mean to say you raped her?
The Colonel looked up in horror.
What? What kind of man do you take me for? he sputtered.
I...I made advances, I mussed her hair perhaps. I stole a kiss.
I allowed my hands to Good God, Tabitha, is that what you thought?
You made it quite clear that you would have none of it, and I beat a
hasty retreat. The whole incident could not have taken more than a minute
and a quarter. Why, you would not even let me take you home. Dont
I remember you touching me, Tabitha insisted.
Yes, indeed I did. I apologize again. I... He mopped his
brow. Your mother was ailing. I was a foolish, desperate man and
I did an unspeakable thing. Lord knows I have paid for it. I have not
had a bit of luck since that day.
You really mean to say that you did no more than embrace her?
Upon my honor. The Colonel struck his chest, though there
were no more medals left to clank. Instead, the quiet gesture rang true.
Hang it all Tabby, you dont need to take my word for it.
Assuming you have remained pure, and I have no doubt of that, then on
your wedding night you will discover I am no liar.
Yes, Tabitha said slowly.
Am I to understand, Lutwidge sighed. That you do not
know for a fact whether or not he actually?
Well I was never taught such things, Tabitha blushed. What
little I learned was from rumors and innuendo which, possibly, I misinterpreted.
I merely assumed I had been violated. Which I was! But as to the
specifics... My mother was very modest about the subject, no doubt because
of her own dreadful experience.
Esme was a tortured soul, the Colonel agreed. I dearly
loved her. But she had given her heart to some shiftless stranger years
My father, Tabitha said.
He stared at her.
Yes. So you know, at last. It poisoned her, the knowledge. And
that man who rescued her, Sir Richard, who truly loved her, she felt
it broke his heart as well, when he realized she had given herself to
another. After he sickened and died it was as if she were trying to
punish herself for all her sins.
As the Colonels eyes grew more accustomed to the light, he squinted
in disbelief at the locket hanging round Tabithas neck.
Good Christ! he said. How did you get that?
This? It was...given me.
There must be higher forces at work here, the Colonel exclaimed.
That locket is mine. Or was, rather. Divine powers have seen that
it descend to its rightful inheritor. It was your mothers, you
see. She wore it every day.
Did she? Tabitha frowned. I never noticed it.
She wore it inside her clothes, my dear. It was a strange and
private keepsake. I could never tell if it was a provider of comfort,
like a cross, or constant reminder of sin, like a hair shirt. She would
never let me touch it. But when I went in to see her for the last time,
as she lay there, finally at peace, I took it, to remember her by, and
for the fear it contained something she would not wish anyone else to
It does not open, Tabitha said. Over the years it
has jammed shut.
Just as well, the Colonel said quietly, lost in memories.
Can you find it in your heart to forgive me, child? I did a terrible
thing, which I see has scarred you. But for your own sake, if not for
mine, can you not let go of this hate before it consumes you? I truly
loved your mother. That must count for something.
Yes, Tabitha said dully, touching the locket, contemplating
its newfound significance. I forgive you. The past seems nothing
but pain. I must let it all go.
And I, in turn, forgive you, the Colonel told Lutwidge.
Me? What for?
Why, for running off with that prostitute and leaving me high
and dry at the altar, thats what for. I hope you had the decency
to treat her like a lady. Lord knows I always did.
Lutwidge? Lady Tabitha asked.
I will explain later, my dear, Finch said, shaking his head.
What is he talking about?
Nothing. Merely a misunderstanding which you need not concern
not worry my pretty little head over it, you
mean? she snapped. You know, I wish you would stop treating
me like a child. I am actually quite good at coping with things, when
given the chance. Perhaps I once was not, but I am now.
So you are, Finch observed, smiling at her assertive tone.
And I, in the future, must learn to respect that. May we go on
A prostitute! Really, Lutwidge. And I thought you were so pure.
Oh no, he assured her. I am a beast.
They resumed their journey. The Colonel led them higher now. Warmth
returned. Soon the walls changed from rough-hewn to smooth. The floor
became more regular. Torches, then lanterns, lit their way, and doors
appeared rather than mysterious black passages. Imperceptibly their
surroundings had become those of large buildings cellar.
Whom are we going to see? Finch asked. You say this
is the Palace. But did you not hear? The Prince has abdicated. His cousin
will assume the throne.
We are going to see the man who saved me, the Colonel replied
loyally. He plucked me from oblivion. I was on my uppers, far
worse off than you ever saw me. Not just in the material sense, but
I was in danger of tarnishing my honor, as well. He heard of my plight,
and sent for me. I have no idea why. Simple Christian charity, I suppose.
I had never seen him before in my life. But he took pity on me. Restored
my self-respect, and, incidentally, gave me some excellent advice about
dress and personal toilet, on which he is expert. A regular guardian
angel he has been.
They climbed higher. A ground floor window appeared. The night sky still
held dominance but within it glowed the pregnant excitement of a new
Here we are, the Colonel announced, pausing before a small
door. After you. Mind your heads.
Lutwidge and Tabitha had to duck to pass through the low entranceway.
Once inside, it was as if they were in another world. The landscape
was strangely barren and rocky. The sun seemed to be setting, blood-red,
behind an ancient walled city in the distance. There were some scattered
articles on the ground, an abandoned spear, a blue cloak or veil, an
old mans staff. But in the center of it all, where the lines naturally
led ones eye, the illusion ceased, and one realized after another
moment that one was confronted with a remarkable trompe loeil
painting, the height and width of the wall, indeed the wall itself,
depicting the Crucifixion. But Christ was no longer in the picture.
The very bricks to which the rest of the fresco had been affixed had
not, like the others, been painstakingly restored to their original
place. Instead an outline of what His body must have looked like, just
the crude shape of the cross to which He was nailed, gaped, a particularly
haunting and affecting absence, as if He had, in fact, risen, as the
legend claims, not merely from the historical Golgotha, but from its
representation as well.
Superstitious Venetians, Ghoulrich said, slumped in an armchair
behind them. Dumped all those bricks in one spotlocked in
a watertight chest, thank God. I had divers retrieve itbut took
care to scatter the Savior somewhere else. Or perhaps he resides in
a hidden gallery of the Vatican. Interesting, though, that there are
none of the other figures either. Joseph, Mary, the soldiers... Leonardo
was so caustic, you know. A born cynic. I think he meant to imply that
they all got bored waiting and went off for a sandwich.