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   Chapter 36 No.36

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 3740

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

After supper that night the entire party went upstairs to the chapel.

Young Hugh Owen even already was beginning to be known among Catholics, for his extraordinary skill in constructing hiding-holes. Up to the present not much more had been attempted than little secret recesses where the vessels of the altar and the vestments might be concealed. But the young carpenter had been ingenious enough in two or three houses to which he had been called, to enlarge these so considerably that even two or three men might be sheltered in them; and, now that it seemed as if the persecution of recusants was to break out again, the idea began to spread. Mr. John FitzHerbert while in London had heard of his skill, and had taken means to get at the young man, for his own house at Padley.

* * * * *

Owen was already at work when the party came upstairs. He had supped alone, and, with a servant to guide him, had made the round of the house, taking measurements in every possible place. He was seated on the floor as they came in; three or four panels lay on the ground beside him, and a heap of plaster and stones.

He looked up as they came in.

"This will take me all night, sir," he said. "And the fire must be put out below."

He explained his plan. The old hiding-place was but a poor affair; it consisted of a space large enough for only one man, and was contrived by a section of the wall having been removed, all but the outer row of stones made thin for the purpose; the entrance to it was through a tall sliding panel on the inside of the chapel. Its extreme weakness as a hiding-hole lay in the fact that anyone striking on the panel could not fail to hear how hollow it rang. This he proposed to do away with, unless, indeed, he left a small space for the altar vessels; and to construct instead a little chamber in the chimney of the hall that was

built against this wall; he would contrive it so that an entrance was still from the chapel, as well as one that he would make over the hearth below; and that the smoke should be conducted round the little enclosed space, passing afterwards up the usual vent. The chamber would be large enough, he thought, for at least two men. He explained, too, his method of deadening the hollowness of the sound if the panel were knocked upon, by placing pads of felt on struts of wood that would be set against the panel-door.

"Why, that is very shrewd!" cried Mr. John. He looked round the faces for approval.

For an hour or so, the party sat and watched him at his work; and Marjorie listened to their talk. It was of that which filled the hearts of all Catholics at this time; of the gathering storm in England, of the priests that had been executed this very year-Mr. Paine at Chelmsford, in March; Mr. Forde, Mr. Shert and Mr. Johnson, at Tyburn in May, the first of the three having been taken with Father Campion at Lyford-deaths that were followed two days later by the execution of four more-one of whom, Mr. Filbie, had also been arrested at Lyford. And there were besides a great number more in prison-Mr. Cottam, it was known, had been taken at York, scarcely a week ago, and, it was said, would certainly suffer before long.

They talked in low voices; for the shadow was on all their hearts. It had been possible almost to this very year to hope that the misery would be a passing one; but the time for hope was gone. It remained only to bear what came, to multiply priests, and, if necessary, martyrs, and meantime to take such pains for protection as they could.

"He will be a clever pursuivant who finds this one out," said Mr. John.

The carpenter looked up from his work.

"But a clever one will find it," he said.

Mr. Thomas was heard to sigh.

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