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Storks of Caridad
cover design © 2005 Ardy M. Scott.



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The Storks of La Caridad
historical mystery


Dr. Florence Byham Weinberg




Chapter one



I am a priest. I am a Jesuit.

These words help me remember; help me believe. I've repeated them throughout my eight years of prison and pain, more so these past three sweltering days in this dusty coach. My wrists aren't infected yet, but surely my ankles are. With each jolt of these iron-shod wheels on the rough road, the manacles and leg irons cut deeper into my flesh, tormenting me.

We're three days north by northwest of Madrid. My next prison, the monastery of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad, Our Lady of Charity, is not far away.

I am a priest. I am a Jesuit.

A storm was almost upon us. In the gathering gloom, I stared out the dirty coach window and watched black clouds ink out the sunset, trying to forget my pain. Flashes of sheet lightning lit the countryside every so often, reflecting on the man opposite me, riding backwards — my jailer. My plight was not his concern. He'd given me a little water and some dry bread, and allowed me to relieve myself on this journey, but I was baggage to him, nothing more. The horses were better treated.

In the space of a few heartbeats, gloom became darkness. A sudden, blinding flash and ear-splitting thunderclap lifted me from my seat. The horses bolted, tipping the coach almost on its side, and I slammed against the coach door. There was no way to lessen the impact, such was my surprise, and an involuntary cry escaped me as new pain mixed with old. Until that moment, I'd managed to endure my plight in silence.

I heard the coachman's angry shouts and the crack of his whip. He regained control, the coach righted itself with a jarring thump and I struggled back into my seat. The throbbing of my wrists and ankles now provided a dull background of pain to sharp new stabs from my shoulder, but I was still alive. I offered up a silent prayer, thanking God we were still upright, and reflected on my helplessness, mine and my brother Jesuits.'

We'd been helpless from the moment we were expelled from Spain and its colonies, and from all of Western Europe as well. Recently I'd heard our Society was suppressed completely by order of the Pope. Our Holy Mother Church had reduced us to nothing.

My own ordeal was now beginning its ninth year. I was arrested in 1767, near my mission in the Sonora Desert. I survived the death march across Mexico and that suffocating voyage in coffin-size cells on the prison ship bound for Cadiz. Twenty-six Sonora missionaries survived along with me, but twenty-four did not. Perhaps those martyred dead on the road to Vera Cruz were luckier than I.

Eight years of beatings and interrogations followed.

It was the gold, of course. No one, not even King Carlos III, believed we didn't know where it was hidden. There were gold and silver mines in Sonora, and we missionaries must each have had our secret hoards. After all, we were — once were — Jesuits! I shook my head with a bitter smile.

Another flash of lightning, almost as close. I caught sight of my reflection in the window glass, and a face still recognizably north European stared back at me. Yes, the eyes were still familiar, intense blue with pure whites. My hair was still blond, but now mixed with gray, cut short and combed straight back from my high forehead as always, plastered in place now by dust and grease. Otherwise, I hardly knew myself.

Repeated bouts of malaria had emaciated my frame. My left cheek was disfigured by a whip scar; a split right eyebrow testified to another whiplash, and a ruptured vein under the left eye to someone's fist. By some miracle, my hawk nose was still intact, as were my teeth. I'd been beaten, yes, but not yet broken. Not as long as I could remember who and what I was.

I am a priest. I am a Jesuit.

The lightning this time played back and forth across the sky, bringing with it a brief squall of rattling hailstones. Bracing myself against any further jolts, I pressed my face to the window. The stark white light revealed a walled complex of buildings ahead, atop a low rise. It had to be the monastery at last. Caridad! There lay my dark future, and an involuntary shiver shook me. That brief glimpse showed me a huge church dominated by a round tower over the transept, a separate bell tower rearing itself above the façade, several buildings and perhaps some ruins as well.

As I risked more pain to rub my shoulder again, my hands brushed against the edges of a letter, sealed with wax and tucked into the inner breast pocket of my robe. It was a message from Abbot Dom Gerónimo, back in Madrid, to his peer in Caridad, to be presented sealed and unread upon my arrival. He'd been abbot there once, and described the place to me. If his letter denounced my so-called crime, committed in Madrid, my imprisonment at Caridad would be real martyrdom. Yet, his friendship had saved me worse persecution up to now. Could it be my load of chains was simply official reaction to my 'misdeed?'

The brief hail turned into pounding rain. The coachman cursed loudly and lashed the horses into a trot, only to slow them to a walk once they topped the rise. We turned right and halted before a massive gate in the monastery wall, surmounted by a fan-shaped iron grille under an ornate stone arch. The coachman jumped down and ran to the entrance, where he rang a bell and pressed close against the heavy double doors to shelter from the steady rain.

We waited for what seemed like many minutes. At last the bolt rattled and the doors creaked open. A hooded monk motioned him inside. The coachman took the nearest horse by the bit and led the whole equipage into a courtyard the size of a parade ground, past stone posts with heavy, ornate chains suspended between them, up to an open doorway. I could see light streaming out, glimmering on the streaks of falling rain, but no movement inside, just a stone wall with an arch and darkness beyond.

The church was straight ahead. A pair of wide stone steps led to brass-studded doors twice a man's height. Above them, barely visible in the darkness and the rain, loomed the bell tower. I squinted and made out the silhouettes of three bulky storks' nests, clinging to the side ledges and top of the tower.

My jailer stepped out first, then opened the door on my side and offered his hands to help me down. It was his first courtesy, a gesture I supposed was meant for show. My stiff legs threatened to buckle when I stood, and the pain in my wrists and ankles forced me to draw a sharp breath. I stared down. The coach's steps were twenty inches apart, but the chain between my leg irons only a foot long. Each time I'd left the coach during the journey, I'd hopped down, but this time I could not. Both his hands were extended, meaning I'd have to let go of the doorframe.

I managed the first step, but on attempting the second, the chain caught and I fell, helpless, my knees grazing the muddy ground before the bailiff caught me, thank God! My knees were saved, but my ankles were cut still deeper, bleeding into my shoes as I shambled along.

I followed him through the pelting rain until we were inside the antechamber, where light from oil lamps flooded us with a warm, yellow glow. There, a stoop-shouldered monk met us, hands thrust together into the black sleeves of his robe. His face and even his tonsured head had high color compared to my own. The reflection I'd seen in the coach window during that lightning flash showed me as pasty white.

He'd seen my fall, I judged from the sympathetic twist of his mouth. After a moment's hesitation he extended a hand. "Welcome to Caridad. I'm Brother Eugenio, the scribe here. You must surely be?…"

I squared my shoulders and took a deep breath, gritting my teeth once more against the waves of pain. My voice came out hoarse; my words were halting. I could not control my own hand's trembling as I met his.

"I am… Ygnacio Pfefferkorn, Society… of Jesus."



Storks of Caridad Copyright © 2004. Dr. Florence Byham Weinberg. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.




Author Bio

Born in the high desert country of New Mexico, Florence loved exploring the wilderness on foot and horseback. Those grandiose landscapes formed her sensibility. Hidden pockets of unexpected greenery tucked away near springs in folds of barren mountainsides spoke to her of gentleness and beauty in an otherwise harsh world.  She published her first poem in a children's magazine shortly after she learned to read at age four; wrote her first 'novel' at age six, entitled Ywain, King of All Cats. She illustrated the 'book' herself.

Before settling in San Antonio, Texas, she traveled extensively as an army brat during World War II. With her husband the brilliant scholar and teacher, Kurt Weinberg, she worked and traveled in Canada, Germany, France, and Spain. After earning her PhD, she taught for twenty-two years at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, and for ten at Trinity University in San Antonio. She published four scholarly books, many articles and book reviews, doing research in the U.S. and abroad.

When, after retiring in 1999, she was freed from academe to devote herself to writing fiction, she produced eight novels, ranging from fantasy to historical romance and mystery. Three are in print as well as one in press: a historical romance about the French Renaissance, published in France in French translation, and two historical mysteries, starring the eighteenth-century Jesuit missionary Fr. Ignaz (Ygnacio) Pfefferkorn, two set in the Sonora Desert and one in an ancient monastery in Spain.

Her favorite animals are horses—an intense love affair over many years—and cats, her constant companions. She enjoys music, traveling, hiking, biking, gardening, riding and swimming.

TTB title: The Storks of La Caridad




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Four stars!

"..."La Caridad" works on two levels. First, it is a rollicking mystery full of plot twists based on real events, interesting characters modeled after historical figures and more than its share of red herrings, mostly invented by Weinberg. Second, it's a scholarly re-creation of 18th century Spain, from the dress to the architecture to the food, thoroughly researched and seamlessly written. And let's just say that Weinberg knows her Inquisition and her colonial Catholicism."

Reviewed by Steve Bennett, Book Editor for the San Antonio Express-News.

Four stars!

Ignaz Pfefferkorn, a Jesuit missionary from the Sonora Desert region in what is now Mexico and Arizona where he served for eleven years, was swept up in the Expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767 and is being held because the Spanish Crown believes Ignaz (Ygnacio) knows where "the gold of Sonora" is hidden.

But Ignaz doesn't know of any gold and he is at once relieved and mystified when he is sent to the monastery of Our Lady of La Caridad. Although still a prisoner, he is treated like any one of the monks, he has his own cell, but the door doesn't lock and he is given plenty to eat. There are no beatings and no interrogations.

When one of the monks is murdered, thrown from the belltower, suspicion falls on Ignaz as the newcomer. But Brother Gelasio was one of the few friends Ignaz had made, why would he murder him? And who would want to murder the soft spoken monk? And why is Father Leopoldo's sister so keen to seduce Ignaz? Does she really like him as she says, or has her brother put her up to it? And why?

It is obvious to Ingnaz and the abbot that the murderer had to be one of the monks, but which one and why? Ignaz must find out who it is before the murderer strikes again...

A well crafted mystery, unusually written in the first person, but in this instance it works well. The reader becomes Ignaz, feels his worries, his concerns over his imprisonment and suffers with him through his recurring bouts of malaria.

The tension builds up gradually, hints are dropped early on as to why the murders might occur, but twists and turns are revealed as the story progresses. With vivid descriptions of the monastic life and Ignaz's work in the gardens, which don't slow the action down, rather they show the contrast of the life that is easily shattered by a murderer in their midst.

Because the story is written from Ignaz's point of view, the reader only knows what secrets are revealed when Ignaz discovers them, which is excellent. I love mysteries where you have to figure out what is going on at the same time as the protagonist. Leaves you guessing until the end.

With a wealth of historical detail and a plot that just gets twistier with each page, the book is a welcome addition to the library of any mystery fan.

Reviewed by Annette Gisby, author of Drowning Rapunzel and Shadows of the Rose for Twisted Tales.

The Storks of La Caridad soars with a suspenseful plot set in a fascinating sliver of history!

Father Ygnacio Pfefferkorn is a Jesuit and a prisoner. While serving as a missionary in the Sonora Desert region in northern Mexico, he was caught in the Expulsion of all Jesuits in 1767. The author accurately explains this unusual and political move, which in turn serves as the backdrop of the book.

Although the Society of the Jesuits was suppressed by a decree from the Pope, there were a lot of individual thoughts about this Order. While for the most part, fellow clergy were suspicious of the Jesuits; there was also a great deal of interest concerning the possibility of them keeping secret the location of gold and silver mines in the Sonora Desert. There was so much interest in fact, that the Crown imprisoned them to reveal that secret.

Father Ygnacio endured eight years of prison and abuse, and was brought to the Caridad Monastery in Spain to continue his incarceration. While there, he becomes involved in a political battle, which leads to two murders. In an ironic twist, the abbot enlists his help in solving these murders. Readers will wonder if Ygnacio, the prisoner, can free the monastery of the bonds of deceit that threaten its very existence.

Brilliantly written and thoroughly researched, this book explores the complexities and contradictions of the Church during this time period. While the religious orders seemed to operate in their own world, worldly influences penetrate and propel them to actions that seem at odds with their mission of living a holy and separate life. The political struggles in the monastery ring with realism, as do the actions of the characters. The age-old struggle between good and evil is evident, but the division between the two is muddied by ulterior motives.

Solving the murders requires careful and thoughtful reading. The motive for the murders is intriguingly hidden among misguided loyalties and faulty thinking. In fact, this book is a stunning portrayal of contrasts. From having murders in a monastery, to a prisoner setting them free with the truth, readers will appreciate the disparity, as well as the clear and logical flow of the story.

The Storks of La Caridad lets readers see above the pages of history to the persons who lived it.

Reviewed by Joyce Handzo for In the Library Reviews.





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