Fri­day’s Child

Find­ing love is eas­ier than you think in this charm­ing short story by H. John­son-Mack.

The People's Friend Special - - FICTION -

Rev­erend Claife was look­ing for some­one lov­ing and giv­ing, but he couldn’t see what was right in front of him . . .

WITH a sigh, Rev­erend Wil­liam Claife low­ered his pen and stared bleakly out of his study win­dow.

Nor­mally, the view of the ram­bling gar­den run­ning down to the stream was enough to fire his imag­i­na­tion, but to­day the words of his ser­mon re­fused to come.

He clicked his tongue at the col­lie dog ly­ing in the shaft of sun­light be­fore the hearth rug.

“I’m strug­gling, Eric,” he said softly. “Let’s see if a walk will in­spire me.”

The pup crossed to Claife’s side, prompt­ing a smile. Eric’s un­con­di­tional love was a balm to his soul.

He’d been a gift from Dora at Ashridge Farm, too small for a work­ing sheep­dog, but per­fect for a lonely rev­erend and his empty vicarage. Well, not quite empty.

As he came down the pas­sage to­wards the pantry, Claife could hear the voice of Meriel, his house­keeper and for­mer school-fel­low, singing an old rhyme.

“Mon­day’s child is fair of face; Tues­day’s child is full of grace . . .”

She broke off with a smile as the rev­erend ap­peared in the door­way.

“Is ev­ery­thing all right?” she asked.

“I’m hav­ing trou­ble with the Sun­day ser­mon,” Claife ad­mit­ted. “So I’m tak­ing Eric for some air. Would you care to join us?”

Meriel’s round face lit up with de­light.

“I’d love to.”

They struck out round the moss-pock­eted wall sur­round­ing St Mary’s church to­wards the hills be­hind the vicarage, Eric dart­ing ahead, snuf­fling out scents with a wet nose.

Meriel watched him, a smile in her eyes, then turned to study the slim fig­ure of the vicar walk­ing dis­tract­edly at her side.

“Is it help­ing?” she asked after a while. “The air.” Claife shook his head. “No, not re­ally.”

Meriel frowned.

“It’s un­like you to be stuck for a sub­ject to re­prove us with. You must have some­thing play­ing on your mind.”

Claife had come to an abrupt halt.

“Is that what you think of me? That I put my­self above my con­gre­ga­tion?”

Meriel gaped at him, taken aback by the earnest­ness in his nor­mally docile fea­tures.

“Of course not! It was my poor at­tempt at a joke. Some­thing is both­er­ing you, though. Surely it’s not your aunt com­ing to stay this week­end? You adore Beatrix.”

Claife shook his head, dis­turbed by his re­sponse to Meriel’s in­no­cent at­tempt at ca­jol­ery.

He frowned as the rhyme Meriel had been singing echoed through his head and a pair of be­witch­ing, blue eyes swam be­fore him.

Mon­day’s child is fair of face. Oh, yes, most def­i­nitely fair . . .

Eric, hav­ing re­alised that his shad­ows had fallen be­hind, came bound­ing back down the hill to dance around their legs.

Meriel laughed and, bend­ing to root around in the tan­gle of grass and wild­flow­ers, un­earthed a stick to throw for him.

As Eric chased off in pur­suit, she tipped a con­sid­er­ing head at Claife.

“Per­haps you’re not fo­cus­ing on your goal,” she mused. “What’s that Bi­ble say­ing about the har­vest of per­se­ver­ance?”

“We will reap a har­vest if we do not give up.”

“That’s the one. Or take a tip from Moses on the mount, and let in­spi­ra­tion mould it­self.”

Claife frowned.

“Moses had forty days to be in­spired. I have two.”

Meriel smiled as she threw Eric’s stick for him.

“Oh, ye of lit­tle faith.”

****

The last thing he wanted, Claife re­flected later, was time in which to think.

He’d done too much of that since los­ing his heart to the loveli­est young woman he’d ever seen, then los­ing her to Thomas Haynes, the lo­cal doc­tor, when he’d had to join them in holy mat­ri­mony.

He’d been in a strange mood ever since, un­able to lift his spir­its ex­cept when out walk­ing or play­ing with Eric.

It was funny how he was quite ca­pa­ble of ad­vis­ing his parish­ioners on af­fairs of heart and mind, yet so un­wise when it came to deal­ing with them on a per­sonal level.

Aunt Beatrix, when she’d ar­rived, de­posited her bags in the front bed­room and shared Claife’s light sup­per, agreed with him.

“For such an em­pa­thetic soul, you are abysmal at recog­nis­ing your own feel­ings,” she scolded him as they tra­versed the path curv­ing round St Mary’s on an evening stroll.

See­ing the crest­fallen look in his eyes, she pat­ted his arm.

“So many of us don’t know our own minds; you mustn’t be­rate your­self for that. But you’ve been over-analysing, if I know you. Re­mem­ber the maxim we’ve al­ways lived by: ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son.”

Claife squeezed her hand, com­forted by her pres­ence.

Since his child­hood, Aunt Beatrix had been his un­fail­ing har­bour in a storm, sweep­ing in to take him un­der her wing and into her home and heart when his par­ents’ tragic death in a mo­tor ac­ci­dent had left him an or­phan.

Even now, when he’d long been in­de­pen­dent and re­turned as rec­tor to the vil­lage of his birth, she was still that safe port.

They fin­ished their walk, Claife now able to ap­pre­ci­ate the sweet lul­laby of the song­birds as he pointed out the last of the trum­peted fox­gloves dec­o­rat­ing the south wall.

Once they were back in the vicarage and Beatrix was en­sconced by the fire with the ra­dio, sherry in hand, he re­tired to the study, Eric at his heels, and fi­nally be­gan to write.

****

There was a mag­i­cal mist veil­ing the hills and sweep­ing down into the church­yard as the vil­lagers came to the ser­vice.

Once he was as­sured that Aunt Beatrix was com­fort­ably seated, her nephew took his place in the pul­pit, and she was able to look at her sur­round­ings.

As ever, she was pleased that Wil­liam had found such a pleas­ant par­ish and church in which to spend his days. Now all he needed was the right woman to share it with.

She knew in­stantly who the doc­tor’s new wife was, and why Wil­liam had been so at­tracted to her. El­iz­a­beth Haynes had an ethe­real beauty, a fairy qual­ity that was al­most im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore.

She wasn’t os­ten­ta­tious, ei­ther, but even so, Beatrix found her­self won­der­ing why Wil­liam had con­sid­ered her as his per­fect match.

Un­fair, per­haps, but Beatrix had lived her life be­ing guided by in­stinct, and she found her­self adding in a lit­tle ex­tra thanks to her prayers that El­iz­a­beth had pre­ferred a doc­tor’s surgery to the vicarage.

She no­ticed, too, the way the house­keeper Meriel had greeted her nephew, the light in her eyes when they’d rested on his face, and drew her own con­clu­sions.

As she rev­elled in Wil­liam’s ser­vice, she soon for­got all other thoughts, in awe as al­ways that such a shy boy could have grown into this dig­ni­fied or­a­tor.

“That was a won­der­ful ser­mon,” she told him as they en­joyed af­ter­noon tea in the shade of a sprawl­ing sy­camore in the vicarage gar­den. “I don’t know why you were wor­ried.”

“I’ve been wal­low­ing,” Claife con­fessed. “It was only the sec­ond time I’ve seen El­iz­a­beth since she be­came Mrs Haynes, which was play­ing on my mind. But I was fine, and I’m glad you en­joyed the ser­vice.

“The sub­ject was mostly thanks to Meriel, and some­thing she said about not giv­ing up.”

“An in­tel­li­gent young lady,” Beatrix re­marked. “A sweet one, too.”

“Yes,” Claife agreed ab­sently. “She takes good care of me, and Eric, too. And she makes de­li­cious cakes. Quite a few of my favourites, as it hap­pens.”

“I won­der why she does all that,” Beatrix prompted, care­fully watch­ing his face. Claife shrugged.

“Just help­ing out an old friend, I sup­pose.”

He bit into a slice of Meriel’s thick sponge cake with a con­tented sigh.

Beatrix shook her head and sighed to her­self.

When it came to any kind of per­sonal re­la­tion­ship, her nephew didn’t have a clue.

“Don’t de­spair,” she told him as she pre­pared to head home that night. “Of­ten we can look too far ahead, when what we are seek­ing is right in front of our faces.”

With one last hug, she joined all her bag­gage on the back seat of the taxi and waved good­bye.

****

Claife thought about her cryp­tic part­ing words over the next cou­ple of weeks, as the last shades of sum­mer faded into the fire-coloured pal­ette of the new sea­son.

He re­mem­bered them as he went about his du­ties and took walks through the hills, ac­com­pa­nied by his faith­ful hound and Meriel, who threw Eric sticks and talked about gar­den­ing and the day’s news­pa­pers with him.

He found him­self start­ing to miss her when she wasn’t around, and leav­ing the study door open so he could hear her singing as she flit­ted round the vicarage.

“Fri­day’s child is lov­ing and giv­ing; Satur­day’s child works hard for a liv­ing . . .”

When he be­gan al­ter­ing his days for shop­ping at Mrs Wick­ham’s stores so that he would bump into Meriel on her way back from her house­keep­ing du­ties up at the Old Hall, he fi­nally un­der­stood Aunt Beatrix’s mean­ing, and to whom she’d been re­fer­ring.

“What do you think, Eric?” he asked the pup one night. “I’m not good at this sort of thing. Per­haps I shouldn’t have the cus­tody of my parish­ioners’ hearts when I am so un­cer­tain of my own.”

Eric, laid out across his mas­ter’s feet, thumped his tail, then turned over for a tummy rub. Smil­ing, Claife bent down to oblige.

They were in­ter­rupted by the door­bell. Go­ing to an­swer it, Claife was sur­prised to find El­iz­a­beth Haynes on his porch, her fea­tures pale and trou­bled.

He led her into the par­lour.

“How can I be of ser­vice?” he asked her once they were seated.

“I think I may have been hasty in my mar­riage,” she con­fessed to Claife’s sur­prise, tak­ing the hand­ker­chief he of­fered. “Thomas is not the man I be­lieved him to be.”

“Is he cruel to you?”

Claife en­quired.

“What we are seek­ing is right in front of our faces”

“Only in his ne­glect,” she an­swered, sob­bing. “And we’re hardly out of our hon­ey­moon pe­riod! If this is what he’s like now, how bad will things be­come later on?”

“A doc­tor’s life is not his own,” Claife ven­tured del­i­cately. “His du­ties can be time-con­sum­ing.”

“It’s not just that,” El­iz­a­beth in­ter­rupted. “I’m doubt­ing my own heart. I find my­self look­ing at an­other man . . .”

Claife’s heart skipped as the large eyes she now raised to his held an un­mis­tak­able mes­sage.

She was lovely, but an­other face tugged at his heart­strings, with eyes not quite so large, but ones he would never grow tired of.

He had a duty of care to all of his parish­ioners, in­clud­ing Doc­tor Haynes.

“Mar­ried life is dif­fi­cult,” he told El­iz­a­beth with a smile. “Es­pe­cially in the early days. You must re­mem­ber the things about Thomas that drew you to him in the first place.”

El­iz­a­beth inched nearer, her smile im­pos­si­bly sweet and sug­ges­tive.

“Love is con­fus­ing,” she mur­mured. “It is so easy to mis­con­strue.”

Fer­vently, Claife agreed, re­flect­ing on his own en­tan­gled feel­ings over the past few months.

“You are fond of me, aren’t you, Wil­liam?” El­iz­a­beth con­tin­ued.

“As my parish­ioner and my friend,” Claife said.

“Then you’ll help me get through this.”

“Of course,” he replied, but the smile El­iz­a­beth be­stowed on him did not fill him with the de­light that it would once have done.

****

It was a few weeks later, and Claife was giv­ing Eric a much-needed scrub­bing in a tin bath in the pantry, his mind dwelling on the let­ter the post­man had brought that morn­ing.

El­iz­a­beth had writ­ten from Lon­don, where she was stay­ing for a while, to in­vite him to visit.

De­spite all his ef­forts to rec­on­cile her to her mar­riage, it wasn’t just a sym­pa­thetic ear she was in­ter­ested in.

Tak­ing ad­van­tage of Claife’s dis­trac­tion, Eric flung him­self out of the tub, spray­ing soap­suds ev­ery­where as he made a dash for free­dom.

Claife was about to give chase when he caught sight of Meriel out­side. She was sus­pended from the branches of an ap­ple tree reach­ing for fruit, and as he watched, she pitched for­ward be­fore crash­ing to the ground.

Claife changed di­rec­tion, fly­ing out through the back door and across the grass to skid to his knees at the side of her.

“Meriel!” he cried as he pulled her against his chest. “Are you all right?” She blinked up at him. “Wil­liam,” she mut­tered, a frown be­tween her brows. “Why are you wet?”

His laugh was a sob of re­lief.

“Thank the Lord you’re OK, my dar­ling!” He flushed as he re­alised what he’d said.

Meriel’s voice was strained.

“Aren’t you talk­ing to the wrong girl?”

Claife swal­lowed.

“No,” he mur­mured. “It’s the right girl, only I’ve been too afraid to tell you so.”

There was a smile in Meriel’s eyes as she said, “Tell me what?”

“I am in love with you,” Claife con­fessed in a rush. “I have been blind in the past. But now all I see is brown eyes in­stead of blue, and how beau­ti­ful my best friend is, as well as funny and kind. My very own Fri­day’s Child.

“Do you think you could love me, too, one day? Make a life with me in this quiet cor­ner of the world?” Meriel sighed.

“Why do you think I’ve been haunt­ing this place for months, spend­ing longer here than I needed and mak­ing all these cakes ev­ery week just be­cause they’re your favourites?”

Claife eased her up­right, keep­ing her tight within the cir­cle of his arms.

“Will you marry me, Meriel?”

Then he gasped as a fly­ing bun­dle of wet fur hurled it­self upon them.

Meriel laughed as Claife tried to fend off Eric and, think­ing it a game, the dog came back for more.

But the vicar didn’t mind, for some­where among the flail­ing fur, limbs and soap­suds, he heard Meriel say the mag­i­cal words.

“I’d love to, Wil­liam.”

The End.

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