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Authors: Agatha Christie

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BOOK: Star over Bethlehem
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He turned to the East.

“And now to God the Father …”

He'd put it very badly, the Rector thought sadly. He hadn't made his meaning clear at all …

Quite a good congregation this evening. How many of them, he wondered, really
knew
God?

Again Janet Grierson knelt and prayed with fervour and desperation. It was a matter of will, of concentration. If she could get through—God was all powerful. If she could reach him …

For a moment she felt she was getting there—and then there was the irritating rustle of people rising; sighs, movements. Her husband touched her arm. Unwillingly she rose. Her face was very pale. Her husband looked at her with a slight frown. He was a quiet man who disliked intensity of any kind.

In the porch friends met them.

“What an attractive hat, Janet. It's new, isn't it?”

“Oh no, it's terribly old.”

“Hats are so difficult,” Mrs. Stewart complained. “One hardly ever wears one in the country and then on Sunday one feels odd. Janet, do you know Mrs. Lamphrey—Mrs. Grierson. Major Grierson. The Lamphreys have taken Island Lodge.”

“I'm so glad,” said Janet, shaking hands. “It's a delightful house.”

“Everyone says we'll be flooded out in winter,” said Mrs. Lamphrey ruefully.

“Oh no—not
most
years.”

“But
some
years? I knew it! But the children were mad about it. And of course they'd adore a flood.”

“How many have you?”

“Two boys and a girl.”

“Edward is just the same age as our Johnnie,” said Mrs. Stewart. “I suppose he'll be going to his public school next year. Johnnie's going to Winchester.”

“Oh, Edward is much too much of a moron ever to pass common entrance, I'm sure,” sighed Mrs. Lamphrey. “He doesn't care for anything but games. We'll have to send him to a crammer's. Isn't it terrible, Mrs. Grierson, when one's children turn out to be morons?”

Almost at once, she felt the chill. A quick change of subject—the forthcoming fête at Wellsly Park.

As the groups moved off in varying directions, Mrs. Stewart said to her friend:

“Darling, I ought to have warned you!”

“Did I say something wrong? I thought so—but what?”

“The Griersons. Their boy. They've only got one. And
he's
subnormal. Mentally retarded.”

“Oh how awful—but I couldn't know. Why does one always go and put one's foot straight into things?”

“It's just that Janet's rather sensitive …”

As they walked along the field path, Rodney Grierson said gently,

“They didn't mean anything. That woman didn't know.”

“No. No, of course she didn't.”

“Janet, can't you try—”

“Try what?”

“Try not to mind so much. Can't you accept—”

Her voice interrupted him, it was high and strained.

“No, I can't
accept
—as you put it. There must be
something
that could be done! He's physically so perfect. It must be just some gland—some perfectly simple thing. Doctors will find out some day. There must be something—injections—hypnotism.”

“You only torture yourself, Janet. All these doctors you drag him round to. It worries the boy.”

“I'm not like you, Rodney. I don't give up. I prayed
again
in church just now.”

“You pray too much.”

“How can one pray ‘too much'? I believe in God, I tell you. I
believe
in him. I have faith—and faith can move mountains.”

“You can't give God orders, Janet.”

“What an extraordinary thing to say!”

“Well—” Major Grierson shifted uncomfortably.

“I don't think you know what faith is.”

“It ought to be the same as trust.”

Janet Grierson was not listening.

“Today—in church, I had a terrible feeling. I felt that God wasn't there. I didn't feel that there was no God—just that He was somewhere else … But where?”

“Really, Janet!”

“Where could He be? Where could I find Him?”

She calmed herself with an effort as they turned in at the gate of their own house. A stocky middle-aged woman came out smiling to meet them.

“Have a nice service? Supper's almost ready. Ten minutes?”

“Oh good. Thank you, Gertrude. Where's Alan?”

“He's out in the garden as usual. I'll call him.”

She cupped her mouth with her hands.

“A—lan. A—lan.”

Suddenly, with a rush, a boy came running. He was fair and blue-eyed. He looked excited and happy.

“Daddy—Mummy—look what I've found.”

He parted his cupped hands carefully, showing the small creature they contained.

“Ugh, horrible.” Janet Grierson turned away with a shudder.

“Don't you like him? Daddy!” He turned to his father. “See, he's partly like a frog—but he isn't a frog—he's got feathers and a sort of wings. He's quite new—not like any other animal.”

He came nearer, and dropped his voice.

“I've got a name for him. I call him Raphion. Do you think it's a nice name?”

“Very nice, my boy,” said his father with a slight effort.

The boy put the strange creature down.

“Hop away, Raphion, or fly if you can. There he goes. He isn't afraid of me.”

“Come and get ready for supper, Alan,” said his mother.

“Oh yes, I'm hungry.”

“What have you been doing?”

“Oh, I've been down at the end of the garden, talking to a friend. He helps me name the animals. We have such fun.”

“He's happy, Janet,” said Grierson as the boy ran up the stairs.

“I know. But what's going to become of him? And those horrible things he finds. They're all about everywhere nowadays since the accident at the Research station.”

“They'll die out, dear. Mutations usually do.”

“Queer heads—and extra legs!” She shuddered.

“Well, think of all the legs centipedes have. You don't mind them?”

“They're natural.”

“Perhaps everything has to have a first time.”

Alan came running down the stairs again.

“Have you had a nice time? Where did you go? To church?” He laughed, trying the word out. “Church—church—that's a funny name.”

“It means God's house,” said his mother.

“Does it? I didn't know God lived in a house.”

“God is in Heaven, dear. Up in the sky. I told you.”

“But not always? Doesn't He come down and walk about? In the evenings? In summer? When it's nice and cool?”

“In the Garden of Eden,” said Grierson, smiling.

“No, in this garden, here. He'd like all the funny new animals and things like I do.”

Janet winced.

“Those funny animals—darling.” She paused. “There was an accident, you know. At the big Station up on the downs. That's why there are so many of these queer—things about. They get born like that. It's very sad!”

“Why? I think it's exciting! Lots of new kinds of things being born all the time. I have to find names for them. Sometimes I think of lovely names.”

He wriggled off his chair.

“I've finished. Please—can I go now? My friend is waiting for me in the garden.”

His father nodded. Gertrude said softly.

“All children are the same. They always invent a ‘friend' to play with.”

“At five, perhaps. Not when they're thirteen,” said Janet bitterly.

“Try not to mind, dear,” said Gertrude gently.

“How can I help it?”

“You may be looking at it all the wrong way.”

Down at the bottom of the garden, where it was cool under the trees, Alan found his friend waiting.

He was stroking a rabbit who was not quite a rabbit but something rather different.

“Do you like him, Alan?”

“Oh yes. What shall we call him?”

“It's for you to say.”

“Is it really? I shall call him—I shall call him—Forteor. Is that a good name?”

“All your names are good names.”

“Have you got a name yourself?”

“I have a great many names.”

“Is one of them God?”

“Yes.”

“I thought it was! You don't really live in that stone house in the village with the long thing sticking up, do you?”

“I live in many places … But sometimes, in the cool of the evening, I walk in a garden—with a friend and talk about the New World—”

 

Jenny by the Sky

Come down to me, Jenny, come down from the hill

Come down to me here where I wait

Come down to my arms, to my lips, my desire

Come down all my hunger to sate

But Jenny walks lonely, her head in the air,

She walks on the hill top, the wind in her hair,

She will not come down to me, loud though I cry

She walks with the wind, upturned face to the sky …

In the cool of the evening I walked in the glade,

And there I met God … and I was not afraid.

Together we walked in the depths of the wood

And together we looked at the things we had made

Together we looked—and we saw they were good …

God made the World and the stars set on high

The Galaxies rushing, none knows where or why.

God fashioned the Cosmos, the Universe wide,

BOOK: Star over Bethlehem
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