He was so intent on this that he thought of little else; though still, on a strange background of another consciousness, moved scenes and ideas such as he had had at the beginning. And he was torn from this contemplation with the suddenness of a blow, by a voice speaking, it seemed, within a foot of his head.
"Well, we have those rats, at any rate."
(He perceived instantly what had happened. The men were back again in the chapel, and he had not heard them come. He supposed that he could hear the words now, because of the breaking of the panel next to his own.)
"Ralph said he was sure of the other one, too," said a second voice.
"Which was that one?"
"The fellow that was at Fotheringay."
(Robin clenched his teeth like iron.)
"Well, he is not here."
There was silence.
"I have sounded that side," said the first voice sharply.
"I tell you I have sounded it. There is no time to be lost. My lord—"
"Hark!" said the second voice. "There is my lord's man—"
There followed a movement of feet towards the door, as it seemed to the priest.
He could hear the first man grumbling to himself, and beating listlessly on the walls somewhere. Then a voice called something unintelligible from the direction of the stairs; the beating ceased, and footsteps went across the floor again into silence.
He was dazed and blinded by the light when, after infinite hours, he drew the bolts and slid the panel open.
* * * * *
He had lost all idea of time utterly: he did not know whether he should find that night had come, or that the next day had dawned. He had waited there, period after period; he marked one of them by eating food that had no taste and drinking liquid that stung his throat but did not affect his palate; he had marked another by saying compline to himself in a whisper.
During the earlier part of those periods he had followed—he thought with success—the dreadful drama that was acted in the house. Someone had made a formal inspection of all the chambers—a man who said little and moved heavily with something of a limp (he had thought this to be my lord Shrewsbury himself, who suffered from the gout): this man had walked slowly through the chapel and out again.
At a later period he had heard the horses being brought round the house; heard plainly the jingle of the bits and a sneeze or two. This had been followed by long interminable talking, muffled and indistinguishable, that came up to him from some unknown direction. Voices changed curiously in loudness and articulation as the speakers moved about.
At a later period a loud trampling had begun again, plainly from the hall: he had interpreted this to mean that the prisoners were being removed out of doors; and he had been confirmed in this by hearing immediately afterwards again the stamping of horses and the creaking of leather.
Again there had been a pause, broken suddenly by loud women's wailing. And at last the noise of horses moving off; the noise grew less; a man ran suddenly through the archway and out again, and, little by little, complete silence once more.
Yet he had not dared to move. It was the custom, he knew, sometimes to leave three or four men on guard for a day or two after such an assault, in the hope of starving out any hidden fugitives that might still be left. So he waited again—period after period; he dozed a little for weariness, propped against the narrow walls of his hidinghole; woke; felt again for food and found he had eaten it all ... dozed again.
Then he had started up suddenly, for without any further warning there had come a tiny indeterminate tapping against his panel. He held his breath and listened. It came again. Then fearlessly he drew back the bolts, slid the panel open and shut his eyes, dazzled by the light.
He crawled out at last, spent and dusty. There was looking at him only the little red-eyed maid whom he had tried to comfort at some far-off hour in his life. Her face was all contorted with weeping, and she had a great smear of dust across it.
"What time is it?" he said.
"It ... it is after two o'clock," she whispered.
"They have all gone?"
She nodded, speechless.
"Whom have they taken?"
"Mr. FitzHerbert ... the priests ... the servants."
"Mr. FitzHerbert? They found him, then?"
She stared at him with the dull incapacity to understand why he did not know all that she had seen.
"Where did they find him?" he repeated sharply.
"The master ... he opened the door to them himself."
Her face writhed itself again into grotesque lines, and she broke out into shrill wailing and weeping.
Marjorie was still in bed when the news was brought her by her friend. She did not move or speak when Mistress Alice said shortly that Mr. FitzHerbert had been taken with ten of his servants and two priests.
"You understand, my dear.... They have ridden away to Derby, all of them together. But they may come back here suddenly."
"Mr. Garlick and Mr. Ludlam were in the chimney-hole of the hall," whispered Mistress Alice, glancing fearfully behind her.
Marjorie lay back again on her pillows.
"And what of Mr. Alban?" she asked.
"Mr. Alban was upstairs. They missed him. He is coming here after dark, the maid says."
* * * * *
An hour after supper-time the priest came quietly upstairs to the parlour. He showed no signs of his experience, except perhaps by a certain brightness in his eyes and an extreme self-repression of manner. Marjorie was up to meet him; and had in her hands a paper. She hardly spoke a single expression of relief at his safety. She was as quiet and business-like as ever.
"You must lie here to-night," she said. "Janet hath your room ready. At one o'clock in the morning you must ride: here is a map of your journey. They may come back suddenly. At the place I have marked here with red there is a shepherd's hut; you cannot miss it if you follow the track I have marked. There will be meat and drink there. At night the shepherd will come from the westwards; he is called David, and you may trust him. You must lie there two weeks at least."
"I must have news of the other priests," he said.
Marjorie bowed her head.
"I will send a letter to you by Dick Sampson at the end of two weeks. Until that I can promise nothing. They may have spies round the house by this time to-morrow, or even earlier. And I will send in that letter any news I can get from Derby."
"How shall I find my way?" asked Robin.
"Until it is light you will be on ground that you know." (She flushed slightly.) "Do you remember the hawking, that time after Christmas? It is all across that ground. When daylight comes you can follow this map." (She named one or two landmarks, pointing to them on the map.) "You must have no lantern."
They talked a few minutes longer as to the way he must go and the provision that would be ready for him. He must take no mass requisites with him. David had made that a condition. Then Robin suddenly changed the subject.
"Had my father any hand in this affair at Padley?"
"I am certain he had not."
"They will execute Mr. Garlick and Mr. Ludlam, will they not?"
She bowed her head in assent.
"The Summer Assizes open on the eighteenth," she said. "There is no doubt as to how all will go."
"It is time I were in bed," he said, "if I must ride at one."
The two women knelt for his blessing.
At one o'clock Marjorie heard the horse brought round. She stepped softly to the window, knowing herself to be invisible, and peeped out.
All was as she had ordered. There was no light of any kind: she could make out but dimly in the summer darkness the two figures of horse and groom. As she looked, a third figure appeared beneath; but there was no word spoken that she could hear. This third figure mounted. She caught her breath as she heard the horse scurry a little with freshness, since every sound seemed full of peril. Then the mounted figure faded one way into the dark, and the groom another.
It was two weeks to the day that Robin received his letter.
* * * * *
He had never before been so long in utter solitude; for the visits of David did not break it; and, for other men, he saw none except a hog-herd or two in the distance once or twice. The shepherd came but once a day, carrying a great jug and a parcel of food, and set them down without the hut; he seemed to avoid even looking within; but merely took the empty jug of the day before and went away again. He was an old, bent man, with a face like a limestone cliff, grey and weather-beaten; he lived half the year up here in the wild Peak country, caring for a few sheep, and going down to the village not more than once or twice a week. There was a little spring welling up in a hollow not fifty yards away from the hut, which itself stood in a deep, natural rift among the high hills, so that men might search for it a lifetime and not come across it.
Robin's daily round was very simple. He had leave to make a fire by day, but he must extinguish it at night lest its glow should be seen, so he began his morning by mixing a little oatmeal, and then preparing his dinner. About noon, so near as he could judge by the sun, he dined; sometimes off a partridge or rabbit; on Fridays off half a dozen tiny trout; and set aside part of the cold food for supper; he had one good loaf of nearly black bread every day, and the single jug of small beer.
The greater part of the day he spent within the hut, for safety's sake, sleeping a little, and thinking a good deal. He had no books with him; even his breviary had been forbidden, since David, as a shrewd man, had made conditions, first that he should not have to speak with any refugee, second, that if the man were a priest he should have nothing about him that could prove him to be so. Mr. Maine's beads, only, had been permitted, on condition that they were hidden always beneath a stone outside the hut.
After nightfall Robin went out to attend to his horse that was tethered in the next ravine, over a crag; to shift his peg and bring him a good armful of cut grass and a bucket of water. (The saddle and bridle were hidden beneath a couple of great stones that leaned together not far away.) After doing what was necessary for his horse, he went to draw water for himself; and then took his exercise, avoiding carefully, according to instructions, every possible skyline. And it was then, for the most part, that he did his clear thinking.... He tried to fancy himself in a fortnight's retreat, such as he had had at Rheims before his reception of orders.
* * * * *
The evening of the twenty-fifth of July closed in stormy; and Robin, in an old cloak he had found placed in the but for his own use, made haste to attend to what was necessary, and hurried back as quickly as he could. He sat a while, listening to the thresh of the rain and the cry of the wind; for, up here in the high land the full storm broke on him. (The hut was wattled of osiers and clay, and kept out the wet tolerably well.)
He could see nothing from the door of his hut except the dim outline of the nearer crag thirty or forty yards off; and he went presently to bed.
* * * * *
He awoke suddenly, wide awake—as is easy for a man who is sleeping in continual expectation of an alarm—at the flash of light in his eyes. But he was at once reassured by Dick's voice.
"I have come, sir; and I have brought the mistress' letter."
Robin sat up and took the packet. He saw now that the man carried a little lantern with a slide over it that allowed only a thin funnel of light to escape that could be shut off in an instant.
"All well, Dick? I did not hear you coming."
"The storm's too loud, sir."
"Mistress Manners thinks you had best stay here a week longer, sir."
"And ... and the news?"
"It is all in the letter, sir."
Robin looked for the inscription, but there was none. Then he broke the two seals, opened the paper and began to read. For the next five minutes there was no sound, except the thresh of the rain and the cry of the wind. The letter ran as follows:
"Three more have glorified God to-day by a good confession—Mr. Garlick, Mr. Ludlam and Mr. Simpson. That is the summary. The tale in detail hath been brought to me to-day by an eye-witness.
"The trial went as all thought it would. There was never the least question of it; for not only were the two priests taken with signs of their calling upon them, but both of them had been in the hands of the magistrates before. There was no shrinking nor fear showed of any kind. But the chief marvel was that these two priests met with Mr. Simpson in the gaol; they put them together in one room, I think, hoping that Mr. Simpson would prevail upon them to do as he had promised to do; but, by the grace of God, it was all the other way, and it was they who prevailed upon Mr. Simpson to confess himself again openly as a Catholic. This greatly enraged my lord Shrewsbury and the rest; so that there was less hope than ever of any respite, and sentence was passed upon them all together, Mr. Simpson showing, at the reading of it, as much courage as any. This was all done two days ago at the Assizes; and it was to-day that the sentence was carried out.
"They were all three drawn on hurdles together to the open space by St. Mary's Bridge, where all was prepared, with gallows and cauldron and butchering block; and a great company went after them. I have not heard that they spoke much, on the way, except that a friend of Mr. Garlick's cried out to him to remember that they had often shot off together on the moors; to which Mr. Garlick made answer merrily that it was true; but that 'I am now to shoot off such a shot as I never shot in all my life.' He was merry at the trial, too, I hear; and said that 'he was not come to seduce men, but rather to induce them to the Catholic religion, that to this end he had come to the country, and for this that he would work so long as he lived.' And this he did on the scaffold, speaking to the crowd about him of the salvation of their souls, and casting papers, which he had written in prison, in proof of the Catholic faith.
"Mr. Garlick went up the ladder first, kissing and embracing it as the instrument of his death, and to encourage Mr. Simpson, as it was thought, since some said he showed signs of timorousness again when he came to the place. But he showed none when his turn came, but rather exhibited the same courage as them both. Mr. Ludlam stood by smiling while all was done; and smiling still when his turn came. His last words were, 'Venite benedicti Dei'; and this he said, seeming to see a vision of angels come to bear his soul away.
"They were cut down, all three of them, before they were dead; and the butchery done on them according to sentence; yet none of them cried out or made the least sound; and their heads and quarters were set up immediately afterwards on poles in divers places of Derby; some of them above the house that stands on the bridge and others on the bridge itself. But these, I hear, will not be there long.
"So these three have kept the faith and finished their course with joy. Laus Deo. Mr. John is in ward, for harbouring of the priests; but nothing hath been done to him yet.
"As for your reverence, I am of opinion that you had best wait another week where you are. There has been a man or two seen hereabouts whom none knew, as well as at Padley. It hath been certified, too, that Mr. Thomas was at the root of it all, that he gave the information that Mr. John and at least a priest or two would be at Padley at that time, though no man knows how he knew it, unless through servants' talk; and since Mr. Thomas knows your reverence, it will be better to be hid for a little longer. So, if you will, in a week from now, I will send Dick once, again to tell you if all be well. I look for no letter back for this since you have nothing to write with in the hut, as I know; but Dick will tell me how you do; as well as anything you may choose to say to him.
"I ask your reverence's blessing again. I do not forget your reverence in my poor prayers."
* * * * *
And so it ended, without signature—for safety's sake.
Robin looked up when he had finished to where the faint outline of the servant could be seen behind the lantern, against the greater darkness of the wall.
"You know of all that has fallen at Derby?" he said, with some difficulty.
"Well, pray God we may be willing, too, if He bids us to it."
"You had best lose no time if you are to be home before dawn. Say to Mistress Manners that I thank her for her letter; that I praise God for the graces she relates in it; and that I will do as she bids.... Dick."
"Is Mr. Audrey in any of this?"
"I do not know, sir.... I heard—" The man's voice hesitated.
"What did you hear?"
"I heard that my lord Shrewsbury wondered at his absence from the trial; and ... and that a message would be sent to Mr. Audrey to look to it to be more zealous on her Grace's commission."
"That was all?"
"Then you had best be gone. There is no more to be said. Bring me what news you can when you come again. Good-night, Dick."
"Good-night, sir.... God bless your reverence."
* * * * *
An hour later, with the first coming of the dawn, the storm ceased. (It was that same storm, if he had only known it, that had blown upon the Spanish Fleet at sea and driven it towards destruction. But of this he knew nothing.) He had not slept since Dick had gone, but had lain on his back on the turfed and blanketed bed in the corner, his hands clasped behind his head, thinking, thinking and re-thinking all that he had read just now. He had known it must happen; but there seemed to him all the difference in the world between an event and its mere certainty.... The thing was done—out to every bitter detail of the loathsome, agonizing death—and it had been two of the men whom he had seen say mass after himself—the ruddy-faced, breezy countryman, yet anointed with the sealing oil, and the gentle, studious, smiling man who had been no less vigorous than his friend....
But there was one thing he had not known, and that, the recovery of the faint heart which they had inspirited. And then, in an instant he remembered how he had seen the three, years ago, against the sunset, as he rode with Anthony....
* * * * *
His mind was full of the strange memory as he came out at last, when the black darkness began to fade to grey, and the noise of the rain on the roof had ceased, and the wind had fallen.
It was a view of extraordinary solemnity that he looked on, as he stood leaning against the rough door-post. The night was still stronger than day; overhead was as black as ever, and stars shone in it through the dissolving clouds that were passing at last. But, immediately over the grim, serrated edge of the crag that faced him to the east, a faint and tender light was beginning to burn, so faint that, as yet it seemed an absence of black rather than as of a colour itself; and in the midst of it, like a crumb of diamond, shone a single dying star. This high land was as still now as a sheltered valley, a tuft of springy grass stood out on the crag as stiff as a thin plume; and the silence, as at Padley two weeks ago, was marked rather than broken by the tinkle of water from his spring fifty yards away. The air was cold and fresh and marvellously scented, after the rain, with the clean smell of strong turf and rushes. It was as different from the peace he had had at Padley as water is different from wine; yet it was Peace, too, a confident and expectant peace that precedes the battle, rather than the rest which follows it....
How was it he had seen the three men on the moor; as he turned with Anthony? They were against the crimson west, as against a glory, the two laymen on either side, the young priest in the middle.... They had seemed to bear him up and support him; the colour of the sky was as a stain of blood; and their shadows had stretched to his own feet....
* * * * *
And there came on him in that hour one of those vast experiences that can never be told, when a flood rises in earth and air that turns them all to wine, that wells up through tired limbs, and puzzled brain and beating heart, and soothes and enkindles, all in one; when it is not a mere vision of peace that draws the eyes up in an ecstasy of sight, but a bathing in it, and an envelopment in it, of every fibre of life; when the lungs draw deep breaths of it; and the heart beats in it, and the eyes are enlightened by it; when the things of earth become at once eternal and fixed and of infinite value, and at the same instant of less value than the dust that floats in space; when there no longer appears any distinction between the finite and the eternal, between time and infinity; when the soul for that moment at least finds that rest that is the magnet and the end of all human striving; and that comfort which wipes away all tears.
It was the sixth night after Dick Sampson had come back with news of Mr. Alban; and he had already received instructions as to how he was to go twenty-four hours later. He was to walk, as before, starting after dark, not carrying a letter this time, after all, in spite of the news that he might have taken with him; for the priest would be back before morning and could hear it all then at his ease.
Every possible cause of alarm had gone; and Marjorie, for the first time for three weeks, felt very nearly as content as a year ago. Not one more doubtful visitor had appeared anywhere; and now she thought herself mistaken even about those solitary figures she had suspected before. After all, they had only been a couple of men, whose faces her servants did not know, who had gone past on the track beneath the house; one mounted, and the other on foot.
There had been something of a reaction, too, in Derby. The deaths of the three priests had made an impression; there was no doubt of that. Mr. Biddell had written her a letter on the point, saying that the blood of those martyrs might well be the peace, if it might not be the seed, of the Church in the district. Men openly said in the taverns, he reported, that it was hard that any should die for religion merely; politics were one matter and religion another. Yet the deaths had dismayed the simple Catholics, too, for the present; and at Hathersage church, scarcely ten miles away, above two hundred came to the Protestant sermon preached before my lord Shrewsbury on the first Sunday after.
The news of the Armada, too, had distracted men's minds wonderfully in another direction. News had come in already, she was informed, of an engagement or two in the English Channel, all in favour of its defenders. More than that was not known. But the beacons had blazed; and the market-place of Derby had echoed with the tramp of the train-bands; and it was not likely that at such a time the attention of the magistrates would be given to anything else.
So her plans were laid. Mr. Alban was to come here for three or four days; be provided with a complete change of clothes (all of which she had ready); shave off his beard; and then set out again for the border. He had best go to Staffordshire, she thought, for a month or two, before beginning once more in his own county.
* * * * *
She went to bed that night, happy enough, in spite of the cause, which she loved so much, seeming to fail everywhere. It was true that, under this last catastrophe, great numbers had succumbed; but she hoped that this would be but for a time. Let but a few more priests come from Rheims to join the company that had lost so heavily, and all would be well again. So she said to herself: she did not allow even in her own soul that the security of her friend and the thought that he would be with her in a day or two, had any great part in her satisfaction.
* * * * *
She awaked suddenly. At the moment she did not know what time it was or how long she had slept; but it was still dark and deathly still. Yet she could have sworn that she had heard her name called. The rushlight was burned out; but in the summer night she could still make out the outline of Mistress Alice's bed. Yet all was still there, except for the gentle breathing: it could not have been she who had called out in her sleep, or she would surely show some signs of restlessness.
She sat up listening; but there was not a sound. She lay down again; and the strange fancy seized her that it had been her mother's voice that she had heard.... It was in this room that her mother had died.... Again she sat up and looked round. All was quiet as before: the tall press at the foot of her bed glimmered here and there with lines and points of starlight.
Then, as again she began to lie down, there came the signal for which her heart was expectant, though her mind knew nothing of its coming. It was a clear rap, as of a pebble against the glass.
She was up and out of bed in a moment, and was peering out under the thick arch of the little window. And a figure stood there, bending, it seemed, for another pebble; in the very place where she had seen it, she thought, nearly three weeks ago, standing ready to mount a horse.
Then she was at Alice's bedside.
"Alice," she whispered. "Alice! Wake up.... There is someone come. You must come with me. I do not know—" Her voice faltered: she knew that she knew, and fear clutched her by the throat.
* * * * *
The porter was fast asleep, and did not move, as carrying a rushlight she went past the buttery with her friend behind her saying no word. The bolts were well oiled, and came back with scarcely a sound. Then as the door swung slowly back a figure slipped in.
"Yes," he said, "it is I.... I think I am followed.... I have but come—"
"Come in quickly," she said, and closed and bolted the door once more.
It was a horrible delight to sit, wrapped in her cloak with the hood over her head, listening to his story in the hall, and to know that it was to her house that he had come for safety. It was horrible to her that he needed it—so horrible that every shred of interior peace had left her; she was composed only in her speech, and it was a strange delight that he had come so simply. He sat there; she could see his outline and the pallor of his face under his hat, and his voice was perfectly resolute and quiet. This was his tale.
"Twice this afternoon," he said, "I saw a man against the sky, opposite my hut. It was the same man both times; he was not a shepherd or a farmer's man. The night before, when David came, he did not speak to me; but for the first time he put his head in at the hut-door when he brought the food and made gestures that I could not understand. I looked at him and shook my head, but he would say nothing, and I remembered the bond and said nothing myself. All that he would do was to shut his eyes and wave his hands. Then this last night he brought no food at all.
"I was uneasy at the sight of the man, too, in the afternoon. I think he thought that I was asleep; for when I saw him for the first time I was lying down and looking at the crag opposite. And I saw him raise himself on his hands against the sky, as if he had been lying flat on his face in the heather. I looked at him for a while, and then I flung my hand out of bed suddenly, and he was gone in a whisk. I went to the door after a time, stretching myself as if I were just awakened, and there was no sign of him.
"About an hour before sunset I was watching again; and I saw, on a sudden, a covey of birds rise suddenly about two hundred yards away to the north of the hut—that is, by the way that I should have to go down to the valleys again. They rose as if they were frightened. I kept my eyes on the place, and presently I saw a man's hat moving very slowly. It was the movement of a man crawling on his hands, drawing his legs after him.
"Then I waited for David to come, but he did not come, and I determined then to make my way down here as well as I could after dark. If there were any fellows after me, I should have a better chance of escape than if I stayed in the hut, I thought, until they could fetch up the rest; and, if not, I could lose nothing by coming a day too soon."
"But—" began the girl eagerly.
"Wait," said Robin quietly. "That is not all. I made very poor way on foot (for I thought it better to come quietly than on a horse), and I went round about again and again in the precipitous ground so that, if there were any after me, they could not tell which way I meant to go. For about two hours I heard and saw nothing of any man, and I began to think I was a fool for all my pains. So I sat down a good while and rested, and even thought that I would go back again. But just as I was about to get up again I heard a stone fall a great way behind me: it was on some rocky ground about two hundred yards away. The night was quite still, and I could hear the stone very plainly.... It was I that crawled then, further down the hill, and it was then that I saw once more a man's head move against the stars.
"I went straight on then, as quietly as I could. I made sure that it was but one that was after me, and that he would not try to take me by himself, and I saw no more of him till I came down near Padley—"
"Near Padley? Why—"
"I meant to go there first," said the priest, "and lie, there till morning. But as I came down the hill I heard the steps of him again a great way off. So I turned sharp into a little broken ground that lies there, and hid myself among the rocks—"
* * * * *
Mistress Alice lifted her hand suddenly.
"Hark!" she whispered.
Then as the three sat motionless, there came, distinct and clear, from a little distance down the hill, the noise of two or three horses walking over stony ground.
For one deathly instant the two sat looking each into the other's white face—since even the priest changed colour at the sound. (While they had talked the dawn had begun to glimmer, and the windows showed grey and ghostly on the thin morning mist.) Then they rose together. Marjorie was the first to speak.
"You must come upstairs at once," she said. "All is ready there, as you know."
The priest's lips moved without speaking. Then he said suddenly:
"I had best be off the back way; that is, if it is what I think—"
"The house will be surrounded."
"But you will have harboured me—"
Marjorie's lips opened in a smile.
"I have done that in any case," she said. She caught up the candle and blew it out, as she went towards the door.
"Come quickly," she said.
At the door Janet met them. Her old face was all distraught with fear. She had that moment run downstairs again on hearing the noise. Marjorie silenced her by a gesture....
The young carpenter had done his work excellently, and Marjorie had taken care that there had been no neglect since the work had been done. Yet so short was the time since the hearing of the horses' feet, that as the girl slipped out of the press again after drawing back the secret door, there came the loud knocking beneath, for which they had waited with such agony.
"Quick!" she said....
From within, as she waited, came the priest's whisper. "Is this to be pushed—?"
There was the sound of sliding wood and a little snap. Then she closed the doors of the press again.
Mr. Audrey outside grew indignant, and the more so since he was unhappy.
* * * * *
He had had the message from my lord Shrewsbury that a magistrate of her Grace should show more zeal; and, along with this, had come a private intimation that it was suspected that Mr. Audrey had at least once warned the recusants of an approaching attack. It would be as well, then, if he would manifest a little activity....
But it appeared to him the worst luck in the world that the hunt should lead him to Mistress Manners' door.
It was late in the afternoon that the informer had made his appearance at Matstead, thirsty and dishevelled, with the news that a man thought to be a Popish priest was in hiding on the moors; that he was being kept under observation by another informer; and that it was to be suspected that he was the man who had been missed at Padley when my lord had taken Garlick and Ludlam. If it were the man, it would be the priest known by the name of Alban—the fellow whom my lord's man had so much distrusted at Fotheringay, and whom he had seen again in Derby a while later. Next, if it were this man, he would almost certainly make for Padley if he were disturbed.
Mr. Audrey had bitten his nails a while as he listened to this, and then had suddenly consented. The plan suggested was simple enough. One little troop should ride to Padley, gathering reinforcements on the way, and another on foot should set out for the shepherd's hut. Then, if the priest should be gone, this second party should come on towards Padley immediately and join forces with the riders.
All this had been done, and the mounted company, led by the magistrate himself, had come up from the valley in time to see the signalling from the heights (contrived by the showing of lights now and again), which indicated that the priest was moving in the direction that had been expected, and that one man at least was on his track. They had waited there, in the valley, till the intermittent signals had reached the level ground and ceased, and had then ridden up cautiously in time to meet the informer's companion, and to learn that the fugitive had doubled suddenly back towards Booth's Edge. There they had waited then, till the dawn was imminent, and, with it, there came the party on foot, as had been arranged; then, all together, numbering about twenty-five men, they had pushed on in the direction of Mistress Manners' house.
As the house came into view, more than ever Mr. Audrey reproached his evil luck. Certainly there still were two or three chances to one that no priest would be taken at all; since, first, the man might not be a priest, and next, he might have passed the manor and plunged back again into the hills. But it was not very pleasant work, this rousing of a house inhabited by a woman for whom the magistrate had very far from unkindly feelings, and on such an errand.... So the informers marvelled at the venom with which Mr. Audrey occasionally whispered at them in the dark.
His heart sank as he caught a glimpse of a light first showing, and then suddenly extinguished, in the windows of the hall, but he was relieved to hear no comment on it from the men who walked by his horse; he even hoped that they had not seen it.... But he must do his duty, he said to himself.
* * * * *
He grew a little warm and impatient when no answer came to the knocking. He said such play-acting was absurd. Why did not the man come out courageously and deny that he was a priest? He would have a far better excuse for letting him go.
"Knock again," he cried.
And again the thunder rang through the archway, and the summons in the Queen's name to open.
Then at last a light shone beneath the door. (It was brightening rapidly towards the dawn here in the open air, but within it would still be dark.) Then a voice grumbled within.
"Who is there?"
"Man," bellowed the magistrate, "open the door and have done with it. I tell you I am a magistrate!"
There was silence. Then the voice came again.
"How do I know that you are?"
Mr. Audrey slipped off his horse, scrambled to the door, set his hands on his knees and his mouth to the keyhole.
"Open the door, you fool, in the Queen's name.... I am Mr. Audrey, of Matstead."
Again came the pause. The magistrate was in the act of turning to bid his men beat the door in, when once more the voice came.
"I'll tell the mistress, sir.... She's a-bed."
* * * * *
His discomfort grew on him as he waited, staring out at the fast yellowing sky. (Beneath him the slopes towards the valley and the far-off hills on the other side appeared like a pencil drawing, delicate, minute and colourless, or, at the most, faintly tinted in phantoms of their own colours. The sky, too, was grey with the night mists not yet dissolved.) It was an unneighbourly action, this of his, he thought. He must do his best to make it as little offensive as he could. He turned to his men.
"Now, men," he said, glaring like a judge, "no violence here, unless I give the order. No breaking of aught in the house. The lady here is a friend of mine; and—"
The great bolts shot back suddenly; he turned as the door opened; and there, pale as milk, with eyes that seemed a-fire, Marjorie's face was looking at him; she was wrapped in her long cloak and her hood was drawn over her head. The space behind was crowded with faces, unrecognizable in the shadow.
* * * * *
He saluted her.
"Mistress Manners," he said, "I am sorry to incommode you in this way. But a couple of fellows tell me that a man hath come this way, whom they think to be a priest. I am a magistrate, mistress, and—"
He stopped, confounded by her face. It was not like her face at all—the face, rather, seemed as nothing; her whole soul was in her eyes, crying to him some message that he could not understand. It appeared impossible to him that this was a mere entreaty that he should leave one more priest at liberty; impossible that the mere shock and surprise should have changed her so.... He looked at her.... Then he began again:
"It is no will of mine, mistress, beyond my duty. But I hold her Grace's commission—"
She swept back again, motioning him to enter. He was astonished at his own discomfort, but he followed, and his men pressed close after; and he noticed, even in that twilight, that a look of despair went over the girl's face, sharp as pain, as she saw them.
"You have come to search my house, sir?" she asked. Her voice was as colourless as her features.
"My commission, mistress, compels me—"
Then he noticed that the doors into the hall had been pushed open, and that she was moving towards them. And he thought he understood.
"Stand back, men," he barked, so fiercely that they recoiled. "This lady shall speak with me first."
* * * * *
He passed up the hall after her. He was as unhappy as possible. He wondered what she could have to say to him; she must surely understand that no pleading could turn him; he must do his duty. Yet he would certainly do this with as little offence as he could.
"Mistress Manners—" he began.
Then she turned on him again. They were at the further end of the hall, and could speak low without being overheard.
"You must begone again," she whispered. "Oh! you must begone again. You do not understand; you—"
Her eyes still burned with that terrible eloquence; it was as the face of one on the rack.
"Mistress, I cannot begone again. I must do my duty. But I promise you—"
She was close to him, staring into his face; he could feel the heat of her breath on his face.
"You must begone at once," she whispered, still in that voice of agony. He saw her begin to sway on her feet and her eyes turn glassy. He caught her as she swayed.
"Here! you women!" he cried.
* * * * *
It was all that he could do to force himself out through the crowd of folks that looked on him. It was not that they barred his way. Rather they shrank from him; yet their eyes pulled and impeded him; it was by a separate effort that he put each foot before the other. Behind he could hear the long moan that she had given die into silence, and the chattering whispers of her women who held her. He reassured himself savagely; he would take care that no one was taken ... she would thank him presently; he would but set guards at all the doors and make a cursory search; he would break a panel or two; no more. And that would save both his face and her own.... Yet he loathed even such work as this....
He turned abruptly as he came into the buttery passage.
"All the women in the hall," he said sharply. "Jack, keep the door fast till we are done."
He took particular pains to do as little damage as possible.
First he went through the out-houses, himself with a pike testing the haystacks, where he was sure that no man could be hidden. The beasts turned slow and ruminating eyes upon him as he went by their stalls.
As he passed, a little later, the inner door into the buttery passage, he could hear the beating of hands on the hall-door. He went on quickly to the kitchen, hating himself, yet determined to get all done quickly, and drove the kitchen-maid, who was crouching by the unlighted fire, out behind him, sending a man with her to bestow her in the hall. She wailed as she went by him, but it was unintelligible, and he was in no mood for listening.
"Take her in," he said; "but let no one out, nor a message, till all is done." (He thought that the kinder course.)
Then at last he went upstairs, still with his little bodyguard of four, of whom one was the man who had followed the fugitive down from the hills.
He began with the little rooms over the hall: a bedstead stood in one; in another was a table all piled with linen a third had its floor covered with early autumn fruit, ready for preserving. He struck on a panel or two as he went, for form's sake.
As he came out again he turned savagely on the informer.
"It is damned nonsense," he said; "the fellow's not here at all. I told you he'd have gone back to the hills."
The man looked up at him with a furtive kind of sneer in his face; he, too, was angry enough; the loss of the priest meant the loss of the heavy reward.
"We have not searched a room rightly yet, sir," he snarled. "There are a hundred places—"
"Not searched! You villain! Why, what would you have?"
"It's not the manner I've done it before, sir. A pike-thrust here, and a blow there—"
"I tell you I will not have the house injured! Mistress Manners—"
"Very good, sir. Your honour is the magistrate.... I am not."
The old man's temper boiled over. They were passing at that instant a half-open door, and within he could see a bare little parlour, with linen presses against the walls. It would not hide a cat.
"Do you search, then!" he cried. "Here, then, and I will watch you! But you shall pay for any wanton damage, I tell you."
The man shrugged his shoulders.
"What is the use, then—" he began.
"Bah! search, then, as you will. I will pay."
* * * * *
The noise from the hall had ceased altogether as the four men went into the parlour. It was a plain little room, with an open fireplace and a great settle beside it. There were hangings here and there. That over the hearth presented Icarus in the chariot of the sun. It seemed such a place as that in which two lovers might sit and talk together at sunset.... In one place hung a dark oil painting.
The old man went across to the window and stared out.
The sun was up by now, far away out of sight; and the whole sunlit valley lay stretched beneath beyond the slopes that led down to Padley. The loathing for his work rose up again and choked him—this desperate bullying of a few women; and all to no purpose. He stared out at the horses beneath, and at the couple of men gossiping together at their heads.... He determined to see Mistress Manners again alone presently, when she should be recovered, and have a word with her in private. She would forgive him, perhaps, when she saw him ride off empty-handed, as he most certainly meant to do.
He thought, too, of other things, this old man, as he stood, with his shoulders squared, resolute in his lack of attention to the mean work going on behind him.... He wondered whether God were angry or no. Whether this kind of duty were according to His will. Down there was Padley, where he had heard mass in the old days; Padley, where the two priests had been taken a few weeks ago. He wondered—
"If it please your honour we will break in this panel," came the smooth, sneering voice that he loathed.
He turned sullenly.
They were opposite the old picture. Beneath it there showed a crack in the wainscoting.... He could scarcely refuse leave. Besides, the woodwork was flawed in any case—he would pay for a new panel himself.
"There is nothing there!" he said doubtfully.
"Oh, no, sir," said the man with a peculiar look. "It is but to make a show—"
The old man's brows came down angrily. Then he nodded; and, leaning against the window, watched them.
* * * * *
One of his own men came forward with a hammer and chisel. He placed the chisel at the edge of the cracked panel, where the informer directed, and struck a blow or two. There was the unmistakable dull sound of wood against stone—not an echo of resonance. The old man smiled grimly to himself. The man must be a fool if he thought there could be any hole there!... Well; he would let them do what they would here; and then forbid any further damage.... He wondered if the priest really were in the house or no.
The two men had their heads together now, eyeing the crack they had made.... Then the informer said something in a low voice that the old man could not hear; and the other, handing him the chisel and hammer, went out of the room, beckoning to one of the two others that stood waiting at the door.
"Well?" sneered the old man. "Have you caught your bird?
"Not yet, sir."
He could hear the steps of the others in the next room; and then silence.
"What are they doing there?" he asked suddenly.
"Nothing, sir.... I just bade a man wait on that side."
The man was once more inserting the chisel in the top of the wainscoting; then he presently began to drive it down with the hammer as if to detach it from the wall.
Suddenly he stopped; and at the same instant the old man heard some faint, muffled noise, as of footsteps moving either in the wall or beyond it.
"What is that?"
The man said nothing; he appeared to be listening.
"What is that?" demanded the other again, with a strange uneasiness at his heart. Was it possible, after all! Then the man dropped his chisel and hammer and darted out and vanished. A sudden noise of voices and tramplings broke out somewhere out of sight.
"God's blood!" roared the old man in anger and dismay. "I believe they have the poor devil!"
* * * * *
He ran out, two steps down the passage and in again at the door of the next room. It was a bedroom, with two beds side by side: a great press with open doors stood between the hearth and the window; and, in the midst of the floor, five men struggled and swayed together. The fifth was a bearded young man, well dressed; but he could not see his face.
Then they had him tight; his hands were twisted behind his back; an arm was flung round his neck; and another man, crouching, had his legs embraced. He cried out once or twice.... The old man turned sick ... a great rush of blood seemed to be hammering in his ears and dilating his eyes.... He ran forward, tearing at the arm that was choking the prisoner's throat, and screaming he knew not what.
And it was then that he knew for certain that this was his son.
Robin drew a long breath as the door closed behind him. Then he went forward to the table, and sat on it, swinging his feet, and looking carefully and curiously round the room, so far as the darkness would allow him; his eyes had had scarcely time yet to become accustomed to the change from the brilliant sunshine outside to the gloom of the prison. It was his first experience of prison, and, for the present, he was more interested than subdued by it.
* * * * *
It seemed to him that a lifetime had passed since the early morning, up in the hills, when he had attempted to escape by the bedroom, and had been seized as he came out of the press. Of course, he had fought; it was his right and his duty; and he had not known the utter uselessness of it, in that guarded house. He had known nothing of what was going forward. He had heard the entrance of the searchers below, and now and again their footsteps.... Then he had seen the wainscoting begin to gape before him, and had understood that his only chance was by the way he had entered. Then, as he had caught sight of his father, he had ceased his struggles.
He had not said one word to him. The shock was complete and unexpected. He had seen the old man stagger back and sink on the bed. Then he had been hurried from the room and downstairs. As the party came into the buttery entrance, there had been a great clamour; the man on guard at the hall doors had run forward; the doors had opened suddenly and Marjorie had come out, with a surge of faces behind her. But to her, too, he had said nothing; he had tried to smile; he was still faint and sick from the fight upstairs. But he had been pushed out into the air, where he saw the horses waiting, and round the corner of the house into an out-building, and there he had had time to recover.
* * * * *
It was strange how little religion had come to his aid during that hour of waiting; and, indeed, during the long and weary ride to Derby. He had tried to pray; but he had had no consolation, such as he supposed must surely come to all who suffered for Christ. It had been, instead, the tiny things that absorbed his attention; the bundle of hay in the corner; an ancient pitch-fork; the heads of his guards outside the little barred window; the sound of their voices talking. Later, when a man had come out from the house, and looked in at his door, telling him that they must start in ten minutes, and giving him a hunch of bread to eat, it had been the way the man's eyebrows grew over his nose, and the creases of his felt hat, to which he gave his mind. Somewhere, far beneath in himself, he knew that there were other considerations and memories and movements, that were even fears and hopes and desires; but he could not come at these; he was as a man struggling to dive, held up on the surface by sheets of cork. He knew that his father was in that house; that it was his father who had been the means of taking him; that Marjorie was there—yet these facts were as tales read in a book. So, too, with his faith; his lips repeated words now and then; but God was as far from him and as inconceivably unreal, as is the thought of sunshine and a garden to a miner freezing painlessly in the dark....
In the same state he was led out again presently, and set on a horse. And while a man attached one foot to the other by a cord beneath the horse's belly, he looked like a child at the arched doorway of the house; at a patch of lichen that was beginning to spread above the lintel; at the open window of the room above.
He vaguely desired to speak with Marjorie again; he even asked the man who was tying his feet whether he might do so; but he got no answer. A group of men watched him from the door, and he noticed that they were silent. He wondered if it were the tying of his feet in which they were so much absorbed.
* * * * *
Little by little, as they rode, this oppression began to lift. Half a dozen times he determined to speak with the man who rode beside him and held his horse by a leading rein; and each time he did not speak. Neither did any man speak to him. Another man rode behind; and a dozen or so went on foot. He could hear them talking together in low voices.
He was finally roused by his companion's speaking. He had noticed the man look at him now and again strangely and not unkindly.
"Is it true that you are a son of Mr. Audrey, sir?"
He was on the point of saying "Yes," when his mind seemed to come back to him as clear as an awakening from sleep. He understood that he must not identify himself if he could help it. He had been told at Rheims that silence was best in such matters.
"Mr. Audrey?" he said. "The magistrate?"
The man nodded. He did not seem an unkindly personage at all. Then he smiled.
"Well, well," he said. "Less said—"
He broke off and began to whistle. Then he interrupted himself once more.
"He was still in his fit," he said, "when we came away. Mistress Manners was with him."
Intelligence was flowing back in Robin's brain like a tide. It seemed to him that he perceived things with an extraordinary clearness and rapidity. He understood he must show no dismay or horror of any kind; he must carry himself easily and detachedly.
"In a fit, was he?"
The other nodded.
"I am arrested on his warrant, then? And on what charge?"
The man laughed outright.
"That's too good," he said. "Why, we, have a bundle of popery on the horse behind! It was all in the hiding-hole!"
"I am supposed to be a priest, then?" said Robin, with admirable disdain.
Again the man laughed.
"They will have some trouble in proving that," said Robin viciously.
* * * * *
He learned presently whither they were going. He was right in thinking it to be Derby. There he was to be handed over to the gaoler. The trial would probably come on at the Michaelmas assizes, five or six weeks hence. He would have leave to communicate with a lawyer when he was once safely bestowed there; but whether or no his lawyer or any other visitors would be admitted to him was a matter for the magistrates.
They ate as they rode, and reached Derby in the afternoon.
At the very outskirts the peculiar nature of this cavalcade was observed; and by the time that they came within sight of the market-square a considerable mob was hustling along on all sides. There were a few cries raised. Robin could not distinguish the words, but it seemed to him as if some were raised for him as well as against him. He kept his head somewhat down; he thought it better to risk no complications that might arise should he be recognised.
As they drew nearer the market-place the progress became yet slower, for the crowd seemed suddenly and abnormally swelled. There was a great shouting of voices, too, in front, and the smell of burning came distinctly on the breeze. The man riding beside Robin turned his head and called out; and in answer one of the others riding behind pushed his horse up level with the other two, so that the prisoner had a guard on either side. A few steps further, and another order was issued, followed by the pressing up of the men that went on foot so as to form a complete square about the three riders.
Robin put a question, but the men gave him no answer. He could see that they were preoccupied and anxious. Then, as step by step they made their way forward and gained the corner of the market-place, he saw the reason of these precautions; for the whole square was one pack of heads, except where, somewhere in the midst, a great bonfire blazed in the sunlight. The noise, too, was deafening; drums were beating, horns blowing, men shouting aloud. From window after window leaned heads, and, as the party advanced yet further, they came suddenly in view of a scaffold hung with gay carpets and ribbons, on which a civil dignitary, in some official dress, was gesticulating.
It was useless to ask a question; not a word could have been heard unless it were shouted aloud; and presently the din redoubled, for out of sight, round some corner, guns were suddenly shot off one after another; and the cheering grew shrill and piercing in contrast.
As they came out at last, without attracting any great attention, into the more open space at the entrance of Friar's Gate, Robin turned again and asked what the matter was. It was plainly not himself, as he had at first almost believed.
The man turned an exultant face to him.
"It's the Spanish fleet!" he said. "There's not a ship of it left, they say."
When they halted at the gate of the prison there was another pause, while the cord that tied his feet was cut, and he was helped from his horse, as he was stiff and constrained from the long ride under such circumstances. He heard a roar of interest and abuse, and, perhaps, a little sympathy, from the part of the crowd that had followed, as the gate close behind him.
As his eyes became better accustomed to the dark, he began to see what kind of a place it was in which he found himself. It was a square little room on the ground-floor, with a single, heavily-barred window, against which the dirt had collected in such quantities as to exclude almost all light. The floor was beaten earth, damp and uneven; the walls were built of stones and timber, and were dripping with moisture; there was a table and a stool in the centre of the room, and a dark heap in the corner. He examined this presently, and found it to be rotting hay covered with some kind of rug. The whole place smelled hideously foul.
From far away outside came still the noise of cheering, heard as through wool, and the sharp reports of the cannon they were still firing. The Armada seemed very remote from him, here in ward. Its destruction affected him now hardly at all, except for the worse, since an anti-Catholic reaction might very well follow.... He set himself, with scarcely an effort, to contemplate more personal matters.
He was astonished that his purse had not been taken from him. He had been searched rapidly just now, in an outer passage, by a couple of men, one of whom he understood to be his gaoler; and a knife and a chain and his rosary had been taken from him. But the purse had been put back again.... He remembered presently that the possession of money made a considerable difference to a prisoner's comfort; but he determined to do as little as he was obliged in this way. He might need the money more urgently by and by.
* * * * *
By the time that he had gone carefully round his prison-walls, even reaching up to the window and testing the bars, pushing as noiselessly as he could against the door, pacing the distances in every direction—he had, at the same time, once more arranged and rehearsed every piece of evidence that he possessed, and formed a number of resolutions.
He was perfectly clear by now that his father had been wholly ignorant of the identity of the man he was after. The horror in the gasping face that he had seen so close to his own, above the strangling arm, set that beyond a doubt; the news of the fit into which his father had fallen confirmed it.
Next, he had been right in believing himself watched in the shepherd's hut, and followed down from it. This hiding of his in the hills, the discovery of him in the hiding-hole, together with the vestments—these two things were the heaviest pieces of testimony against him. More remote testimony might be brought forward from his earlier adventures—his presence at Fotheringay, his recognition by my lord's man. But these were, in themselves, indifferent.
His resolutions were few and simple.
He would behave himself quietly in all ways: he would make no demand to see anyone; since he knew that whatever was possible would be done for him by Marjorie. He would deny nothing and assert very little if he were brought before the magistrates. Finally, he would say, if he could, a dry mass every day; and observe the hours of prayer so far as he could. He had no books with him of any kind. But he could pray God for fortitude.
* * * * *
Then he knelt down on the earth floor and said his first prayer in prison; the prayer that had rung so often in his mind since Mary herself had prayed it aloud on the scaffold; and Mr. Bourgoign had repeated it to him.
"As Thy arms, O Christ, were extended on the Cross; even so receive me into the arms of Thy mercy, and blot out all my sins with Thy most precious Blood."
There was a vast crowd in the market-place at Michaelmas to see the judges come—partly because there was always excitement at the visible majesty of the law; partly because the tale of one at least of the prisoners had roused interest. It was a dramatic tale: he was first a seminary priest and a Derbyshire man (many remembered him riding as a little lad beside his father); he was, next, a runaway to Rheims for religion's sake, when his father conformed; third, he had been taken in the house of Mistress Manners, to whom, report said, he had once been betrothed; last, he had been taken by his father himself. All this furnished matter for a quantity of conversation in the taverns; and it was freely discussed by the sentimental whether or no, if the priest yielded and conformed, he would yet find Mistress Manners willing to wed him.
* * * * *
Signs of the Armada rejoicings still survived in the market-place as the judges rode in. Streamers hung in the sunshine, rather bedraggled after so long, from the roof and pillars of the Guildhall, and a great smoke-blackened patch between the conduit and the cross marked where the ox had been roasted. There was a deal of loyal cheering as the procession went by; for these splendid personages on horseback stood to the mob for the power that had repelled the enemies of England; and her Grace's name was received with enthusiasm. Behind the judges and their escort came a cavalcade of riders—gentlemen, grooms, servants, and agents of all sorts. But not a Derby man noticed or recognised a thin gentleman who rode modestly in the midst, with a couple of personal servants on either side of him. It was not until the visitors had separated to the various houses and inns where they were to be lodged, and the mob was dispersing home again, that it began to be rumoured everywhere that Mr. Topcliffe was come again to Derby on a special mission.
The tidings came to Marjorie as she leaned back in her chair in Mr. Biddell's parlour and listened to the last shoutings.
* * * * *
She had been in town now three days.
Ever since the capture she had been under guard in her own house till three days ago. Four men had been billeted upon her, not, indeed, by the orders of Mr. Audrey, since Mr. Audrey was in no condition to control affairs any longer, but by the direction of Mr. Columbell, who had himself ridden out to take charge at Booth's Edge, when the news of the arrest had come, with the prisoner himself, to the city. It was he, too, who had seen to the removal of Mr. Audrey a week later, when he had recovered from the weakness caused by the fit sufficiently to travel as far as Derby; for it was thought better that the magistrate who had effected the capture should be accessible to the examining magistrates. It was, of course, lamentable, said Mr. Columbell, that father and son should have been brought into such relations, and he would do all that he could to relieve Mr. Audrey from any painful task in which they could do without him. But her Grace's business must be done, and he had had special messages from my lord Shrewsbury himself that the prisoner must be dealt with sternly. It was believed, wrote my lord, that Mr. Alban, as he called himself, had a good deal more against him than the mere fact of being a seminary priest: it was thought that he had been involved in the Babington plot, and had at least once had access to the Queen of the Scots since the fortunate failure of the conspiracy.
All this, then, Marjorie knew from Mr. Biddell, who seemed always to know everything; but it was not until the evening on which the judges arrived that she learned the last and extreme measures that would betaken to establish these suspicions. She had ridden openly to Derby so soon as the news came from there that for the present she might be set at liberty.
The lawyer came into the darkening room as the square outside began to grow quiet, and Marjorie opened her eyes to see who it was.
He said nothing at first, but sat down close beside her. He knew she must be told, but he hated the telling. He carried a little paper in his hand. He would begin with that little bit of good news first, he said to himself.
"Well, mistress," he said, "I have the order at last. We are to see him to-night. It is 'for Mr. Biddell and a friend.'"
She sat up, and a little vitality came back to her face; for a moment she almost looked as she had looked in the early summer.
"To-night?" she said. "And when—"
"He will not be brought before my lords for three or four days yet. There is a number of cases to come before his. It will give us those two or three days, at least, to prepare our case."
He spoke heavily and dejectedly. Up to the present he had been utterly refused permission to see his client; and though he knew the outlines of the affair well enough, he knew very little of the thousand details on which the priest would ask his advice. It was a hopeless affair, it appeared to the lawyer, in any case. And now, with this last piece of tidings, he knew that there was, indeed, nothing to be said except words of encouragement.
He listened with the same heavy air to Mistress Manners as she said a word or two as to what must be spoken of to Robin. She was very quiet and collected, and talked to the point. But he said nothing.
"What is the matter, sir?" she said.
He lifted his eyes to hers. There was still enough light from the windows for him to see her eyes, and that there was a spark in them that had not been there just now. And it was for him to extinguish it.... He gripped his courage.
"I have had worse news than all," he said.
Her lips moved, and a vibration went over her face. Her eyes blinked, as at a sudden light.
He put his hand tenderly on her arm.
"You must be courageous," he said. "It is the worst news that ever came to me. It concerns one who is come from London to-day, and rode in with my lords."
She could not speak, but her great eyes entreated him to finish her misery.
"Yes," he said, still pressing his hand on to her arm. "Yes; it is Mr. Topcliffe who is come."
* * * * *
He felt the soft muscles harden like steel.... There was no sound except the voices talking in the square and the noise of footsteps across the pavements. He could not look at her.
Then he heard her draw a long breath and breathe it out again, and her taut muscles relaxed.
"We ... we are all in Christ's hands," she said.... "We must tell him."
It appeared to the girl as if she were moving on a kind of set stage, with every movement and incident designed beforehand, in a play that was itself a kind of destiny—above all, when she went at last into Robin's cell and saw him standing there, and found it to be that in which so long ago she had talked with Mr. Thomas FitzHerbert....
The great realities were closing round her, as irresistible as wheels and bars. There was scarcely a period in her life, scarcely a voluntary action of hers for good or evil, that did not furnish some part of this vast machine in whose grip both she and her friend were held so fast. No calculation on her part could have contrived so complete a climax; yet hardly a calculation that had not gone astray from that end to which she had designed it. It was as if some monstrous and ironical power had been beneath and about her all her life long, using those thoughts and actions that she had intended in one way to the development of another.
First, it was she that had first turned her friend's mind to the life of a priest. Had she submitted to natural causes, she would have been his wife nine years ago; they would have been harassed no doubt and troubled, but no more. It was she again that had encouraged his return to Derbyshire. If it had not been for that, and for the efforts she had made to do what she thought good work for God, he might have been sent elsewhere. It was in her house that he had been taken, and in the very place she had designed for his safety. If she had but sent him on, as he wished, back to the hills again, he might never have been taken at all. These, and a score of other thoughts, had raced continually through her mind; she felt even as if she were responsible for the manner of his taking, and for the horror that it had been his father who had accomplished it; if she had said more, or less, in the hall of that dark morning; if she had not swooned; if she had said bravely: "It is your son, sir, who is here," all might have been saved. And now it was Topcliffe who was come—(and she knew all that this signified)—the very man at whose mere bodily presence she had sickened in the court of the Tower. And, last, it was she who had to tell Robin of this.
So tremendous, however, had been the weight of these thoughts upon her, crowned and clinched (so to say) by finding that the priest was even in the same cell as that in which she had visited the traitor, that there was no room any more for bitterness. Even as she waited, with Mr. Biddell behind her, as the gaoler fumbled with the keys, she was aware that the last breath of resentment had been drawn.... It was, indeed, a monstrous Power that had so dealt with her.... It was none other than the Will of God, plain at last.
* * * * *
She knelt down for the priest's blessing, without speaking, as the door closed, and Mr. Biddell knelt behind her. Then she rose and went forward to the stool and sat upon it.
* * * * *
He was hardly changed at all. He looked a little white and drawn in the wavering light of the flambeau; but his clothes were orderly and clean, and his eyes as bright and resolute as ever.
"It is a great happiness to see you," he said, smiling, and then no more compliments.
"And what of my father?" he added instantly.
She told him. Mr. Audrey was in Derby, still sick from his fit. He was in Mr. Columbell's house. She had not seen him.
"Robin," she said (and she used the old name, utterly unknowing that she did so), "we must speak with Mr. Biddell presently about your case. But there is a word or two I have to say first. We can have two hours here, if you wish it."
Robin put his hands behind him on to the table and jumped lightly, so that he sat on it, facing her.
"If you will not sit on the table, Mr. Biddell, I fear there is only that block of wood."
He pointed to a, block of a tree set on end. It served him, laid flat, as a pillow. The lawyer went across to it.
"The judges, I hear, are come to-night," said the priest.
"Yes; but your case will not be up for three or four days yet."
"Why, then, I shall have time—"
She lifted her hand sharply a little to check him.
"You will not have much time," she said, and paused again. A sharp contraction came and went in the muscles of her throat. It was as if a band gripped her there, relaxed, and gripped again. She put up her own hand desperately to tear at her collar.
"Why, but—" began the priest.
She could bear it no more. His resolute cheerfulness, his frank astonishment, were like knives to her. She gave one cry.
"Topcliffe is come ... Topcliffe!..." she cried. Then she flung her arm across the table and dropped her face on it. No tears came from her eyes, but tearing sobs shook and tormented her.
It was quite quiet after she had spoken. Even in her anguish she knew that. The priest did not stir from where he sat a couple of feet away; only the swinging of his feet ceased. She drove down her convulsions; they rose again; she drove them down once more. Then the tears surged up, her whole being relaxed, and she felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Marjorie," said the grave voice, as steady as it had ever been, "Marjorie. This is what we looked for, is it not?... Topcliffe is come, is he? Well, let him come. He or another. It is for this that we have all looked since the beginning. Christ His Grace is strong enough, is it not? It hath been strong enough for many, at least; and He will not surely take it from me who need it so much...." (He spoke in pauses, but his voice never faltered.) "I have prayed for that grace ever since I have been here.... He hath given me great peace in this place.... I think He will give it me to the end.... You must pray, my ... my child; you must not cry like that."
(She lifted her agonized face for a moment, then she let it fall again. It seemed as if he knew the very thoughts of her.)
"This all seems very perfect to me," he went on. "It was yourself who first turned me to this life, and you knew surely what you did. I knew, at least, all the while, I think; and I have never ceased to thank God. And it was through your hands that the letter came to me to go to Fotheringay. And it was in your house that I was taken.... And it was Mr. Maine's beads that they found on me when they searched me here—the pair of beads you gave me."
Again she stared at him, blind and bewildered.
He went on steadily:
"And now it is you again who bring me the first news of my passion. It is yourself, first and last, under God, that have brought me all these graces and crosses. And I thank you with all my heart.... But you must pray for me to the end, and after it, too."
"Water," said a sharp voice, pricking through the enormous thickness of the bloodshot dark that had come down on him. There followed a sound of floods; then a sense of sudden coolness, and he opened his eyes once more, and became aware of unbearable pain in arms and feet. Again the whirling dark, striped with blood colour, fell on him like a blanket; again the sound of waters falling and the sense of coolness, and again he opened his eyes.
* * * * *
For a minute or two it was all that he could do to hold himself in consciousness. It appeared to him a necessity to do so. He could see a smoke-stained roof of beams and rafters, and on these he fixed his eyes, thinking that he could hold himself so, as by thin, wiry threads of sight, from falling again into the pit where all was black or blood-colour. The pain was appalling, but he thought he had gripped it at last, and could hold it so, like a wrestler.
As the pain began to resolve itself into throbs and stabs, from the continuous strain in which at first it had shown itself—a strain that was like a shrill horn blowing, or a blaze of bluish light—he began to see more, and to understand a little. There were four or five faces looking down on him: one was the face of a man he had seen somewhere in an inn ... it was at Fotheringay; it was my lord Shrewsbury's man. Another was a lean face; a black hat came and went behind it; the lips were drawn in a sort of smile, so that he could see the teeth.... Then he perceived next that he himself was lying in a kind of shallow trough of wood upon the floor. He could see his bare feet raised a little and tied with cords.
Then, one by one, these sights fitted themselves into one another and made sense. He remembered that he was in Derby gaol—not in his own cell; that the lean face was of a man called Topcliffe; that a physician was there as well as the others; that they had been questioning him on various points, and that some of these points he had answered, while others he had not, and must not. Some of them concerned her Grace of the Scots.... These he had answered. Then, again, association came back....
"As Thy arms, O Christ ..." he whispered.
"Now then," came the sharp voice in his ear, so close and harsh as to distress him. "These questions again.... Were there any other places besides at Padley and Booth's Edge, in the parish of Hathersage, where you said mass?"
"... O Christ, were extended on the Cross—" began the tortured man dreamily. "Ah-h-h!"....
It was a scream, whispered rather than shrieked, that was torn from him by the sharpness of the agony. His body had lifted from the floor without will of his own, twisting a little; and what seemed as strings of fiery pain had shot upwards from his feet and downwards from his wrists as the roller was suddenly jerked again. He hung there perhaps ten or fifteen seconds, conscious only of the blinding pain—questions, questioners, roof and faces all gone and drowned again in a whirling tumult of darkness and red streaks. The sweat poured again suddenly from his whole body.... Then again he sank relaxed upon the floor, and the pulses beat in his head, and he thought that Marjorie and her mother and his own father were all looking at him....
He heard presently the same voice talking:
"—and answer the questions that are put to you.... Now then, we will begin the others, if it please you better.... In what month was it that you first became privy to the plot against her Grace?"
"Wait!" whispered the priest. "Wait, and I will answer that." (He understood that there was a trap here. The question had been framed differently last time. But his mind was all a-whirl; and he feared he might answer wrongly if he could not collect himself. He still wondered why so many friends of his were in the room—even Father Campion....)
He drew a breath again presently, and tried to speak; but his voice broke like a shattered trumpet, and he could not command it.... He must whisper.
"It was in August, I think.... I think it was August, two years ago."...
"August ... you mean May or April."
"No; it was August.... At least, all that I know of the plot was when ... when—" (His thoughts became confused again; it was like strings of wool, he thought, twisted violently together; a strand snapped now and again. He made a violent effort and caught an end as it was slipping away.) "It was in August, I think; the day that Mr. Babington fled, that he wrote to me; and sent me—" (He paused: he became aware that here, too, lurked a trap if he were to say he had seen Mary; he would surely be asked what he had seen her for, and his priesthood might be so proved against him.... He could not remember whether that had been proved; and so ... would Father Campion advise him perhaps whether....)
The voice jarred again; and startled him into a flash of coherence. He thought he saw a way out.
"Well?" snapped the voice. "Sent you?... Sent you whither?"
"Sent me to Chartley; where I saw her Grace ... her Grace of the Scots; and ... 'As Thy arms, O Christ....'"
"Now then; now then—! So your saw her Grace? And what was that for?"
"I saw her Grace ... and ... and told her what Mr. Babington had told me."
"What was that, then?"
"That ... that he was her servant till death; and ... and a thousand if he had them. And so, 'As Thy arms, O—'"
"Water," barked the voice.
Again came the rush as of cataracts; and a sensation of drowning. There followed an instant's glow of life; and then the intolerable pain came back; and the heavy, red-streaked darkness....
He found himself, after some period, lying more easily. He could not move hand or foot. His body only appeared to live. From his shoulders to his thighs he was alive; the rest was nothing. But he opened his eyes and saw that his arms were laid by his side; and that he was no longer in the wooden trough. He wondered at his hands; he wondered even if they were his ... they were of an unusual colour and bigness; and there was something like a tight-fitting bracelet round each wrist. Then he perceived that he was shirtless and hoseless; and that the bracelets were not bracelets, but rings of swollen flesh. But there was no longer any pain or even sensation in them; and he was aware that his mouth glowed as if he had drunk ardent spirits.
He was considering all this, slowly, like a child contemplating a new toy. Then there came something between him and the light; he saw a couple of faces eyeing him. Then the voice began again, at first confused and buzzing, then articulate; and he remembered.
"Now, then," said the voice, "you have had but a taste of it...." ("A taste of it; a taste of it." The phrase repeated itself like the catch of a song.... When he regained his attention, the sentence had moved on.)
"... these questions. I will put them to you again from the beginning. You will give your answer to each. And if my lord is not satisfied, we must try again."
"My lord!" thought the priest. He rolled his eyes round a little further. (He dared not move his head; the sinews of his throat burned like red-hot steel cords at the thought of it.) And he saw a little table floating somewhere in the dark; a candle burned on it; and a melancholy face with dreamy eyes was brightly illuminated.... That was my lord Shrewsbury, he considered....
"... in what month that you first became privy to the plot against her Grace?"
(Sense was coming back to him again now. He remembered what he had said just now.)
"It was in August," he whispered, "in August, I think; two years ago. Mr. Babington wrote to me of it."
"And you went to the Queen of the Scots, you say?"
"And what did you there?"
"I gave the message."
"What was that?"
"... That Mr. Babington was her servant always; that he regretted nothing, save that he had failed. He begged her to pray for his soul, and for all that had been with him in the enterprise."
(It appeared to him that he was astonishingly voluble, all at once. He reflected that he must be careful.)
"And what did she say to that?"
"She declared herself guiltless of the plot ... that she knew nothing of it; and that—"
"Now then; now then. You expect my lord to believe that?"
"I do not know.... But it was what was said."
"And you profess that you knew nothing of the plot till then?"
"I knew nothing of it till then," whispered the priest steadily. "But—"
(A face suddenly blotted out more of the light.)
"Anthony—I mean Mr. Babington—had spoken to me a great while before—in ... in some village inn.... I forget where. It was when I was a lad. He asked whether I would join in some enterprise. He did not say what it was.... But I thought it to be against the Queen of England.... And I would not."...
He closed his eyes again. There had begun a slow heat of pain in ankles and wrists, not wholly unbearable, and a warmth began to spread in his body. A great shudder or two shook him. The voice said something he could not hear. Then a metal rim was pressed to his mouth; and a stream of something at once icy and fiery ran into his mouth and out at the corners. He swallowed once or twice; and his senses came back.
"You do not expect us to believe all that!" came the voice.
"It is the truth, for all that," murmured the priest.
The next question came sudden as a shot fired:
"You were at Fotheringay?"
"In what house?"
"I was in the inn—the 'New Inn,' I think it is.
"And you spoke with her Grace again?"
"No; I could not get at her. But—"
"I was in the court of the castle when her Grace was executed."
There was a murmur of voices. He thought that someone had moved over to the table where my lord sat; but he could not move his eyes again, the labour was too great.
"Who was with you in the inn—as your friend, I mean?"
"A ... a young man was with me. His name was Merton. He is in France, I think."
"And he knew you to be a priest?" came the voice without an instant's hesitation.
"Why—" Then he stopped short, just in time.
"How should he think that?" asked Robin.