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   Chapter 20 No.20

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 5657

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Mrs. Manners was still abed when her daughter came in to see her. She lay in the great chamber that gave upon the gallery above the hall whence, on either side, she could hear whether or no the maids were at their business-which was a comfort to her if a discomfort to them. And now that her lord was in Derby, she lay here all alone.

The first that she knew of her daughter's coming was a light in her eyes; and the next was a face, as of a stranger, looking at her with great eyes, exalted by joy and pain. The light, held below, cast shadows upwards from chin and cheek, and the eyes shone in hollows. Then, as she sat up, she saw that it was her daughter, and that the maid held a paper in her hands; she was in her night-linen, and a wrap lay over her shoulders and shrouded her hair.

"He is to be a priest," she whispered sharply. "Thank our Lord with me … and … and God have mercy on me!"

Then Marjorie was on her knees by the bedside, sobbing so that the curtains shook.

* * * * *

The mother got it all out of her presently-the tale of the girl's heart torn two ways at once. On the one side there was her human love for the lad who had wooed her-as hot as fire, and as pure-and on the other that keen romance that had made her pray that he might be a priest. This second desire had come to her, as sharp as a voice that calls, when she had heard of the apostasy of his father; it had seemed to her the riposte that God made to the assault upon His honour. The father would no longer be His worshipper? Then let the son be His priest; and so the balance be restored. And so the maid had striven with the two loves that, for once, would not agree together (as did the man in the Gospels who wished to go and bury his father and afterwards to follow his Saviour); she had not dared to say a word to the lad of anything of this lest it should be her will and not God's that should govern him, for she knew very well what a power she had over him; but she had prayed God, and begged Robin to pray too and to listen to His voice; and now she had her way, and her heart was broken with it, she said:

"And when I think," she wailed across her mother's knees, "of what it is to be a priest; and of the life that he will lead, and of the death that he may die!… And it is I … I … who will have sent him to it. Mother!…"

Mrs. Manners was bethinking herself of a cordial just then, and how she knew old Ann would be coming presently, and was listening with but half an ear.

"It's not you, my dear," she said, patting the head beneath her hands. (The wrap was fallen off, and the maid's long hair was all over her shoulders.) "And now-"

"But our Lord will take care of him, will He not? And not suffer-"

Mrs. Manners fell to patting her head again.

"And who brought the message?" she asked.

* * *

* *

Mrs. Manners was one of those experienced persons who are fully persuaded that youth is a disease that must be borne with patiently. Time, indeed, will cure it; yet until the cure is complete, elders must bear it as well as they can and not seem to pay too much attention to it. A rigorous and prudent diet; long hours of sleep, plenty of occupation-these are the remedies for the fever. So, while Marjorie first began to read the lad's letter, and then, breaking down altogether, thrust it into her mother's hand, Mrs. Manners was searching her memory as to whether any imprudence the day before, in food or behaviour, could be the cause of this crisis. Love between boys and girls was common enough; she herself twenty years ago had suffered from the sickness when young John had come wooing her; yet a love that could thrust from it that which it loved, was beyond her altogether. Either Marjorie loved the lad, or she did not, and if she loved him, why did she pray that he might be a priest? That was foolishness; since priesthood was a bar to marriage. She began to conclude that Marjorie did not love him; it had been but a romantic fancy; and she was encouraged by the thought.

"Madge," she began, when she had read through the confused line or two, in the half-boyish, half-clerkly hand of Robin, scribbled and dispatched by the hands of Dick scarcely two hours ago. "Madge-"

She was about to say something sensible when the maid interrupted her again.

"And it is I who have brought it all on him!" she wailed. "If it had not been for me-"

Her mother laid a firm hand on her daughter's mouth. It was not often that she felt the superior of the two; yet here was a time, plain enough, when maturity and experience must take the reins.

"Madge," she said, "it is plain you do not love him; or you never-"

The maid started back, her eyes ablaze.

"Not love him! Why-"

"That you do not love him truly; or you would never have wished this for him…. Now listen to me!"

She raised an admonitory finger, complacent at last. But her speech was not to be made at that time; for her daughter swiftly rose to her feet, controlled at last by the shock of astonishment.

"Then I do not think you know what love is," she said softly. "To love is to wish the other's highest good, as I understand it."

Mrs. Manners compressed her lips, as might a prophetess before a prediction. But her daughter was beforehand with her again.

"That is the love of a Christian, at least," she said. Then she stooped, took the letter from her mother's knees, and went out.

Mrs. Manners sat for a moment as her daughter left her. Then she understood that her hour of superiority was gone with Marjorie's hour of weakness; and she emitted a short laugh as she took her place again behind the child she had borne.

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