I also could not avoid noticing that he was a handsome man, not merely because of his regular features and near shining face, but because of this humility and the muted power that it conveyed. A humble man can conquer anyone, and this man seemed to hold nothing back out of the usual masculine pride that suppresses emotions and expression.
"Tell me everything, Br. Toby," he said. "What is happening to my beloved Fluria?"
A film of tears appeared in his eyes. "But before you start, let me tell you something straight-out. I love God and I love Fluria. That is how I characterize myself in my heart, and God understands."
"I understand too," I said. "I know of your long correspondence."
"She has been my guiding lamp many a time," he answered. "And though I gave up all the world to come into the Dominicans, I did not give up my exchange with Fluria, because it has never meant anything to me but the highest good."
He brooded for a moment, and then added, "The piety and goodness of a woman like Fluria are things one doesn't find so often among Gentile women, but then I know little of them now. It seems a certain gravity is common to Jewish women like Fluria, and she has never written to me a single word that I couldn't share with others, or should not have shared with others for their benefit--until this note came to me two days ago."
This had a strange effect on me because I think I was half in love with Fluria for the same reasons, and I realized for the first time how very serious Fluria had been, and the name for this is "gravitas."
Once again, Fluria in memory reminded me of someone, someone I had known, but I couldn't think who this person was. Some sadness and fear were connected with this. But I had no time to think on it now. It seemed a perfect sin to think about my "other life."
I looked around the little chamber. I looked at the many books on the shelves and the parchment pages scattered on the desk. I looked at the face of Godwin who was waiting on me intently, and then I told him all.
I talked for perhaps half an hour explaining everything that had happened, and how the Dominicans of Norwich were in the grip of a delusion about Lea, and how Meir and Fluria could not share with anyone except their fellow Jews the awful truth of the matter that they had lost their beloved child.
"Imagine the grief of Fluria," I said, "when there is no time for grief because fabrications have to be made." I stressed this. "And it is a time for fabrications, just as it was for Jacob when he deceived his father, Isaac, and later when he deceived Laban to increase his own flock. It's a time for dissimulation because the lives of these people are at stake."
He smiled and nodded to this reasoning. He gave no objection to it.
He rose and began to pace back and forth in a tight little circle because that was all that the room allowed.
Finally, he sat down at the desk, and oblivious to my presence began a letter at once.
I sat for quite some time merely watching him as he wrote, blotted, and wrote some more. Finally he signed the letter, blotted for the last time, then folded the parchment and sealed it with wax, and looked up at me.
"This will go now to my fellow Dominicans at Norwich, to Fr. Antoine, whom I know personally, and it is full of my strong advice that they are on the wrong path. I vouch for Fluria and Meir, and give here a frank admission that Eli, Fluria's father, was once my teacher at Oxford. I think it will make a difference but not enough of a difference. I cannot write to Lady Margaret of Norwich and if I did, she would no doubt commit the letter to the flames."
"There's a danger in this letter," I said. "How so?"
"You admit a knowledge of Fluria to which other Dominicans may be privy. When you visited Fluria in Oxford, when you went away with your own daughter, didn't your friars in Oxford know of these things?"
"O Lord help me," he sighed. "My brother and I did everything to keep it a secret. Only my confessor knows that I have a daughter. But you're right. The Dominicans of Oxford were most familiar with Eli, the Magister of the synagogue, and their sometime teacher. And they know that Fluria had two daughters."
"Exactly," I said. "If you write a letter, drawing the attention of the world to your connection, then an imposture which might save Fluria and Meir cannot be attempted at all."
He threw the letter on the brazier and watched it go up in flames.
"I don't know how to solve this," he said. "I've never faced anything more bleak and ugly in my life. Dare we attempt an imposture when Dominicans from Oxford might well tell those in Norwich that Rosa is impersonating her sister? I can't bring my daughter into this danger. No, she cannot make the journey."
"Too many people know too much. But something has to happen to stop this scandal. Do you dare to go, and to defend the couple before the Bishop and the Sherriff?"
I explained to him that the Sherriff already suspected the truth that Lea was dead.
"What are we to do?"
"Attempt the imposture, but do it with more cunning and more lies," I said. "That is the only way I see to do it."
"Explain," he said.
"If Rosa is willing to impersonate her sister, we take her to Norwich now. She will insist that she is Lea and that she has been with her twin sister, Rosa, in Paris, and she can show great indignation that anyone has so maligned her loving parents. And she can express an eagerness to return to her twin sister at once. By admitting the existence of the twin, converted to the church, you provide a reason for her sudden trip to Paris in the middle of winter. It was to be with her sister, from whom she'd been separated only a short time. As for your being the father, why should any mention be made?"
"You know what the gossips say," he offered suddenly. "That Rosa is in fact the love child of my brother Nigel. Because Nigel was with me every step of the journey. As I told you, only my confessor knows the truth."
"All the better. Write to your brother at once, if you dare, and tell him what has happened, and that he must proceed to Norwich at once. This man loves you, Fluria told me so."
"Oh, indeed, and he always has, no matter what my father sought to make him think or do."
"Well, then, let him go, and vow that the twins are together in Paris, and we will journey there as quickly as we can with Rosa, who will then claim to be Lea, indignant and bereft over the state of her parents, and she will be eager to return to Paris with her uncle Godwin at once."
"Ah, I see the wisdom in this," he said. "It will mean disgrace for Fluria."