A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (11 page)

Réplique des insectes

Gentlemen, we have been treated to many points of argument thus far, some blown away by the wind like the winnowed chaff, some resting on the ground before you like the valuable grain. I hereby prevail upon your patience a little further to make rejoinder to the contentions of the procurator
des habitans
, whose arguments will fall like the walls of Jericho before the trumpet of truth.

In the first place, the procurator makes mention of the length of time the
bestioles
had been making their habitation in the leg of the Bishop’s throne, storing up their dark purpose, and offers this as proof that the work was diabolically inspired. It was for this reason that I called before you the good Brother Frolibert, who is wise in the ways of the creeping things of the earth, and indeed you know he makes the honey at the Abbey of St Georges. And did he not assert that wise men believe the
bestioles
do not live for more than a few brief summers? Yet we all know that an infestation of woodworm may proceed for many human generations before it cause the wood to break apart as it did under Hugo, Bishop of Besançon, reducing him to a condition of imbecility. From which we must conclude that the woodworm summoned before this court are merely the descendants of many generations of woodworm who have made their habitation in the church of Saint-Michel. If malign intent is to be ascribed to the
bestioles
, it is surely only to be ascribed to the first
generation of
bestioles
and not to their innocent posterity who without fault find themselves living where they do? On this ground, therefore, I apply again for the case to be non-suited. And further, there has been no evidence from the prosecution as to the occasion and date upon which the woodworm are alleged to have entered the wood. The procurator has attempted to maintain that the
bestioles
are not granted by Holy Scripture the right to inhabit cut wood. To which we reply, firstly, that the Scripture does not in any patent form forbid them from so doing, secondly, that if God had not intended them to eat the cut wood He would not have given them the instinct to do so, and thirdly, that in the absence of evidence to the contrary, an accused being innocent until proved guilty, an assumption of priority of possession in the matter of the wood must be granted to the
bestioles
, namely that they were in the wood when it was cut by the woodsman who sold it to the joiner who fashioned it into the throne. Far from the woodworm infesting what Man has constructed, it is Man who has wilfully destroyed the woodworm’s habitation and taken it for his own purpose. On which ground also we ask that the case be non-suited.

In the second place, it is argued that the woodworm did not have passage on the Ark of Noah and therefore must be diabolically possessed. To which we reply, firstly, that the Holy Scripture does not list every species of God’s creation, and that the legal presumption should be that any creature was upon the Ark unless it be specifically stated that he was not. And secondly, that if as the procurator alleges the woodworm was not upon the Ark, then it is even more evident that Man has not been given dominion over this creature. God sent the baneful Flood to purge the world, and when the waters receded and the world was new-born, He gave Man dominion over the animals. But where is it written that He also gave him dominion over any animals which had not travelled upon the Ark?

In the third place, it is a monstrous libel upon our pleading to claim that Hugo, Bishop of Besançon, according to our allegation, was thrust into the darkness of imbecility by God’s own hand. We make no such allegation, for it would be the
contention of a blasphemer. But indeed is it not the case that the ways of God are often most mysteriously hid from our gaze? When the Bishop of Grenoble fell from his horse and was killed we did not blame either the Lord or the horse or the woodworm. When the Bishop of Constance was lost overboard in the lake we did not conclude that God had hurled him into the water or that woodworm had destroyed the keel of the boat. When the pillar in the cloister of Saint Théodoric collapsed on the foot of the Bishop of Lyons causing him to walk ever thereafter with a staff, we did not blame the Lord or the pillar or the woodworm. The Lord’s ways are indeed frequently hidden from us, but is it not also the case that the Lord has called down many plagues upon the unworthy? Did He not send a plague of frogs against Pharaoh? Did He not send lice and grievous swarms of flies upon the land of Egypt? Did He not, against that Pharaoh, send also a plague of boils, and thunder and hail, and a grievous plague of locusts? Did He not send hailstones against the Five Kings? Did He not strike even his own servant Job with boils? And it was for this reason that I called before you Father Godric and enquired of him for the records of the payment of tithes by the inhabitants of Mamirolle. And were there not many excuses proferred about the inclemency of the weather, and the crops that had failed, and the sickness there had been in the village, and the band of soldiers who had passed by and murdered several of the strong young men of the village? But for all this it was evident and plain that the tithes have not been paid as the Church lays down, that there has been wilful neglect amounting to disobedience of the Lord God and his spouse on earth the Church. And is it not therefore the case that, just as He sent a plague of locusts to scourge Pharaoh and grievous swarms of flies upon the land of Egypt, so he sent woodworm into the church to scourge the inhabitants for their disobedience? How can this have been done without the Lord’s permission? Do we think Almighty God is so weak and timorous a creature that He is unable to protect His temple against these tiny
bestioles
? Surely it is a blasphemy to doubt God’s power to do this. And therefore we must conclude that the infestation was either divinely ordered or divinely
permitted, that God sent the woodworm to punish the disobedient sinners and that the sinners should cower before His rage and scourge themselves for their sins and pay their tithes as they have been commanded. Truly, this is a matter for prayer and fasting and scourging and the hope of God’s mercy rather than one for anathemata and excommunication against the agents, the very conduits of the Lord’s purpose and intent.

In the fourth place, therefore, acknowledging as we do that the woodworm are God’s creatures and as such are entitled to sustenance even as man is entitled to sustenance, and acknowledging also that Justice shall be tempered by mercy, we submit, without prejudice to the foregoing, that the court demand of the
habitans
of Mamirolle, who have been so tardy in their payment of tithes, to nominate and set aside for the said
bestioles
alternative pasture, where they may graze peacefully without future harm to the church of Saint-Michel, and that the
bestioles
be commanded by the court, which has all such powers, to move to the said pasture. For what do my humble clients hope for and demand except to be allowed to live peaceably and in the dark without interference and wrongful accusation. Gentlemen, I make my final plea that the case be non-suited, and without prejudice that the
bestioles
be declared innocent, and without prejudice again that they be required to move to fresh pasture. I submit on their behalf to the judgment of the court.

Bartholemé Chassenée, Jurist

Conclusions du procureur épiscopal

The arguments offered by the counsel for the defence have been truly and weightily delivered, and must be accorded great and serious thought, for it is not lightly or at random that the court should hurl the bolt of excommunication, for being lightly or at random hurled, it may, by reason of its particular energy and force, if it fails to strike the object at which it is aimed, return against him who hurled it. The arguments offered by the
counsel for the prosecution have also been delivered with much learning and education, and it is truly a deep sea in which it is impossible to touch bottom.

In the matter raised by the procurator for the
bestioles
regarding the many generations of woodworm and whether this generation of woodworm summoned before us was the generation who committed the crime, we have this to say. Firstly, that it is stated in Holy Scripture in the book of Exodus that the Lord shall visit the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation, and therefore in this matter the court has the power most piously to bring to judgment several generations of woodworm all of whom have offended against the Lord, which would indeed be a mighty act of justice to perform. And secondly, that if we accept the argument of the procurator
pour les habitans
that the
bestioles
are diabolically possessed, what could be more natural – in this case more foully unnatural – than that such possession should allow the woodworm to outlive their normal span of years, and thus it might be that only a single generation of creeping things have wrought all the damage unto the throne and the roof. In either case we have been much swayed by the argument of the procurator
pour les habitans
that the woodworm could not have been upon the Ark of Noah – for what prudent sea captain in his wisdom would permit such agents of shipwreck to board his vessel? – and therefore are not to be numbered among God’s prime creations. What their status in the mighty hierarchy shall be – whether they be partly natural, whether they be living corruption, or whether they be creations of the devil – is a matter for those great doctors of the Church who weigh such matters.

Neither can we know all of the myriad reasons why God should have permitted a plague of woodworm to infest this humble church. Perhaps beggars have been turned away from the door. Perhaps the tithes have not been paid regularly. Perhaps there has been frivolity inside the church, and the mansion of the Lord has been turned into a place of assignation, whereupon God sent the insects. We must never forget the duty of charity and the requirement to give alms, and did not
Eusebius liken hell to a cold place where the wailing and gnashing of teeth are caused by the dreadful frost, not the everlasting fire, and is not charity one of the means by which we throw ourselves upon the mercy of the Lord? Therefore, in recommending the sentence of excommunication on these
bestioles
who have so vilely and viciously ravaged the temple of the Lord, we do also recommend that all the penances and prayers customary in such cases be required of the
habitans
.

Sentence du juge d’Église

In the name and by virtue of God, the omnipotent, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and of Mary, the most blessed Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the authority of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, as well as by that which has made us a functionary in this case, having fortified ourselves with the Holy Cross, and having before our eyes the fear of God, we admonish the aforesaid woodworm as detestable vermin and command them, under pain of malediction, anathema and excommunication, to quit within seven days the church of Saint-Michel in the village of Mamirolle in the diocese of Besançon and to proceed without delay or hindrance to the pasture offered to them by the
habitans
, there to have their habitation and never again to infest the church of Saint-Michel. In order to make lawful this sentence, and to render effective any malediction, anathema and excommunication that may at any time be pronounced, the
habitans
of Mamirolle are hereby instructed to pay heedful attention to the duty of charity, to yield up their tithes as commanded by the Holy Church, to refrain from any frivolity in the House of the Lord, and once a year, on the anniversary of that hateful day when Hugo, Bishop of Besançon, was cast down into the darkness of imbecility …

Here the manuscript in the Archives Municipales de Besançon breaks off, without giving details of the annual penance or remembrance imposed by the court. It appears from the condition of the parchment that in the course of the last four and a half centuries it has been attacked, perhaps on more than one occasion, by some species of termite, which has devoured the closing words of the
juge d’Église.

4
THE SURVIVOR

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

And then what? She couldn’t remember. All those years ago, obedient ten-year-olds with arms crossed, they had chanted it back to the mistress. All except Eric Dooley, who sat behind her and chewed her pigtail. Once she’d been asked to get up and recite the next two lines but she was only a few inches out of her seat when her head snapped back and the class laughed. Eric was hanging on to her plait with his teeth. Perhaps that was why she could never remember the next two lines.

She remembered the reindeer well enough, though. It all began with the reindeer, which flew through the air at Christmas. She was a girl who believed what she was told, and the reindeer flew.

She must have seen them first on a Christmas card. Six, eight, ten of them, harnessed side by side. She always imagined that each pair was man and wife, a happy couple, like the animals that went into the Ark. That would be right wouldn’t it, that would be natural? But her Dad said you could tell from the antlers that the reindeer pulling the sleigh were stags. At first she only felt disappointed, but later resentment grew. Father Christmas ran an all-male team. Typical. Absolutely bloody typical, she thought.

They flew, that was the point. She didn’t believe that Father Christmas squeezed down the chimney and left presents at the end of your bed, but she did believe that the reindeer flew. People tried to argue her out of it, they said if you believe that you’ll believe anything. However, she was fourteen now,
short-haired and stubborn, and she always had her reply ready. No, she would say, if only you could believe that the reindeer can fly, then you’d realize anything is possible. Anything.

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