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   Chapter 10 No.10

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 9109

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Mr. Manners sat in his parlour ten days after the beginning of Lent, full of his Sunday dinner and of perplexing thoughts all at once. He had eaten well and heartily after his week of spare diet, and then, while in high humour with all the world, first his wife and then his daughter had laid before him such revelations that all the pleasure of digestion was gone. It was but three minutes ago that Marjorie had fled from him in a torrent of tears, for which he could not see himself responsible, since he had done nothing but make the exclamations and comments that should be expected of a father in such a case.

The following were the points for his reflection-to begin with those that touched him less closely.

First that his friend Mr. Audrey, whom he had always looked upon with reverence and a kind of terror because of his hotness in matters of politics and religion, had capitulated to the enemy and was to go to church at Easter. Mr. Manners himself had something of timidity in his nature: he was conservative certainly, and practised, when he could without bringing himself into open trouble, the old religion in which he had been brought up. He, like the younger generation, had been educated at Derby Grammar School, and in his youth had sat with his parents in the nave of the old Cluniac church of St. James to hear mass. He had then entered his father's office in Derby, about the time that the Religious Houses had fallen, and had transferred the scene of his worship to St. Peter's. At Queen Mary's accession, he had stood, with mild but genuine enthusiasm, in his lawyer's gown, in the train of the sheriff who proclaimed her in Derby market-place; and stood in the crowd, with corresponding dismay, six years later to shout for Queen Elizabeth. Since that date, for the first eleven years he had gone, as did other Catholics, to his parish church secretly, thankful that there was no doubt as to the priesthood of his parson, to hear the English prayers; and then, to do him justice, though he heard with something resembling consternation the decision from Rome that compromise must cease and that, henceforth, all true Catholics must withdraw themselves from the national worship, he had obeyed without even a serious moment of consideration. He had always feared that it might be so, understanding that delay in the decision was only caused by the hope that even now the breach might not be final or complete; and so was better prepared for the blow when it came. Since that time he had heard mass when he could, and occasionally even harboured priests, urged thereto by his wife and daughter; and, for the rest, still went into Derby for three or four days a week to carry on his lawyer's business, with Mr. Biddell his partner, and had the reputation of a sound and careful man without bigotry or passion.

It was, then, a shock to his love of peace and serenity, to hear that yet another Catholic house had fallen, and that Mr. Audrey, one of his clients, could no longer be reckoned as one of his co-religionists.

The next point for his reflection was that Robin was refusing to follow his father's example; the third, that somebody must harbour the boy over Easter, and that, in his daughter's violently expressed opinion, and with his wife's consent, he, Thomas Manners, was the proper person to do it. Last, that it was plain that there was something between his daughter and this boy, though what that was he had been unable to understand. Marjorie had flown suddenly from the room just as he was beginning to put his questions.

It is no wonder, then, that his peace of mind was gone. Not only were large principles once more threatened-considerations of religion and loyalty, but also those small and intimate principles which, so far more than great ones, agitate the mind of the individual. He did not wish to lose a client; yet neither did he wish to be unfriendly to a young confessor for the faith. Still less did he wish to lose his daughter, above all to a young man whose prospects seemed to be vanishing. He wondered whether it would be prudent to consult Mr. Biddell on the point….

* * * * *

He was a small and precise man in his body and face, as well as in his dress; his costume was, of course, of black; but he went so far as to wear black buckles, too, on his shoes, and a black hilt on his sword. His face was little and anxious; his eyebrows were perpetually arched, as if in appeal, and he was accustomed, when in deep thought, to move his lips as if in a motion of tasting. So, then

, he sat before his fire to-day after dinner, his elbow on the table where his few books lay, his feet crossed before him, his cup of drink untouched at his side; and meantime he tasted continually with his lips, as if better to appreciate the values and significances of the points for his consideration.

* * * * *

It would be about half an hour later that the door opened once more and

Marjorie came in again.

She was in her fine dress to-day-fine, that is, according to the exigencies of the time and place, though sober enough if for a town-house-in a good blue silk, rather dark, with a little ruff, with lace ruffles at her wrists, and a quilted petticoat, and silver buckles. For she was a gentleman's daughter, quite clearly, and not a yeoman's, and she must dress to her station. Her face was very pale and quite steady. She stood opposite her father.

"Father," she said, "I am very sorry for having behaved like a goose. You were quite right to ask those questions, and I have come back to answer them."

He had ceased tasting as she came in. He looked at her timidly and yet with an attempt at severity. He knew what was due from him as a father. But for the present he had forgotten what questions they were; his mind had been circling so wildly.

"You are right to come back," he said, "you should not have left me so."

"I am very sorry," she said again.

"Well, then-you tell me that Mr. Robin has nowhere else to go."

She flushed a little.

"He has ten places to go to. He has plenty of friends. But none have the right that we have. He is a neighbour; it was to me, first of all, that he told the trouble."

Then he remembered.

"Sit down," he said. "I must understand much better first. I do not understand why he came to you first. Why not, if he must come to this house at all-why not to me? I like the lad; he knows that well enough."

He spoke with an admirable dignity, and began to feel more happy in consequence.

She had sat down as he told her, on the other side of the table; but he could not see her face.

"It would have been better if he had, perhaps," she said. "But-"

"Yes? What 'But' is that?"

Then she faced him, and her eyes were swimming.

"Father, he told me first because he loves me, and because I love him."

He sat up. This was speaking outright what she had only hinted at before. She must have been gathering her resolution to say this, while she had been gone. Perhaps she had been with her mother. In that case he must be cautious….

"You mean-"

"I mean just what I say. We love one another, and I am willing to be his wife if he desires it-and with your permission. But-"

He waited for her to go on.

"Another 'But'!" he said presently, though with increasing mildness.

"I do not think he will desire it after a while. And … and I do not know what I wish. I am torn in two."

"But you are willing?"

"I pray for it every night," she cried piteously. "And every morning I pray that it may not be so."

She was staring at him as if in agony, utterly unlike what he had looked for in her. He was completely bewildered.

"I do not understand one word-"

Then she threw herself at his knees and seized his hands; her face was all torn with pain.

"And I cannot explain one word…. Father, I am in misery. You must pray for me and have patience with me…. I must wait … I must wait and see what God wishes."

"Now, now…."

"Father, you will trust me, will you not?"

"Listen to me. You must tell me thus. Do you love this boy?"

"Yes, yes."

"And you have told him so? He asked you, I mean?"

"Yes."

He put her hands firmly from his knee.

"Then you must marry him, if matters can be arranged. It is what I should wish. But I do not know-"

"Father, you do not understand-you do not understand. I tell you I am willing enough, if he wishes it … if he wishes it."

Again she seized his hands and held them. And again bewilderment came down on him like a cloud.

"Father! you must trust me. I am willing to do everything that I ought." (She was speaking firmly and confidently now.) "If he wishes to marry me, I will marry him. I love him dearly…. But you must say nothing to him, not one word. My mother agrees with this. She would have told you herself; but I said that I would-that I must be brave…. I must learn to be brave…. I can tell you no more."

He lifted her hands and stood up.

"I see that I understand nothing that you say after all," he said with a fine fatherly dignity. "I must talk with your mother."

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