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   Chapter 37 IN PRISON

By What Authority? By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 28692

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Anthony found several friends in the Clink prison in Southwark, whither he was brought up from Stanfield Place after his arrest.

Life there was very strange, a combination of suffering and extraordinary relaxation. He had a tiny cell, nine feet by five, with one little window high up, and for the first month of his imprisonment wore irons; at the same time his gaoler was so much open to bribery that he always found his door open on Sunday morning, and was able to shuffle upstairs and say mass in the cell of Ralph Emerson, once the companion of Campion, and a lay-brother of the Society of Jesus. There he met a large number of Catholics-some of whom he had come across in his travels-and he even ministered the sacraments to others who managed to come in from the outside. His chief sorrow was that his friend and host had been taken to the Counter in Wood Street.

It was a month before he heard all that had happened on the night of his arrest, and on the previous days: he had been separated at once from his friends; and although he had heard his guards talking both in the hall where he had been kept the rest of the night, and during the long hot ride to London the next day, yet at first he was so bewildered by Mary's death that what they said made little impression on him. But after he had been examined both by magistrates and the Commissioners, and very little evidence was forthcoming, his irons were struck off and he was allowed much more liberty than before; and at last, to his great joy, Isabel was admitted to see him. She herself had come straight up to the Marretts' house, both of whom still lived on in Wharf Street, though old and infirm; and day by day she attempted to get access to her brother; until at last, by dint of bribery, she was successful.

Then she told him the whole story.

* * *

"When we left the garden-house," she said, "we went straight back, and Mary found Mr. Graves in the parlour off the hall. Oh, Anthony, how she ordered him about! And how frightened he was of her! The end was that he sent a message to the stables for her horses to be got ready, as she said. I went up with her to help her to make ready, and we kissed one another up there, for, you know, we dared not make as if we said good-bye downstairs. Then we came down for her to mount; and then we saw what we had not known before, that all the stable-yard was filled with the men's horses saddled and bridled. However, we said nothing, except that Mary asked a man what-what the devil he was looking at, when he stared up at her as she stood on the block drawing on her gloves before she mounted. There were one or two torches burning in cressets, and I saw her so plainly turn the corner down towards the church.

"Then I went upstairs again, but I could not go to my room, but stood at the gallery window outside looking down at the court, for I knew that if there was any danger it would come from there.

"Then presently I heard a noise, and a shouting, and a man ran in through the gates to the stable-yard; and, almost directly it seemed, three or four rode out, at full gallop across the court and down by the church. The window was open and I could hear the noise down towards the village. Then more and more came pouring out, and all turned the corner and galloped; all but one, whose horse slipped and came down with a crash. Oh, Anthony! how I prayed!

"Then I saw Mr. Lackington"-Isabel stopped a moment at the name, and then went on again-"and he was on horseback too in the court; but he was shouting to two or three more who were just mounting. 'Across the field-across the field--cut them off!' I could hear it so plainly; and I saw the stable-gate was open, and they went through, and I could hear them galloping on the grass. And then I knew what was happening; and I went back to my room and shut the door."

Isabel stopped again; and Anthony took her hand softly in his own and stroked it. Then she went on.

"Well, I saw them bring you back, from the gallery window-and ran to the top of the stairs and saw you go through into the hall where the magistrates were waiting, and the door was shut; and then I went back to my place at the window-and then presently they brought in Mary. I reached the bottom of the stairs just as they set her down. And I told them to bring her upstairs; and they did, and laid her on the bed where we had sat together all the afternoon.... And I would let no one in: I did it all myself; and then I set the tapers round her, and put the crucifix that was round my neck into her fingers, which I had laid on her breast ... and there she lay on the great bed ... and her face was like a child's, fast asleep-smiling: and then I kissed her again, and whispered, 'Thank you, Mary'; for, though I did not know all, I knew enough, and that it was for you."

Anthony had thrown his arms on the table and his face was buried in them. Isabel put out her hand and stroked his curly head gently as she went on, and told him in the same quiet voice of how Mary had tried to save him by lashing his horse, as she caught sight of the man waiting at the entrance of the field-path, and riding in between him and Anthony. The man had declared in his panic of fear before the magistrates that he had never dreamt of doing Mistress Corbet an injury, but that she had ridden across just as he drew the trigger to shoot the priest's horse and stop him that way.

When Isabel had finished Anthony still lay with his head on his arms.

"Why, Anthony, my darling," she said, "what could be more perfect? How proud I am of you both!"

She told him, too, how they had been tracked to Stanfield-Lackington had let it out in his exultation.

The sailor at Greenhithe was one of his agents-an apostate, like his master. He had recognised that the party consisted of Catholics by Anthony's breaking of the bread. He had been placed there to watch the ferry; and had sent messages at once to Nichol and Lackington. Then the party had been followed, but had been lost sight of, thanks to Anthony's ruse. Nichol had then flung out a cordon along the principal roads that bounded Stanstead Woods on the south; and Lackington, when he arrived a few hours later, had kept them there all night. The cordon consisted of idlers and children picked up at Wrotham; and the tramp who feigned to be asleep had been one of them. When they had passed, he had given the signal to his nearest neighbour, and had followed them up. Nichol was soon at the place, and after them; and had followed to Stanfield with Lackington behind. Then watchers had been set round the house; the magistrates communicated with; and as soon as Hubert and Mr. Graves had arrived the assault had been made. Hubert had not been told who the priest was; but he had leapt at an opportunity to harass Mr. Buxton: he had been given to understand that Anthony and Isabel were still in the north.

"He did not know; indeed he did not," cried Isabel piteously.

At another time, when she had gained admittance to him, she gave him messages from the Marretts, who had kept a great affection for the lad, who had told them tales of College that Christmas time; and she told him too of the coming of an old friend to see her there.

"It was poor Mr. Dent," she said; "he looks so old now. His wife died three years ago; you know he has a city-living and does chaplain's work at the Tower sometimes; and he is coming to see you, Anthony, and talk to you."

Three or four days later he came.

Anthony was greatly touched at his kindness in coming. He looked considerably older than his age; his hair had grown thin and grey about his temples, and the sharp birdlike outline of his face and features seemed blurred and indeterminate. His creed too, and his whole manner of looking at things of faith, seemed to have undergone a similar process. The two had a long talk.

"I am not going to argue with you, Mr. Norris," he said, "though I still think your religion wrong. But I have learnt this at least, that the greatest of all is charity, and if we love the same God, and His Blessed Son, and one another, I think that is best of all. I have learnt that from my wife-my dear wife," he added softly. "I used to hold much with doctrine at one time, and loved to chop arguments; but our Saviour did not, and so I will not."

Anthony was delighted that he took this line, for he knew there are some minds that apparently cannot be loyal to both charity and truth at the same time, and Mr. Dent's seemed to be one of them; so the two talked of old times at Great Keynes, and of the folks there, and at last of Hubert.

"I saw him in the City last week," said Mr. Dent, "and he is a changed man. He looks ten years older than this time last year; I scarcely know what has come to him. I know he has thrown up his magistracy, and the Lindfield parson tells me that the talk is that Mr. Maxwell is going on another voyage, and leaving his wife and children behind him again."

Anthony told him gently of Hubert's share in the events at Stanfield, adding what real and earnest attempts he had made to repair the injury he had done as soon as he had learnt that it was his friend that was in hiding.

"There was no treachery against me, Mr. Dent, you see," he added.

Mr. Dent pecked a little in the air with pursed lips and eyes fixed on the ground; and a vision of the pulpit at Great Keynes moved before Anthony's eyes.

"Yes, yes, yes," he said; "I understand-I quite understand."

Before Mr. Dent took his leave he unburdened himself of what he had really come to say.

"Master Anthony," he said, standing up and fingering his hat round and round, "I said I talked no doctrine now; but I must unsay that; and-you will not think me impertinent if I ask you something?"

"My dear Mr. Dent--" began the other, standing and smiling too.

"Thank you, thank you-I felt sure-then it is this: I do not know much about the Popish religion, though I used to once, and I may be very mistaken; but I would like you to satisfy me before I go on one point"; and he fixed his anxious peering eyes on Anthony's face. "Can you say, Master Anthony, from a full heart, that you fix all your hope and confidence for salvation in Christ's merits alone?"

Anthony smiled frankly in his face.

"Indeed, in none other," he said, "and from a full heart."

"Ah well," and the birdlike face began to beam and twitch, "and-and there is nothing of confidence in yourself and your works-and-and there is no talk of Holy Mary in the matter?"

Anthony smiled again. He wished to avoid useless controversy.

"Briefly," he said, "my belief is that I am a very great sinner, that I deserve eternal hell; but I humbly place all my trust in the Precious Blood of my Saviour, and in that alone. Does that satisfy you?"

Mr. Dent's face was breaking into smiles, and at the end he took the priest's face in his hands and kissed him gently twice on the cheeks.

"Then, my dear boy, I fear nothing for you. May that salvation you hope for be yours." And then without a word he was gone.

Anthony's conscience reproached him a little that he had said nothing of the Church to the minister; but Mr. Dent had been so peremptory about doctrine that it was hard for the younger man to say what he would have wished. He told him, however, plainly on his next visit that he held whole-heartedly too that the Catholic Church was the treasury of Grace that Christ had instituted, and added a little speech about his longing to see his old friend a Catholic too; but Mr. Dent shook his head. The corners of his eyes wrinkled a little, and a shade of his old fretfulness passed over his face.

"Nay, if you talk like that," he said, "I must be gone. I am no theologian. You must let me alone."

He gave him news this time of Mr. Buxton.

"He is in the Counter, as you know," he said, "and is a very bright and cheerful person, it seems to me. Mistress Isabel asked me to see him and give her news of him, for she cannot get admittance. He is in a cell, little and nasty; but he said to me that a Protestant prison was a Papist's pleasaunce-in fact he said it twice. And he asked very eagerly after you and Mistress Isabel. He tried, too, to inveigle me into talk of Peter his prerogative, but I would not have it. It was Lammas Day when I saw him, and he spoke much of it."

Anthony asked whether there was anything said of what punishment Mr. Buxton would suffer.

"Well," said Mr. Dent, "the Lieutenant of the Tower told me that her Grace was so sad at the death of Mistress Corbet that she was determined that no more blood should be shed than was obliged over this matter; and that Mr. Buxton, he thought, would be but deprived of his estates and banished; but I know not how that may be. But we shall soon know."

These weeks of waiting were full of consolation and refreshment to Anthony: the nervous stress of the life of the seminary priest in England, full of apprehension and suspense, crowned, as it had been in his case, by the fierce excitement of the last days of his liberty-all this had strained and distracted his soul, and the peace of the prison life, with the certainty that no efforts of his own could help him now, quieted and strengthened him for the ordeal he foresaw. At this time, too, he used to spend two or three hours a day in meditation, and found the greatest benefit in following the tranquil method of prayer prescribed by Louis de Blois, with whose writings he had made acquaintance at Douai. Each morning, too, he said a "dry mass," and during the whole of his imprisonment at the Clink managed to make his confession at least once a week, and besides his communion at mass on Sundays, communicated occasionally from the Reserved Sacrament, which he was able to keep in a neighbouring cell, unknown to his gaoler.

And so the days went by, as orderly as in a Religious House; he rose at a fixed hour, observed the greatest exactness in his devotions, and did his utmost to prevent any visitors being admitted to see him, or any from another cell coming into his own, until he had finished his first meditation and said his office. And there began to fall upon him a kind of mellow peace that rose at times of communion and prayer to a point so ravishing, that he began to understand t

hat it would not be a light cross for which such preparatory graces were necessary.

* * *

Towards the middle of September he received intelligence that evidence had been gathering against him, and that one or two were come from Lancashire under guard; and that he would be brought before the Commissioners again immediately.

Within two days this came about. He was sent for across the water to the Tower, and after waiting an hour or two with his gaoler downstairs in the basement of the White Tower, was taken up into the great Hall where the Council sat. There was a table at the farther end where they were sitting, and as Anthony looked round he saw through openings all round in the inner wall the little passage where the sentries walked, and heard their footfalls.

The preliminaries of identification and the like had been disposed of at previous examinations before Mr. Young-a name full of sinister suggestiveness to the Catholics; and so, after he had been given a seat at a little distance from the table behind which the Commissioners sat, he was questioned minutely as to his journey in the North of England.

"What were you there for, Mr. Norris?" inquired the Secretary of the Council.

"I went to see friends, and to do my business."

"Then that resolves itself into two heads: One, Who are your friends. Two, What was your business?"

Now it had been established beyond a doubt at previous examinations that he was a priest; a student of Douai who had apostatised had positively identified him; so Anthony answered boldly:

"My friends were Catholics; and my business was the reconciling of souls to their Creator."

"And to the Pope of Rome," put in Wade.

"Who is Christ's Vicar," continued Anthony.

"And a pestilent knave," concluded a fiery-faced man whom Anthony did not know.

But the Commissioners wanted more than that; it was true that Anthony was already convicted of high treason in having been ordained beyond the seas and in exercising his priestly functions in England; but the exacting of the penalty for religion alone was apt to raise popular resentment; and it was far preferable in the eyes of the authorities to entangle a priest in the political net before killing him. So they passed over for the present his priestly functions and first demanded a list of all the places where he had stayed in the north.

"You ask what is impossible," said Anthony, with his eyes on the ground and his heart beating sharply, for he knew that now peril was near.

"Well," said Wade, "let us put it another way. We know that you were at Speke Hall, Blainscow, and other places. I have a list here," and he tapped the table, "but we want your name to it."

"Let me see the paper," said Anthony.

"Nay, nay, tell us first."

"I cannot sign the paper except I see it," said Anthony, smiling.

"Give it him," said a voice from the end of the table.

"Here then," said Wade unwillingly.

Anthony got up and took the paper from him, and saw one or two places named where he had not been, and saw that it had been drawn up at any rate partly on guesswork.

He put the paper down and went back to his chair and sat down.

"It is not true," he said, looking steadily at the Secretary; "I cannot sign it."

"Do you deny that you have been to any of these places?" inquired Wade indignantly.

"The paper is not true," said Anthony again.

"Well, then, show us what is not true upon it."

"I cannot."

"We will find means to persuade you," said the Secretary.

"If God permits," said Anthony.

Wade glanced round inquiringly and shrugged his shoulders; one or two shook their heads.

"Well, then, we will turn to another point. There are known to have been certain Jesuit priests in Lancashire in November of last year-do you deny that, sir?"

"You ask too much," said Anthony, smiling again; "they may have been there for aught I know, for I certainly did not see them elsewhere at the time you mention."

Wade frowned, but the one at the end laughed loud.

"He has you there, Wade," he said.

"This is foolery," said the Secretary. "Well, these two, Father Edward Oldcorne and Father Holtby were in Lancashire in November; and you, Mr. Norris, spoke with them then. We wish to know where they are now, and you must tell us."

"You have yet to prove that I spoke with them," said Anthony, for the trap was too transparent.

"But we know that."

"That may or may not be; but it is for you to prove it."

"Nay, for you to tell us."

"For you to prove it."

Wade lost his temper.

"Well, then," he cried, "take this paper and see which of us is in the right."

Anthony rose again, wondering what the paper could be, and came towards the table. He saw it bore a name at the end, and as he advanced saw that it had an official appearance. Wade still held it; but Anthony took it in his hand too to steady it, and began to read; but as he read a mist rose before his eyes, and the paper shook violently. It was a warrant to put him to the torture.

Wade laughed a little.

"Why, see, Mr. Norris, how you tremble at the warrant; what will it be when you--"

But a voice murmured "Shame!" and he stopped and stared.

Anthony passed his hand over his eyes and went back to his chair and sat down; he saw his knees trembling as he sat, and hated himself for it; but he cried bravely:

"The flesh is weak, but, please God, the spirit is willing."

"Well, then," said Wade again, "must we execute this warrant, or will you tell us what we would know?"

"You must do what God permits," said Anthony.

Wade sat down, throwing the warrant on the table, and began to talk in a low voice to those who sat next him. Anthony fixed his eyes on the ground, and did his utmost to keep his thoughts steady.

Now he realised where he was, and what it all meant. The little door to the left, behind him, that he had noticed as he came in, was the door of which he had heard other Catholics speak, that led down to the great crypt, where so many before him had screamed and fainted and called on God, from the rack that stood at the foot of the stairs, or from the pillar with the fixed ring at its summit.

He had faced all this in his mind again and again, but it was a different thing to have the horror within arm's length; old phrases he had heard of the torture rang in his mind-a boast of Norton's, the rackmaster, who had racked Brian, and which had been repeated from mouth to mouth-that he had "made Brian a foot longer than God made him"; words of James Maxwell's that he had let drop at Douai; the remembrance of his limp; and of Campion's powerlessness to raise his hand when called upon to swear-all these things crowded on him now; and there seemed to rest on him a crushing swarm of fearful images and words. He made a great effort, and closed his eyes, and repeated the holy name of Jesus over and over again; but the struggle was still fierce when Wade's voice, harsh and dry, broke in and scattered the confusion of mind that bewildered him.

"Take the prisoner to a cell; he is not to go back to the Clink."

Anthony felt a hand on his arm, and the gaoler was looking at him with compassion.

"Come, sir," he said.

Anthony rose feeling heavy and exhausted; but remembered to bow to the Commissioners, one or two of whom returned it. Then he followed the gaoler out into the ante-room, who handed him over to one of the Tower officials.

"I must leave you here, sir," he said; "but keep a good heart; it will not be for to-day."

* * *

When Anthony got to his new cell, which was in the Salt Tower, he was bitterly angry and disappointed with himself. Why, he had turned white and sick like a child, not at the pain of the rack, not even at the sight of it, but at the mere warrant! He threw himself on his knees, and bowed down till his head beat against the boards.

"O Lord Jesus," he prayed, "give me of Thy Manhood."

* * *

He found that this prison was more rigorous than the Clink; no liberty to leave the cell could possibly be obtained, and no furniture was provided. The gaoler, when he had brought up his dinner, asked whether he could send any message for him for a bed. Anthony gave Isabel's address, knowing that the authorities were already aware that she was a Catholic, and indeed she had given bail to come up for trial if called upon, and that his information could injure neither her nor the Marretts, who were sound Church of England people; and in the afternoon a mattress and some clothes arrived for him.

Anthony noticed at dinner that the knife provided was of a very inconvenient shape, having a round blunt point, and being sharp only at a lower part of the blade; and when the keeper came up with his supper he asked him to bring him another kind. The man looked at him with a queer expression.

"What is the matter?" asked Anthony; "cannot you oblige me?"

The man shook his head.

"They are the knives that are always given to prisoners under warrant for torture."

Anthony did not understand him, and looked at him, puzzled.

"For fear they should do themselves an injury," added the gaoler.

Then the same shudder ran over his body again.

"You mean-you mean...." he began. The gaoler nodded, still looking at him oddly, and went out; and Anthony sat, with his supper untasted, staring before him.

* * *

By a kind of violent reaction he had a long happy dream that night. The fierce emotions of that day had swept over his imagination and scoured it as with fire, and now the underlying peace rose up and flooded it with sweetness.

He thought he was in the north again, high up on a moor, walking with one who was quite familiar to him, but whose person he could not remember when he woke; he did not even know whether it was man or woman. It was a perfect autumn day, he thought, like one of those he had spent there last year; the heather and the gorse were in flower, and the air was redolent from their blossoms; he commented on this to the person at his side, who told him it was always so there. Mile after mile the moor rose and dipped, and, although Skiddaw was on his right, purple and grey, yet to his left there was a long curved horizon of sparkling blue sea. It was a cloudless day overhead, and the air seemed kindling and fresh round him as it blew across the stretches of heather from the western sea. He himself felt full of an extraordinary vitality, and the mere movement of his limbs gave him joy as he went swiftly and easily forward over the heather. There was the sound of the wind in his ears, and again and again there came the gush of water from somewhere out of sight-as he had heard it in the church by Skiddaw. There was no house or building of any kind within sight, and he felt a great relief in these miles of heath and the sense of holiday that they gave him. But all the joy round him and in his heart found their point for him in the person that went with him; this presence was their centre, as a diamond in a gold ring, or as a throned figure in a Court circle. All else existed for the sake of this person;-the heather blossomed and the gorse incensed the air, and the sea sparkled, and the sky was blue, and the air kindled, and his own heart warmed and throbbed, for that only. When he tried to see who it was, there was nothing to see; the presence existed there as a centre in a sphere, immeasurable and indiscernible; sometimes he thought it was Mary, sometimes he thought it Henry Buxton, sometimes Isabel-once even he assured himself it was Mistress Margaret, and once James Maxwell-and with the very act of identification came indecision again. This uncertainty waxed into a torment, and yet a sweet torment, as of a lover who watches his mistress' shuttered house; and this torment swelled yet higher and deeper until it was so great that it had absorbed the whole radiant fragrant circle of the hills where he walked; and then came the blinding knowledge that the Presence was all these persons so dear to him, and far more; that every tenderness and grace that he had loved in them-Mary's gallantry and Isabel's serene silence and his friend's fellowship, and the rest-floated in the translucent depths of it, stained and irradiated by it, as motes in a sunbeam.

And then he woke, and it was through tears of pure joy that he saw the rafters overhead, and the great barred door, and the discoloured wall above his bed.

* * *

When his gaoler brought him dinner that day it was half an hour earlier than usual; and when Anthony asked him the reason he said that he did not know, but that the orders had run so; but that Mr. Norris might take heart; it was not for the torture, for Mr. Topcliffe, who superintended it, had told the keeper of the rack-house that nothing would be wanted that day.

He had hardly finished dinner when the gaoler came up again and said that the Lieutenant was waiting for him below, and that he must bring his hat and cloak.

Since his arrest he had worn his priest's habit every day, so he now threw the cloak over his arm and took his hat, and followed the gaoler down.

In passing through the court he went by a group of men that were talking together, and he noticed very especially a tall old man with a grey head, in a Court suit with a sword, and very lean about the throat, who looked at him hard as he passed. As he reached the archway where the Lieutenant was waiting, he turned again and saw the sunken eyes of the old man still looking after him; when he turned to the gaoler he saw the same odd look in his face that he had noticed before.

"Why do you look like that?" he asked. "Who is that old man?"

"That is Mr. Topcliffe," said the keeper.

The Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Richard Barkley, saluted him kindly at the gate, and begged him to follow him; the keeper still came after and another stepped out and joined them, and the group of four together passed out through the Lion's Tower and across the moat to a little doorway where a closed carriage was waiting. The Lieutenant and Anthony stepped inside; the two keepers mounted outside; and the carriage set off.

Then the Lieutenant turned to the priest.

"Do you know where you are going, Mr. Norris?"

"No, sir."

"You are going to Whitehall to see the Queen's Grace."

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