The Crossing

Chapter 9

The spires of the cathedral stood before him like the spears of a Roman camp. A moment later, he was at its entrance. There he noticed the noise, the banging of a bass drum, the trill of trumpets, the faint sounds of a military band merging eerily with the wind and distant thunder. Quiet – he needed the silence of the Minster, of the sacred space that had been insulated from the world for twenty centuries, long enough to succour a legion of Roys.

He went in, into the cavernous nave. The silence was breath-taking. It was as if he had entered a vacuum, as if a great bellows had sucked out his soul. He looked up and, feeling the pull of the celestial vaulting, clutched at a pew. Sinking on to the bench, he thought, for a time, without thinking.

Sylvie, he sensed, was watching. Turning his head, he saw the Five Sisters, the high narrow windows named for the tale told by Dickens. He rose and went to them, his footsteps muffled. As he approached, the radiant beauty of the stained glass panels brought a lump to his throat. Through tears, he saw his mother and grandmother; his sisters, Esme and Hilda. And there, at the centre, was Sylvie, the youngest and most beautiful sister of them all.

‘See,’ she said. ‘Peace is possible.’

It was true. And if peace was possible then anything was. Even Paris. Roy bowed his head and murmured a prayer of thanks for the crossing to come.

As he turned to go, his eye fell on an inscription set in the stone. ‘Sacred to the memory,’ it said, ‘of the women of the empire who gave their lives in the European war.’ Roy leapt back as a clap of thunder rattled the windows; raindrops peppered the glass. Lightning flashed and the Sisters instantly became mirrors, inert and unseeing. Sylvie vanished and his heart went cold.

He reeled away. To his right, a doorway led to the Chapter House. Seeking shelter, he stumbled through it, emerging in a domed, tomb-like space. Thunder was crashing now. He heard, or thought to hear, sounds – metallic sounds as brass and clashing cymbals, or the low beating of barbaric drums. Nausea grew upon him, and the moaning of the wind became his own.

He looked up. What was this? Regimental banners, hung along the walls. He spun around. No, it could not be. Strung beside the entrance were the colours of Arthur’s regiment, the same standard that had flown in Tasmania in penal times, when the damage had been done. The prison island here? From those shores, he knew, there could be no crossing.

He cried out, even as the waves of darkness rolled upon his world, and thunder sounded as the shock of earthquake. Outside, the storm burst; he believed that the fountains of the deep were broken up; he felt himself falling . . .


Chapter 10