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   Chapter 34 No.34

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 5080

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


On the evening of that day her mother died.

* * * * *

There was no priest within reach. A couple of men had ridden out early, dispatched by Marjorie within half an hour of her awaking-to Dethick, to Hathersage, and to every spot within twenty miles where a priest might be found, with orders not to return without one. But the long day had dragged out: and when dusk was falling, still neither had come back. The country was rain-soaked and all but impassable, she learned later, across valley after valley, where the streams had risen. And nowhere could news be gained that any priest was near; for, as a further difficulty, open inquiry was not always possible, in view of the news that had come to Booth's Edge last night. The girl had understood that the embers were rising again to flame in the south; and who could tell but that a careless word might kindle the fire here, too. She had been urged by Anthony to hold herself more careful than ever, and she had been compelled to warn her messengers.

* * * * *

It was soon after dusk had fallen-the heavy dusk of a December day-that her mother had come back again to consciousness. She opened her eyes wearily, coming back, as Marjorie had herself that morning, from that strange realm of heavy and deathly sleep, to the pale phantom world called "life"; and agonising pain about the heart stabbed her wide awake.

"O Jesu!" she screamed.

Then she heard her daughter's voice, very steady and plain, in her ear.

"There is no priest, mother dear. Listen to me."

"I cannot! I cannot!… Jesu!"

Her eyes closed again for torment, and the sweat ran down her face. The slow poison that had weighted and soaked her limbs so gradually these many months past, was closing in at last upon her heart, and her pain was gathering to its last assault. The silent, humorous woman was changed into one twitching, uncontrolled incarnation of torture.

Then again the voice began:

"Jesu, Who didst die for love of me-upon the Cross-let me die-for love of Thee."

"Christ!" moaned the woman more softly.

"Say it in your heart, after me. There is no priest. So God will accept your sorrow instead. Now then-"

Then the old words began-the old acts of sorrow and love and faith and hope, that mother and daughter had said together, night after night, for so many years. Over and over again they came, whispered clear and sharp by the voice in her ear; and she strove to follow them. Now and again the pain closed its sharp hands upon her heart so cruelly that all that on

which she strove to fix her mind, fled from her like a mist, and she moaned or screamed, or was silent with her teeth clenched upon her lip.

"My God-I am very sorry-that I have offended Thee."

"Why is there no priest?… Where is the priest?"

"Mother, dear, listen. I have sent for a priest … but none has come.

You remember now?… You remember that priests are forbidden now-"

"Where is the priest?"

"Mother, dear. Three priests were put to death only three days ago in

London-for … for being priests. Ask them to pray for you…. Say,

Edmund Campion pray for me. Perhaps … perhaps-"

The girl's voice died away.

For, for a full minute, an extraordinary sensation rested on her. It began with a sudden shiver of the flesh, as sharp and tingling as water, dying away in long thrills amid her hair-that strange advertisement that tells the flesh that more than flesh is there, and that the world of spirit is not only present, but alive and energetic. Then, as it passed, the whole world, too, passed into silence. The curtains that shook just now hung rigid as sheets of steel; the woman in the bed lay suddenly still, then smiled with closed eyes. The pair of maids, kneeling out of sight beyond the bed, ceased to sob; and, while the seconds went by, as real as any knowledge can be in which the senses have no part, the certain knowledge deepened upon the girl who knelt, arrested in spite of herself, that a priestly presence was here indeed….

Very slowly, as if lifting great weights, she raised her eyes, knowing that there, across the tumbled bed, where the darkness of the room showed between the parted curtains, the Presence was poised. Yet there was nothing there to see-no tortured, smoke-stained, throttling face-ah! that could not be-but neither was there the merry, kindly face, with large cheerful eyes and tender mouth smiling; no hand held the curtains that the face might peer in. Neither then nor at any time in all her life did Marjorie believe that she saw him; yet neither then nor in all her life did she doubt he had been there while her mother died.

Again her mother smiled-and this time she opened her eyes to the full, and there was no dismay in them, nor fear, nor disappointment; and she looked a little to her left, where the parted curtains showed the darkness of the room….

Then Marjorie closed her eyes, and laid her head on the bed where her mother's body sank back and down into the pillows. Then the girl slipped heavily to the floor, and the maids sprang up screaming.

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