It is 1490. Northern Europe is in the grip of sweeping plagues and religious inquisitions, and in daily terror of the Day of Judgment. In the town of Den Bosch, the artist Jerome (Hieronymus Bosch) paints his visionary denunciation of sin and folly, ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, while his neglected wife Aleyt strays into sin herself. But Jerome is not immune from the world he portrays. A rival artist and a corrupt Abbess concoct a hellish plot that threatens to destroy him.
Targeted Age Group:: Adults
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was inspired by a fascination with the extraordinary paintings of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516). I began to think about the kind of world he lived in, a world in which the authority of the Church was supreme and in which people were terrified of being damned to an eternity in Hell. Then I imagined what might happen to a man like Bosch who dared to defy the Church.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Hieronymus Bosch is a historical figure, an extraordinary and bizarre artist of the late fifteenth century whose paintings caught my interest in my early teens. However, as is the case with Shakespeare, one has to deduce the details of his life from scarce sources. This gave me free rein to explore issues of the day through a fictionalised account. There are six main characters in the book – three men and three women. I have tried to get equally into the consciousness of each of them, and in particular was interested in creating a compelling female ‘villain’ to set against the innocent protagonist.
DEN BOSCH. 1490
Aleyt stands in the darkened room, hidden, as if in a long-ago childhood game with her older sister or her cousin. Inside her head is the same remembered sound: a surging rush, like liquid being poured away, over and over. Her blood, pumping.
Today it is the world outside that she hides from. But the noises and smells of that world are finding her out anyway, creeping cunningly through the gap in the heavy shutters: the stench of packed bodies and quick-fried sweetmeats; the tolling of a bell; the voices of the massed people of Den Bosch, a low ruh-ruh-ruh pierced occasionally by shriller cries. Drawn unwillingly by a horrid curiosity, she peeps out at the town square below.
The bearded man at the centre of it all draws her eyes at once. He is clad only in a loin cloth with his hands bound behind his back. Like Jesus in the images of the Passion, he is surrounded by a howling, jeering crowd that is gripped by lust for his death. But he doesn’t wear Jesus’s serene expression, the look that speaks of transcending all earthly torment. No, this bearded man’s face is an open book of terror. His eyes dart from place to place, and his tongue works at his parched lips. The loin-cloth is soiled a filthy brown.
Aleyt’s breath feels trapped in her throat. She moves slightly so that the narrow gap in the shutters lines up with a different part of the scene. There is a tall, thin figure, like an island of black-robed calm in the broiling bustle. Beneath his cowl, most of his face is hidden. On a lectern before him is a Bible, and only his mouth moves. Surely, no one will be able to hear him in the hubbub. This is her first sight of the man. For weeks his reputation has stalked the town. Even now that he has finally come out into the open, he is still partly concealed. In spite of her fear, she is curious to see his eyes.
Behind him, on the steps of the Stadhuis are ranged the monks and nuns of Den Bosch, a mass of brown and black cloth. Dotted amidst this loamy soil like the flowers of the year’s early spring are the more colourful robes of the cathedral clergy. They all have the best view of the proceedings, and, in contrast to the Inquisitor’s pious concentration, they are busy gossiping and eating nuts and haggling with the street vendors who offer cups of watered-down brandy from small barrels strapped to their backs.
Aleyt moves again, trying to free her breathing, her gaze skimming over the mob. Ruh, ruh, ruh… like the sound of an angry sea, surging even to the wall of their house directly below her. Thank God the cottage at Roedeken will soon be finished. If the future is to bring more such abominations to the market square, they will be able to lock up this house for the day and escape.
She is startled by the door opening behind her, and turns quickly to face it. Of course: it’s Jerome. He has been back for more than a week from his long absence in Reims, but she still forgets that he is in the house. The silence in his studio is the same, whether he is there or not.
He remains standing in the doorway, peering uncertainly into the gloom of the shuttered room.
“Yes, Jerome. I’m here by the window.”
He moves forward carefully, eyes adjusting, irises opening. The pale oval of Aleyt’s face forms itself in front of him, like one of the phantoms that any darkness conjures in his mind’s eye.
“Why are the shutters closed?” he says, knowing why.
Aleyt begins to fumble with the catch, but Jerome is taken by an impulse of pity, which grows instantly to rebellion, and he steps forward again and puts his hand gently over hers.
“Well – let them stay closed, why not?” he says.
She feels now that she can draw on his strength to face what is out there.
“But you know we must watch.”
“Perhaps they may not know we’re at home,” he says.
“Of course they know we’re here. Where else would we be?”
She is right. He puts aside her hand and himself unhooks the heavy metal latch and lifts the crossbar. He pushes the shutters outwards and the hinges groan as if they too have a voice in this matter. Noise floods into the room, and the square below is framed by the opening like one of his paintings, teeming with vivid little figures. From all the other houses around the market place, the most prosperous citizens of Den Bosch look out from their windows. They will be seen by all now, the Master Painter and his wife, watching in approval, it might be, as God’s soldiers go about their work.
“Come…” he says, making room for Aleyt beside him.
In the heart of the square, a wooden platform has been erected with a few steps leading up to it. Projecting upwards through the centre of the platform is a stake, the straight trunk of a felled pine stripped of its bark. Below and around the platform are heaped scraps of timber, trimmed tree branches, bundles of twigs, and gashed hay bales. Sometimes someone edges forward to throw on their own small fagot, buying remittance from time in purgatory. The bearded man is being dragged towards the platform by three of the town’s tipstaffs, sweating and conspicuous in their bright red tunics. He fights them with every step, flinging his body backwards against their tugging, and they look angry, as if they feel he is making fools of them in public. One of them cuffs the man hard on the head, making him scream out something incomprehensible. Speaking in the Devil’s tongue will be entered in the official record, since he has confessed to witchcraft. But Jerome and the rest of Den Bosch have known this harmless moon-witted beggar for years, since long before the arrival of Jacomo and his Inquisition. He’d always talked nonsense, and regularly had fits of screaming and shouting. You gave him a groat, from time to time, or a scrap of bread, and in bad weather the monks somewhere would take him in.
Aleyt moves closer to his side, and he senses her agitation from the catch in her breathing. He sets his jaw and tries to face with fortitude the scene outside. This poor loon in the square could be expected to act thus, but would any man do better? What if he himself were being dragged to a post to be burned? Wouldn’t he be screaming and struggling, with a soiled loin cloth? And what about the Inquisitor himself, this Jacomo, who has now left his Bible and climbed onto the platform to wait beside the stake? How would he fare, if places were exchanged? Anger suddenly brings the blood up into his face.
The bearded man is finally heaved up to the platform, all flailing limbs, and the black-cloaked Dominicans on the front rank of the Stadhuis steps commence the slow sonorous chanting that will continue until all is done:
Adoremus in aeternum sanctissimum Sacramentum.
Laudate Dominum omnes gentes: laudate eum omnes populi…
For a few moments the townspeople fall quiet, and the chanting predominates, but then the mob resumes and even increases its noise. Women shriek like banshees and men whistle, roar and jeer. The calls of excited children twitter like marsh birds. Some of the onlookers have brought drums and crumhorns and bladder-pipes, and the cacophony bounces off the surrounding houses and blares up into the sky above.
“They make a noise like a farmyard,” Jerome mutters. He squints so that his eyes go out of focus, and sees geese with human heads, blood-faced pigs hoisting their handkerchiefs in the air, and cows capering on hind legs with their calves on their shoulders.
Aleyt has closed her own eyes completely. Let me not be haunted in dreams, she thinks. In her darkness, the proximity of her husband feels strange to her. Their elbows are touching. Why does he not take her hand, or put his arm protectively around her shoulders? Would that not be natural and affectionate? But, of course, it would not be appropriate. They should appear to be praying, at such a moment.
Jerome lets his eyes focus once again. The tipstaffs are tying the bearded man’s hands behind the stake. His knees refuse to support him, and he slides down onto his haunches, his head bowed. The tipstaffs haul him up again, but as soon as they step away, he subsides once more. The crowd boos.
“Why do they do that?” Aleyt asks, not looking.
“They want to see his face when he burns,” Jerome says.
“Why are they like this?” Aleyt whispers, as unwilled curiosity forces her eyes open once more. These are the people with whom they live side by side every day; the same ordinary people who have bakeries and breweries and do laundry and build walls and till the fields around Den Bosch and eat and drink and pray, just as they do. Now it is as if they have lost all their singularities, and become a composite, many-headed monster.
The Inquisitor, still dark and faceless beneath his cowl, briskly removes the waist cord from his black gown and grabs a handful of the man’s thick unruly locks. He loops the cord tightly around the clump of hair and hands the end to one of the sweating tipstaffs. They force the man back to his feet, and lash his hair to the stake so that his neck strains backwards and he can’t sink down. Then the Inquisitor makes the sign of the cross and begins praying, leaning in towards the condemned man’s ear.
Jerome’s gaze escapes down the steps of the platform, where a brazier of coals glows redly. The executioner, a fat carrion crow, thrusts a long stick wrapped in rags into the brazier and holds it there until bright flames lick upwards. Then he withdraws the firebrand and stands in readiness. The Inquisitor gathers his cassock up around his knees and picks his way carefully down the steps. When he is clear, the executioner thrusts the flaming brand into one of the bundles of hay at the base of the platform.
It catches light immediately, and the crow hops swiftly around the edges of the pyre, touching the brand here and there until flames leap upwards on all sides of the platform. A solemn hush finally falls upon the crowd.
Aleyt, closing her eyes once again, hears beneath the chanting of the Dominicans the crackling and snapping of wood as it catches the fire from the hay. Closer to hand, she is surprised by the sudden cooing of some pigeons on their own rooftop, unperturbed by the scene below.
“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!”
The cry jerks her eyes open, and she sees the flames climb higher around the bound man. Was he commending his soul at last to God? Or was Jesus just a word for unbearable pain? Now a long, high-pitched and wordless scream punctures the sky, and a dense pall of smoke obscures him from view. He makes no other sound.
Aleyt buries her face in her hands, sobbing.
“A sight to remind us of the torments of Hell,” Jerome says. He feels sick inside, sullied by his mute, tacit approval of what has passed in the square. He is disgusted with himself and his fellow men. How far they have all fallen, together, since the original sin in the Garden of Eden.
The chanting of the Dominicans ceases, and for a long moment only the crackling of the burning pyre can be heard. Then the crowd comes vigorously back to life, as if each person experiences their own miraculous resurrection. The buzz of excited chatter grows louder and louder, until the market square seems filled with a swarm of bees.
These beasts and insects that we are, Jerome thinks, and turns back to face the comfortable room behind. The new tapestry from Arras, earliest fruit of the Reims commission, moves sinuously in the mild breeze that comes past them from the open window, and a whiff of acrid smoke is carried to his nostrils.
“Well, we haven’t shirked our duty,” he says. “No-one can say that the Master Painter and his wife are impious.”
Aleyt feels suddenly exhausted. She goes to sit on the carved oak settle against the wall, her grandfather’s wedding gift. Jerome remains standing, silhouetted against the window. She can’t make out his expression.
She needs to clarify something. With a glance at the closed door of the room, she speaks very quietly.
“You don’t believe that man was possessed by devils, as the tribunal decided, do you Jerome?”
Jerome looks at her in surprise.
“Need you ask? What do you think?”
“I think… I think that we must act as if we believe that. Even in front of Mary.”
Now Jerome understands her. He nods.
“Not that Mary would ever say anything deliberately against us, but…”
“She’s a goose,” Jerome completes her thought, “and she could let slip any nonsense to anyone.”
He sighs. Before Inquisitors came to the Duchy of Brabant, there had been little need to worry what tittle-tattle went about. Now, even a loose word from a servant could bring danger.
He gazes out of the window behind him again, and then comes to sit next to her. The lines on his forehead are drawn together, and his cheeks are slightly flushed.
“Half of the monks out there are drunk, and no one cares! The Church whips up this… this smoke of fear to hide its own vices.”
Aleyt raises a hand, palm outwards.
“You mustn’t speak such thoughts.”
“I know, I know. Well, let my paintings speak for me.”
“You must take care.”
“I’m licensed to tell unpalatable truths, in my own way. My patrons inside the Church – they, at least, understand the need for that.”
Aleyt cannot share this confidence, although she will not question it aloud. Her father, a great prophet of doom in political matters, mutters darkly of shifting sands in Den Bosch and the rest of the Duchy of Brabant. The big towns squabble for primacy, and no-one knows when or if the young Habsburg, Philip, will assume effective control of his lands. Meanwhile, unquestioned by civil authority, the Church powers flex their muscles and seek out new enemies, in all ranks of society. She wishes Jerome paid more heed to all of this, but he only accuses her of borrowing her father’s unfounded anxieties.
She picks up her sewing basket from the floor beside the settle. There is a little time before supper. She needs to do something that will calm her down. Just now, she can’t imagine having an appetite for food. She will just sit quietly in this room, avoiding the window. She suspects there will be noise and drunkenness in the square until nightfall, the celebrations of the unburnt. She pulls out from the basket the little lace cap she is working on.
“What’s that?” Jerome asks.
“For my cousin Frida’s baby. You remember? It’s due any day. I’m making a little hat.”
She holds it up. It’s nearly finished, a sweet little white cap to keep the baby’s head warm at night. Their eyes meet for a moment, and the unspoken thought they share is like a ghost passing through the room between them.
Aleyt decides to detain the ghost before it has dematerialized. She returns her eyes to Jerome’s.
“It’s eight days since you came home, Jerome…”
She lets the remark hang in the air and returns to her lacework.
Outside, the first bells of Den Bosch begin to call the monks and nuns to Vespers. Moments later, as always, the great bell in the cathedral tower joins in with its deep, measured, serious tone that seems to chide the other bells like unruly children. Jerome, uncomfortable after their exchange, sends his eyes wandering around the tidy room. He notices something he can’t identify lying on the table and goes to look more closely.
A scroll of parchment.
Aleyt looks up from her sewing.
“Oh – I’m sorry Jerome, I forgot. Mary came dashing in with that, while you were in your studio. She was afraid to disturb you, and she was in such a mad rush to get out to the square. A messenger gave it to her at the door.”
Jerome turns the scroll so that he can see the seal. It is dull red, vesica-shaped: an ecclesiastical seal.
“This has come from Overmaas!” he exclaims.
Eagerly, he breaks the wax apart and unrolls the parchment to read it.
To the Master Painter Jerome van Aachen, known as Hieronymus, of Den Bosch:
The Cathedral Chapter of Overmaas sends you greetings and good tidings. From the seven submissions received for the design of our new window at the north transept of the cathedral, your depiction of the nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ has been chosen. Our bursar will visit you next week with the primus payment to secure your services, and to agree a date for completion of the drawings and colour plan, to be no later than the end of mensis Januarius the Year of Our Lord Fourteen Hundred and Ninety One. The assembly and installation of the window is to be completed by Easter of Fourteen Hundred and Ninety Two, and your supervisory services during the period of making and installation will be secured by a separate stipend to be agreed after the design work is accepted.
Amanuensis to the Cathedral Chapter of Overmaas
His head is bent over the parchment, but Aleyt can see the furrowed lines on his forehead gradually smoothing out, and when he lifts his face to her he is smiling.
“Well?” she says.
“The cathedral chapter at Overmaas has chosen my design for their window!”
In this moment she is suddenly reminded of how he looked at their wedding festivities, seven years ago. On an impulse she puts aside the cap, and all complications too, and stands up to embrace him.
“God be thanked!” she says.
He smiled the whole day long, that day. In some unheeded moment during the intervening years, a different, more serious spirit crept into him. The spirit settled in gradually, scoring lines on the forehead, hollowing the cheeks a little and turning the mouth down at the corners. Jerome became a man of forty, and she has come to thirty, but just now she can discern the bridegroom again, and feels younger herself.
They step apart again, a little awkwardly. Jerome still has the parchment in his hand, and holds it up between them.
“My pleasure in this is the greater because it’s unexpected.”
“Oh? Weren’t you confident?
“I would have been confident but for what was whispered to me by the Dean at Overmaas when all the submissions were in.”
“What, before you went away to Reims? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I promised to tell no-one. The Dean actually said don’t even tell your wife, Jerome.”
An unnecessary injunction, Aleyt thinks. Is he going to tell her now? She looks at him with eyebrows raised, inviting more.
“Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter any more. I’ve got the commission. But you’d still better keep what I tell you to yourself. There is no proof.”
Aleyt nods. The bridegroom has retreated back into the past, and Jerome’s brows are knitted crossly again.
“Apparently the Abbess Dominica secretly offered a large donation if the cathedral chapter preferred her candidate.”
“Bribery?” Aleyt says. “So who was her candidate?”
“He didn’t go as far as to tell me that.”
Aleyt only knows the Abbess Dominica by sight, but she has a thorough knowledge of Jerome’s views of her character.
“Well, I suppose it comes as no surprise that the Abbess would do such a thing?” she suggests.
“No. It’s typical of the woman’s devious ways.”
He dwells for a moment on the animal images he reserves for the Abbess Dominica. A warty toad hopping. A fat worm tunnelling. A sow snouting in a trough. All in nuns’ wimples.
“Well, it’s a happy coincidence that I sent a message to Hameel yesterday and invited him to share our supper tonight,” he goes on, dismissing the unpleasant creatures. “I didn’t want to say anything until the chapter voted.”
“Why is it of concern to… to Hameel?”
“I’m going to ask him to work as my assistant on this project.”
“But… surely… he works as a Master in his own right?”
“Of course, but this is different. A commission with such prestige – he’ll feel honoured to be asked, and it will be an opportunity to advance his craft. He’s never worked on a window of such a scale. By the way, I thought he’d be here by now. I said to come at the Vespers bells.”
Aleyt’s left eyelid goes into its flutter, as if a butterfly has landed there. She stands, and turns that side of her face away from Jerome.
“I’ll go and see if Mary’s back yet. There’s things to be done in the kitchen.”
She’s through the door and onto the landing, but Jerome calls out as she begins to descend the narrow wooden stairs.
“Oh, Aleyt! There’s a cloth bag of dried mandrake fruits in the pantry.”
She steps back to the door of their parlour.
“Where did you get those?” she says.
“Well, from my good friend Izaak the apothecary on Brugstraat of course. He got them from Spain two weeks ago, and he knew I was coming home soon, so he kept some back for me. Anyway, don’t let Mary mistake them for something else and make a fruit pudding out of them!”
“You should keep them safe somewhere else,” she chides him gently. “I expect your good friend Izaak charged a pretty price.”
“I’ll use them soon. I’ll make up a new potion. You’ll take some?”
Aleyt nods. She has tried to decline in the past, but then Jerome delivers a speech, and she must give way. For many hours – even as long as a day and a night – after taking the mandrake potion they will lie like broken dolls on their bed. The room will spin giddily around her like a spinning top losing momentum, and strange apparitions will fly through the air. Periodically, as the potion twists her guts, she will vomit violently into one of the wooden buckets placed beside the bed.
“You know how I hate it,” she says, anyway.
“It’s a small price to pay, if it keeps Saint Anthony’s Fire from our door,” Jerome replies, as he always does.
These mandrake fruits, she knows, are supposed to be a powerful protection against the hideous plague that rages intermittently through the land, seizing rich and poor alike. But she feels that Jerome is overly zealous to use them. God sends him visions when he is sick with the potion, which he uses in his paintings. For her own part, it’s mere misery. Even after the worst has passed, for days afterwards she feels as if the whole house bobs on a swelling sea.
No more to be said on the matter however. She turns and makes her way down towards the kitchen, thinking she must be sure to visit her cousin Frida with the finished baby’s cap before the potion is ready.
Jerome listens to the sound of his wife’s feet descending. Each step on their staircase has its own distinctive creak. It’s almost a musical scale – or an unmusical scale – as a person goes up or down through the heart of the house. When he hears the sharp crack of the final stair he goes to the little recess in the wall where their simple carved wooden crucifix hangs. He must thank God for what has just been bestowed upon him. Making the sign of the cross over his forehead and chest, he kneels. He gazes at the crucifix and then closes his eyes, making that image stay as if burned into his mind’s eye like a glimpse of the sun, letting go of the sounds from outside the window, concentrating on God, who is always there, ready to listen to him. When he feels that the stillness in his heart is sufficient, when he feels that God has entered the room, he speaks aloud, letting phrases from the Psalms flow through him slowly. He lingers on the sounds and dwells on their meaning, so that God will know they are his own words, and that they come from his heart as well as from the Bible.
“Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong. To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent, O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee forever. I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes. Whoso privily slanders his neighbour, him will I cut off. Him that hath a high look and a proud heart I will not suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me. He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house. He that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness, come before his presence with singing. So be it. Amen.”
He finishes, but remains kneeling in his self-imposed darkness. The image of Abbess Dominica drifts into his mind’s eye. She of the high look and the proud heart, the worker of deceit. He has a sudden pang that his prayer has been sullied by resentment. He hasn’t chosen the most appropriate words to thank God for his good fortune. So he makes her image walk away along a long dark road, and when she has finally disappeared, he says a silent Lord’s Prayer in atonement. He wants to appear grateful before God, not tainted by bitterness. He adds a prayer to Saint Gummarus, patron of the childless, whose tomb he visited in the chapel of the abbey at Lier, on the way home from Reims. Should he have left a larger donation there? The monks at Lier seemed serious and pious, unlike so many in Den Bosch.
As he ends this prayer, he hears feet ascending the stair. It’s Aleyt again – her tread is lighter than Mary’s or Hameel’s. He makes the sign of the cross once again, and gets back onto his feet as she opens the door and enters, closing it behind her.
“Mary’s just come in from the square now,” Aleyt says.
“We’re too lax with her,” Jerome replies, meaning that Aleyt is too lax.
“I know, but she’s back now, and the supper will be ready soon.”
Now comes the sound of wooden clogs striking the stairs, like an approaching hammer. Jerome and Aleyt share an amused look. There is a knock at the door, but before they can call out, the knock is followed by the door opening just enough to admit the flushed, pretty face of their maidservant.
“Yes, Mary?” Jerome says.
“Hameel has come, Master… and Mistress,” Mary says breathlessly. “Shall I send him up?”
“Well, what else?” Jerome says.
Mary shuts the door. Immediately they hear her voice braying down the stairwell.
“You’re to come straight up!”
There is the sharp crack of the bottom step as a measured tread begins its passage upwards. A moment later there is a cascade of noise as Mary’s clogs begin their descent. Midway on the narrow stair there is a pause in both sets of steps, a shuffling of feet, and a giggle from Mary, then both the upward and downward movements resume.
“She goes down those stairs like a fall of crockery!” Jerome remarks.
Then Hameel’s signature light triple rap sounds on the door, and Jerome calls out, “Come in!”
Hameel enters, taking off his cap and running a hand through the luxuriant dark curls on his head. His brown eyes, usually frank and fearless, seem to flicker across the room without focussing, and there is a look of unease on his handsome face.
“I’m so late! I’m embarrassed!” he says, looking at nothing.
Jerome holds out his arms.
“Hameel! At last I set eyes on you again! Where have you been since I came back from Reims?”
Hameel shrugs, his face inscrutable, and steps awkwardly into Jerome’s arms. Inside the Master Painter’s embrace, he seems to crumple a little. Then he breaks away quickly to take Aleyt’s hand. She feels a tremble in his fingers as he takes hers, and a pressure just too strong as he presses his lips to her knuckles. She has given him the hand that bears her wedding ring.
“It’ll be dark soon! Would you have us lighting expensive candles for you?” she chides the top of his bowed head.
Hameel steps back and sweeps an arm towards the window.
“I was coming directly here after the burning, but the Abbess Dominica caught me in a corner near the Stadhuis. There’s no getting away from her when she’s got a bee buzzing inside her head.”
“What did she want?” Jerome asks, always on the alert for new stones to pelt her with in private. Hameel waves an arm dismissively.
“Oh, it was all about the costs of the stone font for the convent chapel. The usual things.”
Jerome nods. Some years ago, when Dominica first became the abbess, he had been already in the midst of executing a commission for the convent’s refectory at her predecessor’s behest. Her carping and haggling over the price soon set the tone of mutual antipathy that had festered ever since.
“Abbess Dominica chisels down the costs of everything except her own robes and meals!” he says. “And then when it comes to paying up…! Do you know how long it took me to get the money out of her for my painting of the Passion?”
Hameel smiles wryly.
“…and three weeks!” Aleyt interjects.
They all laugh. The old joke seems to have eased the tension in Hameel’s shoulders and face. Jerome turns to Aleyt.
“Am I such a bore?”
“Of course you are,” she says, “and that’s why Hameel has stayed away!”
She makes a smile and moves towards the door.
“I’m going to chivvy Mary. Hameel – you know it’s just cold meats? We must use all up before Lent.”
“Of course! I wouldn’t expect a feast at night-time. I ate well at midday.”
“Well – for now I’ll leave you poor put-upon artists alone to discuss your grievances.”
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