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   Chapter 39 No.39

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 4771

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was not with any want of emotion that Marjorie found herself presently meekly seated upon Alice's horse, and riding up at a foot's-pace beneath the gatehouse of the Hall. Rather it was the balance of emotions that made her so meek and so obedient to her friend's tranquil assumption that she must come in as the squire said. She was aware of a strong resentment to his brusque order, as well as to the thought that it was to the house of an apostate that she was going; yet there was a no less strong emotion within her that he had a sort of right to command her. These feelings, working upon her, dazed as she was by the sudden sharpness of her fall, and the pain in her foot, combined to drive her along in a kind of resignation in the wake of the squire.

Still confused, yet with a rapid series of these same emotions running before her mind, she limped up the steps, supported by Alice and her maid, and sat down on a bench at the end of the hall. The squire, who had shouted an order or two to a peeping domestic, as he passed up the court, came to her immediately with a cup in his hand.

"You must drink this at once, mistress."

She took it at once, drank and set it down, aware of the keen, angry-looking face that watched her.

"You will dine here, too, mistress-" he began, still with a sharp kindness…. And then, on a sudden, all grew dark about her; there was a roaring in her ears, and she fainted.

* * * * *

She came out of her swoon again, after a while, with that strange and innocent clearness that usually follows such a thing, to find Alice beside her, a tapestried wall behind Alice, and the sound of a crackling fire in her ears. Then she perceived that she was in a small room, lying on her back along a bench, and that someone was bathing her foot.

"I … I will not stay here-" she began. But two hands held her firmly down, and Alice's reassuring face was looking into her own.

* * * * *

When her mind ran clearly again, she sat up with a sudden movement, drawing her foot away from Janet's ministrations.

"I do very well," she said, after looking at her foot, and then putting it to the ground amid a duet of protestations. (She had looked round the room to satisfy herself that no one else was there, and had seen that it must be the parlour that she was in. A newly-lighted fire burned on the hearth, and the two doors were close

d.)

Then Alice explained.

It was impossible, she said, to ride on at once; the horse even now was being bathed in the stable, as his mistress in the parlour. The squire had been most considerate; he had helped to carry her in here just now, had lighted the fire with his own hands, and had stated that dinner would be sent in here in an hour for the three women. He had offered to send one of his own men on to Booth's Edge with the news, if Mistress Marjorie found herself unable to ride on after dinner.

"But … but it is Mr. Audrey!" exclaimed Marjorie.

"Yes, my dear," said Alice. "I know it is. But that does not mend your foot," she said, with unusual curtness. And Marjorie saw that she still looked at her anxiously.

* * * * *

The three women dined together, of course, in an hour's time. There was no escape from the pressure of circumstance. It was unfortunate that such an accident should have fallen out here, in the one place in all the world where it should not; but the fact was a fact. Meanwhile, it was not only resentment that Marjorie felt: it was a strange sort of terror as well-a terror of sitting in the house of an apostate-of one who had freely and deliberately renounced that faith for which she herself lived so completely; and that it was the father of one whom she knew as she knew Robin-with whose fate, indeed, her own had been so intimately entwined-this combined to increase that indefinable fear that rested on her as she stared round the walls, and sat over the food and drink that this man provided.

The climax came as they were finishing dinner: for the door from the hall opened abruptly, and the squire came in. He bowed to the ladies, as the manner was, straightening his trim, tight figure again defiantly; asked a civil question or two; directed a servant behind him to bring the horses to the parlour door in half an hour's time; and then snapped out the sentence which he was, plainly, impatient to speak.

"Mistress Manners," he said, "I wish to have a word with you privately."

Marjorie, trembling at his presence, turned a wavering face to her friend; and Alice, before the other could speak, rose up, and went out, with Janet following.

"Janet-" cried the girl.

"If you please," said the old man, with such a decisive air that she hesitated. Then she nodded at her maid; and a moment later the door closed.

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