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   Chapter 77 No.77

Come Rack! Come Rope! By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 3656

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was within an hour of dawn that the first mass was said next morning by Mr. Robert Alban.

The chapel was decked out as they seldom dared to deck it in those days; but the failure of the last attempt on this place, and the peace that had followed, made them bold.

The carved chest of newly-cut oak was in its place, with a rich carpet of silk spread on its face; and, on the top, the three linen cloths as prescribed by the Ritual. Two silver candlesticks, that stood usually on the high shelf over the hall-fire, and a silver crucifix of Flemish work, taken from the hiding-place, were in a row on the back, with red and white flowers, between. Beneath the linen cloths a tiny flat elevation showed where the altar stone lay. The rest of the chapel, in its usual hangings, had only sweet herbs on the floor; with two or three long seats carried up from the hall below. An extraordinary sweetness and peace seemed in the place both to the senses and the soul of the young priest as he went up to the altar to vest. Confessions had been heard last night; and, as he turned, in the absolute stillness of the morning, and saw, beneath those carved angels that still to-day lean from the beams of the roof, the whole little space already filled with farm-lads, many of whom were to approach the altar presently, and the grey head of their master kneeling on the floor to answer the mass, it appeared to him as if the promise of last night were reversed, and that it was, after all, earth rather than heaven that proclaimed the peace and the glory of God….

* * * * *

Robin served the second mass himself, said by Mr. Garlick, and made his thanksgiving as well as he could meanwhile; but he found what appeared to him at the time many distractions, in watching the tanned face and hands of the man who was so utterly a c

ountryman for nine-tenths of his life, and so utterly a priest for the rest. His very sturdiness and breeziness made his reverence the more evident and pathetic: he read the mass rapidly, in a low voice, harshened by shouting in the open air over his sports, made his gestures abruptly, and yet did the whole with an extraordinary attention. After the communion, when he turned for the wine and water, his face, as so often with rude folk in a great emotion, browned as it was with wind and sun, seemed lighted from within; he seemed etherealized, yet with his virility all alive in him. A phrase, wholly inapplicable in its first sense, came irresistibly to the younger priest's mind as he waited on him. "When the strong man, armed, keepeth his house, his goods are in peace."

Robin heard the third mass, said by Mr. Ludlam, from a corner near the door; and this one, too, was a fresh experience. The former priest had resembled a strong man subdued by grace; the second, a weak man ennobled by it. Mr. Ludlam was a delicate soul, smiling often, as has been said, and speaking little-"a mild man," said the countryfolk. Yet, at the altar there was no weakness in him; he was as a keen, sharp blade, fitted as a heavy knife cannot be, for fine and peculiar work. His father had been a yeoman, as had the other's; yet there must have been some unusual strain of blood in him, so deft and gentle he was-more at his ease here at God's Table than at the table of any man…. So he, too, finished his mass, and began to unvest….

Then, with a noise as brutal as a blasphemy, there came a thunder of footsteps on the stairs; and a man burst into the room, with glaring eyes and rough gestures.

"There is a company of men coming up from the valley," he cried; "and another over the moor…. And it is my lord Shrewsbury's livery."

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