Thursday, September 13, 2012

High Country 3--Penance

by Walt Staples -

“You realize of course, they’ll all think I bought my way back in,” Torn Herdmaster Morgan’s tone was bitter.

Father Mack looked at him with unconcern. “Do you really think people are going to seriously believe that, should the Archbishop lift the Interdict? Archbishop Siegfried Nicholas? ‘Nick the Dragon Slayer?’ Simony?

The hawk-faced man rolled that thought around for a moment. He gusted out a breath and shook his head. “Nay. ‘Tis truth. The lizard killer wouldn’t. He’d strike off the hand that bears his ring first.” He settled himself to bargain. “How much?”

The pastor leaned back in his chair and interlaced his nine fingers over his ample belly. The stub of his right middle finger, a souvenir of a miscue involving a rope and a beetle in younger days, marred their symmetry. “First, there is the matter of repentance. You are sorry for what you have done, and what you allowed your family to do?”

“And if I told you I nay give a fig?”

Father Mack tilted his head, raised his eyebrows, and regarded the Crucifix on the wall behind the herdmaster. “I would say that you were most likely speaking God’s simple truth, Morgan.” He paused. “But it’s not that simple is it?”

The other looked down at his unconsciously clinched hands. “Nay,” he whispered. “It nay be that simple.” He looked back up to meet the priest’s eye. “My sister’s third, the thoughtful one, cries every Sunday morning because he can’t serve at Mass. My daughter and my wife speak not to me because she can’t marry Cricket Bree’s Donald.” He snorted and grinned ruefully. “To think, a man could come to miss the wagging of women’s tongues.” His voice dropped back to a whisper. “And the look I get from the herdmaster of Cricket Bree. I walk into the tavern or Palmer’s and he and his family walk out. They say nay word, but the look...”

The Pastor of Bugtussle leaned forward and asked gently, “But, are you sorry, Morgan?”

The herdmaster sat upright and raised his eyebrows, gripping the arms of his chair. “Oh, aye. I’m sorry. I’m most sorry the Archbishop placed my family under Interdict.” He frowned. “To nay receive Communion. To nay be married within the Church. To nay have our little ones baptized--”

That is a lie, Morgan,” Father Mack suddenly flared. “They are baptized...the Christening is not celebrated.”

The herdmaster regarded him for a moment, then inclined his head. “Aye, I spoke out of turn. They can get into Heaven.” He took a deep breath. “What is to be done, then?”

The pastor looked at him and thought for several minutes. He came to a conclusion. “Perfect penance requires perfect contrition. Without it, there is no forgiveness. Morgan, you are an evil man in that you have done evil and have not repented of it. You are in a state of sin. But...I will grant that you are also a truthful man. Hypocrisy is one sin I doubt I’ll ever hear of you in Confession.” He rose to his feet. “I will inform his Grace that, while you fail to express perfect contrition, the rest of Family Torn does indeed. I will advise that the Interdict be lifted from your family, but that you, Morgan, remain under it.”

Torn Herdmaster Morgan also stood. He tilted his head and looked at Father Mack for a moment, then said. “Aye, it is a fair decision. That’s all that I could ask. Now, how much?”

The pastor placed his hands within the sleeves of his black habit. “For each member of Family Torn, one rosary a day for those in need, by those of age, until the Feast of Saint Chuck de Yeager. Whether you pray it is, of course, optional. Also, you will provide funds to those who are in need of help when I will inform you from time to time.”

The other smiled grimly. “Your slush-fund.”

“My holy slush-fund. I used some recently to pay the way for a family to be present at their son’s Publication on Sheba, at the Abbey of Jerome.

“Now, we’ve some catching up to do. I’ll announce the first banns for Donald and Katta this Sunday. And tell your nephew, Oskar, I want him in the Sacristy an hour before Mass—mind you, one hour. I do not appreciate a server who’s still puffing so hard he splatters candle wax in all directions. Also, I think Monday, we’ll celebrate that suspended funeral Mass for your Aunt Edna.”

The herdmaster brightened. “Good, maybe then she’ll let off caterwauling in my bedchamber every night and I can get some sleep.”

Father Mack stopped and looked Morgan in the eye. “You do realize that you may not take part in the wedding so long as you are under Interdict?”

Morgan looked at the floor. “Yes, I know, Father.”

The pastor nodded once. “Good, we understand each other. I’ll show you out.” As they crossed the rear of Our Lady of Bugtussle, Father Mack stopped, pointed toward the altar, and said in a conversational manner, “You know, there’s a slit in that hanging behind the Crucifix that I’ve got to mend one of these days when I get around to it. If a person were to stand behind it, they could see everything that goes on without actually being in the body of the church.”

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