Sunday, March 29, 2015

107. Agape Hymn

That's not the two-syllable English word "agape," meaning a facial expression with circular eyes and mouth. It's a transliteration of this Greek word. It means love; but Greek has several words for love, each describing a very different thing. Rather than explaining what this word for love signifies, I will let the hymn speak for itself. It is based on 1 Corinthians 13, a chapter often misapplied in the context of a marriage ceremony; it also traditionally serves as the Epistle for Quinquagesima, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. I'm thinking of setting it to Martin Luther's underplayed 1523 tune EIN NEUES LIED.
O lovely Jesus, Gift of love,
Beloved of the Lord above,
Who bore all things for love of men;
Kept faith till death and rose again;
Believed through all for all men's sake;
Endured in hope the prize to take;
So patient, humble, kind and meek,
Gave all for all, our good to seek:
Dwell in us! Form in us such love!

O gift of love, God's love to know
And likewise practice here below!
All other gifts will pass away
When dawns our resurrection day.
Faith, knowledge, prophecy and tongues
Without it are but noisy gongs;
Great works of alms and piety,
Apart from love, no profit see.
Lord, cause Your gift in us to grow!

O Lord of love, our way correct
Till we in truth Your love reflect!
Let childish fancies fall away
Before Your wisdom's piercing ray.
Bring faith and hope and love to light
Till faith and hope give way to sight;
Then draw us into You above
As You now dwell in us, that love
Our blest communion shall perfect!

106. Quasimodogeniti Hymn

Quasimodogeniti, which gave its name to the hunchbacked hero of Dumas' Notre-Dame de Paris, is the mass for the First Sunday after Easter, also known as the Second Sunday of Easter, depending on which liturgical calendar you follow. The name comes from the antiphon of the Latin introit of the day, which begins with a portion of 1 Peter 2:2, "As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word." The antiphon continues with Psalm 81:8, and the introit may continue with other verses from Psalm 81. The Epistle for Quasimodogeniti is 1 John 5:4-10 and the Gospel is John 20:19-31. I believe the tune JUDICA, which I wrote for my "Judica Hymn," will do for this one as well.
Would that all Christians felt their need,
Like babes, on God's pure milk to feed;
For whom He fed with finest wheat
He would delight with honey sweet.
Yet some, to sate a richer taste,
Leave wholesome nourishment to waste.
O that the children of the Lord
Would thirst and hunger for His word!

Christ welcomed babes, was kind to youth,
And willed to bless them with His truth.
Bring them, forbid them not, said He;
All who would live must like them be.
The very pap on which they feed
Must also nourish all our need.
You souls that crave immortal food,
O taste and see that God is good!

O children, hear your Father's will:
"Open your mouth that I may fill!"
Believe the Spirit's cleansing flood,
By water witnessed and by blood;
Perceive in blest and broken bread
The Savior risen from the dead;
God's pow'r to strive with sin receive,
And be not doubting, but believe!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Notes of Interest 8

My March newspaper editorials are now all out in print. Here's what's been on my mind and at the tip of my pen this past month:

March 4: Snowpocalypse

Nick Dothage, maintenance supervisor for the city of Stover, tells me approximately four and a half inches of snow landed on the town Saturday, Feb. 28.

While I spent the day snuggled cozily in my parents’ home in Laurie, I wondered how Sunday, March 1 was going to turn out.

My father came in from an errand to Versailles and congratulated me on my wisdom in canceling a planned trip to St. Louis on Saturday. Even early in the day the roads were a mess, and the snow didn’t stop coming down before bedtime.

It was comforting to reflect that, whatever might happen, there was a stack of wood on the front stoop and a larder full of food that wouldn’t run out or go bad in too much of a hurry.

I mean, we were facing a few inches of snow, not a zombie apocalypse.

A recent Cornell University study analyzed where it would be safest to live in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Big cities and islands were low on the list. Higher up, though not as safe as remote Rocky Mountain hideaways, were small towns.

Maybe the lower population would ensure the zombie plague reaches the crisis point more slowly here. The walking dead would have farther to shamble, fewer brains to eat and a smaller pool of victims to infect with their undead drool.

Another factor in favor of Stover’s survival might be the hardiness of its people.

While many churches around the area canceled their Sunday services, including the Lutheran church in Versailles and the one I’ve been attending in Laurie, some of Stover’s churches held services as usual Sunday, March 1 while Dothage and his crew were still plowing the streets.

The Stover Community Betterment Council’s senior dinner, scheduled at midday Sunday at the Stover Community Center, went ahead as planned. The food was already prepared. They couldn’t cancel it. And even while road conditions in some outlying areas were still iffy, approximately 90 people came out. I can verify the food was good thanks to Jim Brown, who bought a plate for both me and my father, the Leader-Statesman editor.

Yes, Robin and I were car-pooling. The roads were still sketchy enough that we sought safety in numbers. So we went to Versailles and Stover together and shot pictures of the snow removal workers, little kids playing in the snow, and older kids seeking temporary jobs shoveling driveways and sidewalks.

It was encouraging to see that a little thing like a snow apocalypse couldn’t bring the community to its knees. People were coping with it, cleaning it up, and having fun with it.

It wasn’t exactly business as usual. But we can deal with that. We’ve seen worse. We’re prepared for it. We’re survivors.

March 11: Who's Who

The last couple of weeks have been a period of high-octane activity at The Morgan County Press, with the Who’s Who and What They Do special section coming together, offering an inside look at area businesses.

I have personally had the opportunity to write up, or at least type up, every single story featuring a business that advertised in the Who’s Who.

I can honestly say it was fun getting to know more about them all. I saw the faces behind business that until now have only been signs and logos seen in passing, and I learned the names that go with those faces.

I even got to take a trip out to Cole Camp one day on Who’s Who business. It was before the big snowfall, when the scenic route through the dirt roads north of Highway 52 and west of 135 North presented beautiful outlooks on hills and valleys, woods and fields.

Part of the reason I took that route was that I was looking for a business that I never found. I wasn’t very upset about that. I would recommend that drive to anyone who doesn’t mind the roar of gravel under their tires.

I am thankful the work of pulling together photos and details for each business’s story was more or less done before it came to me. I would probably still be editing last week’s newspaper otherwise.

Our ad salesperson Linda Koester was a trooper, snapping photos, gathering story material and taking proofs back to the business owners for approval.

Everyone else in the newspaper office contributed to the team effort, from Libby Bland who composed the ads to Lisa Simpson and Patsy Kays who proofread the stories, Barb Schnirch who handled the business end and Troy Sinclair who moved computer files where they were needed with a well-timed tweak of the office’s intricate data web.

I would be permanently out to lunch if it weren’t for every one of you. Thanks.

Now I would like to present my totally unofficial, personal, first and maybe last non-annual awards for the most eye-catching and interesting images and stories in the Who’s Who.

Sexiest Truck Award: Baughman Feed Service. I wish you could see this baby in color. When the photo of their truck hit my eyes, a little thrill shot through the part of my brain that causes men to salivate at the sight of a Peterbilt.

Do My Eyes Deceive Me Award: Buller Concrete. I couldn’t believe it when I read the caption saying that realistically wood-grained deck was actually stamped concrete. But I typed it, so it must be true.

Saliva Trigger Award: A tie between Joy’s Rise n’ Shine Donuts and the G-2-M deli.

Most People Captioned in One Photo Award: The staff at the Golden Age Living Center. I wanted to mix up the caption and let readers match the faces to the names, like a puzzle. But my co-workers said no. Hmph.

Oldest and Youngest Businesses: Fajen Lumber at 111 years, and the Ambush, which hasn’t opened yet. The stories in the Who’s Who run the whole gamut from long records of service to exciting new ventures. Tradition and innovation: we’ve got the best of both here.

The best reward for all these businesses would be to support them by shopping at local businesses. Stand by them and they will stand by you.

March 18: No Story Too Small

This last week has been one of those weeks when everything seems to happen at once. None of it was earth-shaking. But it added up to a lot of news.

Some of the stories that happened are too small to rate a whole story in a paper as story-filled as this issue. But I don’t want them to go unrecognized.

Things like free meals being served to seniors and hungry families, funds being raised for scholarships and other good deeds, and social events where friends and neighbors came together just for the joy of it, should not be pushed aside just because they aren’t as headline-worthy as the doings and decisions of boards, councils and public officials.

Why? Because these routines are part of what makes the community worth living in. It’s really what all that official business is meant to support.

Vicki Stark tells me 24 adults and 14 take-away orders were served Monday, March 9 at First Baptist Church’s Solid Rock Cafe. This is a monthly free meal funded in part by a grant from the Walmart Corporation. The next Solid Rock Cafe will be at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 13.

Myrna Schroder reported 44 people partook of the free senior dinner Tuesday, March 10 at Stover United Methodist Church. This is a monthly free meal for Morgan County residents age 60 or over, and it is supported by a local tax levy. The next senior tax dinner will be at noon Tuesday, April 14.

The Ministerial Alliance Food Pantry and its accompanying free dinner were held a week early this month on Thursday, March 12 at Stover United Methodist Church. Ruth Hillers, one of the organizers of the pantry, said the turnout was light, approximately 35 to 40 people, probably due to the schedule change. Next month’s Stover food pantry will be at noon the usual third Thursday of the month, April 16.

I enjoyed sausage patties, orange juice, coffee cake and two servings of pancakes, one with blueberries and one without, at the Lions Club breakfast Saturday, March 14 at the Lions Den in Stover. Joe Dyke tried to let me eat for free but I insisted on paying the very reasonable $6 price for a meal that supported a scholarship for an MCR-I graduate entering vo-tech or community college to study a practical career like nursing, auto mechanics or drafting.

Dyke said they had served 35 to 40 people eating in and 20 to 25 to-go orders. He also said additional funds would be donated to various Lions projects such as hearing and vision programs.

Approximately 160 people attended the Community Teachers Association hog roast Sunday, March 15 at the MCR-I school cafeteria. I myself enjoyed an excellent plate of food and conversation with Superintendent Steve Weinhold and his wife Tammy. There was enough pulled pork left over that Cindy Marriott talked me into buying a pound of it to take home. Guess what I’m having for lunch!

The CTA hog roast was all about raising funds for the James T. Bellis memorial scholarship. Since 2001 the scholarship has been awarded annually to a student majoring in education. Past recipients, listed on the placemats printed for the dinner, include two MCR-I teachers, social workers, a coach, college faculty members and a forensic interviewer at Child Safe. That’s called making a difference.

Hanging around the Stover social scene is about much more than getting a free lunch, or even just a cheap one. The proof of a community’s quality isn’t in the pudding. It’s in how the people live and what they live for.

Judging by these stories that were too small to make the headlines, the Stover culture is all about doing something good.

March 25: Trouble in a Friendly Place

It’s been an interesting week to cover the news in Morgan County, Mo.

A weekly newspaper editor who wants to stay in business ought to be able to say that any week of the year. But it’s hard to beat the sight many residents between Ivy Bend and Stover witnessed this week: black cars with federal government tags joining county law enforcement to investigate a threat against the President of the United States.

In case you missed the news on the radio, the TV or the front page of this issue, a 24-year-old man from our community was arrested by the U.S. Secret Service and charged in a federal court with making serious threats of death or bodily harm to Barack Obama, Esquire.

Folks down toward the Bend don’t need to be told, but it’s good to hear anyway: under the laws of this country, a criminal charge is only an accusation and the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

I’ve been listening to the murmuring from the neighborhood Cameron Stout lived in and if I’ve been hearing right, it suggests he would be certain of a fair trial if it were held today with a jury of his neighbors.

By all local accounts Stout is liked by most who know him, and he has many family and friends in the Ivy Bend area. Though he is relatively new to the area - I am told he moved from Kansas a short time ago - his conviction wouldn’t be a slam dunk in the court of Ivy Bend.

But let’s be clear to those reading this story from farther away. This doesn’t mean everybody in Ivy Bend is an Aryan Nation kook or a right-wing fanatic who wants to storm Washington, D.C. or a racist who hates Obama because of his skin color.

It’s entirely possible that the real message this sends is exactly what the sign at the entrance to Ivy Bend Road claims: that it’s the friendliest place in the Ozarks.

It’s friendly not only in the sense of welcoming new people from a variety of backgrounds. It’s also friendly in the sense of understanding what true friendship is all about.

I halfway stole that last sentence from something Vicki McLain told me when she explained why she retired to Ivy Bend after a teaching career in Iberia and Waynesville.

“The people are very friendly and willing to help,” she said of her Ivy Bend neighbors. “I don’t think there’s anything that could come up and somebody wouldn’t step in and say, ‘I can help you with this.’ They know the meaning of being neighborly.”

This is borne out by the ceaseless drum-beat of activities and services to better the lives of families and youth in the Bend - programs like the Ivy Bend Youth Association and the Ivy Bend Community Food Bank.

These organizations provide food and social exercises, educational services, and perhaps most importantly, evidence that the people care about each other.

Sure, we all know of some rough-living folks in Ivy Bend. It isn’t all lake homes of weekenders and well-heeled retirees. But it isn’t a breeding ground for far-right militiamen and drug-dealing hillbillies either.

The Bend has had its share of sad stories. More than its share, perhaps. A trial is pending for a double murder that happened there in 2012. A local murder-for-hire conspiracy was exposed just last month. The ever changing population has seen a number of arrests on drug charges and child endangerment.

But unlike a barrel of apples, a whole community isn’t spoiled by some people’s bad actions. Let the individual be judged for his actions, and punished if he deserves it. And let the community be judged by the quality it shows as a community.

Based on what I have seen of the evidence, a strong but not airtight case can be made that Stout made some serious mistakes. His recorded words and his apparent actions seem unwise, reckless, and very dangerous. I do not condone them.

I think there may also be room in the evidence for Stout’s legal team to sell a vigorous defense, such as entrapment. There are two sides to every story, even when you’re taped offering to shoot the President.

But I never heard a hint of an Aryan Nation cell in Morgan County until this story broke. The picture of Ivy Bend in my head, though earthy, is very different. I just don’t see it.

If such a thing is really among us, I can only rely on the community’s character as it is known to me. If such a thing is really among us, I can only trust and hope that your good neighbors will, in a firm but friendly way, tell it where it can take itself.

Individuals like Cameron Stout can stumble and err and still be forgiven. But groups like Aryan Nation threaten everything we value about our “friendliest place in the Ozarks.”

Groups like that are all about creating a very different kind of community. Unless I’m wrong in my guess, we don’t want that kind of community here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Trumpet-Major

The Trumpet-Major
by Thomas Hardy
Recommended Ages: 13+

Thomas Hardy was a master of crafting tragedies that deliver powerful feelings of gloom, doom, despair and thoughts of self-harm, wrapped in haunting language and sun-dappled, open-aired imagery. So just imagine what he's like when he switches register from tragedy to romantic comedy. Now that haunting language and open-aired imagery are turned to the purpose of a light, humorous tale of love in the semi-fictitious Wessex countryside. It oozes charm; it makes you laugh and chuckle archly; and without any noticeable shift in tone, it leaves you feeling disgusted and miserable. Truly, it is a performance worthy of the name of Hardy.

I inflicted this delicious misfortune on my soul by listening to an audio-book read by Robert Whitfield that the Morgan County Public Library bought on my suggestion. I hope many others will pick up the positive aspects of what I say about it and listen to it too, and make the purchase worth the library's while, so that the library will continue to listen to my suggestions.

It has many things going for it. Set near the coast of the English Channel during the part of the Napoleonic wars when French troops were expected to land on British soil any foggy evening, it exploits the interesting possibilities of that tense time, as well as the earthy charm of a village flour-mill where a lovely but independent-spirited young woman named Anne Garland is torn between the attractions of three suitors. They include a pair of brothers, one a soldier and the other a sailor, who are below her in class but ahead of her in fortune; the third is a boorish young gentleman of Anne's social station, and an impressive physical specimen, of a character so repulsive that it varies moment to moment between the ridiculous and the terrifying. Throw in another woman, and a fallen one to boot, and you have the setup for a most engaging farce in the form of a love-pentagon. But this being the work not of Jane Austen but of Thomas Hardy, the final outcome is that nobody lives happily ever after, and the one person who almost deserves to do so doesn't live at all.

Written in 1880 but set in the handful of years around 1805, The Trumpet Major was Hardy's only historical novel. As I listened to it, the thought occurred to me that parts of it would lend themselves well to an opera. I found afterward, when checking my spelling of the characters' names on Wikipedia, that there actually is an opera based on it. For a while there seems to be nothing but fun in the heroine's efforts to elude the grasp of the blowhard Festus Derriman, who embodies all the worst aspects of manhood and yet is sometimes pathetic and even silly in his villainy. But setting Festus aside - for, in the last analysis, he serves mainly as a plot device - the real tension in this book lies between Anne and the two Loveday brothers.

John, the elder, is a trumpet major in the king's dragoons who looks fine astride a horse and sounds a beautiful signal on his horn, but somehow he never seems to find it in himself to blow a clear signal at Anne. Knowing she is sweet on his younger brother Bob, the sailor, he is continually stepping back from the point of winning her hand to make way for that fickle, faithless blockhead. And I mean continually. If there's one immutable fact in the world of Thomas Hardy's Wessex, it's that people do not change. Forever Bob is disappearing off to sea, leaving Anne crushed yet devotedly waiting for his return, and when he does return it's to announce that he has gotten engaged to the first hussy he met on dry land. Then somehow or other that falls through and Bob comes crawling back to Anne, just when she has almost gotten over him and is ready to accept John's suit - and, worse, John gives her up out of a strange sort of honor in favor of his brother's prior claim. By the end of this book I wanted to shake each of the principals firmly, and not by the hand.

It looked for a while like it was going to turn out well, but life isn't like that either in the real world or in Wessex, and the pretty soft-focus Hallmark Hall of Fame picture ended in a flat out picture of nihilistic desolation. John's sacrifice isn't as ennobling as Sydney Carton's in that Dickens Tale, nor does Anne's disappointment break one's heart like that of Sir Harry Hotpsur's daughter in the book by Trollope, nor is there ever any reason to believe Bob will mend his ways. John simply gives up like the epitome of British male inadequacy that he is and leaves his bones rotting on a Spanish battlefield while Anne, the fool, proves to deserve all the unhappiness Bob doubtless has in store for her. And the trick of it is, you enjoy every minute of it including the parts when you want to shake the main characters for their own good, and by the time it ends the only way you know it could end you feel only a sick emptiness inside that you realize must have been there all along, underneath it all.

And this is one of Hardy's lighter books. I don't know what it says about me that I still feel drawn to them, one after another. I'd better read The Woodlanders next.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Left on Layout Room Floor

Photos I shot, processed and captioned for the Wednesday, March 18 issue of the Morgan County Press of Stover, Mo., but that did not make it on the printed page:

Makayla Byrd, left, receives a certificate from elementary art teacher Jennifer Avey Wednesday, March 11 at the Morgan County R-I school board meeting in Stover. Byrd was recognized for being a finalist in a poster design contest addressing the problem of illegal dumping.

Stover Elementary teachers Michelle Keener, left, Tonja Peters, Stacey Starr, Jessica Ehlers, Amy Smith, Jennifer Berry and Megan Benny claim seats around a table before a packed school board meeting Wednesday, March 11 at Morgan County R-I school in Stover.

Montana Boles receives a trophy at the Wednesday, March 11 school board meeting at Morgan County R-I in Stover. The award, which will remain in the school’s trophy case, recognizes Boles for winning “Best in Show” at the Kaysinger Conference art contest Thursday, Feb. 19 in Sedalia. MCR-I high school principal Michael Marriott said this is the first time to his knowledge a student from Stover has won this award.

Trampus Jackson, left, hurls a pitch at Mariah Vogt during a four-person softball game Wednesday, March 11 on the ball field in the Stover park. Not pictured are outfielder Christy Jackson and third-baseman Katelynn Jackson.

The high school choir sings “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel” Wednesday, March 11 at Morgan County R-I school in Stover. John White directs at right while Dena Dean accompanies the song on the piano. The choir is practicing for the Kaysinger Conference choir contest Thursday, March 12 in Cole Camp.

Workers from Midstate Construction frame in the roof of a home addition Wednesday, March 11 in Stover. Standing on the roof beams are Ryan Hood, left, and David Carpenter. Pushing from below are Henry Jones, left, Mike Carter and Raymond McCollom.

A game of basketball breaks out on the warm Wednesday afternoon of March 11 on the playground across Seventh Street from Morgan County R-I school in Stover. Dominic Winters holds the ball while Coby Stark, Johnny Edgar and Kody Winters try to take it from him. Cheering them on from behind are Tieria Stark, left, Jason Winters, Ethan Winters and Lori Edgar. Izzy Whittle, not pictured, was also in the game.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

105. Judica Hymn

This hymn is for the fifth Sunday in Lent, the mass whereof is called Judica after the opening of the Latin introit from Psalm 43:1-2, "Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; oh, deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man! For You are the God of my strength." The Scripture readings for Judica are Hebrews 9:11-15 and John 8:46-59. Like most of my hymns, I wrote this with no particular tune in mind.

When Christ our high priest had come forth
He entered through that perfect tent
Not made with hands, nor of this earth,
Through God's eternal Spirit sent.
With His own blood of spotless birth
Into the holy place He went;
A sacrifice of perfect worth
He gave for all as testament.

For certain men the priests of old
Took certain blood at certain times
And, as they were in Scripture told,
Made sacrifice for certain crimes.
Now Christ, at hour and place foretold,
Approached the Father's heavenly shrine,
Died once for all, that all might hold
A conscience cleansed by grace divine.

Now therefore, which of us would dare
Accuse God's very Son of sin?
He who is God's, God's word will hear;
He who would live must take it in.
As Abram hoped to see his share
And from afar rejoiced therein,
We trust our Mediator fair
To plead our cause, to plead and win.

For Your name's honor, holy Sire;
For Your sake, slain and risen Lamb;
And You, bright cleansing heavenly Fire,
With them together, one I AM,
We beg You, grant our heart's desire:
Remove the sins that cling and damn;
Clear us of guilt; turn back Your ire;
Apply Your righteousness to man!

EDIT: Here's an original tune for this hymn, titled JUDICA.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Barnaby Rudge

Barnaby Rudge
by Charles Dickens
Recommended Ages: 13+

I am grateful to the Morgan County Library of Versailles, Mo. for acquiring, at my request, the Naxos audiobook of this novel narrated by Sean Barrett. The six-CD set enabled me to complete my tour of all Charles Dickens' completed novels in less than a week's worth of commuting.

Dickens' fifth novel in order of publication, it was meant to have been published earlier, but due to disagreements with his publisher it only appeared in 1841, as a weekly serial in 88 numbers of the author's own journal, Master Humphrey's Clock. Like the other works in what I like to call Dickens' "weekly register," it has the charm of being relatively short, direct and concise. The characters and plot lines are few and tightly intertwined, and it never gives the reader the sense his monthly novels often give of leading them down tedious side-routes and up inconsequential cul-de-sacs. It is one of only two historical novels Dickens wrote, like A Tale of Two Cities set in the revolutionary period of the late 1700s. And it is perhaps the last representative of its author's immature period, with some of the same weaknesses that marred (sorry) Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop, which are about tied for my least favorite novel by Dickens. So while I personally would rank this book higher than both and perhaps even The Pickwick Papers, I can also understand why this may be Dickens' least popular novel, the least often adapted for stage and film, the least influential on our culture.

Subtitled "A Tale of the Riots of Eighty," it is primarily set amid and around the Gordon Riots of 1780 in which a certain Sir George Gordon led an anti-Catholic uprising that threatened Parliament, burned several churches, and ended with soldiers firing guns into a crowd. Several people were hanged or imprisoned in the aftermath, and the authorities were deeply embarrassed, and Dickens took his opportunity as a master of satirical wit to spatter his nation's history of sectarian strife with shame and ridicule. This is a good thing. Another good thing is its positive depiction of a mentally challenged character. And the fact that the title character's familiar, a talking raven named Grip, inspired Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem "The Raven" proves this book was not without some influence. But everything else about it is entirely conventional and, to be brutally frank, forgettable.

Dickens almost entirely wasted the opportunity to make Grip an ominous figure, a figure of omen. The bird says, "I'm a devil," but it isn't one. Dickens cheated idiot-hero Barnaby out of the chance to be a more complex and dynamic character, or to suffer a movingly tragic fate like that of Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities. And Dickens couldn't resist using such a serious historical subject as a backdrop for not one but two chaste romances that come across as all the more trivial because the male heroes scarcely appear between the opening act and the close. They simply, suddenly appear at the moment of greatest crisis for the young heroines, and the resolution of their love stories is so perfunctory that it is hard to care about them any more than Dickens seems to have done.

What this book is, at its most interesting, is a depiction through the eyes of fictional (or at least fictionalized) persons of a scene of historical interest, and a character study of three men under the suspense of awaiting their execution. The suspense pays off nicely, and Barnaby manages to get in at least one line that I think is worth adding to everyone's quiver of literary quotes ("Hugh, we shall know what makes the stars shine, now!") If you hear it performed by a good reader, as I did, you may hear passages that make you laugh and even a few that give you a lump in your throat. But mostly, I felt grateful that the last Dickens novel I had yet to read was short and quickly gotten through. A Tale of Two Cities, which left me awestruck and emotionally devastated, was still 18 years in the future when this book came out. Believe me, I appreciate the difference 18 years can make.