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Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 3973

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Derby was, indeed, astir as they rode in, with the servants and the baggage following behind, on the late afternoon of the next day. They had ridden by easy stages, halting at Dethick for dinner, where the Babingtons' house already hummed with dismay at the news that had come from Derby last night. Mr. Anthony was away, and all seemed distracted.

They rode in by the North road, seeing for the last mile or two of their ride the towering spire of All Saints' Church high above the smoke of the houses; they passed the old bridge half a mile from the market-place, near the ancient camp; and even here overheard a sentence or two from a couple of fellows that were leaning on the parapet, that told them what was the talk of the town. It was plain that others besides the Catholics understood the taking of Mr. Thomas FitzHerbert to be a very significant matter.

Babington House stood on the further side of the market-place from that on which they entered, and Alice was for going there through side streets.

"They will take notice if we go straight through," she said. "It is cheese-market to-day."

"They will take notice in any case," said Marjorie. "It will be over the town to-morrow that Mistress Babington is here, and it is best, therefore, to come openly, as if without fear."

And she turned to beckon the servants to draw up closer behind.

* * * * *

The square was indeed crowded as they came in. From all the country round, and especially from Dovedale, the farmers came in on this day, or sent their wives, for the selling of cheeses; and the small oblong of the market-the smaller from its great Conduit and Cross-was full with rows of stalls and carts, with four lanes only left along the edges by which the traffic might pass; and even here the streams of passengers forced the horses to go in single file. Groups of men-farmers' servants who had driven in the carts, or walked with the pack-beasts-to whom this day was a kind of feast, stood along

the edges of the booths eyeing all who went by. The inns, too, were doing a roaring trade, and it was from one of these that the only offensive comment was made.

Mistress Babington rode first, as suited her dignity, preceded by one of the Dethick men whom they had taken up on their way, and who had pushed forward when they came into the town to clear the road; and Mistress Manners rode after her. The men stood aside as the cavalcade began to go between the booths, and the most of them saluted Mistress Babington. But as they were almost out of the market they came abreast one of the inns from whose wide-open doors came a roar of voices from those that were drinking within, and a group that was gathered on the step stopped talking as the party came up. Marjorie glanced at them, and noticed there was an air about two or three of the men that was plainly town-bred; there was a certain difference in the cut of their clothes and the way they wore them. Then she saw two or three whispering together, and the next moment came a brutal shout. She could not catch the sentence, but she heard the word "Papist" with an adjective, and caught the unmistakable bullying tone of the man. The next instant there broke out a confusion: a man dashed up the step from the crowd beneath, and she caught a glimpse of Dick Sampson's furious face. Then the group bore back, fighting, into the inn door; the Dethick servant leapt off his horse, leaving it in some fellow's hands, and vanished up the step; there was a rush of the crowd after him, and then the way was clear in front, over the little bridge that spanned Bramble brook.

When she drew level with Alice, she saw her friend's face, pale and agitated.

"It is the first time I have ever been cried at," she said. "Come; we are nearly home. There is St. Peter's spire."

"Shall we not-?" began Marjorie.

"No, no" (and the pale face tightened suddenly). "My fellows will give them a lesson. The crowd is on our side as yet."

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