Good for the Soul

A short story by Grant Davis

It was in the winter of 1955 that Father Bedaut passed away. The small room was almost bare except for very few personal effects and a priest’s usual requisites. After showing me the deceased, Father Beautois covered the face with a linen cloth and coughed politely.
“This is not a police matter, surely, Father.” I said.
“No, you’re quite right. Father Bedaut had been ill for a while and this weather – well it’s no friend of the elderly.”
“The doctor has been then?”
“Yes. Still this is not the problem we have. It is most delicate and something I am sure I can trust you with. This is not for the eyes of anyone else you understand. But, well, I have known you these past thirty years and I believe your integrity is something beyond question.”
The elderly priest opened a large chest in the corner of the room and drew out several battered folders and a leather case.
“It seems the father was keen on the study of sin. It’s not something which would have been encouraged here and such a revelation would prove to be a scandal to the church.”
He opened two of the folders and case. One folder contained papers covered with a scrawling cipher I didn’t understand. The other folder and leather case were packed with sheets of paper with perfect hand writing. I looked at the paperwork and shrugged.
“Let me explain, monsieur. You see, it appears that while Father Bedaut took confessions he also wrote down what was said in this shorthand fashion. It was a system of his own devising. Then they were written up most meticulously and placed in this folder and case. It seems that the Father was very keen to study the texts and gain some insight into the way in which sins work. He was quite a scholarly man, though his devotion was never in doubt of course.”
“Of course,” I agreed.
“It would likely outrage many of the congregation if this came to light. I would like you to find a way to have them all burnt. I cannot do this myself without questions being asked, and as an honest man I would tell the truth. Better they were simply removed from the room now and disposed of. This kind of thing might excite the curiosity of the Cardinal.”
“And that would mean . . ?”
“It would mean an investigations of the most thorough kind, monsieur. The church would come under unwelcome scrutiny by the Cardinal. We have nothing to hide you realise, but it would have an unsettling effect on the novice priests.”
I nodded in agreement and took the papers home where I intended to dispose of them on my own fire. When my wife had retired I took the papers from the folders and leather case and began screwing the sheets into small balls. I had largely completed the task when I found an envelope which contained three of the transcribed sheets dated almost thirty-five ago. Not only was the tiny writing precise and legible, it was copiously annotated in the margin with cross references and scripture citations. I hadn’t intended to read them, but I recognised a name at the head of one sheet and I laid the three confessions before me . . .

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