The Anatomy of Ghosts
Late in the evening of Thursday, 16 February 1786, the Last Supper was nearing its end. The new Apostle had taken the oaths, signed the membership book and swallowed the contents of the sacred glass presented by the late Morton Frostwick, to the accompaniment of whoops, cheers and catcalls. Now it was time for the toasts that preceded the grand-climax of the ceremony.
'No heeltaps, gentlemen,' Jesus commanded from the head of the table. 'All rise. I give you His Majesty the King.'
The Apostles shuffled to their feet, many with difficulty. Four chairs fell over and someone knocked a bottle off the table.
Jesus raised his glass. 'The King, God bless him.'
'The King, God bless him,' bellowed a chorus of voices in return, for the Apostles prided themselves on their patriotism and their attachment to the throne. Each man drained his glass in one. 'God bless him!' repeated St Matthew at the far end of table, and his passionate exhortation ended in a hiccup.
Jesus and the Apostles sat down and the buzz of conversation resumed. The tall, long room was brightly lit with candles. A shifting pall of smoke hung above the table. A great fi re blazed in the hearth beneath the marble chimneypiece. The curtains were drawn. The mirrors between the windows caught the flames, the sparkle of silver and crystal, and the glitter of the buttons on the gentlemen's coats. All the Apostles wore the same livery - a bright green coat lined with buck silk and adorned with prominent gilt buttons down the front and on the cuffs.
'How long do I wait?' said the young man at the right hand of Jesus.
'Be patient, Frank. All in good time.' Jesus raised his voice.
'Recharge your glasses, gentlemen.'
He poured wine into his neighbour's glass and his own. He watched the other men obeying him like sheep.
'One more toast,' he murmured in Frank's ear. 'Then we have the ceremony. And then the sacrifice.'
'Pray tell me,' Frank said, resting his elbow on the table and turning towards Jesus. 'Does Mrs Whichcote know I am to be sanctified tonight?'
'Why do you ask?'
Frank's face had grown very red. 'I - I merely wondered. Since I am to spend the night here, I thought perhaps she must know.'
'She does not,' Jesus said. 'She knows nothing. And you must tell her nothing. This is men's business.'
'Yes, of course. I should not have asked.' Frank's elbow slipped and he would have toppled from his chair if Jesus had not steadied him. 'A thousand apologies. But you're a lucky dog, you know, she's so very lovely - oh damnation, pray do not take it amiss, Philip, I should not have said that.'
'I was not listening.' Jesus stood up, ignoring Frank's desire to continue apologizing. 'Gentlemen, it is time for another toast. All rise. I give you damnation to the Great Whore of Babylon, his foulness of Rome, Pius VI, and may he rot in hell for all eternity along with his fellow Papists.'
The Apostles drained their glasses and burst into applause. The toast was traditional, and dated back to the earliest days of the Holy Ghost Club. Jesus had no personal animosity towards Papists. In fact his own mother had been raised in the Roman Catholic Church, though she had laid aside her religion at the time of her marriage and adopted her husband's, as a good wife should.
He waited until the clapping and cheering had subsided. 'Be seated, gentlemen.'
Chairs scraped on polished boards. St James sat down but caught only the edge of his chair, which sent him sprawling on the floor. St John rushed behind the screen at the far end of the room and could be heard being violently sick. St Thomas turned aside from the company, unbuttoned and urinated into one of the commodes placed conveniently near by.
There was a faint tapping on the door behind Jesus's chair. Only Jesus heard it. He stood up and opened the door a few inches. The footboy was outside, candle in hand, and his eyes large with fear.
Excerpted from The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor. Copyright © 2011 by Andrew Taylor. Excerpted by permission of Hyperion. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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