On the following morning, he and Annot, and most of the young men and women of the village walked over to St. Laud’s to receive mass from Father Jerome, and to hear the discourse which he had promised to give respecting the duties of the people in the coming times.
The people, as in olden days, were crowded round the church about half-past ten o’clock; but the doors of the church were closed. The revolt in La Vendee had already gone far enough to prevent the possibility of the constitutional priests officiating in the churches to which they had been appointed by the National Assembly; but it had not yet gone far enough to enable the old nonjuring Cures to resume generally their own places in their own churches: the people, however, now crowded round the church of St. Laud’s, till they should learn where on that day Father Jerome would perform mass.
The church of St. Laud’s did not stand in any village, nor was it surrounded even by a cluster of cottages. It stood by itself on the side of a narrow little road, and was so completely surrounded by beech and flowering ash trees, that a stranger would not know that he was in the neighbourhood of a place of worship till it was immediately in front of him. Opposite to the door of the church and on the other side of the road, was a cross erected on a little mound; and at its foot a Capuchin monk in his arse brown frock, with his hood thrown back, and his eyes turned to heaven, was always kneeling: the effigy at least of one was doing so, for it was a painted wooden monk that was so perpetually at his prayers.
The church itself was small, but it boasted of a pretty grey tower; and on each side of the door of the church were two works of art, much celebrated in the neighbourhood. On the left side, beneath the window, a large niche was grated in with thick, rusty iron bars. It occupied the whole extent from the portico to the corner of the church, and from the ground to the window; and, within the bars, six monster demons—spirits of the unrepentent dead, the forms of wretches who had died without owning the name of their Saviour, were withering in the torments of hell-fire; awful indeed was the appearance of these figures; they were larger than human, and twisted into every variety of contortion which it was conceived possible that agony could assume. Their eyes were made to protrude from their faces, their fiery tongues were hanging from their scorched lips; the hairs of each demon stood on end and looked like agonized snakes; they were of various hideous colours; one was a dingy blue; another a horrid dirty yellow, as though perpetual jaundice were his punishment; another was a foul unhealthy green; a fourth was of a brick-dust colour; a fifth was fiery red, and he was leaping high as though to escape the flame; but in vain, for a huge blue flake of fire had caught him by the leg, and bound him fast; his fiery red hands were closed upon the bars, his tortured face was pressed against them, and his screeching mouth was stretched wide open so as to display two awful rows of red-hot teeth; the sixth a jet black devil, cowered in a corner and grinned, as though even there he had some pleasure in the misery of his companions.