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The Theft & the Miracle

The Theft & the Miracle by Rebecca Wade
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On a cold, rainy day, ordinary Hannah Price stumbles into the cathedral and does something extraordinary—almost in a trance, she makes a perfect drawing of an antique carving of the Virgin and Child, capturing their every detail.

The next day the statue of the Child is taken from the Virgin's arms, and a few days later Hannah is interviewed by the police. Soon, strange things start happening to her. An odd man keeps appearing. The portrait she painted of her best friend, Sam, is vandalized. Is it all related to the theft? Hannah is determined to find the statue, even if it will take a miracle.

Rebecca Wade has crafted a thriller that will puzzle and provoke every reader until its stunning conclusion.

HarperCollins; June 2009
368 pages; ISBN 9780061958489
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Title: The Theft & the Miracle
Author: Rebecca Wade

Chapter One

Jacob Martin

It was in early November that the news began to reach the city. Not that anybody took much notice at first. Life was hard enough here, with the scurvy, leprosy, food shortage, and crippling taxes following the recent disastrous harvest. There was no point in bothering with some new trouble, especially one so far away as Dorset.

Then one mild, wet market day in the middle of the month, a peddler arrived from Gloucester with a sack of knives for sale. That evening he shared a flagon of wine and a salted herring pie with a little group of local tradesmen at the Black Bear on the corner of St. Peter's Street. They were glad to have a newcomer bringing tidings from another part of the country.

But the news the peddler brought filled them with dread. A terrible sickness had attacked the southwest ports, and was spreading across the map of England like a dark and evil stain. Now it had reached Gloucester and was less than thirty miles off! There, the man told them, the churchyards overflowed with new graves, and there were not enough men left to bury the dead, who were either flung into great pits or left to rot where they lay, continuing to spread the fatal corruption even after life had departed.

The peddler's story was soon widely known, and fear began its stealthy journey around the city walls. Strangers were no longer welcomed but treated with suspicion, or even turned away altogether. Neighbors became distrustful of one another. The city was no longer cheerful, bustling, noisy, but sullen, brooding, watchful.

At last, one day at the beginning of December, a woman burst into the cathedral during Mass and begged the monks to come and bring the Sacrament to her dying husband. The monk chosen to accompany her took one look at the sick man and fled.

That night the man died. The bishop ordered that his blackened and swollen corpse be buried secretly, by night, hoping that it was an isolated case and the people of the city might never know that they had harbored a victim of the Black Death. But within a week the monk who had fled began to shake with a high fever, and an ugly dark swelling appeared under his arm. Four days later he was laid to his final rest in the monks' cemetery. By the middle of that month eighteen more deaths had been reported, all bearing the horrifyingly unmistakable signs of the disease.

Now the terrible plague was among them; it was no longer a vague rumor from a distant town but a hard fact, with freshly turned earth in the churchyard to prove it. Doctors were powerless to cure or prevent the infection, and the clergy were mostly too afraid for their own lives to give comfort to the sick and dying.

One man was unaware of the fear and distrust spreading as rapidly as the disease itself, and this was because for four weeks he hadn't spoken to a single soul. Jacob Martin was old, sick, and gradually dying of starvation, but his eyes still burned as brightly as when he had been a young apprentice fifty years ago.

Late one afternoon toward the end of December, he sat alone in the attic room of a half-timbered house in a narrow, evil-smelling alley that ran alongside the north wall of the monastery stables. It was bitterly cold in the room. He had no money for fuel; he had had barely enough for the single candle that inadequately lit his workbench, and when that burned down he would have nothing but the darkness and the numbing cold as companions. The need to finish the statues obsessed him. While he worked he forgot that he was hungry, that he was tired; he forgot everything except the task before him.

At last he sat back, exhausted. Gouges, files, chisels, and rasps covered the scored and battered workbench; he didn't need them now, would never need them again. He thought sorrowfully that he had no son to give them to, no apprentice who would use them; there had been apprentices, of course, but none who had lasted long. Jacob Martin demanded a dedication and passion for his craft that he had never found in any of the young boys sent to him for instruction, and it was too late now.

The Virgin and Child were carved from a single piece of oak, but were unjoined. For infants cannot remain always attached to their parents, and one day this baby would leave his mother and grow to be a young man, and at last . . . For a few seconds it seemed to Jacob that the shadow of the Cross passed over his beloved figures, and the eyes of the mother were filled with a sadness that he had not put there. Then the illusion passed. The Virgin gazed into the eyes of her Child with an expression of tender astonishment, the baby returning his mother's loving smile with delighted infant laughter.

He closed his eyes, remembering that warm, bright day the year before last when he had ridden out from the city in the spring sunlight in search of firewood. But the little gray mare had seemed to have other ideas. When she led him to the ancient hillside with its crown of oak, he knew at once that this was no place to gather firewood. A dull wash of low cloud stained the sky above the grove of trees, and the sound of birdsong that had provided such cheerful accompaniment to his journey was now stilled entirely. Silence wrapped itself around him like a shroud, chilling his bones. This was a holy place. A terrible place, from which the sun itself had fled to escape the taint of old ritual that hung still in the air, like smoke from sacrificial fire.

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