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   Chapter 35 No.35

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 4563

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was on a bright evening in the summer that Marjorie, with her maid Janet, came riding down to Padley, and about the same time a young man came walking up the track that led from Derby. In fact, the young man saw the two against the skyline and wondered who they were. Further, there was a group of four or five walking on the terrace below the house, that saw both the approaching parties, and commented upon their coming.

To be precise, there were four persons in the group on the terrace, and a man-servant who hung near. The four were Mr. John FitzHerbert, his son Thomas, his son's wife, and, in the midst, leaning on Mrs. FitzHerbert's arm, was old Sir Thomas himself, and it was for his sake that the servant was within call, for he was still very sickly after his long imprisonment, in spite of his occasional releases.

Mr. John saw the visitors first.

"Why, here is the company all arrived together," he said. "Now, if anything hung on that-" his son broke in, uneasily.

"You are sure of young Owen?" he said. "Our lives will all hang on him after this."

His father clapped him gently on the shoulder.

"Now, now!" he said. "I know him well enough, from my lord. He hath made a dozen such places in this county alone."

Mr. Thomas glanced swiftly at his uncle.

"And you have spoken with him, too, uncle?"

The old man turned his melancholy eyes on him.

"Yes; I have spoken with him," he said.

* * * * *

Five minutes later Marjorie was dismounted, and was with him. She greeted old Sir Thomas with particular respect; she had talked with him a year ago when he was first released that he might raise his fines; and she knew well enough that his liberty was coming to an end. In fact, he was technically a prisoner even now; and had only been allowed to come for a week or two from Sir Walter Aston's house before going back again to the Fleet.

"You are come in good time," said Sir John, smiling.

"That is young Owen himself coming up the path."

There was nothing particularly noticeable about the young man who a minute later was standing before them with his cap in his hand. He was plainly of the working class; and he had over his shoulder a bag of tools. He was dusty up to the knees with his long tramp. Mr. John gave him a

word of welcome; and then the whole group went slowly together back to the house, with the two men following. Sir Thomas stumbled a little going up the two or three steps into the hall. Then they all sat down together; the servant put a big flagon and a horn tumbler beside the traveller, and went out, closing the doors.

"Now, my man," said Mr. John. "Do you eat and drink while I do the talking. I understand you are a man of your hands, and that you have business elsewhere."

"I must be in Lancashire by the end of the week, sir."

"Very well, then. We have business enough for you, God knows! This is Mistress Manners, whom you may have heard of. And after you have looked at the places we have here-you understand me?-Mistress Manners wants you at her house at Booth's Edge…. You have any papers?"

Owen leaned back and drew out a paper from his bag of tools.

"This is from Mr. Fenton, sir."

Mr. John glanced at the address; then he turned it over and broke the seal. He stared for a moment at the open sheet.

"Why, it is blank!" he said.

Owen smiled. He was a grave-looking lad of eighteen or nineteen years old; and his face lighted up very pleasantly.

"I have had that trick played on me before, sir, in my travels. I understand that Catholic gentlemen do so sometimes to try the fidelity of the messenger."

The other laughed out loud, throwing back his head.

"Why, that is a poor compliment!" he said. "You shall have a better one from us, I have no doubt."

Mr. Thomas leaned over the table and took the paper. He examined it very carefully; then he handed it back. His father laughed again as he took it.

"You are very cautious, my son," he said. "But it is wise enough…. Well, then," he went on to the carpenter, "you are willing to do this work for us? And as for payment-"

"I ask only my food and lodging," said the lad quietly; "and enough to carry me on to the next place."

"Why-" began the other in a protest.

"No, sir; no more than that…." He paused an instant. "I hope to be admitted to the Society of Jesus this year or next."

There was a pause of astonishment. And then old Sir Thomas' deep voice broke in.

"You do very well, sir. I heartily congratulate you. And I would I were twenty years younger myself…."

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