A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

Josiah learns quite a lot about his own family history before he leaves the retreat.


It hadn’t been so much a retreat as a break from theological studies and with a little bit of self-discovery thrown in, and now it was time for the two students from County University to return to their college and their studies.

I’ll be sad to see you off, Josiah,” said Nurse Jennie, her expression lending truth to her words. “We’ve got on well enough, don’t you think?”

They were back by the lily pond (still with no actual lilies), on the wooden seat they’d sat on a month earlier and Josiah was waiting for his transport back to the world of academia. Nurse Jennie was holding one of Josiah’s hands and squeezing it gently as she spoke. It was a physical contact that he found both comforting and reassuring, and he loved it.

We’ve got on very well indeed,” agreed Josiah, wishing the thought that this woman was old enough to be his mother didn’t encroach onto his thoughts. But it did, and once there he couldn’t chase it away. She was clearly old enough to be in his mother’s generation.

He’d had a real mother, of course, one who had carried him for nine months as he’d grown big enough to be born, and then there had been Mildred, the wonderful warm-hearted surrogate mother who he had learned to love in the same way as most growing lads learn to love their flesh and blood mothers, and now there was nurse Jennie, who had healed him when he needed healing and spread over his soul a breath of something that felt suspiciously like fresh air, blowing the cobwebs of the greater part of his young life away.

We could have been even closer,” she sighed, squeezing his fingers a little bit harder.

He didn’t know what to say because he didn’t know what she meant, and at the back of his mind there was a battle raging between agreeing and disagreeing with her if she meant what he rather suspected she did mean.

But she was old enough to be… he’d already told himself that, and if he was wrong in that it might conceivably be true that she was possibly old enough to be his grandmother, and that was a scary thought that needed to be chased right away.

What do you mean?” he asked.

What I said,” she sighed after a few seconds of silence. “I might be getting on in life, but that doesn’t stop me being a woman,” she added. “Let me tell you about me. I suppose it’s out of politeness and good manners that you haven’t asked me how I got to work here, but I’ll tell you anyway because, well, I’d like you to know, and a little bit of my story might be of interest to you.”

I don’t want to pry...” he interrupted, though he knew he hadn’t asked the question, he hadn’t pried.

I was born here,” she said simply. “My mother was a fallen woman. That’s what they called the raped and abused back when she conceived me. It wasn’t the fault of any man, goodness me, no! Any blame must fall on the violated woman for allowing herself to be raped! But my mother was a frail creature, sweet and yielding, and she yielded to a brute of a man simply because there was no other way out for her.

He was important, though, important enough to want his filthy little secrets locked away for all time, and I was the consequence of his filthy little secret. And you know what, he was a policeman, a senior policeman who had the power to send a man to the gallows at a whim if that’s what he wanted. They still hanged people back when I was born, you know. The judge would place a black cap on his own wigged head and agree with every word the senior police officer said, and condemn the prisoner to death if the jury pronounced him guilty, they also bowing to the whim of that senior police officer. And sometimes, you know, the evidence could be presented in such a way that black was made to seem white, and white was made to seem black. It did happen, Josiah, that was the rule of the land back then, that was the way things were.”

I should think most people they hanged were guilty, though,” suggested Josiah, wanting the world to be a more comfortable place than her speech was making it.

Maybe most of the time. But you can’t start a heart beating again once it’s been stopped in error, can you? But that didn’t help my poor mother who was sent here to have her baby. It wasn’t so bad as some places, but it was bad enough, a home for fallen women attached to a nunnery for pure and innocent nuns whose one delight lay in each other once the lights were out and the doors locked. I was here, you know, I grew up seeing what a child, maybe, shouldn’t see, though it did me no harm knowing what sister this got up to with sister that. They didn’t hurt each other. It was never cruel.”

I have wondered...” muttered Josiah vaguely, largely because he hadn’t.

They made sure I was educated. I went to the local school and did well enough to go for training as a nurse when I was old enough. I was cared for very well indeed, though it was always made plain to me by spiteful little words that I was a product of sin and, consequently, would always be tainted. I was even told that no matter how hard I tried to be good I was condemned to a hereafter of hellfire and damnation because of the way I was conceived. They weren’t being cruel, though, they were never likely to be cruel, they were just telling me how they saw it, and how they saw it was how it was.”

And you’ve been here all your life?” he asked.

I left for a while, once I was qualified,” she murmured, “but with my background I just couldn’t fit in. Nobody understood me. I even had a boyfriend, and when I screamed blue murder when he tried to make love to me and I saw his dangly bits I never saw him again. You see, he didn’t understand me and I, being young didn’t understand him, though I’m pretty sure that until the screaming bit I believed that I loved him.”

That’s awful,” murmured Josiah, not knowing whether it was or wasn’t anything like awful. But he had to agree with her. She was comfortable, and he liked that, appreciated it even, wanted more of it.

So I never actually had that kind of relationship with a man until I met Father Ignatius Pyke.”

Father Ignatius Pyke? Pyke? That’s my name!” stammered Josiah.

I realised that when I saw your name on the lists when you first arrived here,” smiled Jennie. “So I looked into it. It would seem that you come from a long line of holy men. Your father … but the less said of him, though I suspect you know he must have been the black sheep of your family, and if you hadn’t thought it possible then forget that I said that … your father had a father, your grandfather...”

I never met him,” agreed Josiah,

Well, maybe you should have. I know that he disowned your father years before the black sheep married your poor mother. He told me that Julian Pyke was evil to the core, had been since he was a child, that he clad himself in words of holiness and purity in order to cover up an evil heart. He didn’t even know how he managed to get himself ordained. I checked all this up before you arrived here.”

But ... how…?” asked Josiah, confused.

By asking him, of course. Old Ignatius is fit and well even though he is well stricken in years! But as I was saying, I never had a close relationship with a man until he came into my life, and say what you like about that kind of carnal behaviour he taught me that there’s no sin in it, no sin at all. And for a few months he called on me every time he visited the convent, and that went on until they redesigned it as a retreat because there weren’t enough nuns left to rattle around in it. In fact, it was more a case of him calling on the convent every time he visited me!

I don’t know why I’m telling you this, Josiah, but I suspect it’s because you remind me of your grandfather, and he really is a thoroughly decent God-fearing man who has a canny way with ladies!

He was my lover for a while, and me his. And look: here he is, limping along the path to meet you. I do hope he gets here before your transport back to college arrives!”

© Peter Rogerson 18.03.18

© 2018 Peter Rogerson

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Added on March 18, 2018
Last Updated on March 18, 2018
Tags: information, nurse Jennie, retreat, Josiah Pyke, grandfather, father, convent



Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 77 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..