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Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 8219

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Marjorie was sitting in her mother's room, while her mother slept. She had been reading aloud from a bundle of letters-news from Rheims; but little by little she had seen sleep come down on her mother's face, and had let her voice trail away into silence. And so she sat quiet.

* * * * *

It seemed incredible that nearly a year had passed since her visit to London, and that Christmas was upon them again. Yet in this remote country place there was little to make time run slowly: the country-side wheeled gently through the courses of the year; the trees put on their green robes, changed them for russet and dropped them again; the dogs and the horses grew a little older, a beast died now and again, and others were born. The faces that she knew, servants and farmers, aged imperceptibly. Here and there a family moved away, and another into its place; an old man died and his son succeeded him, but the mother and sisters lived on in the house in patriarchal fashion. Priests came and went again unobserved; Marjorie went to the sacraments when she could, and said her prayers always. But letters came more frequently than ever to the little remote manor, carried now by some farm-servant, now left by strangers, now presented as credentials; and Booth's Edge became known in that underworld of the north, which finds no record in history, as a safe place for folks in trouble for their faith. For one whole month in the summer there had been a visitor at the house-a cousin of old Mr. Manners, it was understood; and, except for the Catholics in the place, not a soul knew him for a priest, against whom the hue and cry still raged in York.

Derbyshire, indeed, had done well for the old Religion. Man after man went in these years southwards and was heard of no more, till there came back one day a gentleman riding alone, or with his servant; and it became known that one more Derbyshire man was come again to his own place to minister to God's people. Mr. Ralph Sherwine was one of them; Mr. Christopher Buxton another; and Mr. Ludlam and Mr. Garlick, it was rumoured, would not be long now…. And there had been a wonderful cessation of trouble, too. Not a priest had suffered since the two, the news of whose death she had heard two years ago.

* * * * *

Marjorie, then, sitting quiet over the fire that burned now all the winter in her mother's room, was thinking over these things.

She had had more news from London from time to time, sent on to her chiefly by Mr. Babington, though none had come to her since the summer, and she had singled out in particular all that bore upon Father Campion. There was no doubt that the hunt was hotter every month; yet he seemed to bear a charmed life. Once he had escaped, she had heard, through the quick wit of a servant-maid, who had pushed him suddenly into a horse-pond, as the officers actually came in sight, so that he came out all mud and water-weed; and had been jeered at for a clumsy lover by the very men who were on his trail…. Marjorie smiled to herself as she nursed her knee over the fire, and remembered his gaiety and sharpness.

Robin, too, was never very far from her thoughts. In some manner she put the two together in her mind. She wondered whether they would ever travel together. It was her hope that her old friend might become another Campion himself some day.

A log rolled from its place in the fire, scattering sparks. She stooped to put it back, glancing first at the bed to see if her mother were disturbed; and, as she sat back again, she heard the blowing of a horse and a man's voice, fierce and low, from beyond the windows, bidding the beast hold himself up.

She was accustomed now to such arrivals. They came and went like this, often without warning; it was her business to look at any credentials they bore with them, and then, if all were well, to do what she could-whether to set them on their way, or to give them shelter. A room was set aside now, in the further wing, and called openly and freely the "priest's room,"-so great was their security.

She got up from her seat and went out quic

kly on tiptoe as she heard a door open and close beneath her in the house, running over in her mind any preparations that she would have to make if the rider were one that needed shelter.

As she looked down the staircase, she saw a maid there, who had run out from the buttery, talking to a man whom she thought she knew. Then he lifted his face, and she saw that she was right: and that it was Mr. Babington.

She came down, reassured and smiling; but her breath caught in her throat as she saw his face…. She told the maid to be off and get supper ready, but he jerked his head in refusal. She saw that he could hardly speak. Then she led him into the hall, taking down the lantern that hung in the passage, and placing it on the table. But her hand shook in spite of herself.

"Tell me," she whispered.

He sat down heavily on a bench.

"It is all over," he said. "The bloody murderers!… They were gibbeted three days ago."

The girl drew a long, steady breath. All her heart cried "Robin."

"Who are they, Mr. Babington?"

"Why, Campion and Sherwine and Brian. They were taken a month or two ago…. I had heard not a word of it, and … and it ended three days ago."

"I … I do not understand."

The man struck his hand heavily on the long table against which he leaned. He appeared one flame of fury; courtesy and gentleness were all gone from him.

"They were hanged for treason, I tell you…. Treason! … Campion!…

By God! we will give them treason if they will have it so!"

All seemed gone from Marjorie except the white, splashed face that stared at her, lighted up by the lantern beside him, glaring from the background of darkness. It was not Robin … not Robin … yet-

The shocking agony of her face broke through the man's heart-broken fury, and he stood up quickly.

"Mistress Marjorie," he said, "forgive me…. I am like a madman. I am on my way from Derby, where the news came to me this afternoon. I turned aside to tell you. They say the truce, as they call it, is at an end. I came to warn you. You must be careful. I am riding for London. My men are in the valley. Mistress Marjorie-"

She waved him aside. The blood was beginning again to beat swiftly and deafeningly in her ears, and the word came back.

"I … I was shocked," she said; "… you must pardon me…. Is it certain?"

He tore out a bundle of papers from behind his cloak, detached one with shaking hands and thrust it before her.

She sat down and spread it on the table. But his voice broke in and interrupted her all the while.

"They were all three taken together, in the summer…. I … have been in France; my letters never reached me…. They were racked continually…. They died all together; praying for the Queen … at Tyburn…. Campion died the first…."

She pushed the paper from her; the close handwriting was no more to her than black marks on the paper. She passed her hands over her forehead and eyes.

"Mistress Marjorie, you look like death. See, I will leave the paper with you. It is from one of my friends who was there…."

The door was pushed open, and the servant came in, bearing a tray.

"Set it down," said Marjorie, as coolly as if death and horror were as far from her as an hour ago.

She nodded sharply to the maid, who went out again; then she rose and spread the food within the man's reach. He began to eat and drink, talking all the time.

* * * * *

As she sat and watched him and listened, remembering afterwards, as if mechanically, all that he said, she was contemplating something else. She seemed to see Campion, not as he had been three days ago, not as he was now … but as she had seen him in London-alert, brisk, quick. Even the tones of his voice were with her, and the swift merry look in his eyes…. Somewhere on the outskirts of her thought there hung other presences: the darkness, the blood, the smoking cauldron…. Oh! she would have to face these presently; she would go through this night, she knew, looking at all their terror. But just now let her remember him as he had been; let her keep off all other thoughts so long as she could….

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