St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.13Katherine Kurtz
It was a church of Templeton's own variety of Christian faith, and it never failed to move him; but as he passed down the tessellated center aisle this morning, between rows of light oak pews, he found himself scanning the classical splendor of the place through different eyes - and wondering whether the Pro, like St. Patrick's, had a resident gargoyle. Its sparser design provided no convenient niches or intramural passages that he could see, but the front of the altar did sport a pair of fairly respectable angels kneeling in adoration before a carved chalice.
He found a seat to one side, two-thirds of the way down the nave, and settled in to say his prayers, rising as the organ swelled and the entrance procession began. The Palestrina Choir was known and respected far beyond the shores of Ireland, perhaps most famous for having produced the famous Irish tenor John McCormack, just after the turn of the century. They performed even better than Templeton remembered from previous visits, singing the responses of the Mass in intricate polyphony, and interspersing traditional anthems of the season along with the familiar hymns.
Templeton decided that it had been a good day to come to the Pro. The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent had finally begun to foreshadow the great celebrations of Christmas to come, telling of John, called the Baptist, who had foretold the coming, of the Messiah and preached baptism for the forgiveness of sins, also recalling words of the prophet Isaiah.
The great composer George Frederick Handel had enshrined parts of the Scriptures attendant upon this season in his immortal Messiah - written right here in Dublin, in the space of only six weeks, and first performed in nearby Fishamble Street. Dubliners annually commemorated that historic occasion, on its anniversary in March - sometimes to the accompaniment of sleet and hail and gale - force winds, for they performed out of doors, since the church of its first performance was no longer standing. As the Palestrina Choir sang an excerpt from that oratorio, it occurred to Templeton to wonder whether his gargoyle friend (assuming that he was, indeed, real) might even have heard that first performance, now more than two hundred years before.
The voice of one that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make way in the desert a highway for our God....
The music never failed to move him; nor did it fail today, though he remained curiously restless as the Mass wound to its close. Returning to his place after Communion, he spotted Brendan O'Keeffe, a fellow Knight of Malta, who grinned as their eyes met and signaled that they should rendezvous afterward.
'"Morning, Frankie," Brendan said with a grin, as they came together in the broad queue filtering outside. "What on earth brings you all the way to the Pro? It's snowing, for God's sake, and there's Mass at the Nuncio's later this afternoon."
Templeton shrugged, mildly annoyed at the old nickname. He and Brendan had been friends for more than seventy years, since their earliest school days, and he had long ago given up trying to persuade his childhood confidant that he really did prefer to be called Francis. Brendan remained convinced that nicknames were friendlier and less formal - a safe enough supposition, since his own name did not easily lend itself to a nickname.
"That didn't keep you away this morning," Templeton pointed out.
"No, but I had to be here. I was ushering," Brendan replied. "Besides, hearing two Masses in the same day can only be to the good. What's your excuse?"
"Guess I just had it in mind to hear a really good choir this morning," Templeton said. "It is nearly Christmas, after all."
"Well, you got your wish," Brendan said. "You driving this afternoon?"
"Nope, I got my godson to play chauffeur. Thought it might be fun to be driven, for a change. Besides, it's hard to drive in spurs and a sword."
"That's as good an excuse as any I've heard." Brendan gave him a funny grin. "The word is that you had the Roller out a couple of days ago," he said. "Bertie Hanlon saw you talking away to an invisible passenger. Aisling'll be giving you a hard time on that one!"
Templeton rolled his eyes. "I wonder if there's anyone in Dublin who didn't see me on Friday," he muttered, though he knew there was no malice in his friend's comment. "I was finishing up the last of my Christmas shopping, and I bought myself a little cassette player. I was singing Christmas carols."
"Is that what it was?" Brendan said with a wink, then added, "Don't worry. / don't think you're going off the deep end. But we old fuddy-duddies have to stick together. My son's after me to stop driving - and I think this may be the year I do it. I’m younger than you are, Frankie-"
"By a whole six months!" Templeton interjected.
"Yeah, but my eyesight's not what it was. I think I'll take a taxi today - though last time I did that, I managed to shut the end of my sword in the damned car door! It's still off being repaired at Wilkinson's."
"I guess chivalry isn't what it once was," Templeton replied with a grin, his humor restored. "You want us to swing by and pick you up instead? We've got room."
"Nah, it's out of your way."
"Not that far. Besides, it'll give me an excuse to escape early from the ritual of Sunday lunch. Don't get me wrong; Aisling is a great cook, but I’m sure I haven't heard the last of the haranguing about the driving. She and Kevin have been out partying the last two nights, but I got an earful over breakfast yesterday."
"Wants you to give up Phyllida, does she?"
Templeton returned a sour glance. "She sure doesn't want me to drive it. Maybe it's time to think about passing it on to Marcus. I think he may be getting married...."
"Well, he didn't say as much, but he's been seeing some lady doctor, over in Liverpool. He told me about her yesterday. Sounds pretty smitten..."
To Brendan's eager inquiries - for his nephew and Marcus had gone to school together - the two of them made their way back to the station at Bus Áras, where Templeton caught a bus that would take him nearly to his front door. He found himself wishing for his cane, but he climbed to his customary seat on the upper deck of the green doubledecker bus and settled back to watch the snow flurries as they wound through the streets of Dublin. He hoped the weather didn't get much worse, or the snow would make driving that much more difficult for Marcus.
Sunday lunch was everything he had feared it might be. The boys were still at their friends' house, but both Asling and Kevin were ready to grill him more about his Friday escapades.
"I must've had half a dozen people ring me yesterday, Da, to tell me how they'd seen you talking to yourself in that old car," Aisling told him, as she passed him a plate piled with roast chicken, stuffing, two kinds of potatoes, and three kinds of vegetables. "And this morning at Mass, several more came up to me, wagging their fingers. You have to accept that you're eighty-two years old."
"What's this really about?" Templeton demanded. "Is it that you resent me spending money on Phyllida? It's mine to spend. I have my pension."
"Da, you know it isn't that."
"Then, is it that Marcus is to have the car when I’m gone?"
"You two have no interest in the car," Templeton went on, glaring at Kevin. "And the boys really don't. To them, she's just an old car. She should go to someone who'll love driving her, the way I have, and the way my father did, before me. I courted your mother in that car, Aisling, and while you were growing up, for many years, it was our only car. Don't you remember the trips to the seaside, when you and your sisters were just wee things? And the summer holiday trips, and the picnic hampers in the back-"
"Da, it isn't that. Of course I remember. But Marcus isn't even married. And when would he have time to spend on the car, with the schedule he keeps?"
"You might be surprised," Templeton said. "Apparently he's met someone."
"Oh, my goodness!" His daughter gave a little gasp of delight and reached across to clasp her husband's hand.
"Is it true? Is it serious?"
"I think so," Templeton said. "He sounded quite smitten."
"I don't believe it!"
Glad of the opportunity to divert conversation from himself, Templeton launched into a droll recap of what Marcus had told him about the delectable Cáit - which managed to get him through the rest of the meal without further reference to his own shortcomings. He fled before dessert, for he had to change clothes before heading off for his Malta event.
It was a Christmas diplomatic reception at the official residence of the Papal Nuncio, near Phoenix Park, with representatives invited from all the various chivalric orders and the diplomatic community - which meant full uniform. Accordingly, after he had put on a white dress shirt with French cuffs, Templeton then pulled on high-waisted black trousers with a stripe of gold bullion down the sides of the legs, shouldering into the braces that held up the trousers.
Well-polished black ankle boots provided the appropriate footwear - with the gilt boxspurs set into the heels that would have made driving tricky - and a heavy cardigan went over the whole, for he was not about to walk to Phyllida's garage wearing the double-breasted uniform tunic of scarlet, with its embroidered gold collar and white turned-back facings and fringed gold epaulets. That was already packed in its garment bag, his neck insignia neatly tucked into one pocket. The cocked hat that completed the uniform went, into the bottom of the bag. His sword was already down in the hall, by the door.
"What time do you think you'll be home, Da?" his daughter called, as he paused in the hall to wrap up in a tartan scarf and pull on a heavy black overcoat.
"Why, are you going out?"
"Yes, Kevin's got his office party tonight." She came into the hall while putting on an earring. "It's a dinner dance over at the Shelbourne, so we'll be late. And Áine has invited the boys for a sleepover. Her mob are home from school, and all the kids are dying to see one another."
"Don't worry about me, then," Templeton said, putting on a furry sheepskin hat. "I suspect that a few of us will go for something to eat afterward, and probably a pint or two of Christmas cheer - though the Nuncio always feeds us well, at these receptions, so I don't know how hungry anyone will be. But with Marcus driving, you needn't worry," he added, forestalling an incipient lecture. "Have a good time."
She came to kiss him before he left, with garment bag over his arm and softcased sword in hand. As a concession to the formality of the afternoon, he had exchanged his usual furled umbrella for an elegant, silver-topped cane. A quarter-hour later, he was approaching Phyllida's garage.
The glassy stare of the car's big Marschal headlamps met him as he turned into the alley, for Marcus had already brought Phyllida out of her garage and was pulling his own Honda into her place. He grinned and raised a hand in greeting as Templeton approached, and was waiting to help him finish dressing by the time his godfather joined him inside. Unlike the day before, he was wearing a dark three-piece suit with white shirt and conservative striped tie - appropriate both for the afternoon's diplomatic function and for going on to work later in the evening.
"Not the best day for it," Marcus said cheerily, as he helped the older man out of his overcoat. "That sky looks like it might have more snow."
"Dangedest thing I ever saw!" Templeton grumbled, as he shed hat and scarf and stripped off his cardigan, while Marcus took the scarlet tunic out of its zipper bag. "It almost never snows in December. But if you've got to wear a uniform, this is the kind of weather for it!"
"Isn't that the truth?" Marcus agreed. "I don't miss mine, but it did do a good job of keeping out the cold, especially with a couple of sweaters underneath. If I thought I could get away with it, I'd be wearing an Arran sweater under my suit. Out of deference to His Eminence, however, I've settled for a waistcoat."
"A noble sacrifice for sartorial protocol," Templeton said with a smile.
"Protocol is, indeed, the name of the game," said Marcus. "Later tonight, when I've finished with your lot, I’m on duty at a government function - a blacktie affair, as I only found out this morning. So I've got my own zipper bag in the back of my car."
"Well, you'll cut an appropriate dash in that," Templeton quipped. He had done up his collar, and now slipped into the red tunic Marcus held for him.
"Yes, and wasted on all those politicians," Marcus replied. "I'd rather have the fair Cáit on my arm, and dance the night away."
More of such banter continued while he helped Templeton put on the neck badge and button up his tunic. When they had buckled on the sword, Templeton retrieved his uniform hat and stood to attention.
"How do I look?" he asked, tucking his hat under his arm as Marcus backed off a few steps to survey him, head to toe.
"Like a parfait knight," Marcus said, gesturing toward the garage door with a flourish. "Come, good chevalier. Your carriage awaits."
Knowing where Templeton kept his car, Paddy had a vague notion where the old man must live. After leaving the gargoyle conclave later that evening- which only went into recess pending his return, though their visitors departed once business was concluded- Paddy set out for the north part of the city.
Locating the actual residence was a matter of little more than half an hour, for even as gargoyles have an affinity for objects and, indeed, people associated with the buildings they guard - such as the silver belonging to St. Patrick's Cathedral, and Paddy's favorite vergerso is an even more potent bond established when a human looks upon a gargoyle's true form, for as long as that human lives.
Accordingly, it took Paddy very little time to zero in on the rambling Victorian town house tucked away in the Phibsborough district. The declining state of the neighborhood and, indeed, the number of cars parked in front of the old house made it clear why Templeton chose to garage the old Rolls Royce elsewhere.
Nonetheless, Paddy was certain that he was in the right place. This late, none of the upstairs lights were on, suggesting that most of the household already slept, but light shone behind a fanlight above the front door, and a glow behind drapes in a downstairs window drew Paddy like a moth to flame.
He glided into the forecourt of the old building and approached the lit window, taking cover in the shadow of a prolific fuchsia bush that was nearly a tree. A gentle puff of gargoyle breath (which could pass through glass) parted the edges of the heavy damask drapes far enough in the center for Paddy to see that the room beyond was the formal library of the old house, with a cheery fire burning in the grate. To either side of the chimneypiece stood tall, glass-fronted bookcases, both of them full to bursting with books. More light came from a reading lamp at the elbow of a large leather easy chair set close before the fireplace, where a whitehaired figure sat with head bowed over an open book.
Templeton, without a doubt, and alone, perhaps even dozing.
Slipping back around to the front of the house, Paddy compacted himself enough to squeeze through the brass-edged letter slot in the big front door, then ghosted across the tiled entry hall and under the door of the library like an ooze of ink, to materialize in the darkest corner of the room.
Templeton lifted his head briefly, looking around but not in Paddy's direction, then sighed and turned a page of the book in his lap. He was wearing a tartan dressing down and soft slippers, obviously in for the night.
Paddy let him settle for a moment while he surveyed the surroundings, deciding how best to make his approach. The room clearly was Templeton's private retreat, filled with prized collectibles and memorabilia of a long and contented life. Most of the wall space not occupied by bookshelves was hung with paintings, some of them depicting the religious themes Paddy might have expected, several of them oil portraits of a century past, their subjects bearing a family resemblance to Templeton himself. A competent watercolor near the door, of a storm at sea, was signed M. Templeton. Another, of four little girls with titian curls, bore the same signature.
The one given pride of place, though it was not the largest, showed a much younger Templeton standing stiff but proud beside a smiling young woman in a hat and suit that would have been fashionable half a century before. Templeton wore a uniform, and the woman held a modest bridal bouquet. The sepia photo had been hand-tinted to hint at the red of the young woman's hair, the pale blue of her jacket and skirt, the khaki-green of Templeton's coat.
Nearby, a much more recent photograph in color showed a more traditional bride on the arm of a much older Templeton, standing beside the ribbon-festooned front end of the old Rolls Royce. In the photo and also holding down a stack of letters beside it was the silvery radiator mascot that had been supplanted by the little gargoyle: the graceful Flying Lady like those Paddy had seen on other old cars outside St. Patrick's.
Templeton coughed, stirring in his chair, and Paddy shrank back into the shadows again, watching as the old man rose and took his book back to one of the big, glass-fronted bookcases. He waited until Templeton was replacing the book in its slot on the shelf, the glazed door open (and hence at the wrong angle to reflect his presence), before gliding silently to within a few feet of Templeton's back. His reflection was gazing over the old man's shoulder, in all its angelic dignity and beauty, as Templeton gently closed the door.
St. Patrick's Gargoyle by Katherine Kurtz / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes