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Following his difficulties with Polly, Henry has a break-down and begins to question his faith.
The arrival of a mysterious woman seeking her unknown father, further complicates. Then Polly is falsely accused of a crime and arrested.
These intertwined lives collide and unravel in this fast-paced, engrossing drama that sheds light on what it means to be of faith, but to be simply human nonetheless.
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The traditional and quiet lives of a retiring rector and his wife are shaken up when a new, young, lively curate comes along.
The Revd. Polly Hewitt, recently ordained in the Church of England, is starting her first post as curate to Canon Henry Winstone, who is nearing retirement and very set in his traditional ways.
Polly, straight out of collge and full of energy and new ideas, clashes with Henry and his grim wife, Mavis, from the outset, and is soon in trouble with the bishop.
“Welcome, Polly. Come in.” The tall, thin woman, with faded brown hair beginning to turn gun-metal grey, sounded anything but welcoming. There was no smile, just a measured glance over Polly from top to toe. The door was opened a further crack as the woman turned away into the house.
“Well, come on, if you’re coming.”
Perhaps it was the Norfolk way, thought Polly. “Um, thank you, er—Mrs. Winstone—um, Mavis.”
Polly giggled nervously, trying to shrink her cleavage back into its rather low-cut shirt. Well, it was the hottest day of the year so far. She felt very conscious of her tattered jeans, covered in dust now from all those boxes. Astonishing how moving house can generate so much filth from the cleanest of homes. Not that Polly’s previous student residence had been exactly clean, she reflected ruefully. Polly ran her fingers ineffectually through her blond curls, wild at the best of times, positively ferocious now.
“Henry,” called her hostess. “Here’s Polly.”
“My dear!” As Henry Winstone emerged from his study and took Polly’s hand, she tried to remember how fortunate she was to have landed a job at all, as the principal of her theological college had never tired of reminding her. In these days of rising prices and falling numbers in church, not every curate could find a post and there was no guarantee whatsoever that your first
position would suit you. You had to make yourself fit it, the Reverend Doctor Theodore Grimes had said.
“Would you like to wash before luncheon?” asked Mavis.
“Oh! Yes. Thank you.”
Clearly she looked even more of a complete mess than she had realised. Although how anyone could expect her to dress decently when she didn’t even know where her clothes were, beat Polly. But she wished she’d thought to bring a comb and maybe turfed out some makeup.
She washed her hands quickly in the downstairs cloakroom and splashed water on her face, scrubbing at the dirt which had somehow managed to install itself just above her left eyebrow. The cloakroom was so spartan and devoid of any comforting touches that Polly felt forlorn. She sighed and reminded herself how kind it was of Mavis and Henry to invite her to the rectory for lunch on her moving day. An evening meal would have been preferable, but Henry had explained in his letter that they always ate at lunchtime, so who was Polly to object? At least it was food, the only meal she was likely to get that day.
The savour of roast lamb guided Polly to the dining room. In a quaintly courteous way Henry pulled out a chair for her, before seating himself at the head of the table. Mavis was already seated at the other end.
At over six feet tall, Canon Henry Winstone was an imposing presence, with his thick and floppy silver hair and his heavy, dark-rimmed glasses making him look like a kindly professor. The wide dog collar, which completely encircled his neck and was fastened with studs at the back, was as embarrassingly old-fashioned as both his outdated sports jacket and Mavis’ narrow-belted, polyester dress in dull shades of lilac and grey. Polly feared the Winstones’ dress sense might indicate an expression of their outlook on life and church.
At her ordination service in Norwich Cathedral, Polly had worn a shocking pink clergy shirt to protest against the ban on women becoming bishops in the Church of England. This modern style had just a small piece of plastic slipped into the front of the collar. Henry hadn’t commented on her choice at the cathedral, but Polly wondered what he would think about her colourful shirts. Still, for starting work in Thorpemunden she had a reasonably sombre, dark green shirt which showed off the new dog collar to advantage and which she planned to team with a pair of well-cut tan trousers and high-heeled tan sandals. The shirt, with side vents, was designed to be worn outside trousers, and Polly was pleased with the overall effect. The loose style suited her outsize boobs and she felt she would look sufficiently serious to be a curate without having entirely abandoned the fashion industry.
“Help yourself to vegetables.” Mavis proffered a large tureen with new potatoes at one end and runner beans and carrots at the other.
Even though it was too hot to eat, Polly filled her plate in case it was days before she ate again. About to tuck in, she picked up her knife and fork, but replaced them in a hurry and bowed her head as Henry intoned,
“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful.”
“Amen,” chorused Polly and Mavis.
They ate in silence for a few moments until Mavis asked, “What brings you to Thorpemunden, Polly?”
Polly laughed. “I was, like, so late applying, it was the only place left!”
“Oh, really? So we are your last choice?”
“Oh no! Oh, I’m sorry—I didn’t mean—it’s just that—I—um—haven’t lived in a village before. I’m really looking forward to it. I grew up in Streatham, South London, then it was university and college, both of them in cities. I don’t really know Norfolk at all. But I think this’ll be so cool. I love trees and things.”
Mavis smiled without humour, her blue eyes remaining cool behind their brown-rimmed spectacles. “Tell us about your family, dear.”
“My family?” Polly thought for a moment. How much was it safe to reveal? “Well, Mum lives in Streatham with Toby, my younger brother. He’s still at school. Took his exams this year. Doesn’t yet know what he wants to do with his life, but that’s boys, isn’t it?” She thought to herself, I didn’t lie. I didn’t say what exams. None of her business that it was SATS. If she finds out Toby’s only ten, she’s bound to probe. Aloud she added with a sorrowful face which she hoped would forestall further questioning, “Sadly, Dad went years ago. Mum never really got over that.” Then she brightened. “That’s one reason why I wanted to come here. Mum’s delighted that I’m so well settled in such a lovely spot.”
Henry said, “Perhaps she’ll visit from time to time? We’d love to meet her, wouldn’t we, dear?”
Over my dead body, thought Polly. Aloud she said, “The countryside is so peaceful, isn’t it? Like a retreat for the elderly.”
Polly had just had her first retreat. All the ordinands had been taken by coach to the Diocesan Retreat House at Ditchingham, South Norfolk, where they had stayed together for a three-day silent retreat. Polly had dreaded spending three days in silence, seriously doubting her ability to do so, but the days had been punctuated by ten-minute homilies from time to time given by the retreat director. And Polly had found that the surrounding countryside and the grounds of the Retreat House were perfect for solitary walks. Meals were silent, which could have proved difficult, but they had been accompanied by quiet music. So although trying to mime “Pass the salt” had resulted in helpless giggles from time to time, Polly’s experience had been extremely positive. As the ordinands had nervously donned their new clergy shirts and dog collars for the coach ride back to the cathedral for the ordination service, Polly had been filled with a deep peace and a genuine sense of gratitude that she was on the right path.
So she had meant her remark as a compliment, but intercepting the glance that passed between her hosts, she had a sinking feeling that it had not been received in quite that way.
Henry frowned. “Rather more than that, I should say. I shouldn’t make too many assumptions just yet, if I was you. You might be surprised. You might find the country rather different from your expectations, although I admit there isn’t much to do round here, not for young people. There’s a film club in Diss and the theatre in Norwich, of course, but nothing in Thorpemunden itself. Still, that won’t bother you, I’m sure. After all, most of your evenings will be taken up with meetings and you’ll be busy enough during the day.
“Do you like walking? There are some lovely walks around here. I myself am interested in trains, so Mavis and I often migrate to Diss to the railway. Do you have any interest in trains?”
“Er, well, not a lot. Not at the moment, that is, because—because I’ve not had the opportunity...” As soon as the words had left her mouth, Polly wished them unspoken.
“Well!” said Henry, glancing at Mavis. “We must see about that, mustn’t we, dear? Now then, Polly. Obviously you need a day or two to settle in—and anything you want, just ask. Mavis and I are only too willing to help, aren’t we, dear? But when you’re settled, I say Morning Prayers at seven-thirty a.m. daily in Thorpemunden Church. Breakfast after that and we begin work at nine o’clock. Will that suit, do you think?”
Polly gulped. He was joking, wasn’t he? But a glance at Henry’s face soon disabused her of that forlorn hope.
Polly thought quickly. “Um, well, that might be a little difficult for me, living in the next village. I was, er, hoping to cycle as much as possible—to, like, reduce my carbon footprint—so I wouldn’t have time to get back for breakfast. Would it be possible to have breakfast first and meet a little later?”
Henry and Mavis exchanged glances. “What do you think, dear? Could we manage that, do you think?”
“I suppose we’ll have to, if Polly is unable to fit in with your plans.” Mavis tossed her head.
“We’ll say eight-thirty for prayers on Monday, then,” Henry conceded, “and come straight back here to organise the day. How does that sound?”
“That’s cool,” said Polly, “thank you. I won’t be late, I promise.”