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   Chapter 12 No.12

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 3769

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was a great day and a solemn when the squire of Matstead went to Protestant communion for the first time. It was Easter Day, too, but this was less in the consideration of the village. There was first the minister, Mr. Barton, in a condition of excited geniality from an early hour. He was observed soon after it was light, by an old man who was up betimes, hurrying up the village street in his minister's cassock and gown, presumably on his way to see that all preparations were complete for the solemnity. His wife was seen to follow him a few minutes later.

By eight o'clock the inhabitants of the village were assembled at points of vantage; some openly at their doors; others at the windows; and groups from the more distant farms, decked suitably, stood at all corners; to be greeted presently by their minister hurrying back once more from the church to bring the communion vessels and the bread and wine. The four or five soldiers of the village-a couple of billmen and pikemen and a real gunner-stood apart in an official group, but did not salute him. He did not speak of that which was in the minds of all, but he waved a hand to this man, bid a happy Easter to another, and disappeared within his lodgings leaving a wake of excitement behind him.

By a quarter before nine the three bells had begun to jangle from the tower; and the crowd had increased largely, when Mr. Barton once more passed to the church in the spring sunshine, followed by the more devout who wished to pray, and the more timid who feared a disturbance. For sentiments were not wholly on the squire's side. There was first a number of Catholics, openly confessed or at least secretly Catholic, though these were not in full force since most were gone to Padley before dawn; and there was next a certain sentiment abroad, even amongst those who conformed, in favour of tradition. That the squ

ire of Matstead should be a Catholic was at least as fundamental an article of faith as that the minister should be a Protestant. There was little or no hot-gospel here; men still shook their heads sympathetically over the old days and the old faith, which indeed had ceased to be the faith of all scarcely twenty years ago; and it appeared to the most of them that the proper faith of the Quality, since they had before their eyes such families as the Babingtons, the Fentons, and the FitzHerberts, was that to which their own squire was about to say good-bye. It was known, too, publicly by now, that Mr. Robin was gone away for Easter, since he would not follow his father. So the crowd waited; the dogs sunned themselves; and the gunner sat on a wall.

* * * * *

The bells ceased at nine o'clock, and upon the moment, a group came round the churchyard wall, down from the field-path and the stile that led to the manor.

First, walking alone, came the squire, swiftly and steadily. His face was flushed a little, but set and determined. He was in his fine clothes, ruff and all; his rapier was looped at his side, and he carried a stick. Behind him came three or four farm servants; then a yeoman and his wife; and last, at a little distance, three or four onlookers.

There was dead silence as he came; the hum of talk died at the corners; the bells' clamour had even now ceased. It seemed as if each man waited for his neighbour to speak. There was only the sound of the squire's brisk footsteps on the few yards of cobbles that paved the walk up to the lych-gate. At the door of the church, seen beyond him, was a crowd of faces.

Then a man called something aloud from fifty yards away; but there was no voice to echo him. The folk just watched their lord go by, staring on him as on some strange sight, forgetting even to salute him. And so in silence he passed on.

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