Lord Dismiss Us

Lord Dismiss Us by Michael Campbell

Book: Lord Dismiss Us by Michael Campbell Read Free Book Online
Authors: Michael Campbell
is not a milkmaid! Christ is not a bearded lady! Christ is not even a schoolmaster – or a rural dean. Christ . . . is a burning fire.’
    His black eyes went along the pews, one by one, all through the building, and finally appeared to settle for a moment on the Headmaster’s pew.
    They could hear the Chaplain breathing.
    Then he spun away from them, and was facing the altar, making the sign of the Cross. There was a rush of words too swift to be audible—‘And-now-to-God-the-Father-God-the-Son-and-God-the-Holy-Ghost-Amen.’
    He spun back, took his skirt in his right hand and swept down from the altar-step, moving rapidly along the aisle which seemed to be entirely filled with his rustling white garments; his large buckled shoes squeaking as he went.

    The rest was not entirely anti-climax. When Carleton and Naylor took up the Collection, during the final hymn, the Chaplain made great play with receiving it on the gold plate like the sun. Having allowed it to flash and glitter in the face of all, in various swooping movements, he then offered it up on high with dramatic ceremonial that put one in mind of the Aztecs. But, otherwise, everyone was merely waiting to break forth and rejoice in the fulfilment of their expectations.
    Night had fallen.
    The boys paraded out first. This time they had the great satisfaction of standing aside, in the dimly lit Cloisters, in two lines, and intently scrutinising every face that passed down the middle and out the end door. The satisfaction would have been greater, were the Masters not such born actors. Jimmy Rich could be relied on for a nod and a grin – even a quick wink – but the rest were expressionless.
    The Crab was scarlet, with his chin up and mouth down. This was quite revealing, but no one suspected that he was dazed with shock and burning with rage; aggravated, if that were possible, by his having to give pride of place in the procession to the so-called Man of God.
    Ma Crab, beside him, walked with her eyes on the stone flags, and her hands behind her back, revealing nothing. She walked with the new knowledge that the pain and all the hidden bitterness of her life were of infinite value and sanctified by the Love of Christ. She could see nothing, save the face of the man who had made this plain.
    The Chaplain followed after them, faintly smiling, and went upstairs to eat a plate of smoked salmon.

    The School broke ranks with a roar. (The Head heard it from the hall of his House, and his hand went straight to his heart: it sounded like Revolution). They stripped off their surplices and let themselves go.
    The Chapel Square, the Quad, and the night, resounded with running feet and repeated cries of: ‘Christ . . . is a burning fah! ’
    Blood was running faster. All things were intensified. Alone in the silent Chapel, Carleton took one end of the white and gold altar-cloth and Naylor the other, and as they moved together to fold it, Carleton let Naylor take his end of the cloth and he put his hands instead round Naylor’s waist. Naylor’s face, close to his, blushed a little and he said, mildly, ‘Tch, tch, Carleton, for heavens sake!’ Naylor was wonderfully slim and fresh in his dark-blue suit. Turning away out of Carleton’s hands, he folded the cloth again, with his back to him, and Carleton, feeling warm and happy, put his hands around Naylor’s chest. They were the same height. Naylor did not move away. Carleton kissed the nape of his neck. ‘You’re crazy,’ Naylor said suddenly. ‘Someone’ll come in.’ He stepped away across the flags to a ledge on which was lying the tray containing the red velvet money-bags.
    ‘I’ll carry it,’ said Carleton.
    ‘I saw you! I saw you!’
    Seaton-Scott, with his spectacles glinting, had leaped out from under the altar-table. Carleton nearly dropped the tray. They hadn’t even noticed him crouching there.
    ‘Caught in the act, caught in the act!’ shouted Seaton-Scott, beaming and jumping up and down like an

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