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Chapter 18

Then Satan answered the Lord, and said,

Doth Job fear God for nought?

Job 1:9

Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou

find out the Almighty unto perfection?

Job 11:7

I WAITED for the Shout.

My feelings were mixed. Did I want the Rapture? Was I ready to be snatched up into the loving arms of Jesus? Yes, dear Lord. Yes! Without Margrethe? No, no! Then you choose to be cast down into the Pit? Yes - no, but Make up your mind!

Mr Farnsworth looked up. 'See that baby go!'

I looked up through the roof of the car. There was a second sun directly overhead. It seemed to shrink and lose brilliance as I watched it.

Our host went on, 'Right on time! Yesterday we had a hold, missed the window, and had to reslot. When you're sitting on the pad, and single-H is boiling away, even a hold for one orbit can kill your profit margin. And yesterday wasn't even a glitch; it was a totally worthless re-check ordered by a Nasa fatbottom. Figures.'

He seemed to be talking English.

Margrethe said breathlessly, 'Mr Farnsworth - Jerry what was it?'

'Eh? Never seen a lift-off before?'

'I don't know what a lift-off is.'

'Mm... yes. Margie, the fact that you and Alec are from another world - or worlds - hasn't really soaked through My skull yet. Your world doesn't have space travel?'

'I'm not sure what you mean but I don't think we do.'

I was fairly sure what he meant so I interrupted. 'Jerry, you're talking about flying to the moon, aren't you? Like Jules Verne.'

'Yes. Close enough.'

'That was an ethership? Going to the moon? Golly Moses!' The profanity just slipped out.

'Slow down. That was not an ethership, it was an, unmanned freight rocket. It is not going to Luna; it is going only as far as Leo - low Earth orbit. Then it comes back, ditches off Galveston, is ferried back to North Texas Port, where it will lift again sometime next week. But some of its cargo will go on to Luna City or Tycho Under - and some may go as far as the Asteroids. Clear?'

'Uh... not quite.'

'Well, in Kennedy's second term -'


'John F. Kennedy. President. Sixty-one to sixty-nine.'

'I'm sorry. I'm going to have to relearn history again. Jerry, the most confusing thing about being bounced around among worlds is not new technology, such as television or jet planes - or even space-travel ships. It is different history.'

'Well - When we get home, I'll find you an American history, and a history of space travel. A lot of them around the house; I'm in space up to my armpits - started with. model rockets as a kid. Now, besides Diana Freight Lines, I've got a piece of Jacob's Ladder and the Beanstalk, both - just a tax loss at present but -'

I think he caught sight of my face. 'Sorry. You skim through the books I'll dig out for you, then we'll talk.'

Farnsworth looked back at his controls, punched something, blinked at it, punched again, and, said, 'Hubert says that we'll have the sound in three minutes twenty-one seconds.'

When the sound did arrive, I was disappointed. I had expected a thunderclap to match that incredible light. Instead it was a rumble that went on and on, then faded away without a distinct end.

A few minutes later the car left the highway, swung right in a large circle and went under the highway through a tunnel and came out on a smaller highway. We stayed on this highway (83, I noted) about five minutes, then there was a repeated beeping sound and a flash of lights. 'I hear you,' Mr Farnsworth said. 'Just hold your horses.' He swung his chair around and faced forward, grasped the two hand grips.

The next several minutes were interesting. I was reminded of something the Sage of Hannibal said: 'If it warn't for the honor, I'd druther uv walked.' Mr Farnsworth seemed to regard any collision avoided by a measurable distance as less than sporting. Again and again that 'soft mush' saved us from bruises if not broken bones. Once that signal from the machinery went Bee-bee-beebeep! at him; he growled in answer: 'Pipe down! You mind your business; I'll mind mine,' and subjected us to another near miss.

We turned off onto a narrow road, private I concluded, as there was an arch over the entrance reading FARNSWORTH'S FOLLY. We went up a grade. At the top, lost among trees, was a high gate that snapped out of the way as we approached it.

There we met Katie Farnsworth.

If you have read this far in this memoir, you know that I am in love with my wife. That is a basic, like the speed of light, like the love of God the Father. Know ye now that I learned that I could love another person, a woman, without detracting from my love for Margrethe, without wishing to take her from her lawful mate, without lusting to possess her. Or at least not much.

In meeting her I learned that five feet two inches is the perfect height for a woman, that forty is the perfect age, and that a hundred and ten pounds is the correct weight, just as for a woman's voice contralto is the right register. That my own beloved darling is none of these is irrelevant; Katie Farnsworth makes them perfect for her by being herself content with what she is.

But she startled me first by the most graceful gesture of warm hospitality I have ever encountered.

She knew from her husband that we were utterly without clothes; she knew also from him that he felt that we were embarrassed by our state. So she had fetched clothing for each of us.

And she herself was naked.

No, that's not right; I was naked, she was unclothed. That's not quite right, either. Nude? Bare? Stripped? Undressed? No, she was dressed in her own beauty, like Mother Eve before the Fall. She made it seem so utterly appropriate that I wonder how I had ever acquired the delusion that freedom from clothing equals obscenity.

Those clamshell doors lifted; I got out and handed Margrethe out. Mrs Farnsworth dropped what she was carrying, put her arms around Margrethe and kissed her. 'Margrethe! Welcome, dear.'

My darling hugged her back and sniffled again.

Then she offered me her hand. 'Welcome to you, too, Mr Graham. Alec.' I took her hand, did not shake it. Instead I handled it like rare china and bowed over it. I felt that I should kiss it but I had never learned how.

For Margrethe she had a summer dress the shade of Marga's eyes. Its styling suggested the Arcadia of myth; one could imagine a wood nymph wearing it. It hung on the left shoulder, was open all the way down on the right but wrapped around with generous overlap. Both sides of this simple garment ended in a long sash ribbon; the end that went under passed through a slot, which permitted both ends to go all the way around Marga's waist, then to tie at her right side.

It occurred to me that this was a fit-anyone dress. It would be tight or loose on any figure depending on how it was tied.

Katie had sandals for Marga in blue to match her dress.

For me she had Mexican sandals, zapatos, of lhe cutleather openwork sort that are almost as fit-anyone as that dress, simply by how they are tied. She offered me trousers and shirt that were superficially equivalent to those I had bought in Winslow at the SECOND WIND - but these were tailormade of summer-weight wool rather than mass-produced from cheap cotton. She also had for me socks that fitted themselves to my feet and knit shorts that seemed to be my size.

When she had dressed us, there was still clothing on the grass -hers. I then realized that she had walked to the gate dressed, stripped down there, and waited for us 'dressed' as we were.

That's politeness.

Dressed, we all got into the car. Mr Farnsworth waited a moment before starting up his driveway. 'Katie, our guests are Christians.'

Mrs Farnsworth seemed delighted. 'Oh, how very interesting!'

'So I thought. Alec? Verb. sap. Not many Christians in these parts. Feel free to speak your mind in front of Katie and me... but when anyone else is around, you may be more comfortable not discussing your beliefs. Understand me?'

'Uh... I'm afraid I don't.' My head was in a whirl and I felt a ringing in my ears.

'Well... being a Christian isn't against the law here; Texas has freedom of religion. Nevertheless Christians aren't at all popular and Christian worship is mostly underground. Uh, if you want to get in touch with your own people, I suppose we could manage to locate a catacomb. Kate?'

'Oh, I'm sure we could find someone who knows. I can put out some feelers.'

'If Alec says to, dear. Alec, you're in no danger of being stoned; this country isn't some ignorant redneck backwoods. Or not much danger. But I don't want you to be discriminated against or insulted.'

Katie Farnsworth said, 'Sybil.'

'Oh, oh! Yes. Alec our daughter is a good girl and as civilized as one can expect in a teenager. But she is an apprentice witch, a recent convert to the Old Religion and, being, both a convert and a teenager, dead serious about it. Sybil would not be rude to a guest - Katie brought her up properly. Besides, she knows I would skin her alive. But it would be a favor to me if you will avoid placing too much strain on her. As I'm sure you know, every teenager is a time bomb waiting to go off.'

Margrethe answered for me: 'We will be most careful. This "Old Religion" - is this the worship of Odin?'

I felt a chill... when I was already discombobulated beyond my capacity. But our host answered, 'No. Or at least I don't think so. You could ask Sybil. If you are willing to risk having your ear talked off; she'll try to convert you. Very intense.'

Katie Farnsworth added, 'I have never heard Sybil mention Odin. Mostly she speaks just of "the Goddess". Don't Druids worship Odin? Truly I don't know. I'm afraid Sybil considers us so hopelessly old-fashioned that she doesn't bother to discuss theology with us.'

'And let's not discuss it now,' Jerry added, and started us up the drive.

The Farnsworth mansion was long, low, and rambling, with a flavor of lazy opulence. Jerry swung us under a porte-coch`ere; we all got out. He slapped the top of his car as one might slap the neck of a horse. It moved away and turned the corner of the house as we went inside.

I'm not going to say much about their house as, while it was beautiful and Texas lavish, it would not necessarily appear any one way long enough to justify describing it; most of what we saw Jerry called 'hollow grams'. How can I describe them? Frozen dreams? Three-dimensional, pictures? Let me put it this way: Chairs were solid. So were table tops. Anything else in that house, better touch it cautiously and find out, as it might be as beautifully there as a rainbow... and just as insubstantial.

I don't know how these ghosts were produced. I think it is possible that the laws of physics in that world were somewhat different from those of the Kansas of my youth.

Katie led us into what Jerry called their 'family room' and Jerry stopped abruptly. 'Bloody Hindu whorehouse!'

It was a very large room with ceilings that seemed impossibly high for a one-storey ranch house. Every wall, arch, alcove, soffit, and beam was covered with sculptured figures. But such figures! I found myself blushing. These figures had apparently been copied from that notorious temple cavern in southern India, the one that depicts every possible vice of venery in obscene and blatant detail.

Katie said, 'Sorry, dear! The youngsters were dancing in here.' She hurried to the left, melted into one sculpture group and disappeared. 'What will you have, Gerald?'

'Uh, Remington number two.'

'Right away.'

Suddenly the obscene figures disappeared, the ceiling lowered abruptly and changed to a beam-and-plaster construction, one wall became a picture window looking out at mountains that belonged in Utah (not Texas), the wall opposite it now carried a massive stone fireplace with a goodly fire crackling in it, the furniture changed to the style sometimes called 'mission' and the floor changed to flagstones covered with Amerindian rugs.

'That's better. Thank you, Katherine. Sit down, friends - pick a spot and squat.'

I sat down, avoiding what was obviously the 'papa' chair - massive and leather upholstered. Katie and Marga took a couch together. Jerry satin that papa chair. 'My love, what will you drink?'

'Campari and soda, please.'

'Sissy. And you, Margie?'

'Campari and soda would suit me, too.'

'Two sissies. Alec?'

'I'll go along with the ladies.'

'Son, I'll tolerate that in the weaker sex. But not from a grown man. Try again.'

'Uh, Scotch and soda.'

'I'd horsewhip you, if I had a horse. Podnuh, you have just one more chance.'

'Uh... bourbon and branch?'

'Saved yourself. Jack Daniel's with water on the side. Other day, man in Dallas tried to order Irish whisky. Rode him out o'town on a rail. Then they apologized to him. Turned out he was a Yankee and didn't know any better.' All this time our host was drumming with his fingertips on a small table at his elbow. He stopped this fretful drumming and, suddenly, at the table by my chair appeared a Texas jigger of brown liquid and a tumbler of water. I found that the others had been served, too. Jerry raised his glass. 'Save your Confederate money! Salud!'

We drank and he went on, 'Katherine, do you know where our rapscallion is hiding?'

'I think they are all in the pool, dear.'

'So.' Jerry resumed that nervous drumming. Suddenly there appeared in the air in front of our host, seated on a diving board that jutted out of nowhere, a young female. She was in bright sunlight although the room we were in was in cool shadow. Drops of water sprinkled on her. She faced Jerry, which placed her back toward me. 'Hi, Pip-squeak.'

'Hi, Daddy. Kiss kiss.'

'In a pig's eye. When was the last time I spanked you?'

'My ninth birthday. When I set fire to Aunt Minnie. What did I do now?'

'By the great golden gawdy greasy gonads of God, what do you mean by leaving that vulgar, bawdy, pornic program running in the family room?'

'Don't give me that static, Daddy doll; I've seen your books.'

'Never mind what I have in my private library; answer my question.'

'I forgot to turn it off, Daddy. I'm sorry.'

'That's what the cow said to Mrs Murphy. But the fire burned on. Look, my dear, you know you are free to use the controls to suit yourself. But when you are through, you must put the display back the way you found it. Or, if you don't know how. you must put it back to zero for the default display.'

'Yes, Daddy. I just forgot.'

'Don't go squirming around like that; I'm not through chewing you out. By the big brass balls of Koshchei, where did you get that program?'

'At campus. It was an instruction tape in my tantric yoga class.'

'"Tantric yoga"? Swivel hips, you don't need such a course. Does your mother know about this?'

Katherine moved in smoothly: 'I urged her to take it, dear one. Sybil is talented, as we know. But raw talent is not I enough; she needed tutoring.'

'So? I'll never argue with your mother on this subject, so I withdraw to a previously prepared position. That tape. How did you come by it? You are familiar with the applicable laws concerning copyrighted material; we both remember the hooraw over that Jefferson Starship tape -'

'Daddy, you're worse than an elephant! Don't you ever forget anything?'

'Never, and much worse. You are warned that anything you say may be taken down in writing and held against you at another time and place. How say you?'

'I demand to see an attorney!'

'Oh, so you did pirate it!'

'Don't you wish I had! So you could gloat. I'm sorry, Daddy, but I paid the catalog fee, in full, in cash, and the campus library service copied it for' me. So there. Smarty.'

'Smarty yourself. You wasted your money.'

'I don't think so. I like it.'

'So do I. But you wasted your money. You should have asked me for it.'


'Gotcha! I thought at first you had been picking locks in my study or working a spell on 'em. Pleased to hear that you were merely extravagant. How much?'

'Uh... forty-nine fifty. That's at student's discount.'

'Sounds fair; I paid sixty-five. All right. But if it shows up on your semester billing, I'll deduct it from your allowance.

Just one thing, sugar plum - I brought two nice people home, a lady and a gentleman. We walk into the parlor. What had been the parlor. And these two gentlefolk are faced with the entire Kama Sutra, in panting, quivering color. What do you think of that?'

'I didn't mean to.'

'So we'll forget it. But it is never polite to shock people, especially guests, so let's be more careful next time. Will you be at dinner?'

'Yes. If I can be excused early and run, run, run. Date, Daddy.'

'What time will you be home?'

'Won't. All-night gathering. Rehearsal for Midsummer Night. Thirteen covens.'

He sighed. 'I suppose that I should thank the Three Crones that you are on the pill.'

'Pill shmill. Don't be a cube, Daddy; nobody ever gets pregnant at a Sabbat; everybody knows that.'

'Everybody but me. Well, let us offer thanks that you are willing to have dinner with us.' Suddenly she shrieked as she fell forward off the board. The picture followed her down.

She splashed, then came up spouting water. 'Daddy! You pushed me!'

'How could you say such a thing?' he answered in self-righteous tones. The living picture suddenly vanished.

Katie Farnsworth said conversationally, 'Gerald keeps trying to dominate his daughter. Hopelessly, of course. He should take her to bed and discharge his incestuous yearnings. But they are both too prissy for that.'

'Woman, remind me to beat you.'

'Yes, dearest. You wouldn't have to force her. Make your intentions plain and she will burst into tears and surrender. Then both of you will have the best time of your lives. Wouldn't you say so, Margrethe?'

'I would say so. '

By then I was too numb to be shocked by Margrethe's words.

'Dinner was a gourmet's delight and a social confusion. It was served in the formal dining hall, i.e., that same family room with a different program controlling the hollow grams. The ceiling was higher, the windows were tall, evenly spaced, framed by floor-length drapes, 'and they looked out on formal gardens.

One piece of furniture wheeled itself in, and was not a hollow gram - or not much so. It was a banquet table that (so far as I know) was - in itself, pantry, stove, icebox - all of a well-equipped kitchen. That's a conclusion, subject to refutation. All I can say is that I never saw a servant and never saw our hostess do any work. Nevertheless her husband congratulated her on her cooking - as well he might, and so did we.

Jerry did a little work; he carved a roast (prime rib, enough for a troop of hungry Boy Scouts) and he served the plates, serving them at his place. Once a plate was loaded, it went smoothly around to the person for whom it was intended, like a toy train on a track - but there was no train and no track. Machinery concealed by hollow grams? I suppose so. But that simply covers one mystery with another.

(I learned later that a swank Texas household in that world would have had human servants conspicuously in sight. But Jerry and Katie had simple tastes.)

There were six of us at the table, Jerry at one end, Katie at the other; Margrethe sat on Jerry's right, his daughter Sybil on his left; I was at the right of my hostess, and at her left was Sybil's young man, her date. This put him opposite me, and I had Sybil on my right.

The young man's name was Roderick Lyman Culverson III; he did not manage to catch my name. I have long suspected that the male of our species, in most cases, should be raised in a barrel and fed through the bung-hole. Then, at age eighteen, a solemn decision can be made: whether to take him out of the barrel, or to drive in the bung.

Young Culverson gave me no reason to change my opinion - and I would have voted to drive in the bung.

Early on, Sybil made clear that they were at the same campus. But he seemed to be as much a stranger to the Farnsworths as he was to us. Katie asked, 'Roderick, are you an apprentice witch, too?'

He looked as if he had sniffed something nasty, but Sybil saved him from having to answer such a crude question. 'Mothuh! Rod received his athame ages ago.'

'Sorry I goofed,' Katie said tranquilly. 'Is that a diploma you get when you finish your apprenticeship?'

'It's a sacred knife, Mama, used in ritual. It can be used to -'

'Sybil! There are gentiles present.' Culverson frowned at Sybil, then glared at me. I thought how well he would look with a black eye but I endeavored to keep my thoughts out of my face.

Jerry said, 'Then you're a graduate warlock, Rod?'

Sybil broke in again. 'Daddy! The correct word is -'

'Pipe down, sugar plum! Let him answer for himself. Rod?'

'That word is used only by the ignorant -'

'Hold it! I am uninformed on some subjects, and then I seek information, as I am now doing. But you don't sit at my table and call me ignorant. Now can you answer me without casting asparagus?'

Culverson's nostrils spread but he took a grip on himself. '"Witch" is the usual term for both male and female adepts in the Craft. "Wizard" is an acceptable term but is not technically exact; it means "sorcerer" or "magician"... but not all magicians are witches and not all witches practice magic. But "warlock" is considered to be offensive as well as incorrect because it is associated with Devil worship - and the Craft is not Devil worship - and the word itself by its derivation means "oath breaker" - and witches do not break oaths. Correction: The Craft forbids the breaking of oaths. A witch who breaks an oath, even to a gentile, is subject to discipline, even expulsion if the oath is that major. So I am not a "graduate warlock". The correct designation for my present status is "Accepted Craftsman", that is to say: "witch".'

'Well stated! Thank you. I ask forgiveness for using the term "warloc" to you and about you -' Jerry waited.

A long moment later Culverson said hastily, 'Oh, certainly! No offense meant and none taken.'

'Thank you. To add to your comments about derivations, "witch" drives from "wicca" meaning "wise", and from "wicce" meaning "woman"... which may account for most witches being female and suggests that our ancestors may have known something that we don't. In any case "the Craft" is the short way of saying "the Craft of Wisdom". Correct?'

'Eh Oh, certainly! Wisdom. That's what the Old Religion is all about.'

'Good. Son, listen to me carefully. Wisdom includes not getting angry unnecessarily. The Law ignores trifles and the wise man does, too. Such trifles as a young girl defining an athame among gentiles - knowledge that isn't all that esoteric anyhow - and an old fool using a word inappropriately. Understand me?'

Again Jerry waited. Then he said very softly, 'I said, "Do you understand me?" '

I Culverson took a deep breath. 'I understood you. A wise I man ignores trifles.'

'Good. May I offer you another slice of the roast?'

Culverson kept quiet for some time then. As did I. As did Sybil. Katie and Jerry and Margrethe kept up a flow of' polite chitchat that ignored the fact that a guest had just been thoroughly and publicly spanked. Presently Sybil said, 'Daddy, are you and Mama expecting me to attend fire worship Friday?'

'"Expect" is hardly the word,' Jerry answered, 'when you have picked another church of your own. "Hope" would be closer.'

Katie added, 'Sybil, tonight you feel that your coven is all the church you will ever need. But that could change... and I understand that the Old Religion does not forbid its members to attend other religious services.'

Culverson put In, "That reflects centuries, millennia, of persecution, Mrs Farnsworth. It is still in our laws that each member of a coven must also belong publicly to some socially approved church. But we no longer try too hard to enforce it.'

'I see,' agreed Katie. 'Thank you, Roderick. Sybil, since your new church encourages membership in another church, it might be prudent to attend fairly regularly just to protect your Brownie points. You may need them.'

'Exactly,' agreed her father. ' "Brownie points." Ever occur to you, hon, that your pop being a stalwart pillar of the congregation, with a fast checkbook, might have something to do with the fact that he also sells more Cadillacs than any other dealer in Texas?'

'Daddy, that sounds utterly shameless.'

'It sure is. It also sells Cadillacs. And don't call it fire worship; you know it is not. It is not the flame we worship, but what it stands for.'

Sybil twisted her serviette and, for the moment, looked a troubled thirteen instead of the mature woman her body showed her to be. 'Papa, that's just it. All my life that flame has meant to me healing, cleansing, life everlasting until I studied the Craft. Its history. Daddy, to a witch... fire means the way they kill us!'

I was shocked almost out of breathing. I think it had not really sunk into me emotionally that these two, obnoxious but commonplace young punk, and pretty and quite delightful young girl... daughter of Katie, daughter of Jerry, our two Good Samaritans without equal - that these two were witches.

Yes, yes, I know: Exodus twenty-two verse eighteen, 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' As solemn an injunction as the Ten Commandments, given to Moses directly by God, in the presence of all the children of Israel

What was I doing breaking bread with witches?

Mark me for a coward. I did not stand up and denounce them. I sat tight.

Katie said, 'Darling, darling! That was clear back in the middle ages! Not today, not now, not here.'

Culverson said, 'Mrs Farnsworth, every witch knows that the terror can start up again any time. Even a season of bad crops could touch it off. And Salem wasn't very long ago. Nor very far away.' He added, 'There are still Christians around. They would set the fires if they could. Just like Salem.'

This was a great chance to keep my mouth shut. I blurted out, 'No witch was burned at Salem.'

He looked at me. 'What do you know about it?'

'The burnings were in Europe, not here. In Salem witches were hanged, except one who was pressed to death.' (Fire should never have been used. The Lord God ordered us not to suffer them to live; He did not tell us to put them to death by torture.)

He eyed me again. 'So? You seem to approve of the hangings.'

'I never said anything of the sort!' (Dear God, forgive me!)

Jerry cut in. 'I rule this subject out of order! There will be no further discussion of it at the table. Sybil, we don't want you to attend if it upsets you or reminds you of tragic occasions. Speaking of hanging, what shall we do about the backfield of the Dallas Cowboys?'

Two hours later Jerry Farnsworth and I were again seated in that room, this time it being Remington number three: a snow storm against the windows, an occasional cold draft across the floor, and once the howl of a wolf - a roaring fire felt good. He poured coffee for us, and brandy in huge snifters, big enough for goldfish. 'You hear of noble brandy,' he said. 'Napoleon, or Carlos Primero. But this is royal brandy - so royal it has hemophilia.'

I gulped; I did not like the joke. I was still queasy from thinking about witches, dying witches. With a jerk of the heels, or dancing on flames. And all of them with Sybil's sweet face.

Does the Bible define 'witch' somewhere? Could it be that these modern members of the Craft were not at all what Jehovah meant by 'witch'?

Quit dodging, Alex! Assume that 'witch' in Exodus means exactly what 'witch' means here in Texas t day. You're the judge and she has confessed. Can you sentence Katie's teenager to hang? Will you spring the trap? Don't dodge it, boy; 'You've been dodging all your life.

Pontius Pilate washed his hands.

I will not sentence a witch to die! So help me, Lord, I can do no other.

Jerry said, 'Here's to the success of your venture, yours and Margie's. Sip it slowly and it will not intoxicate; it will simply quiet your nerves while it sharpens your wits. Alec, tell me now why you expect the end of the world.'

For the next hour I went over the evidence, pointing out that it was not just one prophecy that agreed on the signs, but many: Revelations, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Paul in writing to the Thessalonians, and again to the Corinthians, Jesus himself in all four of the Gospels, again and again in each.

To my surprise Jerry had a copy of the Book. I picked out passages easy for laymen to understand, wrote down chapter and verse so that he could study them later. One Thessalonians 4:15-17 of course, and the 24th chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, all fifty-one verses of it, and the same prophecies in Saint Luke, chapter twenty-one - and Luke 21:32 with its clue to the confusion many as to 'this generation'. What Christ actually said was that the generation which sees these signs and portents will live to see His return, hear the Shout, experience Judgment Day. The message is plain if you read all of it; the errors have arisen from picking out bits and pieces and ignoring the rest. The parable of the fig tree explains this.

I also picked out for him, in Isaiah and Daniel and elsewhere, the Old Testament prophecies that parallel the New Testament prophecies.

I handed him this list of prophecies and urged him to study them carefully, and, if he encountered difficulties, simply read more widely. And take it to God. '"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find."'

He said, 'Alec, I can agree with one thing. The news for the past several months has looked to me like. Armageddon. Say tomorrow afternoon. Might as well be the end of the world and Judgment Day, as there won't be enough left to salvage after this one.' He looked sad. 'I used to worry about what kind of a world Sybil would grow up in. Now I wonder if she'll grow up.'

'Jerry. Work on it. Find your way to grace. Then lead your wife and daughter. You don't need me, you don't need anyone but Jesus. He said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice, I will come in to him." Revelations three, twenty.'

'You believe.'

'I do.'

'Alec, I wish I could go along with you. It would be comforting, the world being what it is today. But I can't see proof in the dreams of long-dead prophets; you can read anything into them. Theology is never any help; it is searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn't there. Theologians can persuade themselves of anything. Oh, my church, too - but at least mine is honestly pantheistic. Anyone who can worship a trinity and insist that his religion is a monotheism can believe anything just give him time to rationalize it. Forgive me for being blunt.'

'Jerry, in religion bluntness is necessary. "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." That's Job again, chapter nineteen. He's your Redeemer, too, Jerry - I pray that you find' Him.'

'Not much chance, I'm afraid.' Jerry stood up.

'You haven't found Him yet. Don't quit. I'll pray for you.'

'Thank you, and thanks for trying. How do the shoes feel?'

'Comfortable, quite.'

'If you insist on hitting the road tomorrow, you must have shoes that won't give you bunions between here and Kansas. You're sure?'

'I'm sure. And sure that we must leave. If we stayed another day, you'd have us so spoiled we would never hit the road again.' (The truth that I could not tell him was that I was so upset by witchcraft and fire worship that I had to leave. But I could not load my weakness onto him.)

'Let me show you to your bedroom. Quietly, as Margie may be asleep. Unless our ladies have stayed up even later than we have.'

At the bedroom door he put out his hand. 'If you're right and I'm wrong, you tell me that it's possible that even you can slip.'

'True. I'm not in a state of grace, not now. I've got to work on it.'

'Well, good luck. But if you do slip, look me up in Hell, will you?'

So far as I could tell, Jerry was utterly serious. 'I don't know that it is permitted.'

'Work on it. And so will I. I promise you' - he grinned -'some hellacious hospitality. Really warm!'.

I grinned back. 'It's a date.'

Again my darling had fallen asleep without undressing. I smiled at her without making a sound, then got beside her and pillowed her head on my shoulder. I would let her wake up slowly, then undress the poor baby and put her to bed. Meanwhile I had a thousand - well, dozens - of thoughts to get untangled.

Presently I noticed that it was getting light. Then I noticed how scratchy and lumpy the bed was. The light increased and I saw that we were sprawled over bales of hay, in a barn.

Chapter 17 | JOB: A Comedy of Justice | Chapter 19