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   Chapter 53 No.53

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 7978

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was not until ten days later, soon after dawn, that Robin set out on his melancholy errand. He rode out northward as soon as the gates were opened, with young "Mr. Arnold," a priest ordained with him in Rheims, and one of his party, disguised as a servant, following him on a pack-horse with the luggage. It was a misty morning, white and cheerless, with the early fog that had drifted up from the river. Last night the news had come in that Anthony and at least one other had been taken near Harrow, in disguise, and the streets had been full of riotous rejoicing over the capture.

He had thought it more prudent to wait till after receiving the news, which he so much dreaded, lest haste should bring suspicion on himself, and the message that he carried; since for him, too, to disappear at once would have meant an almost inevitable association of him with the party of plotters; but it had been a hard time to pass through. Early in the morning, after Anthony's flight, he had awakened to hear a rapping upon the inn door, and, peeping from his window, had seen a couple of plainly dressed men waiting for admittance; but after that he had seen no more of them. He had deliberately refrained from speaking with the landlord, except to remark again upon the luggage of which he caught a sight, piled no longer in the entrance, but in the little room that the man himself used. The landlord had said shortly that it had not yet been sent for. And the greater part of the day-after he had told the companions that had come with him from Rheims that he had had a letter, which seemed to show that the party with whom they had made friends had disappeared, and were probably under suspicion, and had made the necessary arrangements for his own departure with young Mr. Arnold-he spent in walking abroad as usual. The days that followed had been bitter and heavy. He had liked neither to stop within doors nor to go abroad, since the one course might arouse inquiry and the second lead to his identification. He had gone to my Lord Vaux's house again and again, with his friend and without him; he had learned of the details of Anthony's capture, though he had not dared even to attempt to get speech with him; and, further, that unless the rest of the men were caught, it would not be easy to prove anything against him. One thing, therefore, he prayed for with all his heart-that the rest might yet escape. He told his party something of the course of events, but not too much. On the Sunday that intervened he went to hear mass in Fetter Lane, where numbers of Catholics resorted; and there, piece by piece, learned more of the plot than even Anthony had told him.

Mr. Arnold was a Lancashire man and a young convert of Oxford-one of that steady small stream that poured over to the Continent-a sufficiently well-born and intelligent man to enjoy acting as a servant, which he did with considerable skill. It was common enough for gentlemen to ride side by side with their servants when they had left the town; and by the time that the two were clear of the few scattered houses outside the City gates, Mr. Arnold urged on his horse; and they rode together. Robin was in somewhat of a difficulty as to how far he was justified in speaking of what he knew. It was true that he was not at liberty to use what Anthony had originally told him; but the letter and the commission which he had received certainly liberated his conscience to some degree, since it told him plainly enough that there was a plot on behalf of Mary, that certain persons, one or two of whom he knew for himself, were involved in it, that they were under suspicion, and that they had fled. Ordinary discretion, however, was enough to make him hold his tongue, beyond saying, as he had said already to the rest of them, that he was the bearer of a message from Mr. Babington, now in prison, to Mary Stuart. Mr. Arnold had been advertised that he might take up his duties in Lancashire as soon as he liked; but

, because of his inexperience and youth, it had been decided that he had better ride with "Mr. Alban" so far as Chartley at least, and thence, if all were well, go on to Lancaster itself, where his family was known, and whither he could return, for the present, without suspicion.

* * * * *

The roads, such as they were, were in a terrible state still with the heavy rain of a few days ago, and the further showers that had fallen in the night. They made very poor progress, and by dinner-time were not yet in sight of Watford. But they pushed on, coming at last about one o'clock to that little town, all gathered together in the trench of the low hills. There was a modest inn in the main street, with a little garden behind it; and while Mr. Arnold took the horses off for watering, Robin went through to the garden, sat down, and ordered food to be served for himself and his man together. The day was warmer, and the sun came out as they sat over their meal. When they had done, Robin sent his friend off again for the horses. They must not delay longer than was necessary, if they wished to sleep at Leighton, and give the horses their proper rest.

* * * * *

When he was left alone, he fell a-thinking once more; and, what with the morning's ride and the air and the sunshine, and the sense of liberty, he was inclined to be more cheerful. Surely England was large enough to hide the rest of the plotters for a time, until they could get out of it. Anthony was taken, indeed, yet, without the rest, he might very well escape conviction. Robin had not been challenged in any way; the gatekeepers had looked at him, indeed, as he came out of the City; but so they always did, and the landlady here had run her eyes over him; but that was the way of landladies who wished to know how much should be charged to travellers. And if he had come out so easily, why should not his friends? All turned now, to his mind, on whether the rest of the conspirators could evade the pursuivants or not.

He stood up presently to stretch his legs before mounting again, and as he stood up he heard running footsteps somewhere beyond the house: they died away; but then came the sound of another runner, and of another, and he heard voices calling. Then a window was flung up beyond the house; steps came rattling down the stairs within and passed out into the street. It was probably a bull that had escaped, or a mad dog, he thought, or some rustic excitement of that kind, and he thought he would go and see it for himself; so he passed out through the house, just in time to meet Mr. Arnold coming round with the horses.

"What was the noise about?" he asked.

The other looked at him.

"I heard none, sir," he said. "I was in the stable."

Robin looked up and down the street. It seemed as empty as it should be on a summer's day; two or three women were at the doors of their houses, and an old dog was asleep in the sun. There was no sign of any disturbance.

"Where is the woman of the house?" asked Robin.

"I do not know, sir."

They could not go without paying; but Robin marvelled at the simplicity of these folks, to leave a couple of guests free to ride away; he went within again and called out, but there was no one to be seen.

"This is laughable," he said, coming out again. "Shall we leave a mark behind us and be off?"

"Are they all gone, sir?" asked the other, staring at him.

"I heard some running and calling out just now," said Robin. "I suppose a message must have been brought to the house."

Then, as he stood still, hesitating, a noise of voices arose suddenly round the corner of the street, and a group of men with pitchforks ran out from a gateway on the other side, fifty yards away, crossed the road, and disappeared again. Behind them ran a woman or two, a barking dog, and a string of children. But Robin thought he had caught a glimpse of some kind of officer's uniform at the head of the running men, and his heart stood still.

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