Snippets of Downshire Life – Eastertide – Maundy Thursday
The Finchbottom Vale nestles comfortably between the Ancient Dancingdean Forest to the south and the rolling Pepperstock Hills in the north, and to the east 15 miles inland from Sharpington-By-Sea, equidistant between the seaside resort and Pepperstock Green was the rambling village of Brookley and at its heart was St Mildred’s Church.
The villager’s spiritual needs were met by its vicar Rev Cecil Payne who lived at the adjacent vicarage with his wife Lily and their six unmarried daughters, Chrissie, Daniela, Hazel, Heather, Katie and Elise.
Cecil and Lily loved their children very much but as they reached the time in their lives when they were nearing their sixties and they had expectations for their daughters.
For Lily her hopes involved the grandchildren that were not forthcoming whereas Cecil just wanted them to spread their wings, but as Easter loomed, there was no sign of either of them getting their wish, but the power of prayer was a wonderful thing and both parents prayed for their daughters.
The sweetest of whom was 20-year-old Heather and the reason she was unattached was that she wasn’t sure that there was anyone worthy enough for her give up her good works for.
She was a shining girl, intelligent but not academically so, but she was inclined towards an unquenchable sense of public duty.
Not that she didn’t occasionally take time out to look for “the one” but she failed to locate him on the occasions when she did.
She was arguably the prettiest of the Payne girls, in fact Heather was very attractive but not showily so, very feminine, brunette and petite, and everyone who knew her was surprised that she had never had a steady boyfriend and since the time in year ten at school when she bloomed she had run the gauntlet of well-meaning friends, throwing what they considered to be suitable candidates in her path, but she side stepped them all.
There was something special in her nature, a simple goodness, she believed in goodness and not surprisingly, everlasting life and of course good and evil.
The problem with finding “the one” was that she was too fussy, apart from him needing to be tall and dark, “the one” needed to meet her usual criteria, handsome, kind, loving and be true of heart.
But in addition, she was searching for someone with a moral compass, a practicing Christian naturally, a church goer at least occasionally, though not someone permanently on their knees, a devout man but not a pious one.
She wanted a man who was worldly but not tainted, attractive but not vain, masculine but possessed of modesty.
A man with good dress sense, free of tattoos and body piercings, well mannered, and gentlemanly, definitely not someone who drank from a bottle.
However, with every passing week Heather had become convinced she was looking for someone who didn’t really exist.
At the beginning of Lent a new Choirmaster, Robert Perry, arrived at St Mildred’s from nearby Sharpington after their existing music director had a heart attack, and over the following weeks she realised that he met most, if not all, of her criteria, plus he was blessed with great kindness, a quality in her opinion unfailingly, underappreciated in the modern world, which was a quality that she had not bargained for.
But she soon dismissed him as a prospect and cleared him off her radar, firstly because he was seven years older than her, although that in itself was not a deal breaker, but he also spent a lot of time away from the village and was quite secretive about where he went.
Robert too was searching, he was searching for a woman who shared his faith and who put others before themselves, a good woman and he had sought her all of his life and he had met several possible contenders over the years, not unsurprisingly given the fact that he was a significant member of the church and well respected among the ecclesiastical music field, but the ones who caught his eye always fell short of his ideals, so he ended up
walking the righteous path alone.
He found several members of the choir met his criteria
and none more so than Heather but that did not influence his decision to give her the solo at the Easter service.
From the moment he arrived at St Mildred’s it was obvious she was the go to girl when it was time for a soloist he could rely on, and her work ethic was exceptional, and he pushed her to her limits which each additional performance.
But as Easter approached they had to intensify the rehearsals, as at the beginning of Holy week, her sister Hazel, who was also the church organist, tripped down the church steps and broke her arm.
Hazel was a very accomplished musician, and it took a couple of days phoning around the county to find someone of a decent enough standard to fill her shoes.
But even though they found someone relatively quickly and of a suitable standard they still lost two days rehearsal which was time that had to be made up.
Everyone involved gave total commitment and worked diligently to make up for lost time and when it got the evening of Maundy Thursday there was only Heather’s Good Friday solo that they had to polish, neither her or Robert were in the best of moods as neither of them had intended to still be practicing that late into Holy week and they both had somewhere else they needed to be, and they didn’t want to be late.
Robert made them even later when he insisted on her doing it one more time, and he did that because he became mesmerised by her angelic voice and was struck for the first time by the fact that not only did she sound like an angel, but she looked like one as well.
However, stand in Organist Harry Paul called a halt to proceedings when Robert asked to go again.
“I don’t think that’s necessary, it’s getting late and you can’t improve on perfection”
“No, you’re quite right” he agreed with his eyes still fixed on Heather
“Oh no” she said looking at her watch “Look at the time”
“Somewhere to be?” Robert asked
“Yes” she replied and put her coat on but didn’t elaborate.
He supposed she must have a date or something equally frivolous, and then he looked at his own watch.
“Oh, dear it is rather late” he said, “Do you have somewhere to be as well?” she asked as he put his own coat on
“Yes, I do” he replied, “and I particularly wanted to be there on time”
“Oh yes? What is it a new restaurant?” she asked
“Of a sort” he replied
“What about you?” Robert asked as they left the church “Do you have a date?”
“Certainly not” she said with afront “I have more important things to do with my time”
“Well I’ll see you tomorrow at the service” he said as he was digesting her answer
“Quite so” she agreed “I hope you make it on time”
“You too” he replied and walked to his car as she headed in the opposite direction to the Vicarage.
As she lived so close she was fed, showered, changed and on her way out the door before Robert had even reached his front door in Sharpington.
When he did, he closed the door behind him and went straight to the kitchen and made himself a sandwich.
He ate it far too quickly to be good for him, in fact he was still chewing as he stepped into the shower and as he did so he knew he would have heartburn for the rest of the night.
He dried himself and dressed in warm clothes and was then on his way.
He drove into town and parked on the promenade and checked his watch as he hurriedly walked toward his destination, as he was twenty minutes late.
He looked through the window and saw it was quite busy and a queue had formed so he walked around to the side door and walked in and undid his coat as he did he said
“I’m terribly sorry I’m so late I was unavoidably detained”
“Well they all say that” Heather said as she turned around and Robert smiled when he saw that it was his angel.
And at that moment they both realised that their mutual searches for “the one” had come to an end and it happened at the Sharpington soup kitchen.