Stigmata

Stigmata by Colin Falconer Read Free Book Online

Book: Stigmata by Colin Falconer Read Free Book Online
Authors: Colin Falconer
hand-wringing stayed him. If only this wretch knew what was in my heart! The ways
of the Dark One are truly insidious, he thought. Or perhaps God has sent this as a test for me. He intends this as my moment to overcome the Devil’s power, to defeat him as surely as the Lord
defeated his temptations in the wilderness.
    ‘Please, talk with her, Father. If I had a son, it would be a gift I could give to God, knowing it was of some value. But a daughter . . . really, the sacrifice is hers alone, and I do not
believe she understands the gravity of it. Will you prevail on her, for me?’
    Simon could not find his voice. He retrieved the hem of his cassock, stepped over a large block of marble, and hurried away.
    Why did he choose me? Simon wondered. Was it just because he knew me and had cause to converse with me often? There were some clerics who would not even speak to a woman, saying their gender was
responsible for the sins of Eve and thus the suffering of all men. He himself believed it was because such priests did not trust themselves, were afraid that the charms that the Devil lent women
could lead them from a sinless life.
    I never before counted myself among them.
    It was admitted that virtuous men were not easily found within the Church. There were many clerics who knew fornication better than they knew the words of the mass, and monks who, if they did
not have a reputation for scandal, should have no reputation at all.
    He always thought himself exceptional; had convinced himself that on the Day of Judgement God would find no blemish on his pure heart. This was a test of his virtue, that was all. And he would
prove finally to himself, and to his Lord, that the Devil held no play over him whatever.

 
IX
    T HE B ÉRENGER FAMILY lived in the narrow streets on the Garonne side, close to the sweatshops
and the bleachers and tanners around the church of Saint-Pèire-des-Cuisines. To get there Simon passed through several mean alleys, with workshops and stalls on every side. The imprecations
of the whores and the shrieks of snot-nosed children were a vexation. Gangs of adolescents roamed there, mocking the old and the lame and getting into fist-fights outside the ale-houses.
    As in Paris, the population of the town had no other means of disposing of waste than by throwing everything into the street. The rickety upper storeys jutted at angles over the narrow lanes and
Simon had once experienced the unrelieved joy of having the contents of a night jar emptied on his head. On one famous occasion even the Bishop had been so anointed. The most hideous filth was
piled up outside every door, where dogs and pigs squabbled over the fare. Simon held a scented handkerchief to his nose while being forced into a doorway to make way for a shepherd and a flock of
mud-spattered sheep.
    He reached a small square with a stone cross at its centre, the junction of three streets. It was here that the mason had his house. Shops faced on to the square, the wrought-iron signs hanging
above their lintels creaking and swaying in the wind.
    Despite the weather, a crowd gathered around a bear sward, and voices rose as the betting and cursing began. He heard the yelping of the dogs and the desperate and enraged cries of the bear as
it fought for its life. The world was steeped in sin, he thought. Only the eternal has worth.
    Remember that, Simon, before you go inside. Remember that.
    *
    Anselm Bérenger lived well, for as a master mason he received twenty-four silver sols every week, which sum afforded him a good stone house and meat on his table
for most suppers. Simon was greeted in the parlour. In the middle of the room there was a fireplace, a welcome log crackling in the grate. Mushrooms, garlic and onions hung on strings to dry above
the hearth.
    He looked around. There were three small windows covered with oiled linen, which allowed a creamy light into the room. To relieve the austerity, the oaken roof timbers were painted in

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