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St patricks gargoyle, p.8
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       St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.8

           Katherine Kurtz
 
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  "The stone font is medieval, but I’m afraid we don't know much else about it. The floor tiles, however, are believed to be the oldest in the cathedral. They were found under some later flooring in a part of the south transept, during restoration work done in the 1800's, and reset here. The encaustic tiles in the rest of the cathedral are reproductions laid in 1882. The designs are based on other medieval tiles also found in the south transept." He glanced around his audience. "Does anyone have any questions?"

  There were a few. Templeton waited in the background with Marcus until the tourists had finished and begun to disperse. As the last one drifted off and the young verger glanced at him in inquiry, Templeton moved in closer.

  "Sorry I only caught the tail end of your tour," he said apologetically. "This is my first visit." He nodded toward the black eye and bandaged hand. "Hard duty, guarding a cathedral?"

  The young man gave him a sour grin. "Harder than you might imagine. We had a breakin here, early yesterday morning. I had the bad luck to tangle with a couple of the culprits. Got a few stitches for my trouble, too," he added, lifting his bandaged hand.

  "Hmm, battle wounds in the service of the King of Kings," Templeton said with a faint smile. And then, in explanation, "Sorry, I’m a Knight of Malta, so I tend to think in images of chivalry. Did they get away with much?"

  "Yeah, two of the big Georgian silver alms basins that we put out on the altar for major feast days. Amazing thing is, the guards got them back before the end of the day. The dean announced it this morning, right after Matins."

  "I guess we're more efficient than I sometimes think," Marcus murmured, shrugging as the man glanced at him questioningly. "I’m with the gardaí. We aren't usually that lucky. This is my godfather. Apparently he was driving past when the ambulance guys were taking care of you, and asked me this morning whether I knew anything about it."

  "Were you, now?" The verger glanced from Marcus to Templeton. "Well, I’m honorbound to tell you that, technically speaking, it wasn't the guards who recovered them. A lorry driver collared the culprits, and a parking enforcement lady called the guards. There was a bit of confusion, as you can imagine. But at least they got the silver back. And well done, whoever was responsible."

  Templeton agreed that the recovery was, indeed, a good and amazing thing, greatly relieved that no monstrous black Rolls Royce car had been mentioned, and asked whether the silver was back in the cathedral yet.

  "No, but we've been promised it will be returned in time for services in the morning," the verger said, as the clock in the tower began striking the hour. "Tomorrow is our big carol service for the last Sunday of Advent. We like to bring out a lot of the good silver, since it's sort of a preview for the traditional Christmas Eve service. Helps set the festive mood. We've had to institute a ticket system for Christmas Eve itself, because so many people want to attend, and those who can't get tickets tend to come tomorrow, so they can still hear the music."

  The clock finished striking as he spoke. After a few seconds' pause, the other bells started ringing rounds, their tuned voices tumbling down the scale in halting but exuberant succession.

  "That's bell practice starting," the verger said, noting that both his listeners had cocked their ears to the sound. "They practice ringing most Saturday afternoons. We have fourteen bells, though they aren't all rang anymore. Some of them are very old. If you want to know more than that, I’m afraid you'd have to talk to one of the bell-ringers."

  "Could I do that?" Templeton asked, on impulse, for it had occurred to him that if a gargoyle lived in the bell tower, this was a good excuse to get closer. Besides, the bell-ringers might know if there was a gargoyle somewhere on the roof.

  Marcus raised an eyebrow, but the verger looked nonplused.

  "Sure. I'll see if you can go up," he said. "They usually don't mind a visitor or two. I’m sure someone would be glad to tell you more about things."

  "Please," Templeton said. "I'd like that."

  When the verger had disappeared through a nearby doorway, gathering the skirts of his purple robe to head up a narrow spiral stair, Marcus glanced at his godfather.

  "Are you sure you want to go up there?" he asked. "It'll be a stiff climb."

  "I'll take it easy," Templeton said, considering explanations that would sound plausible to Marcus. "It's something I've always wanted to do. I've never been in a bell tower before."

  "Actually, neither have I."

  The verger poked his head out the arched doorway a few minutes later and summoned them with a nod.

  "Good news. I can take you up. Watch out, though, or they'll try to sign you up. It's a pretty esoteric occupation, ringing. They're always looking for new recruits.

  "Oh, I’m afraid I’m past that, son," Templeton replied, falling in behind the young man and starting to climb. "I’m eighty-two years old."

  "Don't let that stop you!" the verger said over his shoulder. "The bells are pretty heavy, but ringing doesn't require much physical strength. Kids as young as ten or twelve do it, girls as well as boys. The hardest part is getting up there. The tricky bit is memorizing the sequences of changes. You happen to remember a Dorothy Sayers mystery written in the thirties, called The Nine Tailors."

  "I've heard of it."

  "I've read it," Marcus chimed in, from behind Templeton.

  "Well, then, you'll know that the story's premise pivots on change - ringing. That's where a lot of people first hear about it, unless they've lived near where bells are rung- and even then, they rarely bother finding out more about it. Most people assume that it's all electronic, these days. But the ringers will tell you all about that, if you ask them. They ring from a special ringing room, and the bells themselves are in a separate chamber above that."

  Templeton said nothing, saving his breath so he could concentrate on climbing. The stairs seemed steeper with every step. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to attempt this long climb - but he was determined to find out if there were any gargoyles on the tower.

  The turnpike stair ascended in a tight clockwise spiral encased in one corner of the bell tower, and was quite steep, the steps uneven from centuries of use. Templeton kept one hand on the central newel post and the other on the outer wall of the stairwell as they climbed, increasingly forced to use those as handholds to pull himself up. Marcus followed right behind, watching him somewhat anxiously, Several times, they passed arched doorways heading off into the fabric of the building, perhaps giving access to the intramural walkways Templeton had noticed from the cathedral floor.

  He had to pause for breath about two-thirds of the way up, casting a reassuring glance back at Marcus. Right after he started climbing again, the bells began to fall silent, one by one, until only a single bell continued two or three more times on its own before likewise going mute.

  "They're just taking a break," the verger called down to them. "They'll start again in a minute or two. There are always some fairly new ringers at practice sessions, so they ring short sequences when they're first learning."

  Templeton only nodded and kept climbing, relieved to see the verger disappear at last into another of the arched doorways. When he reached it himself, his chest was a little tight and he was still breathing hard - he could even hear Marcus puffing behind him - but the young verger was waiting to offer him a hand into the large, square chamber beyond.

  "You all right?" he asked.

  "Yeah, I'll be fine," Templeton said.

  Beyond, there were six or eight people standing in an irregular semicircle under as many long ropes snaking down from small, neat holes in the room's ceiling. A few more ropes were swagged to the side, out of the way. The dangling ropes all had thick, fuzzy handgrips of red, white, and blue, about a yard long, on the parts above the ringers' heads. "Tails" of plain rope continued below. Several of the ringers were testing the height of the handgrips, some of them adjusting shallow, carpet-covered boxes beneath their assigned bell ropes. A few were already standing on such boxes.

/>   "You can watch from over here," the verger said as he ushered Templeton and Marcus to some straight-backed chairs under one of the chamber's narrow lancet windows. "Enjoy yourselves."

  As the newcomers sat down, the movement underneath the bell ropes gradually ceased, the ringers settling with both hands on the fuzzy handholds above their heads and the tails of rope looped up with their left hands.

  "Look to," said a middle-aged man to the far left of the lineup - which apparently was a signal that they were about to begin, for all eyes flicked in his direction. "Treble's ready," the man said then, starting to pull gently on his rope. "Treble's going... she's gone."

  As he said it, all the others followed suit in clockwise order, according to some arcane protocol probably best understood only by other bell-ringers. Templeton couldn't tell whether the leader's bell had been the first to sound, but he did quickly notice that each sequence of ringing started with the lightest bell and descended down the scale.

  "If I remember my Dorothy Sayers," Marcus said beside him, "I think this is called 'rounds' - when they simply ring in descending order, treble to tenor, and keep repeating. If they intend to progress to changes, then pretty soon - and I have no idea how they know when to start, or how they do it - they should begin changing places in the ringing order, two bells at a time - hence comes the term 'change-ringing.' The ringing sequence for each individual bell is a mathematical progression - and that, I’m afraid, is just about the extent of my knowledge on the subject."

  Templeton managed a nod and a tight smile and rubbed distractedly at his left arm, listening closely for variations.

  Soon he caught a subtle shift in the order of ringing. The bells weren't as loud as he'd expected, muffled by the ceiling of the ringing chamber between them and the belfry above, but they certainly discouraged idle conversation. Besides, there was a sign tacked to one section of the room's old linen-fold wainscoting that said Silence During Ringing.

  Arched wooden plaques elsewhere on the walls told of famous peals rung from the tower in the last several centuries, with incomprehensible names like Treble Bob Majors, Grandsire Triples, and Caters. A "peal" apparently consisted of something in excess of five thousand separate changes of sequence, and could take three hours or more. One that particularly caught Templeton's fancy told of a muffled peal of Grandsire Caters rung on nine bells plus the tenor, on January 26, 1901, as a last token of respect for Queen Victoria. The feat had taken more than four hours.

  Another sign gave statistics on each of the bells. Their very names sounded like a litany of prayer: Latin phrases like Venite Adoremus - Come let us worship - and Te Laudamus - We praise Thee - and Te Glorificamus - We glorify Thee. The Treble, which always started the peals, was called Sursum Corda - Lift up your hearts - a fitting name, Templeton decided, for the leader of bells dedicated to calling the faithful to worship and singing the glory of God.

  Which was all quite interesting, if somewhat outside Templeton's previous experience, but it had nothing directly to do with gargoyles. Nor dared he be direct. But at least he was up here.

  Now he simply had to find a way to inquire about gargoyles without anybody thinking it was odd. Because if the cathedral really did have gargoyles - or a gargoyle - he or they were apt to be up here somewhere. He certainly hadn't seen any down in the nave.

  As the bells continued to ring, he found himself considering whether he might even be able to gain access to them by way of one of the passageways he suspected lay through some of those doorways he had noticed on the way up.

  Chapter 9

  Exploration of those passageways might, indeed, have yielded further enlightenment on the subject of gargoyles, for the clerestory level was Paddy's favorite haunt when not on duty outside, behind his tower parapet. So long as they took care not to be seen, gargoyles were quite free to prowl the precincts of the buildings they guarded, no matter the phase of the moon. The narrow gallery passages circling the upper nave and transept afforded numerous discreet vantage points from which he could observe.

  Paddy counted himself particularly fortunate to be guarding a great cathedral, especially one with as long and distinguished a history as St. Patrick's. He never tired of watching the cathedral at work - and the Advent season was perhaps his favorite time of year.

  The liturgical cycle had two great seasons of preparation, when the Church paused to anticipate its greatest feasts. Neither had full meaning without the other. The observances of Lent, leading up to Easter, were more solemn and penitential, intended to focus man's meditations on sacrifice and redemption and the astonishing Mystery of the Resurrection; but the parallel season of Advent was a time of anticipation and promise, awaiting the wonder of the Incarnation, the Word made Flesh, a celebration second only to Easter in the Church's yearly cycle of prayer and praise.

  On this eve of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the last before Christmas, Paddy's cathedral was preparing to welcome the Child foretold by the prophet Isaiah: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emanuel, which means 'God is with us.'" The morrow would see that ancient prophecy moving toward fulfillment. The words of Saint Luke's Gospel also recalled the role of one of Paddy's angelic colleagues.

  In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary....

  On each of the three preceding Sundays, counting off the weeks until the Child should be reborn, an additional candle had been lit on the Advent wreath - purple, to mark the time of reflection, but tomorrow's candle would be pink, in anticipation of the joy to come. A few days ago, Paddy had watched the children from the Choir School set up the Christmas crèche in the baptistery: the empty stable with its empty manger, which would become the throne of God made Man. It was an old, old story being remembered here: of a little human family journeying toward a destiny in Bethlehem, two millennia ago, touched by a Divine Grace that transcended even the more general miracle surrounding the conception of any new life.

  The season itself, of course, was even older than the story being retold within these walls. Long before the coming of the Son, humankind had awaited and welcomed the rebirth of the Sun, one of the earliest of the symbols on which humankind had seized, as a physical embodiment of the One Who had brought it and all creation into being. This season of the winter solstice marked the pivot-point on the wheel of the year, the reversal of lengthening nights and ever shorter days, affirming the promise of reborn Light and the eventual coming of spring. Even the babes in arms seemed somehow caught up in the awe of this ever-magical time of year.

  The preparations of the coming week, in the final run up to Christmas itself, would bring their own unique magic, heralded by the morrow's special observances. Still to come were the decorations to be set in place by the ladies from the Altar Guild: the fragrant swags of evergreen, and flowering poinsettia plants, and wreaths of fir and holly on all the pillars. Christmas Eve would see the cathedral drenched with candlelight, and aglitter with the twinkling fairy lights on the big Christmas tree to be erected behind the altar, in the Lady Chapel.

  And above the crèche, with its figures of the Holy Family and shepherds and wise men-though not yet with the Holy Child in the manger - a papier mâché representation of a herald angel suspended by wires above the stable roof. That was one of Paddy's favorite parts.

  Of course, the figure looked very little like holy Gabriel, who probably had made more recorded appearances before humans than any other angel of the Heavenly Host. But Paddy knew that the artists had done their best, with only frail human imagination to supply the details they could not see through the heavenly glory. Paddy himself had been present at that first Christmas, along with every other angel under heaven, to sing the miracle of the birth of the Prince of Peace, at that midnight hour when, for a hushed eternity of suspension outside time and space, there had been no need for aven
ging angels or even guardian gargoyles.

  The clock in the old tower began to strike the hour, jarring Paddy from his fond remembrance of that long ago night. Crouched in one of the galleries of the south transept, he had been gazing back idly in the direction of the baptistery, with its crèche and papier mâché figures; but as the clock finished striking three and gave way to bell - practice, he suddenly realized that one of the men walking across the far end of the nave with young Philip Kelly was none other than his friend of the previous day, Francis Templeton.

  Good Lord, how had that happened? How had Templeton gotten here without Paddy seeing him? The approach of the old Rolls Royce should have raised instant alarms, for Paddy purposely had not neutralized the little gargoyle mascot on the car's radiator cap, on the chance that circumstances might permit future partnerships. The only answer had to be that Templeton had not come here in the old Rolls Royce.

  An even more important question was why Templeton had come. Furthermore, he seemed to have someone else with him: a tall, good-looking young man who carried himself like a soldier or a policeman.

  As Paddy watched in astonishment, young Kelly left the pair and disappeared through the door leading up to the bell tower. Not only did Templeton and his friend show no sign of leaving, or even continuing to wander the cathedral - for Templeton had mentioned the day before that he had never been inside - but they drifted purposefully in the direction where Kelly had disappeared, deep in conversation.

  Did they mean to go up into the bell tower? Worse, had Templeton told his companion about his experience of the day before?

  It took Paddy several anxious minutes to thread his way back through the maze of intramural passages until he reached the one that led to the tower. By then, Templeton and his companion were climbing the tower stair behind young Kelly. Paddy was working his way closer to the level of the ringing room, which was certainly the destination of the three, when he very nearly blundered into an old acquaintance who rarely made an appearance right here in the cathedral.

 
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