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massive silver flagon, filled with burnt clarct, called the grace-cup. All the lights were removed, save two lofty wax flambeaux, which were placed to the back, and threw a lurid glare upon the group immediately about the body, consisting of Ranulph Rookwood and some other friends of the deceased. Doctor Small stood in front of the bier; and, under the directions of Peter Bradley, the tenantry and household were formed into a wide half-moon across the chamber. There was a hush of expectation, as Doctor Small looked gravely round; and even Jack Palmer, who was as little likely as any inan to yield to an impression of the kind, felt himself moved by the scene.
The very orthodox Small, as is well known to our readers, held everything savouring of the superstitions of the Scarlet Woman in supreme abomination; and, entertaining such opinions, it can scarcely bc supposed that a funeral oration would find much favour in his eyes, accompanied, as it was, with the accessories of censer, candle, and cup; all evidently derived from that period when, under the three-crowned pontiff's sway, the shaven priest pronounced his benediction o'er the dead, and released the penitent's soul from purgatorial flames, while he heavily mulcted the price of his redemption from the possessions of his successor. Small resented the idea of treading in such steps, as an insult to himself and his cloth. Was he, the intolerant of Papistry, to tolerate this? Was he, who could not endure the odour of Catholicism, to have his nostrils thus polluted - his garments thus defiled by actual contact with it? It was not to be thought of: and he had formally signified his declination to Mr. Coates, when a little conversation with that gentleman, and certain weighty considerations therein held forth (the advowson of the church of Rookwood residing with the family), and represented by him, as well as the placing in juxtaposition of penalties to be incurred by refusal, that the scruples of Small gave way; and, with the best grace he could muster, very reluctantly promised compliance.
With these feelings, it will be readily conceived that the doctor was not in the best possible frame of mind for the delivery of his exhortation. His spirit had been ruffled by a variety of petty annoyances, amongst the greatest of which was the condition to which the good cheer had reduced his clerk, Zachariah Trundletext, whose reeling eye, pendulous position, and open mouth, proclaimed him absolutely incapable of office. Zachariah was, in consequence, disinissed, and Small commenced his discourse unsupported. But as our recording it would not probably conduce to the amusement of our readers, whatever it might to their edilication, we shall pass it over with very brief mention. Suffice it to say, that the oration was thickly interstrewn with lengthy quotations from the fithers-Chrysostomus, Hieronymus, Ambrosius, Basilius, Bernardus, and the rest, with whose recondite Latinity, notwithstanding the clashing of their opinions with his own, the doctor was intimately acquainted, and which he morcover delighted to quote, that his auditors were absolutely mystified and perplexed, and probably not without design. Countenances of such amazement were turned towards him, that Small, who had a kcen sense of the ludicrous, could scarcely forbear siniling as he proceeded; and if we could suspect so gruve a personage
waggery, we should almost think that, by way of retaliation, he had palined some abstruse, monkislı epicidium upon his astounded auditore.
The oration concluded, biscuits and confectionery were, accord. ing to old observance, handed to such of the tenantry as chose to partake of them. The serving of the grace-cup, which ought to have formed part of the duties of Zachariah, had he been capable of office, fell to the share of the sexton. The bowl was kissed, first by Ranulph, with lips that trembled with emotion, and afterwards by his surrounding friends; but no drop was tasted—a circumstance which did not escape Peter's observation. Proceeding to the tenantry, the first in order happened to be Farmer Tolt. Peter presented the cup, and as Tost was about to drain a deep draught of the wine, Peter whispered in his car, “ Take my advice for once, friend Toft, and don't let a bubble of the liquid pass your lips. For every drop of the wine you drain Sir Piers will have one sin the less, and you a load the heavier on your conscience. Didst never hear of sin swallowing? For what else was this custom adopted ? Seest thou not the cup's brim hath not yet been moistened? Well, as you will—ha, ha!" And the sexton passed onwards.
His work being nearly completed, he looked around for Jack Palmer, whom he had remarked during the oration, but could nowhere discover him. Peter was about to place the flagon, now almost drained of its contents, upon its former resting-place, when Small took it from his hands.
In poculi fundo residuum non relinque, admonisheth Pythagoras," said he, returning the empty cup to the sexton.
My task here is ended,” muttered Peter, “but not elsewhere. Foul weather or fine, thunder or rain, I must to the church.”
Bequeathing his final instructions to certain of the household who were to form part of the procession, in case it set out, he opened the hall door, and, the pelting shower dashing heavily in his face, took his way up the avenue, screaming, as he strodc along, the following congenial rhymes:
I ride alone-I ride hy night
My frame is withered, my visage old,
Astride! astride! astride!
Can scare me from his side !
The murderer feels at his throat a knife,
Then niount ! away!
To horse! astride! astride!
As through the air I glide!
* In reference to this imaginary charm, Sir Thomas Browne observes, in his * Vulgar Errors :” “What natural effects can reasonably be expected, when, to prevent the Ephialtes, or Nightmare, we hang a hollow stone in our stables :" Grose also states, "that a stone with a hole in it, hung at the bed's head, will prevent the nightmare, and is therefore called a hag-stone." The belief in this charm still lingers in some districts, and maintains, like the horseshoe affixed to the barn-door, a feeble stand against the superstition-destroying “march of mtellect."
Methought I walked, about the mid of night,
WEBSTER: The White Deoil. Liguts streamed through the chancel window as the sexton entered the churchyard, darkly defining all the ramified tracery of the noble Gothic arch, and illumining the gorgeous dyes of its richly-stained glass, profusely decorated with the armorial bearings of the founder of the fane, and the many alliances of his descendants. The sheen of their blazonry gleamed bright in the darkness, as if to herald to his last home another of the line whose achievements it displayed. Glowing colourings, checkered like rainbow tints, were shed upon the broken leaves of the adjoining yew-trees, and upon the rounded grassy tombs.
Opening the gate, as he looked in that direction, Peter became aware of a dark figure, enveloped in a large black cloak, and covered with a slouched hat, standing at some distance, between the window and the tree, and so intervening as to receive the full influence of the stream of radiance which served to dilate its almost superhuman stature. The sexton stopped. The figure remained stationary. There was something singular both in the costume and situation of the person. Peter's curiosity was speedily aroused, and, familiar with every inch of the churchyard, he determined to take the nearest cut, and to ascertain to whom the mysterious cloak and hat belonged. Making his way over the undulating graves, and instinctively rounding the headstones that intercepted his path, he quickly drew near the object of his inquiry. From the moveless posture it maintained, the figure appeared to be unconscious of Peter's approach. To his eyes it seemed to expand as he advanced. He was now almost closc upon it, when his progress was arrested by a violent grasp laid on his shoulder. He started and uttered an exclamation of alarm. At this moment a vivid flash of lightning illumined the whole churchyard, and Peter then thought he beheld, at some distance from him, two other figures, bearing upon their shoulders a huge chest, or, it might be, a coffin. The garb of these figures, so tar as it could be discerned through the drenching rain, was fantastical in the extreme. The foremost seemed to have a long white beard descending to his girdle. Little leisure, however, was allowed Peter for observation. The vision no sooner met his glance than it disappeared, and nothing was seen but the glimmering tombstones-nothing heard but the whistling wind and the heavilydescending shower.
He rubbed his eyes. The mufiled figure had vanished, and not a trace could be discovered of the mysterious coffin-bearers, if such they were.
“What have I scen?" mentally cjaculated Peter: "is this sorcery or treachery, or both? No body-snatchers would visit this place on a night like this, when the whole neighbourhood is aroused. Can it be a vision I have seen? Pshaw! shall I juggle myself as I deceive these hinds? It was no bearded demon that I beheld, but the gipsy patrico, Balthazar. I knew him at once. But what meant that muffled figure; and whose arm could it have been that griped my shoulder? Ha! what if Lady Rookwood should have given orders for the removal of Susan's body. No, no; that cannot be. Besides, I liave the keys of the vault; and there are hundreds now in the church who would permit no such desecration. I am perplexed to think what it can mean. But I will to the vault.” Saying which, he hastened to the church. porch, and after wringing the wet from his clothes, as a water-dog might shake the moisture from his curly hide, and doffing his broad felt hat, he entered the holy edifice. The interior seemed one blaze of light to the sexton, in his sudden transition from outer darkness. Some few persons were assembled, probably such as were engaged in the preparations; but there was one group which immediately caught his attention.
Near the communion-table stood three persons, habited in deep mourning, apparently occupied in examining the various monumental carvings that enriched the walls. Peter's office led him to that part of the church. About to descend into the vaults, to make the last preparations for the reception of the dead, with lantern in hand, keys, and a crowbar, he approached the party. Little attention was paid to the sexton's proceedings, till the harsh grating of the lock attracted their notice.
Peter started as he beheld the face of one of the three, and relaxing his hold upon the key, the strong bolt shot back in the dock. There was a whisper amongst the party. A light step was heard advancing towards him; and ere the sexton could sufficiently recover his surprise, or force open the door, a female figure stood by his side.
The keen, inquiring stare which Peter bestowed upon the countenance of the young lady so much abashed her, that she hesitated in her purpose of addressing hiin, and hastily retired.
“She here!” muttered Peter; “nay, then, I must no longer withhold the dreaded secret from Luke, or Ranulph may, indeed, wrest his possessions from him."
Reinforced by her companions, an elderly lady and a tall, handsome man, whose bearing and deportment bespoke him to be a soldier, the fair stranger again ventured towards Peter.
“ You are the sexton," said she, addressing him in a voice sweet and musical.