Pear Trees

Dena Hunt

She had that kind of slightly plump whiteness that needed only bare arms or stockingless legs on a new spring day to look suddenly, even startlingly, naked. Her eyes, round, slightly protruding, a pale blue and rather watery, stared into the shop window at the little black dress, so strangely out of place among the bright pastels. The smooth baby-pink edges of her heels made a little sucking sound against the soles of her backless shoes as she went inside. Why did she want this dress? Why did she want to wear this piece of mourning on this bright spring day? It seemed right. Who–or what–had died? [Read more...]

King Saul

Michael Doyle

“Twenty minutes, Saul. You promised,” she says from the other room. A weak cry follows and then her weary voice again, “Hush now, hush… Daddy’s going any minute. Belly’ll be all swollen soon, then sleep, sleep.”

Eighty push-ups. Not too bad. Saul rises to his feet and faces the mirror. Only the table lamp is on because he looks more chiseled that way, his skin smooth again. He brings his wiry arms in toward his bare chest, admiring the oily sheen that clings to his body. He bites his lip, clenches his fists, then holds his hands loose by his side. Try to be loose tonight. Jaw loose, fingers trembling. [Read more...]

Distortions

Eve Tushnet

March 24

Charnyn was late to work again today. I should probably talk with her, see if something’s going on in her life? I’m terrible at that stuff, though. Maybe make Dylan or Anne Marie do it.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I got involved in this research. It’s so hard to pick out the decisions that led me here. And that worries me. It doesn’t make me feel like I’m in control of my career.

March 26

Yesterday was crazy. I walk in and Charnyn’s in tears and Natalie is standing there berating her! I almost pitched a fit. It was so clearly out of line. But I took a lot of slow deep breaths and asked Natalie to step into the lunch room, and it turns out that Charnyn was just late again. So I explained very slowly and calmly that I would speak with Charnyn myself, but that I didn’t think Natalie’s response had been appropriate, and of course she makes it very clear to me that Parker’s on her side. Why do we have to have these stupid factions? I have to say, though, not thrilled with the whole breaking down in tears thing.

So that’s a good hour of work time wasted. Add to that the time I spent trying to sensitively discern whether Char was okay, etc., which I’m terrible at; she hedged, but I get the feeling that something’s up with her. She looks awful—with the short hair and the very prominent cheekbones and jawline, she can get a kind of skull look when she’s unhappy.

And we’re working now on a series of really unpleasant malformations. Mine is like when the maple trees drop their seedpods, the little green propeller things. When I was a kid I would slit the pods open with my fingernail, and inside there would be a tiny, crumpled, unready, pale green tissue, like an embryonic leaf. And that’s how my thing is all over. Crumpled up, crippled. Like a glob with deep wrinkles, almost folds or fissures, covered with lanugo, and a thing like a face on one end. You can definitely see the noseholes and the mouth, and you can tell where the eyes should be, but either they aren’t there or they’re gummed shut. I’m not really interested in that part; what I’m supposed to be investigating are the flippers and the wings. I don’t like these ones, the very large malformations. They’re part of the reason I want to move into a more administrative or research-design position, rather than directly carrying out the work.

March 27

Okay, so how I got here. My first research job was with Internal Solutions. Corporate research with government applications and funding. (This is one of my pet peeves: how none of the “activists” understand the complexities of how government and private research intertwine.) This was a fantastic job, looking at the very earliest stages of genetic malformation so that we could prevent it for both standard births and parents who’d chosen enhancements. I know the rewards—the prize grants, but more importantly the respect we got from everyone around us, from the media, from my family—were one reason I stayed in this field. Everyone loves you when you’re making their children better; almost everyone, anyway.

I moved to my second job because I wanted to work with Charnyn, and because the intellectual challenge was greater. Char worked, at that time, for a military subcontractor. I’d always been a little skeptical of the military stuff (influenced by the atmosphere in college, I think, willing to give too much credibility to the activists), but Char spoke my language. We presented on the same panel at a conference on enhancement applications, and afterward she took me out for drinks and pitched me on switching jobs. She allayed most of my fears: She promised that I wouldn’t be pressured to come to “politically correct” conclusions, that I would have a high degree of autonomy, that I would have the time to follow the best and most current research in my field. She pointed to politically unpopular stances her company had taken. For example, I remember she said they were the first ones to cast cold water on the idea of motor control enhancement in the first three weeks. That impressed me because as soon as I’d heard that proposal I’d thought it was ridiculous; we didn’t know enough to do that at the time. Thinking about it, I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t kept up on the best research. I don’t think I could give a competent opinion now on how early we could start motor control work. I should know that stuff. Another reason to move into research design.

At any rate, Char said all the right things. Maybe more importantly, she was hilarious—she did impressions of the other panelists, and she told great stories about growing up in rural South Carolina. She’d been a punk rocker in high school and college, and I think that did more than anything to sell me on her company; she was clearly not some corporate conformist. We talked about our favorite punk bands, and the stupid cliques in the “scene,” and how strange it felt to be highfalutin research scientists when inside we still felt like rowdy, dissatisfied punk girls. So a month later, I started on her team at INext Azarian.

INext was an okay place to work. Char made it fun; and Dylan. The work itself… well, I really didn’t see this at the time, but I think the turning point for me, at least—I don’t know about Char and Dylan—came when Jacob left. Jacob was the only married member of our research team—the hours make it hard. His wife was a small, suspicious, porcelain-pretty woman named Asha, who disliked the company, the work, and the amount of time it required of her husband. It was a running joke in the office, how Asha gritted her teeth to put up with us. She carefully selected one or two INext people for each dinner party they held. I was on her okay list; Char (because of her position as a recruiter, I think) and Dylan (because of his flamboyance?) never got invited. Jacob was apologetic about it, but we all knew he had to take her side, and in some ways I think we (especially the women) found it charming that he was loyal to her in the face of embarrassment in front of his colleagues and possible problems for his career advancement.

He left for religious reasons—they were Jewish. He tried to talk to me about it, but honestly, I didn’t know what to say. If that’s how you feel, you obviously aren’t cut out for the work—I don’t mean that in a belittling way, just that you shouldn’t do something that feels wrong to you. (Now I sound like Dylan. He’s very “follow your bliss.” I always wondered why I should trust my bliss—who says it knows the way?)

It wasn’t so much that the team suffered from the withdrawal of Jacob’s skills, though that obviously did happen. It was more that I think we all resented him for putting it in our face, the way the activist minority feel about our work. It changed the atmosphere in the lab. We were more defensive. We blamed Asha, I think—the joking about her got a lot harsher during the lag period when Jacob had given his notice but hadn’t yet finished out his contract—but we also blamed Jacob, and I know I felt betrayed. We had a very “team” atmosphere, cultivated by Charnyn, which made up for some of the difficulties of the work, and Jacob had poisoned it. And we couldn’t even blame him, because he was so sincere! I think that was the killer, maybe—we all felt bad for resenting him. The sniping at Asha in her absence was part of our attempt to convince ourselves that Jacob didn’t really disapprove of us, the team hadn’t really failed. I’m surprised I didn’t see that at the time.

So when we got the offer to merge our research section with a directly military project, we were all enthusiastic. It meant a slight pay cut, but better facilities, and, well, something new.

I’m just realizing that I want to talk a little bit about the activists, but Anne Marie is having an apartment-warming party and I don’t want to be more than fashionably late. I’ll try to write tomorrow.

March 31

Anne Marie’s party was fun enough. I felt a bit like a third wheel. Her friends are much more interested in politics, some Capitol Hill people, some magazine people. For me, with politics, I always feel like the ground sinks and shifts under my feet as soon as I try to walk one step forward from where I am. Complicated and detail-specific and you don’t know who to trust. That’s a big thing for me, not knowing who to trust; it came out at the party because I found myself falling back so often on things I’d heard Char or Dylan say.

So, I said I wanted to write about the activists. I’m not sure now. Yesterday I really felt like they had influenced my career—like I had set my jaw, all heroic, and said, “I will not be moved!” But now I think I was a bit carried away. Still, I said I would write about them, so here we go.

They started irritating me in college. My junior year, a gang of them started up a new group, and they held protests and so forth. But they didn’t know anything! I tried arguing with them a couple of times. First of all, they lived in some political never-neverland. They wanted to abolish the military, or at least military science. Then, they didn’t know what they were talking about. They thought that all research funding was fungible, but even then I knew that there were some projects where money was fungible and some with very specific, targeted funding, with firewalls, and they just wouldn’t acknowledge that that was possible. Anyone who had any connection to gen-mal research was tainted, in their eyes, no matter how tangential the connection. They tried to get the university to sever its contract with Aramark for pity’s sake—the food service!—because Aramark had a GMO crop division that partnered with a company that did gen-mal.

And they didn’t know the science. I would stand there—in the rain one time!—and patiently explain that they had the stages of genetic malformation all wrong, that they were wrong about the rates of natural enhancement versus natural degeneration, that they had this idealized romantic conception of “mutants” who looked just like you and me except Special. And it was like reading a textbook to a Persian cat. You could rattle off the numbers and it would make no impression at all. Because they didn’t trust you—there’s that thing again. Why I hate politics. It’s all about who you trust.

I think the next thing I should try to figure out with this diary is how I ended up in charge of the lab, and specifically, what that means about what’s up with Charnyn. But I want to watch Fox now, my Wednesday shows are starting.

April 6

I am so mad I could bite someone.

Today got off to a thrilling start when on the way to the subway I spotted the latest issue of Time at the newsstand. Pretty undersea picture—deep orange and pink hues like a liquid sunset. And floating in this primordial world, a thing like a child with wings.

Here’s the thing: It was the most manipulative cover image you could imagine. Plump limbs, skin tinted artificially pink, cupid’s-bow lips curved in a thoughtless smile, tiny snubnose. And wings. The nubby wings sprouted from the shoulder blades, with no damage or cannibalization to the upper limbs, something I have never seen. And in thick white type just beneath the puffy baby fist, the caption, “The Face of Gen-Mal?”

Note the cop-out punctuation.

I didn’t want to buy it—didn’t want to give them my money—but I needed to know what was in the story, and I didn’t want to stand there reading it in public at the newsstand. I didn’t want to treat it as if it were respectable journalism rather than emotional pornography. So I bought a copy and shoved it into my bag.

Well, off to the haven of the workplace, you know? Where we’re all in this together? Except Charnyn comes in a half hour late, pale, sweating like a fever victim, dulled voice and blunted eyes, ramshackle. And laboring jerkily around the lab like a daggone crosstown bus.

And of course, I’m still working on the winged subject. A real winged gen-mal, not this movie star happy baby on the magazine covers. Nice how they don’t show the deformed face, or the flippers.

Just before lunch I go to the bathroom. And in the next stall, there’s Charnyn, being sick. Thank you for confirming all my suspicions. A week ago I would have been disappointed, but now I’m just disgusted, annoyed, and sad. I didn’t say anything, just did my business and left.

I guess now I know how I ended up head of the lab. We had about three great months, right after the move to the military lab, and then it was as if Char just lost interest. As if something punctured her and her motivation started leaking away. She didn’t push for research grants, so I did the applications. She seemed nonplussed when we talked to her about new project proposals or budget fights. At first she hid behind the claim that she just wanted to focus on the science, not the paperwork. But then she started coming in late, missing days of work, and it started to become clear that she was just losing it. Breaking up like a radio signal.

It’s hard to remember what she was like, that night in the hotel bar when she wooed me away to INext. Passionate, focused, completely herself. It’s hard to think about that now.

Dylan invited me and Anne Marie to a party tomorrow night. Just like Dylan to party in the middle of the week and turn up fresh and sassy the next morning, 8:30 on the nail. I’ll go, though; I need an excuse to make me talk to him about Char. I really can’t address her on my own. I don’t want him to do my dirty work—I’ll talk to her, in the end—but if I can ascertain that he already knows about the problem, I want to get his advice on dealing with her. I think that’s the way to do it.

I still haven’t read the Time story. I guess I should do it now. Bedtime story. “Once upon a time there was a perfect little child just like you, only with lovely soft wings—but then the nasty scientists came and ate him!”

April 7

Peaceful day in the lab. Doesn’t change my opinion about what I have to do; but still, it was so good to get a break from all the drama.

Char on time; subdued, but working steady. Natalie and Parker at HQ, out of our hair. Dylan rambling around the lab singing some old-timey song—“Just give me five, ten, fifteen minutes of your love!” Anne Marie teasing him—“It’s fifteen hours, you dog!” And him teasing back—“Hey, girl, fifteen minutes is all you need to know just how amazing I really am!” Very retro, very three months ago.

And me, and my misshapen “angel.”

I spent all day on the wings. The flippers I’ve mostly analyzed already. The wings are thick and sturdy at the base, where they meet the shoulders, but they get weak and lumpy and wrong toward the tips. The thing looks kind of like a mangled bat that went through a car wash. The wings should have been arms; or, I guess, the arms should have been wings. Instead it’s nothing neither way, each kind of limb cannibalizing the other’s tissues. It’s a mess.

It turned up in my dream last weekend, I didn’t mention that. Creepy dream, walking along the side of a road (in the Shenandoah Valley, I think now), passing all these huge, wet, silver-scaled fish—all decapitated. I remember how sticky, pasty, the bright red blood was. I don’t remember how the flipper subject came into it, but I know it was in there somewhere. I really don’t like that thing taking up space in my head.

After work, Anne Marie and I hit Dylan’s party. It wasn’t quite what I expected—more a sedate cocktail hour than the rocknroller night I’d expected from Dylan. Too bad really. I’d kind of wanted a change from the same old. We three were the only scientists there; the rest of the crowd was political, mostly journalists. Really not my scene. So of course, I managed to plow right into yet another political argument.

I was getting a beer from the fridge, and I had to duck in between two men arguing about violent movies. Both were in their late twenties, thirty at the most, making me the old one. One of them, the hip one (why are hipsters always skinny?), was insisting that violent movies didn’t really affect the audience, since it’s all presented as fantasy, and box-office is dependent on consumer demand, so if people are watching violent movies it’s because they have some preexisting desire to see the action. The other guy, short and chubby with sandy hair, said that the media—fiction and non-fiction alike—was the place where a culture told itself stories (or something like that, I don’t remember his exact deal). And those stories shaped society’s moral beliefs. So change the stories, and you change the culture. “That’s kind of why I got into journalism in the first place,” he said.

That’s what caught my attention, I think. I’d been thinking about journalism a lot lately, because of that stupid Time cover. It’s pretty obvious to me how that cover fits into a “cultural narrative.”

So I jump in and say that I agree with the sandy-haired guy, I think people in the media have a lot of influence and they need to be more responsible about how they use it, etc. Probably came off as some strident person just wandering through the party looking for an argument, pretty much the opposite of the truth.

Both of them were very friendly, but hipster-boy challenged me, “Oh, you don’t really think the media control people’s thoughts, right? I mean, nobody walks out of action thrillers thinking it’s okay to just shoot people in the head. People’s moral beliefs are stronger than that.”

So I said something like, Sure, but that’s murder—I mean, he was picking an extreme example. But there are all kinds of other… blah blah blah, we were off to the races, and I was tangled in this almost hour-long argument about the “cultural construction of morality” or whatever. In other words, exactly what I didn’t want to happen to my evening. Oh well, could’ve been worse. I could’ve ended up having to defend my line of work to some anti.

I talked less toward the end of the conversation, and Dylan spotted me leaning against the kitchen counter and looking, I guess, tired or something. He played knight in shining beer can and whisked me away. The three of us ended up tucked away in a corner, drinking (mostly the other two—it’s not really my thing) and commiserating about being the only science people in the crowd.

That got us talking about how we’d decided to do this work, which was pretty interesting. I knew most of Anne Marie’s story, but I’d never heard Dylan talk about it before—the motivations behind it.

My motivation was definitely the most boring of the three of us. I do gen-mal because I’m really good at it. I mean, yes, I think it’s good and necessary work, but when you come down to it I do it because I can.

That’s sort of like Dylan’s explanation, but not quite—his is a little cooler, a little more “Dylan.” He said working on this kind of research, where we have so few answers, where what we do could seriously reshape society, made him feel like when you’re driving really fast, out ahead of everything, when you’re free. He said that knowing he was good at gen-mal made him feel like he was moving faster than everyone else in the world.

AM was like, “Hm, that’s pretty cool, but it’s a lot more… theoretical than the reason I got into this field.” And she told Dylan about how her mother had one pregnancy end in a malformation. It’s a really harrowing story. I don’t think AM would have told it if she hadn’t been at least a little drunk. Her mother had a rough labor, they put her under, and when she came to she didn’t have a baby, just a form verifying that the malformation had occurred. She’d gone in for an ultrasound early in the pregnancy and everything had seemed fine, but malformation can happen at any stage of pregnancy, even in early infancy. That must be the worst—to give birth, to think you have a baby, and then to see it warp until it has to be destroyed. That’s just about too awful to think about.

Her mother never found out what kind of malformation it had been. A lot of hospitals keep that information sealed, so not even the person it happened to ever knows. I guess they think it’s easier to heal if you can’t picture the malformation, if it’s all kind of hazy. I know AM disagrees with that, and I definitely respect her opinion—but I have some problems, emotionally, just doing research on the bigger malformations. It’s just a visceral reaction. I can’t even imagine how I’d react if it were my own pregnancy. (To be honest, I think this work has put me off having a child. We see all the horrible things that can go wrong.)

So AM’s story made us pretty quiet. But I think we all felt much closer—even closer than when we’d first switched over from INext.

I felt like it would be a good time to talk about Char. So I kind of hinted around it, said I’d noticed her behavior changing, and whether they’d noticed a problem.

Dylan snorted, gave this kind of fake tough-guy wince, and said, “You mean besides the fact that she’s a drunk?” Anne Marie looked down at her hands, but I could tell from her face that she’d known too. (I really should have talked to them about this earlier. …So much for my supposed “leadership skills.”)

Dylan thought we had no choice but to pressure her into a temporary leave of absence, and try to get her into some kind of program. He thought Anne Marie and I would be the best people to break it to her. AM wondered if we couldn’t just let her know that we thought she had a problem, and give her a chance to shape up. But Dylan used his status as the partier, the one with much more experience with drugs and alcohol, to convince us that Char needed something more than just a warning.

At this point, I’ve made up my mind. I’ll deal with Char, because that’s my responsibility as the head of our lab, but I’m getting out as soon as I can. Yeah, I do this work well. But it’s making me crazy. Creepy winged things, personnel problems. No thanks. I’m going to find somewhere that’ll let me use my research talents, but without the issues. Not admin. Ideally, research design.

I’m going to fix my resume tomorrow and start sending it out after work. I guess by that time I’ll have dealt with Char.

May 30

Greetings!

New job, new diary. I feel wasteful just ditching the old one, but hey, it was only a two-dollar comp book. And it’s served its purpose. I’ve got my career under control now.

I still feel a little conflicted about all the unfinished business I left at the old lab. I know Dylan thinks I abandoned them. He’s disappointed in me—thinks the going got tough, so I cut and ran. Plus now he has to work in a lab with only one person he actually likes. I know he thinks if I’d stayed, I could’ve kept Parker and Natalie from getting Char fired.

Maybe. I would have fought that, and I’m good at bureaucratic jujitsu. But that’s exactly the kind of thing that made me leave in the first place. I was good at office politics, but I hated it: That isn’t what I wanted from science.

I still work for the government; funny how I used to be almost ashamed of doing government science, instead of seeing it as a chance to serve my country, to serve something bigger than the profit motive. But now, instead of hands-on research—hours in the lab under those eye-killing fluorescents, the yellowing chemical smells that cling to your clothes, sharp implements, teasing muscle away from bone—I work in research design. Other people do the dirty work of investigating my questions and hunches.

It’s especially exciting because I’m working on survivable gen-mals, something I really didn’t know much about before. So I’m getting to learn all kinds of new things. It’s reshaping my understanding of how genetic malformation works and how we can prevent it. I never realized how many mals survive their distortion—from a personal perspective that’s horrible, of course, but from a research perspective it’s fascinating. The results we’ve been getting from the vivisections are, I feel sure, putting us on the track to preventing malformation for good.

Intellectual excitement, service to others—and romance! I went on a date last night with this guy Michael, who does human resources for our department. He taught me how to eat with chopsticks. Corny! But very cute.

That’s the sort of thing that makes me so glad I left the lab. I don’t think I could have enjoyed a simple, cute gesture like that before. All the drama in the lab was making me cynical, hard. I felt like the ground was buckling under me and I had to be hard and fast just to keep from falling. But now I can relax. Right before I left the lab, I started having nightmares: huge, silver-scaled fish, or small animals, all decapitated. The dreams were coated in thick, pasty, unnatural, dull red blood. I haven’t had one of those dreams in weeks.

And it’s incredibly refreshing to date someone who understands how important our work is. Someone who understands science.

Eve Tushnet is a writer in Washington, DC. She is a Yale alumna and blogs at eve-tushnet.blogspot.com.

The Letter of Magdalen Montague, Part IV: The Disciple

Eleanor Bourg Donlon

11 July 1914
St. Mary’s College, S–

Dear R.,

I recently encountered a face from our joint past–a young earl and eager profligate, though not so young as formerly and certainly more inclined to high-minded pomposity. He obligingly provided me with your address. Although I remember well your abhorrence of all things resembling sentimentality, I own that I have thought of you often in the passing years. I shall venture into even more objectionable territory when I assert furthermore that I remember you daily in my prayers. I hope you are well and have remained safe in these anxious times. [Read more...]

The Birthday Suit

Tony France

Jimmy Barbucci slept peacefully through the continuing devastation of the Asian markets. He always awoke famished, unperturbed by the streak of bad news from Europe. Whether the markets were up or down, money could be made both ways with a little foresight. His bets were covered—or so he thought. As he left for work one bright summer morning Jimmy Barbucci faced something he didn’t foresee. A tarot card was nailed to the door of his apartment: a young man clad in princely attire dangled upside down from a cross beam. [Read more...]

Where Moth and Rust

Winner of the J.F. Powers Short fiction contest

Kristin Luehr

The siren that announces the all clear sounds just as desperate as the one that sent us into hiding. The nurse gives Merrill Ann an orange bottle of pain killers and then we all pile back in the car and drive, by silent agreement, west of town to the farm.

If it wasn’t for the houses missing pieces of siding and the tree limbs scattered like toothpicks, the whole thing would feel impossible. The clouds have gone from green back to gray and are already beginning to break up in places, though the rain is still falling.

Driving up the lane, we can already see exactly what we don’t want to see: the house is gone. [Read more...]

Sleeping with St. Joseph

Mike Bonifas

Yesinia waves from the classroom window. She is six years old and smiling and she presses her forehead to the pane. Jorge, her brother, makes his mouth a swirling glob of flesh and spit beneath the glass. They draw back and laugh. Abel rests the weed-whacker on his hip and touches his palm to the pane. First Jorge, then Yesinia, spread their fingers against his. They giggle and Abel smiles and the children run off and Abel gets back to work. Ten years ago, he and his mother exchanged the same gesture at Hall County Jail. The glass was thick, the light harsh. Soon after that cold farewell, she left Quanah to work poultry barns in North Carolina. [Read more...]

A Circle of Cypresses

John Farrell

An hour after the accident, Elise looked out from the terrace and regained the loose thread of thought she’d entertained before they killed the man on the motorcycle.

It was the duck. They were on their way back from Florence where they bought a ceramic duck for his mother, even though Herman couldn’t stand his mother and thought the whole idea of a gift was stupid.

Now there was a man lying dead in the ambulance below and their Volkswagen sprawled on its side in the vineyard beyond the curve. No one had yet come to tow it away. Instead, a journalist took his time, walking around and around it, talking into a micro-tape recorder and snapping pictures with a small digital camera. [Read more...]

Old Grace and New Beauty

Julie McGurn

At the end of the block on Main Street sits a small dry cleaners owned by the Choi family. It is a model of tidiness and precision. Every day the hum and whoosh of electric dryers and steam cleaners sound forth like the beating heart of a great giant. Mrs. Choi runs the register with an efficiency bordering on the brusque, but mitigated by her ability to greet each customer by name. The pronunciation may sometimes be wanting, but she’s got the raw data down cold.

No one could doubt her willingness to extend herself for her customers either. Like one February morning when a regular, Mr. Sam Gilette, came in with a black smudge on his forehead. After her usual boisterous hello, Mrs. Choi leaned over the counter, pointed to her own forehead, and whispered, “Your head,” [Read more...]

A Paterian Imaginary Portrait of Robert Southwell, English Martyr and Poet: Selections from the Journal of Father John Deckers, SJ

Nicole Coonradt

11 June 1580 Naples

All talk here is of Fr. Campion and Fr. Persons since their recent departure for England—the much debated great Enterprise to minister to our poor and most wretched recusant cousins in England is underweigh! In all good faith, we hope, furthermore, those fallen apostatizers among them may yet be saved from doom. Rumor has it that Fr. Campion had hesitated because he had been cautioned not to be found in the company of boys and women in order that he may better avoid suspicion. But how can he “help souls” if he is not to have contact with those most in need? We hear that there are spies everywhere and that somehow (the post is not safe!) a letter was intercepted that has alerted the English authorities to their imminent arrival. All the ports are now closely watched by pursuivants. We hear they will attempt entry, at separate places and times, disguised as jewel Merchants. The coded language to be used in any correspondence about the Mission will adopt this guise as well, especially between England and the Continent. We are all eager to hear of their safe arrival. I will write to Robert, still in Rome, later.

12 June 1580

I have just dispatched my letter to Robert at the English College. I know how in need of friendship he is at this difficult time—difficult for all of us concerned about the Mission, but he most especially because of his dear family ever long in danger. And his admittance into the Society has been put off again. How I long to be at his side to cheer him; that I might render to him the sympathy for which his most delicate soul pines. I have been reading over again the poem he sent me in his last letter and feel much affected by the closing lines:

Favour my wish, well-wishing works no ill;
I move the suit, the grant rests in your will.

July 1580

We have just received word: our Merchants arrived safely on English soil 24 June—the Lord be praised! I wonder how Fr. Campion must feel to finally return to England after being absent for more than a decade? If only his homecoming were under more auspicious and felicitous circumstances! It must—in many ways how can it not?—seem to him a bittersweet time, the isle more hostile than welcoming; a place almost unknown to him, so dangerous it has become. To think that after his celebrated tenure at Oxford that he must now conceal his famed identity is certainly lamentable. Does England not understand he is one of Her own and a most precious Jewel at that?

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
Matthew 13:45-46

We pray for their success constantly. And daily, I expect to receive a letter from Robert. I continue my studies and look forward to taking Orders in the fall—God willing! Would that Robert were here with me to share this journey; but he must make his own way. May Christ strengthen him!

10 August 1580

Robert writes to me that he continues to feel anxious about admittance into the Society. He has been, at least, able in Rome, to partake of the art there—something he cannot but help as it surrounds one so completely—this, I know, is more than a comfort to him; yet it seems equally to torment him in some way that I, being less poetic than he, am neither able to capture nor to understand fully. England has been so starved: not only for the Blessed Sacrament, but also for Art. The destruction of the Holy Houses there and all their treasures is a trespass not soon to be forgiven by Heaven! Perhaps to someone like Robert, that is among the saddest and most cruel aspect of Reform—the loss of such beauty and its ties to England’s past. He writes,

I do not always have time, but when I do, I am more filled with amazement than I can communicate to you when I feast on the paintings and sculptures that surround one in Rome. In keeping with the directives of the Council of Trent, some of the treasures have been removed to elsewhere to reduce what even many of our brethren in Rome had begun to consider ostentatious. And yet, it is still almost too much—like an excess of beauty that threatens to sicken the beholder! Like gorging oneself on too many sweetmeats! Such beauty hurts the eyes though one cannot help but look! Even so, Michelangelo’s Adam is a wonder to behold, as is his David, in his cold, hard perfection. Can he really be made of marble or do those fine veins pulse with warm human blood as do our own? Could a man be so perfect? And yet how like a god; how God-like! I feel moved to write about it, but I do not think that prose is the best mode of expression; only poesy might capture such depth of feeling and connect it to some other meaning, something better and beyond these volatile emotions. I have told you before, my friend and confessor: these feelings frighten me. My feeble attempt is enclosed herein, with love from your most devoted friend; I am, as ever yours, in Christ, R—

I will save the poem to read later, after Compline, when I may expect adequate time for contemplation.

11 August 1580

O Robert! Perhaps you are mistaken in seeking a life in the priesthood. You have a peculiar talent—though as yet like a diamond in need of the fire that hardens it and perfects it—which may be better realized, put to better use, elsewhere. What is it about that island, the England of the Southwells and Campions, that has the power to produce such sensibility, such poetic minds? England needs you more than you know, my fine, talented friend. If you are anything like Fr. Campion, your skill with the pen may be highly valued to shelter souls from this Tempest.

Reflections on David Composed for J.D.—My Dear and Most Valued Friend in Naples

Fair shepherd boy you tend your flock,
	Yet little do you know:
That God above will call on you
	His strength through you to show.

To trust in Him as He chose you,
	Is but to choose His Love;
To face the foe, Goliath vile,
	Fulfills God’s will above.

As David did not lonely toil
	But placed his faith in God
So in Him I will all my days—
	Make Him my staff, my rod.

For no one walks the path alone
	Though pilgrims all are we;
And helping souls along the way
	Brings comfort now to me.

Just as each talent He bestows
	To Him it must return;
To glorify the One True God
	Should each devout soul burn.

Whether it be in words or deeds
	 In ink or marble cold;
We all must render back to God
	His greatness to behold!

25 August 1580

We have had a visit from Milan, from Archbishop Borromeo, and he tells us that the Church is now printing Spiritual Testaments to be secreted into England, along with waxen Agnus Dei, a number of small Crucifixes, and most important: The Consecrated Host. These are the “gems” of the “trade.” Though I hail from Brussels, I feel closely connected to the struggle in England—perhaps even more so with my affinity, my brotherly affection for Dear Robert and a desire to help his people; most specifically his family. I am to be ordained in October and will pray to God that I may be an instrument of grace, wherever He sees fit to send me; though, should it be His will, I will gladly travel to England. As our great founder, Ignatius of Loyola, sought ever to do Godly deeds—in putting on Christ’s Mantle (just as Saint Paul and Augustine before him), to come to the aid of his fellow man, ever dreaming of Knightly Adventure—so I long to be a Soldier for Christ! God grant that Robert may be my brother-in-arms if such an Election he eventually makes!

17 September 1580

Today is Saint Lambert’s Day, which used to be, Robert tells me, one of the favorite feast days of the English, but that was long before his time, before his grandfather, Richard, and great-uncle, Robert (my dear friend’s namesake), began the Southwell family pattern of betrayal, “introducing not a few bars sinister into the House.” In remembering and then praying about this Blessed Feast Day, I thought it ironic that Lambert was martyred for upholding marital fidelity—run through the heart with a javelin in the Church while he prayed at the altar—all for challenging his adulterous king and attempting to maintain the sanctity of marriage. England has by and large outlawed the great Feast Days, except where they may be secretly observed in some of the more remote shires, but they would do well to pay heed to this one in particular, since their present struggle is the result of “The King’s Matter” and the black desires of a man who not only turned his back on so many earthly wives, but on Christ’s Sacred Wife: The Church. As the King severed heads, so too, did he cut off his own Head! And where is the Body now? In commemoration of Saint Lambert’s sacrifice for “true love over false,” Robert sent me a poem he calls “Love’s Servile Lot.” I particularly admire these early stanzas,

Love mistress is of many minds,
Yet few know whom they serve;
They reckon least how little love
Their service doth deserve.

The will she robbeth from the wit,
The sense from reason’s lore;
She is delightful in the rind
Corrupted in the core.

She shroudeth Vice in Virtue’s veil,
Pretending good in ill;
She offreth joy, affordeth grief,
A kiss, where she doth kill.

A honey-shower rains from her lips,
Sweet lights shine from her face;
She hath the blush of virgin maid,
The mind of viper’s race.

She makes thee seek yet fear to find,
To find but not enjoy;
In many frowns some gliding smiles
She yields, to more annoy.

With each new verse he sends me—“trifles” he calls them—I see him firing his poetic talents!

1 October 1580

Clearly cognizant of my upcoming Ordination in the Society, Robert writes to me that he feels increasingly lost. In his grief over rejection, he feels like “a widow” for having been passed over for his intended “espousal” and feels himself “shunned as an abortion.” He tells me that if he cannot join the Society that it would be better for him if Christ would just let him die. I fear he is too melancholy for his own good! It comes of his poetic nature I am certain, but he must be coaxed away from such dark and dangerous despair. I have written to beseech him to stay the course. Christ is testing his faith and he must rise to the challenge; he must remember Ignatius! His letter closed with an appeal to Christ:

Correct my faults, protect my life, direct me when I die!

Perhaps I should write to the Superior General in Rome with an appeal of my own that my troubled friend be watched closely as he continues his novitiate.

13 October 1580

Today I received a letter from Robert in reply to mine. He yet seems very much affected by my having concluded my novitiate, especially as he seems ever frustrated in his own attempts to enter the Society. But perhaps it is best that he is made to wait. This is not a commitment to be taken lightly—or rashly and for the wrong reasons—and we must place our deepest trust in both God and His ministers to know what is right for us in His own time. And, as I suspect, God may have other plans for Robert’s talents.

We had, in fact, first been brought together for “devout conversation” under the guidance of Robert’s Spiritual Director, Fr. Columb, a countryman of Robert’s who hails from Devonshire.

I recall Robert confiding in me, on one of our earliest meetings at Douai, and among those intimate conversations we regularly enjoyed about our dreams and fears, that he, at that time, had felt torn between the Jesuits and the Carthusians, the order which the poet in him has deemed fit to call “the bark of Bruno.” The indecision caused him “to be worn out by the incessant struggle.” As I reflect on it now, this seems to mirror the paradox of Robert: the Carthusians in their way of living, with their contemplative isolation, could not be more antithetical to the very public life of the Jesuits! Perhaps, however, as he told me on another occasion, he is thinking of the sacrifices of Houghton, Lawrence, and Webster in their resistance to the Henrician monastic ruination; they are not typical, but then Reform has taken its toll on all God’s servants. I also know that Robert was raised in the family home that had once been a monastery and it could be that regardless of which order he finally chooses, he wishes to atone for his family’s participation in the wretched confiscation of Church property; that by the holiness and innocence of his life he might make up for the faults of his predecessors.

Knowing Robert as I do, I can see the reasons for these seemingly different attractions on several planes. His forefathers have been so unable to stay the course of religious devotion (unlike those braver men of faith such as Houghton)—in this long and painful time of rupture, when Robert’s own beloved England is especially racked by the Storm of Christendom—that he must needs still feel not a little conflicted about joining the Jesuits, knowing that he will likely be sent to England to aid the Mission in his homeland—and mayhap wondering if he can submit to God’s will to accept that. Though we know we should embrace martyrdom, it is yet a frightening prospect! Sometimes, however, martyrdom of the heart is the more difficult. The Carthusian life here on the Continent would indeed be very much safer and easier by comparison; but Robert is not one to take the easy path in anything—indeed, he seems often to complicate matters well beyond what is necessary! And for a man like Robert, the contemplative life would not suit him entirely; he needs human companionship and human sympathy. I think he wants very much the opportunity to realize the Jesuit Mission “to help souls”—especially if it means saving some of his family and achieving at least a modicum of reconciliation. If anything, his anxiety will only fuel his desire to enter the Society. I must reply to him at once.

15 October 1580

Before I was able to send my intended reply to Robert, I received word that my father has fallen gravely ill. Most immediately, I am to Brussels to be at his side, and, if need be—since they tell me he is at Death’s door—to administer the last rites, Extreme Unction. Viaticum—food for the journey. I pray I will not be too late arriving! One of the difficulties in making such a trip now is the continued unrest in Brussels and throughout the Low Countries. While my status as a priest is not a problem there as in England, the way Fr. Campion and his party are continuously threatened, it seems that the grim and far-reaching schism means no one’s safety is assured. As the rainy-season fast approaches, travel will be difficult regardless. Post-haste, I will send word to Robert to alert him of my change in circumstances and request his prayers.

22 November 1580 Brussels

My father struggles for life, but the struggle is over for our governor, Willem Van Hoorn, who was executed yesterday. As yet, no one has said why, though it is suspected that he had conspired with the Northern rebels and was thus a threat to securing peace, though this is tenuous at best. As he has not sons to immediately replace him, a new governor will be chosen from among the Burghers. I have had no missives from Robert, though I have sent him two letters in spite of my sickbed vigil over my failing father. I will hope something awaits me on my return to Naples, which I anticipate will happen soon. If only my father would pull through! I fear the worst, though; his vague eyes seem to look into mine as those of a man already gone.

3 December 1580 Naples

Having buried my father, I am back in Naples, still under a cloud of grief. I try to console myself knowing that he will one day see our Heavenly Father, but realize more that the loss is mine and I must steel myself against such sorrows if I am to serve God rightly, for it was His will and my father died a good death, faithful to the last. Furthermore, he has left my mother and youngest sister in comfort with the town house, his business shares from the diamond trade, and few debts. I know, too, that part of my melancholy is the result of being cut off from regular conversations with Robert. We have not exchanged any letters in a month-and-a-half and I long to know his situation. And, I must admit, I hunger for another poem! When we were at Douai, our daily talks, first in Latin, as it was then our common tongue, were precious to us both and our time together seemed all too short. Though I no longer know the same mortifications we once practiced as part of our ascetical existence, my flesh seems yet to feel the sting and irritation of the haircloth shirt. At the time it gave us secret pleasure, perhaps because we knew that we each felt the same thing, that the burden of our physical suffering was shared.

10 December 1580

The long-awaited letter from Robert has arrived! He sends his condolences for my loss, wishing he could be in Naples to comfort me, to share in my grief. He also tells me that my loss makes his own heart-sick worry for his family ever more immediate, especially as his father has been lost in the Tempest, “his bark tossing relentlessly, threatening to capsize.” But he sends a poem, a most beautiful one, of consolation. It is aptly titled, “Life’s Death, Love’s Life,” and exhorts me in the final stanza,

Mourn, therefore, no true lover’s death,
Life only him annoys;
And when he taketh leave of life,
Then love begins his joys.
No words could ring more true! And in thinking of death, though we will leave this “darksome dungeon of the body,” Robert anticipates that when we two die, we will reunite in the world hereafter, prompting him to ask, “Why should not the result of our common desires put the finishing touch to our friendship?” How shall I answer him? They should! They should! But as he has already been dismissed once and his acceptance into the Society again deferred and uncertain, I wonder that he is not more careful. We have all along been warned of giving any reason for being suspected of “certain sins intolerable to the Society.” He reminds me that in the words of Christ in the Gospel of John, we are philos not doulos. Yet while we serve Christ, we do so through the friendship of the Society, by serving others, and denying the self. We must remember this. Ours, I shall tell him, must be a mission to help “cleanse the faith from ignominy and to restore it to its pristine glory.” But doesn’t even Cicero teach us about “the responsibilities incumbent upon friends”? I will make my appeal to God for the wisdom to know how to answer my friend.

15 December 1580

After praying about it for several days, I have sent Robert a reply, thanking him most heartily for the beautiful poem and the consoling sentiments. I try to assuage his worries about the welfare of his father. I then quote to him from Cicero’s De Amicitia about the ways that the bond of friendship is an illuminating force:

Virtue both forms and preserves friendships. . . . When it has put itself forth and shown its light, and it has seen and recognized the same light in another, it draws near to that light and receives in return what the other has to give; and it is from this intercourse that love, or friendship—call it what you will—is kindled.

But I also remind him of the dangers, for as Cicero warns,

Friendship is given by nature, not as a companion to the vices, but as a helper of the virtues, that, as solitary virtue might not be able to attain the summit of excellence, united and associated with another it might reach that eminence.

Furthermore, I tell him that as Christ is The Light of the world—the Way, the Truth, and the Light—that we might find comfort in knowing that, above all, we serve Him because he has befriended us first and that for all He gave for us, we must, in turn, in order to truly live like Him, be prepared to give our all for others, too. As a Society member, I remind him (taunt him?), I must follow the Jesuit motto to Love and Live, just as the title of his beautiful poem suggests.

But did I do right to also tell him that perhaps he was correct to be frightened by his feelings—for I know them, too—and that through the gift of Conscience God plays on our will, always giving us the push to do what we know to be right even as we seek Him. As Saint Augustine’s mother, the Blessed Monica, told her beloved son, “He who has given the will, will always provide the ability. He always does.” I hope my suggestion that we cease our conversations for a spell, as part of a new ascetic, will not come as too harsh, but I think Robert must make some decisions for himself, without my influencing him. I suspect, however, that my signing the letter “Fr. Deckers” might have hurt him not a little. O, Robert! What else could I say? We must be so careful—matters of great moment are upon us! We must not jeopardize the Mission!

24 December 1580

Two days ago I received from Robert his reply: “Dear Fr. Deckers,” he writes, “I agree with the wisdom of your suggestion and submit myself to your sage guidance. (Does he mock me?) Enclosed you will find two poems, my Christmas gift to you. Your servant in Christ, Robert.” One is titled, “The Burning Babe;” the other, “A Child My Choice.” They are both perfect! I have never received such a gift and I weep to read them. I long to hear how he is, to know his hurts and joys, to thank him for such a precious offering, but I have made that impossible, at least for a time—and yet I fear it will be forever. I should be rejoicing, it is Christmastide, the first coming of Christ remembered, God’s prophecy realized, The Word made Flesh—but instead I hear requiems and have not felt so melancholy since my father’s funeral.

31 July 1581

I have not had the heart to record many of my days since Christmas, but today we learned terrible news: on everyone’s lips is the capture of Fr. Campion. He was saying Mass at Lyford Grange and as he had been there the day before, on 14 July, the authorities had lain in wait. He is rumored to have hid himself in the dovecote. O precious Dove! Why did you not fly from that place? Now more than ever I feel the need to confide in Robert. I must break this silence and contact him. Is he still in Rome?

17 September 1581

I receive no word. But as my letters have not been returned, I will hope Robert has them. It is again Saint Lambert’s Day—how well I recall what a different day this felt last year. I will read again “Love’s Servile Lot” as a remembrance. I will pray for patience. I wonder if Robert has read Fr. Campion’s “Brag,” by which not one of us is not greatly moved. It was printed on one of the secret Jesuit presses in the North. It closes thusly, a part I have committed to memory as with any sacred text:

There will never want in England men that will have care of their own salvation, nor such as shall advance other men’s; neither shall this Church here ever fail so long as priests and pastors shall be found for their sheep, rage man nor devil never so much.

And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league—all the Jesuits in the world, whose succession and multitude must overreach all the practices of England—cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the Faith was planted: so it must be restored.

November 1581

We have had dreadful reports of Fr. Campion’s imprisonment and unspeakable torture. That any human being could do this to another is beyond my poor powers of comprehension. And to such a man as he! But to any man! Who would do this to a dog? In Nature, do animals treat each other thus? No, only Man is such a Beast! I shudder to think what our Dear Merchant endures. God help him! God help us all!

His public conferences went badly with the officials; how could they not? They all fear him and thus he received no fair debate—the thing we all desire most, that battle for which we have long been preparing. What a travesty of Justice! Though she is blindfolded, they now see fit to stop her mouth, and bind her scales! But by secret accounts, Fr. Campion still put them to shame anyway, with no books, no preparation, just his own brilliant mind and his sadly broken body—and Christ as his witness! He admitted his love for his Sovereign Queen, but refusing Her Royal Majesty’s bribes of wealth, title, and lands to renounce his “popish ways,” he is becoming an increasing threat to authority. Anyone who hears him speak is pierced to the heart by his eloquence and the Truth of his words. We have already heard rumors of several conversions in those who have witnessed this Noble Soul in his public defense. By one account, though he has been so severely abused, he still holds his head high with dignity and retains the bearing of a Great Man, that of the scholar—the Flower of Oxford, the Gentleman, the Soldier of Christ our Lord. My soul now burns with keen desire to join the Mission in England! O Robert! Write to me! I must know your mind!

December 1581

We hear Fr. Campion made his end with Grace and Dignity, in spite of the monstrous attempts to strip him of these. When sentenced he reportedly said, “In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England— the island of saints, and the most devoted child of the See of Peter,” and received his sentence with the Te Deum Laudemus. This is most fitting as it is the Ambrosian Hymn, the Saint whom Fr. Campion made the center of his eponymous Neo-Latin Drama: Ambrosia, which was performed in Prague but a few years past. Our brothers there were much moved by it. It was thought to have been secretly copied and sent to England, but we have as yet had no reports confirming its presence there. And now, like Saint Ambrose, Fr. Campion has also been made to stand witness for the Faith. How many gathered in hopes of touching the blood of this Martyr—to leave the site of martyrdom with a precious relic! A young man, standing very near, was baptized with the sacred blood as he remained looking on during Campion’s horrid dismemberment. It is reported that he converted on the spot, vowing to become a Jesuit! In death, Campion has become even more powerful to the Enterprise. O Pearl of Great Price!

I have received a small parcel from Robert. No epistle, only this poem—

Campion in Memoriam

I pray to you, most Holy One
In Heaven high above,
And contemplate Rare Campion
Dismembered all for Love.

How well he pleased his Majesty
When first she heard him speak;
Though bounty on his head she laid—
He turned his Blessed cheek.
Hunted was this Jesuit,
A Merchant in his Order,
Who secretly had served the Host
And baptized souls with water.

To Lyford Grange he took himself,
Hid in the dovecote bower,
From thence was prized this Holy Wight
And thrown into the Tower.

For many a day and lonely night
He languished sore with hunger;
Till torture bent him front to back
His steadfast will to sunder.

A shadow of a stronger self
The Traitor took the stand
With Truth and Justice as his aims
And only Christ to hand.

Far from the parley he had sought,
The Flower held his ground
And shamed sly Fortune’s subtlety
With words that still resound.

Yet though he was all humbleness,
Eloquence and wisdom,
The Missionary fought in vain:
The Bench ne’er would heed him.

Execution was his sentence!
By lowly hurdle mean
Through muddy streets he traveled thence:
To Tyburn’s scaffold lean.

And woe the sight a gruesome one
’Neath Winter sun’s cold glare
The faithful Briton, Campion,
Hung turning in the air.

They cut him down, that Saintly Soul,
While life within yet ranged;
The people watched, both young and old,
And many minds were changed—

When there, as if by Alchemy,
They mined the Precious Gold:
The still-beating Purest Heart
Of faithful Martyr bold!

Aeterna Christi munera
Et Martyrum victorias,
Laudes canentes debitas
Laetis canamus mentibus.

March 1582

Robert and I have resumed correspondence, and for this I am greatly relieved; but we are more guarded, more careful than we once were. It will not do to be impetuous! And our letters now must employ the code, especially if we write about the Mission in England. Robert has written to me greatly anxious for his family,

Merchants, at one time, may rejoice over the amassing of wealth, at another to bear patiently the loss of some small bark. A strong suspicion for fearing that they may have withdrawn from this line of business is occasioned by my never hearing of their having the same success as some others have had, who have persevered and still persevere, even with occasional loss, knowing full well that in the end it is more lucrative than any other sort of enterprise.

Moreover, he tells me that certain “gems” and “jewels” have again been secreted over for the benefit of his family and others. He specifically wrote to Fr. Persons that he might endeavor to “enrich” the Southwells at his first opportunity and then apprise him of their success in the business. There is a new urgency to Robert’s desire to enter the Society. I know every day of waiting is a torment to him, especially as the delay occasions also the greater delay in helping his family and kinsmen when every moment seems to speak of doom. But he seems to have come to terms with his test and is meeting it with all necessary reserve and dedication. Fr. Agazzari, Robert tells me, has been much impressed with what he calls his “steadfastness” of late and a “quieting” of his spirit. Robert feels nearer to achieving his goal. Time will tell.

March 1583

Robert sends word that he has been assured Orders in the Society by this time next year. He sounds jubilant, though still guarded—I think he worries that if he is too ecstatic that he may again be put off, and at this stage such, I fear, would be the end of him. The poem he sends mirrors his happy state. It is called “Content and Rich.” These two stanzas, especially, sound hope-filled—

In lowly vales I mount
To Pleasure’s highest pitch;
My silly shroud true honors brings,
My poor estate is rich.

My conscience is my crown,
Contented thoughts my rest;
My heart is happy in itself,
My bliss is in my breast.

He continues in his studies at the English College there; he will be more than ready to assume a post once he is ordained. My prayers seem nearly answered! I will offer praise and Thanksgiving unto the Lord!

October 1583

Robert’s letters now frequently mention Robert Bellarmine, who has caused such a stir in England that the Queen has arranged for a group of scholars from Cambridge to prepare refutations to his works. As with Fr. Campion, it is his intellect and great wit that will aid the Mission. Robert continues, however, to worry about the role of Art in the face of the challenges to it from Reform. He told me once that he sees poesy as another way of both meditating on Christ and praying. Because all Art is from God, nothing can come into existence without God being in it. He has intimated to me on more than one occasion his plan to write verse that mirrors our Ignatian Spiritual Exercises—that in this way he might use his talents for the Mission and bring the experience of the meditation and intense visualization of the Exercises to England by allowing the reader to Feel the Life of Christ—His Nativity, His Passion, and His Ascension. Robert tells me, “God, who delivering many parts of scripture in verse, and by his Apostle willing us to exercise our devotion in Hymns and Spiritual Sonnets, warrants the Art to be good, and the use allowable.” I have no doubt as to his ability to realize such a project. God verily calls him to it!

July 1584

Robert has been Ordained and is now a fellow member of the Society of Jesus! After briefly serving as Repetitor, he has taken the position of Prefect at the English College in Rome and will begin his new life helping souls by tending their minds. But I know how he aches to return to England and join the Mission there among his fellow Jesuits and his kinsmen. His letters are filled with code! He says that his great work we discussed for The Exercises (he has made this an Election!) must begin with the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin; he says Christ cannot be conceived without the Sacred Vessel, the Mother of God. He thus sends me the first in his series, “The Conception of Our Lady.” It is but three lovely stanzas, only eighteen lines in all, yet it is a work of art indeed, that offers to the reader Mary, who “Shall bring the good that shall our evil mend.”

1585

The news from the Mission in England is that by Act of Parliament, anyone who is ordained abroad may not return to English soil—on pain of death. If this has only just been made law, how is it that Campion, et al. were equally condemned previously? It seems everything is treasonous now. Nothing and no one is safe.

2 April 1586

Robert writes to me that his request to return to England has been granted. Reinforcements are most needed as the persecution and suffering increases. This is the moment for which we have both prayed and longed, but inwardly dreaded! Fr. Weston, one of our newer Merchants with whom Robert became acquainted in Rome, is already in England as the new Superior, having arrived last year. He has reported on those fellow priests who were recently discovered, arrested and imprisoned for their participation in exorcisms, which the State deems a “popish superstition.” But we have heard credible accounts that “out of many persons demons were cast. The intervention of heaven was undoubted, and incredulous onlookers were astounded.” Fr. Weston reports that on several occasions he witnessed this with his own eyes, but, of course, Cecil the Evil would not publicly believe any of it and blames it on “fraud perpetrated by the wily priests to trick the innocent.” Nonetheless, Cecil is reported to have been duly frightened by the accounts; furthermore, many who have either witnessed the exorcisms or hear tell of them have been reconciled to the Faith.

The greatest trouble Robert will face is spies. As Fr. Weston has repeatedly confirmed, pursuivants are a hazard everywhere—one can never tell who the honest folk are; one must trust wholly in God. Fr. Weston, in a published letter, writes that under the control of Cecil and the Earl of Leicester, the Queen’s most feared officials,
Catholics now see their own country, the country of their birth, turned into a ruthless and unloving land. All men fasten their hatred on them. They lay in ambush for them, betray them, attack them with violence and without warning. They plunder them at night, confiscate their possessions, drive away their flocks, steal their cattle. Every prison, no matter how foul and dark, is made glorious by the noble and great-hearted protestations of saintly confessors and even martyrs. In the common thoroughfares and crossways watchmen are abruptly posted, so that no traveler can pass peacefully on his way or escape stringent scrutiny.

It is into this danger that Robert flies. He goes not blindly, but bravely with open eyes, and not alone but, like David, with God at his side to battle Goliath!

25 April 1586

In less than a fortnight, Robert and Fr. Garnet will begin their journey for England. I will dispatch later today what will more than likely be the last letter Robert will be able to receive from me for some while. I hope to yet receive some final message from him as well, but as he and Fr. Garnet busy themselves with plans, this may be too great a hope. How I wish I were going with them, but I have not yet had any orders of transfer. I had long hoped we would be brothers-in-arms, and now it is Robert who will travel on without me. Waiting for news of the Mission will be even more anxious now that I know Robert will find himself ever in harm’s way. God protect him!

June 1586

Robert and Fr. Garnet left for England 8 May. I do not know if Robert received my letter, his having been composed at roughly the same date as my own, I will hope they crossed paths. Enclosed I found a precious offering, the next in Robert’s poesy sequence: “The Nativity of Christ.” This treasure begins,

Behold the father in His daughter’s son,
The bird that built the nest is hatched therein,
The old of years an hour hath not outrun,
Eternal life to live doth now begin,
The Word is dumb, the Mirth of heaven doth weep,
Might feeble is, and Force doth faintly creep.

How I fear for your safety, Robert! May God watch over you as you minister to your dear, beleaguered England!

October 1586

We have just had news of the Babington Plot. Fr. Ballard and some twelve others were arrested for plotting against the English Queen in supposed conspiracy with the imprisoned Scottish Mary, in whom for so long the Catholic hope for the crown and respite had lain. They have all been executed and Mary is to stand trial for the conspiracy at Fotheringhay Castle. This does not bode well for the Mission! The last I heard any news of Robert, he was in London; perhaps he is safest there.

20 February 1587

Mary Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringhay on 8 February; all Catholics mourn her loss; she was England’s dearest hope. A manuscript is circulating of a poem, written in her memory, by none other than Robert Southwell. It is called “Decease, Release.” Here, an excerpt—

Some things more perfect are in their decay,
Like spark that going out gives clearest light;
Such was my hap, whose doleful dying day
Began my joy and termed Fortune’s spite.

Making matters worse, Fr. Weston has been arrested and imprisoned. We hear that Fr. Garnet will assume the position of Superior in his stead. Fr. Weston had ministered to Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, a cousin of the Queen, and he, too, has been imprisoned for the past two years in the Tower. Robert now serves as the Countess of Arundel’s Chaplain and for her husband, as part of his careful work, he has written An Epistle of Comfort.

June 1588

We hear nothing but whispers about the possibility of help from Spain. I pray that it be so, that they may indeed come to the rescue. Robert, somehow, has managed to send me something curious. It is an especial sonnet, not the Petrarchan sort, but a bit different. He says this form is being made popular in private circles by a young poet named William Shakespeare, reportedly from a recusant household in Warwickshire, and, by marriage, a distant cousin of Robert’s. It is also rumored that he made the acquaintance of Fr. Campion whilst tutoring Catholic children in the same area. As far as the Protestants are concerned, it is a hotbed of papist activity. Robert says this is but an imitation of the promising young Bard, but I find it yet another treasure; a dear part of my long absent friend. It is a kind of coded appeal for Spain’s aid!

Is this the same moon that you look upon
With plastered face all decked in whitest robe?
These borrowed beams does Cynthia now don
With grave attempts to shine on all the Globe.
Yet those on distant shores are free to gaze
On fair Apollo’s steady burning face
That does but truest hearts ever amaze
To fill them with eternal saving grace.
So think on us who live in Winter’s grip
Who long for Summer though it be denied
To stand in brilliance and with warmth equip
Our frigid frames make suffering subside.
Should you but chance to travel to our aid
With hearty welcome you shall be repaid.

August 1588

Woe unto us: The Spanish Armada has been defeated—another hope dashed! The English Queen is making known to her realm that the Protestants believe God’s hand defeated the Spanish; that it was God’s will the Armada was destroyed. Never! The State is now harsher than ever to her Catholic subjects. Word came from Rome that Aquaviva received a cautious letter from Robert in which he speaks of the increasingly ill treatment of his countrymen. Copies have been distributed to all the Jesuit forces.

The constancy of the Catholics is such as is always admired in a people naturally inclined to piety, but the fury and cruelty of the enemy is not to be regarded as a disgrace on the nation, but as the outcome of the pestilent heresy, which does violence not only to religion, but to the laws and restraints of nature.

May 1592

We have just received a copy of a long poem by Robert’s cousin-friend, Shakespeare, called Venus and Adonis, but rumor has it that the Merchant has chastised his coz and challenged him to use his talent for a higher purpose and more serious matter. I have not yet seen this copy, but my Brothers say it is quite bold and lust-filled. I wonder that it has not been burned, but some say it is a coded account that speaks of England’s plight, someone of the Old Faith subject to seduction and abuse by the Mistress of Love, Venus, who is meant to be Queen Elizabeth or perhaps her church. They call her the “Virgin Queen,” but no one believes it for a moment! I am curious to see this poem; surely this is not the same code of the Mission.

June 1592

What I have long feared: Robert has been arrested, betrayed by his friend Bellamy’s daughter, Anne, who it is believed was arrested and then raped by the vile animal Topcliffe and tortured to extract the information about Robert’s whereabouts. O Robert! Yet I treasure the last missive he was able to get off to me, in which he says bravely,

I am devoting myself to sermons, hearing confessions, and other priestly duties. Hemmed in by daily perils, never safe for even the smallest space of time. But, I derive fresh courage from my very difficulties: and the multitude of terrors, which keep following each other, prevent any from lasting long, and blunts them almost all.

Six years and now this! But that is thrice longer than Fr. Campion and others have had. I will not give up hope!

1593

We have no news of Robert except that he is kept in solitude. But we have heard that cousin Shakespeare has, it seems, responded to Robert’s challenge with another long poem called The Rape of Lucrece. Though it looks back to antiquity and crisis in Rome, some say it is a mirror of England’s struggle. The fair, chaste bride Lucrece being a symbol of the Church, raped by the foul and dreaded Tarquin, who betrays his host, before taking her own life in shame. It is the shame of the ravaged Bride; Truth rent by the Tempest of Reform. A far more serious story than the erotic Venus and Adonis, I wonder if Robert has heard of this; if he knows (should the rumors prove honest) that even in prison, he has so influenced the Mission. Perhaps the Queen may repent and free him yet. O Robert, do you hear my prayers?

1594

Three years Robert held out; three years of God knows what! It does not bear thinking on, though it has haunted me since I learned of his arrest. Robert’s An Humble Supplication to Her Majesty—the last, best hope for the Queen’s mercy on his blessed soul—was perhaps never seen by the Queen. But like Campion and their fellows, in death these brave Soldiers of Christ have become more powerful, as they are ever more precious! O pray for us in Heaven!

I am reminded now of the curious account Robert told me of his youth. As if to rival a fanciful fairy-story, he was, when a very small boy, captured by Gypsies! What frights he knew he scarce remembered save the painful longing to return to his rightful home. It seems his life began in captivity just as it ended. It was his kind, devoted Nurse who made his rescue; just as Christ, our Rescuer, now nurses Robert in Heaven: he has made his Homecoming; we all await our own. I feel certain now that Robert was right when he spoke of the Afterlife. My heart’s dearest friend, you are yourself evermore—

Like spark that going out gives clearest light!