The Storks of La Caridad [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Florence Weinberg
eBook Category: Historical Fiction/Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: Father Ignaz (Ygnacio) Pfefferkorn, a missionary from the Sonora Desert region of northern Mexico, is caught in the Expulsion of all Jesuits in 1767. After enduring eight years of prison and abuse, he is incarcerated in La Caridad Monastery where the abbot recruits him to help solve two murders. In the course of his investigations, Father Ignaz finds his own life in peril.
eBook Publisher: Twilight Times Books, Published: 2004
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2004
3 Reader Ratings:
"Brilliantly written and thoroughly researched, this book explores the complexities and contradictions of the Church during this time period. While the religious orders seemed to operate in their own world, worldly influences penetrate and propel them to actions that seem at odds with their mission of living a holy and separate life. The political struggles in the monastery ring with realism, as do the actions of the characters. The age-old struggle between good and evil is evident, but the division between the two is muddied by ulterior motives.
Solving the murders requires careful and thoughtful reading. The motive for the murders is intriguingly hidden among misguided loyalties and faulty thinking. In fact, this book is a stunning portrayal of contrasts. From having murders in a monastery, to a prisoner setting them free with the truth, readers will appreciate the disparity, as well as the clear and logical flow of the story. The Storks of La Caridad lets readers see above the pages of history to the persons who lived it."--Joyce Handzo, In the Library Reviews
Chapter I: Limbo
I am a priest. I am a Jesuit.
These words help me remember; help me believe. I've repeated them throughout my eight years of prison and pain, more so these past three sweltering days in this dusty coach. My wrists aren't infected yet, but surely my ankles are. With each jolt of these iron-shod wheels on the rough road, the manacles and leg irons cut deeper into my flesh, tormenting me.
We're four days north of Cádiz and its prison at the port of Santa María. My next prison, the monastery of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad, Our Lady of Charity, is not far away.
I am a priest. I am a Jesuit.
* * *
A storm was almost upon us. In the gathering gloom, I stared out the dirty coach window and watched black clouds ink out the sunset, trying to forget my pain. Flashes of sheet lightning lit the countryside every so often, reflecting on the man opposite me, riding backwards--my jailer. My plight was not his concern. He'd given me a little water and some dry bread, and allowed me to relieve myself on this journey, but I was baggage to him, nothing more. The horses were better treated.
In the space of a few heartbeats, gloom became darkness. A sudden, blinding flash and ear-splitting thunderclap lifted me from my seat. The horses bolted, tipping the coach almost on its side, and I slammed against the coach door. There was no way to lessen the impact, such was my surprise, and an involuntary cry escaped me as new pain mixed with old. Until that moment, I'd managed to endure my plight in silence.
I heard the coachman's angry shouts and the crack of his whip. He regained control, the coach righted itself with a jarring thump and I struggled back into my seat. The throbbing of my wrists and ankles now provided a dull background of pain to sharp new stabs from my shoulder, but I was still alive. I offered up a silent prayer, thanking God we were still upright, and reflected on my helplessness, mine and my brother Jesuits.'
We'd been helpless from the moment we were expelled from Spain and its colonies, and from all of Western Europe as well. Recently I'd heard our Society was suppressed completely by order of the Pope. Our Holy Mother Church had reduced us to nothing.
My own ordeal was now beginning its ninth year. I was arrested in 1767, near my mission in the Sonora Desert. I survived the death march across Mexico and that suffocating voyage in coffin-size cells on the prison ship bound for Cadiz. Twenty-six Sonora missionaries survived along with me, but twenty-four did not. Perhaps those martyred dead on the road to Vera Cruz were luckier than I.
Eight years of beatings and interrogations followed.
The excuse for keeping us was that we knew too much about classified Spanish installations in the Sonora Desert. But, in reality, the beatings and interrogations were about the gold. Always, the gold. No one, not even King Carlos III, believed we didn't know where it was hidden. There were gold and silver mines in Sonora, and we missionaries must each have had our secret hoards. After all, we were--once were--Jesuits! I shook my head with a bitter smile.
Another flash of lightning, almost as close. I caught sight of my reflection in the window glass, and a face still recognizably north European stared back at me. Yes, the eyes were still familiar, intense blue with pure whites. My hair was still blond, but now mixed with gray, cut short and combed straight back from my high forehead as always, plastered in place now by dust and grease. Otherwise, I hardly knew myself.
Repeated bouts of malaria had emaciated my frame. My left cheek was disfigured by a whip scar; a split right eyebrow testified to another whiplash, and a ruptured vein under the left eye to someone's fist. By some miracle, my hawk nose was still intact, as were my teeth. I'd been beaten, yes, but not yet broken. Not as long as I could remember who and what I was.
I am a priest. I am a Jesuit.
The lightning this time played back and forth across the sky, bringing with it a brief squall of rattling hailstones. Bracing myself against any further jolts, I pressed my face to the window. The stark white light revealed a walled complex of buildings ahead, atop a low rise. It had to be the monastery at last. La Caridad! There lay my dark future, and an involuntary shiver shook me. That brief glimpse showed me a huge church dominated by a round tower over the transept, a separate bell tower rearing itself above the façade, several buildings and perhaps some ruins as well.
As I risked more pain to rub my shoulder again, my hands brushed against the edges of a letter, sealed with wax and tucked into the inner breast pocket of my robe. It was a message from Abbot Dom Gerónimo, Royal Inspector of Prisons from a Norbertine monastery in Madrid, to his peer in La Caridad, to be presented sealed and unread upon my arrival. He'd been abbot there once, and described the place to me. If his letter denounced my so-called crime committed at Santa María, my imprisonment at La Caridad would be real martyrdom. Yet, his friendship had saved me worse persecution up to now. Could it be my load of chains was simply official reaction to my 'misdeed?
The brief hail turned into pounding rain. The coachman cursed loudly and lashed the horses into a trot, only to slow them to a walk once they topped the rise. We turned right and halted before a massive gate in the monastery wall, surmounted by a fan-shaped iron grille under an ornate stone arch. The coachman jumped down and ran to the entrance, where he rang a bell and pressed close against the heavy double doors to shelter from the steady rain.
We waited for what seemed like many minutes. At last the bolt rattled and the doors creaked open. A hooded monk motioned him inside. The coachman took the nearest horse by the bit and led the whole equipage into a courtyard the size of a parade ground, past stone posts with heavy, ornate chains suspended between them, up to an open doorway. I could see light streaming out, glimmering on the streaks of falling rain, but no movement inside, just a stone wall with an arch and darkness beyond.
The church was straight ahead. A pair of wide stone steps led to heavy doors twice a man's height, hand-carved in square panels. Above them, barely visible in the darkness and the rain, loomed the bell tower. I squinted and made out the silhouettes of three bulky storks' nests, clinging to the side ledges and top of the tower.
Copyright © 2004 by Dr. Florence Byham Weinberg.