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   Chapter 7 No.7

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 5437

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The company was already assembled both within and without Padley, when Robin rode up from the riverside, on a fine, windy morning, for the sport of the day. Perhaps a dozen horses stood tethered at the entrance to the little court, with a man or two to look after them, for the greater part of their riders were already within; and a continual coming and going of lads with dogs; falconers each with his cadge, or three-sided frame on which sat the hawks; a barking of hounds, a screaming of birds, a clatter of voices and footsteps in the court-all this showed that the boy was none too early. A man stepped forward to take his mare and his hawks; and Robin slipped from his saddle and went in.

* * * * *

Padley Hall was just such a house as would serve a wealthy gentleman who desired a small country estate with sufficient dignity and not too many responsibilities. It stood upon the side of the hill, well set-up above the damps of the valley, yet protected from the north-easterly winds by the higher slopes, on the tops of which lay Burbage Moor, where the hawking was to be held. On the south, over the valley, stood out the modest hall and buttery (as, indeed, they stand to this day), with a door between them, well buttressed in two places upon the falling ground, in one by a chimney, in the other by a slope of masonry; and behind these buildings stood the rest of the court, the stables, the wash-house, the bake-house and such like, below; and, above, the sleeping rooms for the family and the servants. On the first floor, above the buttery and the hall, were situated the ladies' parlour and chapel; for this, at least, Padley had, however little its dignity in other matters, that it retained its chapel served in these sorrowful days not, as once, by a chaplain, but by whatever travelling priest might be there.

* * * * *

Robin entered through the great gate on the east side-a dark entrance kept by a porter who saluted him-and rode through into the court; and here, indeed, was the company; for out of the windows of the low hall on his left came a babble of tongues, while two or three gentlemen with pots in their hands saluted him from the passage door, telling him that Mr. Thomas FitzHerbert was within. Mr. Fenton was one of these, come over from North Lees, where he had his manor, a brisk, middle-aged man, dressed soberly and well, with a pointed beard and pleasant, dancing eyes.

"And Mr. John, too, came last night," he said; "but he will not hawk with us. He is ridden from London on private matters."

It was an exceedingly gay sight on which Robin looked as he turned into the hall. It was a low room, ceiled in oak and wainscoted half-way up, a trifle dark, since i

t was lighted only by one or two little windows on either side, yet warm and hospitable looking; with a great fire burning in a chimney on the south side, and perhaps a dozen and a half persons sitting over their food and drink, since they were dining early to-day to have the longer time for sport.

A voice hailed him as he came in; and he went up to pay his respects to Mr. John FitzHerbert, a tall man, well past middle-age, who sat with his hat on his head, at the centre of the high table, with the arms of Eyre and FitzHerbert beneath the canopy, all emblazoned, to do the honours of the day.

"You are late, sir, you are late!" he cried out genially. "We are just done."

Robin saluted him. He liked this man, though he did not know him very well; for he was continually about the country, now in London, now at Norbury, now at Swinnerton, always occupied with these endless matters of fines and recusancy.

Robin saluted him then, and said a word or two; bowed to Mr. Thomas, his son, who came up to speak with him; and then looked for Marjorie. She sat there, at the corner of the table, with Mrs. Fenton at one side, and an empty seat on the other. Robin immediately sat down in it, to eat his dinner, beginning with the "gross foods," according to the English custom. There was a piece of Christmas brawn to-day, from a pig fattened on oats and peas, and hardened by being lodged (while he lived) on a boarded floor; all this was told Robin across the table with particularity, while he ate it, and drank, according to etiquette, a cup of bastard. He attended to all this zealously, while never for an instant was he unaware of the girl.

They tricked their elders very well, these two innocent ones. You would have sworn that Robin looked for another place and could not see one, you would have sworn that they were shy of one another, and spoke scarcely a dozen sentences. Yet they did very well each in the company of the other; and Robin, indeed, before he had finished his partridge, had conveyed to her that there was news that he had, and must give to her before the day was out. She looked at him with enough dismay in her face for him at least to read it; for she knew by his manner that it would not be happy news.

So, too, when the fruit was done and dinner was over (for they had no opportunity to speak at any length), again you would have sworn that the last idea in his mind, as in hers, was that he should be the one to help her to her saddle. Yet he did so; and he fetched her hawk for her, and settled her reins in her hand; and presently he on one side of her, with Mr. Fenton on the other side, were riding up through Padley chase; and the talk and the laughter went up too.

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