Come Rack! Come Rope!
ROBERT HUGH BENSON
Author of "By What Authority?" "The King's Achievement," "Lord of the World," etc.
New York P.J. Kenedy & Sons
Very nearly the whole of this book is sober historical fact; and by far the greater number of the personages named in it once lived and acted in the manner in which I have presented them. My hero and my heroine are fictitious; so also are the parents of my heroine, the father of my hero, one lawyer, one woman, two servants, a farmer and his wife, the landlord of an inn, and a few other entirely negligible characters. But the family of the FitzHerberts passed precisely through the fortunes which I have described; they had their confessors and their one traitor (as I have said). Mr. Anthony Babington plotted, and fell, in the manner that is related; Mary languished in Chartley under Sir Amyas Paulet; was assisted by Mr. Bourgoign; was betrayed by her secretary and Mr. Gifford, and died at Fotheringay; Mr. Garlick and Mr. Ludlam and Mr. Simpson received their vocations, passed through their adventures; were captured at Padley, and died in Derby. Father Campion (from whose speech after torture the title of the book is taken) suffered on the rack and was executed at Tyburn. Mr. Topcliffe tormented the Catholics that fell into his hands; plotted with Mr. Thomas FitzHerbert, and bargained for Padley (which he subsequently lost again) on the terms here drawn out. My Lord Shrewsbury rode about Derbyshire, directed the search for recusants and presided at their deaths; priests of all kinds came and went in disguise; Mr. Owen went about constructing hiding-holes; Mr. Bassett lived defiantly at Langleys, and dabbled a little (I am afraid) in occultism; Mr. Fenton was often to be found in Hathersage—all these things took place as nearly as I have had the power of relating them. Two localities only, I think, are disguised under their names—Booth's Edge and Matstead. Padley, or rather the chapel in which the last mass was said under the circumstances described in this book, remains, to this day, close to Grindleford Station. A Catholic pilgrimage is made there every year; and I have myself once had the honour of preaching on such an occasion, leaning against the wall of the old hall that is immediately beneath the chapel where Mr. Garlick and Mr. Ludlam said their last masses, and were captured. If the book is too sensational, it is no more sensational than life itself was to Derbyshire folk between 1579 and 1588.
It remains only, first, to express my extreme indebtedness to Dom Bede Camm's erudite book—"Forgotten Shrines"—from which I have taken immense quantities of information, and to a pile of some twenty to thirty other books that are before me as I write these words; and, secondly, to ask forgiveness from the distinguished family that takes its name from the FitzHerberts and is descended from them directly; and to assure its members that old Sir Thomas, Mr. John, Mr. Anthony, and all the rest, down to the present day, outweigh a thousand times over (to the minds of all decent people) the stigma of Mr. Thomas' name. Even the apostles numbered one Judas!
ROBERT HUGH BENSON.
Feast of the Blessed Thomas More, 1912. Hare Street House, Buntingford.
There should be no sight more happy than a young man riding to meet his love. His eyes should shine, his lips should sing; he should slap his mare upon her shoulder and call her his darling. The puddles upon his way should be turned to pure gold, and the stream that runs beside him should chatter her name.
Yet, as Robin rode to Marjorie none of these things were done. It was a still day of frost; the sky was arched above him, across the high hills, like that terrible crystal which is the vault above which sits God—hard blue from horizon to horizon; the fringe of feathery birches stood like filigree-work above him on his left; on his right ran the Derwent, sucking softly among his sedges; on this side and that lay the flat bottom through which he went—meadowland broken by rushes; his mare Cecily stepped along, now cracking the thin ice of the little pools with her dainty feet, now going gently over peaty ground, blowing thin clouds from her red nostrils, yet unencouraged by word or caress from her rider; who sat, heavy and all but slouching, staring with his blue eyes under puckered eyelids, as if he went to an appointment which he would not keep.
Yet he was a very pleasant lad to look upon, smooth-faced and gallant, mounted and dressed in a manner that should give any lad joy. He wore great gauntlets on his hands; he was in his habit of green; he had his steel-buckled leather belt upon him beneath his cloak and a pair of daggers in it, with his long-sword looped up; he had his felt hat on his head, buckled again, and decked with half a pheasant's tail; he had his long boots of undressed leather, that rose above his knees; and on his left wrist sat his grim falcon Agnes, hooded and belled, not because he rode after game, but from mere custom, and to give her the air.
He was meeting his first man's trouble.
Last year he had said good-bye to Derby Grammar School—of old my lord Bishop Durdant's foundation—situated in St. Peter's churchyard. Here he had done the right and usual things; he had learned his grammar; he had fought; he had been chastised; he had robed the effigy of his pious founder in a patched doublet with a saucepan on his head (but that had been done before he had learned veneration)—and so had gone home again to Matstead, proficient in Latin, English, history, writing, good manners and chess, to live with his father, to hunt, to hear mass when a priest was within reasonable distance, to indite painful letters now and then on matters of the estate, and to learn how to bear himself generally as should one of Master's rank—the son of a gentleman who bore arms, and his father's father before him. He dined at twelve, he supped at six, he said his prayers, and blessed himself when no strangers were by. He was something of a herbalist, as a sheer hobby of his own; he went to feed his falcons in the morning, he rode with them after dinner (from last August he had found himself riding north more often than south, since Marjorie lived in that quarter); and now all had been crowned last Christmas Eve, when in the enclosed garden at her house he had kissed her two hands suddenly, and made her a little speech he had learned by heart; after which he kissed her on the lips as a man should, in the honest noon sunlight.
All this was as it should be. There were no doubts or disasters anywhere. Marjorie was an only daughter as he an only son. Her father, it is true, was but a Derby lawyer, but he and his wife had a good little estate above the Hathersage valley, and a stone house in it. As for religion, that was all well too. Master Manners was as good a Catholic as Master Audrey himself; and the families met at mass perhaps as much as four or five times in the year, either at Padley, where Sir Thomas' chapel still had priests coming and going; sometimes at Dethick in the Babingtons' barn; sometimes as far north as Harewood.
And now a man's trouble was come upon the boy. The cause of it was as follows.
Robin Audrey was no more religious than a boy of seventeen should be. Yet he had had as few doubts about the matter as if he had been a monk. His mother had taught him well, up to the time of her death ten years ago; and he had learned from her, as well as from his father when that professor spoke of it at all, that there were two kinds of religion in the world, the true and the false—that is to say, the Catholic religion and the other one. Certainly there were shades of differences in the other one; the Turk did not believe precisely as the ancient Roman, nor yet as the modern Protestant—yet these distinctions were subtle and negligible; they were all swallowed up in an unity of falsehood. Next he had learned that the Catholic religion was at present blown upon by many persons in high position; that pains and penalties lay upon all who adhered to it. Sir Thomas FitzHerbert, for instance, lay now in the Fleet in London on that very account. His own father, too, three or four times in the year, was under necessity of paying over heavy sums for the privilege of not attending Protestant worship; and, indeed, had been forced last year to sell a piece of land over on Lees Moor for this very purpose. Priests came and went at their peril.... He himself had fought two or three battles over the affair in St. Peter's churchyard, until he had learned to hold his tongue. But all this was just part of the game. It seemed to him as inevitable and eternal as the changes of the weather. Matstead Church, he knew, had once been Catholic; but how long ago he did not care to inquire. He only knew that for awhile there had been some doubt on the matter; and that before Mr. Barton's time, who was now minister there, there had been a proper priest in the place, who had read English prayers there and a sort of a mass, which he had attended as a little boy. Then this had ceased; the priest had gone and Mr. Barton come, and since that time he had never been to church there, but had heard the real mass wherever he could with a certain secrecy. And there might be further perils in future, as there might be thunderstorms or floods. There was still the memory of the descent of the Commissioners a year or two after his birth; he had been brought up on the stories of riding and counter-riding, and the hiding away of altar-plate and beads and vestments. But all this was in his bones and blood; it was as natural that professors of the false religion should seek to injure and distress professors of the true, as that the foxes should attack the poultry-yard. One took one's precautions, one hoped for the best; and one was quite sure that one day the happy ancient times his mother had told him of would come back, and Christ's cause be vindicated.
And now the foundations of the earth were moved and heaven reeled above him; for his father, after a month or two of brooding, had announced, on St. Stephen's Day, that he could tolerate it no longer; that God's demands were unreasonable; that, after all, the Protestant religion was the religion of her Grace, that men must learn to move with the times, and that he had paid his last fine. At Easter, he observed, he would take the bread and wine in Matstead Church, and Robin would take them too.
The sun stood half-way towards his setting as Robin rode up from the valley, past Padley, over the steep ascent that led towards Booth's Edge. The boy was brighter a little as he came up; he had counted above eighty snipe within the last mile and a half, and he was coming near to Marjorie. About him, rising higher as he rose, stood the great low-backed hills. Cecily stepped out more sharply, snuffing delicately, for she knew her way well enough by now, and looked for a feed; and the boy's perplexities stood off from him a little. Matters must surely be better so soon as Marjorie's clear eyes looked upon them.
Then the roofs of Padley disappeared behind him, and he saw the smoke going up from the little timbered Hall, standing back against its bare wind-blown trees.
A great clatter and din of barking broke out as the mare's hoofs sounded on the half-paved space before the great door; and then, in the pause, a gaggling of geese, solemn and earnest, from out of sight. Jacob led the outcry, a great mastiff, chained by the entrance, of the breed of which three are set to meet a bear and four a lion. Then two harriers whipped round the corner, and a terrier's head showed itself over the wall of the herb-garden on the left, as a man, bareheaded, in his shirt and breeches, ran out suddenly with a thonged whip, in time to meet a pair of spaniels in full career. Robin sat his horse silently till peace was restored, his right leg flung across the pommel, untwisting Agnes' leash from his fist. Then he asked for Mistress Marjorie, and dropped to the ground, leaving his mare and falcon in the man's hands, with an air.
He flicked his fingers to growling Jacob as he went past to the side entrance on the east, stepped in through the little door that was beside the great one, and passed on as he had been bidden into the little court, turned to the left, went up an outside staircase, and so down a little passage to the ladies' parlour, where he knocked upon the door. The voice he knew called to him from within; and he went in, smiling to himself. Then he took the girl who awaited him there in both his arms, and kissed her twice—first her hands and then her lips, for respect should come first and ardour second.
"My love," said Robin, and threw off his hat with the pheasant's tail, for coolness' sake.
* * * * *
It was a sweet room this which he already knew by heart; for it was here that he had sat with Marjorie and her mother, silent and confused, evening after evening, last autumn; it was here, too, that she had led him last Christmas Eve, scarcely ten days ago, after he had kissed her in the enclosed garden. But the low frosty sunlight lay in it now, upon the blue painted wainscot that rose half up the walls, the tall presses where the linen lay, the pieces of stuff, embroidered with pale lutes and wreaths that Mistress Manners had bought in Derby, hanging now over the plaster spaces. There was a chimney, too, newly built, that was thought a great luxury; and in it burned an armful of logs, for the girl was setting out new linen for the household, and the scents of lavender and burning wood disputed the air between them.
"I thought it would be you," she said, "when I heard the dogs."
She piled the last rolls of linen in an ordered heap, and came to sit beside him. Robin took one hand in his and sat silent.
She was of an age with him, perhaps a month the younger; and, as it ought to be, was his very contrary in all respects. Where he was fair, she was pale and dark; his eyes were blue, hers black; he was lusty and showed promise of broadness, she was slender.
"And what news do you bring with you now?" she said presently.
He evaded this.
"Mistress Manners?" he asked.
"Mother has a megrim," she said; "she is in her chamber." And she smiled at him again. For these two, as is the custom of young persons who love one another, had said not a word on either side—neither he to his father nor she to her parents. They believed, as young persons do, that parents who bring children into the world, hold it as a chief danger that these children should follow their example, and themselves be married. Besides, there is something delicious in secrecy.
"Then I will kiss you again," he said, "while there is opportunity."
* * * * *
Making love is a very good way to pass the time, above all when that same time presses and other disconcerting things should be spoken of instead; and this device Robin now learned. He spoke of a hundred things that were of no importance: of the dress that she wore—russet, as it should be, for country girls, with the loose sleeves folded back above her elbows that she might handle the linen; her apron of coarse linen, her steel-buckled shoes. He told her that he loved her better in that than in her costume of state—the ruff, the fardingale, the brocaded petticoat, and all the rest—in which he had seen her once last summer at Babington House. He talked then, when she would hear no more of that, of Tuesday seven-night, when they would meet for hawking in the lower chase of the Padley estates; and proceeded then to speak of Agnes, whom he had left on the fist of the man who had taken his mare, of her increasing infirmities and her crimes of crabbing; and all the while he held her left hand in both of his, and fitted her fingers between his, and kissed them again when he had no more to say on any one point; and wondered why he could not speak of the matter on which he had come, and how he should tell her. And then at last she drew it from him.
"And now, my Robin," she said, "tell me what you have in your mind. You have talked of this and that and Agnes and Jock, and Padley chase, and you have not once looked me in the eyes since you first came in."
Now it was not shame that had held him from telling her, but rather a kind of bewilderment. The affair might hold shame, indeed, or anger, or sorrow, or complacence, but he did not know; and he wished, as young men of decent birth should wish, to present the proper emotion on its right occasion. He had pondered on the matter continually since his father had spoken to him on Saint Stephen's night; and at one time it seemed that his father was acting the part of a traitor and at another of a philosopher. If it were indeed true, after all, that all men were turning Protestant, and that there was not so much difference between the two religions, then it would be the act of a wise man to turn Protestant too, if only for a while. And on the other hand his pride of birth and his education by his mother and his practice ever since drew him hard the other way. He was in a strait between the two. He did not know what to think, and he feared what Marjorie might think.
It was this, then, that had held him silent. He feared what Marjorie might think, for that was the very thing that he thought that he thought too, and he foresaw a hundred inconveniences and troubles if it were so.
"How did you know I had anything in my mind?" he asked. "Is it not enough reason for my coming that you should be here?"
She laughed softly, with a pleasant scornfulness.
"I read you like a printed book," she said. "What else are women's wits given them for?"
He fell to stroking her hand again at that, but she drew it away.
"Not until you have told me," she said.
So then he told her.
It was a long tale, for it began as far ago as last August, when his father had come back from giving evidence before the justices at Derby on a matter of witchcraft, and had been questioned again about his religion. It was then that Robin had seen moodiness succeed to anger, and long silence to moodiness. He told the tale with a true lover's art, for he watched her face and trained his tone and his manner as he saw her thoughts come and go in her eyes and lips, like gusts of wind across standing corn; and at last he told her outright what his father had said to him on St. Stephen's night, and how he himself had kept silence.
Marjorie's face was as white as a moth's wing when he was finishing, and her eyes like sunset pools; but she flamed up bright and rosy as he finished.
"You kept silence!" she cried.
"I did not wish to anger him, my dear; he is my father," he said gently.
The colour died out of her face again and she nodded once or twice, and a great pensiveness came down on her. He took her hand again softly, and she did not resist.
"The only doubt," she said presently, as if she talked to herself, "is whether you had best be gone at Easter, or stay and face it out."
"Yes," said Robin, with his dismay come fully to the birth.
Then she turned on him, full of a sudden tenderness and compassion.
"Oh! my Robin," she cried, "and I have not said a word about you and your own misery. I was thinking but of Christ's honour. You must forgive me.... What must it be for you!... That it should be your father! You are sure that he means it?"
"My father does not speak until he means it. He is always like that. He asks counsel from no one. He thinks and he thinks, and then he speaks; and it is finished."
She fell then to thinking again, her sweet lips compressed together, and her eyes frightened and wondering, searching round the hanging above the chimney-breast. (It presented Icarus in the chariot of the sun; and it was said in Derby that it had come from my lord Abbot's lodging at Bolton.)
Meantime Robin thought too. He was as wax in the hands of this girl, and knew it, and loved that it should be so. Yet he could not help his dismay while he waited for her seal to come down on him and stamp him to her model. For he foresaw more clearly than ever now the hundred inconveniences that must follow, now that it was evident that to Marjorie's mind (and therefore to God Almighty's) there must be no tampering with the old religion. He had known that it must be so; yet he had thought, on the way here, of a dozen families he knew who, in his own memory, had changed from allegiance to the Pope of Rome to that of her Grace, without seeming one penny the worse. There were the Martins, down there in Derby; the Squire and his lady of Ashenden Hall; the Conways of Matlock; and the rest—these had all changed; and though he did not respect them for it, yet the truth was that they were not yet stricken by thunderbolts or eaten by the plague. He had wondered whether there were not a way to do as they had done, yet without the disgrace of it.... However, this was plainly not to be so with him. He must put up with the inconveniences as well as he could, and he just waited to hear from Marjorie how this must be done.
She turned to him again at last. Twice her lips opened to speak, and twice she closed them again. Robin continued to stroke her hand and wait for judgment. The third time she spoke.
"I think you must go away," she said, "for Easter. Tell your father that you cannot change your religion simply because he tells you so. I do not see what else is to be done. He will think, perhaps, that if you have a little time to think you will come over to him. Well, that is not so, but it may make it easier for him to believe it for a while.... You must go somewhere where there is a priest.... Where can you go?"
"I could go to Dethick," he said.
"That is not far enough away, I think."
"I could come here," he suggested artfully.
A smile lit in her eyes, shone in her mouth, and passed again into seriousness.
"That is scarcely a mile further," she said. "We must think.... Will he be very angry, Robin?"
Robin smiled grimly.
"I have never withstood him in a great affair," he said. "He is angry enough over little things."
"Oh! he is not unjust to me. He is a good father to me."
"That makes it all the sadder," she said.
"And there is no other way?" he asked presently.
She glanced at him.
"Unless you would withstand him to the face. Would you do that, Robin?"
"I will do anything you tell me," he said simply.
"You darling!... Well, Robin, listen to me. It is very plain that sooner or later you will have to withstand him. You cannot go away every time there is communion at Matstead, or, indeed, every Sunday. Your father would have to pay the fines for you, I have no doubt, unless you went away altogether. But I think you had better go away for this time. He will almost expect it, I think. At first he will think that you will yield to him; and then, little by little (unless God's grace brings himself back to the Faith), he will learn to understand that you will not. But it will be easier for him that way; and he will have time to think what to do with you, too.... Robin, what would you do if you went away?"
Robin considered again.
"I can read and write," he said. "I am a Latinist: I can train falcons and hounds and break horses. I do not know if there is anything else that I can do."
"You darling!" she said again.
* * * * *
These two, as will have been seen, were as simple as children, and as serious. Children are not gay and light-hearted, except now and then (just as men and women are not serious except now and then). They are grave and considering: all that they lack is experience. These two, then, were real children; they were grave and serious because a great thing had disclosed itself to them in which two or three large principles were present, and no more. There was that love of one another, whose consummation seemed imperilled, for how could these two ever wed if Robin were to quarrel with his father? There was the Religion which was in their bones and blood—the Religion for which already they had suffered and their fathers before them. There was the honour and loyalty which this new and more personal suffering demanded now louder than ever; and in Marjorie at least, as will be seen more plainly later, there was a strong love of Jesus Christ and His Mother, whom she knew, from her hidden crucifix and her beads, and her Jesus Psalter—which she used every day—as well as in her own soul—to be wandering together once more among the hills of Derbyshire, sheltering, at peril of Their lives, in stables and barns and little secret chambers, because there was no room for Them in Their own places. It was this last consideration, as Robin had begun to guess, that stood strongest in the girl; it was this, too, as again he had begun to guess, that made her all that she was to him, that gave her that strange serious air of innocency and sweetness, and drew from him a love that was nine-tenths reverence and adoration. (He always kissed her hands first, it will be remembered, before her lips.)
So then they sat and considered and talked. They did not speak much of her Grace, nor of her Grace's religion, nor of her counsellors and affairs of state: these things were but toys and vanities compared with matters of love and faith; neither did they speak much of the Commissioners that had been to Derbyshire once and would come again, or of the alarms and the dangers and the priest hunters, since those things did not at present touch them very closely. It was rather of Robin's father, and whether and when the maid should tell her parents, and how this new trouble would conflict with their love. They spoke, that is to say, of their own business and of God's; and of nothing else. The frosty sunshine crept down the painted wainscot and lay at last at their feet, reddening to rosiness....
Robin rode away at last with a very clear idea of what he was to do in the immediate present, and with no idea at all of what was to be done later. Marjorie had given him three things—advice; a pair of beads that had been the property of Mr. Cuthbert Maine, seminary priest, recently executed in Cornwall for his religion; and a kiss—the first deliberate, free-will kiss she had ever given him. The first he was to keep, the second he was to return, the third he was to remember; and these three things, or, rather, his consideration of them, worked upon him as he went. Her advice, besides that which has been described, was, principally, to say his Jesus Psalter more punctually, to hear mass whenever that were possible, to trust in God, and to be patient and submissive with his father in all things that did not touch divine love and faith. The pair of beads that were once Mr. Maine's, he was to keep upon him always, day and night, and to use them for his devotions. The kiss—well, he was to remember this, and to return it to her upon their next meeting.
A great star came out as he drew near home. His path took him not through the village, but behind it, near enough for him to hear the barkings of the dogs and to smell upon the frosty air the scent of the wood fires. The house was a great one for these parts. There was a small gate-house before it, built by his father for dignity, with a lodge on either side and an arch in the middle, and beyond this lay the short road, straight and broad, that went up to the court of the house. This court was, on three sides of it, buildings; the hall and the buttery and the living-rooms in the midst, with the stables and falconry on the left, and the servants' lodgings on the right; the fourth side, that which lay opposite to the little gate-house, was a wall, with a great double gate in it, hung on stone posts that had, each of them, a great stone dog that held a blank shield. All this later part, the wall with the gate, the stables and the servants' lodgings, as well as the gatehouse without, had been built by the lad's father twenty years ago, to bring home his wife to; for, until that time, the house had been but a little place, though built of stone, and solid and good enough. The house stood half-way up the rise of the hill, above the village, with woods about it and behind it; and it was above these woods behind that the great star came out like a diamond in enamel-work; and Robin looked at it, and fell to thinking of Marjorie again, putting all other thoughts away. Then, as he rode through into the court on to the cobbled stones, a man ran out from the stable to take his mare from him.
"Master Babington is here," he said. "He came half an hour ago."
"He is in the hall?"
"Yes, sir; they are at supper."
* * * * *
The hall at Matstead was such as that of most esquires of means. Its dais was to the south end, and the buttery entrance and the screens to the north, through which came the servers with the meat. In the midst of the floor stood the reredos with the fire against it, and a round vent overhead in the roof through which went the smoke and came the rain. The tables stood down the hall, one on either side, with the master's table at the dais end set cross-ways. It was not a great hall, though that was its name; it ran perhaps forty feet by twenty. It was lighted, not only by the fire that burned there through the winter day and night, but by eight torches in cressets that hung against the walls and sadly smoked them; and the master's table was lighted by six candles, of latten on common days and of silver upon festivals.
There were but two at the master's table this evening, Mr. Audrey himself, a smallish, high-shouldered man, ruddy-faced, with bright blue eyes like his son's, and no hair upon his face (for this was the way of old men then, in the country, at least); and Mr. Anthony Babington, a young man scarcely a year older than Robin himself, of a brown complexion and a high look in his face, but a little pale, too, with study, for he was learned beyond his years and read all the books that he could lay hand to. It was said even that his own verses, and a prose-lament he had written upon the Death of a Hound, were read with pleasure in London by the lords and gentlemen. It was as long ago as '71, that his verses had first become known, when he was still serving in the school of good manners as page in my Lord Shrewsbury's household. They were considered remarkable for so young a boy. So it was to this company that Robin came, walking up between the tables after he had washed his hands at the lavatory that stood by the screens.
"You are late, lad," said his father.
"I was over to Padley, sir.... Good-day, Anthony."
Then silence fell again, for it was the custom in good houses to keep silence, or very nearly, at dinner and supper. At times music would play, if there was music to be had; or a scholar would read from a book for awhile at the beginning, from the holy gospels in devout households, or from some other grave book. But if there were neither music nor reading, all would hold their tongues.
Robin was hungry from his riding and the keen air; and he ate well. First he stayed his appetite a little with a hunch of cheat-bread, and a glass of pomage, while the servant was bringing him his entry of eggs cooked with parsley. Then he ate this; and next came half a wild-duck cooked with sage and sweet potatoes; and last of all a florentine which he ate with a cup of Canarian. He ate heartily and quickly, while the two waited for him and nibbled at marchpane. Then, when the doors were flung open and the troop of servants came in to their supper, Mr. Audrey blessed himself, and for them, too; and they went out by a door behind into the wainscoted parlour, where the new stove from London stood, and where the conserves and muscadel awaited them. For this, or like it, had been the procedure in Matstead hall ever since Robin could remember, when first he had come from the women to eat his food with the men.
"And how were all at Booth's Edge?" asked Mr. Audrey, when all had pulled off their boots in country fashion, and were sitting each with his glass beside him. (Through the door behind came the clamour of the farm-men and the keepers of the chase and the servants, over their food.)
"I saw Marjorie only, sir," said the boy. "Mr. Manners was in Derby, and Mrs. Manners had a megrim."
"Mrs. Manners is ageing swifter than her husband," observed Anthony.
There seemed a constraint upon the company this evening. Robin spoke of his ride, of things which he had seen upon it, of a wood that should be thinned next year; and Anthony made a quip or two such as he was accustomed to make; but the master sat silent for the most part, speaking to the lads once or twice for civility's sake, but no more. And presently silences began to fall, that were very unusual things in Mr. Anthony's company, for he had a quick and a gay wit, and talked enough for five. Robin knew very well what was the matter; it was what lay upon his own heart as heavy as lead; but he was sorry that the signs of it should be so evident, and wondered what he should say to his friend Anthony when the time came for telling; since Anthony was as ardent for the old Faith as any in the land. It was a bitter time, this, for the old families that served God as their fathers had, and desired to serve their prince too; for, now and again, the rumour would go abroad that another house had fallen, and another name gone from the old roll. And what would Anthony Babington say, thought the lad, when he heard that Mr. Audrey, who had been so hot and persevered so long, must be added to these?
And then, on a sudden, Anthony himself opened on a matter that was at least cognate.
"I was hearing to-day from Mr. Thomas FitzHerbert that his uncle would be let out again of the Fleet soon to collect his fines."
He spoke bitterly; and, indeed, there was reason; for not only were the recusants (as the Catholics were named) put in prison for their faith, but fined for it as well, and let out of prison to raise money for this, by selling their farms or estates.
"He will go to Norbury?" asked Robin.
"He will come to Padley, too, it is thought. Her Grace must have her money for her ships and her men, and for her pursuivants to catch us all with; and it is we that must pay. Shall you sell again this year, sir?"
Mr. Audrey shook his head, pursing up his lips and staring upon the fire.
"I can sell no more," he said.
Then an agony seized upon Robin lest his father should say all that was in his mind. He knew it must be said; yet he feared its saying, and with a quick wit he spoke of that which he knew would divert his friend.
"And the Queen of the Scots," he said. "Have you heard more of her?"
Now Anthony Babington was one of those spirits that live largely within themselves, and therefore see that which is without through a haze or mist of their own moods. He read much in the poets; you would say that Vergil and Ovid, as well as the poets of his own day, were his friends; he lived within, surrounded by his own images, and therefore he loved and hated with ten times the ardour of a common man. He was furious for the Old Faith, furious against the new; he dreamed of wars and gallantry and splendour; you could see it even in his dress, in his furred doublet, the embroideries at his throat, his silver-hilted rapier, as well as in his port and countenance: and the burning heart of all his images, the mirror on earth of Mary in heaven, the emblem of his piety, the mistress of his dreams—she who embodied for him what the courtiers in London protested that Elizabeth embodied for them—the pearl of great price, the one among ten thousand—this, for him, was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, now prisoner in her cousin's hands, going to and fro from house to house, with a guard about her, yet with all the seeming of liberty and none of its reality....
The rough bitterness died out of the boy's face, and a look came upon it as of one who sees a vision.
"Queen Mary?" he said, as if he pronounced the name of the Mother of God. "Yes; I have heard of her.... She is in Norfolk, I think."
Then he let flow out of him the stream that always ran in his heart like sorrowful music ever since the day when first, as a page, in my Lord Shrewsbury's house in Sheffield, he had set eyes on that queen of sorrows. Then, again, upon the occasion of his journey to Paris, he had met with Mr. Morgan, her servant, and the Bishop of Glasgow, her friend, whose talk had excited and inspired him. He had learned from them something more of her glories and beauties, and remembering what he had seen of her, adored her the more. He leaned back now, shading his eyes from the candles upon the table, and began to sing his love and his queen. He told of new insults that had been put upon her, new deprivations of what was left to her of liberty; he did not speak now of Elizabeth by name, since a fountain, even of talk, should not give out at once sweet water and bitter; but he spoke of the day when Mary should come herself to the throne of England, and take that which was already hers; when the night should roll away, and the morning-star arise; and the Faith should come again like the flowing tide, and all things be again as they had been from the beginning. It was rank treason that he talked, such as would have brought him to Tyburn if it had been spoken in London in indiscreet company; it was that treason which her Grace herself had made possible by her faithlessness to God and man; such treason as God Himself must have mercy upon, since He reads all hearts and their intentions. The others kept silence.
At the end he stood up. Then he stooped for his boots.
"I must be riding, sir," he said.
Mr. Audrey raised his hand to the latten bell that stood beside him on the table.
"I will take Anthony to his horse," said Robin suddenly, for a thought had come to him.
"Then good-night, sir," said Anthony, as he drew on his second boot and stood up.
* * * * *
The sky was all ablaze with stars now as they came out into the court. On their right shone the high windows of the little hall where peace now reigned, except for the clatter of the boys who took away the dishes; and the night was very still about them in the grip of the frost, for the village went early to bed, and even the dogs were asleep.
Robin said nothing as they went over the paving, for his determination was not yet ripe, and Anthony was still aglow with his own talk. Then, as the servant who waited for his master, with the horses, showed himself in the stable-arch with a lantern, Robin's mind was made up.
"I have something to tell you," he said softly. "Tell your man to wait."
"Tell your man to wait with the horses."
His heart beat hot and thick in his throat as he led the way through the screens and out beyond the hall and down the steps again into the pleasaunce. Anthony took him by the sleeve once or twice, but he said nothing, and went on across the grass, and out through the open iron gate that gave upon the woods. He dared not say what he had to say within the precincts of the house, for fear he should be overheard and the shame known before its time. Then, when they had gone a little way into the wood, into the dark out of the starlight, Robin turned; and, as he turned, saw the windows of the hall go black as the boys extinguished the torches.
"Well?" whispered Anthony sharply (for a fool could see that the news was to be weighty, and Anthony was no fool).
It was wonderful how Robin's thoughts had fixed themselves since his talk with Mistress Marjorie. He had gone to Padley, doubting of what he should say, doubting what she would tell him, asking himself even whether compliance might not be the just as well as the prudent way. Yet now black shame had come on him—the black shame that any who was a Catholic should turn from his faith; blacker, that he should so turn without even a touch of the rack or the threat of it; blackest of all, that it should be his own father who should do this. It was partly food and wine that had strengthened him, partly Anthony's talk just now; but the frame and substance of it all was Marjorie and her manner of speaking, and her faith in him and in God.
He stood still, silent, breathing so heavily that Anthony heard him.
"Tell me, Rob; tell me quickly."
Robin drew a long breath.
"You saw that my father was silent?" he said.
"Stay.... Will you swear to me by the mass that you will tell no one what you will hear from me till you hear it from others?"
"I will swear it," whispered Anthony in the darkness.
Again Robin sighed in a long, shuddering breath. Anthony could hear him tremble with cold and pain.
"Well," he said, "my father will leave the Church next Easter. He is tired of paying fines, he says. And he has bidden me to come with him to Matstead Church."
There was dead silence.
"I went to tell Marjorie to-day," whispered Robin. "She has promised to be my wife some day; so I told her, but no one else. She has bidden me to leave Matstead for Easter, and pray to God to show me what to do afterwards. Can you help me, Anthony?"
He was seized suddenly by the arms.
"Robin.... No ... no! It is not possible!"
"It is certain. I have never known my father to turn from his word."
* * * * *
From far away in the wild woods came a cry as the two stood there. It might be a wolf or fox, if any were there, or some strange night-bird, or a woman in pain. It rose, it seemed, to a scream, melancholy and dreadful, and then died again. The two heard it, but said nothing, one to the other. No doubt it was some beast in a snare or a-hunting, but it chimed in with the desolation of their hearts so as to seem but a part of it. So the two stood in silence. The house was quiet now, and most of those within it upon their beds. Only, as the two knew, there still sat in silence within the little wainscoted parlour, with his head on his hand and a glass of muscadel beside him—he of whom they thought—the father of one and the friend and host of the other.... It was not until this instant in the dark and to the quiet, with the other lad's hands still gripped on to his arms, that this boy understood the utter shame and the black misery of that which he had said, and the other heard.
There were excuses in plenty for Robin to ride abroad, to the north towards Hathersage or to the south towards Dethick, as the whim took him; for he was learning to manage the estate that should be his one day. At one time it was to quiet a yeoman whose domain had been ridden over and his sown fields destroyed; at another, to dispute with a miller who claimed for injury through floods for which he held his lord responsible; at a third, to see to the woodland or the fences broken by the deer. He came and went then as he willed; and on the second day, after Anthony's visit, set out before dinner to meet him, that they might speak at length of what lay now upon both their hearts.
To his father he had said no more, nor he to him. His father sat quiet in the parlour, or was in his own chamber when Robin was at home; but the lad understood very well that there was no thought of yielding. And there were a dozen things on which he himself must come to a decision. There was the first, the question as to where he was to go for Easter, and how he was to tell his father; what to do if his father forbade him outright; whether or no the priests of the district should be told; what to do with the chapel furniture that was kept in a secret place in a loft at Matstead. Above all, there hung over him the thought of what would come after, if his father held to his decision and would allow him neither to keep his religion at home nor go elsewhere.
On the second day, therefore, he rode out (the frost still holding, though the sun was clear and warm), and turned southwards through the village for the Dethick road, towards the place in which he had appointed to meet Anthony. At the entrance to the village he passed the minister, Mr. Barton, coming out of his house, that had been the priest's lodging, a middle-aged man, made a minister under the new Prayer-Book, and therefore, no priest as were some of the ministers about, who had been made priests under Mary. He was a solid man, of no great wit or learning, but there was not an ounce of harm in him. (They were fortunate, indeed, to have such a minister; since many parishes had but laymen to read the services; and in one, not twenty miles away, the squire's falconer held the living.) Mr. Barton was in his sad-coloured cloak and round cap, and saluted Robin heartily in his loud, bellowing voice.
"Riding abroad again," he cried, "on some secret errand!"
"I will give your respects to Mr. Babington," said Robin, smiling heavily. "I am to meet him about a matter of a tithe too!"
"Ah! you Papists would starve us altogether if you could," roared the minister, who wished no better than to be at peace with his neighbours, and was all for liberty.
"You will get your tithe safe enough—one of you, at least," said Robin. "It is but a matter as to who shall pay it."
He waved good-day to the minister and set his horse to the Dethick track.
* * * * *
There was no going fast to-day along this country road. The frosts and the thaws had made of it a very way of sorrows. Here in the harder parts was a tumble of ridges and holes, with edges as hard as steel; here in the softer, the faggots laid to build it up were broken or rotted through, making it no better than a trap for horses' feet; and it was a full hour before Robin finished his four miles and turned up through the winter woodland to the yeoman's farm where he was to meet Anthony. It was true, as he had said to Mr. Barton, that they were to speak of a matter of tithe—this was to be their excuse if his father questioned him—for there was a doubt as to in which parish stood this farm, for the yeoman tilled three meadows that were in the Babington estate and two in Matstead.
As he came up the broken ground on to the crest of the hill, he saw Anthony come out of the yard-gate and the yeoman with him. Then Anthony mounted his horse and rode down towards him, bidding the man stay, over his shoulder.
"It is all plain enough," shouted Anthony loud enough for the man to hear. "It is Dethick that must pay. You need not come up, Robin; we must do the paying."
Robin checked his mare and waited till the other came near enough to speak.
"Young Thomas FitzHerbert is within. He is riding round his new estates," said the other beneath his breath. "I thought I would come out and tell you; and I do not know where we can talk or dine. I met him on the road, and he would come with me. He is eating his dinner there."
"But I must eat my dinner too," said Robin, in dismay.
"Will you tell him of what you have told me? He is safe and discreet, I think."
"Why, yes, if you think so," said Robin. "I do not know him very well."
"Oh! he is safe enough, and he has learned not to talk. Besides, all the country will know it by Easter."
So they turned their horses back again and rode up to the farm.
* * * * *
It was a great day for a yeoman when three gentlemen should take their dinners in his house; and the place was in a respectful uproar. From the kitchen vent went up a pillar of smoke, and through its door, in and out continually, fled maids with dishes. The yeoman himself, John Merton, a dried-looking, lean man, stood cap in hand to meet the gentlemen; and his wife, crimson-faced from the fire, peeped and smiled from the open door of the living-room that gave immediately upon the yard. For these gentlemen were from three of the principal estates here about. The Babingtons had their country house at Dethick and their town house in Derby; the Audreys owned a matter of fifteen hundred acres at least all about Matstead; and the FitzHerberts, it was said, scarcely knew themselves all that they owned, or rather all that had been theirs until the Queen's Grace had begun to strip them of it little by little on account of their faith. The two Padleys, at least, were theirs, besides their principal house at Norbury; and now that Sir Thomas was in the Fleet Prison for his religion, young Mr. Thomas, his heir, was of more account than ever.
He was at his dinner when the two came in, and he rose and saluted them. He was a smallish kind of man, with a little brown beard, and his short hair, when he lifted his flapped cap to them, showed upright on his head; he smiled pleasantly enough, and made space for them to sit down, one at each side.
"We shall do very well now, Mrs. Merton," he said, "if you will bring in that goose once more for these gentlemen."
Then he made excuses for beginning his dinner before them: he was on his way home and must be off again presently.
It was a well-furnished table for a yeoman's house. There was a linen napkin for each guest, one corner of which he tucked into his throat, while the other corner lay beneath his wooden plate. The twelve silver spoons were laid out on the smooth elm-table, and a silver salt stood before Mr. Thomas. There was, of course, an abundance to eat and drink, even though no more than two had been expected; and John Merton himself stood hatless on the further side of the table and took the dishes from the bare-armed maids to place them before the gentlemen. There was a jack of metheglin for each to drink, and a huge loaf of miscelin (or bread made of mingled corn) stood in the midst and beyond the salt.
They talked of this and of that and of the other, freely and easily—of Mr. Thomas' marriage with Mistress Westley that was to take place presently; of the new entailment of the estates made upon him by his uncle. John Merton inquired, as was right, after Sir Thomas, and openly shook his head when he heard of his sufferings (for he and his wife were as good Catholics as any in the country); and when the room was empty for a moment of the maids, spoke of a priest who, he had been told, would say mass in Tansley next day (for it was in this way, for the most part, that such news was carried from mouth to mouth). Then, when the maids came in again, the battle of the tithe was fought once more, and Mr. Thomas pronounced sentence for the second time.
They blessed themselves, all four of them, openly at the end, and went out at last to their horses.
"Will you ride with us, sir?" asked Anthony; "we can go your way. Robin here has something to say to you."
"I shall be happy if you will give me your company for a little. I must be at Padley before dark, if I can, and must visit a couple of houses on the way."
He called out to his two servants, who ran out from the kitchen wiping their mouths, telling them to follow at once, and the three rode off down the hill.
Then Robin told him.
He was silent for a while after he had put a question or two, biting his lower lip a little, and putting his little beard into his mouth. Then he burst out.
"And I dare not ask you to come to me for Easter," he said. "God only knows where I shall be at Easter. I shall be married, too, by then. My father is in London now and may send for me. My uncle is in the Fleet. I am here now only to see what money I can raise for the fines and for the solace of my uncle. I cannot ask you, Mr. Audrey, though God knows that I would do anything that I could. Have you nowhere to go? Will your father hold to what he says?"
Robin told him yes; and he added that there were four or five places he could go to. He was not asking for help or harbourage, but advice only.
"And even of that I have none," cried Mr. Thomas. "I need all that I can get myself. I am distracted, Mr. Babington, with all these troubles."
Robin asked him whether the priests who came and went should be told of the blow that impended; for at those times every apostasy was of importance to priests who had to run here and there for shelter.
"I will tell one or two of the more discreet ones myself," said Mr. Thomas, "if you will give me leave. I would that they were all discreet, but they are not. We will name no names, if you please; but some of them are unreasonable altogether and think nothing of bringing us all into peril."
He began to bite his beard again.
"Do you think the Commissioners will visit us again?" asked Anthony. "Mr. Fenton was telling me—"
"It is Mr. Fenton and the like that will bring them down on us if any will," burst out Mr. FitzHerbert peevishly. "I am as good a Catholic, I hope, as any in the world; but we can surely live without the sacraments for a month or two sometimes! But it is this perpetual coming and going of priests that enrages her Grace and her counsellors. I do not believe her Grace has any great enmity against us; but she soon will, if men like Mr. Fenton and Mr. Bassett are for ever harbouring priests and encouraging them. It is the same in London, I hear; it is the same in Lancashire; it is the same everywhere. And all the world knows it, and thinks that we do contemn her Grace by such boldness. All the mischief came in with that old Bull, Regnans in Excelsis, in '69, and—"
"I beg your pardon, sir," came in a quiet voice from beyond him; and Robin, looking across, saw Anthony with a face as if frozen.
"Pooh! pooh!" burst out Mr. Thomas, with an uneasy air. "The Holy Father, I take it, may make mistakes, as I understand it, in such matters, as well as any man. Why, a dozen priests have said to me they thought it inopportune; and—"
"I do not permit," said Anthony with an air of dignity beyond his years, "that any man should speak so in my company."
"Well, well; you are too hot altogether, Mr. Babington. I admire such zeal indeed, as I do in the saints; but we are not bound to imitate all that we admire. Say no more, sir; and I will say no more either."
They rode in silence.
It was, indeed, one of those matters that were in dispute at that time amongst the Catholics. The Pope was not swift enough for some, and too swift for others. He had thundered too soon, said one party, if, indeed, it was right to thunder at all, and not to wait in patience till the Queen's Grace should repent herself; and he had thundered not soon enough, said the other. Whence it may at least be argued that he had been exactly opportune. Yet it could not be denied that since the day when he had declared Elizabeth cut off from the unity of the Church and her subjects absolved from their allegiance—though never, as some pretended then and have pretended ever since, that a private person might kill her and do no wrong—ever since that day her bitterness had increased yearly against her Catholic people, who desired no better than to serve both her and their God, if she would but permit that to be possible.
It would be an hour later that they bid good-bye to Mr. Thomas FitzHerbert, high among the hills to the east of the Derwent river; and when they had seen him ride off towards Wingerworth, rode yet a few furlongs together to speak of what had been said.
"He can do nothing, then," said Robin; "not even to give good counsel."
"I have never heard him speak so before," cried Anthony; "he must be near mad, I think. It must be his marriage, I suppose."
"He is full of his own troubles; that is plain enough, without seeking others. Well, I must bear mine as best I can."
They were just parting—Anthony to ride back to Dethick, and Robin over the moors to Matstead, when over a rise in the ground they saw the heads of three horsemen approaching. It was a wild country that they were in; there were no houses in sight; and in such circumstances it was but prudent to remain together until the character of the travellers should be plain; so the two, after a word, rode gently forward, hearing the voices of the three talking to one another, in the still air, though without catching a word. For, as they came nearer the voices ceased, as if the talkers feared to be overheard.
They were well mounted, these three, on horses known as Scottish nags, square-built, sturdy beasts, that could cover forty miles in the day. They were splashed, too, not the horses only, but the riders, also, as if they had ridden far, through streams or boggy ground. The men were dressed soberly and well, like poor gentlemen or prosperous yeomen; all three were bearded, and all carried arms as could be seen from the flash of the sun on their hilts. It was plain, too, that they were not rogues or cutters, since each carried his valise on his saddle, as well as from their appearance. Our gentlemen, then, after passing them with a salute and a good-day, were once more about to say good-bye one to the other, and appoint a time and place to meet again for the hunting of which Robin had spoken to Marjorie, and, indeed, had drawn rein—when one of the three strangers was seen to turn his horse and come riding back after them, while his friends waited.
The two lads wheeled about to meet him, as was but prudent; but while he was yet twenty yards away he lifted his hat. He seemed about thirty years old; he had a pleasant, ruddy face.
"Mr. Babington, I think, sir," he said.
"That is my name," said Anthony.
"I have heard mass in your house, sir," said the stranger. "My name is Garlick."
"Why, yes, sir, I remember—from Tideswell. How do you do, Mr. Garlick? This is Mr. Audrey, of Matstead."
They saluted one another gravely.
"Mr. Audrey is a Catholic, too, I think?"
Robin answered that he was.
"Then I have news for you, gentlemen. A priest, Mr. Simpson, is with us; and will say mass at Tansley next Sunday. You would like to speak with his reverence?"
"It will give us great pleasure, sir," said Anthony, touching his horse with his heel.
"I am bringing Mr. Simpson on his way. He is just fresh from Rheims. And Mr. Ludlam is to carry him further on Monday," continued Mr. Garlick as they went forward.
"He is a native of Radbourne, and has but just finished at Oxford.... Forgive me, sir; I will but just ride forward and tell them."
The two lads drew rein, seeing that he wished first to tell the others who they were, before bringing them up; and a strange little thing fell as Mr. Garlick joined the two. For it happened that by now the sun was at his setting; going down in a glory of crimson over the edge of the high moor; and that the three riders were directly in his path from where the two lads waited. Robin, therefore, looking at them, saw the three all together on their horses with the circle of the sun about them, and a great flood of blood-coloured light on every side; the priest was in the midst of the three, and the two men leaning towards him seemed to be speaking and as if encouraging him strongly. For an instant, so strange was the light, so immense the shadows on this side spread over the tumbled ground up to the lads themselves, so vast the great vault of illuminated sky, that it seemed to Robin as if he saw a vision.... Then the strangeness passed, as Mr. Garlick turned away again to beckon to them; and the boy thought no more of it at that time.
They uncovered as they rode towards the priest, and bowed low to him as he lifted his hand with a few words of Latin; and the next instant they were in talk.
Mr. Simpson, like his friends, was a youngish man at this time, with a kind face and great, innocent eyes that seemed to wonder and question. Mr. Ludlam, too, was under thirty years old, plainly not of gentleman's birth, though he was courteous and well-mannered. It seemed a great matter to these three to have fallen in with young Mr. Babington, whose family was so well-known, and whose own fame as a scholar, as well as an ardent Catholic, was all over the county.
Robin said little; he was overshadowed by his friend; but he listened and watched as the four spoke together, and learned that Mr. Simpson had been made priest scarcely a month before, and was come from Yorkshire, which was his own county, to minister in the district of the Peak at least for awhile. He heard, too, news from Douay, and that the college, it was thought, might move from there to another place under the protection of the family of De Guise, since her Grace was very hot against Douay, whence so many of her troubles proceeded, and was doing her best to persuade the Governor of the Netherlands to suppress it. However, said Mr. Simpson, it was not yet done.
Anthony, too, in his turn gave the news of the county; he spoke of Mr. Fenton, of the FitzHerberts and others that were safe and discreet persons; but he said nothing at that time of Mr. Audrey of Matstead, at which Robin was glad, since his shame deepened on him every hour, and all the more now that he had met with those three men who rode so gallantly through the country in peril of liberty or life itself. Nor did he say anything of the FitzHerberts except that they might be relied upon.
"We must be riding," said Garlick at last; "these moors are strange to me; and it will be dark in half an hour."
"Will you allow me to be your guide, sir?" asked Anthony of the priest. "It is all in my road, and you will not be troubled with questions or answers if you are in my company."
"But what of your friend, sir?"
"Oh! Robin knows the country as he knows the flat of his hand. We were about to separate as we met you."
"Then we will thankfully accept your guidance, sir," said the priest gravely.
An impulse seized upon Robin as he was about to say good-day, though he was ashamed of it five minutes later as a modest lad would be. Yet he followed it now; he leapt off his horse and, holding Cecily's rein in his arm, kneeled on the stones with both knees.
"Your blessing, sir," he said to the priest. And Anthony eyed him with astonishment.
Robin was moved, as he rode home over the high moors, and down at last upon the woods of Matstead, in a manner that was new to him, and that he could not altogether understand. He had met travelling priests before; indeed, all the priests whose masses he had ever heard, or from whom he had received the sacraments, were travelling priests who went in peril; and yet this young man, upon whose consecrated hands the oil was scarcely yet dry, moved and drew his heart in a manner that he had never yet known. It was perhaps something in the priest's face that had so affected him; for there was a look in it of a kind of surprised timidity and gentleness, as if he wondered at himself for being so foolhardy, and as if he appealed with that same wonder and surprise to all who looked on him. His voice, too, was gentle, as if tamed for the seminary and the altar; and his whole air and manner wholly unlike that of some of the priests whom Robin knew—loud-voiced, confident, burly men whom you would have sworn to be country gentlemen or yeomen living on their estates or farms and fearing to look no man in the face. It was this latter kind, thought Robin, that was best suited to such a life—to riding all day through north-country storms, to lodging hardily where they best could, to living such a desperate enterprise as a priest's life then was, with prices upon their heads and spies everywhere. It was not a life for quiet persons like Mr. Simpson, who, surely, would be better at his books in some college abroad, offering the Holy Sacrifice in peace and security, and praying for adventurers more hardy than himself. Yet here was Mr. Simpson just set out upon such an adventure, of his own free-will and choice, with no compulsion save that of God's grace.
* * * * *
There was yet more than an hour before supper-time when he rode into the court at last; and Dick Sampson, his own groom, came to take his horse from him.
"The master's not been from home to-day, sir," said Dick when Robin asked of his father.
"Not been from home?"
"No, sir—not out of the house, except that he was walking in the pleasaunce half an hour ago."
Robin ran up the steps and through the screens to see if his father was still there; but the little walled garden, so far as he could see it in the light from the hall windows, was empty; and, indeed, it would be strange for any man to walk in such a place at such an hour. He wondered, too, to hear that his father had not been from home; for on all days, except he were ill, he would be about the estate, here and there. As he came back to the screens he heard a step going up and down in the hall, and on looking in met his father face to face. The old man had his hat on his head, but no cloak on his shoulders, though even with the fire the place was cold. It was plain that he had been walking up and down to warm himself. Robin could not make out his face very well, as he stood with his back to a torch.
"Where have you been, my lad?"
"I went to meet Anthony at one of the Dethick farms, sir—John Merton's."
"You met no one else?"
"Yes, sir; Mr. Thomas FitzHerbert was there and dined with us. He rode with us, too, a little way." And then as he was on the point of speaking of the priest, he stopped himself; and in an instant knew that never again must he speak of a priest to his father; his father had already lost his right to that. His father looked at him a moment, standing with his hands clasped behind his back.
"Have you heard anything of a priest that is newly come to these parts—or coming?"
"Yes, sir. I hear mass is to be said ... in the district on Sunday."
"Where is mass to be said?"
Robin drew along breath, lifted his eyes to his father's and then dropped them again.
"Did you hear me, sir? Where is mass to be said?"
Again Robin lifted and again dropped his eyes.
"What is the priest's name?"
Again there was dead silence. For a son, in those days, so to behave towards his father, was an act of very defiance. Yet the father said nothing. There the two remained; Robin with his eyes on the ground, expecting a storm of words or a blow in the face. Yet he knew he could do no otherwise; the moment had come at last and he must act as he would be obliged always to act hereafter.
Matters had matured swiftly in the boy's mind, all unconsciously to himself. Perhaps it was the timid air of the priest he had met an hour ago that consummated the process. At least it was so consummated.
Then his father turned suddenly on his heel; and the son went out trembling.
"I will speak to you to-night, sir, after supper," said his father sharply a second day later, when Robin, meeting his father setting out before dinner, had asked him to give him an hour's talk.
* * * * *
Robin's mind had worked fiercely and intently since the encounter in the hall. His father had sat silent both at supper and afterwards, and the next day was the same; the old man spoke no more than was necessary, shortly and abruptly, scarcely looking his son once in the face, and the rest of the day they had not met. It was plain to the boy that something must follow his defiance, and he had prepared all his fortitude to meet it. Yet the second night had passed and no word had been spoken, and by the second morning Robin could bear it no longer; he must know what was in his father's mind. And now the appointment was made, and he would soon know all. His father was absent from dinner and the boy dined alone. He learned from Dick Sampson that his father had ridden southwards.
* * * * *
It was not until Robin had sat down nearly half an hour later than supper-time that the old man came in. The frost was gone; deep mud had succeeded, and the rider was splashed above his thighs. He stayed at the fire for his boots to be drawn off and to put on his soft-leather shoes, while Robin stood up dutifully to await him. Then he came forward, took his seat without a word, and called for supper. In ominous silence the meal proceeded, and with the same thunderous air, when it was over, his father said grace and made his way, followed by his son, into the parlour behind. He made no motion at first to pour out his wine; then he helped himself twice and left the jug for Robin.
Then suddenly he began without moving his head.
"I wish to know your intentions," he said, with irony so serious that it seemed gravity. "I cannot flog you or put you to school again, and I must know how we stand to one another."
Robin was silent. He had looked at his father once or twice, but now sat downcast and humble in his place. With his left hand he fumbled, out of sight, Mr. Maine's pair of beads. His father, for his part, sat with his feet stretched to the fire, his head propped on his hand, not doing enough courtesy to his son even to look at him.
"Do you hear me, sir?"
"Yes, sir. But I do not know what to say."
"I wish to know your intentions. Do you mean to thwart and disobey me in all matters, or in only those that have to do with religion?"
"I do not wish to thwart or disobey you, sir, in any matters except where my conscience is touched." (The substance of this answer had been previously rehearsed, and the latter part of it even verbally.)
"Be good enough to tell me what you mean by that."
Robin licked his lips carefully and sat up a little in his chair.
"You told me, sir, that it was your intention to leave the Church. Then how can I tell you of what priests are here, or where mass is to be said? You would not have done so to one who was not a Catholic, six months ago."
The man sneered visibly.
"There is no need," he said. "It is Mr. Simpson who is to say mass to-morrow, and it is at Tansley that it will be said, at six o'clock in the morning. If I choose to tell the justices, you cannot prevent it." (He turned round in a flare of anger.) "Do you think I shall tell the justices?"
Robin said nothing.
"Do you think I shall tell the justices?" roared the old man insistently.
"No, sir. Now I do not."
The other growled gently and sank back.
"But if you think that I will permit my son to flout and to my face in my own hall, and not to trust his own father—why, you are immeasurably mistaken, sir. So I ask you again how far you intend to thwart and disobey me."
A kind of despair surged up in the boy's heart—despair at the fruitlessness of this ironical and furious sort of talk; and with the despair came boldness.
"Father, will you let me speak outright, without thinking that I mean to insult you? I do not; I swear I do not. Will you let me speak, sir?"
His father growled again a sort of acquiescence, and Robin gathered his forces. He had prepared a kind of defence that seemed to him reasonable, and he knew that his father was at least just. They had been friends, these two, always, in an underground sort of way, which was all that the relations of father and son in such days allowed. The old man was curt, obstinate, and even boisterous in his anger; but there was a kindliness beneath that the boy always perceived—a kindliness which permitted the son an exceptional freedom of speech, which he used always in the last resort and which he knew his father loved to hear him use. This, then, was plainly a legitimate occasion for it, and he had prepared himself to make the most of it. He began formally:
"Sir," he said, "you have brought me up in the Old Faith, sent me to mass, and to the priest to learn my duty, and I have obeyed you always. You have taught me that a man's duty to God must come before all else—as our Saviour Himself said, too. And now you turn on me, and bid me forget all that, and come to church with you.... It is not for me to say anything to my father about his own conscience; I must leave that alone. But I am bound to speak of mine when occasion rises, and this is one of them.... I should be dishonouring and insulting you, sir, if I did not believe you when you said you would turn Protestant; and a man who says he will turn Protestant has done so already. It was for this reason, then, and no other, that I did not answer you the other day; not because I wish to be disobedient to you, but because I must be obedient to God. I did not lie to you, as I might have done, and say that I did not know who the priest was nor where mass was to be said. But I would not answer, because it is not right or discreet for a Catholic to speak of these things to those who are not Catholics—"
"How dare you say I am not a Catholic, sir!"
"A Catholic, sir, to my mind," said Robin steadily, "is one who holds to the Catholic Church and to no other. I mean nothing offensive, sir; I mean what I said I meant, and no more. It is not for me to condemn—"
"I should think not!" snorted the old man.
"Well, sir, that is my reason. And further—"
He stopped, doubtful.
"Well, sir—what further?"
"Well, I cannot come to the church with you at Easter."
His father wheeled round savagely in his chair.
"Father, hear me out, and then say what you will.... I say I cannot come with you to church at Easter, because I am a Catholic. But I do not wish to trouble or disobey you openly. I will go away from home for that time. Good Mr. Barton will cause no trouble; he wants nothing but peace. Father, you are not just to me. You have taught me too much, or you have not given me time enough—"
Again he broke off, knowing that he had said what he did not mean, but the old man was on him like a hawk.
"Not time enough, you say? Well, then—"
"No, sir; I did not mean that," wailed Robin suddenly. "I do not mean that I should change if I had a hundred years; I am sure I shall not. But—"
"You said, 'Not time enough,'" said the other meditatively. "Perhaps if I give you time—"
"Father, I beg of you to forget what I said; I did not mean to say it. It is not true. But Marjorie said—"
"Marjorie! What has Marjorie to do with it?"
Robin found himself suddenly in deep waters. He had plunged and found that he could not swim. This was the second mistake he had made in saying what he did not mean.... Again the courage of despair came to him, and he struck out further.
"I must tell you of that too, sir," he said. "Mistress Marjorie and I—"
He stopped, overwhelmed with shame. His father turned full round and stared at him.
"Go on, sir."
Robin seized his glass and emptied it.
"Well, sir. Mistress Marjorie and I love one another. We are but boy and girl, sir; we know that—"
Then his father laughed. It was laughter that was at once hearty and bitter; and, with it, came the closing of the open door in the boy's heart. As there came out, after it, sentence after sentence of scorn and contempt, the bolts, so to say, were shot and the key turned. It might all have been otherwise if the elder man had been kind, or if he had been sad or disappointed, or even if he had been merely angry; but the soreness and misery in the old man's heart—misery at his own acts and words, and at the outrage he was doing to his own conscience—turned his judgment bitter, and with that bitterness his son's heart shut tight against him.
"But boy and girl!" sneered the man. "A couple of blind puppies, I would say rather—you with your falcons and mare and your other toys, and the down on your chin, and your conscience; and she with her white face and her mother and her linen-parlour and her beads"—(his charity prevailed so far as to hinder him from more outspoken contempt)—"And you two babes have been prattling of conscience and prayers together—I make no doubt, and thinking yourselves Cecilies and Laurences and all the holy martyrs—and all this without a by-your-leave, I dare wager, from parent or father, and thinking yourselves man and wife; and you fondling her, and she too modest to be fondled, and—"
The plain truth struck him with sudden splendour, at least sufficiently strong to furnish him with a question.
"And have you told Mistress Marjorie about your sad rogue of a father?"
Robin, white with anger, held his lips grimly together and the wrath blazed in an instant up from the scornful old heart, whose very love was turned to gall.
"Tell me, sir—I will have it!" he cried.
Robin looked at him with such hard fury in his eyes that for a moment the man winced. Then he recovered himself, and again his anger rose to the brim.
"You need not look at me like that, you hound. Tell me, I say!"
"I will not!" shouted Robin, springing to his feet.
The old man was up too by now, with all the anger of his son hardened by his dignity.
"You will not?"
For a moment the fate of them both still hung in the balance. If, even at this instant, the father had remembered his love rather than his dignity, had thought of the past and its happy years, rather than of the blinding, swollen present; or, on the other side, if the son had but submitted if only for an hour, and obeyed in order that he might rule later—the whole course might have run aright, and no hearts have been broken and no blood shed. But neither would yield. There was the fierce northern obstinacy in them both; the gentle birth sharpened its edge; the defiant refusal of the son, the wounding contempt of the father not for his son only, but for his son's love—these things inflamed the hearts of both to madness. The father seized his ultimate right, and struck his son across the face.
Then the son answered by his only weapon.
For a sensible pause he stood there, his fresh face paled to chalkiness, except where the print of five fingers slowly reddened. Then he made a courteous little gesture, as if to invite his father to sit down; and as the other did so, slowly and shaking all over, struck at him by careful and calculated words, delivered with a stilted and pompous air:
"You have beaten me, sir; so, of course, I obey. Yes, I told Mistress Marjorie Manners that my father no longer counted himself a Catholic, and would publicly turn Protestant at Easter, so as to please her Grace and be in favour with the Court and with the county justices. And I have told Mr. Babington so as well, and also Mr. Thomas FitzHerbert. It will spare you the pain, sir, of making any public announcement on the matter. It is always a son's duty to spare his father pain."
Then he bowed, wheeled, and went out of the room.
Two hours later Robin was still lying completely dressed on his bed in the dark.
It was a plain little chamber where he lay, fireless, yet not too cold, since it was wainscoted from floor to ceiling, and looked out eastwards upon the pleasaunce, with rooms on either side of it. A couple of presses sunk in the walls held his clothes and boots; a rush-bottomed chair stood by the bed; and the bed itself, laid immediately on the ground, was such as was used in most good houses by all except the master and mistress, or any sick members of the family—a straw mattress and a wooden pillow. His bows and arrows, with a pair of dags or pistols, hung on a rack against the wall at the foot of his bed, and a little brass cross engraved with a figure of the Crucified hung over it. It was such a chamber as any son of a house might have, who was a gentleman and not luxurious.
A hundred thoughts had gone through his mind since he had flung himself down here shaking with passion; and these had begun already to repeat themselves, like a turning wheel, in his head. Marjorie; his love for her; his despair of that love; his father; all that they had been, one to the other, in the past; the little, or worse than little, that they would be, one to the other, in the future; the priest's face as he had seen it three days ago; what would be done at Easter, what later—all these things, coloured and embittered now by his own sorrow for his words to his father, and the knowledge that he had shamed himself when he should have suffered in silence—these things turned continually in his head, and he was too young and too simple to extricate one from the other all at once.
Things had come about in a manner which yesterday he would not have thought possible. He had never before spoken so to one to whom he owed reverence; neither had this one ever treated him so. His father had stood always to him for uprightness and justice; he had no more questioned these virtues in his father than in God. Words or acts of either might be strange or incomprehensible, yet the virtues themselves remained always beyond a doubt; and now, with the opening of the door which his father's first decision had accomplished, a crowd of questions and judgments had rushed in, and a pillar of earth and heaven was shaken at last.... It is a dreadful day when for the first time to a young man or maiden, any shadow of God, however unworthy, begins to tremble.
* * * * *
He understood presently, however, what an elder man, or a less childish, would have understood at once—that these things must be dealt with one by one, and that that which lay nearest to his hand was his own fault. Even then he fought with his conscience; he told himself that no lad of spirit could tolerate such insults against his love, to say nothing of the injustice against himself that had gone before; but, being honest, he presently inquired of what spirit such a lad would be—not of that spirit which Marjorie would approve, nor the gentle-eyed priest he had spoken with....
Well, the event was certain with such as Robin, and he was presently standing at the door of his room, his boots drawn off and laid aside, listening, with a heart beating in his ears to hinder him, for any sound from beneath. He did not know whether his father were abed or not. If not, he must ask his pardon at once.
He went downstairs at last, softly, to the parlour, and peeped in. All was dark, except for the glimmer from the stove, and his heart felt lightened. Then, as he was cold with his long vigil outside his bed, he stirred the embers into a blaze and stood warming himself.
How strange and passionless, he thought, looked this room, after the tempest that had raged in it just now. The two glasses stood there—his own not quite empty—and the jug between them. His father's chair was drawn to the table, as if he were still sitting in it; his own was flung back as he had pushed it from him in his passion. There was an old print over the stove at which he looked presently—it had been his mother's, and he remembered it as long as his life had been—it was of Christ carrying His cross.
His shame began to increase on him. How wickedly he had answered, with every word a wound! He knew that the most poisonous of them all were false; he had known it even while he spoke them; it was not to curry favour with her Grace that his father had lapsed; it was that his temper was tried beyond bearing by those continual fines and rebuffs; the old man's patience was gone—that was all. And he, his son, had not said one word of comfort or strength; he had thought of himself and his own wrongs, and being reviled he had reviled again....
There stood against the wall between the windows a table and an oaken desk that held the estate-bills and books; and beside the desk were laid clean sheets of paper, an ink-pot, a pounce-box, and three or four feather pens. It was here that he wrote, being newly from school, at his father's dictation, or his father sometimes wrote himself, with pain and labour, the few notices or letters that were necessary. So he went to this and sat down at it; he pondered a little; then he wrote a single line of abject regret.
"I ask your pardon and God's, sir, for the wicked words I said before I left the parlour. R." He folded this and addressed it with the proper superscription; and left it lying there.
It was a strange ride that he had back from Tansley next morning after mass.
Dick Sampson had met him with the horses in the stable-court at Matstead a little after four o'clock in the morning; and together they had ridden through the pitch darkness, each carrying a lantern fastened to his stirrup. So complete was the darkness, however, and so small and confined the circle of light cast by the tossing light, that, for all they saw, they might have been riding round and round in a garden. Now trees showed grim and towering for an instant, then gone again; now their eyes were upon the track, the pools, the rugged ground, the soaked meadow-grass; half a dozen times the river glimmered on their right, turbid and forbidding. Once there shone in the circle of light the eyes of some beast—pig or stag; seen and vanished again.
But the return journey was another matter; for they needed no lanterns, and the dawn rose steadily overhead, showing all that they passed in ghostly fashion, up to final solidity.
It resembled, in fact, the dawn of Faith in a soul.
First from the darkness outlines only emerged, vast and sinister, of such an appearance that it was impossible to tell their proportions or distances. The skyline a mile away, beyond the Derwent, might have been the edge of a bank a couple of yards off; the glimmering pool on the lower meadow path might be the lighted window of a house across the valley. There succeeded to outlines a kind of shaded tint, all worked in gray like a print, clear enough to distinguish tree from boulder and sky from water, yet not clear enough to show the texture of anything. The third stage was that in which colours began to appear, yet flat and dismal, holding, it seemed, no light, yet reflecting it; and all in an extraordinary cold clearness. Nature seemed herself, yet struck to dumbness. No breeze stirred the twigs overhead or the undergrowth through which they rode. Once, as the two, riding a little apart, turned suddenly together, up a ravine into thicker woods, they came upon a herd of deer, who stared on them without any movement that the eye could see. Here a stag stood with two hinds beside him; behind, Robin saw the backs and heads of others that lay still. Only the beasts kept their eyes upon them, as they went, watching, as if it were a picture only that went by. So, by little and little, the breeze stirred like a waking man; cocks crew from over the hills one to the other; dogs barked far away, till the face of the world was itself again, and the smoke from Matstead rose above the trees in front.