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   Chapter 26 No.26

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 5842

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was a soft winter's morning as the party came down the little slope towards the entrance-gate of the Tower next day. The rain last night had cleared the air, and the sun shone as through thin veils of haze, kindly and sweet. The river on the right was at high tide, and up from the water's edge came the cries of the boatmen, pleasant and invigorating.

The sense of unreality was deeper than ever on Marjorie's mind. One incredible thing after another, known to her only in the past by rumour and description, and imagined in a frame of glory, was taking shape before her eyes…. She was in London; she had slept in Cheapside; she had talked with Father Campion; he was with her now; this was the Tower of London that lay before her, a monstrous huddle of grey towers and battlemented walls along which passed the scarlet of a livery and the gleam of arms.

All the way that they had walked, her eyes had been about her everywhere-the eyes of a startled child, through which looked the soul of a woman. She had seen the folks go past like actors in a drama-London merchants, apprentices, a party of soldiers, a group on horseback: she had seen a congregation pour out of the doors of some church whose name she had asked and had forgotten again; the cobbled patches of street had been a marvel to her; the endless roofs, the white and black walls, the leaning windows, the galleries where heads moved; the vast wharfs; the crowding masts, resembling a stripped forest; the rolling-gaited sailors; and, above all, the steady murmur of voices and footsteps, never ceasing, beyond which the crowing of cocks and the barking of dogs sounded far off and apart-these things combined to make a kind of miracle that all at once delighted, oppressed and bewildered her.

Here and there some personage had been pointed out to her by the trim, merry gentleman who walked by her side with his sword swinging. (Anthony went with his sister just behind, as they threaded their way through the crowded streets, and the two men-servants followed.) She saw a couple of City dignitaries in their furs, with stavesmen to clear their road; a little troop of the Queen's horse, blazing with colour, under the command of a young officer who might have come straight from Romance. But she was more absorbed-or, rather, she returned every instant to the man who walked beside her with such an air and talked so loudly and cheerfully. Certainly, it seemed to her, his disguise was perfect, and himself the best part of it. She compared him in her mind with a couple of ministers, splendid and awful in their gowns and ruffs, whom they had met turning into one of the churches just now, and smiled at the comparison; and yet perhaps these were preachers too, and eloquent in their own fashion.

And now, here was the Tower-the end of all things, so far as London was concerned. Beyond it she saw the wide rolling hills, the bright reach

es of the river, and the sparkle of Placentia, far away.

"Her Grace is at Westminster these days," exclaimed the priest; "she is moving to Hampton Court in a day or two; so I doubt not we shall be able to go in and see a little. We shall see, at least, the outside of the Paradise where so many holy ones have lived and died. There are three or four of them here now; but the most of them are in the Fleet or the Marshalsea."

Marjorie glanced at him. She did not understand.

"I mean Catholic prisoners, mistress. There are several of them in ward here, but we had better speak no names."

He wheeled suddenly as they came out into the open and moved to the left.

"There is Tower Hill, mistress; where my lord Cardinal Fisher died, and

Thomas More."

Marjorie stopped short. But there was nothing great to see-only a rising ground, empty and bare, with a few trimmed trees; the ground was without grass; a few cobbled paths crossed this way and that.

"And here is the gateway," he said, "whence they come out to glory…. And there on the right" (he swept his arm towards the river) "you may see, if you are fortunate, other criminals called pirates, hung there till they be covered by three tides."

* * * * *

Still standing there, with Mr. Babington and his sister come up from behind, he began to relate the names of this tower and of that, in the great tumbled mass of buildings surmounted by the high keep. But Marjorie paid no great attention except with an effort: she was brooding rather on the amazing significance of all that she saw. It was under this gateway that the martyrs came; it was from those windows in that tower which the priest had named just now, that they had looked…. And this was Father Campion. She turned and watched him as he talked. He was dressed as he had been dressed last night, but with a small cloak thrown over his shoulders; he gesticulated freely and easily, pointing out this and that; now and again his eyes met hers, and there was nothing but a grave merriment in them…. Only once or twice his voice softened, as he spoke of those great ones that had shown Catholics how both to die and live.

"And now," he said, "with your permission I will go and speak to the guard, and see if we may have entrance."

* * * * *

It was almost with terror that she saw him go-a solitary man, with a price on his head, straight up to those whose business it was to catch him-armed men, as she could see-she could even see the quilted jacks they wore-who, it may be, had talked of him in the guard-room only last night. But his air was so assured and so magnificent that even she began to understand how complete such a disguise might be; and she watched him speaking with the officer with a touch even of his own humour in her heart. Indeed, there was some truth in the charge of Jesuitry, after all!

Then the figure turned and beckoned, and they went forward.

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