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   Chapter 56 No.56

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 4854

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was a lean, harsh-faced man that he saw, long-moustached and melancholy-eyed-"grim as a goose," as the physician had said-wearing, even in this guarded household, a half-breast and cap of steel. A long sword jingled beside him on the stone floor and clashed with his spurred boots. He appeared the last man in the world to be the companion of a sorrowing Queen; and it was precisely for this reason that he had been chosen to replace the courtly lord Shrewsbury and the gentle Sir Ralph Sadler. (Her Grace of England said that she had had enough of nurses for gaolers.) His voice, too, resembled the bitter clash of a key in a lock.

"Well, sir," he said abruptly, "Mr. Bourgoign tells me you are a friend of his."

"I have that honour, sir."

"You met in Paris, eh?… And you profess a knowledge of herbs beyond the ordinary?"

"Mr. Bourgoign is good enough to say so."

"And you are after her Grace of Scotland, as they call her, like all the rest of them, eh?"

"I shall be happy to put what art I possess at her Grace of Scotland's service."

"Traitors say as much as that, sir."

"In the cause of treachery, no doubt, sir."

Sir Amyas barked a kind of laugh.

"Vous avez raisong," he said with a deplorable accent. "As her Grace would say. And you come purely by chance to Chartley, no doubt!"

The sneer was unmistakable. Robin met it full.

"Not for one moment, sir. I was on my way to Derby. I could have saved a few miles if I had struck north long ago. But Chartley is interesting in these days."

(He saw Mr. Bourgoign's eyes gleam with satisfaction.)

"That is honest at least, sir. And why is Chartley interesting?"

"Because her Grace is here," answered Robin with sublime simplicity.

Sir Amyas barked again. It seemed he liked this way of talk. For a moment or two his eyes searched Robin-hard, narrow eyes like a dog's; he looked him up and down.

"Where are your drugs, sir?"

Robin smiled.

"A herbalist does not need to carry drugs," he said. "They grow in every hedgerow if a man has eyes to see what God has given him."

"That is true enough. I would we had more talk about God His Majesty in this household, and less of Popish trinkets and fiddle-faddle…. Well, sir; do you think you can cure her ladyship?"

"I have no opinion on the point at all, sir. I do not know what is the matter with her-beyond what Mr. Bourgoign has told me," he added hastily, rememb

ering the supposed situation.

The soldier paid no attention. Like all slow-witted men, he was following up an irrelevant train of thought from his own last sentence but one.

"Fiddle-faddle!" he said again. "I am sick of her megrims and her vapours and her humours. Has she not blood and bones like the rest of us? And yet she cannot take her food nor her drink, nor sleep like an honest woman. And I do not wonder at it; for that is what she is not. They will say she is poisoned, I dare say…. Well, sir; I suppose you had best see her; but in my presence, remember, sir; in my presence."

Robin's spirits sank like a stone…. Moreover, he would be instantly detected as a knave (though that honestly seemed a lesser matter to him), if he attempted to talk medically in Sir Amyas' presence; unless that warrior was truly as great a clod as he seemed. He determined to risk it. He bowed.

"I can at least try my poor skill, sir," he said.

Sir Amyas instantly turned, with a jerk of his head to beckon them, and clanked out again into the hall. There was not a moment's opportunity for the two conspirators to exchange even a word; for there, in the hall, stood the two men who had brought Robin in, to keep guard; and as the party passed through to the foot of the great staircase, he saw on each landing that was in sight another sentry, and, at a door at the end of the overhead gallery, against which hung a heavy velvet curtain, stood the last, a stern figure to keep guard on the rooms of a Queen, with his body-armour complete, a steel hat on his head and a pike in his hand.

It was to this door that Sir Amyas went, acknowledging with a lift of the finger the salute of his men. (It was plain that this place was under strict military discipline.) With the two, the real and the false physician following him, he pulled aside the curtain and rapped imperiously on the door. It was opened after a moment's delay by a frightened-faced woman.

"Her Grace?" demanded the officer sharply. "Is she still abed?"

"Her Grace is risen, sir," said the woman tremulously; "she is in the inner room."

Sir Amyas strode straight on, pulled aside a second curtain hanging over the further door, rapped upon that, too, and without even waiting for an answer this time, beyond the shrill barking of dogs within, opened it and passed in. Mr. Bourgoign followed; and Robin came last. The door closed softly behind him.

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