Sleep was a rare commodity at the St. Anne’s guest house. With Jack picking up Denise, then the constable’s visitation to gather evidence, and finally Denise’s return, the time the team was supposed to rest for the match turned into an all-nighter. Coach Dorr was in and out, but Vannie ended up acting as den mother for most of the girls. Denise didn’t get back until about 0430, but, after giving everyone the executive version of her ordeal, she was able to crash.
Vannie wanted to crash too, but she was too keyed up. She rose just before 0600, finding that everybody else but Denise and Dorr were up.
Vannie counted noses. “Where’s Alicia?” she asked.
“Up on the roof,” one of the team members replied.
“What’s she doing up there?” Vannie came back.
“Wanted to be alone, I guess.” Vannie went up the flight of stairs and found the roof hatch and ladder. Sure enough, Alicia was sitting cross-legged at the corner of the building, staring towards the direction of Serelia town.
“What are you doing up here?” Vannie demanded.
“Look over there,” Alicia blankly replied, pointing in the direction she was facing. “There’s Mercury just above the horizon.” She moved her pointing hand upward. “There’s Venus. Up from that are Mars and Jupiter. Star charts say that Neptune is just next to Venus, and Uranus is further up in the sky from that.”
“‘Pinprick holes in a colourless sky/Let insipid figures of light pass by…’” Vannie recalled. She turned to Alicia. “You came up here just to see that?”
“Isn’t it cool?” Alicia asked. “All of these planets in a row. I’m not up this early too often, and it’s really dark up here. I didn’t want to miss it.” She turned to face Vannie. “Don’t you think that this is a sign? It doesn’t happen that often.”
“Yeah, but for who? And when did you get into all of this stargazing?”
“I’ve always liked this,” Alicia answered. “I remember when I first went out on the beach with Brent Murchison, I looked up. Turned out to be more interesting than Brent.”
“I’ll say,” Vannie agreed. She looked out at the planets lined up. “I hope it’s a sign for us, but I’m not so sure this morning.”
“How’s Denise doing?”
“She’s in bad shape. I’m trying to let her sleep as much as possible.”
“I can’t believe that she let Jack lead her on like that.”
“You know Denise—she grabs all the gusto she can.”
“You think all of this is worth it?” Alicia asked.
“Sometimes,” Vannie admitted. “When it’s good, there’s nothing better—drinking, smoking pot, you name it. But you’ve only got two choices. You can do it and take your chances. Or you can be a good girl and have no friends like Maddy. That’s all there is to it.”
“I guess you’re right,” Alicia said.
“You coming down?”
“I guess.” Alicia got up and they went down together.
Denise got up at 0630 to get ready for the 0900 competition with St. Anne’s. The sun was coming up as they drooped their heads over breakfast.
“I feel like crap,” she said over breakfast.
“You’ve pulled all nighters before,” Vannie assured her. “You’ll make it.”
“It’s not just no sleep. It’s the agony of the whole thing.”
“I know. Did they try to torture you down there?”
Denise thought for a second. “Actually, they weren’t too bad. And that sailfish soup was pretty tasty—a lot tastier than this slop. The worst part was waiting—waiting for them to make a move is like watching the grass grow.”
“Why did Jack come up here?”
“His name says it all—he just jacked me around. He’s gonna find out you just don’t do that and get away with it.”
The team finished breakfast. The girls piled silently into the bus in their tennis whites, wishing for toothpicks to hold their eyes open, and they made the short trip down to St. Anne’s main campus.
The courts were already busy with the home team practising and the spectators—parents, students and the curious alike—gathering. Vannie spotted her Aunt Susan, who had brought along Darlene. Both mother and child gave Vannie a good hug, and Darlene hugged the rest of the team while she was at it.
“That’s the best welcome we’ve gotten since we’ve been here,” Denise observed. They went up to the place in front of the stands where St. Anne’s captain and coach had gathered.
Their coach was a middle-aged Australian named Genevieve Isaacs, who was also Coach Dorr’s counterpart as St. Anne’s Athletic Director. The captain was Grace Isaacs, a south Georgian with the thick accent to match.
“Don’t tell me you two are related,” Denise said, tired of all of the relatives she kept running into.
“Somewhere back there,” Genevieve said. “Probably different prison ships.”
“Looks like you caught another one to get here,” Denise came back.
“We understand you’ve had a hard visit,” Grace said sympathetically. Vannie noticed that Grace’s right ankle was heavily taped, even though she was in her tennis whites.
“Do you have your roster?” Dorr asked.
“We do,” Genevieve replied, handing her a copy. Dorr gave hers over as well. Dorr and Denise looked over the paper.
“You’re not on it,” Denise said. “What’s going on?”
“Unfortunately, I twisted my ankle in practice yesterday,” Grace sighed. “You will be playing Theresa Amherst.” She pointed to something behind her. Denise turned around to find Theresa holding hands with Vannie. The familial resemblance was obvious between the two, but beyond that things favoured Theresa. Of average height, she bucked the trend of the times by wearing short, wavy, styled medium blonde hair. In every aspect of her appearance, Denise saw that Theresa was doll-like: figure, legs, poise, her very even but not too dark tone, her skin complexion, even her wide hazel eyes spoke perfection to Denise, something she didn’t see when she looked in the mirror. This created a sense of inferiority in her, the last thing she needed after what she had just been through. Her holding hands with her best friend only added to Denise’s consternation.
She turned back to the two Isaacs. “You have all of the positions filled?”
“We do,” Grace said.
Denise looked passed them at a girl that had walked up behind them. She had very dark skin with straight, jet black, thick hair and black eyes to match, which contrasted with her tennis uniform.
“I didn’t know you have Aloxans coming to this place,” Denise said.
“We don’t,” Grace said matter-of-factly. “This is Dorcas Timothy. Her father is a bishop in the Church of South India.”
“Bishop? I didn’t know they had bishops in India. I never saw a bishop look anything like that. I thought there were only Hindus and gurus in India.”
“The Church of South India is in communion with the local Church of Serelia,” Genevieve added.
“And, of course, we have many Muslims in India,” Dorcas added. Behind Denise’s back, Theresa looked at her cousin in astonishment at this show of ignorance.
“I believe that Dorcas will be playing Miss van Bokhoven in the singles competition,” Genevieve announced. They spent the next minute or so finalising the line-up.
“We will be having our prayer and formal opening shortly,” Grace announced. She shook hands with Denise and the two sets of representatives departed.
Denise pulled Vannie aside. “What were you holding hands with her for?” she asked insistently. “You two got something going?”
“It’s okay up here,” Vannie assured her. “It’s not the same. Serelian women do it all the time. Besides, Theresa doesn’t get much affection at home.”
“She gets a lot of it elsewhere, if the rumours are right.”
“You heard the rumours from me—and one thing you find up here is that love and sex are two entirely different things.”
“That’s for sure,” Denise agreed. At this point the headmistress came up and, using a bullhorn, gave a greeting to the Point Collina team and the spectators. This was the cue for everyone to take their place, which for the two teams were in queues just off court with their captains at the head.
“I hate this part,” Denise whispered behind her. At the end of her speech, the headmistress asked for the teams to come out on the westward court. As Denise and Grace gave each other the cue, the two teams walked out in synchronised single file march on opposite sides of the net. They ended up in two parallel lines facing each other, each line about three metres from the net. The two teams were a study in contrasts. The St. Anne’s team was the last team Point Collina played to wear mid-thigh, pleated skirts and Izod shirts, while the Point Collina team’s skirts were strictly a formality and their uniforms were sleeveless as well. The St. Anne’s team was the only team to have a non-white member on it, their country’s reputation for raw racism notwithstanding. The Point Collina girls looked very tired and bedraggled, in contrast to the fresher look of their Serelian counterparts.
The school’s chaplain, a short, distinguished minister named Clive Bancroft, got up and gave a suitably pompous Anglican invocation, after which the two teams bowed to each other, faced left, and walked off of the court as they walked on.
“I think his father interrogated me last night,” Denise whispered to Vannie.
“I think you’re right about that,” Vannie agreed.
Following Serelian custom, the two top players went first. Denise felt like she had jet lag; one minute she was fine and the next minute she was sinking. As she prepared to walk out on court, the sinking came back as she put on her wrist band. Her head felt like a boat taking on water and the rest of her didn’t feel much better. Vannie noticed that she was weaving a bit as she made her way to centre court.
She took her position on the baseline; she had the first serve. In spite of Denise’s condition, it was Theresa that was lagging on getting out to play. This only made matters worse for Denise, as she noticed Theresa’s air of perfection extended to her gait. Her white tennis shoes tread ever so softly on the court, so much so that she looked as though she could walk on a field of eggs and not break a one. She held her racquet in both hands the whole time she walked on; Denise had almost drug hers on the ground to get it out there. Had Denise looked hard enough, she would have seen the look of sheer terror in Theresa’s eyes, terror born of Denise’s reputation as, until recently at least, the Island’s best Upper Division girl tennis player.
But Denise knew she was in trouble. As Theresa took her place on the baseline, the whole conversation with Vannie about the Amhersts and their descent from the Kings of Beran flooded her mind. It hit her that she was about to play the product of a century and a half of the most powerful, cold-blooded rulers the Island had ever known, all rolled into one Sixth Form girl who in addition had the beauty that Denise found so elusive. Denise saw herself on Avinet’s Beach being nailed to a cross, looking across at Beran-Williamstown school where another scion of a great Island family found unexpected victory just one month ago.
From her first serve Denise and her team-mates could tell the power that characterised her game was virtually gone. Denise’s only hope was her ball placement, and it was here that she ran into Theresa’s great asset: her speed. No matter where she put the ball, Theresa was there to send it back to her. Theresa had always played a decidedly “defensive” game, and in this case it paid off: as long as she could keep the ball in play, Theresa’s main task was to wait until Denise made mistakes. At last Denise made too many mistakes, and suddenly Theresa realised that she had put Denise away in two sets; she blanked the great champion in the last game.
The usually reserved Serelians were on their feet clapping and cheering at the unexpected victory. Theresa was as much in shock as everyone else; she made her way towards her opponent to shake hands. Denise started to storm off of the court, but her coach and team-mates motioned for her to exhibit some sportsmanlike conduct, and she turned and congratulated Theresa before finishing her court exit. She slammed her racquet down and sat down on the bench, burying her face in her hands.
Jack and Rick had slipped in just before the match had started. They too were impressed both by Denise’s poor performance and Theresa’s excellent one, but Jack was fixated on the same things that had made Denise’s envious: Theresa’s appearance.
“She’s a doll,” Jack told Rick as he stared at her on the court. “Who is she?”
“That’s Theresa Amherst,” Rick replied. “You really need to be careful—her old man and his father are the most powerful men in the country, next to the King. You’ll be floating up on the beach if you get crossways with them.”
“I gotta meet her,” Jack said, almost in a dream-state. He wanted to take off after the match, but Rick advised him to wait until the crowd around her thinned out a bit. In the meanwhile the next two matches started, which included Vannie’s attempt to restore the team honour against Dorcas Timothy.
Although she feared that Denise would lose, the actual loss shook Vannie up. As she went out on court, she looked at her opponent, who was taking her position. The result of too many books and shows about gurus and yogis caught up with her. She’s from India, it hit her. These people invented karma. What’s happens if she shoots some bad stuff my way along with the ball? She could see a Shiva across the net, racquet for each pair of hands, shooting as many balls her way at once.
While Vannie struggled with both her inner doubts and her outward tennis game, Jack and Rick made their move. They exited the stands and went around to be as close to the St. Anne’s team as they could get. Theresa really wanted to watch the rest of the competition, but this proved impossible with all of the congratulations she was getting from her countrymen.
The two guys finally made their way to Theresa. Jack found that, the closer he got, the better it got, at least for him. By the time he got up to her he was smitten.
“Congratulations, Theresa,” he said. “I’m Jack Arnold. My grandfather’s Mark Arnold—he helped to start this church up here.”
“I’m Rick Langley—my dad’s going to be Rector at St. Mark’s,” Rick added.
“Thank you,” Theresa replied. Theresa could see that Jack was infatuated with her, but held back her own intrigue with him. “I’m honoured to meet such a great son of the church.”
The great son of the church was about to move in for the kill when he felt a tapping on his shoulder. He turned around and beheld the opposite of what was in front of him: a huge, somewhat dark complexioned man balding at the top, the dark brown hair that remained being greased back. He had a thick moustache which was carefully groomed. He wore a uniform that had started out as navy blue but had faded with too many washings. The insignia on his shoulders looked suspiciously like the one on the side of the truck they came up in. On his shirt was pinned a hard plastic name badge but, instead of being engraved, it had an label stuck on it with the name “COLEMAN” embossed on it. Behind him was a man who was obviously his deputy, in a similar uniform but lower in both rank and certainly in size.
“Are you Jack Arnold?” Coleman asked.
“Yeah,” Jack replied.
“I need to have a word with you.”
“What for? Who are you anyway?”
“Ecclesiastical Constable. You’re coming with me.”
“Why?” Jack asked, both puzzled and rebellious.
“You better do what he says,” Rick warned his friend. “These guys are for real.”
“That’s good advice, Sonny,” Coleman confirmed.
“You’re Rick Langley, aren’t you?” the deputy asked.
“Yeah, I am,”
“You’re coming with us also.” The smile was wiped off of both the boys’ faces. Jack gave a finger wave to Theresa, who responded in kind, then he turned as Coleman gave Jack a little shove in the direction of his car, which was marked in the same way as Coleman was. Rick fell in behind him, the deputy taking up the rear. The St. Anne’s team attention was drawn away from Dorcas’ struggle with Vannie as they watched Coleman cuff Jack amidst his obscene protests and shove him into the back seat of the car. Rick was cuffed also, more meek than his friend, and ended up next to him in the back.
The car was an old Dodge police cruiser which had many miles on it before being exported from the US to acquire a few kilometres on the roads of Serelia. Jack finally realised he was in a tight place in every way; he looked at Rick with uncharacteristic fear. Behind the driver’s seat, Jack’s tight place got tighter as Coleman shoehorned himself behind the wheel, almost shoving Jack’s knees into his pelvis. As Coleman finally cranked the car to start and the springs under his seat cried for mercy, he put it in gear and the three of them took off to the Ecclesiastical Constabulary, the deputy behind them driving the truck that had brought Jack and Rick up from Drago.
It was located a few blocks from the place where Denise had spent the previous evening, in the bowels of the Ecclesiastical Chancery, where the administrative functions of the church, including the schools, medical clinics, and the Archsexton had their offices. Jack and Rick had a rougher ride, though: Coleman never bothered to change the shocks on any car he had, and in any case the Church’s budget for such things was less than their secular counterparts. The occupants were of few words the whole trip.
They arrived; Coleman and his deputy escorted them to their own interrogation room. Uncuffing them, they sat Jack and Rick down with no table in front of them; only the deputy had that luxury, a very small table where he could take notes.
Coleman reviewed the police file that Bancroft had assembled and handed it to his deputy. He turned and faced the two boys, his girth blocking their view of the deputy taking notes.
“Where were you about 2100 last night?” Coleman asked.
“Uh. . .I think that was when I got to the tavern, the Flying Dutchman.”
“Why does the church care about that?” Jack asked.
“You better answer him,” Rick said. “He’s figured it out.”
“Your friend is wise again,” Coleman said. “Just to educate you on our system here, the Ecclesiastical Constable has jurisdiction over all matters relating to the Church—internal discipline, unlawful religious activity, truancy and other serious matters in school, and of course theft and abuse of church property. Every now and then the King’s officers will deputise us to handle matters that we have some interest in. This is what has happened here. You would probably be sitting in their room rather than mine if you hadn’t exercised the poor judgement of using the sexton’s truck of the Church of St. Mark’s to go ‘bar hopping,’ as you Verecundans like to say, with Miss Denise Kendall. But now the entire matter—including her admission of unlawful conjugal activity—is in my purview.”
“I didn’t do anything! She never said that!” Jack exclaimed.
“I’m afraid she did,” Coleman said. He handed Jack a copy of her confession. The two boys read it in shock.
“She’s lying!” Jack said. “It’s her word against mine. She hates me, that’s why she did this.”
“I have no doubt that Miss Kendall hates you, and for good reason,” Coleman agreed. “But we have several other witnesses that have informed us that you did not leave the Flying Dutchman until after midnight, that you rented and paid for the room she came out of unclothed two hours later, and that you left your seed on the bedsheets for good measure.” He showed Jack the Polaroid photograph of the last piece of evidence.
“She did it with somebody else! I just rented the room because she was drunk and almost passed out.”
“So why didn’t you just take her back to the guest house, like the knight in shining armour you claim to me?” the deputy asked. Jack had no comeback to that last question.
“I want to speak with my ambassador! And why did you guys release her anyway? It takes two.”
“Miss Kendall carries a diplomatic passport,” Coleman reminded Jack. “Your ambassador came round last night to handle that crisis. As a practical matter, although I am no expert on Verecundan politics, I would think that your attempts to get either assistance or sympathy from your government would fall on deaf ears, if you know what I’m talking about.” Jack knew exactly what he was talking about when he said that.
“Now, as I see it, we have two choices. You can be formally arrested and charged with unlawful conjugal relations and your unauthorised use of Church property.” He turned to Rick. “And you can be charged as his accomplice, since you allowed his use of the truck. Both of you can find yourself fighting these charges in a system that does not have habeas corpus and which is subject to royal decree should His Majesty, in consultation with our dear Bishop, decide that he is tired of dealing with barnacles like you two. Or, you can admit your guilt, allow me to administer a little corporal punishment, and be on your way. In your case,” he looked at Jack, “that will be straight to your boat in Drago and out of our country for good.”
Jack thought for a minute. “I was kinda hoping to be Reverend Langley’s acolyte at early Communion tomorrow before heading back. For old times sake.”
Coleman thought about it. “All right, if both of you will take your beating, we’ll do it. The Drago constabulary will be watching you like a hawk and, of course, you’ll be in the church close, so you’ll still be under my jurisdiction. And, of course, by that time the burden of your sins will be intolerable, I can assure you.”
Jack and Rick looked at each other and nodded in assent. “It’s a deal,” Rick said. Coleman’s deputy got up and left the room with the paperwork, and returned with Coleman’s razor strap. Both Jack and Rick’s eyes widened when they beheld this, the favourite instrument of punishment of the Ecclesiastical Constabulary for younger offenders.
“Take your clothes off,” he said. They both stripped down to their underwear. “All of them!” he barked.
“Huh?” Jack breathed.
“It’s the way they do it up here,” Rick explained. “That’s the way Athena’s mom beats her.” They complied with this.
“Mr. Arnold, you’re first. Bend over on the chair,” Coleman said. Jack knelt on the floor and bent over with his elbows on the chair. Both Rick and the deputy stood back as Coleman assumed his position, doubled over the razor strap, drew back, and lashed the strap across Jack’s hind quarters.
Jack had felt his father’s belt from time to time, but the pain he felt from Coleman’s first blow was far more excruciating than he had ever felt before in his life for any reason. He tried to count the strokes, but somewhere in the process he lost consciousness and fell onto the floor. The deputy simply pulled his body out of the way and Coleman proceeded to administer Rick the same punishment, albeit with fewer strokes because his offence was less.
Coleman finished Rick’s beating and admired his handiwork. “Get dressed,” he ordered Rick. “And get his clothes on, too,” he said, pointing at Jack. Both Coleman and the deputy left the room, closed and locked the door behind them. Rick got dressed while trying to hold his composure, but when he got a good look at the damage Coleman had wrought on Jack, he began to cry, a sobbing that became more intense as he horsed Jack’s clothes on him. When Rick finished that task, he dried his eyes the best he could to conceal his sorrow, then he beat on the door.
“We’re ready. Get us out of here!” he shouted. The deputy opened the door and, seeing that Rick was having trouble manhandling Jack, helped him carry Jack to the St. Mark’s truck. They spread out a blanket and put him face down in the bed. He showed a little life but not much.
“The deputy will follow you back to Drago,” Coleman said. “You’re paperwork is clear. Don’t you ever let this kind of thing happen with church property again.”
“No, sir,” Rick promised. Rick got into the truck, which was painful for him to sit in, started it up, and pulled out into the road that led him back home, the deputy following him all the way through Fort Albert and back to the parish close at St. Mark’s.
Vannie managed to slog her way through several deuces to beat Dorcas, but the Point Collina girls’ fortunes waned after that. Bereft of the “virgin traitors” and delayed with a rain shower, the PC team’s lack of depth was matched with St. Anne’s better than expected performance. Dorcas managed to even the score with Vannie when she and Theresa put Vannie and Alicia away in doubles. The competition ended up 5-2 for St. Anne’s, a rout that only crowned the sour mood the Point Collinans started with.
As was the case with Jack and Rick, the girls’ constabulary escort was waiting for them. Vannie wanted to spent some extra time with her aunt and cousins but knew this wasn’t the occasion, so she boarded the bus with the rest of the team and they left with the constable behind them.
The original plan was to eat at the Flying Dutchman, but both Denise and Vannie vetoed the idea, so they headed straight for Denton and the Claudian border. Once they had cleared Claudian formalities—which weren’t quite as interesting as those coming in—they went back to the Perfect Ashlar for the first decent meal that the girls—except ironically for Denise—had had since they crossed the border yesterday. As Denise entered the room, Olivia was so happy to see her she ran across the room, threw her arms around her and hugged her, ending up prostrating herself on the floor. Denise and Vannie helped her up, and she seated them in the same corner they were the previous day.
“Heineken dark again?” Olivia asked.
“Yeah, why not?” Denise said.
“Great idea,” Vannie agreed. Vannie looked at Denise’s bloodshot eyes and blank countenance. “You look awful. But we’re safe now,” she assured Denise.
“I feel worse than I look,” Denise confessed. “I never thought I’d do something that stupid, especially with someone I had dumped for good reason.”
“Maybe there were more fond feelings than you thought,” Vannie suggested.
“You can’t let guys like Jack have their way. You have to break them. I forgot that. I won’t make that mistake again.” She looked at her friend. “You did great against that little spook they put up against you—at least in singles. Maybe a stronger partner would have been better.”
“Dorcas is okay,” Vannie said. “She’s a lot sweeter than the country she’s in.”
“That wouldn’t take much,” Denise said. “Tell me again, who was that who took Jack and Rick away?”
“The church cop,” Vannie answered. “I know you’re sore about Jack, but I’d hate to think what he put those two through. He’s a sadist.”
“Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough,” Denise stated.
They finished their meal and headed down the road. The chipper, upbeat team that had left Point Collina yesterday was the silent, introspective team that rode back today. Even Denise noticed the depressed state of the girls.
“I’ve never seen this team this down,” Denise whispered to Vannie as they headed into Claudia town.
“‘Yesterday’s dreams are tomorrow’s sighs,’” Vannie quoted. Once past Claudia they were able to do more than play the music they liked in their head. The top 40 station in Verecunda came back into reasonable range, and they heard such tunes as the Osmonds’ “One Bad Apple” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read my Mind.” The contact with home cheered them up, although the golden-throated newscaster announced their loss along with the boys’ win in Alemara. Pretty soon the conversation machine was moving along with the bus as they made their way through the Aloxan border and through Beran and Aloxa town.
The sun was setting as the girls made the last border crossing at Point Collina. Behind them they could see the sunset playing its red and pink shades in the clouds.
“I feel like kissing the ground like I’ve never felt before,” Denise said as they made their way down Ocean Avenue. She looked out at both the sunset and the familiar town that passed before them. They reached the school, where their cars, parents, or rides were waiting for them to take them home. In Denise’s case, her mother had taken the presidential limousine to pick her daughter up personally. Laura Kendall embraced Denise tightly and they got in the car, the additional driver from the government complex driving Denise’s car behind them. The others dispersed as the day expired into darkness and they all hoped that the real nightmares had been left on the other end of the Island.
Jack was just coming to when the truck pulled into the parish close. Rick helped him out of the back and into the house.
Coleman had already called and briefed the Langleys on the situation. Their surprise was muted; their years at All Saints in Point Collina had taught them that, when Jack and Rick got together, trouble frequently ensued. They had decided that, even though their distaste for what Jack and Rick did was intense, Coleman was punishment enough for both of them, so they restricted themselves to a long lecture on the proper behaviour of a Christian gentleman. Given the sad state of their derrières, sitting through such a lecture was just about as bad as taking the beating in the first place. When they were not lecturing, they fed them well and talked about old times before they all retired.
Saturday evening Mass came to the Cathedral, and before it the penitents came for Confession. Madeleine, for reasons as mysterious as the last time she went, decided it was time to right her relationship with God once again. So she entered the Cathedral with her parents, dressed in a similar outfit she wore the last time she went except that it was all black. They took their usual positions in the back while she went to the line for the next open confessional.
She entered and knelt down, having prepared herself at home. The priest opened the shutter; she knew it was Father Moore.
“Bless me, father, for I have sinned, it has been about six weeks since I last went to confession,” she began. “During that time, I became angry about a dozen times.”
“At whom?” Moore asked.
“At my school, at my teachers, at my headmaster, at our government, and at our bishop.” She expected a reaction to this.
“Go on, my child.”
“Very well, I have been too proud during this time, and I have been too slothful in doing good deeds. Also, I have had impure thoughts once or twice.”
“Anyone in particular?”
“A young man in our school. We have been thrown out of class together. I know he is somewhat cute—there I go again—but he is dangerous, his reputation is not good.” She paused. “That is all I can think of.”
“You have not made a good confession,” Moore declared.
“How is this?” Madeleine asked.
“You missed Mass by your own fault. You went to the Baptist church last month without going to Mass that Sunday.”
“But, Father, I was their guest. I wanted to make a good impression of them as a Catholic. They had never seen this before.”
“It is not your right to decide on the legitimacy of ecumenical gatherings. You must be penitent about this.”
“Very well, Father,” Madeleine replied reluctantly. “I am sorry for this.”
“And then there is the matter of the miracles. You must do penance for lying about these.”
“I would be sinning if I did as you suggested,” Madeleine retorted. “I know what happened. I know what I did.”
“You must tell the truth about this,” Moore insisted.
“I am. You cannot force me to lie. Perhaps I should have started with, ‘Bless you, Father, for you have sinned. . .’”
“Impertinent girl! I should have you excommunicated!” Moore waited for a response to this, but all he got was silence.
“Very well,” he continued. “Have it your way. For your penance, you will say ten Our Fathers, ten Hail Marys, and Domine Sancte twice.” He then pronounced the formula for absolution over Madeleine, and she left the confessional.
Moore closed the shutter, then stopped. His trembling lips pressed tightly together against each other as he tried to compose himself to hear the next confession. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” he very softly said to himself before opening the opposite shutter and resuming his priestly duties.
Madeleine returned to sit next to her mother, lowered the kneeler, and knelt and prayed for a long time. Finally she crossed herself and sat down.
“It was a difficult confession?” Yveline asked her daughter.
“Yes, Maman, it was,” Madeleine confirmed.
Yveleine grasped Madeleine’s hand. “It will be all right,” she assured.
“I hope so,” Madeleine replied.