And how were all at Booth's Edge?" asked Mr. Audrey, when all had pulled off their boots in country fashion, and were sitting each with his glass beside him. (Through the door behind came the clamour of the farm-men and the keepers of the chase and the servants, over their food.)

"I saw Marjorie only, sir," said the boy. "Mr. Manners was in Derby, and

Mrs. Manners had a megrim."

"Mrs. Manners is ageing swifter than her husband," observed Anthony.

There seemed a constraint upon the company this evening. Robin spoke of his ride, of things which he had seen upon it, of a wood that should be thinned next year; and Anthony made a quip or two such as he was accustomed to make; but the master sat silent for the most part, speaking to the lads once or twice for civility's sake, but no more. And presently silences began to fall, that were very unusual things in Mr. Anthony's company, for he had a quick and a gay wit, and talked enough for five. Robin knew very well what was the matter; it was what lay upon his own heart as heavy as lead; but he was sorry that the signs of it should be so evident, and wondered what he should say to his friend Anthony when the time came for telling; since Anthony was as ardent for the old Faith as any in the land. It was a bitter time, this, for the old families that served God as their fathers had, and desired to serve their prince too; for, now and again, the rumour would go abroad that another house had fallen, and another name gone from the old roll. And what would Anthony Babington say, thought the lad, when he heard that Mr. Audrey, who had been so hot and persevered so long, must be added to these?

And then, on a sudden, Anthony himself opened on a matter that was at least cognate.

"I was hearing to-day from Mr. Thomas FitzHerbert that his uncle would be let out again of the Fleet soon to collect his fines."

He spoke bitterly; and, indeed, there was reason; for not only were the recusants (as the Catholics were named) put in prison for their faith, but fined for it as well, and let out of prison to raise money for this, by selling their farms or estates.

"He will go to Norbury?" asked Robi

n.

"He will come to Padley, too, it is thought. Her Grace must have her money for her ships and her men, and for her pursuivants to catch us all with; and it is we that must pay. Shall you sell again this year, sir?"

Mr. Audrey shook his head, pursing up his lips and staring upon the fire.

"I can sell no more," he said.

Then an agony seized upon Robin lest his father should say all that was in his mind. He knew it must be said; yet he feared its saying, and with a quick wit he spoke of that which he knew would divert his friend.

"And the Queen of the Scots," he said. "Have you heard more of her?"

Now Anthony Babington was one of those spirits that live largely within themselves, and therefore see that which is without through a haze or mist of their own moods. He read much in the poets; you would say that Vergil and Ovid, as well as the poets of his own day, were his friends; he lived within, surrounded by his own images, and therefore he loved and hated with ten times the ardour of a common man. He was furious for the Old Faith, furious against the new; he dreamed of wars and gallantry and splendour; you could see it even in his dress, in his furred doublet, the embroideries at his throat, his silver-hilted rapier, as well as in his port and countenance: and the burning heart of all his images, the mirror on earth of Mary in heaven, the emblem of his piety, the mistress of his dreams-she who embodied for him what the courtiers in London protested that Elizabeth embodied for them-the pearl of great price, the one among ten thousand-this, for him, was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, now prisoner in her cousin's hands, going to and fro from house to house, with a guard about her, yet with all the seeming of liberty and none of its reality….

The rough bitterness died out of the boy's face, and a look came upon it as of one who sees a vision.

"Queen Mary?" he said, as if he pronounced the name of the Mother of

God. "Yes; I have heard of her…. She is in Norfolk, I think."

Then he let flow out of him the stream that always ran in his heart like sorrowful music ever since the day when first, as a page, in my Lord Shrewsbury's house in Sheffield, he had set eyes on that queen of sorrows. Then, again, upon the occasion of his journey to Paris, he had met with Mr. Morgan, her servant, and the Bishop of Glasgow, her friend, whose talk had excited and inspired him. He had learned from them something more of her glories and beauties, and remembering what he had seen of her, adored her the more. He leaned back now, shading his eyes from the candles upon the table, and began to sing his love and his queen. He told of new insults that had been put upon her, new deprivations of what was left to her of liberty; he did not speak now of Elizabeth by name, since a fountain, even of talk, should not give out at once sweet water and bitter; but he spoke of the day when Mary should come herself to the throne of England, and take that which was already hers; when the night should roll away, and the morning-star arise; and the Faith should come again like the flowing tide, and all things be again as they had been from the beginning. It was rank treason that he talked, such as would have brought him to Tyburn if it had been spoken in London in indiscreet company; it was that treason which her Grace herself had made possible by her faithlessness to God and man; such treason as God Himself must have mercy upon, since He reads all hearts and their intentions. The others kept silence.

At the end he stood up. Then he stooped for his boots.

"I must be riding, sir," he said.

Mr. Audrey raised his hand to the latten bell that stood beside him on the table.

"I will take Anthony to his horse," said Robin suddenly, for a thought had come to him.

"Then good-night, sir," said Anthony, as he drew on his second boot and stood up.

* * * * *

The sky was all ablaze with stars now as they came out into the court. On their right shone the high windows of the little hall where peace now reigned, except for the clatter of the boys who took away the dishes; and the night was very still about them in the grip of the frost, for the village went early to bed, and even the dogs were asleep.

Robin said nothing as they went over the paving, for his determination was not yet ripe, and Anthony was still aglow with his own talk. Then, as the servant who waited for his master, with the horses, showed himself in the stable-arch with a lantern, Robin's mind was made up.

"I have something to tell you," he said softly. "Tell your man to wait."

"Eh?"

"Tell your man to wait with the horses."

His heart beat hot and thick in his throat as he led the way through the screens and out beyond the hall and down the steps again into the pleasaunce. Anthony took him by the sleeve once or twice, but he said nothing, and went on across the grass, and out through the open iron gate that gave upon the woods. He dared not say what he had to say within the precincts of the house, for fear he should be overheard and the shame known before its time. Then, when they had gone a little way into the wood, into the dark out of the starlight, Robin turned; and, as he turned, saw the windows of the hall go black as the boys extinguished the torches.

"Well?" whispered Anthony sharply (for a fool could see that the news was to be weighty, and Anthony was no fool).

It was wonderful how Robin's thoughts had fixed themselves since his talk with Mistress Marjorie. He had gone to Padley, doubting of what he should say, doubting what she would tell him, asking himself even whether compliance might not be the just as well as the prudent way. Yet now black shame had come on him-the black shame that any who was a Catholic should turn from his faith; blacker, that he should so turn without even a touch of the rack or the threat of it; blackest of all, that it should be his own father who should do this. It was partly food and wine that had strengthened him, partly Anthony's talk just now; but the frame and substance of it all was Marjorie and her manner of speaking, and her faith in him and in God.

He stood still, silent, breathing so heavily that Anthony heard him.

"Tell me, Rob; tell me quickly."

Robin drew a long breath.

"You saw that my father was silent?" he said.

"Yes."

"Stay…. Will you swear to me by the mass that you will tell no one what you will hear from me till you hear it from others?"

"I will swear it," whispered Anthony in the darkness.

Again Robin sighed in a long, shuddering breath. Anthony could hear him tremble with cold and pain.

"Well," he said, "my father will leave the Church next Easter. He is tired of paying fines, he says. And he has bidden me to come with him to Matstead Church."

There was dead silence.

"I went to tell Marjorie to-day," whispered Robin. "She has promised to be my wife some day; so I told her, but no one else. She has bidden me to leave Matstead for Easter, and pray to God to show me what to do afterwards. Can you help me, Anthony?"

He was seized suddenly by the arms.

"Robin…. No … no! It is not possible!"

"It is certain. I have never known my father to turn from his word."

* * * * *

From far away in the wild woods came a cry as the two stood there. It might be a wolf or fox, if any were there, or some strange night-bird, or a woman in pain. It rose, it seemed, to a scream, melancholy and dreadful, and then died again. The two heard it, but said nothing, one to the other. No doubt it was some beast in a snare or a-hunting, but it chimed in with the desolation of their hearts so as to seem but a part of it. So the two stood in silence. The house was quiet now, and most of those within it upon their beds. Only, as the two knew, there still sat in silence within the little wainscoted parlour, with his head on his hand and a glass of muscadel beside him-he of whom they thought-the father of one and the friend and host of the other…. It was not until this instant in the dark and to the quiet, with the other lad's hands still gripped on to his arms, that this boy understood the utter shame and the black misery of that which he had said, and the other heard.

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