Simon Parke  
Click here for Abbot Peter Click here for Simon's blog Click here for Simon's books Click here for Simon's consultancy Click here for Simon's retreats
 
      Cover of A Vicar Crucified   Cover of The Enneagram   Cover of One-Minute Mystic
 

Azure's leap of faith

CHAPTER 22

In the last episode, Jane returned home to Rose Cottage to discover an intruder; David renewed his commitment to the birds of the village; Kid set off towards the hole, and Azure set off towards who knows where, with Jane in tow. Whilst Mrs Post discovered the Vicarage door to be always open. But is it sober?

‘Is that a flute?’ asked Patricia, as she sipped her third brandy, and nibbled at a small pate of couscous.

‘A Persian flute, yes. I play it a little, though less now than once I did.’

‘Then you should play more,’ said Patricia.

‘Maybe. Though we cannot do everything we once did, otherwise we would still be children.’

‘Perhaps it would be better if we were children,’ said Patricia, as the alcohol made her sad.

‘You are wise as well as beautiful, Patricia,’ said Dr Hafiz with a smile, and sat thoughtfully for a moment. ‘But before we build too big a shrine to the past, let us be aware of what it is we worship.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Well, innocence and ignorance live alongside each other in the child – and one is rather more to be applauded than the other.’

The fire crackled in the hearth, and this felt like heaven.

‘Perhaps I should be going,’ said Patricia.

‘You walk out of the door when you wish to,’ said the doctor.

‘I’m not saying that I wish to – but there are social conventions. Two people of the opposite sex, drinking alcohol late into the night, the visitor out of politeness must – ‘

‘Yet how can my visitor go when she hasn’t yet told me about Lord Jo!’ asked the doctor. ‘I have plied my guest with brandy and the best Iraqi cuisine, and yet she has stubbornly refused to reveal the information that got her the invitation in the first place!’

Only for a moment did Patricia think Doctor Hafiz was serious. But then you could never be quite sure. ‘Oh, well, Lord Jo should be home tomorrow.’

‘Tomorrow?’

‘Yes.’ Patricia seemed fairly confident. ‘They do suspect poisoning, however.’

‘Red lead,’ said Dr Hafiz.

‘Sorry?’

‘That’s what they’ll find if they bother to look, though I don’t suppose they’ll have time. A and E’s are not blessed with that particular commodity on a Saturday night.’

‘They are being most thorough,’ said Patricia, who liked talking about hospitals. ‘Though obviously the standard of nursing at Needing General has never been high; it used to be just the cleaners who couldn’t talk English!’ Patricia came from quite a well-to-do family, and did sometimes talk like this.

‘Gloucester cheese coloured with lethal red lead,’ said the doctor, ‘does tend to leave the victim rolling around on the floor clutching their chest in unspeakable agony.’

Patricia wanted to ask him more about this, and in particular, how he knew so much about poison. But she was still embarrassed at having called it as appendicitis, and so changed the subject.

‘Well, as I say, he will be home tomorrow,’ she said. ‘In fact, I’m organizing a little ‘Welcome Home’ basket for him; just a few things. Would you like to sign the card?’

‘And then everything’s back to normal,’ continued Dr Hafiz, rather ignoring the card offer. ‘With the one who did it free to strike again.’

‘We can’t be sure it was poison.’

‘Only next time, Lord Jo might not get up again. Or perhaps it will be someone else. We are fragile souls all!’

‘I’m not a great cheese eater myself,’ said Patricia, reassuring herself. And it was then she noticed a cow looking through the window.

‘There’s a cow looking through the window,’ she said.

‘It must be a visitor. I don’t keep them.’

‘Well, I’ll be blowed! If I’m not very much mistaken, its one of Lord Jo’s.’

*

It was about then, that just up the road, Azure leapt into the hole.

Azure had become impatient to gain Jane’s attention. On turning, she had seen the cat crouched by the darkness in the road.

‘Be careful,’ Jane had said. ‘Mind the hole, little thing.’

Azure stayed at the edge, calling Jane toward her; but Jane, fearing heights, had advanced with increasing caution. She could do neither cliff edges nor the edges of station platforms; and she certainly couldn’t do the edge of a bottomless hole, on an icy night.

‘You come here Azure. Come on, little cat. You come to me now.’

But Azure didn’t come. Instead, she turned and leapt into the darkness. Jane screamed, but found her self stepping back rather than forward. What to do?

*

And a long time ago, Oliver Cromwell had wondered the same.

Oliver Cromwell! Even now, he seemed to haunt these cobbled streets. The brilliant wartime general had come to Misty Longings on the back of his victory over the Cavaliers at the battle of Marston Moor. Now was the time finally to crush the King’s faltering resistance.

Yet as he gathered his forces for what was to be the clinching battle of Naseby, he had heard rumour of a large consignment of gold making its way to the Royalist High Command in Oxford’s Christ Church College.

‘With that gold they could create a new army overnight!’ one of his army colleagues had said.

‘But it would still be an army led by monkeys and peacocks,’ said Cromwell, who didn’t have a great opinion of the satin-loving Royalist leadership. ‘A large army is only a large army if it has leadership. Without leadership, it is a mere rabble, and ripe for plucking.’

‘A small rabble is riper still, sir,’ said his Lieutenant.

‘Maybe,’ said Cromwell with a smile. ‘So where was the last sighting of this gold?’

‘In the village of Misty Longings, sir.’

‘And where is that?’

‘Next door to Deep Longings.’

‘Really? So now all we need to know is the whereabouts of Deep Longings.’

‘Er… not far from Much Needing, sir.’

‘Much Needing.’

‘Yes, sir.’

And that is?’

‘Very near to Lesser Needing, sir.’

Cromwell could see this conversation continuing for some time.

‘I do not have a great sense of progress in this dialogue, Lieutenant.’

I don’t know any other villages nearby, sir.’

‘I think I was really desiring the name of the county.’

‘The county?’

‘Yes, Lieutenant – the county.

‘I’ll find out, sir – the sergeant-at-arms said he knew.’

‘But a pretty village, you say?’

‘The prettiest of them all, sir.’

‘Then perhaps I shall go in person to Misty Longings – when we have discovered its whereabouts. I could do with some beauty in these dark days of Civil War. And I would have the gold working for God, rather than the Cavalier Perfume Boys.’

Of course, this was the time when Cromwell still spoke freely with his associates. He was, after all, only a member of the humble ‘English gentry’, which was better than a peasant, but not nearly as good as a Lord – nowhere near. So he couldn’t put on airs and graces and walk around all haughty and fine, because he was too common to get away with it. He didn’t know where Oxford was, let alone feel able to plonk his HQ there, like the Royalists had – and in Christ Church, the richest, largest and most pompous of all its famous colleges.

But interesting conversations with his colleagues stopped after the execution of the King; no more affectionate banter then! With the King gone, Cromwell acquired the crown in all but name – and thought only of telling everyone what they must do.

‘Necessity has no law!’ he would say.

It also had no Parliament, apparently, for every time it met, Oliver got angry with it, and sent it home without tea.

No, it wasn’t just the massacred Irish who felt Oliver had acquired an unwarranted confidence in God’s peculiar grace for himself.

But wait – our interesting historical diversion takes us ahead of ourselves; for Cromwell’s visit to Misty Longings had been prior to all that. Here in Misty Longings, in the depths of the Civil War, he was very much still the common man, and talking with people.

Indeed, he even went into the Dog and Whistle to discover what people knew.

*

‘Please sit down, Mrs Post.’

Rex’s mind had cleared in record time, as he ushered Mrs Post into his study. He sat her in one of the two comfortable chairs, and then took himself back to his desk, from where his breath was less likely to intrude on proceedings.

‘Are you sure you haven’t been drinking?’ asked Mrs Post.

‘Would an ex-alcoholic think it a good idea to drink?’ asked Rex.

‘A stupid one might.’

‘Well, I am not a stupid one.’

‘Like trapped birds, alcoholics; they never really get out of the net. They struggle and they fight, but they never quite get away.’

‘You seem to know a great deal about them, Mrs Post.’

‘Oh I do, I do. I most certainly do. And I think its disgusting – the damage it does.’

‘And on the subject of drink, Mrs Post, you are perhaps not the most convincing lecturer – after certain recent escapades. Indeed listening to you now, brings the bald hair tonic salesman to mind.’

Mrs Post shook her head, and locked her jaw.

‘That was over work.’

‘Was it?’

‘Yes, it was.’

‘Fine. Well, now we’ve got all that cleared up, shall we proceed? You were asking about a funeral?’

Rex privately reckoned he had handled that all rather well.

*

Meanwhile, out in the High Street, Jane did not know what to do. She edged closer to the hole, but what worried her most was the absence of noise – she couldn’t hear anything. Azure was never slow in coming forward when she needed something; and she wasn’t coming forward now. Was this the end?

Jane needed a friend, and the best friend for circumstances such as these was Doctor Hafiz. She would walk down the street to his house, drag him out of bed, and see what he suggested. On reaching his house, however, she was rather surprised to find Dr Hafiz in an embrace with Patricia.

‘Well, I didn’t see that one coming,’ she thought to herself, and then felt rather envious of Patricia. This was strange, because she had no feelings for Dr Hafiz at all; or not those sorts of feelings at least.

Still, she had come this far and was not turning around now.

‘Dr Hafiz!’ she called out.

‘Jane!’ said Hafiz, disentangling himself from Patricia. ‘What are you doing out on a night like this?’

‘I need a word with you. Alone.’

‘Alone?’

‘Alone, yes.’

Dr Hafiz and Patricia said slightly flustered farewells, Patricia hurried away, and the doctor joined Jane in the street.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Jane. ‘I didn’t realise you were busy.’

‘I am here now. What seems to be the trouble?’

More of The Village

 

 
 

Picture postcard of The Village

More of The Village