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   Chapter 15 No.15

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 4441

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The court of the manor seemed deserted half an hour before dinner-time. There was a Sabbath stillness in the air to-day, sweetened, as it were, by the bubbling of bird-music in the pleasaunce behind the hall and the high woods beyond. On the strips of rough turf before the gate and within it bloomed the spring flowers, white and blue. A hound lay stretched in the sunshine on the hall steps; twitching his ears to keep off a persistent fly. You would have sworn that his was the only intelligence in the place. Yet at the sound of the iron latch of the gate and the squire's footsteps on the stones, the place, so to say, became alive, though in a furtive and secret manner. Over the half door of the stable entrance on the left two faces appeared-one, which was Dick's, sullen and angry, the other, that of a stable-boy, inquiring and frankly interested. This second vanished again as the squire came forward. A figure of a kitchen-boy, in a white apron, showed in the dark doorway that led to the kitchen and hall, and disappeared again instantly. From two or three upper windows faces peeped and remained fascinated. Only the old hound remained still, twitching his ears.

All this-though there was nothing to be seen but the familiar personage of the place, in his hat and cloak and sword, walking through his own court on his way to dinner, as he had walked a thousand times before. And yet so great was the significance of his coming to-day, that the very gate behind him was pushed open by sightseers, who had followed at a safe distance up the path from the church; half a dozen stood there staring, and behind them, at intervals, a score more, spread out in groups, all the way down to the porter's lodge.

The most remarkable feature of all was the silence. Not a voice there spoke, even in a whisper. The maids at the windows above, Dick glowering over the half door, the little group which, far back in the kitchen entrance, peeped and rustled, the men at the gate behind, even the boys in the path-all these held their tongues for interest and a kind of fear. Drama was in the air-the tragedy of seeing the squire come back from church for the first time, bearing himself as he always did, resolute an

d sturdy, yet changed in his significance after a fashion of which none of these simple hearts had ever dreamed.

So, again in silence, he went up the court, knowing that eyes were upon him, yet showing no sign that he knew it; he went up the steps with the same assured air, and disappeared into the hall.

* * * * *

Then the spell broke up and the bustle began, for it was only half an hour to dinner and guests were coming. First Dick came out, slashing to the door behind him, and strode out to the gate. He was still in his boots, for he had ridden to Padley and back since early morning with a couple of the maids and the stable-boy. He went to the gate of the court, the group dissolving as he came, and shut it in their faces. A noise of talking came out of the kitchen windows and the clash of a saucepan: the maids' heads vanished from the upper windows.

Even as Dick shut the gate he heard the sound of horses' hoofs down by the porter's lodge. The justices were coming-the two whose names he had heard with amazement last week, as the last corroboration of the incredible rumour of his master's defection. For these were a couple of magistrates-harmless men, indeed, as regarded their hostility to the old Faith-yet Protestants who had sat more than once on the bench in Derby to hear cases of recusancy. Old Mrs. Marpleden had told him they were to come, and that provision must be made for their horses-Mrs. Marpleden, the ancient housekeeper of the manor, who had gone to school for a while with the Benedictine nuns of Derby in King Henry's days. She had shaken her head and eyed him, and then had suffered three or four tears to fall down her old cheeks.

Well, they were coming, so Dick must open the gate again, and pull the bell for the servants; and this he did, and waited, hat in hand.

Up the little straight road they came, with a servant or two behind them-the two harmless gentlemen, chattering as they rode; and Dick loathed them in his heart.

"The squire is within?"

"Yes, sir."

They dismounted, and Dick held their stirrups.

"He has been to church-eh?"

Dick made no answer. He feigned to be busy with one of the saddles.

The magistrate glanced at him sharply.

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