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   Chapter 88 No.88

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 8917

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Robin drew a long breath as the door closed behind him. Then he went forward to the table, and sat on it, swinging his feet, and looking carefully and curiously round the room, so far as the darkness would allow him; his eyes had had scarcely time yet to become accustomed to the change from the brilliant sunshine outside to the gloom of the prison. It was his first experience of prison, and, for the present, he was more interested than subdued by it.

* * * * *

It seemed to him that a lifetime had passed since the early morning, up in the hills, when he had attempted to escape by the bedroom, and had been seized as he came out of the press. Of course, he had fought; it was his right and his duty; and he had not known the utter uselessness of it, in that guarded house. He had known nothing of what was going forward. He had heard the entrance of the searchers below, and now and again their footsteps…. Then he had seen the wainscoting begin to gape before him, and had understood that his only chance was by the way he had entered. Then, as he had caught sight of his father, he had ceased his struggles.

He had not said one word to him. The shock was complete and unexpected. He had seen the old man stagger back and sink on the bed. Then he had been hurried from the room and downstairs. As the party came into the buttery entrance, there had been a great clamour; the man on guard at the hall doors had run forward; the doors had opened suddenly and Marjorie had come out, with a surge of faces behind her. But to her, too, he had said nothing; he had tried to smile; he was still faint and sick from the fight upstairs. But he had been pushed out into the air, where he saw the horses waiting, and round the corner of the house into an out-building, and there he had had time to recover.

* * * * *

It was strange how little religion had come to his aid during that hour of waiting; and, indeed, during the long and weary ride to Derby. He had tried to pray; but he had had no consolation, such as he supposed must surely come to all who suffered for Christ. It had been, instead, the tiny things that absorbed his attention; the bundle of hay in the corner; an ancient pitch-fork; the heads of his guards outside the little barred window; the sound of their voices talking. Later, when a man had come out from the house, and looked in at his door, telling him that they must start in ten minutes, and giving him a hunch of bread to eat, it had been the way the man's eyebrows grew over his nose, and the creases of his felt hat, to which he gave his mind. Somewhere, far beneath in himself, he knew that there were other considerations and memories and movements, that were even fears and hopes and desires; but he could not come at these; he was as a man struggling to dive, held up on the surface by sheets of cork. He knew that his father was in that house; that it was his father who had been the means of taking him; that Marjorie was there-yet these facts were as tales read in a book. So, too, with his faith; his lips repeated words now and then; but God was as far from him and as inconceivably unreal, as is the thought of sunshine and a garden to a miner freezing painlessly in the dark….

In the same state he was led out again presently, and set on a horse. And while a man attached one foot to the other by a cord beneath the horse's belly, he looked like a child at the arched doorway of the house; at a patch of lichen that was beginning to spread above the lintel; at the open window of the room above.

He vaguely desired to speak with Marjorie again; he even asked the man who was tying his feet whether he might do so; but he got no answer. A group of men watched him from the door, and he noticed that they were silent. He wondered if it were the tying of his feet in which they were so much absorbed.

* * * * *

Little by little, as they rode, this oppression began to lift. Half a dozen times he determined to speak with the man who rode beside him and held his horse by a leading rein; and each time he did not speak. Neither did any man speak to him. Another man rode behind; and a dozen or so went on foot. He could hear them talking together in low voices.

He was finally roused by his companion's speaking. He had noticed the man look at him now and again strangely and not unkindly.

"Is it true that you are a son of Mr. Audrey, sir?"

He was on the point of saying "Yes," when his m

ind seemed to come back to him as clear as an awakening from sleep. He understood that he must not identify himself if he could help it. He had been told at Rheims that silence was best in such matters.

"Mr. Audrey?" he said. "The magistrate?"

The man nodded. He did not seem an unkindly personage at all. Then he smiled.

"Well, well," he said. "Less said-"

He broke off and began to whistle. Then he interrupted himself once more.

"He was still in his fit," he said, "when we came away. Mistress Manners was with him."

Intelligence was flowing back in Robin's brain like a tide. It seemed to him that he perceived things with an extraordinary clearness and rapidity. He understood he must show no dismay or horror of any kind; he must carry himself easily and detachedly.

"In a fit, was he?"

The other nodded.

"I am arrested on his warrant, then? And on what charge?"

The man laughed outright.

"That's too good," he said. "Why, we, have a bundle of popery on the horse behind! It was all in the hiding-hole!"

"I am supposed to be a priest, then?" said Robin, with admirable disdain.

Again the man laughed.

"They will have some trouble in proving that," said Robin viciously.

* * * * *

He learned presently whither they were going. He was right in thinking it to be Derby. There he was to be handed over to the gaoler. The trial would probably come on at the Michaelmas assizes, five or six weeks hence. He would have leave to communicate with a lawyer when he was once safely bestowed there; but whether or no his lawyer or any other visitors would be admitted to him was a matter for the magistrates.

They ate as they rode, and reached Derby in the afternoon.

At the very outskirts the peculiar nature of this cavalcade was observed; and by the time that they came within sight of the market-square a considerable mob was hustling along on all sides. There were a few cries raised. Robin could not distinguish the words, but it seemed to him as if some were raised for him as well as against him. He kept his head somewhat down; he thought it better to risk no complications that might arise should he be recognised.

As they drew nearer the market-place the progress became yet slower, for the crowd seemed suddenly and abnormally swelled. There was a great shouting of voices, too, in front, and the smell of burning came distinctly on the breeze. The man riding beside Robin turned his head and called out; and in answer one of the others riding behind pushed his horse up level with the other two, so that the prisoner had a guard on either side. A few steps further, and another order was issued, followed by the pressing up of the men that went on foot so as to form a complete square about the three riders.

Robin put a question, but the men gave him no answer. He could see that they were preoccupied and anxious. Then, as step by step they made their way forward and gained the corner of the market-place, he saw the reason of these precautions; for the whole square was one pack of heads, except where, somewhere in the midst, a great bonfire blazed in the sunlight. The noise, too, was deafening; drums were beating, horns blowing, men shouting aloud. From window after window leaned heads, and, as the party advanced yet further, they came suddenly in view of a scaffold hung with gay carpets and ribbons, on which a civil dignitary, in some official dress, was gesticulating.

It was useless to ask a question; not a word could have been heard unless it were shouted aloud; and presently the din redoubled, for out of sight, round some corner, guns were suddenly shot off one after another; and the cheering grew shrill and piercing in contrast.

As they came out at last, without attracting any great attention, into the more open space at the entrance of Friar's Gate, Robin turned again and asked what the matter was. It was plainly not himself, as he had at first almost believed.

The man turned an exultant face to him.

"It's the Spanish fleet!" he said. "There's not a ship of it left, they say."

When they halted at the gate of the prison there was another pause, while the cord that tied his feet was cut, and he was helped from his horse, as he was stiff and constrained from the long ride under such circumstances. He heard a roar of interest and abuse, and, perhaps, a little sympathy, from the part of the crowd that had followed, as the gate close behind him.

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