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   Chapter 54 No.54

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 6030

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was in the evening of the fourth day after their start that, riding up alongside of the Blythe, they struck out to the northwest, away from the trees, and saw the woods of Chartley not half a mile away. Robin sighed with relief, though, as a fact, his adventure was scarcely more than begun, since he had yet to learn how he could get speech with the Queen; but, at least, he was within sight of her, and of his own country as well. Far away, eastwards, beyond the hills, not twenty miles off, lay Derby.

* * * * *

It had been a melancholy ride, in spite of the air of freedom through which they rode, since news had come to them, in more than one place, of the fortunes of the Babington party. A courier, riding fast, had passed them as they sighted Buckingham; and by the time they came in, he was gone again, on Government business (it was said), and the little town hummed with rumours, out of which emerged, at any rate, the certainty that the whole company had been captured. At Coventry, again, the tidings had travelled faster than themselves; for here it was reported that Mr. Babington and Mr. Charnoc had been racked; and in Lichfield, last of all, the tale was complete, and (as they learned later) tolerably accurate too.

It was from a clerk in the inn there that the story came, who declared that there was no secrecy about the matter any longer, and that he himself had seen the tale in writing. It ran as follows:

The entire plot had been known from the beginning, Gilbert Gifford had been an emissary of Walsingham's throughout; and every letter that passed to and from the various personages had passed through the Secretary's hands and been deciphered in his house. There never had been one instant in which Mr. Walsingham had been at fault, or in the dark: he had gone so far, it was reported, as to insert in one of the letters that was to go to Mr. Babington a request for the names of all the conspirators, and in return there had come from him, not only a list of the names, but a pictured group of them, with Mr. Babington himself in the midst. This picture had actually been shown to her Grace in order that she might guard herself against private assassination, since two or three of the group were in her own household.

"It is like to go hard with the Scots Queen!" said the clerk bitterly.

"She has gone too far this time."

Robin said nothing to commit himself, for he did not know on which side the man ranged himself; but he drew him aside after dinner, and asked whether it might be possible to get a sight of the Queen.

"I am riding to Derby," he said, "with my man. But if to turn aside at Chartley would give us a chance of seeing her, I would do so. A queen in captivity is worth seeing. And I can see you are a man of influence."

The clerk looked at him shrewdly; he was a man plainly in love with his own importance, and the priest's last words were balm to him.

"It might be done," he said. "I do not know."

Robin saw the impression he had

made, and that the butter could not be too thick.

"I am sure you could do it for me," he said, "if any man could. But I understand that a man of your position may be unwilling-"

The clerk solemnly laid a hand on the priest's arm.

"Well, I will tell you this," he said. "Get speech with Mr. Bourgoign, her apothecary. He alone has access to her now, besides her own women. It might be he could put you in some private place to see her go by."

This was not much use, thought Robin; but, at least, it gave him something to begin at: so he thanked the clerk solemnly and reverentially, and was rewarded by another discreet pat on the arm.

* * * * *

The sight of the Chartley woods, tall and splendid in the light of the setting sun, and already tinged here and there with the first marks of autumn, brought his indecision to a point; and he realized that he had no plan. He had heard that Mary occasionally rode abroad, and he hoped perhaps to get speech with her that way; but what he had heard from the clerk and others showed him that this small degree of liberty was now denied to the Queen. In some way or another he must get news of Mr. Bourgoign. Beyond that he knew nothing.

* * * * *

The great gates of Chartley were closed as the two came up to them. There was a lodge beside them, and a sentry stood there. A bell was ringing from the great house within the woods, no doubt for supper-time, but there was no other human being besides the sentry to be seen. So Robin did not even check his weary horse; but turned only, with a deliberately curious air, as he went past and rode straight on. Then, as he rounded a corner he saw smoke going up from houses, it seemed, outside the park.

"What is that?" asked Arnold suddenly. "Do you hear-?"

A sound of a galloping horse grew louder behind them, and a moment afterwards the sound of another. The two priests were still in view of the sentry; and knowing that Chartley was guarded now as if it had all the treasures of the earth within, Robin reflected that to show too little interest might arouse as sharp suspicion as too much. So he wheeled his horse round and stopped to look.

They heard the challenge of the sentry within, and then the unbarring of the gates. An instant later a courier dashed out and wheeled to the right, while at the same time the second galloper came to view-another courier on a jaded horse; and the two passed-the one plainly riding to London, the second arriving from it. The gates were yet open; but the second was challenged once more before he was allowed to pass and his hoofs sounded on the road that led to the house. Then the gates clashed together again.

Robin turned his horse's head once more towards the houses, conscious more than ever how near he was to the nerves of England's life, and what tragic ties they were between the two royal cousins, that demanded such a furious and frequent exchange of messages.

"We must do our best here," he said, nodding towards the little hamlet.

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