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   Chapter 11 No.11

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 5197

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


He found his wife half an hour later in the ladies' parlour, which he entered with an air as of nothing to say. With the same air of disengagement he made sure that Marjorie was nowhere in the room, and presently sat down.

Mrs. Manners was well past her prime. She was over forty years old and looked over fifty, though she retained the air of distinction which Marjorie had derived from her; but her looks belied her, and she had not one tithe of the subtlety and keenness of her daughter. She was, in fact, more suited to be wife to her husband than mother to her daughter.

"You have come about the maid," she said instantly, with disconcerting penetration and frankness. "Well, I know no more than you. She will tell me nothing but what she has told you. She has some fiddle-faddle in her head, as maids will, but she will have her way with us, I suppose."

She drew her needle through the piece of embroidery which she permitted to herself for an hour on Sundays, knotted the thread and bit it off. Then she regarded her husband.

"I…. I will have no fiddle-faddle in such a matter," he said courageously. "Maids did not rule their parents when I was a boy; they obeyed them or were beaten."

His wife laughed shortly; and began to thread her needle again.

He began to explain. The match was in all respects suitable. Certainly there were difficulties, springing from the very startling events at Matstead, and it well might be that a man who would do as Mr. Audrey had done (or, rather, proposed to do) might show obstinacy in other directions too. Therefore there was no hurry; the two were still very young, and it certainly would be wiser to wait for any formal betrothal until Robin's future disclosed itself. But no action of Mr. Audrey's need delay the betrothal indefinitely; if need were, he, Mr. Manners, would make proper settlements. Marjorie was an only daughter; in fact, she was in some sort an heiress. The Manor would be sufficient for them both. As to any other difficulties-any of the maidenly fiddle-faddle of which his wife had spoken-this should not stand in the way for an instant.

His wife laughed again in the same exclamatory manner, when he had done and sat stroking his knees.

"Why, you understand nothing about it, Mr. Manners," she said, "Did the maid not tell you she would marry him, if he wished it? She told me so."

"Then what is the matter?" he asked.

"I know no more than you."

"Does he not wish it?"

"She says so."

"Then-"

"Yes, that is what I say. And yet that says nothing. There is something more."

"Ask her."

"I have asked her. She bids me wait, as she bids you. It is no good, Mr.

Manners. We must wait the maid's time."

He sat, breathing audibly through his nose.

* * * * *

These two were devoted to their daughter in a manner hardly to be described. She was the only one left to them; for the others, of whom two had been boys, had died in infancy or childhood; and, in the event, Marjorie had absorbed the love due to them all. She was a strain higher than themselves, thought her parents, and so pride in her was added to love. The mother had made incredible sacrifices, first to have her educated by a couple of old nuns who still survived in Derby, and then to bring her out suitably at Babington House last year. The father had cordially approved, and joined in the sacrifices, which included an expenditure which he would not have thought conceivable. The result was, of course, that Marjorie, under cover of a very real dutifulness, ruled both her parents completely; her mother acknowledged the dominion, at least, to herself and her husband; her father pretended that he did not; and on this occasion rose, perhaps, nearer to repudiating it than ever in his life. It seemed to him unbearable to be bidden by his daughter, though with the utmost courtesy and affection, to mind his own business.

So he sat and breathed audibly through his nose, and meditated rebellion.

* * * * *

"And is the lad to come here for Easter?" he asked at last.

"I suppose so."

"And for how long?"

"So long as the maid appoints."

He breathed louder than ever.

"And, Mr. Manners," continued his wife emphatically, "no word must be said to him on the matter. The maid is very plain as to that…. Oh! we must let her have her way."

"Where is she gone?"

She nodded with her head to the window. He went to it and looked out.

* * * * *

It was the little walled garden on which he looked, in which, if he had but known it, the lad whom he liked had kissed the maid whom he loved; and there walked the maid, at this moment with her back to him, going up the central path that was bordered with box. The February sun shone on her as she went, on her hooded head, her dark cloak and her blue dress beneath. He watched her go up, and drew back a little as she turned, so that she might not see him watching; and as she came down again he saw that she held a string of beads in her fingers and was making her devotions. She was a good girl…. That, at least, was a satisfaction.

Then he turned from the window again.

"Well?" said his wife.

"I suppose it must be as she says."

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