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   Chapter 87 No.87

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 8682

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Mr. Audrey outside grew indignant, and the more so since he was unhappy.

* * * * *

He had had the message from my lord Shrewsbury that a magistrate of her Grace should show more zeal; and, along with this, had come a private intimation that it was suspected that Mr. Audrey had at least once warned the recusants of an approaching attack. It would be as well, then, if he would manifest a little activity….

But it appeared to him the worst luck in the world that the hunt should lead him to Mistress Manners' door.

It was late in the afternoon that the informer had made his appearance at Matstead, thirsty and dishevelled, with the news that a man thought to be a Popish priest was in hiding on the moors; that he was being kept under observation by another informer; and that it was to be suspected that he was the man who had been missed at Padley when my lord had taken Garlick and Ludlam. If it were the man, it would be the priest known by the name of Alban-the fellow whom my lord's man had so much distrusted at Fotheringay, and whom he had seen again in Derby a while later. Next, if it were this man, he would almost certainly make for Padley if he were disturbed.

Mr. Audrey had bitten his nails a while as he listened to this, and then had suddenly consented. The plan suggested was simple enough. One little troop should ride to Padley, gathering reinforcements on the way, and another on foot should set out for the shepherd's hut. Then, if the priest should be gone, this second party should come on towards Padley immediately and join forces with the riders.

All this had been done, and the mounted company, led by the magistrate himself, had come up from the valley in time to see the signalling from the heights (contrived by the showing of lights now and again), which indicated that the priest was moving in the direction that had been expected, and that one man at least was on his track. They had waited there, in the valley, till the intermittent signals had reached the level ground and ceased, and had then ridden up cautiously in time to meet the informer's companion, and to learn that the fugitive had doubled suddenly back towards Booth's Edge. There they had waited then, till the dawn was imminent, and, with it, there came the party on foot, as had been arranged; then, all together, numbering about twenty-five men, they had pushed on in the direction of Mistress Manners' house.

As the house came into view, more than ever Mr. Audrey reproached his evil luck. Certainly there still were two or three chances to one that no priest would be taken at all; since, first, the man might not be a priest, and next, he might have passed the manor and plunged back again into the hills. But it was not very pleasant work, this rousing of a house inhabited by a woman for whom the magistrate had very far from unkindly feelings, and on such an errand…. So the informers marvelled at the venom with which Mr. Audrey occasionally whispered at them in the dark.

His heart sank as he caught a glimpse of a light first showing, and then suddenly extinguished, in the windows of the hall, but he was relieved to hear no comment on it from the men who walked by his horse; he even hoped that they had not seen it…. But he must do his duty, he said to himself.

* * * * *

He grew a little warm and impatient when no answer came to the knocking. He said such play-acting was absurd. Why did not the man come out courageously and deny that he was a priest? He would have a far better excuse for letting him go.

"Knock again," he cried.

And again the thunder rang through the archway, and the summons in the

Queen's name to open.

Then at last a light shone beneath the door. (It was brightening rapidly towards the dawn here in the open air, but within it would still be dark.) Then a voice grumbled within.

"Who is there?"

"Man," bellowed the magistrate, "open the door and have done with it. I tell you I am a magistrate!"

There was silence. Then the voice came again.

"How do I know that you are?"

Mr. Audrey slipped off his horse, scrambled to the door, set his hands on his knees and his mouth to the keyhole.

"Open the door, you fool, in the Queen's name…. I am Mr. Audrey, of

Matstead."

Again came the pause. The magistrate was in the act of turning to bid

his men beat the door in, when once more the voice came.

"I'll tell the mistress, sir…. She's a-bed."

* * * * *

His discomfort grew on him as he waited, staring out at the fast yellowing sky. (Beneath him the slopes towards the valley and the far-off hills on the other side appeared like a pencil drawing, delicate, minute and colourless, or, at the most, faintly tinted in phantoms of their own colours. The sky, too, was grey with the night mists not yet dissolved.) It was an unneighbourly action, this of his, he thought. He must do his best to make it as little offensive as he could. He turned to his men.

"Now, men," he said, glaring like a judge, "no violence here, unless I give the order. No breaking of aught in the house. The lady here is a friend of mine; and-"

The great bolts shot back suddenly; he turned as the door opened; and there, pale as milk, with eyes that seemed a-fire, Marjorie's face was looking at him; she was wrapped in her long cloak and her hood was drawn over her head. The space behind was crowded with faces, unrecognizable in the shadow.

* * * * *

He saluted her.

"Mistress Manners," he said, "I am sorry to incommode you in this way. But a couple of fellows tell me that a man hath come this way, whom they think to be a priest. I am a magistrate, mistress, and-"

He stopped, confounded by her face. It was not like her face at all-the face, rather, seemed as nothing; her whole soul was in her eyes, crying to him some message that he could not understand. It appeared impossible to him that this was a mere entreaty that he should leave one more priest at liberty; impossible that the mere shock and surprise should have changed her so…. He looked at her…. Then he began again:

"It is no will of mine, mistress, beyond my duty. But I hold her Grace's commission-"

She swept back again, motioning him to enter. He was astonished at his own discomfort, but he followed, and his men pressed close after; and he noticed, even in that twilight, that a look of despair went over the girl's face, sharp as pain, as she saw them.

"You have come to search my house, sir?" she asked. Her voice was as colourless as her features.

"My commission, mistress, compels me-"

Then he noticed that the doors into the hall had been pushed open, and that she was moving towards them. And he thought he understood.

"Stand back, men," he barked, so fiercely that they recoiled. "This lady shall speak with me first."

* * * * *

He passed up the hall after her. He was as unhappy as possible. He wondered what she could have to say to him; she must surely understand that no pleading could turn him; he must do his duty. Yet he would certainly do this with as little offence as he could.

"Mistress Manners-" he began.

Then she turned on him again. They were at the further end of the hall, and could speak low without being overheard.

"You must begone again," she whispered. "Oh! you must begone again. You do not understand; you-"

Her eyes still burned with that terrible eloquence; it was as the face of one on the rack.

"Mistress, I cannot begone again. I must do my duty. But I promise you-"

She was close to him, staring into his face; he could feel the heat of her breath on his face.

"You must begone at once," she whispered, still in that voice of agony. He saw her begin to sway on her feet and her eyes turn glassy. He caught her as she swayed.

"Here! you women!" he cried.

* * * * *

It was all that he could do to force himself out through the crowd of folks that looked on him. It was not that they barred his way. Rather they shrank from him; yet their eyes pulled and impeded him; it was by a separate effort that he put each foot before the other. Behind he could hear the long moan that she had given die into silence, and the chattering whispers of her women who held her. He reassured himself savagely; he would take care that no one was taken … she would thank him presently; he would but set guards at all the doors and make a cursory search; he would break a panel or two; no more. And that would save both his face and her own…. Yet he loathed even such work as this….

He turned abruptly as he came into the buttery passage.

"All the women in the hall," he said sharply. "Jack, keep the door fast till we are done."

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