Authors: Barbara Michaels
I yelled back and went on weeding. This procedure continued for several minutes, with Roger’s voice rising impatiently. When he finally located me he gave me a hard whack on the rear.
“What are you doing?” he demanded.
“What does it look like?” I sat back on my heels and deposited a handful of weeds in the basket.
“Well, stop it. Bea’s been calling you for ten minutes. Lunch is ready.”
“How nice of you to come in search of me.”
“Kevin’s girl friend is staying for lunch,” Roger said, not offering his hand to help me to my feet.
“Great.” I tried not to look at my earth-stained knees and the black rims under my nails.
With more tact than I would have expected, Roger ignored my spiteful tone. Or maybe he didn’t even notice. “I’m going to Pittsfield after lunch,” he said. “Want to come along?”
“I,” said Roger, “need to find a library. There’s something I want to look up. Bea is going to do some shopping. You may, of course, suit yourself.”
“Are you hinting that you want to use my research expertise?”
“No. I would like to talk to you, if you can spare me an hour of your valuable time later this afternoon.”
“I’ll try to work you in,” I said.
I went in to lunch just as I was, except, of course, for washing my hands and beating some of the dust out of my pants. Debbie was sweetly deferential to Bea and Roger. She took one look at me and mentally crossed me off her list; I could almost see her pretty little hand with its shiny pink nails drawing a black line through my name.
I told Roger I would be delighted to go to Pittsfield. We took the Mercedes, and he let me drive. When we got in the car I realized why he had asked me to come. Things between him and Bea were a little tense. They were so polite it was obvious they had had a falling-out about something. I assumed they had run into some snag in their romantic life; it didn’t seem possible that two reasonable adults could come to blows about a subject as bizarre as what kind of ghost was haunting Grayhaven.
In this, as I was to learn, I was exceedingly naive. I ought to have known that their respective “theories” were only the tips of two enormous icebergs of habit, conviction, and belief.
Anyhow, by chatting nonstop about one thing or another, I kept a conversation of sorts going. We left the car and went our respective ways, having agreed to meet later at a coffee shop near the parking lot.
I don’t remember exactly what Bea and I did. We looked at a lot of clothes, and needlework, and a craft shop. I bought a dress. I had not planned to buy a dress. However, I had gone to my room before we left and had taken fifty dollars from my emergency cash supply.
The dress cost forty-eight dollars. It wasn’t the most expensive garment I had ever bought, but I had never spent that amount of money on a plain cotton sundress. It was a luscious shade of green, like lime ice, with spaghetti straps that tied on the shoulders. I won’t say that Bea talked me into buying it. She didn’t exactly discourage me, though.
We were twenty minutes late meeting Roger. He was sitting at a table, with an empty glass in front of him. I expected some sarcastic remark, but he was meek as a lamb.
“Have a nice time?” he inquired.
“Very nice,” I said. “And you?”
The shop was almost empty. It was one of those arty places, with abstract painting on the walls and prices designed to scare away the hoi polloi. Roger put his elbows on the table and his chin in his hands. He heaved a deep sigh.
“I got what I wanted. Can we talk about it, or are you going to go on treating me like an enemy agent?”
“I have no idea what you mean,” said Bea.
“I don’t know how it happened,” Roger said plaintively. “Maybe it’s as much my fault as yours. I do tend to think of this as an abstract problem in logic—or nonlogic, if you like. But try to see it my way, Bea; it’s hard for me to feel any urgency about the situation when I see that boy looking so damned healthy, and behaving as if he hadn’t a care in the world except how to make time with Debbie.” He broke off then and gave me a sharp look. “What are you grinning about? Oh—my archaic slang, I suppose. That isn’t the term you would have used?”
“Never mind. Bea—if you take this seriously, so do I. I honestly don’t believe Kevin is in imminent danger. I’m not saying the situation is good; I don’t know what it is. But I want to work with you, not against you. Can’t we discuss our ideas calmly and reasonably, and try to see one another’s point of view?”
Bea was obviously moved by the appeal. “I don’t know, Roger,” she said slowly. “Our viewpoints are so far apart—”
“Then we’ll find a way to bridge the gap.” He took her hand. “Just talk to me; don’t shut me out.”
It wasn’t much of a response, but Roger looked relieved. “Wonderful! Can I tell you what I’ve been working on? In some ways it substantiates your theory,” he added, with what he obviously thought was a crafty look.
The corners of Bea’s mouth twitched. “Roger, you’re incorrigible. All right, go on.”
Roger reached under the table and brought out his briefcase. He opened it and began removing papers.
“My first subject,” he began, “is the stone under the altar. Clearly an import; the marble is foreign, probably Italian. It could have been a relic, as one of you suggested; but if that were the case, one would expect an inscription explaining its origin. Nothing of the sort was visible.
“The next clue was Ethelfleda’s brass. The inscription there was peculiar, to put it mildly. No dates, no family name or parentage, and a couple of ambiguous epitaphs. I took a closer look at the presumed ‘cross’ she was holding, and—as I told Anne yesterday—I decided it was not a cross.”
Roger paused. Having heard this much of his argument, I knew he was about to embark on the most farfetched part of it, and was trying to organize his material in the most convincing manner.
“The object in Ethelfleda’s hands is a double ax. It’s a very ancient religious symbol, primarily connected with Crete and the old Minoan Empire, but it is also found in England, carved on one of the monoliths of Stonehenge. The date would be around 1800B.C.
“The Minoans worshiped a mother goddess, Mistress of Trees and Mountains, Lady of the Wild Animals. One of her symbols was the double ax, which was usually carried by priestesses—women. Some of the other symbols of the cult were the snake, the dove, and the bull.
“A number of ancient civilizations worshiped a mother goddess, who represented the fertility of nature. Often she had a male counterpart, sometimes a consort, sometimes a son, who died and was reborn, just as the new crops were born again after the bleak cold of winter.”
I decided it was time to interrupt the lecture. “I see what you’re getting at, Roger. The running animals in the friezes in the crypts and chapel could refer to the goddess in her role as mistress of animals. The basrelief over the altar doesn’t represent Mary and Christ, but the Great Mother and her lover, whatever his name was. But you’re going too far if you expect me to believe that a prehistoric religion survived for two thousand years in a remote corner of England. And what about the bull? I thought you said that was Mithraic. Mithraism was the original male chauvinist religion; no women allowed, no female gods.”
Roger scowled at me. Then he remembered he was supposed to be demonstrating open-mindedness and patience. He produced a pained smile. “I was going to work up to that gradually. Obviously I don’t believe the fifteenth-century women of Grayhaven worshiped an ancient Minoan goddess. But I think the belief in a mother goddess spread farther and survived longer than we imagined. The worship of Cybele was popular in Rome years after Crete fell, and she was only another version of the same principle. The Roman legions carried her cult to England; and there, if I am right in my surmises, it met and blended with another, older branch of the same faith—one that had been brought to Britain by the craftsmen who helped build Stonehenge. The old pagan religions were still practiced by the peasants for hundreds of years after Christianity became the official religion—longer, if scholars like Margaret Murray are right. She maintained that the witch cult of the Middle Ages was a survival of the prehistoric religion, condemned as heresy by Christian priests.”
“Are you saying,” Bea demanded, “that the chapel is a pagan temple, dedicated to a heathen goddess?”
“No, no!” Roger chose his words carefully, watching Bea’s reaction. “Remember that in the early centuries the Christian Church was marked by innumerable schisms and heresies. People had a hard time understanding the new ideas, especially when there was a superficial resemblance between Christian dogma and certain pagan cults. To an unsophisticated person, the worship of the Virgin and her resurrected Son might seem—well, it might seem to have something in common with the ancient faith of the mother goddess and her dying, yet immortal consort. Such a worshiper might see nothing wrong with assimilating the two, just as Cybele had been identified with another, older mother goddess. By recent times the old ideas had been forgotten; I’m sure your chapel has been an orthodox, respectable place of Christian worship for centuries. But—and this is my point—for millennia before that, it had been a focus of genuine, fervent faith in a higher being. There may have been a crude little temple on that spot two thousand years before Christ. I would be the last to deny the power of such faith; in fact, it’s the basis of my theory.”
He stopped, his eyes fixed on Bea like those of a dog that hopes for a bone, but rather expects a kick.
“About that bull—” I said.
“Shut up,” Roger said. “Bea?”
“You’re awfully long-winded,” she said. “Do you always lecture at such length?”
She was smiling. Roger let out a long, exaggerated sigh. “Then I haven’t offended you?”
“We are not all so narrow-minded and ignorant as you suppose.”
“I never said—”
“However,” Bea went on, “I think you’re stretching things. You haven’t any proof of the transitions you mentioned.”
“It’s only a theory,” Roger said humbly.
“You haven’t explained the bull,” I said.
“Oh, damn the bull.” From the mass of papers on the table he extracted an eight-by-ten photographic print. It was a copy of the relief on the stone under the altar. He passed it to Bea, who examined it with interest.
“That confused me at first,” Roger said modestly. “As you observed, Anne, the sacrifice of a bull was a ritual of Mithraism, and that sure as hell didn’t fit my picture of a mother-goddess religion. Then I remembered something. I found the reference today.” He picked up another paper and read aloud.
“‘The taurobolium—bathing in the blood of a bull caught in a solemn ritual hunt—at first may have been a rite effective in itself and not attached to a particular deity. By the second centuryA.D. , in the western empire, it was connected with Cybele, among others.’ Ha,” he added.
“Clever man,” I said.
Roger ignored me. “Don’t you see, Bea, we’re working along the same lines. The centuries of worship in and around that house have permeated the very stones and produced a spiritual energy field that still operates. I don’t believe it is evil or dangerous in itself, but such manifestations can be harmful if they are misunderstood. That’s why—”
“We are not working along the same lines,” Bea said. “How can we? It is Kevin’s soul I fear for. How can you help me save it if you don’t believe it exists?”
Can a woman who believes in the immortality of the soul find happiness with a heretic? I would have considered that a ludicrous question before I saw those two in action. But their discussion did clear the air in a way; they argued, but at least they talked. They talked all the way home. I couldn’t have gotten a word in if I had wanted to.
Roger’s theory was seductive. I loved the way all the pieces fit neatly together. Even little things—the behavior of the pets, for instance. Naturally they would feel comfortable with the Mistress of the Wild Animals. And She, patroness of fertility and the simple, uncomplicated mating of all species, would be more than willing to accommodate her unconscious worshiper with a suitable partner.
It might even explain why I was beginning to lust after Kevin.
Yes, I liked Roger’s theory. Not that it was any more sensible than Bea’s belief in ghosts, but itsounded more scientific. We liberal-arts majors are always impressed by science.
I pondered these things as I drove and paid no attention to the conversation in the back seat until Roger nudged me.
“Well, what do you think?”