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Chapter 1

Friday, 17 June 2005

Gus arrived early at the restaurant the next morning. La Terrasse de Bellegarde was well-known, the original portico having been lamented in a famous poem. Built in the thirteenth century, the terrace adjacent to the Great Hall was originally an open part of the chateau overlooking the road. But it was walled in as soon as things began to go bad at the dawn of the next century. The modern reconstruction also perched above the scenic highway, but Gus had very personal reasons for choosing it today.

He had just sat down at a table next to a stone arch when Angelique breezed in. She wore her hair tied back, a flowery summer dress, her single jewel a tiny silver crucifix hanging from her neck. Though ascetically thin, a radiance seemed to brighten things around her.

They soon placed their order, a full American breakfast for him, barely coffee for her. “You look like you’ve been awake for hours,” he said after the waitress left.

“I have,” she said with a happy smile. “You know I try to catch the dawn lighting of the statue before Mass, especially this year.”

“In memory of your grandfather?” Gus asked.

She nodded. “Yes, Grand-per� Henri always preferred the soft morning light to the glare of noon, you know. He would go weeks before and continue into July. I’ve been, well, every year since, well, you know. It’s become part of my life.”

Gus did not know what to say. He looked past the baskets of flowers hanging in the arches eastward to the fields beyond. It was a lovely morning with butterflies dancing in the air.

“I remember the day we last met well,” he said, “much like this one. We sat over there next to the big flowerpot. That’s why I wanted to meet here again.” He took her hands in his. “If only I could undo that mistake; well, all those mistakes.”

“Don’t say that, Augustine. ‘If only’ – the saddest words in any language,” she said softly, “condemning the past and robbing the present for a future which may not be. What happened, good and bad, happened; we cannot undo it, my dear.”

“We had no choice, Angel,” Gus said, eyes pleading and earnest. “The doctors told us we would lose the baby anyway, and I would not consent to losing you also. I didn’t realize I’d lose you anyway to the Church as a result.”

“I’m sorry, she replied. “I know it was as much my doing as yours, but I couldn’t help how I felt. I didn’t need anyone to tell me what we did was wrong. I knew our living together was sinful to begin with, and we paid a horrible price.”

“Could we not try afresh?” Gus asked. “Haven’t we suffered enough? I’ll do it properly this time, whatever you want. Just give me the nod and I’ll get on my knees right here. I still have the ring.” He patted his breast pocket. She looked away and did not say anything.

“Hey, I know it would be probably harder than before, but life is short. How many more chances will we have?” She still didn’t speak. Gus continued, “You know, in the silence after Henri passed away, I feared I’d never hear from you again.”

She raised her gaze, looking away towards Maureven in the distance. “I know,” she said. “But I needed time to think, and once I had the opportunity to study in Rome, I took it as a sign from Heaven. I kept in touch from time to time with Allie. Didn’t she tell you?”

“I only heard about it recently.” Gus shook his head. “Can’t we at least undo the damage from our elders’ squabbles? Did your relatives really believe Doc put the piece in the road?”

“Not at first,” she said. “When found near our house in the eighties, Grandpa Henri dismissed it after your father came out in favor of it as a part of the Ark. Once Fatamorgana proved the other piece, the one from the Vault which Doc had also supported, was planted, things changed. But yes, he did not doubt that James was capable of that deed. He was hurt, disappointed and just couldn’t understand why. He died of a stroke several days later. I found him dead on Christmas Eve with No�l’s book open in his lap.”

“How sad; I didn’t know.”

Angelique pulled back her hands as the waitress unloaded their dishes. Gus poked at his eggs Benedict, but his appetite vanished as suddenly as the Holy Tub.

“As for me,” he said putting down his silverware, “I believe Dad salted it as much as that I am a descendant of the Scolding Madonna.” She didn’t laugh.

“Maybe I shouldn’t put it that way,” Gus said. “I know how seriously you take the whole thing. I just wanted you to understand I agree, with that much at least. My mother’s side might be related to Blessed Madeleine, but I can’t imagine my father doing such things.”

“Of course, but that’s not where we differ. You see, my faith helped me through those hard times,” she said. “It led me along a few strange paths of self-discovery, but it’s been worth it. I feel I’ve reached something vital and wonderful. But you still can’t believe in miracles, can you, Augustine?”

“You’re all the miracle I need. If religion makes you happy, great, good for you. As for me, I am still undecided,” Gus said. “You know there’s plenty of reasons to doubt the whole story of the Scolding Madonna. But I’ve said many times you don’t have to believe in her to have faith in the Holy Tub. It produced wonders long before she ever popped in.”

“Yes, but you don’t really believe in that either, do you? Or anything.”

“Angelique, I was raised with tales of psychic powers, crystals, Atlantis, lots of wild ideas. That psychic talents exist indicates there are realms beyond this one. I’m still wide open to the possibility, but I don’t know in my heart. That’s why science is the key. I don’t want faith: I want to understand how it works, to know with absolute certainty.”

“There, dearest one, is where we part. I have little hope in reason. Conviction doesn’t come from ideas,” she sighed, “faith comes from the soul.” She looked at him, dead serious. “Can you not feel it? The chill deepens. The shadows of the world grow longer and darker each day. My faith isn’t a hobby to me, something I can put aside, or dabble in. It’s real, alive, and necessary. I am engaged in important undertakings, Gus; I know I am. I wish I could explain.”

“More reason for me to find the damned Jesus Pot,” Gus said with sudden bitterness, “and get it over with.” He winced as he realized what he had said.

“Dearest, I am not one of those who fancy if the Maundy Grail was removed from the world, it must be in Heaven,” she said with sad resignation. “If you are to find it, I am sure the Virgin herself will somehow show you the way. But I do believe in the Pelluvium Sanctissimum, Augustine, Visions or no Visions, and in its special graces, too. I desire nothing more than to behold the Sacred Basin, cracks and all.”

“But where does that leave us?” he said. “I have said it already. I believe; until you do, I’m sorry.”

She rose from the table.

Gus did not stir. “ ‘Gone is the terrace of Bellegarde,’” he began quoting, “ ‘Where I lost the one my heart desired: Three times from me she was taken...’ ”

Angelique bent and silenced him with a gentle kiss. She put a finger upon his lips. “You have not lost me even once, my dearest. I wait and I pray for you still, and always will.” She moved her hand to his chest. “But you must open your heart to possibilities. Let go of that intellectual pride so like Doc’s, lest in trying to be like your father, you become like his enemy.”

Then she was gone.

Alone, Gus softly finished reciting the old poem, “ ‘First by a lord, whom I could not best, Then, not even in a bloody dream mistaken, Too much experience also failed the test, There on the fair terrace of Bellegarde.’ ”



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“If this ‘science’
of Heronimo
is lunacy,
it is a most effective kind.
But whether
these wonders
are truly of
God or the Devil,
I know not.”

– Bishop Pierre of Bellegarde,
Testimony to the Inquisition,

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