MoboReader> Literature > Come Rack! Come Rope!

   Chapter 62 No.62

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 7934

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The suspense at Fotheringay grew deeper with every day that passed.

Christmas was come and gone, and no sign was made from London, so far, at least, as the little town was concerned. There came almost daily from the castle new tales of slights put upon the Queen, and now and again of new favours granted to her. Her chaplain, withdrawn for a while, had been admitted to her again a week before Christmas; a crowd had collected to see the Popish priest ride in, and had remarked on his timorous air; and about the same time a courier had been watched as he rode off to London, bearing, it was rumoured, one last appeal from one Queen to the other. On the other hand, it was known that Mary no longer had her da?s in her chamber, and that the billiard-table, which she never used, had been taken away again.

But all this had happened before Christmas, and now a month had gone by, and although this or that tale of discourtesy from gaoler to prisoner leaked out through the servants; though it was known that the crucifix which Mary had hung up in the place where her da?s had stood remained undisturbed-though this argument or the other could be advanced in turn by men sitting over their wine in the taverns, that the Queen's cause was rising or falling, nothing was truly known the one way or the other. It had been proclaimed, by trumpet, in every town in England, that sentence of death was passed; yet this was two or three months ago, and the knowledge that the warrant had not yet been signed seemed an argument to some that now it never would be.

* * * * *

A group was waiting (as a group usually did wait) at the village entrance to the new bridge lately built by her Grace of England, towards sunset on an evening late in January. This situation commanded, so far as was possible, every point of interest. It was the beginning of the London road, up which so many couriers had passed; it was over this bridge that her Grace of Scotland herself had come from her cross-country journey from Chartley. On the left, looking northwards, rose the great old collegiate church, with its graceful lantern tower, above the low thatched stone houses of the village; on the right, adjoining the village beyond the big inn, rose the huge keep of the castle and its walls, within its double moats, ranged in form of a fetterlock of which the river itself was its straight side. Beyond, the low rolling hills and meadows met the chilly January sky.

For four months now the village had been transformed into a kind of camp. The castle itself was crammed to bursting. The row of little windows beside the hall on the first floor, visible only from the road that led past the inn parallel to the river, marked the lodgings of the Queen, where, with the hall also for her use, she lived continually; the rest of the castle was full of men-at-arms, officers, great lords who came and went-these, with the castellan's rooms and those of his people, Sir Amyas' lodgings, and the space occupied by Mary's own servants-all these filled the castle entirely. For the rest-the garrison not on duty, the grooms, the couriers, the lesser servants, the suites of the visitors, and even many of the visitors themselves-these filled the two inns of the little town completely, and overflowed everywhere into the houses of the people. It was a vision of a garrison in war-time that the countryfolk gaped at continually; the street sparkled all day with liveries and arms; archers went to and fro; the trample of horses, the sharp military orders at the changings of guard outside and within the towered gateway that commanded the entrance over the moats, the songs of men over their wine in the tavern-parlours- these things had become matters of common observation, and fired many a young farm-man with a zeal for arms.

The Queen herself was a mystery.

They had seen, for a moment, as she drove in after dark last September, a coach (in which, it was said, she had sat

with her back to the horses) surrounded by guards; patient watchers had, perhaps, half a dozen times altogether caught a glimpse of a woman's face, at a window that was supposed to be hers, look out for an instant over the wall that skirted the moat. But that was all. They heard the trumpets' cry within the castle; and even learned to distinguish something of what each signified-the call for the changing of guards, the announcement of dinner and supper; the warning to the gatekeepers that persons were to pass out. But of her, round whom all this centred, of the prison-queen of this hive of angry bees, they knew less than of her Grace of England whom once they had seen ride in through these very gates. Tales, of course, were abundant-gossip from servant to servant, filtering down at last, distorted or attenuated, to the rustics who watched and exclaimed; but there was not a soldier who kept her, not a cook who served her, of whom they did not know more than of herself. There were even parties in the village; or, rather, there was a silent group who did not join in the universal disapproval, but these were queer and fantastic persons, who still held to the old ways and would not go to church with the rest.

A little more material had been supplied for conversation by the events of to-day. It had positively been reported, by a fellow who had been to see about a room for himself in the village, that he had been turned out of the castle to make space for her Grace's chaplain. This was puzzling. Had not the Popish priest already been in the castle five or six weeks? Then why should he now require another chamber?

The argument waxed hot by the bridge. One said that it was another priest that was come in disguise; another, that once a Popish priest got a foothold in a place he was never content till he got the whole for himself; a third, that the fellow had simply lied, and that he was turned out because he had been caught by Sir Amyas making love to one of the maids. Each was positive of his own thesis, and argued for it by the process of re-assertion that it was so, and that his opponents were fools. They spat into the water; one got out a tobacco pipe that a soldier had given him and made a great show of filling it, though he had no flint to light it with; another proclaimed that for two figs he would go and inquire at the gateway itself….

To this barren war of the schools came a fact at last, and its bearer was a gorgeous figure of a man-at-arms (who, later, got into trouble by talking too much), who came swaggering down the road from the New Inn, blowing smoke into the air, with his hat on one side, and his breast-piece loose; and declared in that strange clipped London-English of his that he had been on guard at the door of Sir Amyas' room, and had heard him tell Melville the steward and De Préau the priest that they must no longer have access to her Grace, but must move their lodgings elsewhere within the castle.

This, then, had to be discussed once more from the beginning. One said that this was an evident sign that the end was to come and that Madam was to die; another that, on the contrary, it was plain that this was not so, but that rather she was to be compelled by greater strictness to acknowledge her guilt; a third, that it was none of these things, but rather that Madam was turning Protestant at last in order to save her life, and had devised this manner of ridding herself of the priest. And the soldier damned them all round as block-fools, who knew nothing and talked all the more for it.

* * * * *

The dark was beginning to fall before the group broke up, and none of them took much notice of a young man on a fresh horse, who rode quietly out of the yard of the New Inn as the saunterers came up. One of them, three minutes later, however, heard suddenly from across the bridge the sound of a horse breaking into a gallop and presently dying away westwards beyond Perry Lane.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares