Excerpt of Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett
(Page 4 of 4)
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I looked sideways at the woman whod brought the dying boy to me. There were
tears coming silent and unbidden down her grey cheeks. I knew her to be in
grief, but something about her rapturous expression suggested these were tears
of joy. So shalt thou not despair, Davy went on, but shall feel God as a kind
and a merciful father; and his spirit shall dwell in thee, and shall be strong
in thee, and the promise shall be given thee at the last.
Now the little old man stepped forward, his fear of me forgotten, his face
lit up with happiness. When I began to smell the word of God, he began
modestly, and the group turned towards him with a drawing-in of breath, it so
exhilarated my heart which before was wounded with the guilt of my sins until
I was almost in despair that immediately I felt a marvellous comfort and
quietness, so much so that my bruised bones leapt for joy.
The churchmen would say Ive lost my faith. But I say this. Scripture has
become more delicious to me than honey or the honeycomb, because in it I learn
that all my torments, all my fasting, all my vigils, all the redemption of
masses and pardons, being done without trust in Christ, who alone can save his
people from their sins, these, I say, I learned to be nothing but a headlong
rush away from the truth. There were more quiet sobs of relief, and more wet
cheeks, as he stepped up to kiss the book in Davys hand.
Beyond a bit of banter in the street while I was buying something from a
street trader, or a chat with one of the maids at home, Id never have talked to
people like these in the usual run of my life. Watching their faces light up
with exaltation now, I realised I probably hadnt even thought of them as
knowing how to talk other than in the cheeky chat of traders. Except when I was
treating their wounds and ailments, that was; when I remembered that if you
pricked the poor they bled just like the next man. But I certainly hadnt
expected this depth of emotion, this passion for truth. I felt humbled by it.
They knew when to stop. When the only candle had burned down to its mark,
they wrapped the books up and hid them behind the logs again and filed out, as
quiet as theyd come, into the courtyard and off in their different directions.
Will you take me home, Davy? I asked, sitting on my bench, quiet with my
I havent told you answers to the questions you asked, he said, as we
slipped out into the alley. Showing you this was the best I could do.
I nodded. It was a good answer, I said, at peace with his new sane self
You go up to the top, and left and left again into Walbrook. Best I dont go
with you, he said. He shouldered his bag. Ive got business to do. Unicorns
horn business. And he winked at me, then grinned crazily and danced off down
the dirty little street, every inch the cheerful madman again.
Excerpted from Portrait of an Unknown Woman
by Vanora Bennett, Copyright © 2007 by Vanora Bennett. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the author.