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   Chapter 73 No.73

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 3867

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"There is no more to be said, then," said Marjorie, and leaned back, with a white, exhausted face. "We can do no more."

* * * * *

It was a little council of Papists that was gathered-a year after the Queen's death at Fotheringay-in Mistress Manners' parlour. Mr. John FitzHerbert was there; he had ridden up an hour before with heavy news from Padley and its messenger. Mistress Alice was there, quiet as ever, yet paler and thinner than in former years (Mistress Babington herself had gone back to her family last year). And, last, Robin himself was there, having himself borne the news from Derby.

He had had an eventful year, yet never yet had he come within reach of the pursuivant. But he had largely effected this by the particular care which he had observed with regard to Matstead, and his silence as to his own identity. Extraordinary care, too, was observed by his friends, who had learned by now to call him even in private by his alias; and it appeared certain that beyond a dozen or two of discreet persons it was utterly unsuspected that the stately bearded young gentleman named Mr. Robert Alban-the "man of God," as, like other priests, he was commonly called amongst the Catholics-had any connection whatever with the hawking, hunting, and hard-riding lover of Mistress Manners. It was known, indeed, that Mr. Robin had gone abroad years ago to be made priest; but those who thought of him at all, or, at least as returned, believed him sent to some other part of England, for the sake of his father, and it was partly because of the very fact that his father was so hot against the Papists that it had been thought safe at Rheims to send him to Derbyshire, since this would be the very last place in which he would be looked for.

He had avoided Matstead then-riding through it once only by night, with strange emotions-and had spent most of his time in the south of Derbyshire, crossing more than once ov

er into Stafford and Chester, and returning to Padley or to Booth's Edge once in every three or four months. He had learned a hundred lessons in these wanderings of his.

The news that he had now brought with him was of the worst. He had heard from Catholics in Derby that Mr. Simpson, returned again after his banishment, recaptured a month or two ago, and awaiting trial at the Lent Assizes, was beginning to falter. Death was a certainty for him this time, and it appeared that he had seemed very timorous before two or three friends who had visited him in gaol, declaring that he had done all that a man could do, that he was being worn out by suffering and privation, and that there was some limit, after all, to what God Almighty should demand.

Marjorie had cried out just now, driven beyond herself at the thought of what all this must mean for the Catholics of the countryside, many of whom already had fallen away during the last year or two beneath the pitiless storm of fines, suspicions, and threats-had cried out that it was impossible that such a man as Mr. Simpson could fall; that the ruin it would bring upon the Faith must be proportionate to the influence he already had won throughout the country by his years of labour; entreating, finally, when the trustworthiness of the report had been forced upon her at last, that she herself might be allowed to go and see him and speak with him in prison.

This, however, had been strongly refused by her counsellors just now. They had declared that her help was invaluable; that the amazing manner in which her little retired house on the moors had so far evaded grave suspicion rendered it one of the greatest safeguards that the hunted Catholics possessed; that the work she was doing by her organization of messengers and letters must not be risked, even for the sake of a matter like this….

She had given in at last. But her spirit seemed broken altogether.

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