Art by Laurie Harden
by Josh Pachter & René Appel
It’s quiet beneath the trees, quiet as the grave. Ans Moen sits at her bedroom window and looks out at the deserted courtyard. Not a soul in sight. The tourists who infest this odd little patch of Amsterdam during the daylight hours are long gone. Many of the courtyard’s residents resent the tourists. “They stare at us like we’re animals in the zoo,” they say. But there’s not much to be done about it: The Begijnhof is listed in just about all of the guidebooks to the city’s attractions. It has become a hotspot—although the residents would never use that word. They are too old to be familiar with such contemporary expressions.
Built in the fourteenth century, the Begijnhof was originally a nunnery, and its residents were known as the begijnen. Today it is a community of elderly women—widows and spinsters—administered by a board of trustees. Many of Amsterdam’s residents would love to live here, but there are a limited number of houses and the selection process is complicated, designed more to keep women out than let them in. Those women who are selected as residents are considered extraordinarily fortunate.
Unlike the majority of her neighbors, Ans Moen loves them, the curious tourists. To her, the Begijnhof is exactly like a zoo, but not in the way her fellow residents see it: To her, the tourists are the apes, and she can’t get enough of their antics. At this time of night, though, the zoo is closed: The entrance to the courtyard is locked at five p.m. But she sits in her second-floor window all the same, just in case anything else of interest should happen below. She watches her neighbors’ comings and goings with an eagle eye: who’s visiting whom, how long do they stay, what are they wearing, what goodies do they carry in or away?
“You’re such a busybody,” Rietje de Klerk from across the stone walkway once accused her. That was back when they were still on speaking terms. Rietje had been her best friend, but since her brother Peter passed on some eighteen months ago, Rietje has closed herself off from the world. She doesn’t leave her house, has groceries delivered once a week. Sometimes Ans can make out her shadow in the darkened foyer when she cracks open the front door to accept a delivery. The death of her only remaining relative has robbed her of her spirit, and she no longer maintains contact with any of the Begijnhof’s mostly elderly residents. Such a shame to lose a friend, but it is what it is and there’s nothing to be done about it.
Earlier this evening, Ans watched a favorite television program, an episode of a British detective series. The English countryside is so beautiful, so peaceful, so friendly. It would be lovely to live there, she thinks. And yet there seem to be an unusual number of murders in the vicinity—though the criminals are always discovered, thanks to the clever detective work of two intelligent, personable policemen. Halfway through each broadcast, she writes her guess as to the killer’s identity on a piece of paper. Tonight she got it wrong. How could she possibly have suspected the vicar—such a charming, understanding man!—of a double murder? A year and a half ago, before Rietje withdrew from the Begijnhof’s society, they would often watch these crime series together. READ MORE
Art by Jason C. Eckhardt
by Amy Myers
The bees are murmuring, Parson,” Jacob Bush warned me soberly.
My misgivings were reinforced. Bees and their moods are much respected in Cuckoo Leas, as they are everywhere. We know little of what governs their lives, but they are creatures of peace and react fiercely when they sense all is not well with the household of which they consider themselves a part. Diplock Manor bade fair to be an unhappy place on the morrow.
I saw Miss Evelina’s face fall, but then she smiled. “Let us give them the good news, Parson. You shall tell them of my forthcoming wedding.”
I chuckled. “You must talk to them yourself, Miss Evelina, for I do not dwell here.”
“But they know you as a friend, dear Parson Pennywick.”
That was true. I knew her father Squire Holby’s bees as well as my own, for they came originally from the parsonage and my man Barnabas and I had trained Jacob as the beemaster here when he married Clara, the squire’s housekeeper, last summer. A soldier from Bristol town back from the American war, he had been an eager pupil and kept his bees well. If he said there was trouble afoot, he was right.
I tried to warn Miss Evelina of the risks, as the bees might be about to swarm, late in the summer though it was. She would have none of it, however, and ran into the manor to fetch not only her own but her father’s bee hat for me, one of his old tricornes to which Clara had attached stout veils. Miss Evelina had brought white ribbons too, which we could attach to the hives after their bees had heard the news, and thus equipped we set forth to the bee yard, followed by a reluctant Jacob.
We could hear the distressed—or angry—bees as we approached, and I feared that not even Miss Evelina’s joyous news would calm them. I managed to affix a ribbon to each hive and then began whispering my speech to them all: “Great happiness has come to this house,” I told them. “Miss Evelina is shortly to be wed to Mr. Dacres, and tomorrow the great painter Mr. Thomas Gainsborough arrives at Diplock Manor to paint her portrait at the request of her betrothed. She wishes you, Wise Ones, to share her happiness.”
My words went to the bees, but my prayers were directed to a higher authority, for wise though the bees are, there is one above who is wiser by far. The Lord will bless this marriage, but I feared the bees were also right. Tomorrow would bring trouble in the form of Mr. Gainsborough. READ MORE