Oscar sees the prototype

But Oscar did not see as Lucinda imagined. As the dust danced in the luminous tunnel of the westem sun, he saw not a dumpy little structure, not a common outhouse either, but light, ice, spectra. He saw glass as those who love it perceive it. He understood that it was the gross material most nearly like the soul, or spirit (or how he would wish the soul or spirit to be), that it was free of imperfection, of dust, rust, that it was an avenue for glory.

He did not see an outhouse. He saw a tiny church with dust dancing around it like rnicroscopic angels. It was as clean and pure and free from vanity It was at once so beautiful and yet so . . . decent. The light shone [317] through its transparent, unadorned skin and cast colours on the distempered offlce walls as glorious as the stained glass windows of cathedral.

"Oh dear," he said, "oh dearie me." . . . He said: "I am most extraordinarily happy." . . . "You have made a kennel for God's angels." . . . "I know God's angels do not inhabit kennels." He stepped into the room (she followed him) and crouched beside the tiny glass-house. It was six foot long with all its walls and roof of glass, the floor alone in timber. "But if they did, this surely is the kennel they would demand.". .

She thought: I am in love. How extraordinary. [317-318]

Miriam Chawick's first sight

She was running through her list of unsatisfactory or irritating or boorish suitors when she saw a church made from glass towed into her field of vision by two men in wide straw hats.

Her first thought was disappointment that Mrs Trevis was not here to witness this thing with her, that she must exclaim to nothing but the empty air. "Oh, my," she said, feeling that some subtle victory had been somehow denied her, "just look at what you have missed. Just look. Just look at it."

It came up the river, its walls like ice emanating light, as fine and elegant as civilization itself.

"Who?" demanded Miriam Chadwick. "Who? Just answer me that." Who in this valley of muddy boots could be responsible for such a thing? For it was not simply that the little steep-roofed church was made from glass, but that it had all the lovely proportions and gracenotes of a fancy constructed for a prince, say, in Bavaria. [414]

Kumbaingiri Billy

Kumbaingiri Billy saw the glass church. He was a young boy, initiated only the year before. He was with the men, hunting, at the place which is now named Marx Hill. He saw the glass church in the distance — a prism, a cube, a steeple of light sliding into the green shadows of Fermount. There were men with blue shirts and wide-brimmed hats. They held long poles. They stood around the perimeter. In the middle was a man. Even in the shadow, so Kumbaingiri Billy told my father, fire danced around this man's head.

Oscar could not see the blacks watching him. He was not frightened of the blacks. He was frightened of other things. The wooden platform beneath his feet was built on H. M. McCracken's two lighters, which remained, in spite of all the nails and planks and lashing that joined them together, two independent entities. Thus when one lighter bobbed it would not be in step with its companion and the result of this was that the foundation of the fragile bird-cage church would shift and twist. Glass, for all its great strength under compression, cannot easily tolerate this sort of twisting.

Three panes of glass had cracked. These panes were in the roof. They crazed and hung like ice-knives. Their jigsaw edges refracted the colours of the rainbow across my great-grandfather's clasped hands. [417]

The Reverend Dennis Hassett

It was then that he saw the church. He thought so many things at once. That it was a miracle, a spider web, a broken thing, a tragedy, a dream like something constructed for George III and then assaulted in a fit of rage. He thought: It has been hit with hail. He thought: it has been salvaged from a wreck out at The Heads. He thought: it was a mistake to triangulate those tall panes of glass when a Roman arch would be much more graceful. He thought: Lucinda.

It was the latter thought that made the mole on his back turn hot and itchy because he had never, in all his letters, bothered to tell her that he was now a married man and soon to be the father of a child.

In the face of this crazed image of Lucinda's passion, he was numb with panic. [420]

— Question: What does "crazed" mean in this passage?

Oscar's final thoughts:

When Oscar said goodbye to my great-grandmother [Miriam Chadwick] he no longer thought that the glass church was a holy thing. He thought it a conceit, a vanity, a product of the deuce's insinuations into the fancy factory of his mind. He was like a drunk waking after a spree, sour and sick and full of remorse and mixed in with all of this was the sin of fornication, his great fright to discover women have hair in "that place," the throbbing pain of his sunburn, the lesser pain of the infected blister on his heel, his itching, bleeding arse-hole, the rope bums on his wrists and the nauseous fluttering feeling that told him he needed more laudanum.

He walked out along the ringing wooden wharf as though the water were no threat to him. The church rode on its mooring, creaking slightly as its ropes stretched against the zenith of high tide. He limped down the steps, grimacing, and entered through the cedar door which he carefully shut behind him. He walked across splintered glass and the bodies of dragon-flies and wasps. He sat on the straight-backed chair which Kumbaingiri Billy's father's sister had carried through the bush to give him as a farewell gift. He reached for his laudanum and, having raised it to his lips, found it empty. He dropped the bottle on the deck, and then bent his head to pray.

He begged God forgive him for the murder of the blacks which he, through his vanity, had brought about.

He begged God forgive him for the death of Mr Stratton.

He begged God forgive him for the murder of Mr Jeffris.

He begged God forgive him for the seduction of Mrs Chadwick.

He begged God forgive him for his complacency, his pride, his wilful ignorance. But even as he prayed he felt himsef polluted almost beyond redemption.

He prayed as he had prayed in his Bathurst Street boarding house, digging his nails into the backs of his hands, rocking to and fro on his chair until its legs groaned, but somewhere on the inky side of dusk, as the flying foxes began to detach their pegged and ragged forms from the branches of the Moreton Bay flg trees by the Bellinger, he drifted into sleep.

Thus he never reached the final destination of his prayer which was to ask God to destroy the glass church. In the event, no heavenly intervention was necessary, for . . . At ten minutes past eight on Good Friday eve, the old lighter passed the point at which it was buoyant and then, with no fuss it sank. . . .

Oscar awoke as he hit the floor. He slipped down to the low side, furthest from the door.

He scrabbled up the sloping platform towards the door. He slashed his hands on broken glass. The twisting of the platform had jarnmed the door.

It was not quite dark. Flying foxes fllled the sky above the river. The tilting platform became a ramp and the glass church slid beneath the water and while my great-grandfather kicked and pulled at the jammed door, the fractured panes of glass behind his back opened to let in his ancient enemy.

A great bubble of air broke the surface of the Bellinger and the flying foxes came down close upon the river. When they were close enough for his bad eyes to see, he thought they were like angels with bat wings. He saw it as a sign from God. He shook his head, panicking in the face of eternity. He held the doorknob as it came to be the ceiling of his world. The water rose. Through the bursting gloom he saw a vision of his father's wise and smiling face, peering in at him. He could see, dimly, the outside world, the chair and benches of his father's study. Shining fragments of aquarium glass fell like snow around him. And when the long-awaited white fingers of water tapped and lapped on Oscar's lips, he welcomed them in as he always had, with a scream, like a small boy caught in the sheet-folds of a nightmare. [431-432]

Last modified 1998