Twenty minutes later, as I was making my way to the Rabbit Hutch -- plate with a cheese-and-sauce sandwich in one hand and a carefully balanced cup of tea in the other -- I heard the sputtering and coughing of a motorcycle coming from the forecourt.
That would be Father O'Shea on his monthly round.
It was a wonderful gesture that he took it upon himself to visit us, as he was under no obligation to. In fact, he'd been the one to approach us during the war. He'd simply shown up one day and asked if we had any Catholics and were their souls being cared for as well as their injuries?
Dr Corriton could hardly refuse to have a man of the cloth underfoot, although he thought him even more of a nuisance than me and my silly projects. I'd taken an immediate liking O'Shea, if only for allowing me the pleasure of seeing Dr Corriton stiffen and flee whenever he appeared, Bible in one hand, pack of cards in the other.
Sure as a weeds, Father O'Shea's cheery, wind-reddened face peered around the edge of the door of the Hutch and grinned at me.
"Thought I'd find you here working hard, Miss Altringham."
"I've only just arrived. The same as you," I quipped back, waving my hand over the papers and files on the table in front of me to indicate none of it had been seen to yet.
"Ah," he said, coming into full view in the doorway, his clerics collar only just visible under the thick, black motoring scarf and brown leathers. "But I've already read a mass and heard a round dozen snoozingly boring confessions. I always look forward to these Sundays at Cloud Hill, you know. The men here never bore me."
"No? Are we far worse sinners than most under your care, Father?" I teased him.
"Not worse, just far more imaginative than the old-age pensioners in Tunbridge Common. And you've got Whist players."
I laughed. It was true. He was a mean hand at the Whist table and always played a few rounds with any willing victims before he rumbled off to see to the health of more souls.
"Pip pip!" a loud voice from behind O'Shea called out.
O'Shea threw a glance behind himself and quickly moved aside. Rhys-Jones wheeled energetically into the room, winking at me. I smiled back conspiratorially, as I knew how much the basket toads loved opportunities to startle unsuspecting two-leggers. And startling a priest was an extra bonus, no matter how popular he was.
"Right," O'Shea began. "I'll be off then. I've got my flock to tend to ... the lame and wicked to console." He arched an eyebrow and shot a look at Rhys-Jones, who smiled back, the picture of innocence. "Good day, Miss Altringham, and good day to you, young man."
"Good day, Father, and thank you for continuing to visit us. We do appreciate it."
"Only doing the Lord's work. And my own."
Indeed he was, unlike the vicar from the village who roundly refused to come out to the house chapel. No, our local man of God felt what few, true believers were lurking on the estate could jolly well trundle down to his sombre little church every Sunday, if they were so inclined. He honestly couldn't be bothered.
The reputation of returning Tommies was not sterling, to say the least, but the local vicar seemed to hold something against us personally. I'd been told stories of the suspicious, thunderous looks from the pulpit and barely veiled references to us whenever a few had made the trek.
Father O'Shea didn't seem to judge the men nearly as harshly, not by yards. Yes, they had all their problems and had been exposed to incredible violence, yet that did not make them more dangerous or depraved than your average man. But then, he didn't have his own church and parish to think about. O'Shea was just as much an outsider as we were.
YOU ARE READING
England 1921. For fifty handicapped veterans left without home or job after WW1, the only person standing between them and utter destitution is Olivia Altringham. Lacking sufficient funds and a support network, Olivia has managed to keep her vetera...