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   Chapter 22 No.22

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 7990

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was with a sudden leap of her heart that Marjorie, looking out of her window at the late autumn landscape, her mind still running on the sheet of paper that lay before her, saw a capped head, and then a horse's crest, rise over the broken edge of land up which Robin had ridden so often two and three years ago. Then she saw who was the rider, and laid her pen down again.

* * * * *

It was two years since the lad had gone to Rheims, and it would be five years more, she knew (since he was not over quick at his books), before he would return a priest. She had letters from him: one would come now and again, a month or two sometimes after the date of writing. It was only in September that she had had the letter which he had written her on hearing of her father's death, and Mr. Manners had died in June. She had written back to him then, a discreet and modest letter enough, telling him of how Mr. Simpson had read mass over the body before it was taken down to Derby for the burying; and telling him, too, of her mother's rheumatics that kept her abed now three parts of the year. For the rest, the letters were dull enough reading to one who did not understand them: the news the lad had to give was of a kind that must be disguised, lest the letters should fall into other hands, since it concerned the coming and going of priests whose names must not appear. Yet, for all that, the letters were laid up in a press, and the heap grew slowly.

It was Mr. Anthony Babington who was come now to see her, and it was his third visit since the summer. But she knew well enough what he was come for, since his young wife, whom he had married last year, was no use to him in such matters: she had lately had a child, too, and lived quietly at Dethick with her women. His letters, too, would come at intervals, carried by a rider, or sometimes some farmer's man on his way home from Derby, and these letters, too, held dull reading enough for such as were not in the secret. Yet the magistrates at Derby would have given a good sum if they could have intercepted and understood them.

It was in the upper parlour now that she received him. A fire was burning there, as it had burned so long ago, when Robin found her fresh from her linen, and Anthony sat down in the same place. She sat by the window, with the paper in her hands at which she had been writing when she first saw him.

He had news for her, of two kinds, and, like a man, gave her first that which she least wished to hear. (She had first showed him the paper.)

"That was the very matter I was come about," he said. "You have only a few of the names, I see. Now the rest will be over before Christmas, and will all be in London together."

"Can you not give me the names?" she said.

"I could give you the names, certainly. And I will do so before I leave; I have them here. But-Mistress Marjorie, could you not come to London with me? It would ease the case very much."

"Why, I could not," she said. "My mother-And what good would it serve?"

"This is how the matter stands," said Anthony, crossing his legs. "We have a dozen priests coming all together-at least, they will not travel together, of course; but they will all reach London before Christmas, and there they will hold counsel as to who shall go to the districts. Eight of them, I have no doubt, will come to the north. There are as many priests in the south as are safe at the present time-or as are needed. Now if you were to come with me, mistress-with a serving-maid, and my sister would be with us-we could meet these priests, and speak with them, and make their acquaintance. That would remove a great deal of danger. We must not have that affair again which fell out last month."

Marjorie nodded slowly. (It was wonderful how her gravity had grown on her these last two years.)

She knew well enough what he meant. It was the affair of the clerk who had come from Derby on a matter connected with her father's will about the time sh

e was looking for the arrival of a strange priest, and who had been so mistaken by her. Fortunately he had been a well-disposed man, with Catholic sympathies, or grave trouble might have followed. But this proposal of a visit to London seemed to her impossible. She had never been to London in her life; it appeared to her as might a voyage to the moon. Derby seemed oppressingly large and noisy and dangerous; and Derby, she understood, was scarcely more than a village compared to London.

"I could not do it," she said presently. "I could not leave my mother."

Anthony explained further.

It was evident that Booth's Edge was becoming more and more a harbour for priests, owing largely to Mistress Marjorie's courage and piety. It was well placed; it was remote; and it had so far avoided all suspicion. Padley certainly served for many, but Padley was nearer the main road; and besides, had fallen under the misfortune of losing its master for the very crime of recusancy. It seemed to be all important, therefore, that the ruling mistress of Booth's Edge, since there was no master, should meet as many priests as possible, in order that she might both know and be known by them; and here was such an opportunity as would not easily occur again. Here were a dozen priests, all to be together at one time; and of these, at least two-thirds would be soon in the north. How convenient, therefore, it would be if their future hostess could but meet them, learn their plans, and perhaps aid them by her counsel.

But she shook her head resolutely.

"I cannot do it," she said.

Anthony made a little gesture of resignation. But, indeed, he had scarcely hoped to persuade her. He knew it was a formidable thing to ask of a countrybred maid.

"Then we must do as well as we can," he said. "In any case, I must go. There is a priest I have to meet in any case; he is returning as soon as he has bestowed the rest."

"Yes?"

"His name is Ballard. He is known as Fortescue, and passes himself off as a captain. You would never know him for a priest."

"He is returning, you say?"

A shade of embarrassment passed over the young man's face, and Marjorie saw that there was something behind which she was not to know.

"Yes," he said, "I have business with him. He is not to come over on the mission yet, but only to bring the others and see them safe-"

He broke off suddenly.

"Why, I was forgetting," he cried. "Our Robin is coming too. I had a letter from him, and another for you."

He searched in the breast of his coat, and did not see the sudden rigidity that fell on the girl. For a moment she sat perfectly still; her heart had leapt to her throat, it seemed, and was hammering there…. But by the time he had found the letter she was herself again.

"Here it is," he said.

She took it; but made no movement to open it.

"But he is not to be a priest for five years yet?" she said quietly.

"No; but they send them sometimes as servants and such like, to make a party seem what it is not, as well as to learn how to avoid her Grace's servants. He will go back with Mr. Ballard, I think, after three or four weeks. You have had letters from him, you told me?"

She nodded.

"Yes; but he said nothing of it, but only how much he longed to see

England again."

"He could not. It has only just been arranged. He has asked to go."

There was a silence for a moment. But Anthony did not understand what it meant. He had known nothing of the affair of his friend and this girl, and he looked upon them merely as a pair of acquaintances, above all, when he had heard of Robin's determination to go to Rheims. Even the girl saw that he knew nothing, in spite of her embarrassment, and the thought that had come to her when she had heard of Robin's coming to London grew on her every moment. But she thought she must gain time.

She stood up.

"You would like to see his letters?" she asked. "I will bring them."

And she slipped out of the room.

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