A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

A bout of sickness and Josiah has a moment to rethink his beliefs.


Now there duckie, how are you feeling today?” asked Nurse Jennie as she tugged at an obstinate curtain in order to let a combination of fresh air and sunlight flood into the room.

Josiah had only just woken up and he had to think about that. How did he feel? Was he better, or could he do with another day in bed? He’d already spent three days there, half sleeping and half reliving drowsy memories in a sort of fantasy of what life might have been or should have been or, sometimes, thank goodness, hadn’t been.

I feel a bit better,” he mumbled after a moment of almost deep consideration.

You’ve had a bad dose of it. It’s going round, you know, though you’re the only victim of that particular bug here, which is a good thing seeing as we’ve only got the two beds in this sick bay,” she said chirpily.

I felt lousy,” he confirmed.

And you reckon to be feeling a bit better today, lovely?” she smiled, “maybe well enough to get up? Though you need time to recuperate, I’d say. I’ll tell the Father. Bed rest and a special diet for at least three more days before you return to that interminable praying you men believe will shoehorn them into heaven.”

Don’t you?” he asked.

Me? Good Lord, no!” she laughed, “I’ve got my own religion and it’s not a million miles from yours only there’s no God, no Heaven and no Hell in it! I believe in love and kindness, that’s all, and with both of those you’ll never go so far wrong as long as it’s proper love and proper kindness. So, duckie, do you want a cup of tea? A nice cup with two sugars in would be my prescription.”

He thought again.

Tea with two sugars? He didn’t usually have sugar in his tea but the idea of something sweet seemed suddenly quite appealing.

Yes please,” he said.

She bustled to the small kitchen next to her lounge area. Nothing was very big in the King’s Arboretum, the building being old and draughty and built at a time when space seemed less important.

I could do with more space,” she shouted as she filled the kettle, “it’s a bit cramped in here and I’ve not got enough room for everything, not by a long mile. Even some of the fathers complain because there’s stuff they want to do that they haven’t got space for, especially in winter when it’s not fit to be out of doors.”

What was this place before it was what it is now?” he asked when she returned with a steaming mug. “I mean, it hasn’t always been a retreat, has it?”

She sat down next to his bed and smiled at him.

They don’t like to think about it, the fathers that is, but it was a nunnery, or a convent, as you might say,” she said, a glint in her eyes. “I’ve heard tales that would make your toes curl! Some of the things young novice nuns used to get up to with all manner of men once they found them! There were babies born to a few of them, real live living babies, and everyone knows how they come about!”

I’m shocked,” was all he could say.

You see,” she said confidentially, “there’s one truth as has always been around, and that is men like to sow their wild oats but it’s those they sow ‘em with as gets the blame. I wonder, lad, have you sowed any wild oats yet?”

He could tell by the twinkle in her eyes that it probably wasn’t a serious question, but he still wanted to put her mind at rest, to confirm himself as an innocent in the world. Some things were important to him. A remnant from a bitter childhood reminded him that there was only one true path to the Hereafter and that didn’t include even the lightest touch of sin.

I had a girl,” he said, “Penny she was, and I told her I respected her too much to … you know, risk things. But she moved on. And I came here.”

I could tell you’re a good boy with a mending heart,” she smiled at him, “it shines in your eyes, it does. I tell you what, it’s a lovely day out there, in the gardens that they call an arboretum, and there’s a lily pond out there, with seats. I could take you to sit out there and we could talk or you could read or do whatever it is young men like to do under the sun on a day like this, though there’s no kicking of balls around!”

That would be nice,” he said, more out of politeness than a sudden urge to bask in the sunlight. “You could tell me more about this place. I’ve always been interested in old places.”

That’s not so much true as something that crossed my mind for the first time right now, but I do find myself curious…

Get that dressing gown on, then,” she said, smiling hugely, obviously looking forwards to a break under the sun herself. “I tell you what, to make sure you’re not going to fall down all in a heap I’ll push you in that wheelchair over there...”

He hadn’t noticed it before, but there was looked like a really elderly wheelchair tucked in the corner next to the door.

She bustled for a few moments, washing their mugs, clearing the work surface in her kitchen area, and then she helped him into the wheelchair and started pushing him out of the sick bay and onto a long corridor that led past a row of cell-like rooms.

I could tell you so many tales about the goings on here in days past,” she said as they made their slow way along. “I knew an old nun once, she’s dead now, been dead for years, but she could tell a right good tale. But her own was a sorry story really. She came from a posh family, loads of money, eldest son in Parliament, you know the sort I mean, and she got herself in a spot of bother with her own brother! I mean, her own kin! But he did what he never should have done with her, and she got herself in the family way.”

That’s terrible,” murmured Josiah.

That’s not that bottom of it, laddie,” she said sadly. “She was sent here when it was a convent. Now that would have been probably not so far off a hundred years ago, cause it was quite a while since she died and she’d been only a teenager when her kin despoiled her. Anyway, because of what her own brother did to her she had to spend the rest of her days in this place, moving up the ranks but never reaching the top on account of that sin. Just a moment: here we are, hold tight, I’ll just edge you through this door and over a bit of a ledge and we’ll be in the garden...”

She carefully lowered the wheelchair over a slight ledge, and then pushed him towards what looked like a lily pond.

There wasn’t much to it, and if there were any lilies there they must have been out of season despite the summer sun because it was really quite drab. But Nurse Jennie lowered herself onto a garden seat and helped him out of the wheelchair so that he could sit there next to her.

Now isn’t this cosy?” she grinned at him, and squeezed his hand in hers. It was the sort of physical contact he’d been short of for most of his life, and it took his mind back to Penny and their lonely walks down the byways round Henstooth. They’d held hands as they walked along, a precious contact that had meant more to him than just about anything. So he held Nurse Jennie’s hand and smiled at her. How old was she, he wondered, in her fifties? Maybe sixties?

She died here,” sighed nursey, “died here in her nineties, which was when she told me her story. And the awful truth was she had very little life after her brother despoiled her, whilst he ended up in the Cabinet in Westminster, in an important position in Government with the life and morals of a nation at his finger-tips. He was there, revered and respected, and she was here...

He raped her, you see, when she was fifteen, and that would have been bad enough, but worse than that he stole her life by burying her here where prayers are said and hymns are sung to a god that never was outside the dreams of the ancients long, long ago.”

I believe in God,” he said to her.

Do you?” she asked, “do you really?”

And then he thought do I really? The god of my father’s Hereafter? The god who despises sin and condemns even the least of sinners to the other place in the Hereafter, the place my father dared not name?

Maybe not so much as I did,” he muttered.

It was all so darned complicated and he wasn’t at all sure what he believed any more.

So what was he doing spending the prime of his life in a theological college?

© Peter Rogerson 17.03.18

© 2018 Peter Rogerson

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Added on March 17, 2018
Last Updated on March 17, 2018
Tags: convent, nurse, nunnery, abuse, rape, belief, religion



Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 78 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..