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   Chapter 75 No.75

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 8530

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was in Mr. Bassett's house at Langley that the news of the attack on Padley reached the two travellers a month later, and it bore news in it that they little expected.

For it seemed that, entirely unexpectedly, there had arrived at Padley the following night no less than three of the FitzHerbert family, Mr. Anthony the seventh son, with two of his sisters, as well as Thomas FitzHerbert's wife, who rode with them, whether as a spy or not was never known. Further, Mr. Fenton himself, hearing of their coming, had ridden up from Tansley, and missed the messenger that Marjorie had sent out. They had not arrived till late, missing again, by a series of mischances, the scouts Marjorie had posted; and, on discovering their danger, had further discovered the house to be already watched. They judged it better, therefore, as Marjorie said in her letter, to feign unconsciousness of any charge against them, since there was no priest in the house who could incriminate them.

All this the travellers learned for the first time at Langley.

They had gone through into Staffordshire, as had been arranged, and there had moved about from house to house of Catholic friends without any trouble. It was when at last they thought it safe to be moving homewards, and had arrived at Langley, that they found Marjorie's letter awaiting them. It was addressed to Mr. John FitzHerbert and was brought by Robin's old servant, Dick Sampson.

"The assault was made," wrote Marjorie, "according to the arrangement. Mr. Columbell himself came with a score of men and surrounded the house very early, having set watchers all in place the evening before: they had made certain they should catch the master and at least a priest or two. But I have very heavy news, for all that; for there had come to the house after dark Mr. Anthony FitzHerbert, with two of his sisters, Mrs. Thomas FitzHerbert and Mr. Fenton himself, and they have carried the two gentlemen to the Derby gaol. I have had no word from Mr. Anthony, but I hear that he said that he was glad that his father was not taken, and that his own taking he puts down to his brother's account, as yourself, sir, also did. The men did no great harm in Padley beyond breaking a panel or two: they were too careful, I suppose, of what they think will be Mr. Topcliffe's property some day! And they found none of the hiding-holes, which is good news. The rest of the party they let go free again for the present.

"I have another piece of bad news, too-which is no more than what we had looked for: that Mr. Simpson at the Assizes was condemned to death, but has promised to go to church, so that his life is spared if he will do so. He is still in the gaol, however, where I pray God that Mr. Anthony may meet with him and bring him to a better mind; so that he hath not yet denied our Lord, even though he hath promised to do so.

"May God comfort and console you, Mr. FitzHerbert, for this news of Mr.

Anthony that I send."

* * * * *

The letter ended with messages to the party, with instructions for their way of return if they should come within the next week; and with the explanation, given above, of the series of misfortunes by which any came to be at Padley that night, and how it was that they did not attempt to break out again.

* * * * *

The capture of Mr. Anthony was, indeed, one more blow to his father; but Robin was astonished how cheerfully he bore it; and said as much when they two were alone in the garden.

The grey old man smiled, while his eyelids twitched a little.

"They say that when a man is whipped he feels no more after awhile. The former blows prepare him and dull his nerves for the later, which, I take it, is part of God's mercy. Well, Mr. Alban, my father hath been in prison a great while now; my son Thomas is a traitor, and a sworn man of her Grace; I myself have been fined and persecuted till I have had to sell land to pay the fines with. I have seen family after family fall from their faith and deny it. So I take it that I feel the joy that I have a son who is ready to suffer for it, more than the pain I have in thinking on his sufferings. The one may perhaps atone for the sins of the other, and yet help him to repentance."

* * * * *

Life

here at Langley was more encouraging than the furtive existence necessary in the north of Derbyshire.

Mr. Bassett had a confident way with him that was like wine to fainting hearts, and he had every reason to be confident; since up to the present, beyond being forced to pay the usual fines for recusancy, he had scarcely been troubled at all; and lived in considerable prosperity, having even been sheriff of Stafford in virtue of his other estates at Blore. His house at Langley was a great one, standing in a park, and showing no signs of poverty; his servants were largely Catholic; he entertained priests and refugees of all kinds freely, although discreetly; and he laughed at the notion that the persecution could be of long endurance.

The very first night the travellers had come he had spoken with considerable freedom after supper.

"Look more hearty!" he cried. "The Spanish fleet will be here before summer to relieve us of all troubles, as of all heretics, too. Her Grace will have to turn her coat once more, I think, when that comes to pass."

Mr. John glanced at him doubtfully.

"First," he said, "no man knows whether it will come. And, next, I for one am not sure if I even wish for it."

Mr. Bassett laughed loudly.

"You will dance for joy!" he said. "And why do you not know whether you wish it to come?"

"I have no taste to be a Spanish subject."

"Why, nor have I! But the King of Spain will but sail away again when he hath made terms against the privateers, whether they be those that ply on the high seas against men's bodies, or here in England against their souls. There will be no subjection of England beyond that."

Mr. John was silent.

"Why, I heard from Sir Thomas but a week ago, to ask for a little money to pay his fines with. He said that repayment should follow so soon as the fleet should come. Those were his very words."

"You sent the money, then?"

"Why, yes; I made shift that a servant should throw down a bag with ten pounds in it, into a bush, and that Brittlebank-your brother's man-should see him do it! And lo! when we looked again, the bag was gone!"

He laughed again with open mouth. Certainly he was an inspiriting man with a loud bark of his own; but Robin imagined that he would not bite too cruelly for all that. But he saw another side of him presently.

"What was that matter of Mr. Sutton, the priest who was executed in

Stafford last year?" asked Mr. John suddenly.

The face of the other changed as abruptly. His eyes became pin-points under his grey eyebrows and his mouth tightened.

"What of him?" he said.

"It was reported that you might have stayed the execution, and would not. I did not believe a word of it."

"It is true," said Mr. Bassett sharply-"at least a portion of it."

"True?"

"Listen," cried the other suddenly, "and tell me what you would have done. Mr. Sutton was taken, and was banished, and came back again, as any worthy priest would do. Then he was taken again, and condemned. I did my utmost to save him, but I could not. Then, as I would never have any part in the death of a priest for his religion, another was appointed to carry the execution through. Three days before news was brought to me by a private hand that Mr. Sutton had promised to give the names of priests whom he knew, and of houses where he had said mass, and I know not what else; and it was said to me that I might on this account stay the execution until he had told all that he could. Now I knew that I could not save his life altogether; that was forfeited and there could be no forgiveness. All that I might do was to respite him for a little-and for what? That he might damn his own soul eternally and bring a great number of good men into trouble and peril of death for themselves. I sent the messenger away again, and said that I would listen to no such tales. And Mr. Sutton died like a good priest three days after, repenting, I doubt not, bitterly, of the weakness into which he had fallen. Now, sir, what would you have done in my place?"

He wagged his face fiercely from side to side.

Mr. John put his hand over his eyes and nodded without speaking. Robin sat silent: it was not only for priests, it seemed, that life presented a tangle.

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