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The Inquisition
by [?]

There was perfect silence in the study. Thirty-seven postulants were stooping over their high desks, reading and writing, their pens moving over their exercise books with the cumbersome stupidity of boyhood, their heads held between their hands as they repeated over and over again the conjugation of some Latin or Greek noun and tried to retain it in their racked memories. In the rear desk, three auxiliary prefects, wearing black soutanes, worked and conversed in whispers, disobeying the law of silence which they imposed on the junior postulants. For even in religious orders officials disobey their own laws.

It was after six o’clock. The angelus had been said. It was still an hour before the first auxiliary would bang his desk and recite the prayer before leaving the study for the refectory and supper.

A terrible hour, thought Francis Cleary. He sat in the second desk to the left of the passage, and although he had his Euripides open on his desk he was not reading it. He was listening to every sound with beating heart, thinking that the very next moment there would be a heavy step outside the door. Then the door would open slowly and the father-director’s large, red, melancholy face would appear. Holding his biretta in his hand he would advance slowly down the study, picking his steps with difficulty on account of his corns. He would pause at Cleary’s desk and he would tip Cleary’s right shoulder gently. Then without a word he would walk back again to the door and Cleary would have to follow him.

Cleary kept going over this routine of movement in his mind, and every time he came to the gentle tip on the shoulder, he started and a flow of blood went to his head that made him flush and tremble. It was terrible waiting like this. He had expected the priest every moment since five o’clock, when they had entered the study from the recreation ground. Why had he not come? Why was he torturing him like this?

There were three other boys guilty and they also were waiting, but they all knew that Cleary would be first. Why? Just with the instinct of boyhood and the peculiar cunning that life in a religious seminary engenders, where life is so closely scrutinized and public that each knows the others better than brothers and sisters know one another in a large family. So Cleary was known to be the most religious and devout boy in the scholasticate. The father-director paid especial attention to him. There were great hopes of his ultimate sanctity. Therefore he would be first. It would be through him that the guilt of the others would be made known or concealed. The others knew that. Cleary knew it and he trembled, because he felt that he would never have the courage to hold back information from Father Harty. Already he heard the boys hissing “spy” at him.

At last the ominous sound came. The auxiliaries stopped whispering. Cleary became absolutely numb with terror. He heard the slow irregular footsteps approach. He felt the gentle tip on his shoulder and he heard the priest’s asthmatic breathing over him. He rose immediately, and as he followed the priest’s broad black back, he cast a hurried glance behind him. The three faces were watching him with terror in their eyes, but also with a peculiar warning look, as much as to say: “You know what you are going to get if you tell.”

The father-director’s room was across the passage. Cleary was always terrified at that dark door that seemed to lead into a tunnel. On Saturday nights they all waited outside the door and entered into the lamplit gloom to kneel beside the little prayer stool, where Father Harty sat hearing confessions. Now it would be another sort of confession, a more terrible one.