Mar Saba codex – Sample Chapter

The Mar Saba Codex

Sample Chapter



Shades of Columbo


Fr Timothy White was not immediately recognisable to

Jack Duggan – twenty years had passed and the priest was now a

portly ninety-five kilos.

“Have I changed that much?”


“Good for you!”

“I’ll be damned!”

“I sincerely hope not.”

They were standing in the foyer of ‘The Bennington’, a

five-star hotel with five-star prices about an hour’s drive from

San Francisco. Duggan had just checked in. The Santa Rosa bus

had got him within a short taxi ride.

“You look the same, Jack. How do you do it?”

“The mirror says otherwise.”

“Except for the hair.”

“I lost a bet. A colleague cropped it for me.”

“Timothy too-many-potatoes,” said Timothy, spreading the

fingers of both hands across his stomach. Then, inquisitorially

he said, “What are you doing here?”

“I got landed with it. I’m a journo these days. You?”

“Education. It’s become an issue.” Duggan was apt to

incline his head when he concentrated; it was a trait Fr Timothy

remembered all too well. “You’re here because of Peters?”

“I’ve got the good bishop lined up for an interview.”

Fr Timothy twitched a smile. “You’ll like him.”

The hotel chosen for the 2001 international conference on

the future of Catholicism reflected its Santa Rosa setting. It was

mildly Spanish in architecture, sprawling, and in the process of

being painted rust red and cream. A two-storey wall of neatly

stacked slate pieces dominated the foyer, and there was an

elevated bar area with soft furnishings where, if it had been a

church, an altar would have been. As Duggan and Fr White

chatted, a flock of laughing priests swept into reception to

complete the correspondences.

Priests are often likened to crows, and some three hundred

crows were about to descend on Santa Rosa. Hailed as a

landmark conference on Catholicism’s conservative renewal in

America, three keynote speakers and a handful of New

Testament scholars had been primed with the theme Returning

to the Future – a neat juxtaposition hatched by Archbishop

Donaghue of Nevada on behalf of those struggling with

modernity. Bishop Samuel Peters of Illinios, on the other hand,

had stopped struggling with modernity. An advocate of Vatican

II with a troublesome pen, he had forewarned the Archbishop

that he intended to speak out on behalf of educational

commonsense and the dignity of children.

“You were sorely missed, Jack.”

“I was a misfit.”

“You were brighter by half than any of us. You said what

was on your mind.” Timothy paused to scrutinise Duggan. “I

thought you’d lecture.”

“I did, for a while.”

“And now you’re a wordsmith.”

“Political correspondent for Quarterly Review in Sydney.

Forty-eight pages of pertinent comment on everything that

matters.” Duggan’s smile was pained. “Someone fell ill and I

got landed with this one.”

“There’ll be more than enough politicking around here.

There’s the promise of a bunfight if Peters does what he says

he’s going to do.”

“It’s a divided camp?”

“It’s always a divided camp.”

“Politicking imbued with moral certainty muddies already

muddied waters. You can’t shunt religious certainty onto the

political plane, it bedevils debate. Peters is aware of that.”

“He applies secular reasoning to religious education.”

“We should apply religious reasoning to secular issues?”

“You know what I’m trying to say, Jack.”

They were back exactly where they had left off all those

years ago. Duggan did not hesitate to take the initiative.

“Peters is asking for open debate,” he said. “Religious

opinion elevated to the level of pronouncements from Mount

Sinai help no one, Tim.”

“He’s perhaps bitten off more than he can chew.”

“Donaghue hasn’t?”

“Donaghue is Donaghue.”

“You mean he’s backed by Cardinal Menenger.”

Fr Timothy’s face crinkled into another short-lived smile.

“The conservative push is on, Jack; Peters’ doesn’t stand a

chance in this climate.”

Duggan glanced at a group of laughing priests as they

passed; they were jostling one another like schoolboys. His gaze

swivelled back to Timothy. “May I ask whose side you’re on?”

“I’m for sensible debate, Jack.”

“Archbishop Pullman isn’t. He’s trying his damnedest to

change the curriculum in Sydney’s Catholic schools back to the

old model. It’s a bloody disgrace, Tim.”

“The tendency has been to throw the baby out with the bath

water. A correction was necessary.” Fr Timothy blinked his

concern at Duggan. “The faith’s the faith, Jack.”

“Yeh, I know,” he replied.

There was an awkward moment; Fr Timothy came to the

rescue. “You approve of the new Holy Father?”

“Can any good thing come out of Umbria?”

“The Holy Spirit has a mind of its own.”

“He’s an innocent among wolves. They chose him because

neither side had the numbers.”

“I hear what you’re saying. . .”

“Come on! It would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic.

Ratzinger’s sudden illness threw them all into a tizz. The hard

core had Ratzinger earmarked for the top job.”

“I wasn’t joking, Jack. The wisdom of the Spirit should not

be discounted.”

“That still leaves you with a decrepit old man and a school

of scheming cardinals. Do you think the Holy Spirit’s up to it?

Well, do you?”

“You haven’t lost your sting, Jack.”

“I gave up believing in belief a long time ago.” Duggan was

faintly dismissive. “It’s about power and very little else, Tim.

You know that as well as I do.”

“Benedict has already proved himself an astute negotiator.”

“I agree. He’s gone along with Cardinal Menenger’s every


“Not quite. And Menenger’s not a complete ogre, Jack.”

“Menenger wasn’t made Prefect of the Congregation

because of his boyish looks, Tim. He’s as hardline as Ratzinger

ever was.”

A wooden crucifix had hung above Duggan’s childhood

bed, and halfway down the hallway, above a little half-moon

table, a dangling Jesus full of torment had graced the floral

wallpaper. And on a lumbering sideboard with brass drop

handles, and on the dressing-room table with its corner-cracked

mirror, and on a little wooden platform suspended above the

kitchen table blue and white Madonna figures had stared

sightlessly at the ceiling.

He had announced his desire to be a priest when he was

sixteen. His mother had been ecstatic, his father concerned, the

local priest patient in his examination. It was a great

responsibility being a priest, the priest had said. Much prayer

would be required, and he would have to do well at school. And

so he did well at school, and at university, not because he

intended to be a priest, but because he could not help himself.

Prayer proved to be the greater challenge. Prayer was about

submitting one’s will to the will of God, and that, Duggan

learned, was no easy thing to determine.

“Belief is the cement that holds the whole thing together,

Jack. What would you have us do?”

“That’s no longer my concern.”

“I remember you as an inspiration.”

“I was a pain in everyone’s arse!”

“You were a pain to Fr Michael and we loved it!”

Timothy’s delight was genuine. “You gave him a right run for

his money.”

“He hated me.”

“Damn it, Jack, you had a doctorate and he didn’t! What did

you expect?”

“I expected honesty.”

“He died three months after you left – may the Lord have

mercy on his soul.”

“He was a frightful man.”

“There’s no doubting he was tough.” Fr Timothy paused;

then with intent he said, “His replacement was a different kind

of man altogether. If you had still been around, things might

have turned out differently”

“I fell on my own sword, not theirs.”

“You would have got on with Fr Martin.”

“I doubt it. I was in self-destruct mode. I’d had all I could

take of intellectual flannelling.”

“Are you as bitter as you sound?”

“Bitter, but not twisted.” Duggan’s gaze was steady. “Best

thing Fr Michael ever did was have me thrown out.”

“I told him I didn’t believe in a literal hell, Jack. He said I

would by the time I had completed my studies. He wasn’t

wrong. From that moment he made my life hell.”

“And here you are a priest and proud of it.”

“I’m not a very good priest, Jack.”

“If you thought you were you’d be in trouble.”

“I sometimes wish they’d kicked me out.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“I get disheartened at times.”

“To have almost been a priest is not something I’d


A guffaw of laughter from reception caused Fr Timothy to

look round. He looked back at Duggan and said, “You have no


“Everyone has regrets.” Duggan offered a qualification. “I

don’t mean by that that I regret what happened. My wanting to

be a priest was an adolescent fantasy that got out of control.”

Fr Timothy doubled back. “It’s not all about power, Jack.

You can’t possibly believe that.”

“Authority is power.” Duggan snorted a laugh. “You either

toe the line, or you don’t.”

“My reading of things isn’t quite that bleak.”

“I’d be surprised if it were.”

“You’re speaking as if the Church is just an organisation.

It’s more than that.”

Duggan conveyed disinterest.

“We can’t just dump everything and start all over again.”

“It could be argued that that’s how Christianity got started.”

“Yes, but . . . ”

“But it’s not an argument I would make.”

Fr Timothy waited, but Duggan fell silent. It was as if a

switch had been thrown.

“I’d like to chat further, Jack. Would that be possible? ”

“You won’t like what I have to say. I’m even more of a

ratbag now that I was then.”

The priest extended a hand. “I’ll take that risk,” he said.

* * *

Archbishop Donaghue’s body twisted at the waist as he looked

round at Bishop Peters’ angular face on television – he would

have known that voice anywhere, and that voice was dinning

across the room at him. The conference was about to start and

here was Sam sounding off on television. And such nonsense,

too. The man could not see good Catholic wood for tree-trunks

of Protestant apologetics.

“Why is he doing this?”

A rhetorical question to which canon lawyer Bob Carter,

Donaghue’s right-hand man, nevertheless replied.

“He thinks we’re interfering busybodies.”

“The Church does not interfere; it instructs!” A blunt

appraisal of the truth. And then, “Is this really what we can


“It’s faith versus human experience,” Bishop Peter was

saying. “What we’re doing is overlooking a child’s

developmental stages and attempting to cram a particular

religious view into their heads by the end of primary school.

What is a year-one child supposed to think when told that the

first parents of the human race – Adam and Eve no less – chose

to sin? How are they going to take in literary forms later? How

are they going to handle biblical myth when it crops up? These

are just some of the questions that are not being thought


When the broadcast was over, Carter offered his thoughts

on the Bishop’s injudicious notions. Yes, the man was a menace,

there was no doubt about that. He had not properly grasped the

Church’s intention in making such demands. It was not a matter

of setting the clock back; it was a matter of rebuilding the

almost shattered Wall of Faith so that people could rest easily

again. Anyone with half a brain could see that. The new

guidelines were not doctrinaire, they were a moral bulwark

against relativism.

Switching off the television set, Archbishop Donaghue

stood, hands in pockets, in the middle of the room and stared

out at the golf course that flanked the hotel. Fresh wheel tracks

were plainly visible on the wet grass, but he saw neither the

tracks nor the course’s emptiness.

“Should I talk to him, Bob?”

“Not advisable.”

Donaghue collapsed back into a leather armchair. “He

thinks I’m a crank. He thinks I don’t understand the issues, but I

  1. What people believed in pre-Enlightenment times may seem

naive by today’s standards, but are we any better off? Are we

less irrational than they were? I don’t think so. I don’t think this

age’s faith in materialism and freedom is getting it anywhere.

Being rights-driven may sound good, but where’s it carrying us?

Straight down into the gutter, that’s where. Did you pick up on

that bit about religious education. . . what was it?

“Inculcating young people into the framework of the

Church’s defunct religious assumptions,’” said Carter, the

bishop’s words readily available because of their inbuilt

cadence. “He’s good at one-liners.”

“How dare he!”

“Rhetoric,” said Carter, who had compiled a thick dossier

on Bishop Peters. “It’s always easier to criticise than it is to do

something constructive.” He added quickly: “The other side are

of course having the same problem. They’ve been forced to

develop an accelerated Christian education program to combat

what’s going on out there.”

The Archbishop could remember the swish of black habits

in school corridors and the gentle clunk of wooden rosary beads

as priests and nuns went about their business. Everyone had

known their place then, their limits – particularly the laity. The

laity was now flexing its muscles, and Bishop Peters was an

advocate for that as well. With this in mind Donaghue said:

“Laity involvement is a two-edged sword, Bob; they’re

beginning to think they can run the whole show just about.”

Borrowing a folksy idea from science, he added, “It’s a virus,

and it’s spreading.”

“Intellectual freedom has its own inbuilt brand of myopia,”

said Carter, delivering a favourite one-liner of his own. “That’s

what hasn’t dawned on them yet.”

“And we can’t afford to wait for their enlightenment,” said

Donaghue, his face a study in seriousness. “The whirlwind is

upon us.”

* * *

Room 326 was spacious and in darkness when Duggan entered.

Drawing the drapes, he found glass doors and a small balcony

overlooking a golf course. A practitioner of the art was moving

down the fairway in an electric cart. He watched the man’s

progress for a moment or two, then, opening his duty-free, he

poured himself a single malt and returned to the window to stare

up at a cloud-riven Californian sky. He and Timothy had agreed

to meet later that evening, after the theologian Peter Atkins’s

opening address, and as he contemplated that arrangement he

wondered if he had done the right thing. If Timothy hoped to

return him to the faith he would be bitterly disappointed.

Closing his eyes, Duggan savoured the whisky’s soft rawness

and the fact that if Fr Michael had died sooner rather than later,

things might have been different. Would he have had the cheek

to go through with ordination if given the chance? A wry smile

formed. He could have carried the fight right into the heart of

the enemy camp. The enemy? His smile faded. The enemy had

once been the love of his life and the life of his love.

After a shower and a change of shirt he went downstairs

again. The barman, a foxy-looking character, was talking

animatedly to a man in a slightly dishevelled raincoat – shades

of Columbo – hunched over a glass of red wine. Glancing in

Duggan’s direction, this individual nodded, then looked away.

Minutes later two clerics stopped to chat with this man. During

the banter it was revealed that he was a journalist from San

Francisco. When the crows departed, Duggan introduced


“David Mayle,” said David Mayle. Then, “Sydney? You’re

a long way from home.”

“I’m filling in. I should be in Darwin sipping a cold one.”

He added quickly, “I’m a political correspondent.” Mayle was

about to reply, but Duggan interjected a second time. “Yeh, I

know, plenty of politics around here.”

An accommodating nod from Mayle, followed by an

observation, “Your kind generally end up in New York or


“I got talked into this. Who are you with?”

“San Francisco Tribune,” said Mayle “Fifteen years’ hard

labour.” His smile suggested contentment. “I’m here to keep an

eye on the bastards.”

Duggan laughed at the American’s bluntness.

“My father was a Baptist minister,” said Mayle “Okay, so that

isn’t the same as being Catholic, but it’s a head start.”

The barman was hovering. Duggan ordered a whisky and

said that Mayle could help keep him on track

“I get the feeling that won’t be necessary. I saw the

welcome mat go out.”

“That was Fr Timothy,” said Duggan. “He’s an Aussie. I

haven’t seen him in years.”

Mayle pursed his lips. An Australian angle might be worth

considering, he said. American interest in Australian was


“You’ve been Down Under?”

“Never had the pleasure.” Mayle changed direction. “So

what made them send you?”

“Catholic education’s become an issue in Australia,” he

said, parodying Timothy. “Bishop Peters’s recent outbursts

caught the attention of our editor.”

“Rumour has it he won’t survive the weekend. CDF already

have him in their sights. You’re familiar?”

Duggan gave a nod. The Congregation for Doctrine and the

Faith was known to all Catholics. “You’re sure about that?” he


“Their claws are out.”

“His book isn’t all that threatening.”

“He’s come a long way since he wrote that.”

“You’ve read it?”

“I helped edit it.” Mayle changed direction a second time.

“Are you Catholic?”

“You helped edit it?”

“He asked me to. I got to know him years ago.” Mayle

repeated his question.

“I was brought up Catholic.”

“Does the name Robert Carter mean anything?” It being

obvious from Duggan’s response that it did not, Mayle

continued. “He and the Archbishop are close, very close. He’s

a big-time lawyer and canon law expert. Set up the Catholic

Watch Society in California about six months ago and hasn’t

been out of trouble since. It’s rumoured he has a network of

spies at his disposal. Snoopers. There have been reports of

strangers taking notes during the sermons of certain priests in

the California area. Carter has been blamed for the intrusions

and hasn’t issued a denial.” A smile from Mayle. “He made two

trips to Rome during February lugging a heavy briefcase.”

“You’re keeping tabs on him?”

“Someone has to. Carter’s Donaghue’s adjutant. Donaghue’s

mission is to put Catholic America back on its knees. He’s

tipped to have a cardinal’s hat before the end of the year.”

Mayle’s smile became devious. “I have it on good authority that

he and Carter report directly to Cardinal Menenger.”

“Peters hasn’t been barred from speaking at the conference.”

“That was arranged months ago, before he laid into them.”

Mayle laughed. “His outburst on television this afternoon must

have been the final straw.”

“I didn’t catch that”

“He gave it to them with both barrels.”

“A Bishop taking up the cudgels is unusual.”

“That’s what’s worrying them.” Mayle swirled his wine

round and round in his glass. “It’s different for ordinary priests.

Most of them favour an open Church, a sympathetic Church. It’s

the trend these days. A high proportion of religious are of the

same mind. Human rights are to the fore. The laity have found

their voice and won’t any longer put up with the kind of

nonsense that used to be dished out. Enter Donaghue, Carter,

and a sprinkling of hardliners whose strategy is a return to the

old certainties. Question the Church’s authority and you’re

immediately in their sights. They’re trouble-shooters. I saw

Carter shred a local bishop on TV a few nights back for not

holding to traditional teaching. Donaghue’s been publicly

haranguing Catholic intellectuals for over a year.”

“Same thing is beginning to happen in Australia,” said

Duggan. He took a sip of whisky. “The new papa’s probably too

busy trying to be the new papa to take much notice.”

“Seventy-two years of age and hasn’t a thought of his own

to play with, so I‘m told,” said Mayle. “It’s rumoured he’s not

a well man.”

“It’s rumoured he had a bit of a turn when the final ballot

came through. Can you imagine the shock of being told you’ve

just been elected pope to someone like that?

Mayle chuckled into his wine.

“This Carter fella had a go at a bishop?”

“Have a go? He demolished the poor bastard with an avalanche

of doctrinal legalese. Billy Graham couldn’t have done a better

job quoting Scripture.”

“I’ve never had the privilege.”

“You’ve never heard Billy preach?”

“I’ve seen him on television. In snippets.”

“Billy was fabulous!” Mayle beamed at Duggan. “I got

converted when I was sixteen.”


“Lasted about a year.”

Duggan struck what he thought was a sensible note.

“Believing that a man walked on water never struck me as a

sound basis for a spiritual life.”

Mayle came back in quickly, dexterously. “According to

Carter’s gospel you can’t be that choosy.”

“Choice is the essence of democracy.”

“Choice is by definition heresy,” said Mayle, reminding

Duggan of an ancient truth. “You can’t have choice if truth is a

fixed entity. You either believe, or you do not believe.”

“Then I am by definition a heretic,” said Duggan. “I choose

not to believe.”

“You won’t get away with that either. Everything’s tied up

with a doctrinal bow. In their book unbelief isn’t a state of mind,

it’s a condition of the soul. You can’t chop up Carter’s kind of

truth and get away with it.”

“And the doors of the Bastille shut.”

“Something like that,” said Mayle. Then, surprising Duggan he

said, “What is the basis of a spiritual life in your opinion?”

“I don’t think I’m the right person to ask,” said Duggan. “I’m

not even sure I believe in God any longer.”

“When Christians lose Jesus they generally lose God as

well. I find that interesting.”

“It’s a package,” said Duggan, impressed by Mayle’s

insight. “It’s two for the price of one.”

* * *

The conference got under way that evening, in the Grand

Ballroom, with a blistering introductory address from Philip

Atkins, theologian and sometime novelist. Atkins, it was soon

evident, believed evil to be an intelligent force, a force that

could invade a human life and destroy it. The fatal thread, he

said, staring down at his audience of clergy and general

religious, was secular society’s unquestioning acceptance of

evolutionary theory, its belief that we had evolved from lesser

forms over many millions of years. Using this as its yardstick,

society’s interpretation of how the world worked had

systematically undermined faith and eaten away at Christianity’s

core beliefs. Inch by inch we had lost out to a disabling spirit, a

spirit of the times expert in its ability to make as nothing

everything once held sacred. We were, according to this theory,

brothers to the Earth and sisters to the stars, co-beings with

plants and animals. We had emerged from the material world,

and at death would merge again with our planetary mother.

Redefining God’s plan of salvation in terms of the evolutionary

process, the historical Jesus had been turned into a metaphor, a

point of reference in future time through which a self-perfected

humanity would arrogantly stride.

There was no doubting Atkin’s had his audience’s

attention; they seemed to be holding their breath.

The language of the lecture became philosophical at that

point, the propositions offered sculpted in terms of this or that

thinker, the arguments presented couched more and more in

abstract formulae. Duggan’s head reeled as Thomas Aquinas and

Augustine were bashed off modern apologists and the question

of evil was tapped into with ever increasing complexity.

Slightly dizzy from the bottle of red wine he had shared

with Mayle over dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, and from the

heat generated by so many bodies in an already overheated

banqueting hall, he fought off the desire to close his eyes and

drift towards sleep. Mayle, legs askew, hands dangling, his body

hunched forward slightly as if in search of a bar to lean on, was,

conversely, all attention. Rallying, Duggan heard the lecturer

say that Teilhardian concepts were no more than delicious

mental play things used to reduce Christ to the status of a hero

as pitifully mortal as Prometheus in the Greek myths. That’s

what we were left with, and it was high time we put things to


“Have you read Blackwell on possession?” Mayle asked


Duggan shook his head; he had little interest in such

matters. He stared dully at the platform. What was the point of

reading nonsense when you knew it was nonsense. If he had

gained anything from philosophy, it was that questions were

more important than answers. From theology he had gained

nothing at all. Glancing at Mayle, he wondered why the lanky

Californian bothered with such stuff.

What we were left with was a vacuum, the speaker was

saying, a spiritual vacuum clearly detectable by the 1960s as the

changes introduced by Vatican II took effect. Doing away with

much of the Church’s ancient symbolism, Catholics had been

left all but shorn of mystery, their reliance on practices and

associations that went back hundreds of years reduced to the

twanging of electric guitars. Flushed with excitement as the

Church modernised itself, congregations had been robbed of the

external rites, words, actions and objects that had been so much

a part of Catholic life.

Duggan had heard it all before; it was, as far as he was

concerned, the chant of those to whom the quirky externals of

the Catholic faith had become the faith itself, those to whom the

movement of a hand or the swish of a vestment had taken on an

almost magical significance. He himself was still infected with

such nonsense, and that in spite of having not been inside a

church for many years. Without looking at Mayle he said:

“I should never have taken on this assignment.”

“Evil as an experience is a reality. All one has to do is read

Camus, Dostoeyevsky or Hardy to realise this. Evil plays a

distinct role in the lives of their characters.”

Duggan closed his eyes and began to drift.

“We have to reject modernism’s belief that it has solved the

problem of evil.”

A round of applause brought Duggan back to his senses.

“We have to remain sensitive to the philosophical questions

that surround this subject, but we must not allow philosophy to

blind us to the routine forcibleness of evil in human


“If there be a God, from whence proceed so many evils?”

said Duggan under his breath.

“What?” said Mayle.

Duggan got to his feet. “You know where to find me,” he

said, ignoring the stares of those in the rows behind.

His departure from the seminary had been equally abrupt.

Betrayed by those he had trusted, by those from whom he had

expected so much, he had stepped back into the world vowing

never to have anything to do with the Church again. He was, he

had been told, a mischief-maker. Head bowed, Fr Michael had

sorrowfully delivered the Board’s verdict, his podgy hands

clamped palm down either side of the lengthy report he had

helped compile. They had given him every chance. Every

chance. But he had refused to listen.

Duggan headed down the wide, marquetry-floored corridor

of the main lobby to the bar. The foxy-looking barman nodded,

but did not smile – he was not the smiling type. Armed with a

double scotch, Duggan chose a quiet corner, settled himself and

took a few sips of the raw spirit. After a few minutes his eyes

wandered in the direction of a dark-haired woman on his far

right. She was reading a book, had taken off her shoes and

stretched herself out on one of the heavily cushioned bamboo


That was when David Mayle turned up.

“I concluded you were having a better time than I was,”

Mayle said, easing himself into a low chair. “They’re really

getting down to it now. I think the devil’s going to appear in

person any second.”

“It was too much for me,” said Duggan. “Even the little I

heard was too much.”

“You don’t believe in the devil?”

Duggan smiled and pushed himself up. “Shug pinot?”

A nod from Mayle.

When he returned, Mayle was smoking a cigarette. “I allow

myself three per day,” he said. “What are Jack Duggan’s vices?”

“I have only one,” said Duggan, reaching for his whisky.

They sat in silence for a moment, then Mayle said, “What was it

you said before you upped and left?”

“‘If there be a God, from whence proceed so many evils?’

I don’t remember who said it.”

“You’re full of surprises.”

“You aren’t?” said Duggan, remembering how the

American had so deftly outmanoeuvred him when speaking

about Carter’s hardline Catholicism.

“And if there isn’t a God?” asked Mayle.

“Then it’s how things are and that’s the end of it.”

“What caused you to break with them?”

“It was a gradual awakening; I began to notice things.”

Mayle toyed with his glass. “My folks had been together for

years before my father decided to train for the ministry.” He

glanced away, then back. “Wasn’t her kind of thing at all.”

“He saw the light.”

“Saw something.”

“You aren’t tempted to hedge your bets?”

“That’s nice,” said Mayle. “I like the idea of being tempted

to believe.” Then with a smile he said: “Bottom’s all but fallen

out of my bucket I’m afraid.”

The girl who had been reading got up and left. They

watched her go.

“And here we are, the pair of us,” added Mayle.

In the ballroom, the speaker was savouring a theological

delicacy as if it were a hand-made sweet.

“I should be in Darwin,” Duggan said for a second time.