The high chandeliers in the Great Hall of Lincolns Inn were ablaze with candles, for it was late afternoon when the play began. Most members of Lincolns Inn were present, the barristers in their robes and their wives in their best costumes. After an hour standing watching my back was starting to ache, and I envied the few elderly and infirm members who had brought stools.
The performance of a play at Lincolns Inn traditionally held in March had been cancelled earlier in the month because of heavy snow; late in the month it was still unseasonably cold, the breath of actors and audience visible, wafting up like smoke. The play that year was a new interlude, The Trial of Treasure, a heavy-handed moral fable with the gorgeously robed actors portraying the vices and virtues of mankind. As the actor playing Virtue, resplendent in a long white false beard, lectured Dissimulation on his deceitful ways appropriately, perhaps, to an audience of lawyers my attention wandered and I cast my eyes over the shadowed faces of the audience. Treasurer Rowland, a thin-faced, acerbic old man, was eyeing the actors as though wondering whether it might have been better hiring a troupe with less expensive costumes even if this play required no elaborate scenery. Across from me I saw my old enemy Stephen Bealknap, his greedy pale blue eyes studying his fellow lawyers. Those eyes were never still, would never meet yours, and as he saw me looking at him his gaze slid away. He was perhaps the crookedest lawyer I had ever come across; it still smarted that eighteen months before I had been forced to abandon a case against him through the ruthless machinations of his patron, Richard Rich. It struck me that he looked tired, ill.
Some distance away my friend Roger Elliard, to whose house I was invited to a dinner afterwards, held his wifes hand. A new scene had begun; Lust had made a pact of fellowship with Inclination to Evil.
Embracing each of them in turn, he was suddenly seized with pain and crouched on his knees.
Out alas, what sudden passion is this,
I am so taken that I cannot stand,
the cramp, the cramp has touched me,
I shall die without remedy now out of hand.
The actor, struck down by divine judgement, stretched out a trembling hand to the audience. I saw Bealknap look at him with a sort of puzzled contempt; Roger, though, turned suddenly away. I knew why; I would talk to him later.
At last the play ended; the players bowed, the audience clapped, and we got our cold limbs into motion and stepped out into Gatehouse Court. The sun was just setting, illuminating the redbrick buildings and the melting snow in the courtyard with an umber light. People walked away to the gate, or if they lived at Lincolns Inn stepped homewards, wrapping their coats around them. I waited in the doorway for the Elliards, nodding to acquaintances. The audience were the only ones abroad, for it was a Saturday out of law term, Palm Sunday Eve. I looked across to the Elliards lodgings. All the windows were lit and servants could be seen within, bustling with trays. Dorothys dinners were well known around the Inn, and even at the end of Lent, with red meat forbidden, I knew that she would have large tabling and good belly cheer for the group they had invited.
Despite the cold I felt relaxed, more peaceful than I had for a long time. In just over a week it would be Easter Sunday, and also the twenty-fifth of March, the official start of the New Year of 1543. Sometimes in recent years I had wondered at this time what grim events the coming year might bring. But I reflected that now I had only good and interesting work, and times with good friends, to look forward to. That morning while dressing I had paused to study my face in the steel mirror in my bedroom; something I seldom did, for the sight of my humped back still distressed me. I saw streaks of grey in my hair, deepening lines on my face. Yet I thought perhaps they gave me something of a distinguished look; and I had passed forty the previous year, I could no longer expect to look young.
Excerpted from Revelation by C.J. Samson Copyright © 2008. by C.J. Samson. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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