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   Chapter 19 No.19

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 5724

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Dick was waiting by the porter's lodge as the boy rode in, and walked up beside him with his brown hand on the horse's shoulder. Robin could not say much, and, besides, his confidence must be tied.

"So you are going," he said softly.

The man nodded.

"I met Mr. Babington…. You cannot do better, I think, than go to him."

* * * * *

It was with a miserable heart that an hour or two later he came down to supper. His father was already at table, sitting grimly in his place; he made no sign of welcome or recognition as his son came in. During the meal itself this was of no great consequence, as silence was the custom; but the boy's heart sank yet further as, still without a word to him, the squire rose from table at the end and went as usual through the parlour door. He hesitated a moment before following. Then he grasped his courage and went after.

All things were as usual there-the wine set out and the sweetmeats, and his father in his usual place, Yet still there was silence.

Robin began to meditate again, yet alert for a sign or a word. It was in this little room, he understood, that the dispute with Anthony had taken place a few hours before, and he looked round it, almost wondering that all seemed so peaceful. It was this room, too, that was associated with so much that was happy in his life-drawn-out hours after supper, when his father was in genial moods, or when company was there-company that would never come again-and laughter and gallant talk went round. There was the fire burning in the new stove-that which had so much excited him only a year or two ago, for it was then the first that he had ever seen: there was the table where he had written his little letter; there was "Christ carrying His Cross."

"So you have sent your friend to insult me; now!"

Robin started. The voice was quiet enough, but full of a suppressed force.

"I have not, sir. I met Mr. Babington at Froggatt on his way back. He told me. I am very sorry for it."

"And you talked with him at Padley, too, no doubt?"

"Yes, sir."

His father suddenly wheeled round on him.

"Do you think I have no sense, then? Do you think I do not know what you and your friends speak of?"

Robin was silent.

He was astonished how little afraid he was. His heart beat loud enough in his ears; yet he felt none of that helplessness that had fallen on him before when his father was angry…. Certainly he had added to his stature in the parlour at Froggatt.

The old man poured out a glass of wine and drank it. His face was flushed high, and he was using more words than usual.

"Well, sir, there are other affairs we must speak of; and then no more of them. I wish to know your meaning for the time to come. There must be no more fooling this way and that. I shall pay no fines for you-mark that! If you must stand on your own feet,

stand on them…. Now then!"

"Do you mean, am I coming to church with you, sir?"

"I mean, who is to pay your fines?… Miss Marjorie?"

Robin set his teeth at the sneer.

"I have not yet been fined, sir."

"Now do you take me for a fool? D'you think they'll let you off? I was speaking-"

The old man stopped.

"Yes, sir?"

The other wheeled his face on him.

"If you will have it," he said, "I was speaking to my two good friends who dined here on Sunday. I was plain with them and they were plain with me. 'I shall not pay for my brat of a son,' I said. 'Then he must pay for himself,' said they, 'unless we lay him by the heels.' 'Not in my house, I hope,' I said; and they laughed at that. We were very merry together."

"Yes, sir?"

"Good God! have I a fool for a son? I ask you again, Who is it to pay?"

"When will they demand it?"

"Why, they may demand it next week, if they will! You were not at church on Sunday!"

"I was not in Matstead," said the lad.

"But-"

"And Mr. Barton will not, I think-"

The old man struck the table suddenly and violently.

"I have dropped words enough," he cried. "Where's the use of it? If you think they will let you alone, I tell you they will not. There are to be doings before Christmas, at latest; and what then?"

Then Robin drew his breath sharply between his teeth; and knew that one more step had been passed, that had separated him from that which he feared…. He had come just now, still hesitating. Still there had been passing through his mind hopes and ideas of what his father might do for him. He knew well enough that he would never pay the fines, amounting sometimes to as much as twenty pounds a month; but he had thought that perhaps his father would give him a sum of money and let him go to fend for himself; that he might help him even to a situation somewhere; and now hope had died so utterly that he did not even dare speak of it. And he had said "No" to Anthony; he said to himself at least that he had meant "No," in spite of his hesitation. All doors seemed closing, save that which terrified him….

"I have thought in my mind-" he began; and stopped, for the terror of what was on his tongue grew suddenly upon him.

"Eh?"

Robin stood up.

"I must have time, sir," he cried; "I must have time. Do not press me too much."

His father's eyes shone bright and wrathful. He beat on the table with his open hand; but the boy was too quick for him.

"I beg of you, sir, not to make me speak too soon. It may be that you would hate that I should speak more than my silence."

His whole person was tense and magnetic; his face was paler than ever; and it seemed as if his father understood enough, at least, to make him hesitate. The two looked at one another; and it was the man's eyes that tell first.

"You may have till Pentecost," he said.

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