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   Chapter 66 No.66

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 4496

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

It was not until after dawn on Wednesday, the twenty-fifth of January, as the bells were ringing in the parish church for the Conversion of St. Paul, that the two draggled travellers rode in over the bridge of Fotheringay, seeing the castle-keep rise grim and grey out of the river-mists on the right; and, passing on, dismounted in the yard of the New Inn. They had had one or two small misadventures by the way, and young Merton, through sheer sleepiness, had so reeled in his saddle on the afternoon of Monday, that the priest had insisted that they should both have at least one good night's rest. But they had ridden all Tuesday night without drawing rein, and Robin, going up to the room that he was to share with the young man, fell upon the bed, and asleep, all in one act.

* * * * *

He was awakened by the trumpets sounding for dinner in the castle-yard, and sat up to find young John looking at him. The news that he brought drove the last shreds of sleep from his brain.

"I have seen Mr. Melville, my master, sir. He bids me say it is useless for Mr. Bourgoign, or anyone else, to attempt anything with Sir Amyas for the present. Mr. Melville hath spoken to Sir Amyas as to his separation from her Grace, and could get no reason for it. But the same day-it was of Monday-her Grace's butler was forbidden any more to carry the white rod before her dishes. This is as much as to signify, Mr. Melville says, that her Grace's royalty shall no longer protect her. It is their intention, he says, to degrade her first, before they execute her. And we may look for the warrant any day, my master says."

The young man stared at him mournfully.

"And M. de Préau?"

"M. de Préau goes about as a ghost. He will come and speak with your Reverence before the day is out. Meanwhile, Mr. Melville says you may walk abroad freely. Sir Amyas never goes forth of the castle now, and none will notice. But they might take notice, Mr. Melville says, if you were to lie all day in your chamber."

* * * * *

It was after dinner, as Robin rose from the table in a parlour, where he had dined with two or three lawyers and an officer of Mr. FitzWilliam, that John Merton came to him and told him that a gentleman was waiting. He went upsta

irs and found the priest, a little timorous-looking man, dressed like a minister, pacing quickly to and fro in the tiny room at the top of the house where John and he were to sleep. The Frenchman seized his two hands and began to pour out in an agitated whisper a torrent of French and English. Robin disengaged himself.

"You must sit down, M. de Préau," he said, "and speak slowly, or I shall not understand one word. Tell me precisely what I must do. I am here to obey orders-no more. I have no design in my head at all. I will do what Mr. Bourgoign and yourself decide."

* * * * *

It was pathetic to watch the little priest. He interrupted himself by a thousand apostrophes; he lifted hands and eyes to the ceiling repeatedly; he named his poor mistress saint and martyr; he cried out against the barbarian land in which he found himself, and the bloodthirsty tigers with whom, like a second Daniel, he himself had to consort; he expatiated on the horrible risk that he ran in venturing forth from the castle on such an errand, saying that Sir Amyas would wring his neck like a hen's, if he so much as suspected the nature of his business. He denounced, with feeble venom, the wickedness of these murderers, who would not only slay his mistress's body, but her soul as well, if they could, by depriving her of a priest. Incidentally, however, he disclosed that at present there was no plan at all for Robin's admission. Mr. Bourgoign had sent for him, hoping that he might be able to reintroduce him once more on the same pretext as at Chartley; but the incident of Monday, when the white rod had been forbidden, and the conversation of Sir Amyas to Mr. Melville had made it evident that an attempt at present would be worse than useless.

"You must yourself choose!" he cried, with an abominable accent. "If you will imperil your life by remaining, our Lord will no doubt reward you in eternity; but, if not, and you flee, not a man will blame you-least of all myself, who would, no doubt, flee too, if I but dared."

This was frank and humble, at any rate. Robin smiled.

"I will remain," he said.

The Frenchman seized his hands and kissed them.

"You are a hero and a martyr, monsieur! We will perish together, therefore."

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