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   Chapter 57 No.57

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 7863

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The room was furnished with more decency than any he had seen in this harsh house; for, although at the time he thought that he had no eyes for anything but one figure which it contained, he found himself afterwards able to give a very tolerable account of its general appearance. The walls were hung throughout with a dark-blue velvet hanging, stamped with silver fleur-de-lys. There were tapestries on the floor, between which gleamed the polished oak boards, perfectly kept, by the labours (no doubt) of her Grace's two women (since such things would be mere "fiddle-faddle" to the honest soldier); a graceful French table ran down the centre of the room, very delicately carved, and beneath it two baskets from which looked out the indignant heads of a couple of little spaniels; upon it, at the nearer end, were three or four cages of turtle-doves, melancholy-looking in this half-lit room; old, sun-bleached curtains of the same material as that which hung on the walls, shrouded the two windows on the right, letting but a half light into the room: there was a further door, also curtained, diagonally opposite that by which the party had entered; and in the centre of the same wall a tall blue canopy, fringed with silver, rose to the ceiling. Beneath it, on a da?s of a single step, stood a velvet chair, with gilded arms, and worked with the royal shield in the embroidery of the back-with a crowned lion sejant, guardant, for the crest above the crown. Half a dozen more chairs were ranged about the table; and, on a couch, with her feet swathed in draperies, with a woman standing over her behind, as if she had just risen up from speaking in her ear, lay the Queen of the Scots. A tall silver and ebony crucifix, with a couple of velvet-bound, silver-clasped little books, stood on the table within reach of her hand, and a folded handkerchief beside them.

Mary was past her prime long ago; she was worn with sorrow and slanders and miseries; yet she appeared to the priest's eyes, even then, like a figure of a dream. It was partly, no doubt, the faintness of the light that came in through the half-shrouded windows that obliterated the lines and fallen patches that her face was beginning to bear; and she lay, too, with her back even to such light as there was. Yet for all that, and even if he had not known who she was, Robin could not have taken his eyes from her face. She lay there like a fallen flower, pale as a lily, beaten down at last by the waves and storms that had gone over her; and she was more beautiful in her downfall and disgrace, a thousand times, than when she had come first to Holyrood, or danced in the Courts of France.

Now it is not in the features one by one that beauty lies but rather in the coincidence of them all. Her face was almost waxen now, blue shadowed beneath the two waves of pale hair; she had a small mouth, a delicate nose, and large, searching hazel eyes. Her head-dress was of white, with silver pins in it; a light white shawl was clasped cross-wise over her shoulders; and she wore a loose brocaded dressing-gown beneath it. Her hands, clasped as if in prayer, emerged out of deep lace-fringed sleeves, and were covered with rings. But it was the air of almost superhuman delicacy that breathed from her most forcibly; and, when she spoke, a ring of assured decision revealed her quiet consciousness of royalty. It was an extraordinary mingling of fragility and power, of which this feminine and royal room was the proper frame.

Sir Amyas knelt perfunctorily, as if impatient of it; and rose up again at once without waiting for the signal. Mary lifted her fingers a little as a sign to the other two.

"I have brought the French doctor, madam," said the soldier abruptly.

"But he must see your Grace in my presence."

"Then you might as well have spared him, and yourself, the pains, sir," came the quiet, dignified voice. "I do not choose to be exami

ned in your presence."

Robin lifted his eyes to her face; but although he thought he caught an under air of intense desire towards him and That which he bore, there was no faltering in the tone of her voice. It was, as some man said, as "soft as running water heard by night."

"This is absurd, madam. I am responsible for your Grace's security and good health. But there are lengths-"

"You have spoken the very word," said the Queen. "There are lengths to which none of us should go, even to preserve our health."

"I tell you, madam-"

"There is no more to be said, sir," said the Queen, closing her eyes again.

"But what do I know of this fellow? How can I tell he is what he professes to be?" barked Sir Amyas.

"Then you should never have admitted him at all," said the Queen, opening her eyes again. "And I will do the best that I can-"

"But, madam, your health is my care; and Mr. Bourgoign here tells me-"

"The subject does not interest me," murmured the Queen, apparently half asleep.

"But I will retire to the corner and turn my back, if that is necessary," growled the soldier.

There was no answer. She lay with closed eyes, and her woman began again to fan her gently.

* * * * *

Robin began to understand the situation a little better. It was plain that Sir Amyas was a great deal more anxious for the Queen's health than he pretended to be, or he would never have tolerated such objections. The Queen, too, must know of this, or she would not have ventured, with so much at stake, to treat him with such maddening rebuffs. There had been rumours (verified later) that Elizabeth had actually caused it to be suggested to Sir Amyas that he should poison his prisoner decently and privately, and thereby save a great deal of trouble and scandal; and that Sir Amyas had refused with indignation. Perhaps, if all this were true, thought Robin, the officer was especially careful on this very account that the Queen's health should be above suspicion. He remembered that Sir Amyas had referred just now to a suspicion of poison…. He determined on the bold line.

"Her Grace has spoken, sir," he said modestly. "And I think I should have a word to say. It is plain to me, by looking at her Grace, that her health is very far from what it should be-" (he paused significantly)-"I should have to make a thorough examination, if I prescribed at all; and, even should her Grace consent to this being done publicly, for my part I would not consent. I should be happy to have her women here, but-"

Sir Amyas turned on him wrathfully.

"Why, sir, you said downstairs-"

"I had not then seen her Grace. But there is no more to be said-" He kneeled again as if to take his leave, stood up, and began to retire to the door. Mr. Bourgoign stood helpless.

Then Sir Amyas yielded.

"You shall have fifteen minutes, sir. No more," he cried harshly. "And I shall remain in the next room."

He made a perfunctory salute and strode out.

The Queen opened her eyes, waited for one tense instant till the door closed; then she slipped swiftly off the couch.

"The door!" she whispered.

The woman was across the room in an instant, on tip-toe, and drew the single slender bolt. The Queen made a sharp gesture; the woman fled back again on one side, and out through the further door, and the old man hobbled after her. It was as if every detail had been rehearsed. The door closed noiselessly.

Then the Queen rose up, as Robin, understanding, began to fumble with his breast. And, as he drew out the pyx, and placed it on the handkerchief (in reality a corporal), apparently so carelessly laid by the crucifix, Mary sank down in adoration of her Lord.

"Now, mon père," she whispered, still kneeling, but lifting her star-bright eyes. And the priest went across to the couch where the Queen had lain, and sat down on it.

"In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti-" began Mary.

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