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   Chapter 91 No.91

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 5544

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"Water," said a sharp voice, pricking through the enormous thickness of the bloodshot dark that had come down on him. There followed a sound of floods; then a sense of sudden coolness, and he opened his eyes once more, and became aware of unbearable pain in arms and feet. Again the whirling dark, striped with blood colour, fell on him like a blanket; again the sound of waters falling and the sense of coolness, and again he opened his eyes.

* * * * *

For a minute or two it was all that he could do to hold himself in consciousness. It appeared to him a necessity to do so. He could see a smoke-stained roof of beams and rafters, and on these he fixed his eyes, thinking that he could hold himself so, as by thin, wiry threads of sight, from falling again into the pit where all was black or blood-colour. The pain was appalling, but he thought he had gripped it at last, and could hold it so, like a wrestler.

As the pain began to resolve itself into throbs and stabs, from the continuous strain in which at first it had shown itself-a strain that was like a shrill horn blowing, or a blaze of bluish light-he began to see more, and to understand a little. There were four or five faces looking down on him: one was the face of a man he had seen somewhere in an inn … it was at Fotheringay; it was my lord Shrewsbury's man. Another was a lean face; a black hat came and went behind it; the lips were drawn in a sort of smile, so that he could see the teeth…. Then he perceived next that he himself was lying in a kind of shallow trough of wood upon the floor. He could see his bare feet raised a little and tied with cords.

Then, one by one, these sights fitted themselves into one another and made sense. He remembered that he was in Derby gaol-not in his own cell; that the lean face was of a man called Topcliffe; that a physician was there as well as the others; that they had been questioning him on various points, and that some of these points he had answered, while others he had not, and must not. Some of them concerned her Grace of the Scots…. These he had answered. Then, again, association came back….

"As Thy arms, O Christ …" he whispered.

"Now then," came the sharp voice in his ear, so close and harsh as to distress him. "These questions again…. Were there any other places besides at Padley and Booth's Edge, in the parish of Hathersage, where you said mass?"

"… O Christ, were extended on the Cross-" began the tortured man dreamily. "Ah-h-h!"….

It was a scream, whispered rather than shrieked, that was torn from him by the sharpness of the agony. His body had lifted from the floor without will of his own, twisting a little; and what seemed as strings of fiery pain had shot upwards from his feet and downwards from his w

rists as the roller was suddenly jerked again. He hung there perhaps ten or fifteen seconds, conscious only of the blinding pain-questions, questioners, roof and faces all gone and drowned again in a whirling tumult of darkness and red streaks. The sweat poured again suddenly from his whole body…. Then again he sank relaxed upon the floor, and the pulses beat in his head, and he thought that Marjorie and her mother and his own father were all looking at him….

He heard presently the same voice talking:

"-and answer the questions that are put to you…. Now then, we will begin the others, if it please you better…. In what month was it that you first became privy to the plot against her Grace?"

"Wait!" whispered the priest. "Wait, and I will answer that." (He understood that there was a trap here. The question had been framed differently last time. But his mind was all a-whirl; and he feared he might answer wrongly if he could not collect himself. He still wondered why so many friends of his were in the room-even Father Campion….)

He drew a breath again presently, and tried to speak; but his voice broke like a shattered trumpet, and he could not command it…. He must whisper.

"It was in August, I think…. I think it was August, two years ago."…

"August … you mean May or April."

"No; it was August…. At least, all that I know of the plot was when … when-" (His thoughts became confused again; it was like strings of wool, he thought, twisted violently together; a strand snapped now and again. He made a violent effort and caught an end as it was slipping away.) "It was in August, I think; the day that Mr. Babington fled, that he wrote to me; and sent me-" (He paused: he became aware that here, too, lurked a trap if he were to say he had seen Mary; he would surely be asked what he had seen her for, and his priesthood might be so proved against him…. He could not remember whether that had been proved; and so … would Father Campion advise him perhaps whether….)

The voice jarred again; and startled him into a flash of coherence. He thought he saw a way out.

"Well?" snapped the voice. "Sent you?… Sent you whither?"

"Sent me to Chartley; where I saw her Grace … her Grace of the Scots; and … 'As Thy arms, O Christ….'"

"Now then; now then-! So your saw her Grace? And what was that for?"

"I saw her Grace … and … and told her what Mr. Babington had told me."

"What was that, then?"

"That … that he was her servant till death; and … and a thousand if he had them. And so, 'As Thy arms, O-'"

"Water," barked the voice.

Again came the rush as of cataracts; and a sensation of drowning. There followed an instant's glow of life; and then the intolerable pain came back; and the heavy, red-streaked darkness….

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