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   Chapter 17 No.17

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 6895

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"You tell me, then," said the girl quietly, "that all is as it was with you? God has told you nothing?"

Robin was silent.

* * * * *

Mass had been done an hour or more, and for the most part the company was dispersed again, after refreshment spread in the hall, except for those who were to stay to dinner, and these two had slipped away at last to talk together in the woods; for the court was still filled with servants coming and going, and the parlours occupied. In one the ladies were still busy with the altar furniture; in the other the priest sat to talk in private with those who were come from a distance; and as for the hall-this, too, was in the hands of the servants, since not less than thirty gentle folk were to dine there that day.

Robin had come to Booth's Edge at the beginning of Passion week, and had been there ever since. He had refrained, at Marjorie's entreaty, from speaking of her to her parents; and they, too, ruled by their daughter, had held their tongues on the matter. Everything else, however, had been discussed-the effect of the squire's apostasy, the alternatives that presented themselves to the boy, the future behaviour of him to his father-all these things had been spoken of; and even the priest called into council during the last two or three days. Yet not much had come of it. If the worst came to the worst, the lawyer had offered the boy a place in his office; Anthony Babington had proposed his coming to Dethick if his father turned him out; while Robin himself inclined to a third alternative-the begging of his father to give him a sum of money and be rid of him; after which he proposed, with youthful vagueness, to set off for London and see what he could do there.

Marjorie, however, had seemed strangely uninterested in such proposals. She had listened with patience, bowing her head in assent to each, beginning once or twice a word of criticism, and stopping herself before she had well begun. But she had looked at Robin with more than interest; and her mother had found her more than once on her knees in her own chamber, in tears. Yet she had said nothing, except that she would speak her mind after Easter, perhaps.

And now, it seemed, she was doing it.

* * * * *

"You have had no other thought?" she said again, "besides those of which you talked with my father?"

They were walking together through the woods, half a mile along the Hathersage valley. Beneath them the ground fell steeply away, above them it rose as steeply to the right. Underfoot the new life of spring was bourgeoning in mould and grass and undergrowth; for the heather did not come down so far as this; and the daffodils and celandine and wild hyacinth lay in carpets of yellow and blue, infinitely sweet, beneath the shadow of the trees and in the open sunshine. (It was at this time that the squire of Matstead was entering the church and hearing of the promises of the Lord to the sinner who forsook his sinful ways.)

"I have had other thoughts," said the boy slowly, "but they are so wild and foolish that I have determined to think no more of them."

"You are determined?"

He bowed his head.

"You are sure, then, that they are not from God?" asked the girl, torn between fear and hope. He was silent; and her heart sank again.

He looked, indeed, a bewildered boy, borne down by a weight that was too heavy for his years. He walked with his hands behind his back, his hatl

ess head bowed, regarding his feet and the last year's leaves on which he walked. A cuckoo across the valley called with the insistence of one who will be answered.

"My Robin," said the girl, "the last thing I would have you do is to tell me what you would not…. Will you not speak to the priest about it?"

"I have spoken to the priest."

"Yes?"

"He tells me he does not know what to think."

"Would you do this thing-whatever it may be-if the priest told you it was God's will?"

There was a pause; and then:

"I do not know," said Robin, so low she could scarcely hear him.

She drew a deep breath to reassure herself.

"Listen!" she said. "I must say a little of what I think; but not all.

Our Lord must finish it to you, if it is according to His will."

He glanced at her swiftly, and down again, like a frightened child. Yet even in that glance he could see that it was all that she could do to force herself to speak; and by that look he understood for the first time something of that which she was suffering.

"You know first," she said, "that I am promised to you. I hold that promise as sacred as anything on earth can be."

Her voice shook a little. The boy bowed his head again. She went on:

"But there are some things," she said, "more sacred than anything on earth-those things that come from heaven. Now, I wish to say this-and then have done with it: that if such should be God's will, I would not hold you for a day. We are Catholics, you and I…. Your father-"

Her voice broke; and she stopped; yet without leaving go of her hold upon herself. Only she could not speak for a moment.

Then a great fury seized on the boy. It was one of those angers that for a while poison the air and turn all things sour; yet without obscuring the mind-an anger in which the angry one strikes first at that which he loves most, because he loves it most, knowing, too, that the words he speaks are false. For this, for the present, was the breaking-point in the lad. He had suffered torments in his soul, ever since the hour in which he had ridden into the gate of his own home after his talk in the empty chapel; he had striven to put away from him that idea for which the girl's words had broken an entrance into his heart. And now she would give him no peace; she continued to press on him from without that which already pained him within; so he turned on her.

"You wish to be rid of me!" he cried fiercely.

She looked at him with her lips parted, her eyes astonished, and her face gone white.

"What did you say?" she said.

His conscience pierced him like a sword. Yet he set his teeth.

"You wish to be rid of me. You are urging me to leave you. You talk to me of God's will and God's voice, and you have no pity on me at all. It is an excuse-a blind."

He stood raging. The very fact that he knew every word to be false made his energy the greater; for he could not have said it otherwise.

"You think that!" she whispered.

There, then, they stood, eyeing one another. A stranger, coming suddenly upon them, would have said it was a lovers' tiff, and have laughed at it. Yet it was a deeper matter than that.

Then there surged over the boy a wave of shame; and the truth prevailed. His fair face went scarlet; and his eyes filled with tears. He dropped on his knees in the leaves, seized her hand and kissed it.

"Oh! you must forgive me," he said. "But … but I cannot do it!"

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