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Chapter 1

Tuesday, 21 June 2005

The next morning, Gus was roused by his brother urgently shaking his shoulder. He groaned and batted futilely at him, but Skip was relentless. “Rise and shine, Dread Lord Bucket-head, wake up. You’re wanted on the phone, and believe me; you need to take this call.”

“Go ‘way, leave me alone. Got a headache.”

“Sorry, this call is too important,” Skip said.

“A call?” Gus mumbled, “What? Who?” He rolled over, fumbling for his glasses.

“Angelique,” Skip said. “She has news, big news. Get up.”

When he stumbled out of the bedroom, Allie was listening intently on the phone. “Okay, Angelique, we’ll talk later, too. It’s better now, really. Okay, he’s semi-conscious now.” She put her hand over the mike. “You ready, Gus?”

He grumbled something, but sat and gestured for the phone.

Skip put a coffee cup in front of him and sat next to Allie, who grinned more than anyone should so early.

“Hey, Angel, what’s up?” Gus mumbled, rubbing his forehead. “How’d the vigil go?” he asked and immediately cringed. Her excited voice sounded painfully sharp against a babble of many conversations in the background.

“Augustine, you should have seen it last night. It actually happened, the light at midnight. I saw it with my own eyes!”

“Light? What light? You mean, the Vision?” The mug froze halfway to his mouth.

“No, of course not, silly. A glow upon the painting. I did get a picture of it though. The first one since my granduncle caught it.” Her laugh rang like a chime but with a hysterical edge.

“Are you there now?”

“Been here all night. Sorry to call so early; I waited as long as I could stand.”

“Stay there. We’re on our way.”

Gus finished his coffee in a rush. As he stood, he noticed his brother. “What are you doing here, Skip? I thought you were off partying.”

“I would’ve had a wilder night at a bingo game,” Skip said, shaking his head. “Came home as early as I could. Nigel didn’t tell us half of the half of it. The weirdest thing is nobody asked me about the hole. They weren’t surprised, it was just something they expected will lead them; I mean, us; I mean, actually, they said me – to the Holy Tub.”

“So you’re their hero. Why are you so freaked?” Allie asked.

“Their enthusiastic anticipation of the apocalypse.” Skip said. “You know guys, I’m starting to appreciate those Unknown Guardians just a little bit.”

A short time later, hangovers religious and otherwise put aside, the Clan arrived at the South Transept to find bedlam. Everyone seemed to talk noisily at once.

Slowly they wormed their way to the front, where Angelique and Madame Hélène were describing their experiences to a knot of people including an impassive cardinal and a wide-eyed Bishop Galliard, whose usual expression of serene disapproval was replaced by astonishment.

Angelique gave Gus a crooked smile, and continued her explanation. “No, Eminence, just a spotlight where none could be.”

“Oh it shone like a pearl,” Hélène enthused, “so beautifully white and pure.”

“But there was no figure in it?” Galliard asked. “And it moved?”

“Oui,” Angelique said. “Just a plain, simple glowing circle which expanded, moving across the picture before it shrank and disappeared.” Her finger traced a gentle arc in the air. “It took only a few minutes, too.”

“Plain?” Gus hustled his siblings aside and muttered, “No image? Not the Vision, then.”

Allie shook her head. “The one photograph her grandfather Émilien took was a long exposure, showing a featureless oval. But the plate might have been overexposed.”

“There you are!” Angelique interrupted. “What are you whispering in your little cabal?”

“Just trying to make sense of it,” Gus said. “But I’m delighted you were able to see it, whatever it was. I’m sorry –”

She wagged a finger. “Hush now – we’ll talk later: I’ve been given permission to explain everything to you. I’m not sure it matters though,” she said. “Because of the timing, I honestly don’t know. Was it the sign from Our Lady I’ve prayed for, or not?

“Oh, how I wish we saw it before this; it might have restored your faith, Augustine. It would have been a blessing to yours too, Alix. I’m sure of it.”

“Not mine?” Skip asked, eyebrows raised. “Who knows?” she laughed more with bitterness than humor. “Even you. Maybe if you’d seen the light, you’d really have seen the Light. But now? After what you found yesterday? Was it the streaming grace of God or a trick of moonlight through a crack in the wall?”

“Honey, just as the Holy Tub and the Scolding Madonna aren’t the same, neither is –” Gus began. But the Bishop interrupted, addressing the crowd. Holding up his long thin hands, the ascetic prayed for quiet. “Mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen, please be calm. Be at peace, I pray you; Mass is about to begin. I suggest you put yourselves in the proper state of mind to thank God for this sign, and pray for the wisdom to know what it means.”



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“The real miracle is that
a spot of light
could produce
such showers
of gold.”

Abbé Michel Dupre
(attributed), 1912

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