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   Chapter 49 No.49

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 7228

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The "Red Bull" in Cheapside was all alight; a party had arrived there from the coast not an hour ago, and the rooms that had been bespoken by courier occupied the greater part of the second floor; the rest of the house was already filled by another large company, spoken for by Mr. Babington, although he himself was not one of them. And it seemed to the shrewd landlord that these two parties were not wholly unknown to one another, although, as a discreet man, he said nothing.

The latest arrived party was plainly come from the coast. They had arrived a little after sunset on this stormy August day, splashed to the shoulders by the summer-mud, and drenched to the skin by the heavy thunder-showers. Their baggage had a battered and sea-going air about it, and the landlord thought he would not be far away if he conjectured Rheims as their starting-point; there were three gentlemen in the party, and four servants apparently; but he knew better than to ask questions or to overhear what seemed rather over-familiar conversation between the men and their masters. There was only one, however, whom he remembered to have lodged before, over five years ago. The name of this one was Mr. Alban. But all this was not his business. His duty was to be hearty and deferential and entirely stupid; and certainly this course of behaviour brought him a quantity of guests.

* * * * *

Mr. Alban, about half-past nine o'clock, had finished unstrapping his luggage. It was of the most innocent description, and contained nothing that all the world might not see. He had made arrangements that articles of another kind should come over from Rheims under the care of one of the "servants," whose baggage would be less suspected. The distribution would take place in a day or two. These articles comprised five sets of altar vessels, five sets of mass-vestments, made of a stuff woven of all the liturgical colours together, a dozen books, a box of medals, another of Agnus Deis-little wax medallions stamped with the figure of a Lamb supporting a banner-a bunch of beads, and a heavy little square package of very thin altar-stones.

As he laid out the suit of clothes that he proposed to wear next day, there was a rapping on his door.

"Mr. Babington is come-sir." (The last word was added as an obvious afterthought, in case of listeners.)

Robin sprang up; the door was opened by his "servant," and Anthony came in, smiling.

* * * * *

Mr. Anthony Babington had broadened and aged considerably during the last five years. He was still youthful-looking, but he was plainly a man and no longer a boy. And he presently said as much for his friend.

"You are a man, Robin," he said.-"Why, it slipped my mind!"

He knelt down promptly on the strip of carpet and kissed the palms of the hands held out to him, as is the custom to do with newly-ordained priests, and Robin murmured a blessing.

Then the two sat down again.

"And now for the news," said Robin.

Anthony's face grew grave.

"Yours first," he said.

So Robin told him. He had been ordained priest a month ago, at Chalons-sur-Marne…. The college was as full as it could hold…. They had had an unadventurous journey.

Anthony put a question or two, and was answered.

"And now," said Robin, "what of Derbyshire; and of the country; and of my father? And is it true that Ballard is taken?"

Anthony threw an arm over the back of his chair, and tried to seem at his ease.

"Well," he said, "Derbyshire is as it ever was. You heard of Thomas

FitzHerbert's defection?"

"Mistress Manners wrote to me of it, more than two y

ears ago."

"Well, he does what he can: he comes and goes with his wife or without her. But he comes no more to Padley. And he scarcely makes a feint even before strangers of being a Catholic, though he has not declared himself, nor gone to church, at any rate in his own county. Here in London I have seen him more than once in Topcliffe's company. But I think that every Catholic in the country knows of it by now. That is Mistress Manners' doing. My sister says there has never been a woman like her."

Robin's eyes twinkled.

"I always said so," he said. "But none would believe me. She has the wit and courage of twenty men. What has she been doing?"

"What has she not done?" cried Anthony. "She keeps herself for the most part in her house; and my sister spends a great deal of time with her; but her men, who would die for her, I think, go everywhere; and half the hog-herds and shepherds of the Peak are her sworn men. I have given your Dick to her; he was mad to do what he could in that cause. So her men go this way and that bearing her letters or her messages to priests who are on their way through the county; and she gets news-God knows how!-of what is a-stirring against us. She has saved Mr. Ludlam twice, and Mr. Garlick once, as well as Mr. Simpson once, by getting the news to them of the pursuivants' coming, and having them away into the Peak. And yet with all this, she has never been laid by the heels."

"Have they been after her, then?" asked Robin eagerly.

"They have had a spy in her house twice to my knowledge, but never openly; and never a shred of a priest's gown to be seen, though mass had been said there that day. But they have never searched it by force. And I think they do not truly suspect her at all."

"Did I not say so?" cried Robin. "And what of my father? He wrote to me that he was to be made magistrate; and I have never written to him since."

"He hath been made magistrate," said Anthony drily; "and he sits on the bench with the rest of them."

"Then he is all of the same mind?"

"I know nothing of his mind. I have never spoken with him this six years back. I know his acts only. His name was in the 'Bond of Association,' too!"

"I have heard of that."

"Why, it is two years old now. Half the gentry of England have joined it," said Anthony bitterly. "It is to persecute to the death any pretender to the Crown other than our Eliza."

There was a pause. Robin understood the bitterness.

"And what of Mr. Ballard?" asked Robin.

"Yes; he is taken," said Anthony slowly, watching him. "He was taken a week ago."

"Will they banish him, then?"

"I think they will banish him."

"Why, yes-it is the first time he hath been taken. And there is nothing great against him?"

"I think there is not," said Anthony, still with that strange deliberateness.

"Why do you look at me like that?"

Anthony stood up without answering. Then he began to pace about. As he passed the door he looked to the bolt carefully. Then he turned again to his friend.

"Robin," he said, "would you sooner know a truth that will make you unhappy, or be ignorant of it?"

"Does it concern myself or my business?" asked Robin promptly.

"It concerns you and every priest and every Catholic in England. It is what I have hinted to you before."

"Then I will hear it."

"It is as if I told it in confession?"

Robin paused.

"You may make it so," he said, "if you choose."

Anthony looked at him an instant. "Well," he said, "I will not make a confession, because there is no use in that now-but-Well, listen!" he said, and sat down.

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