"now you, miss." miss prue looked at dorine sternly, then softened her expression. "you wish to pick for yourself."
"yes, i do." dorine rose and approached the head of the table. she stuck her hand in the white hat, fumbled around in it and pulled out a paper. she slowly unfolded it.
"religious." she looked at it. "that might be the broadest category of them all."
dorine stuck her hand deep in the black hat. "and my author is - george sand."
"ah. happy now?"
"i'm not sure happy is the word. but thank you."
by dorine de santos
illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas
the familiar boundaries of europe were yet undreamed of, when this story commences.
the sun had not yet risen when a young woman, scarcely more than a child, emerged from a tiny hut sheltered among towering trees on the southern slope of a mountain in what is now southern central france.
a river was barely visible in the distance - the allier? the garonne? to the girl, it was "the river" as the mountainside was "the earth", the sky was "heaven" and the rain was "the rain".
heaven, earth, the river, the rain, and her flock - all she knew except when she drove the flock to the base of the mountain, to the little village, once a year, when the sheep were ready to be shorn.
since the death of the old woman, three - or was it four? - trips to the village ago - she had not seen another human on the mountain.
occasionally, when she drove the flock down to the river, she would see what appeared to be another human in the distance.
so it was with some surprise that she heard a voice behind her on the morning our story commences. she had not caught the words of the speaker, being unprepared for them. she turned and saw a tall man - the tallest she had ever seen - wrapped in a black cloak and standing in the shadow of the wide and ancient tree whose southernmost boughs sheltered her hut.
she immediately thought - this must be one of the "lords" that the old woman had told her of, but that she had never seen - only one of their castles, in the far distance, on the clearest of clear days.
the tall man spoke again. she had never heard such a voice or accent and had trouble understanding him. he seemed to be asking who she was.
"my name is gertrude."
"a rude name. are you a witch?"
"no. i do not know what a witch is."
"bah." the tall man looked around. "does no one live up here with you?"
"only the sheep."
"then you are surely a witch. how many thousand years old are you?'
"i do not know how old i am."
"do you know who i am?'
" a lord?"
the tall men gestured angrily. "i am not a lord! but i am a messenger - not of a lord but of the lord! i ask you again, do you know who i am?"
"i ask you a third time - do you know who i am?"
"i do not know who you are. i have never seen you before,"
"i am saint james! and i bring news - news of one who died for you!"
gertrude stared at him blankly.
"do you not understand? he was only a carpenter - a humble carpenter." st james' eyes fell on gertrude's hut. "something you may not be familiar with." he went on. "but do you know what he did? do you know what he did?"
"he died for you!"
"we all die. who are the rest of us dying for?"
"and then do you know what he did?'
"he rose from the dead!"
"then he did not really die, did he?"
"ah, ah, little blasphemer - i see the devils have taught you well." st james looked out over the valley. "i see i have much work to do - if you are a specimen of what i have to deal with. but some day - some day, this valley will be filled with churches - filled with churches with spires lifted to almighty god the father and his son who died to save wretches like you - and the churches and the fields will be filled with saved souls." he paused and looked at gertrude. "what do you think of that, little witch?"
she looked at him. "are you a traveler? have you traveled far?"
"indeed i have - from further away than you can ever dream of."
"one of my sheep has something wrong with her leg. she has trouble keeping up. do you know how to fix it?"
"i don't know anything about sheep. or pigs."
"i do not have pigs. only sheep."
"go ahead and mock me." the saint produced a thick walking stick from beneath his cape and shook it at the girl. " i should give you a good thrashing. perhaps even call on heaven to strike you with lightning." he looked down the valley. " but then - maybe the devils in your pigs would get loose and roam the earth."
"i have sheep. not pigs."
"enough of this." the saint turned and began to walk up the mountainside.
but after a dozen steps he turned. "wait! wait! i am only a poor traveler. can you spare me a bite to eat?"
gertrude stared up at him. "i have a little bit of bread. i baked it myself."
"thank you. thank you." leaning on his stick, the traveler retraced his steps. he attempted a smile.
gertrude went into her hut and returned with a small chunk of dark bread, which she handed to him. by this time more of the sheep had awakened and were making impatient noises in their little pen.
st james bit into the bread, and quickly spit it out. "faugh! faugh! oh! that is vile!" he took a little leather water bottle from his belt and quickly rinsed his mouth out. "faugh! what is that made from?"
"pine cones. pine needles."
"oh. how dare you give me such stuff ? me, who walked the shores of galilee with the lord? with the lord who came to save you! how dare you?"
"i eat it myself."
"witch! i put a curse on you for your insolence!" the saint looked around at the sky and the hills. "walk these hills forever, witch! forever! never depart from them until judgment day! never leave them until the skies are rent asunder!"
and with that, the saint started back up the hill. gertrude watched him until he disappeared over the top. the sheep were now making a great noise, and the skies were beginning to brighten.