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   Chapter 21 No.21

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 5254

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was a strange time that Marjorie had until two days later, when Robin came and told her all, and how it had fallen out. For now, it seemed, she walked on air; now in shoes of lead. When she was at her prayers (which was pretty often just now), and at other times, when the air lightened suddenly about her and the burdens of earth were lifted as if another hand were put to them-at those times which every interior soul experiences in a period of stress-why, then, all was glory, and she saw Robin as transfigured and herself beneath him all but adoring. Little visions came and went before her imagination. Robin riding, like some knight on an adventure, to do Christ's work; Robin at the altar, in his vestments; Robin absolving penitents-all in a rosy light of faith and romance. She saw him even on the scaffold, undaunted and resolute, with God's light on his face, and the crowd awed beneath him; she saw his soul entering heaven, with all the harps ringing to meet him, and eternity begun…. And then, at other times, when the heaviness came down on her, as clouds upon the Derbyshire hills, she understood nothing but that she had lost him; that he was not to be hers, but Another's; that a loveless and empty life lay before her, and a womanhood that was without its fruition. And it was this latter mood that fell on her, swift and entire, when, looking out from her window a little before dinner-time, she saw suddenly his hat, and Cecily's head, jerking up the steep path that led to the house.

She fell on her knees by her bedside.

"Jesu!" she cried. "Jesu! Give me strength to meet him."

* * * * *

Mrs. Manners, too, hearing the horse's footsteps on the pavement a minute later, and Marjorie's steps going downstairs, also looked forth and saw him dismounting. She was a prudent woman, and did not stir a finger till she heard the bell ringing in the court for the dinner to be served. They would have time, so she thought, to arrange their attitudes.

And, indeed, she was right: for it was two quiet enough persons who met her as she came down into the hall: Robin flushed with riding, yet wholly under his own command-bright-eyed, and resolute and natural (indeed, it seemed to her that he was more of a man than she had thought him). And her daughter, too, was still and strong; a trifle paler than she should be, yet that was to be expected. At dinner, of course, nothing could be spoken of but the most ordinary affairs-in such speaking, that is, as there was. It was not till they had gone out into the walled garden and sat them down, all three of them, on the long garden-seat beside the

rose-beds, that a word was said on these new matters. There was silence as they walked there, and silence as they sat down.

"Tell her, Robin," said the maid.

* * * * *

It appeared that matters were not yet as wholly decided as Mrs. Manners had thought. Indeed, it seemed to her that they were not decided at all. Robin had written to Dr. Allen, and had found means to convey his letter to Mr. Simpson, who, in his turn, had undertaken to forward it at least as far as to London; and there it would await a messenger to Douay. It might be a month before it would reach Douay, and it might be three or four months, or even more, before an answer could come back. Next, the squire had taken a course of action which, plainly, had disconcerted the lad, though it had its conveniences too. For, instead of increasing the old man's fury, the news his son had given him had had a contrary effect. He had seemed all shaken, said Robin; he had spoken to him quietly, holding in the anger that surely must be there, the boy thought, without difficulty. And the upshot of it was that no more had been said as to Robin's leaving Matstead for the present-not one word even about the fines. It seemed almost as if the old man had been trying how far he could push his son, and had recoiled when he had learned the effect of his pushing.

"I think he is frightened," said the lad gravely. "He had never thought that I could be a priest."

Mrs. Manners considered this in silence.

"And it may be autumn before Dr. Allen's letter comes back?" she asked presently.

Robin said that that was so.

"It may even be till winter," he said. "The talk among the priests, Mr. Simpson tells me, is all about the removal from Douay. It may be made at any time, and who knows where they will go?"

Mrs. Manners glanced across at her daughter, who sat motionless, with her hands clasped. Then she was filled with the spirit of reasonableness and sense: all this tragic to-do about what might never happen seemed to her the height of folly.

"Nay, then," she burst out, "then nothing may happen after all. Dr. Allen may say 'No;' the letter may never get to him. It may be that you will forget all this in a month or two."

Robin turned his face slowly towards her, and she saw that she had spoken at random. Again, too, it struck her attention that his manner seemed a little changed. It was graver than that to which she was accustomed.

"I shall not forget it," he said softly. "And Dr. Allen will get the letter. Or, if not he, someone else."

There was silence again, but Mrs. Manners heard her daughter draw a long breath.

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