Stigmata by Colin Falconer Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: Stigmata by Colin Falconer Read Free Book Online
Authors: Colin Falconer
colours, wine-red and moss-green.
    Anselm brought him to stand by the fire to warm himself. Steam rose from his damp cloak. Anselm’s wife brought him a cup of mulled wine. Simon noted that the mother much resembled her
daughter, though Elionor’s red curls were now flecked with grey.
    As his eyes grew accustomed to the dim light inside the house, he noticed Fabricia waiting patiently in the corner. She wore a soft grey tunic, a linen chemise visible at her neck and wrists,
decorated with lace. He imagined he could detect the faint smell of saffron from its last washing. She was practising her needlepoint and her brow was knit in a frown of concentration.
    After some desultory conversation, Anselm and his wife left him by the fire with their daughter, who had to this point remained silent. They went upstairs to their private chamber.
    He knew he should put her at her ease with some casual conversation – the weather perhaps, or an enquiry after the manner of the embroidery she was making – but he found to his
horror that his throat was dry and his hands were trembling. Such was his panic that he launched instead straight to the business.
    ‘Your father tells me that it is your wish to give yourself over to the service of God.’
    ‘He has sent you here to dissuade me, has he not, Father?’
    ‘He wishes me to ascertain if you have the temperament for it.’
    Simon settled himself on his stool and sipped his wine. Now the conversation had begun, he felt a little more certain of himself. Many young women had been moved by the stories of virgins
suffering for Our Lord; it was for such hysterical notions that their sex was famed. He knew that a man of his training and intellect should be able to disabuse her of such thoughts without too
much difficulty.
    ‘I cannot say whether I have the temperament for it, Father. I just believe that it is what God wishes me to do.’
    ‘How might a girl such as yourself know the mind of God? Only the Holy Father in Rome is truly allowed to understand the divine, and even His Holiness professes puzzlement on
    Fabricia did not answer him. She stared at the rushes on the floor. Such insolence!
    ‘Speak up, child,’ he said, though he ought not to have called her child, perhaps, for he was only a few years her elder. ‘Why should you think such a thing?’
    She raised her eyes from the floor and the blazing look she gave him took his breath away and set stirring in his loins an ache he thought years of prayer and diligence had banished. She bit her
lip; his first thought was that it was a device to entrap him but then he allowed that it might simply be an effort to stop herself from speaking about certain private things in his presence.
    At last she said: ‘Do you think it is wrong then for a humble woman such as myself to wish to dedicate my life to His service?’
    There was an easy riposte to this; but her earnest expression disconcerted him. When he finally found his voice he reminded her that it was not enough to love God, that a chosen servant must
also have a disposition sufficiently robust to serve him properly.
    ‘You mean like the Bishop?’ This caught him off balance, for the Bishop’s worldliness was well known, if not much discussed, by the town in general.
    At least he had wit enough for a rejoinder. ‘But you do not intend to become bishop, surely?’
    ‘I do not think I should have the strength for it. After a week I should be exhausted from drink and fornication.’
    Simon did not know what to say. Already the direction of the interview was slipping from his control. She might be merely the daughter of a stonemason but her tongue was as sharp as an
executioner’s knife.
    She dropped her gaze again to the floor. ‘I am sorry, Father. Sometimes my tongue is a little too free.’
    ‘Indeed. It is quite plain to me already that you have none of the attributes necessary for the monastic life. Obedience and humility are the foundation

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