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   Chapter 40 No.40

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 5678

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"I have two matters to speak of," said the squire abruptly, sitting down in the chair that Alice had left; "the first concerns you closely; and the other less closely."

She looked at him, summoning all her power to appear at her ease.

He seemed far older than when she had last spoken with him, perhaps five years ago; and had grown a little pointed beard; his hair, too, seemed thinner-such of it as she could see beneath the house-cap that he wore; his face, especially about his blue, angry-looking eyes, was covered with fine wrinkles, and his hands were clearly the hands of an old man, at once delicate and sinewy. He was in a dark suit, still with his cloak upon him; and in low boots. He sat still as upright as ever, turned a little in his chair, so as to clasp its back with one strong hand.

"Yes, sir?" she said.

"I will begin with the second first. It is of my son Robin: I wish to know what news you have of him. He hath not written to me this six months back. And I hear that letters sometimes come to you from him."

Marjorie hesitated.

"He is very well, so far as I know," she said.

"And when is he to be made priest?" he demanded sharply.

Marjorie drew a breath to give herself time; she knew that she must not answer this; and did not know how to say so with civility.

"If he has not told you himself, sir," she said, "I cannot."

The old man's face twitched; but he kept his manners. "I understand you, mistress…." But then his wrath overcame him. "But he must understand he will have no mercy from me, if he comes my way. I am a magistrate, now, mistress, and-"

A thought like an inspiration came to the girl; and she interrupted; for she longed to penetrate this man's armour.

"Perhaps that was why he did not tell you when he was to be made priest," she said.

The other seemed taken aback.

"Why, but-"

"He did not wish to think that his father would be untrue to his new commission," she said, trembling at her boldness and yet exultant too; and taking no pains to keep the irony out of her voice.

Again that fierce twitch of the features went over the other's face; and he stared straight at her with narrowed eyes. Then a change again came over him; and he laughed, like barking, yet not all unkindly.

"You are very shrewd, mistress. But I wonder what you will think of me when I tell you the second matter, since you will tell me no more of the first."

He shifted his position in his chair, this time clasping both his hands together over the back.

"Well; it is this in a word," he said: "It is that you had best look to yourself, mistress. My lord Shrewsbury even knows of it."

"Of what, if you please?" asked the girl, hoping she had not turned white.

"Why, of the priests that come and go hereabouts! It is all known; and her Grace hath sent a messag

e from the Council-"

"What has this to do with me?"

He laughed again.

"Well; let us take your neighbours at Padley. They will be in trouble if they do not look to their goings. Mr. FitzHerbert-"

But again she interrupted him. She was determined to know how much he knew. She had thought that she had been discreet enough, and that no news had leaked out of her own entertaining of priests; it was chiefly that discretion might be preserved that she had set her hands to the work at all. With Padley so near it was thought that less suspicion would be aroused. Her name had never yet come before the authorities, so far as she knew.

"But what has all this to do with me, sir?" she asked sharply. "It is true that I do not go to church, and that I pay my fines when they are demanded: Are there new laws, then, against the old faith?"

She spoke with something of real bitterness. It was genuine enough; her only art lay in her not concealing it; for she was determined to press her question home. And, in his shrewd, compelling face, she read her answer even before his words gave it.

"Well, mistress; it was not of you that I meant to speak-so much as of your friends. They are your friends, not mine. And as your friends, I thought it to be a kindly action to send them an advertisement. If they are not careful, there will be trouble."

"At Padley?"

"At Padley, or elsewhere. It is the persons that fall under the law, not places!"

"But, sir, you are a magistrate; and-"

He sprang up, his face aflame with real wrath.

"Yes, mistress; I am a magistrate: the commission hath come at last, after six months' waiting. But I was friend to the FitzHerberts before ever I was a magistrate, and-"

Then she understood; and her heart went out to him. She, too, stood up, catching at the table with a hiss of pain as she threw her weight on the bruised foot. He made a movement towards her; but she waved him aside.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Audrey, with all my heart. I had thought that you meant harm, perhaps, to my friends and me. But now I see-"

"Not a word more! not a word more!" he cried harshly, with a desperate kind of gesture. "I shall do my duty none the less when the time comes-"

"Sir!" she cried out suddenly. "For God's sake do not speak of duty-there is another duty greater than that. Mr. Audrey-"

He wheeled away from her, with a movement she could not interpret. It might be uncontrolled anger or misery, equally. And her heart went out to him in one great flood.

"Mr. Audrey. It is not too late. Your son Robin-"

Then he wheeled again; and his face was distorted with emotion.

"Yes, my son Robin! my son Robin!… How dare you speak of him to me?…

Yes; that is it-my son Robin-my son Robin!"

He dropped into the chair again, and his face fell upon his clasped hands.

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