Pilgrims by Matthew Kneale
English | 2020 |General Fiction/Classics | Historical| ePUB | 4.0 Mb
A rich farmer fears he’ll go to hell for cheating his neighbours. His wife wants pilgrim badges to sew into her hat and show off at church. A poor, ragged villager is convinced his beloved cat is suffering in the fires of purgatory and must be rescued. A mother believes her son’s dangerous illness is punishment for her own adultery and seeks forgiveness so he may be cured. A landlord is in trouble with the church after he punched an abbot on the nose. A sexually driven noblewoman seeks a divorce so she can marry her new young beau.
These are among a ragtag band of pilgrims that sets off on the tough and dangerous journey from England to Rome, where they hope all their troubles and their prayers will be answered. Some in the group, however, have their own secret reasons for going. Others, while they might aspire to piety, succumb all too often to the sins of the flesh.
Damn her, I’d have thought. That pitiless, singular child looking only to her own self. I pressed on to the bridge, which, like always, was tight with folk squeezing by. I wasn’t halfway across when I heard someone call out, ‘Look who’s coming down the river,’ and people started pushing into a space between the shops to peer down. Though it made no sense, as how could it be her, just for a moment I thought, what if it’s Rosa, and I squeezed through them to see. But no, thanks be to God, when I looked over I saw there were a pair of them, just about to slip under the bridge, both so swollen that they looked almost like playing balls. One had half his face gone and another had no head. ‘I wonder whose they are,’ said one of the crowd, ‘Montfort’s or the king’s?’ ‘The king’s,’ said another, ‘see how fat they are,’ which made the rest laugh. ‘Some of his Frenchmen,’ said a third. ‘Or his Jews.’ Which got another laugh. Somebody had found a big piece of stone and he lobbed it over, catching the headless one on the chest so he vanished under for a moment before bobbing up again, which got a cheer. No one was looking at me, thank heavens, and I edged back out of the crowd.
Reaching the Tower at the far end of the bridge I asked the guard, ‘I’m searching for my sister. Have you seen her go out? Black hair, green eyes, pretty-looking.’ Some of them can know you from half a mile off, don’t ask me how, it’s like they can smell you, and this guard was one. He gave me a look, not friendly, to show it. ‘See how many people go by here? As if I’d know.’ When I was small my father used to tell me, ‘Motte, when things look bad, as they will some days, remember this. For every unkindness there’s a courtesy, and for every wicked man there’s a good one too,’ and so it was that morning. I got out of the stream of folk and was standing there, wondering what to do, when I saw that a beggar, who was sat in a niche just out of the throng, was waving me over. He’d have heard me talking to the guard. ‘I saw her,’ he said. ‘A pretty thing. She had a funny look to her, sort of dreamy. I wondered if she was drunk.’
That was Rosa all right. I gave him a farthing and my thanks and then looked out through the gate towards Southwark. Just because she’d gone out there didn’t mean I had to go after her. But of course it did. I couldn’t turn my back on my own sister, however undeserving. So, though every ounce of me hungered to go back the way I’d come, I walked through the gate and into Southwark. I just hoped she’d chosen the same spot she had last time, as otherwise I’d never find her in a hundred months and I’d be risking myself for nothing.