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   Chapter 44 No.44

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 6938

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"Marjorie! Marjorie! Wake up! the order hath come. It is for to-night."

Very slowly Marjorie rose out of the glimmering depths of sleep into which she had fallen on the hot August afternoon, sunk down upon the arm of the great chair that stood by the parlour window, and saw Mrs. Thomas radiant before her, waving a scrap of paper in her hand.

Nearly two months were passed; and as yet no opportunity had been given to the prisoner's wife to visit him, and during that time it had been impossible to go back into the hills and leave the girl alone. The heat of the summer had been stifling, down here in the valley; a huge plague of grasshoppers had ravaged all England; and there were times when even in the grass-country outside Derby, their chirping had become intolerable. The heat, and the necessary seclusion, and the anxiety had told cruelly upon the country girl; Marjorie's face had perceptibly thinned; her eyes had shadows above and beneath; yet she knew she must not go; since the young wife had attached herself to her altogether, finding Alice (she said) too dull for her spirits. Mr. Bassett was gone again. There was no word of a trial; although there had been a hearing or two before the magistrates; and it was known that Topcliffe continually visited the prison.

One piece of news only had there been to comfort her during this time, and that, that Mr. John's prediction had been fulfilled with regard to the captured priest, Mr. Garlick, who, back from Rheims only a few months, had been deported from England, since it was his first offence, But he would soon be over again, no doubt, and next time with death as the stake in the game.

* * * * *

Marjorie drew a long breath, and passed her hands over her forehead.

"The order?" she said. "What order?"

The girl explained, torrentially. A man had come just now from the Guildhall; he had asked for Mrs. FitzHerbert; she had gone down into the hall to see him; and all the rest of the useless details. But the effect was that leave had been given at last to visit the prisoner-for two persons, of which Mrs. FitzHerbert must be one; and that they must present the order to the gaoler before seven o'clock, when they would be admitted. She looked-such was the constitution of her mind-as happy as if it were an order for his release. Marjorie drove away the last shreds of sleep; and kissed her.

"That is very good news," she said. "Now we will begin to do something."

* * * * *

The sun had sunk so far, when they set out at last, as to throw the whole of the square into golden shade; and, in the narrow, overhung Friar's Gate, where the windows of the upper stories were so near that a man might shake hands with his friend on the other side, the twilight had already begun. They had determined to walk, in order less to attract attention, in spite of the filth through which they knew they must pass, along the couple of hundred yards that separated them from the prison. For every housewife emptied her slops out of doors, and swept her house (when she did so at all) into the same place: now and again the heaps would be pushed together and removed, but for the most part they lay there, bones and rags and rotten fruit,-dusty in one spot, so that all blew about-dampened in others where a pail or two had been poured forth. The heat, too, was stifling, cast out again towards evening from the roofs and walls that had drunk it in all day from the burning skies.

As they stood before the door at last and waited, after beating the great iron knocker on the iron plate, a kind of despair came down on Marjorie. They had advanced just so far in two months as to be allowed to speak with the prisoner; and, from her talkings with Mr. Biddell, had understood how little that was. Indeed, he had hinted to her plainly enough that even in this it might be that they were no more than pawns in the enemy's hand; and that, under a show of mercy, it was often allowed for a prisoner's friends to have free access to him in order to shake his resolution. If there was any cause for congratulation then, it lay solely in the thought that other means had so far failed. One thing at least they knew, for their comfort, that there had been no talk of torture….

It was a full couple of minutes before the door opened to show them a thin, brown-faced man, with his sleeves rolled up, dressed over his shirt and hose in a kind of leathern apron. He nodded as he saw the ladies, with an air of respect, however, and stood aside to let them come in. Then, with the same civility, he asked for the order, and read it, holding it up to the light that came through the little barred window over the door.

It was an unspeakably dreary little entrance passage in which they stood, wainscoted solidly from floor to ceiling with wood that looked damp and black from age; the ceiling itself was indistinguishable in the twilight; the floor seemed composed of packed earth, three or four doors showed in the woodwork; that opposite to the one by which they had entered stood slightly ajar, and a smoky light shone from beyond it. The air was heavy and hot and damp, and smelled of mildew.

The man gave the order back when he had read it, made a little gesture that resembled a bow, and led the way straight forward.

They found themselves, when they had passed through the half-open door, in another passage running at right-angles to the entrance, with windows, heavily barred, so as to exclude all but the faintest twilight, even though the sun was not yet set; there appeared to be foliage of some kind, too, pressing against them from outside, as if a little central yard lay there; and the light, by which alone they could see their way along the uneven earth floor, came from a flambeau which hung by the door, evidently put there just now by the man who had opened to them; he led them down this passage to the left, down a couple of steps; unlocked another door of enormous weight and thickness and closed this behind them. They found themselves in complete darkness.

"I'll be with you in a moment, mistress," said his voice; and they heard his steps go on into the dark and cease.

Marjorie stood passive; she could feel the girl's hands clasp her arm, and could hear her breath come like sobs. But before she could speak, a light shone somewhere on the roof; and almost immediately the man came back carrying another flambeau. He called to them civilly; they followed. Marjorie once trod on some soft, damp thing that crackled beneath her foot. They groped round one more corner; waited, while they heard a key turning in a lock. Then the man stood aside, and they went past into the room. A figure was standing there; but for the first moment they could see no more. Great shadows fled this way and that as the gaoler hung up the flambeau. Then the door closed again behind them; and Elizabeth flung herself into her husband's arms.

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