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   Chapter 9 No.9

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 8871

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It fell on Robin's mind with a certain heaviness and reproach that it should have been she who should have carried in her head all day the unknown news that he was to give her and he who should have forgotten it. He understood then a little better of all that he must be to her, since, as he turned to her (his head full of hawks, and the glory of the shouting wind, and every thought of Faith and father clean blown away), it was to her mind that the under-thought had leapt, that here was their first, and perhaps their last, chance of speaking in private.

It was indeed their last chance, for the sun already stood over Chapel-le-Frith far away to the south-west; and they must begin their circle to return, in which the ladies should fly their merlins after larks, and there was no hope henceforth for Robin. Henceforth she rode with Mrs. Fenton and two or three more, while the gentlemen who loved sport more than courtesy, turned to the left over the broken ground to work back once more after partridges. And Robin dared no more ride with his love, for fear that his company all day with her should be marked.

* * * * *

It was within an hour of sunset that Robin, riding ahead, having lost a hawk and his hat, having fallen into a bog-hole, being one mask of mud from head to foot, slid from his horse into Dick's hands and demanded if the ladies were back.

"Yes, sir; they are back half an hour ago. They are in the parlour."

Robin knew better. "I shall be riding in ten minutes," he said; "give the mare a mouthful."

He limped across the court, and looking behind him to see if any saw, and finding the court at that instant empty, ran up, as well as he could, the stone staircase that rose from the outside to the chapel door. It was unlatched. He pushed it open and went in.

* * * * *

It was a brave thing that the FitzHerberts did in keeping such a place at all, since the greatest Protestant fool in the valley knew what the little chamber was that had the angels carved on the beam-ends, and the piscina in the south wall. Windows looked out every way; through those on the south could be seen now the darkening valley and the sunlit hills, and, yet more necessary, the road by which any travellers from the valley must surely come. Within, too, scarcely any pains were taken to disguise the place. It was wainscoted from roof to floor-veiled, floored and walled in oak. A great chest stood beneath the little east window of two lights, that cried "Altar" if any chest ever did so. A great press stood against the wooden screen that shut the room from the ladies' parlour next door; filled in three shelves with innocent linen, for this was the only disguise that the place stooped to put on. You could not swear that mass was said there, but you could swear that it was a place in which mass would very suitably be said. A couple of benches were against the press, and three or four chairs stood about the floor.

Robin saw her against the light as soon as he came in. She was still in her blue riding-dress, with the hood on her shoulders, and held her whip in her hand; but he could see no more of her head than the paleness of her face and the gleam on her black hair.

"Well, then?" she whispered sharply; and then: "Why, what a state you are in!"

"It's nothing," said Robin. "I rolled in a bog-hole."

She looked at him anxiously.

"You are not hurt?… Sit down at least."

He sat down stiffly, and she beside him, still watching to see if he were the worse for his falling. He took her hand in his.

"I am not fit to touch you," he said.

"Tell me the news; tell me quickly."

So he told her; of the wrangle in the parlour and what had passed between his father and him; of his own bitterness; and his letter, and the way in which the old man had taken it.

"He has not spoken to me since," he said, "except in public before the servants. Both nights after supper he has sat silent and I beside him."

"And you have not spoken to him?" she asked quickly.

"I said something to him after supper on Sunday, and he made no answer.

He has done all his writing himself. I think it is for him to speak now.

I should only anger him more if I tried it again."

She sighed suddenly and swiftly, but said nothing. Her hand lay passive in his, but her face was turned now to the bright southerly window, and he could see her puzzled eyes and her down-turned, serious mou

th. She was thinking with all her wits, and, plainly, could come to no conclusion.

She turned to him again.

"And you told him plainly that you and I … that you and I-"

"That you and I loved one another? I told him plainly. And it was his contempt that angered me."

She sighed again.

* * * * *

It was a troublesome situation in which these two children found themselves. Here was the father of one of them that knew, yet not the parents of the other, who should know first of all. Neither was there any promise of secrecy and no hope of obtaining it. If she should not tell her parents, then if the old man told them, deception would be charged against her; and if she should tell them, perhaps he would not have done so, and so all be brought to light too soon and without cause. And besides all this there were the other matters, heavy enough before, yet far more heavy now-matters of their hopes for the future, the complications with regard to the Religion, what Robin should do, what he should not do.

So they sat there silent, she thinking and he waiting upon her thought.

She sighed again and turned to him her troubled eyes.

"My Robin," she said, "I have been thinking so much about you, and I have feared sometimes-"

She stopped herself, and he looked for her to finish. She drew her hand away and stood up.

"Oh! it is miserable!" she cried. "And all might have been so happy."

The tears suddenly filled her eyes so that they shone like flowers in dew.

He stood up, too, and put his muddy arm about her shoulders. (She felt so slight and slender.)

"It will be happy," he said. "What have you been fearing?"

She shook her head and the tears ran down.

"I cannot tell you yet…. Robin, what a holy man that travelling priest must be, who said mass on Sunday."

The lad was bewildered at her swift changes of thought, for he did not yet see the chain on which they hung. He strove to follow her.

"It seemed so to me too," he said. "I think I have never seen-"

"It seemed so to you too," she cried. "Why, what do you know of him?"

He was amazed at her vehemence. She had drawn herself clear of his arm and was looking at him full in the face.

"I met him on the moor," he said. "I had some talk with him. I got his blessing."

"You got his blessing! Why, so did I, after the mass, when you were gone."

"Then that should join us more closely than ever," he said.

"In Heaven, perhaps, but on earth-" She checked herself again. "Tell me what you thought of him, Robin."

"I thought it was strange that such a man as that should live such a rough life. If he were in the seminary now, safe at Douay-"

She seemed a shade paler, but her eyes did not flicker.

"Yes," she said. "And you thought-?"

"I thought that it was not that kind of man who should fare so hardly. If it were a man like John Merton, who is accustomed to such things, or a man like me-"

Again he stopped; he did not know why. But it was as if she had cried out, though she neither spoke nor moved.

"You thought that, did you, Robin?" she said presently, never moving her eyes from his face. "I thought so, too."

"But I do not know why we are talking about Mr. Simpson," said the lad.

"There are other affairs more pressing."

"I am not sure," said she.

"Marjorie, my love, what are you thinking about?"

She had turned her eyes and was looking out through the little window. Outside the red sunlight still lay on the crags and slopes beyond the deep valley beneath them, and her face was bright in the reflected brightness. Yet he thought he had never seen her look so serious. She turned her eyes back to him as he spoke.

"I am thinking of a great many things," she said. "I am thinking of the

Faith and of sorrow and of love."

"My love, what do you mean?"

Suddenly she made a swift movement towards him and took him by the lapels. He could see her face close beneath his, yet it was in shadow again, and he could make out of it no more than the shadows of mouth and eyes.

"Robin," she said, "I cannot tell you unless God tells you Himself. I am told that I am too scrupulous sometimes…. I do not know what I think, nor what is right, nor what are fancies…. But … but I know that I love you with all my heart … and … and that I cannot bear-"

Then her face was on his breast in a passion of weeping, and his arms were round her, and his lips on her hair.

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