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The Extended Epilogue



She plucked a few strings, listening contentedly as the simple chord resonated in the room. Somehow it seemed one with the twinkling fire and the snowflakes that were falling daintily outside the window. She played another few chords, as radiant as the gown of a goddess. She pictured the smiling face of the Madonna, feeling as she did so the thrilling movement of the unborn life that was now unmistakably stirring inside her.

She looked at Nicholas, pointedly. He was standing between her at the harp and the little group sat in sofas to hear the private performance. There was her mother, and Uncle Esau, Mother Superior with a handful of nuns, including the shamelessly weeping Sister Carissima. There were Sir Ezra and Lady Chalford, beaming and tipsy, their hands intertwined like debutant sweethearts.

Nicholas caught her eye, and the cue. He took a deep breath and then sang,

Salve Regina, mater misericordiae! Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra salve!”

She had written the music with him just as the winter was beginning to set in, and he himself had suggested setting to it the words of the hymn to the virgin, now his favourite piece of liturgical music.

His voice was soft and clear, vibrating with the sincere devotion he felt, to her and to the Church. He had never known, he had told her, after they first went to Mass together, how much he had been longing for the love of Christ and His Saints. His reverence, at any rate, had done wonders for his singing voice.

The music played on, and Mary set the beat to the movements of her child, little Anthony or Theresa, or whatever they might choose; the heir to Whitehorse House. For, although the Duchy of Avon would go defunct when the Duchess went to her glorious rest, a new title, the Barony of Whitehorse, had been bestowed on Sir Ezra by the Prince Regent at the new year. Lucilla had signed papers making the Chalfords the heirs to the house and its immediate estate, the rest going to the Church and Our Lady of Good Counsel.

Nicholas promised his sighs and lamentations to that same Lady, purring through the promises like a cat cradled in the arms of a favourite child. At last, he came to the climax; “O Clemens, O Pia, O Dulcis Virgo Maria!”

O clement, O pious, O sweet Virgin Mary!”

“Amen,” they sang together, harmonising perfectly as they could now do so effortlessly that it was as if one voice was singing.

There was polite and joyful applause from the sofas.

“Thank you! Thank you, my friends and family!” Mary said, cheerfully, her stage fright a thing of the past. “Now, we’d like to perform for you a creation of our own. The words are by Nicholas, and the music by myself. It is a hymn to the Magdalene.”

She began to play once more, sadder and more intense than the music she had played for the Virgin, but no less beautiful. As Nicholas began, quietly at first but with increasing feeling, to sing the poem he had written out of complete reverence for that Mary who had been the first to witness the risen Christ, a thought occurred to her out of nowhere.

Magdalene. Magdalene. That’s what she should be called, if she is a she. How did it not occur to me already?

She smiled, imagining herself cradling in her arms – as she was already in her womb – a little baby named after that strangest and most soulful saint, to whom she had already addressed her deepest and most inexpressible prayers.

Magdalene. O, Magdalene!

The End

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