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   Chapter 5 No.5

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 11822

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"I will speak to you to-night, sir, after supper," said his father sharply a second day later, when Robin, meeting his father setting out before dinner, had asked him to give him an hour's talk.

* * * * *

Robin's mind had worked fiercely and intently since the encounter in the hall. His father had sat silent both at supper and afterwards, and the next day was the same; the old man spoke no more than was necessary, shortly and abruptly, scarcely looking his son once in the face, and the rest of the day they had not met. It was plain to the boy that something must follow his defiance, and he had prepared all his fortitude to meet it. Yet the second night had passed and no word had been spoken, and by the second morning Robin could bear it no longer; he must know what was in his father's mind. And now the appointment was made, and he would soon know all. His father was absent from dinner and the boy dined alone. He learned from Dick Sampson that his father had ridden southwards.

* * * * *

It was not until Robin had sat down nearly half an hour later than supper-time that the old man came in. The frost was gone; deep mud had succeeded, and the rider was splashed above his thighs. He stayed at the fire for his boots to be drawn off and to put on his soft-leather shoes, while Robin stood up dutifully to await him. Then he came forward, took his seat without a word, and called for supper. In ominous silence the meal proceeded, and with the same thunderous air, when it was over, his father said grace and made his way, followed by his son, into the parlour behind. He made no motion at first to pour out his wine; then he helped himself twice and left the jug for Robin.

Then suddenly he began without moving his head.

"I wish to know your intentions," he said, with irony so serious that it seemed gravity. "I cannot flog you or put you to school again, and I must know how we stand to one another."

Robin was silent. He had looked at his father once or twice, but now sat downcast and humble in his place. With his left hand he fumbled, out of sight, Mr. Maine's pair of beads. His father, for his part, sat with his feet stretched to the fire, his head propped on his hand, not doing enough courtesy to his son even to look at him.

"Do you hear me, sir?"

"Yes, sir. But I do not know what to say."

"I wish to know your intentions. Do you mean to thwart and disobey me in all matters, or in only those that have to do with religion?"

"I do not wish to thwart or disobey you, sir, in any matters except where my conscience is touched." (The substance of this answer had been previously rehearsed, and the latter part of it even verbally.)

"Be good enough to tell me what you mean by that."

Robin licked his lips carefully and sat up a little in his chair.

"You told me, sir, that it was your intention to leave the Church. Then how can I tell you of what priests are here, or where mass is to be said? You would not have done so to one who was not a Catholic, six months ago."

The man sneered visibly.

"There is no need," he said. "It is Mr. Simpson who is to say mass to-morrow, and it is at Tansley that it will be said, at six o'clock in the morning. If I choose to tell the justices, you cannot prevent it." (He turned round in a flare of anger.) "Do you think I shall tell the justices?"

Robin said nothing.

"Do you think I shall tell the justices?" roared the old man insistently.

"No, sir. Now I do not."

The other growled gently and sank back.

"But if you think that I will permit my son to flout and to my face in my own hall, and not to trust his own father-why, you are immeasurably mistaken, sir. So I ask you again how far you intend to thwart and disobey me."

A kind of despair surged up in the boy's heart-despair at the fruitlessness of this ironical and furious sort of talk; and with the despair came boldness.

"Father, will you let me speak outright, without thinking that I mean to insult you? I do not; I swear I do not. Will you let me speak, sir?"

His father growled again a sort of acquiescence, and Robin gathered his forces. He had prepared a kind of defence that seemed to him reasonable, and he knew that his father was at least just. They had been friends, these two, always, in an underground sort of way, which was all that the relations of father and son in such days allowed. The old man was curt, obstinate, and even boisterous in his anger; but there was a kindliness beneath that the boy always perceived-a kindliness which permitted the son an exceptional freedom of speech, which he used always in the last resort and which he knew his father loved to hear him use. This, then, was plainly a legitimate occasion for it, and he had prepared himself to make the most of it. He began formally:

"Sir," he said, "you have brought me up in the Old Faith, sent me to mass, and to the priest to learn my duty, and I have obeyed you always. You have taught me that a man's duty to God must come before all else-as our Saviour Himself said, too. And now you turn on me, and bid me forget all that, and come to church with you…. It is not for me to say anything to my father about his own conscience; I must leave that alone. But I am bound to speak of mine when occasion rises, and this is one of them…. I should be dishonouring and insulting you, sir, if I did not believe you when you said you would turn Protestant; and a man who says he will turn Protestant has done so already. It was for this reason, then, and no other, that I did not answer you the other day; not because I wish to be disobedient to you, but because I must be obedient to God. I did not lie to you, as I might have done, and say that I did not know who the priest was nor where mass was to be said. But I would not answer, because it is not right or discreet for a Catholic to speak of these things to those who are

not Catholics-"

"How dare you say I am not a Catholic, sir!"

"A Catholic, sir, to my mind," said Robin steadily, "is one who holds to the Catholic Church and to no other. I mean nothing offensive, sir; I mean what I said I meant, and no more. It is not for me to condemn-"

"I should think not!" snorted the old man.

"Well, sir, that is my reason. And further-"

He stopped, doubtful.

"Well, sir-what further?"

"Well, I cannot come to the church with you at Easter."

His father wheeled round savagely in his chair.

"Father, hear me out, and then say what you will…. I say I cannot come with you to church at Easter, because I am a Catholic. But I do not wish to trouble or disobey you openly. I will go away from home for that time. Good Mr. Barton will cause no trouble; he wants nothing but peace. Father, you are not just to me. You have taught me too much, or you have not given me time enough-"

Again he broke off, knowing that he had said what he did not mean, but the old man was on him like a hawk.

"Not time enough, you say? Well, then-"

"No, sir; I did not mean that," wailed Robin suddenly. "I do not mean that I should change if I had a hundred years; I am sure I shall not. But-"

"You said, 'Not time enough,'" said the other meditatively. "Perhaps if

I give you time-"

"Father, I beg of you to forget what I said; I did not mean to say it.

It is not true. But Marjorie said-"

"Marjorie! What has Marjorie to do with it?"

Robin found himself suddenly in deep waters. He had plunged and found that he could not swim. This was the second mistake he had made in saying what he did not mean…. Again the courage of despair came to him, and he struck out further.

"I must tell you of that too, sir," he said. "Mistress Marjorie and I-"

He stopped, overwhelmed with shame. His father turned full round and stared at him.

"Go on, sir."

Robin seized his glass and emptied it.

"Well, sir. Mistress Marjorie and I love one another. We are but boy and girl, sir; we know that-"

Then his father laughed. It was laughter that was at once hearty and bitter; and, with it, came the closing of the open door in the boy's heart. As there came out, after it, sentence after sentence of scorn and contempt, the bolts, so to say, were shot and the key turned. It might all have been otherwise if the elder man had been kind, or if he had been sad or disappointed, or even if he had been merely angry; but the soreness and misery in the old man's heart-misery at his own acts and words, and at the outrage he was doing to his own conscience-turned his judgment bitter, and with that bitterness his son's heart shut tight against him.

"But boy and girl!" sneered the man. "A couple of blind puppies, I would say rather-you with your falcons and mare and your other toys, and the down on your chin, and your conscience; and she with her white face and her mother and her linen-parlour and her beads"-(his charity prevailed so far as to hinder him from more outspoken contempt)-"And you two babes have been prattling of conscience and prayers together-I make no doubt, and thinking yourselves Cecilies and Laurences and all the holy martyrs-and all this without a by-your-leave, I dare wager, from parent or father, and thinking yourselves man and wife; and you fondling her, and she too modest to be fondled, and-"

The plain truth struck him with sudden splendour, at least sufficiently strong to furnish him with a question.

"And have you told Mistress Marjorie about your sad rogue of a father?"

Robin, white with anger, held his lips grimly together and the wrath blazed in an instant up from the scornful old heart, whose very love was turned to gall.

"Tell me, sir-I will have it!" he cried.

Robin looked at him with such hard fury in his eyes that for a moment the man winced. Then he recovered himself, and again his anger rose to the brim.

"You need not look at me like that, you hound. Tell me, I say!"

"I will not!" shouted Robin, springing to his feet.

The old man was up too by now, with all the anger of his son hardened by his dignity.

"You will not?"

"No."

For a moment the fate of them both still hung in the balance. If, even at this instant, the father had remembered his love rather than his dignity, had thought of the past and its happy years, rather than of the blinding, swollen present; or, on the other side, if the son had but submitted if only for an hour, and obeyed in order that he might rule later-the whole course might have run aright, and no hearts have been broken and no blood shed. But neither would yield. There was the fierce northern obstinacy in them both; the gentle birth sharpened its edge; the defiant refusal of the son, the wounding contempt of the father not for his son only, but for his son's love-these things inflamed the hearts of both to madness. The father seized his ultimate right, and struck his son across the face.

Then the son answered by his only weapon.

For a sensible pause he stood there, his fresh face paled to chalkiness, except where the print of five fingers slowly reddened. Then he made a courteous little gesture, as if to invite his father to sit down; and as the other did so, slowly and shaking all over, struck at him by careful and calculated words, delivered with a stilted and pompous air:

"You have beaten me, sir; so, of course, I obey. Yes, I told Mistress Marjorie Manners that my father no longer counted himself a Catholic, and would publicly turn Protestant at Easter, so as to please her Grace and be in favour with the Court and with the county justices. And I have told Mr. Babington so as well, and also Mr. Thomas FitzHerbert. It will spare you the pain, sir, of making any public announcement on the matter. It is always a son's duty to spare his father pain."

Then he bowed, wheeled, and went out of the room.

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