A map was a portrait, and one cartographer’s vision often differed greatly from another’s. The technology of map production had improved dramatically since the days of quill pens and compasses, and especially since the arrival of computers. But the fundamentals of cartography—the compilation and generalization of geographical data—had not changed much at all.
In fact, maps were not so different, to John’s way of thinking, from the crafts made and sold by many of the Amish. John considered mapmaking a craft. He worked with his hands, he was proud of the quality of his work, and he served a profession as old as any other graphic form of communication. The only Amish crime he was committing was not working in or near his Amish home.
His father should have been proud as well. He wasn’t, but he should have been.
John had been a devout member of the Old Order Amish until he had first expressed an interest in going to public school, then had insisted on it. In response, his church district ostracized him. As did his own father, who left the house now whenever John came by to visit. His sister Rebecca was the only one of his five siblings who would speak to him, and with her back to him, at that.
Of John’s four brothers, only one worked on the farm. The others were part of a mobile construction crew. The family was on the verge of breaking up; there wasn’t enough farm to go around. Some of the neighboring heads of household had busted up their estates and dealt the odd parcels to their sons, so that all might make a living from the land, however meagerly. The Graf family had decided to keep its farm intact and bequeath it to the oldest son. John’s father, Clarence, thus semi-retired, or “got out of the way,” as the Amish put it.
John was Clarence’s oldest son. If he failed to assume his role as heir to the estate, and soon, it would go to his next younger brother, who had already returned to the property and taken up reins.
It had long been John’s dream to go to college, and he knew he didn’t stand a chance without an English high-school diploma. The Amish didn’t believe in higher education, which they defined as anything beyond grade school. When word got out, and it soon did, that John had enrolled in high school, the bishop ordered the ministers to call him to the carpet during the next preaching service, conducted every other Sunday.
John was interrogated in public about his behavior, and he answered that he had no regrets. That without high school he couldn’t attend college. That without a higher education he couldn’t pursue his goals. That higher education was neither a weapon against God nor against the community,
He waited outside while the congregation debated the issue. When they called him back in, they told him he was expelled from the church for six weeks.
Six weeks later, John was still in high school, so in his absence the congregation voted unanimously, as required, to excommunicate him.
Even his father had voted in favor of it.
It was something of a moot point, as John had already moved out of the house. He could still come back if he wanted to; all he had to do was kneel and confess his wrongdoing, a choice Rebecca reminded him of routinely.
The worst part of it all was what excommunication implied:
, or the shunning. Except for minimal, necessary socializing, Amish church members were forbidden to interact with shunned members. They could interact as they liked with nonmembers, that is, with those who had elected
to take baptismal vows. But those who had taken the vows and broken them were treated as outcasts, even by their own families.
John attended Franklin & Marshall to study geography and cartography, to feed an insatiable curiosity about the world. He worked his way through college, letting himself out as a farm hand, mechanic, carpenter—whatever he could get.
At F & M, he grew weary of fellow students staring at his austere dress, and he grew lonely because would-be acquaintances treated him as they would a priest: with distant respect. So he changed his wardrobe. The buttons on his pants gave way to zippers, the hook-and-eye fasteners on his coat to buttons, the suspenders to a belt, and the wide brimmed hat was put away.
He continued to dress simply, however, preferring dark gray pants and a white shirt. And he grew a beard. He kept his Amish clothes for when he visited Rebecca; he couldn’t bring himself to enter his old house in English dress.
A zipper had been the hardest change to reconcile himself to. What if you got your you-know-what caught in one of those?
Maps were more to John than portraits of faraway lands. Although he always claimed it was a passion for graphic arts that attracted him to cartography, he’d known even from early childhood that maps constituted a metaphor for his ruling passion: to discover his proper place in the world.
At lunchtime, John waited until the hallway traffic cleared, then he unrolled Cellarius’s Palatinate map on his light table, placing weights in the corners to prevent them from curling.
The map was hand-colored in yellow and blue, and where the two combined, in various intensities of green. A warm red, almost orange, contributed highlights and deepened the heavier shadows. The line work and type were black. Some laypeople considered the design gaudy. But such maps had to be judged according to the standards of the time in which they were made.
Cellarius had employed silver and gold foil in the compass rose. His calligraphy, simple yet ornamental, was timeless. He had filled the margins with a delightful sequence of medieval runes, composing a border:
It was a dramatic stylistic departure from the single black line used to delineate the borders of most other maps of the day.
For the first time in history a cartographer had accurately depicted the cultural features of the Palatinate. A twenty-first century traveler using the map could find his way around with ease. The towns of the region—Kirn, Idar, Oberstein, Kaiserslautern, Zweibrücken—were drawn in a graphic style, each cultural element exaggerated in scale. Many of the roads had not changed since Cellarius’s time other than when they were paved. Buildings appeared in perspective, and the churches, castles, and stately homes still standing were immediately recognizable.
But there was nevertheless something about the map that bothered John, something that had lurked in his subconscious from the first moment he laid eyes on it. Until Cellarius’s resurrection from the bog, the Palatinate map had merely been the last one he had completed. Now that it was clear Cellarius had been murdered, his final professional effort demanded greater scrutiny, and John could allow the subtle naggings to surface. He stared at the map for several more minutes, then impulsively picked up the phone and dialed a number.
“You say the Palatinate map was never commissioned? He just did it for the fun of it?”
“I wouldn’t say it was for the fun of it,” replied Dr. Carl Antonelli, one of John’s former cartography professors at Franklin & Marshall College. “But it’s true there’s no record, none that has come to light anyway, that anyone ordered this map from Cellarius.”
“You’ve seen the original pressing, haven’t you?”
“Yes, at the University of Southern Maine. I assume they still have it. Cellarius only made one print from the copper plate, which was itself quite unusual. Part of the margin was torn off; the upper right corner is completely gone.”
“Not according to my copy.”
“That’s because they don’t print facsimiles in any form other than a square or a rectangle. Your copy probably has an extrapolated margin. By the way, this is the only regular square map Cellarius ever made; all the rest have one dimension longer than the other. Were you aware of that?”
“The interesting thing about the margin of the Palatinate map is that it contains those strange symbols, the so-called runes, almost like a message or a cipher. They don’t appear on any of his other maps, and no one’s been able to figure them out.”
“If they might be significant, why haven’t they been followed up with some kind of cryptological analysis?”
“Well, John, you have to admit, that map’s a little obscure. You and I don’t think so, but to the rest of the world it’s just a dusty old piece of paper, one of thousands of its kind. How many cryptologists do you know who collect maps? For that matter, how many cryptologists do you know at all? Maybe somebody’s done something with it, I don’t know. But nothing’s been published on the subject, I can tell you that.”
“I just figured they were abstract graphic designs.”
“And they may well be. You know what the funniest thing is about the Palatinate map to me? The latitude-longitude grid. It conforms to no standard geographic grid, past or present, nor does it correspond to any particular unit of measure. Historians of cartography have long concluded that Cellarius merely drew an arbitrary grid. But you know as well as I do, that wasn’t his style.”
“Maybe that’s what’s been bothering me.”
“There’s another thing: the biblical quote that appears—oddly—in English.”
John read directly from his facsimile: “ ‘All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivvers come, thither they return again.’ Ecclesiastes, chapter one, verse seven.”
“That’s the one. There’s no obvious reason why this particular quote would appear in this particular language on this particular map.”
“It’s hard to know where to begin.”
“What are you after, John? You wouldn’t be trying to solve a murder mystery; I know you better than that.”
John hesitated. What to tell his former professor? That he had a mystical connection with a dead cartographer? That he felt compelled to learn what happened to him, and the compulsion was already becoming a distraction?
“It’s just the historian in me demanding closure,” John said.
“Well, take it from a professional historian: the only thing more elusive than truth is truth in the past. If I were you, I would attack this mystery from the opposite angle.”
“From the angle of the ruby found in Cellarius’s fist. You know, the sister cities of Idar and Oberstein, both of which appear on the Palatinate map, are centers of a substantial gem and jewelry industry.”
“No…I didn’t know.”
“Have been. For centuries.”
“WATCH THIS,” DAVID FREEMAN Said. “It’s called the French Drop.” He held up a quarter, pressed between the thumb and fingers of his right hand, and began reaching for it with his left hand. “Just as the coin is about to be snatched by your left hand, allow it to drop into your right palm. Then keep your eyes on your left hand as it moves away, to reinforce the idea that it’s the one holding the coin. Let your right hand go slack, to suggest it’s empty.”
He was sitting in a beanbag chair that hemorrhaged beans every time he shifted his weight. On the floor next to him were the typical paraphernalia of an amateur magician: cards, coins, ropes, handkerchiefs. The news was on TV, but the anchor’s voice only served as background noise in the room.
Sarah Sainte-James occupied the only other chair in their South Philadelphia row house. She was staring into a hand mirror, brushing her hair. David secretly clocked her. She’d been at it for nearly twenty minutes already and had yet to begin the other side.