My Dear Edith,
The first thing to say is that I am missing you terribly and questioning my sanity in putting such distance between us so soon into our marriage. I hope all is well in Ellbeck. I am missing the village too, my parishioners, Julia and Peter, Archie and Hannah; oh, everybody. You, most of all, my dear Edith. One good thing has come out of my retreat (apart from, I hope, some spiritual reinvigoration); it has reminded me of what I have. My life was good and fulfilling before but it has been blessed so much more for having you in it.
I’d better give you a brief account of life here at St Chad’s. The house is four miles outside of Lichfield, so almost striking distance of the great Cathedral. I don’t know if you’ve been to Lichfield Cathedral, dark and Gothic and towering on the outside, inside warmer, filled with wood, lots of wood, and marble and everywhere you look, signs of the craftsmanship of those previous centuries, where today’s mechanisation wasn’t even a dream but I suppose labour was freely available and boys spent years in apprenticeship to stone-masons and carpenters.
It reminded me, funnily enough, of our trip to Whitby, last month, when we said much the same thing about the abbey there.
There are eight of us on the retreat and we remain silent during the day apart from when we take part in services. After supper at six, we have the opportunity to socialise.
I will tell you about the two characters who interest me most. The first is a young curate, Roland Weston. He makes me feel old and dull, Edith. I like him but he has the light of the zealot in his eyes and he can be rather hard work, at times. He works amongst the poor of Birmingham and I think he must feel that the rest of us are little more than Anglican parasites, lolling about conducting a few services here and there and opening village fetes. I suppose he has a point. However, I am little more tolerant of his youth and idealism than some of the others are, especially, Stephen Bird, a chap about my own age who had a bad war and has woken us up on one occasion with his night terrors. Poor chap. He was telling me that this is now an unusual occurrence and that he was treated most successfully by a nerve specialist based in Edinburgh. He is a vicar in a small church in Scotland and I would imagine, has found his niche after some difficult years. He does not always have a great tolerance of young Roland’s sermonising. I hope I have acted the peacemaker.
There is a very good-looking chap, by the name of David Fallon—the type women find attractive. I haven’t taken to him and that’s nothing to do with his looks. There are two chaps from Derbyshire with whom I have exchanged no more than a few sentences. Then there is the elderly Canon Richardson and I’ll tell you more about him when I next write.
I look forward to hearing from you and I will write again tomorrow. Thankfully, we have our own small bedrooms and it is a pleasure actually, to escape here for an hour and write to you.
With much love to you, Edith,
* * *
Edith folded the letter and put it into the envelope. She’d read it again, later. She hadn’t known what this would be like, their first time apart in almost a year of marriage. Missing Henry had swept in and surprised her. More than surprised. Wasn’t it strange, how you could change from a fairly self-sufficient person to one who felt unsettled without another being close? If they weren’t careful, they were in danger of turning into one of those smug couples who made others feel uncomfortable, those on their own, principally. No, she wouldn’t get like that because she had been on the outside looking in on those couples herself, for a long time.
“Lemonade,” Hannah put the tray down on the gate-legged, white trellis table.
“Thank you, Hannah. I’m glad you brought two glasses. Take the weight off your feet, for a minute and tell me again about John’s scholarship and Cathy’s teacher training.”
Hannah looked at her and frowned. “I will but I would have thought you’re far more taken up with what the doctor is planning to do, to be worrying about my two.” Hannah often mentioned her other employer, Edith’s brother Archie’s plans. Come to think of it, it must be unsettling for her not knowing whether she was going to lose part of her income. She had remained as Archie’s housekeeper also, when Edith had married Henry and moved across to the vicarage.
“I am, taken up with it, of course I am. But, maybe I need a bit of distraction. Maybe the build up to his leaving has gone on too long, you know, prolonging the agony.”
She was right. It was over a year since Archie had first brought up his plan of going to Canada. There were periods of time in the past twelve months when he had stopped talking about it and they all wondered if he was having second thoughts.
He’d been present at two weddings in that period, she and Henry and Julia and Peter. Julia…there was a time when it looked like she and Archie might end up together. But, that wasn’t destined to happen. If you took one look at Julia and Peter together now, it was clear that destiny, on this occasion, knew what she was doing.
“Cathy qualifies as a properly trained teacher in the not-too-distant future and she is keen to move, you know, Miss Horton…” Hannah put her hand over her mouth and smiled. “Sorry, Edith. I mean. she wants to work in a city school, if you please. Make a difference. I can’t fault her, I suppose but I’m going to miss her dreadfully.”
She put her glass to her lips, a shadow of sadness crossing her face, just for a second. Blink and you’d miss it.
“You’ll have John for a while longer though.”
Hannah smiled and chased away the shadows.
“I will. John won’t be going anywhere for at least the next year.”