The Shade of a Fine Day [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Charlie Cochrane
eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Gay Fiction
eBook Description: Curate William Church may set the hearts of the parish's young ladies aflame, but he doesn't want their affection or presents. He has his sights set elsewhere, for a love he's not allowed to indulge. One night, eight for dinner at the Canon's table means the potential arrival of a ghost. But what message will the spirit bring and which of the young men around the table is it for? This short story is part of the Past Shadows anthology.
eBook Publisher: MLR Press, LLC/MLR Press, LLC
Fictionwise Release Date: May 2011
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2 Reader Ratings:
The church bells rang out into the December night - they'd been pealing for an hour now, working through one of the intricate set of changes so beloved of the curate. William Church may have only come to St. Archibald's at midsummer, but he'd already inspired his flock with his love of campanology, so much so that the dormant art of change ringing had been reintroduced, and the old set of bells had sprung into new and glorious life. They quivered with joy, sending a sweet sound into the frosty air that said, 'Come and worship.' His intention was for God to be venerated, but the ladies of Blaydon, tucked away in the recesses of Hampshire, had other ideas in mind when it came to the object of adoration.
It was just as well that the incumbent, Canon Newington, wasn't a jealous man, or else he might have been envious of the number of enraptured faces filling the congregation when his young curate preached at evensong. The rector was pragmatic about the favourable ambience a late summer's evening could produce, and amused that many of the congregation, the ones who showed most delight, were the spinsters among his flock. Girls of no more than fifteen through to old maids of seventy, who should have known better. He supposed it was the effect of the setting sun on Mr. Church's golden locks, or the mellifluous sound of his voice against a background of birdsong and the lowing of the cattle in the water meadows, which enhanced the man's already numerous attractions.
"Just you wait until the days shorten, my dear," he told his wife after one particular sermon had been punctuated with sighs and simpering from the pews. "The cattle will all be milked when the time comes for evensong, there'll be no rooks cawing in the elms, then the audience for Mr. Church's monthly homily will diminish."
"If I were the sort of woman who lays bets, I'd wager you that you're wrong. Hopelessly so." Mrs. Newington produced her wide, handsome grin. "His attraction for the ladies of your parish won't wane with the daylight. The same string of eligible young women will continue to tread a path, deep and wide, to the door of Mr. Church's lodgings." If she'd stooped low enough to be a betting woman, she'd have won her wager fair and square. The hay was gathered in, the equinox passed and young women still arrived bearing cakes and comforters, and other delights for the curate's delectation.
It was the sort of burden that any passably good-looking, unmarried priest had to endure but at least it meant, by devious means, that the poor of St. Archibald's were better looked after than usual. By October it had become the norm for all the spinsters of a marrying age to be vying with each other to impress William Church with their acts of charity or piety. The curate was handsome, well bred and unattached, any of which would have made him a target for the matchmakers of the parish and which, in combination, made his stock almost as valuable as Mr. Swann's, the previous holder of the title 'most eligible bachelor in the parish'.
Some of the ladies in the congregation at St. Archibald's found it hard to decide whether to rest their gaze on the man in the pulpit - when the curate was preaching - or the equally lovely one in the third pew from the front. Benjamin Swann scored equally highly in the matter of looks, breeding and availability, although his hair was a shade darker than Mr. Church's and he smiled less readily. But when his pleasing baritone rang through the air at matins it was enough to make any young woman of sensibility swoon. Except Benjamin's sister, of course, who only had eyes for the spinsters' delight delivering the sermon or reading the lesson.
"Did you hear the bells last night?" Madeleine Ardleigh sipped her tea, eyes shining in remembrance of the previous evening's peal.
"I did. The tenor was particularly lovely." Beatrice Swann smiled as if she had some secret knowledge of what had gone on in the bell tower to make the sound so heavenly.
"Was that Mr. Church's bell?" Madeleine always listened to a peal with pleasure, not least because it made her think of the curate's strong arms caressing the sallies. She was among those spinsters who were smitten; when she came for tea up at the big house, which was frequently, she always hoped that Mr. Swann might be there to favour her with a smile.
"I believe so. My brother says it takes a deft hand to make it sound so sweet."
"Is your brother to join us?" Madeleine felt the flush rise on her cheeks and wished she could restrain it.
"He said he intended to. I have no idea what could have kept him. Too fond of...ah."
The door of the drawing room opened, Benjamin Swann appearing full of apologies. "I'm sorry, Beatrice. Miss Ardleigh, forgive me, but my favourite hound decided to pup at the most inopportune of moments."
"Can't you leave that to the gamekeeper to attend to?" Beatrice rolled her eyes in an eloquent gesture signifying Brothers, what can you do with them? Madeleine, who had no siblings, tried to return the look knowingly.
"I have now, but I wanted to be there for a while. I've had her a long time." He took the cup which his sister offered.
"We were discussing the church bells." Beatrice turned the talk away from such mundane matters as hounds.
Benjamin took the hint. "Did you hear them last evening, Miss Ardleigh? They seem to be getting better and better."
"Mr. Church has certainly enthused the verger and his team." Beatrice offered her brother a small, sugary biscuit.
"They excelled themselves last night. Wild and dangerous I'd have called it if I were a poetic man."
"I don't follow you, Mr. Swann." Madeleine felt herself flushing once more, at the brief association of the word 'wild' with the handsome curate.
"Don't you find there's something unconstrained about the tolling of the different bells? I have a fancy they might leap out from their well ordered courses, break the pattern and infect the English night with anarchy." Benjamin's eyes shone. "A glorious chaos."
"Nonsense, dear." Beatrice rolled her eyes again.
"I must agree with Miss Swann." Madeleine hated to gainsay her host, but it was safer than crossing his sister. "They're the least chaotic things I can think of." The bells spoke to her strength restrained and controlled, just as Mr. Church's bulging black jacket did.
"Quite right, my dear. Now, have you been invited to the Newington's for dinner?" Beatrice pointed vaguely in the direction of the mantelpiece, where invitations, old or new, sat in a neat row.
"Oh yes." Madeleine almost squealed with delight. It may not have been an invitation from the curate himself but the next best thing. Canon and Mrs. Newington request the pleasure of your company at dinner, Friday next. The Ardleigh and Swann households were awash with excitement, much more than should have been warranted by just a summons from the manse to take a meal with the rector and his wife. Ever since the invitations had arrived, dresses had been fetched out, put away, fussed and fretted over, swatches of material looked at and colours compared.
Madeleine had heard the curate was said to favour blue as a colour appropriate to pretty girls with blonde hair but whether he would approve of the same on a rather plain brunette was a moot point. She was veering towards wearing green as it suited her eyes, but had decided not to make a decision until the last moment. Rumour had it Beatrice had been seen with yards of sprigged muslin and some rather overstated ribbons, all of a rather bold hue, although one which remained unspecified by the informant. Madeleine had been trying to drop subtle hints on the subject but had met a stone wall, much to her annoyance. No decision could be made on an outfit until one knew the colours the enemy would be decked in.
"I did find the invitation rather puzzling. The canon has a rather unusual way of putting things." Madeleine stuck out her bottom lip in what she hoped was an attractive pout, although she regretted wasting time on such fripperies when she needed to execute her plan of campaign in terms of dresses.
"That'll be his wife. Benjamin, oh..." If Beatrice was about to ask her brother to fetch the invitation, he'd pre-empted her.
"The Canon merely has an impish sense of humour, my dear, as appropriate for someone who spent four years as a missionary on the Pacific islands." Benjamin pointed to the elegantly sloped handwriting. "It will be an interesting evening. Is that the part you refer to, Miss Ardleigh?"
"Yes." It was going to be interesting whatever occurred. Madeline's parents were perplexed at what all the fuss was about, why she'd not expended half the effort on her clothes for the midsummer ball up at the Swann's house. If they'd bothered to ask in the right quarters, anyone could have told them that Mr. Church had been away visiting his family at the time of the ball, so all extra feminine effort would have been wasted. "I wonder what Mr. Newington thinks might be in store?"
"Apart from my sister making eyes at the curate? I can't guess." Benjamin's words were drowned under howls of feminine protest.