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   Chapter 13 No.13

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 2817

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Within, the church murmured with low talking. Already two-thirds of it was full, and all faces turned and re-turned to the door at every footstep or sound. As the bells ceased a sigh went up, as if a giant drew breath; then, once again, the murmuring began.

The church was as most were in those days. It was but a little place, yet it had had in old days great treasures of beauty. There had been, until some ten or twelve years ago, a carved screen that ran across the chancel arch, with the Rood upon it, and St. Mary and St. John on this side and that. The high-altar, it was remembered, had been of stone throughout, surrounded with curtains on the three sides, hanging between posts that had each a carven angel, all gilt. Now all was gone, excepting only the painted windows (since glass was costly). The chancel was as bare as a barn; beneath the whitewash, high over the place where the old canopy had hung, pale colours still glimmered through where, twelve years ago, Christ had sat crowning His Mother. The altar was gone; its holy slab served now as the pavement within the west door, where the superstitious took pains to step clear of it. The screen was gone; part lay beneath the tower; part had been burned; Christ's Cross held up the roof of the shed where the minister kept his horse; the three figures had been carted off to Derby to help swell the Protestant bonfire. The projecting st

oup to the right of the main door had been broken half off…. In place of these glories there stood now, in the body of the church, before the chancel-steps, a great table, such as the rubrics of the new Prayer-Book required, spread with a white cloth, upon which now rested two tall pewter flagons of wine, a flat pewter plate as great as a small dish, and two silver communion-cups-all new. And to one side of this, in a new wainscoted desk, waited worthy Mr. Barton for the coming of his squire-a happy man that day; his face beamed in the spring sunlight; he had on his silk gown, and he eyed, openly, the door through which his new patron was to come.

* * * * *

Then, without sound or warning, except for the footsteps on the paving-stones and the sudden darkening of the sunshine on the floor, there came the figure for which all looked. As he entered he lifted his hand to his head, but dropped it again; and passed on, sturdy, and (you would have said) honest and resolute too, to his seat behind the reading-desk. He was met by silence; he was escorted by silence; and in silence he sat down.

Then the waiting crowd surged in, poured this way and that, and flowed into the benches. And Mr. Barton's voice was raised in holy exhortation.

"At what time soever a sinner doth repent him of his sin from the bottom of his heart, I will put all his wickedness out of remembrance, with the Lord."

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