Chapter 7: A House Divided

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Father Simmons seemed even thinner than the last time Charlotte had seen him, but surprisingly, not any older.

"Och, if it isn't Miss Charlotte Caprice!"

"Father, you look well!"

"Ah, tha'd best not work ye charms on me young lassie.  I know what I look like.  Don't I have the Monsignor tellin' me every five minutes that I look as scrawny as a scarecrow!"

"Better a scarecrow than a fat jersey cow put out to pasture like Monsignor, Father Simmons!" she retorted.

"Och, steady girl, tha'll have the Mons banning ye from visiting the presbytery next.  So, lassie - what can I do for ye?  Yor've not seen fit to write to me much like I seem to remember ye promised."

"Oh Father, I'm very sorry but, as you know, I started helping Monsieur Le Bas with his drafting work and Sir Watts as well.  Well, what with the drawing and reading and work in the house, I've just not fit it in."

"There now Charlotte.  It's all right.  I'm just havin' a tease of ya.  Yer look right exhausted girl.  For goodness sake, 'ave a seat and rest yerself.  Have ye had somethin' to eat?"

She sat on the threadbare chair the priest put before her and nodded her head slowly.  "Oh Father Simmons, I'm in a terrible way at Lamerton."

"Oh child!  Yer not with baby are ye?"  Father Simmons had enough unwed mothers to repopulate a small village, he thought and instantly, felt ashamed of himself for it.

"No Father, it's not that", she said hastily and Father Simmons sank bank onto his cushion giving silent thanks to God.  "It's just on account of my work, Lady Dorothea Watts, well she . . . . she doesn't like me."

"She doesn't like you?  But why child?  If her husband's asked you to do this work and the work is satisfactory  . . . . "

"But I'm not employed to draft plants for books Father, I'm employed as a chambermaid and Lady Watts doesn't like it.  I think it's causing trouble between her and Sir Benjamin Watts.  I've tried to hide what I do but Sir Benjamin and Monsieur always forget to be discreet and Lady Watts always seems to be there - observing and disapproving and hating me for it!"

Father Simmons sighed and silently regarded the young woman before him.  She was no girl anymore.  Her womanly figure seemed emphasised by her slight body.  Yet, she carried herself with a vulnerability that meant for him, she would always be the little, desperately grieving child he had saved one year ago from unimaginable misery.

"I don't know what to do Father.  Last night, Lady Watts staged a scene at a dinner party and publicly shamed and dismissed me.  But Monsieur pretended it had been he who had caused the incident and so I was let off.  But she wants me gone Father.  Where shall I go?  What do I do?  I love the work I do for Monsieur, but he does not have the finances to run his own household, let alone, employ me as his assistant."

Father Simmons rose from his chair and patted her hand with his large brown one.  "Don't fret now child.  From what you have told me, this isn't a dispute which has anything to do with you."

"It's not?" she queried, looking puzzled and confused.

"No, it seems to me that this is a dispute between a husband and a wife - a divided house.  You know what the Lord said about a divided house?  A divided house can never stand.  It will fall.  Now, the Watts won't speak to me of course;  I'm not of their faith.  But I know they have a close relationship with their own pastor.  Why, I believe Sir Watts is even related to this man - a cousin or something.  Anyway, Pastor Sutherland and I are on very good terms.  Leave this problem with me.  I'm sure it can be cleared up with a bit of careful and wise pastoral counselling on the part of Pastor Sutherland.

Now, no more frowning and I insist on feeding you something.  Isn't it just the luck of the Irish that Mrs O'Malley gave me a whole batch of her famous shortbread biscuits yesterday on account of baptising her first grandson."  And with that, Father Simmons alighted from his chair, pulled several books from the bookshelf and slyly withdrew from behind them a box full, as it transpired, of shortbread biscuits.

"Why Father!" Charlotte exclaimed in surprise.

"Don't chastise me Charlotte.  The Monsignor ate all the pudding Mrs Everleigh baked me last week for marrying her youngest AND the butter cakes Mrs Frommel cooked for me when I visited her sick husband the week before that.  And I did put half of the shortbread in the presbytery kitchen.  I just kept a portion for myself and visitors;  otherwise, I miss out completely.  Anyway, it's for his own good.  The doctor was here the other day declaring that the Monsignor does not get enough exercise and eats too much!"

Charlotte Caprice did not laugh as much as she did that afternoon, in her whole life.  And Father Simmons, grey eyes twinkling with guilty pleasure, enjoyed that sound more than even the shortbread.  "Bless you Mrs O'Malley", he chimed, eyes lifted to heaven, before chomping on a creamy shortbread extravagance, with Charlotte's raucous laughter ringing in his ears.

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