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   Chapter 52 No.52

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 5301

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"There is a letter for you, sir," said the landlord, who had an uneasy look on his face, as the priest came through the entrance of the inn.

Robin took it. Its superscription ran shortly: "To Mr. Alban, at the Red

Bull Inn in Cheapside. Haste. Haste. Haste."

He turned it over; it was sealed plainly on the back without arms or any device; it was a thick package, and appeared as if it might hold an enclosure or two.

Robin had learned caution in a good school, and what is yet more vital in true caution, an appearance of carelessness. He weighed the packet easily in his hand, as if it were of no value, though he knew it might contain very questionable stuff from one of his friends, and glanced at a quantity of baggage that lay heaped beside the wall.

"What is all this?" he said. "Another party arrived?"

"No, sir; the party is leaving. Rather, it is left already; and the gentlemen bade me have the baggage ready here. They would send for it later, they told me."

This was unusually voluble from this man. Robin looked at him quickly, and away again.

"What party?" he said.

"The gentlemen you were with this two nights past, sir," said the landlord keenly.

Robin was aware of a feeling as if a finger had been laid on his heart; but not a muscle of his face moved.

"Indeed!" he said. "They told me nothing of it."

Then he moved on easily, feeling the landlord's eyes in every inch of his back, and went leisurely upstairs.

He reached his room, bolted the door softly behind him, and sat down. His heart was going now like a hammer. Then he opened the packet; an enclosure fell out of it, also sealed, but without direction of any kind. Then he saw that the sheet in which the packet had come was itself covered with writing, rather large and sprawling, as if written in haste. He put the packet aside, and then lifted the paper to read it.

* * * * *

When he had finished, he sat quite still. The room looked to him misty and unreal; the paper crackled in his shaking fingers, and a drop of sweat ran suddenly into the corner of his dry lips. Then he read the paper again. It ran as follows:

"It is all found out, we think. I find myself watched at every point, and I can get no speech with B. I cannot go forth from the house without a fellow to follow me, and two of my friends have found the same. Mr. G., too, hath been with Mr. W. this three hours back. By chance I saw him come in, and he has not yet left again. Mr. Ch. is watching for me while I write this, and will see that this letter is bestowed on a trusty man who will bring it to your inn, and, with it, another letter to bid our p

arty save themselves while they can. I do not know how we shall fare, but we shall meet at a point that is fixed, and after that evade or die together. You were right, you see. Mr. G. has acted the traitor throughout, with Mr. W.'s connivance and assistance. I beg of you, then, to carry this letter, which I send in this, to Her for whom we have forfeited our lives, or, at least, our country; or, if you cannot take it with safety, master the contents of it by rote and deliver it to her with your own mouth. She has been taken back to C. again, whither you must go, and all her effects searched."

There was no signature, but there followed a dash of the pen, and then a scrawled "A.B.," as if an interruption had come, or as if the man who was with the writer would wait no longer.

* * * * *

A third time Robin read it through. It was terribly easy of interpretation. "B." was Ballard; "G." was Gifford; "W." was Walsingham; "Ch." was Charnoc; "Her" was Mary Stuart; "C." was Chartley. It fitted and made sense like a child's puzzle. And, if the faintest doubt could remain in the most incredulous mind as to the horrible reality of it all, there was the piled luggage downstairs, that would never be "sent for" (and never, indeed, needed again by its owners in this world).

Then he took up the second sealed packet, and held it unbroken, while his mind flew like a bird, and in less than a minute he decided, and opened it.

It was a piteous letter, signed again merely "A.B.," and might have been written by any broken-hearted reverent lover to his beloved. It spoke an eternal good-bye; the writer said that he would lay down his life gladly again in such a cause if it were called for, and would lay down a thousand if he had them; he entreated her to look to herself, for that no doubt every attempt would now be made to entrap her; and it warned her to put no longer any confidence in a "detestable knave, G.G." Finally, he begged that "Jesu would have her in His holy keeping," and that if matters fell out as he thought they would, she would pray for his soul, and the souls of all that had been with him in the enterprise.

He read it through three or four times; every line and letter burned itself into his brain. Then he tore it across and across; then he tore the letter addressed to himself in the same manner; then he went through all the fragments, piece by piece, tearing each into smaller fragments, till there remained in his hands just a bunch of tiny scraps, smaller than snowflakes, and these he scattered out of the window.

Then he went to his door, unbolted it, and walked downstairs to find the landlord.

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