The tears were unwelcome, even though it was a memorial service. She’d already cried during the funeral held at the cathedral Beth wiped her wet cheeks angrily.
Why did The Reverend Mother Analise Golightly die at the early age of forty, leaving her parish stricken with grief? Was God angry with the congregation for some reason? Only three years before, The Reverend Father Samuel MacAlister had also died, apparently of the same illness which had struck down Mother Analise.
Beth tried to listen to Bishop Carter as he praised Mother Analise. How she had lead the people out of their sorrow at Father Samuel’s death and on to strengthen and enlarge the church in her two-year tenure.
It just wasn’t fair. After the service was over, Beth went back to her office next to the rector’s and sat at her desk. She didn’t even toy with a pen, but sat motionless, head bowed, not praying. Maybe she should find another job. She loved being the church secretary, even before Father Samuel came along, and Father Langley (no first name basis with him) had commanded the church with his back stiff and his belief in his being right never shaken, not once.
A soft knock on the doorframe made her look up. Bishop Carter stood there, the robes gone, his gray suit impeccable. He was of medium height, thin and austere-looking, but Beth knew that Bishop Carter could unbend and make a person forget he was a bishop. His thinning hair was gray at the temples; his blue eyes sharp behind steel-rimmed glasses.
“Are you all right?” he asked. He sat down in the only other chair in the office and crossed his legs. Indicating, Beth knew, that he would stay as long as she needed to talk. Her frozen heart warmed a little.
“I’m not sure,” she answered truthfully.
Bishop Carter nodded. “Let’s talk. I know you’re having the same doubts and questions I do. Two priests dead, same church, apparently of the same, as yet unknown, cause. Respiratory failure, but not pneumonia or cancer or anything else the doctors are familiar with.”
Beth looked at him wide-eyed. Both surprised that he knew her thoughts and that he was discussing this with her.
“Why . . .” she began, then hesitated.
“Why am I confiding in you? Because I trust your judgment and your sensibility, Beth. I want you to think back over the last few days before Analise died and tell me about anything different, out of the ordinary, that she did or said. There has to be some common denominator here. I’m thinking something environmental, and I certainly don’t want a repeat of this.”
Beth shook her head, trying to remember. It was all a jumble. “I’ll get her calendar. Maybe that will help.” She jumped up and went into the rector’s office, her heart giving a lurch when she saw Analise’s distinctive handwriting on the calendar.
“Let’s see.” She sat down again and flipped back a few days. “A week before she . . . died, she was at that conference in Long Beach for two days. She seemed fine when she got back. Wednesday she spent catching up on things and only had an appointment with John, the organist, to renew his contract. The next day she went to the Men’s Breakfast, met with the Woman’s Auxiliary, and she counseled Reba McInnis who is going through a tough divorce. Friday she saw Dr. Robinson.” Beth couldn’t help frowning.
The Bishop said, “You don’t care for Dr. Robinson?” He smiled.
Beth shrugged. “He’s all right, I guess. A bit overbearing at times.”
“Not to me,” the Bishop said.
Was he kidding? She wasn’t sure, but gave him a tentative smile.
“That’s better.” He smiled back. “Since Dr. Robinson inherited so much money and gives so much to the church, he feels that he can control things.”
Beth lowered her eyes to the calendar. As usual, Bishop Carter was correct.
“Did she see anyone else after Dr. Robinson?”
“Just Jane Bowman.”
“Do you know why?”
“I think she had more questions about her ancestor.”
“The one who founded the church then went to Africa as a missionary,” mused the Bishop. “What do you think of her, Beth?”
“Eccentric.” Beth bit off saying anything else the least bit negative. “Every once in awhile she seems to get interested in her ancestor again, and she’ll show up and want to look at the old papers and books in the library.”