The captain’s table looked as elegant as any at the finer restaurants one would find back in Los Angeles. Crisp white linen and exquisite silver. China that would have made her great-aunt Freddie proud.
Kit Shannon Fox nodded in silent tribute. She leaned over to Ted and whispered, “Not bad for a criminal defense lawyer, eh?”
Ted smiled, looking as happy as Kit had ever seen him.
Captain Wendell Raleigh seemed to delight in this privilege of his office. Genial and witty, he welcomed to the round table a curious mix. Kit had made passing acquaintance with a few of them back on the island. Now she saw them in a somewhat different light, as studies in social fusion.
There was Professor Aiden Aloysius Faire from the University of Chicago. A large man with a walrus mustache and pince-nez glasses, he was seen about the ship in a large flowing overcoat and floppy hat. He seemed a rather serious fellow, not one to crack jokes.
Unlike the first mate, Lowell Sanders, who was young and full of himself, a man whom Kit figured to be of an ambitious sort, a “go-getter” in the parlance of modern American slang.
Then there were the young newlyweds, Wanda and Chilton Boswell. There was a nervous strain between them. Was there something more to it than the newness and inevitable adjustments of wedded life?
Perhaps the cause of the tension was seated next to them, in the form of Chilton’s mother, Glenna Boswell. A matriarchal and thin-lipped woman, she did not appear particularly fond of her daughter-in-law.
Rounding out this peculiar congress was the beautiful yet mysterious Delia Patton. Dark of hair and eye, she was unmarried and, Kit presumed, on the prowl. Certainly the way she made eyes at virtually all of the men aboard ship gave that distinct impression.
The dinner conversation flowed amiably, despite the undercurrents of tension. Besides the strain between the young Boswells, Professor Faire seemed to have something on his mind and kept quiet for the most part. And just what was Delia Patton up to, seated between the captain and Lowell Sanders? Wheels certainly were turning in her pretty head.
The meal was a masterpiece—roast beef cooked to perfection, julienne vegetables, Yorkshire pudding, and much to Kit’s delight, fresh ice cream.
The latter was served with coffee, and as the guests began to repose, Captain Raleigh and First Mate Sanders shared seafaring stories. But others in the company—especially the Boswell party—grew less garrulous as the evening progressed.
Finally, during a lull, Professor Faire, who was seated directly across from Kit and Ted, made a pronouncement. “I understand, Mrs. Fox, that you are something of a biblical scholar.”
This brought all at the table to rapt attention, looking at Kit for her answer.
“I would not go that far,” Kit said, a bit embarrassed at being singled out.
“How far would you go, then?”
Again, the others waited for Kit’s response. “I am a pastor’s daughter. I do revere the Good Book and try to live by its principles.”
“And it has some very lovely principles,” the professor said. “Also some horrific ones.”
Captain Raleigh smiled disarmingly. “I suspect Professor Faire is attempting to draw Mrs. Fox into dangerous waters.”
“Nothing of the sort. I merely bring this up in the spirit of robust discussion. But perhaps Mrs. Fox would rather avoid the subject entirely.”
“I’d be careful if I were you, bub,” Ted said. “You might be getting into deep waters yourself.”
Kit lightly jabbed Ted in the ribs. “Please don’t mind my husband. He thinks rather highly of me.”
“And well he should,” Professor Faire said. “Nevertheless, if you wish to change the subject ...”
“If the subject is the Bible I am always loath to change it. Still, I would not want the other guests to be bored.”
This was met by a chorus of “No” and “Please.” The group seemed to be interested in what was shaping up to be a lively debate. Kit understood, since people had spent the latter part of the afternoon looking for something to do, after the orchestra had canceled the afternoon concert due to bouts of dysentery in the strings section. Further, an unseasonable fog had taken away the sunset, rendering the view unremarkable. What better entertainment than to see an esteemed professor of philosophy going hammer and tongs with a lawyer?
The professor smiled. “I see that we have an assent to go forward. And so I shall repeat. The doctrines of the Bible contain what I call fool’s gold principles to benefit mankind. It looks good on the surface, but for the most part the Christian religion has visited upon the world a dark record of bloodshed and violence. One need only look at the Crusades to see a record of killing that remains unmatched in the annals of our race.”
The starkness of the charge seemed to catch the guests by surprise. Kit detected a bit of discomfort in their eyes yet something else in the expression of the professor. He seemed pleased to be the sort of man who enjoyed disturbing people, not by outrageous behavior but by the superiority of his thoughts. A man who liked to slay sacred cows.
Kit could imagine a classroom full of eager young minds listening to this man as if he were a modern-day Moses, only one who carried tablets written by man’s philosophy rather than by God. Her neck began to generate heat.
“I should think,” Kit began, “that the real question is not how much evil has been done in the name of Christianity but how much evil Christianity has prevented.”
Professor Faire, in the middle of lighting a cigar, paused for an instant. “Are you denying Christianity’s record of bloodshed?”
“No one can deny that certain men have at certain times done evil in the name of Christianity. But much more evil has been done without the restraint of the church. Indeed, it was the influence of Christianity that abolished gladiatorial combat, human sacrifices, exposure of children, slavery. Are you willing to acknowledge this?”
The flame from the match burned Professor Faire’s fingertips. He jolted with surprise. Recovering, he said, “Are you claiming all of that for Christianity?”
“I’m merely citing history,” Kit replied.
“But the Bible specifically endorses slavery.”
“The Bible recognized that slavery was a part of ancient society, and that’s all. The movement to abolish slavery in the last century was almost exclusively a Christian one. I’m sure you know that Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and the wife of a professor of the Old Testament.”
Professor Faire did not respond, though he did manage to successfully light his cigar with a new match and expel a puff of smoke over the table.
“The early American abolitionists,” Kit continued, “were deeply religious. John Quincy Adams is but one example.”
Captain Raleigh nodded. “The historical record seems pretty clear.”
“The stifling of man’s ego by religion,” Faire added, “is the largest impediment to progress in the world.”
Kit felt a familiar onrush inside her, which usually came before cross-examination. “It is quite true that men and women of good conscience can effect goodly changes. But the difference is that they are borrowing from Christianity without acknowledgment.”
Faire furrowed his massive brow. “Explain.”
“Where does a man get his knowledge of good? It can only be from above. For if man is free to define the good for himself, he ends up with only one conclusion—the stronger shall rule the weaker.”
“Ah yes,” Professor Faire said with a haughty air. “The argument of Polemarchus in Plato’s Republic.”
Kit gently cleared her throat. “Actually, I do not believe that was the argument.”
Professor Faire reacted as if he had been slapped with a flounder. “I would remind you,” he said stiffly, “that I hold a chair in philosophy at the University of Chicago, and my specialty is the ethics of ancient Greece.”
“I have the read the Greeks as well. And I must say that in every way Christianity improves upon the ancient wisdom.”
“Aristotle, for example. He did not believe a man born without certain benefits, including good looks, could be truly happy. He contended that fortune dealt such blows and there is nothing a man can do about it. Christianity, on the other hand, offers hope and happiness to all.”
“Happiness is good,” Delia Patton tossed in. “I like it so much better than unhappiness.”
Lowell Sanders laughed. A bit too loudly in Kit’s estimation.
“Your reading of Aristotle is cursory,” Faire said, more weakly than his previous statements.
Kit was about to reply when she noticed the other guests in various stages of discomfort. Glenna Boswell was fanning herself; Wanda Boswell was listening but appeared to have other concerns on her mind. Chilton Boswell looked disgruntled and was downing what Kit estimated to be his sixth full glass of champagne. Kit did not think his agitation was solely because of her dialogue with the professor.
Lowell Sanders no longer seemed interested in the flow of the conversation. Perhaps that was because he was seated next to Delia Patton, who acted as if her sole task for the evening was to bat her eyes as fetchingly as possible.
“Perhaps, Professor,” Kit said, “we ought to hear from the others. There are sure to be plenty of opinions.”
Faire exhaled a cloud of cigar smoke. “Your representations are rather specious in light of the fact—”
“Ah, put a cork in it, Professor.” Chilton Boswell’s voice rang out like shot. Everyone turned toward him. Chilton’s face had reddened considerably.
“I beg your pardon,” Faire spouted indignantly.
“You heard me, you high hat.”
The tension was now as thick as the roast beef had been. Kit was appalled at Chilton Boswell’s lack of manners. The professor was blustery, true. But that did not mean he deserved to be insulted. Even if Chilton’s comment came under the impulse of alcohol, that did not excuse it.
“Now, why don’t we all calm ourselves,” the captain said.
Faire huffed. “If my presence here is such a distraction, I shall take my leave.”
He got up from the table and, despite protests from the captain and Kit, slouched away.
“Oh, Chilton,” Wanda uttered in soft rebuke.
That only made Chilton Boswell angrier. He glared at his wife. “And that’s enough out of you!” He then stood up and threw his linen napkin on the table. “If you will excuse me,” he said.
“Where are you going?” Wanda Boswell demanded.
“None of your affair.”
“Not to the gaming room!”
“I’ll go where I please, and don’t you say another word about it.” He staggered a little, and not from the listing of the ship. Kit felt badly for Wanda Boswell. A loud, drunken husband rebuking her in public, displaying for all to see the troubles in their marriage.
Chilton Boswell did not bother to comment further. He stormed out of the dining room, grabbing as he went another glass of champagne off a tray carried by a waiter.
An embarrassed silence fell over the table. Kit noticed Delia Patton trying to suppress a smile.
“Well!” Glenna Boswell said at last. “I cannot say as I blame Chilton.” She looked hard at Wanda, who promptly burst into tears.
“Say,” Lowell Sanders inserted with all the subtlety of a Clydesdale, “how about I tell a little joke?”
Wanda bolted up, knocking her chair backward, and ran from the table.
Glenna Boswell labored to her feet. Ted and the other men also stood, mouthing “Good evening.”
“We hope all will be well,” Captain Raleigh offered.
“I shall make it so,” Glenna Boswell replied. With a final flit of her fan, she sauntered off, her dark blue evening gown swaying, the clacking of her pearls audible to the guests.
A Certain Truth (The Trials of Kit Shannon, Book 3) by James Scott Bell
Copyright © 2004 ; ISBN 0764226479
Published by Bethany House Publishers