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   Chapter 74 No.74

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 8138

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"There is one more matter," said Robin presently, uncrossing one splashed leg from over the other. "I had not thought to speak of it; but I think it best now to do so. It concerns myself a little; and, therefore, if I may flatter myself, it concerns my friends, too."

He smiled genially upon the company; for if there was one thing more than another he had learned in his travels, it was that the tragic air never yet helped any man.

Marjorie lifted her eyes a moment.

"Mistress Manners," he said, "you remember my speaking to you after Fotheringay, of a fellow of my lord Shrewsbury's who honoured me with his suspicions?"

She nodded.

"I have never set eyes on him from that day to this-to this," he added. "And this morning in the open street in Derby whom should I meet with but young Merton and his father. (Her Grace's servants have suffered horribly since last year. But that is a tale for another day.) Well: I stopped to speak with these two. The young man hath left Mr. Melville's service a while back, it seems; and is to try his fortune in France. Well; we were speaking of this and that, when who should come by but a party of men and my lord Shrewsbury in the midst, riding with Mr. Roger Columbell; and immediately behind them my friend of the 'New Inn' of Fotheringay. It was all the ill-fortune in the world that it should be at such moment; if he had seen me alone he would have thought no more of me; but seeing me with young Jack Merton, he looked from one to the other. And I will stake my hat he knew me again."

Marjorie was looking full at him now.

"What was my lord Shrewsbury doing in Derby with Mr. Columbell?" mused

Mr. John, biting his moustaches.

"It was the very question I put to myself," said Robin. "And I took the liberty of seeing where they went. They went to Mr. Columbell's own house, and indoors of it. The serving-men held the horses at the door. I watched them awhile from Mr. Biddell's window; but they were still there when I came away at last."

"What hour was that?" asked the old man.

"That would be after dinner-time. I had dined early; and I met them afterwards. My lord would surely be dining with Mr. Columbell. But that is no answer to my question. It rather pierces down to the further point, Why was my lord Shrewsbury dining with Mr. Columbell? Shrewsbury is a great lord; Mr. Columbell is a little magistrate. My lord hath his own house in the country, and there be good inns in Derby."

He stopped short.

"What is the matter, Mistress Manners?" he asked.

"What of yourself?" she said sharply; "you were speaking of yourself."

Robin laughed.

"I had forgotten myself for once!… Why, yes; I intended to ask the company what I had best do. What with this news of Mr. Simpson, and the report Mistress Manners gives us of the country-folk, a poor priest must look to himself in these days; and not for his own sake only. Now, my lord Shrewsbury's man knows nothing of me except that I had strange business at Fotheringay a year ago. But to have had strange business at Fotheringay a year ago is a suspicious circumstance; and-"

"Mr. Alban," broke in the old man, "you had best do nothing at all. You were not followed from Derby; you are as safe in Padley or here as you could be anywhere in England. All that you had best do is to remain here a week or two and not go down to Derby again for the present. I think that showing of yourself openly in towns hath its dangers as well as its safeguards."

Mr. John glanced round. Marjorie bowed her head in assent.

"I will do precisely as you say," said Robin easily. "And now for the news of her Grace's servants."

He had already again and again told the tale of Fotheringay so far as he had seen it in this very parlour. At first he had hardly found himself able to speak of it without tears. He had described the scene he had looked upon when, in the rush that had been made towards the hall after Mary's head had been shown at the window, he had found a place, and had been forced along, partly with his will and p

artly against it, right through the great doors into the very place where the Queen had suffered; and he had told the story so well that his listeners had seemed to see it for themselves-the great hall hung with black throughout; the raised scaffold at the further end beside the fire that blazed on the wide hearth; the Queen's servants being led away half-swooning as he came in; the dress of velvet, the straw and the bloody sawdust, the beads and all the other pitiful relics being heaped upon the fire as he stood there in the struggling mob; and, above all, the fallen body, in its short skirt and bodice lying there where it fell beside the low, black block. He had told all this as he had seen it for himself, until the sheriff's men drove them all forth again into the court; and he had told, too, of all that he had heard afterwards, that had happened until my lord Shrewsbury's son had ridden out at a gallop to take the news to court, and the imprisoned watchers had been allowed to leave the Castle; how the little dog, that he had heard wailing, had leapt out as the head fell at the third stroke, so that he was all bathed in his mistress' blood-one of the very spaniels, no doubt, which he himself had seen at Chartley; how the dog was taken away and washed and given afterwards into Mr. Melville's charge; how the body and the head had been taken upstairs, had been roughly embalmed, and laid in a locked chamber; how her servants had been found peeping through the keyhole and praying aloud there, till Sir Amyas had had the hole stopped up. He had told them, too, of the events that followed; of the mass M. de Préau had been permitted to say in the Queen's oratory on the morning after; and of the oath that he had been forced to take that he would not say it again; of the destruction of the oratory and the confiscation of the altar furniture and vestments.

All this he had told, little by little; and of the Queen's noble bearing upon the scaffold, her utter fearlessness, her protestations that she died for her religion and for that only, and of the pesterings of Dr. Fletcher, Dean of Peterborough, who had at last given over in despair, and prayed instead. The rest they knew for themselves-of the miserable falseness of Elizabeth, who feigned, after having signed the warrant and sent it, that it was Mr. Davison's fault for doing as she told him; and of her accusations (accusations that deceived no man) against those who had served her; of the fires made in the streets of all great towns as a mark of official rejoicing over Mary's death; and of the pitiful restitution made by the great funeral in Peterborough, six months after, and the royal escutcheons and the tapers and the hearse, and all the rest of the lying pretences by which the murderess sought to absolve her victim from the crime of being murdered. Well; it was all over….

* * * * *

And now he told them of what he had heard to-day from young Merton in Derby; of how Nau, Mary's French secretary-the one who had served her for eleven years and had been loaded by her kindness-had been rewarded also by Elizabeth, and that the nature of his services was unmistakable; while all the rest of them, who had refused utterly to take any part in the insolent mourning at Peterborough, either in the Cathedral or at the banquet, had fallen under her Grace's displeasure, so that some of them, even now, were scarcely out of ward, Mr. Bourgoign alone excepted, since he was allowed to take the news of the death to their Graces of France, and had, most wisely, remained there ever since.

* * * * *

So the party sat round the fire in the same little parlour where they had sat so often before, with the lutes and wreaths embroidered on the hangings and Icarus in the chariot of the sun; and Robin, after telling his tale, answered question after question, till silence fell, and all sat motionless, thinking of the woman who, while dead, yet spoke.

Then Mr. John stood up, clapped the priest on the back, and said that they two must be off to Padley for the night.

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