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   Chapter 61 No.61

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 9332

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


He had to hear that night, after supper, and before he went to keep his engagement in the chapel-room, the entire news of the county; and, in his turn, to tell his own adventures. The company sat together before the great hall-fire, to take the dessert, since there would have been no room in the parlour for all who wished to hear. (He heard the tale of Mr. Thomas FitzHerbert, traitor, apostate and sworn man of her Grace, later, when he had come down again from the chapel-room, and the servants had gone.) But now it was of less tragic matters, and more triumphant, that they talked: he told of his adventures since he had landed in August; of his riding in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and of the fervour that he met with there (in one place, he said, he had reconciled the old minister of the parish, that had been made priest under Mary thirty years ago, and now lay dying); but he said nothing at that time of what he had seen of her Grace of Scotland, and Chartley: and the rest, on the other hand, talked of what had passed in Derby, of all that Mr. Ludlam and Mr. Garlick had done; of the arrest and banishment of the latter, and his immediate return; of the hanging of Mr. Francis Ingolby, in York, which had made a great stir in the north that summer, since he was the son of Sir Francis, of Ripley Castle; as well as of the deaths of many others-Mr. Finglow in August; Mr. Sandys, in the same month, in Gloucester; and of Mr. Lowe, Mr. Adams and Mr. Dibdale, all together at Tyburn, the news of which had but just come to Derbyshire; and of Mistress Clitheroe, that had been pressed to death in York, for the very crime which Mistress Marjorie Manners was perpetrating at this moment, namely, the assistance and harbourage of priests; or, rather, for refusing to plead when she had been arrested for that crime, lest she should bring them into trouble.

And then at last they began to speak of Mary in Fotheringay and at that a maid came in to say that it was eight o'clock, and would his Reverence come up, as a few had to travel home that night and to come again next day….

* * * * *

It was after nine o'clock before he came downstairs again, to find the gentlefolk alone in the little parlour that opened from the hall. It gave him a strange thrill of pleasure to see them there in the firelight; the four of them only-Mr. John in the midst, with the three ladies; and an empty chair waiting for the priest. He would hear their confessions presently when the servants were gone to bed. A great mug of warm ale stood by his place, to comfort him after his long ride and his spiritual labours.

Mr. John told him first the news of his own son, as was his duty to do; and he told it without bitterness, in a level voice, leaning his cheek on his hand.

It appeared that Mr. Thomas still passed for a Catholic among the simpler folk; but with none else. All the great houses round about had the truth as an open secret; and their doors were closed to him; neither had any priest been near him, since the day when Mr. Simpson met him alone on the moors and spoke to him of his soul. Even then Mr. Thomas had blustered and declared that there was no truth in the tale; and had so ridden away at last, saying that such pestering was enough to make a man lose his religion altogether.

"As for me," said Mr. John, "he has not been near me, nor I near him. He lives at Norbury for the most part. My brother is attempting to set aside the disposition he had made in his favour; but they say that it will be made to stand; and that my son will get it all yet. But he has not troubled us at Padley; nor will he, I think."

"He is at Norbury, you say, sir?"

"Yes; but he goes here and there continually. He has been to London to lay informations, I have no doubt, for I know that he hath been seen there in Topcliffe's company…. It seems that we are to be in the thick of the conflict. We have had above a dozen priests in this county alone arraigned for treason, and the most of them executed."

His voice had gone lower, and trembled once or twice as he talked. It was plain that he could not bear to speak much more against the son that had turned against him and his Faith, for the sake of his own liberty and the estates he had hoped to have. Robin made haste to turn the talk.

"And my father, sir?"

Mr. John looked at him tenderly.

"You must ask Mistress Marjorie of him," he said. "I have not seen him these three years."

Robin turned to the girl.

"I have had no more news of him since what I wrote to you," she said quietly. "After I had spoken with him, and he had given me the warning, he held himself aloof."

"Hath

he been at any of the trials at Derby?"

She bowed her head.

"He was at the trial of Mr. Garlick," she said; "last year; and was one of those who spoke for his banishment."

* * * * *

And then, on a sudden, Mistress Alice moved in her corner, where she sat with the widow of her brother.

"And what of her Grace?" she said. "Is it true what Dick told us before supper, that Parliament hath sentenced her?"

Robin shook his head.

"I hear so much gossip," he said, "in the taverns, that I believe nothing. I had not heard that. Tell me what it was."

He was in a torment of mind as to what he should say of his own adventure at Chartley. On the one side it was plain that no rumour of the tale must get abroad or he would never be able to come to her again; on the other side, no word had come from Mr. Bourgoign, though two months had passed. He knew, indeed, what all the world knew by now, that a trial had been held by over forty lords in Fotheringay Castle, whither the Queen had been moved at the end of September, and that reports had been sent of it to London. But for the rest he knew no more than the others. Tales ran about the country on every side. One man would say that he had it from London direct that Parliament had sentenced her; another that the Queen of England had given her consent too; a third, that Parliament had not dared to touch the matter at all; a fourth, that Elizabeth had pardoned her. But, for Robin, his hesitation largely lay in his knowledge that it was on the Babington plot that all would turn, and that this would have been the chief charge against her; and here, but a yard away from him, in the gloom of the chimney-breast sat Anthony's wife and sister. How could he say that this was so, and yet that he believed her wholly innocent of a crime which he detested? He had dreaded this talk the instant that he had seen them in the hall and heard their names.

But Mistress Alice would not be put off. She repeated what she had said. Dick had come up from Dethick only that afternoon, and was now gone again, so that he could not be questioned; but he had told his mistress plainly that the story in Derby, brought in by couriers, was that Parliament had consented and had passed sentence on her Grace; that her Grace herself had received the news only the day before; but that the warrant was not signed.

"And on what charge?" asked Robin desperately. Mistress Alice's voice rang out proudly; but he saw her press the girl closer as she spoke.

"That she was privy to the plot which my … my brother had a hand in."

Then Robin drew a breath and decided.

"It may be so," he said. "But I do not believe she was privy to it. I spoke with her Grace at Chartley-"

There was a swift movement in the half circle.

"I spoke with her Grace at Chartley," he said. "I went to her under guise of a herbalist: I heard her confession and gave her communion; and she declared publicly, before two witnesses, after she had had communion, that she was guiltless."

* * * * *

Robin was no story-teller; but for half an hour he was forced to become one, until his hearers were satisfied. Even here, in the distant hills, Mary's name was a key to a treasure-house of mysteries. It was through this country, too, that she had passed again and again. It was at old Chatsworth-the square house with the huge Italian and Dutch gardens, that a Cavendish had bought thirty years ago from the Agards-that she had passed part of her captivity; it was in Derby that she had halted for a night last year; it was near Burton that she had slept two months ago on her road to Fotheringay; and to hear now of her, from one who had spoken to her that very autumn, was as a revelation. So Robin told it as well as he could.

"And it may be," he said, "that I shall have to go again. Mr. Bourgoign said that he would send to me if he could. But I have heard no word from him." (He glanced round the watching faces.) "And I need not say that I shall hear no word at all, if the tale I have told you leak out."

"Perhaps she hath a chaplain again," said Mr. John, after pause.

"I do not think so," said the priest. "If she had none at Chartley, she would all the less have one at Fotheringay."

"And it may be you will be sent for again?" asked Marjorie's voice gently from the darkness.

"It may be so," said the priest.

"The letter is to be sent here?" she asked.

"I told Mr. Bourgoign so."

"Does any other know you are here?"

"No, Mistress Marjorie."

There was a pause.

"It is growing late," said Mr. John. "Will your Reverence go upstairs with me; and these ladies will come after, I think."

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