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   Chapter 47 No.47

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 4879

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was the last night before the Londoners were to return.

They had lived royally these last three months. The agent of the Council had had a couple of the best rooms in the inn that looked on to the market-square, where he entertained his friends, and now and then a magistrate or two. Even Mr. Audrey, of Matstead, had come to him once there, with another, but had refused to stay to supper, and had ridden away again alone.

Downstairs, too, his men had fared very well indeed. They knew how to make themselves respected, for they carried arms always now, since the unfortunate affair a day after the arrival, when two of them had been gravely battered about by two rustic servants, who, they learned, were members of a Popish household in the town. But all the provincial fellows were not like this. There was a big man, half clerk and half man-servant to a poor little lawyer, who lived across the square-a man of no wit indeed, but, at any rate, one of means and of generosity, too, as they had lately found out-means and generosity, they understood, that were made possible by the unknowing assistance of his master. In a word it was believed among Mr. Topcliffe's men that all the refreshment which they had lately enjoyed, beyond that provided by their master, was at old Mr. Biddell's expense, though he did not know it, and that George Beaton, fool though he was, was a cleverer man than his employer. Lately, too, they had come to learn, that although George Beaton was half clerk, half man-servant, to a Papist, he was yet at heart as stout a Protestant as themselves, though he dared not declare it for fear of losing his place.

On this last night they made very merry indeed, and once or twice the landlord pushed his head through the doorway. The baggage was packed, and all was in readiness for a start soon after dawn.

There came a time when George Beaton said that he was stifling with the heat; and, indeed, in this low-ceilinged room after supper, with the little windows looking on to the court, the heat was surprising. The men sat in their shirts and trunks. So that it was as natural as possible that George should rise from his place and sit down again close to the door where the cool air from the passage came in; and from there, once more, he led the talk, in his character of rustic and open-handed boor; he even beat the sullen man who was next him genially over the head to make him give more room

, and then he proposed a toast to Mr. Topcliffe.

It was about half an hour later, when George was becoming a little anxious, that he drew out at last a statement that Mr. Topcliffe had a great valise upstairs, full of papers that had to do with his law business. (He had tried for this piece of information last night and the night before, but had failed to obtain it.) Ten minutes later again, then, when the talk had moved to affairs of the journey, and the valise had been forgotten, it was an entirely unsuspicious circumstance that George and the man that sat next him should slip out to take the air in the stable-court. The Londoner was so fuddled with drink as to think that he had gone out at his own deliberate wish; and there, in the fresh air, the inevitable result followed; his head swam, and he leaned on big George for support. And here, by the one stroke of luck that visited poor George this evening, it fell that he was just in time to see Mr. Topcliffe himself pass the archway in the direction of Friar's Gate, in company with a magistrate, who had supped with him upstairs.

Up to this point George had moved blindly, step by step. He had had his instructions from his master, yet all that he had been able to determine was the general plan to find out where the papers were kept, to remain in the inn till the last possible moment, and to watch for any chance that might open to him. Truly, he had no more than that, except, indeed, a vague idea that it might be necessary to bribe one of the men to rob his master. Yet there was everything against this, and it was, indeed, a last resort. It seemed now, however, that another way was open. It was exceedingly probable that Mr. Topcliffe was off for his last visit to the prisoner, and, since a magistrate was with him, it was exceedingly improbable that he would take the paper with him. It was not the kind of paper-if, indeed, it existed at all-that more persons would be allowed to see than were parties to the very discreditable affair.

And now George spoke earnestly and convincingly. He desired to see the baggage of so great a man as Mr. Topcliffe; he had heard so much of him. His friend was a good fellow who trusted him (here George embraced him warmly). Surely such a little thing would be allowed as for him, George, to step in and view Mr. Topcliffe's baggage, while the faithful servant kept watch in the passage! Perhaps another glass of ale-

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