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   Chapter 16 No.16

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 5683

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The same Easter Day at Padley was another matter altogether.

As early as five o'clock in the morning the house was astir: lights glimmered in upper rooms; footsteps passed along corridors and across the court; parties began to arrive. All was done without ostentation, yet without concealment, for Padley was a solitary place, and had no fear, at this time, of a sudden descent of the authorities. For form's sake-scarcely for more-a man kept watch over the valley road, and signalled by the flashing of a lamp twice every party with which he was acquainted, and there were no others than these to signal. A second man waited by the gate into the court to admit them. They rode and walked in from all round-great gentlemen, such as the North Lees family, came with a small retinue; a few came alone; yeomen and farm servants, with their women-folk, from the Hathersage valley, came for the most part on foot. Altogether perhaps a hundred and twenty persons were within Padley Manor-and the gate secured-by six o'clock.

Meanwhile, within, the priest had been busy since half-past four with the hearing of confessions. He sat in the chapel beside the undecked altar, and they came to him one by one. The household and a few of the nearer neighbours had done their duty in this matter the day before, and a good number had already made their Easter duties earlier in Lent; so by six o'clock all was finished.

Then began the bustle.

A group of ladies, FitzHerberts and Fentons, entered, so soon as the priest gave the signal by tapping on the parlour wall, bearing all things necessary for the altar; and it was astonishing what fine things these were; so that by the time that the priest was ready to vest, the place was transformed. Stuffs and embroideries hung upon the wall about the altar, making it seem, indeed, a sanctuary; two tall silver candlesticks, used for no other purpose, stood upon the linen cloths, under which rested the slate altar-stone, taken, with the sacred vessels and the vestments, from one of the privy hiding-holes, with whose secret not a living being without the house, and not more than two or three within, was acquainted. It was rumored that half a dozen such places had been contrived within the precincts, two of which were great enough to hold two or three men at a pinch.

* * * * *

Soon after six o'clock, then, the altar was ready and the priest stood vested. He retired a pace from the altar, signed himself with the cross, and with Mr. John FitzHerbert and his son Thomas on either side of him, began the preparation….

It was a strange and an inspiriting sight that the young priest (for it was Mr. Simpson who was saying the mass) looked upon as he turned round after the gospel to make his little sermon. From end to end the tiny chapel was full, packed so that few could kneel and

none sit down. The two doors were open, and here two faces peered in; and behind, rank after rank down the steps and along the little passage, the folk stood or knelt, out of sight of both priest and altar, and almost out of sound. The sanctuary was full of children-whose round-eyed, solemn faces looked up at him-children who knew little or nothing of what was passing, except that they were there to worship God, but who, for all that, received impressions and associations that could never thereafter wholly leave them. The chapel was still completely dark, for the faint light of dawn was excluded by the heavy hangings over the windows; and there was but the light of the two tapers to show the people to one another and the priest to them all.

It was an inspiriting sight to him then-and one which well rewarded him for his labours, since there was not a class from gentlemen to labourers who was not represented there. The FitzHerberts, the Babingtons, the Fentons-these, with their servants and guests, accounted for perhaps half of the folk. From the shadow by the door peeped out the faces of John Merton and his wife and son; beneath the window was the solemn face of Mr. Manners the lawyer, with his daughter beside him, Robin Audrey beside her, and Dick his servant behind him. Surely, thought the young priest, the Faith could not be in its final decay, with such a gathering as this.

His little sermon was plain enough for the most foolish there. He spoke of Christ's Resurrection; of how death had no power to hold Him, nor pains nor prison to detain Him; and he spoke, too, of that mystical life of His which He yet lived in His body, which was the Church; of how Death, too, stretched forth his hands against Him there, and yet had no more force to hold Him than in His natural life lived on earth near sixteen hundred years ago; how a Resurrection awaited Him here in England as in Jerusalem, if His friends would be constant and courageous, not faithless, but believing.

"Even here," he said, "in this upper chamber, where we are gathered for fear of the Jews, comes Jesus and stands in the midst, the doors being shut. Upon this altar He will be presently, the Lamb slain yet the Lamb victorious, to give us all that peace which the world can neither give nor take away."

And he added a few words of exhortation and encouragement, bidding them fear nothing whatever might come upon them in the future; to hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints, and so to attain the heavenly crown. He was not eloquent, for he was but a young man newly come from college, with no great gifts. Yet not a soul there looked upon him, on his innocent, wondering eyes and his quivering lips, but was moved by what he saw and heard.

The priest signed himself with the cross, and turned again to continue the mass.

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