Excerpt from The Nightingales of Troy by Alice Fulton, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Nightingales of Troy

By Alice Fulton

The Nightingales of Troy
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2008,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2009,
    256 pages.

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I got so caught up I hardly noticed the incense and adoration. The next thing I knew, we’d genuflected and were out on the grass again. I spread the cloth and unpacked the bill of fare. I always cooked day and night before the Sisters visited, and then they’d peck away with their puny appetites, selecting a tidbit here, a morsel there. I’d made a round of beef, fricasseed chicken, potato salad, picalilli, chili sauce, and rhubarb pie, all the same. I knew from last time they would not touch my homemade root beer because of the word “beer.”

“Mother, is Sister Immaculata a saint?” Charlotte asked. She and Edna were braiding each other’s brown straight hair. The sky had turned dreary, and the trees looked boisterous.

“A saint has to be dead, I guess.” I handed Sister Immaculata a corned beef sandwich and began helping everyone to salad. I didn’t know what to say.

“Sister Honoraria is a saint,” Charlotte went on. “She was struck twice by lightning, and now if someone sticks pins in her, it doesn’t matter, for she don’t feel it.” I thought this must be a great gift to a Sister. I knew from washing our relatives’ habits that nuns were mostly held together with pins.

“Some religious women fancy they are specially singled out for miracles,” Sister Immaculata said, brushing crumbs off her worsted skirt.

I’d seen lightning split a crystal dish without a shatter. I’d seen it roll itself up in a ball before exploding. And I believed it could strike twice if it had a mind to. There were but two things I feared: lightning and a dark cellar.

“Sister Honoraria is Charlotte’s teacher,” I explained. St. Cieran’s was the nearest school. The children went there to be educated with the orphans.

“The Presentation nuns are all very well,” Sister Immaculata said. Veils were flapping, and I had to hold on to my hat.

“Their order is enclosed, and a few decades older in the faith than ours,” Sister Adelaide allowed.

I told Charlotte and Edna, who were dandy helpers, to get a move on and find their little brother. He’d gone to watch some boys carve a cross in a tree, and now with a storm brewing, I’d lost sight of him.

“Mamie, I couldn’t broach this with the children here,” Sister Immaculata said as soon as the girls were gone. “But it is my duty to warn you.” She fingered her beads. Kitty leaned forward, egging her on. “It’s passing strange how some vowed women believe they’re doing God a great favor instead of thinking the world well lost.”

“Obedience comes more readily to some than others,” Adelaide explained.

“There have been allegations concerning Sister Honoraria,” continued Immaculata.

“Concerning her past,” said Adelaide.

“Don’t be grabbing Sister’s spectacles,” I told baby Dorothy.

“It is said that Sister Honoraria was called back from a foreign mission, and that she engages in excessive penitential practices.” Here Immaculata touched the big black crucifix shoved under her belt. “What’s more, this Sister’s conduct with a priest was deemed . . .” She paused and puckered her lips. “Familiar. He was observed to impiously venture to touch her hand.”

“It is said,” Adelaide put in.

“You mean there was a scandal, Maggie?” The shock made me forget and call Sister Immaculata by her Christian name.

Kitty was in her glory. I could feel her nerves shaking next to me. “The nun in the garden,” she said.

The girls came skipping over then, dragging my Joseph behind them, and we had to shush. There was no more talk of Sister Honoraria, though Kitty kept trying to sneak up on the subject. The storm held off, and we spent the rest of the afternoon strolling the grounds, greeting old cronies, and telling each other what a grand time we were having in this heaven on earth before the sun got low and the train left for home.

S

The nuns came and went without any uproar, and it must have been a week after their visit that Edna raced home in a great state of emergency. I was putting sheets out to dry on the lines and hedges when she skidded into the yard, out of breath, yelling Mother Come Running! Sister has fallen! “Sister is down?” I said, stopping my work to listen. When I’d heard enough, I left the little ones with Kitty and took off down Bog Road at a good clip.

Reprinted from The Nightingales of Troy by Alice Fulton. Copyright (c) 2008. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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