A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

Josiah's heart is almost broken when he hears of Mildred's death.


With Christmas over and an unopened packet of condoms that he didn’t know what to do with in his pocket, Josiah Pyke received a letter he had been dreading ever since he’d left home … not his birth home at the Henstooth vicarage but that better home with Mildred Haystack at Tom’s Playground.

It told him that Mildred had passed away and that her funeral was to be on 7th April at 11 AM at Henstooth Church, which was a crying shame because the very day he received it was the 7th April and he had barely two hours to get ready and be there.

I’ll help you,” said Ophelia Jones who hardly ever stopped attending to his every need, and he wasn’t really sure why, though if he’d had more experience with the world he might have tried guessing.

And she did help him. In half an hour she had sorted out the most sombre clothes from his sparse wardrobe and might have even offered to dress him had he not blushed and told her to wait outside his door. If nothing else, Josiah Pyke was a modest man and Ophelia knew that much about him. The good thing was his sparse wardrobe consisted almost entirely of sombre things. His calling, after all, demanded that much.

The service will be conducted by my father,” he told Ophelia on the way there, on the bus that took an erratic route as it made its way from village to village towards its final destination in Brumpton via Henstooth, and in order for her to understand the various nuances of his relationship with the man who had fathered him he had to go some way to explaining his own history.

And that’s it,” he concluded, “and why Mildred’s death is so painful for me to contemplate.,”

That’s a terrible story,” whispered Ophelia when he had finished, “it’s no wonder...”

It’s no wonder what?” he asked, confused because there wasn’t much of a clue in the short phrase she had used. Sometimes he just didn’t understand the pretty young woman who was often there to help him.

She glanced at his face, her perfect eyes almost melting as she held his for a moment.

Oh, nothing,” she said quietly, and sighed.

Though it is something rather than nothing, she thought in the moments of silence following her sigh as she examined her gloves in minute detail, it explains why he’s so at odds with people, how he’s a good man who’s sort of uncertain when it comes to understanding his fellow human being.

It explains how you find it difficult getting to know people properly,” she said, “in case they let you down,” she added.

My life wasn’t all bad,” he muttered, “there was Mildred and she cared for me when I needed caring for. I’ve kept in touch with her, of course, popped over to see her a few times, but not as often as I should have. And now, bless me, she’s dead and I really wanted to tell her something before she died.”

You did?” asked Ophelia.

I wanted to thank her,” he said, “I wanted to thank her so very much for saving me.”

She will have known that,” Ophelia told him, “because it shines through from the man you became.”

How come you want to attend a funeral of someone you never met with me, anyway?” he asked, curious. He’d never been much good when it came to trying to understand what motivates others, especially women. After all, there had been Penny and he’d never understood her.

Because you’re my … friend,” she said, “and I like you. Funerals are never easy, especially when you’re saying goodbye to someone you loved. I suppose that’s the right word: loved? After all, from what you said she was a mother to you, and people love their mothers … unless they’re like mine, that is.”

Simeon likes your mother,” pointed out Josiah with a grin, wanting to make the conversation less personal.

And it was true. The vicar, out of consideration for the imperious mother’s feelings, had called on her soon after Ophelia had been ceremoniously ordered to leave her home by her, and rather than spend a few minutes with the woman had spent an hour, and then, to confound those who knew her, gone back several times after that.

She’s not a God-person,” said Ophelia, frowning, “in fact, even though she’s got the morality of a Victorian maiden aunt she’s got no religious faith at all.”

That’s sad,” sighed Josiah.

Neither have I,” said Ophelia quietly.

That’s not so bad,” replied Josiah, and he grinned at her, “you’ve got a lot longer to get to understand how God moves in his mysterious way.”

Why do you think Vic calls on her?” asked Ophelia.

I’ve often wondered and haven't come up with an answer,” replied Josiah thoughtfully.

There can only be one reason,” decided Ophelia. “They must be having it off! Underneath all the prim and proper things she says I know she misses it a lot.”

Before Josiah could ask her what she meant by that statement and how she knew what he didn’t even understand, the bus arrived outside the church in Henstooth.

There were already several people standing outside waiting to bid farewell to Mildred, black draped and mournful. The hearse had yet to arrive and Josiah, who in the course of his curacy at Goosebury church had seen such gatherings several times, for the first time since his grandfather had been prayed on his way felt a genuine wash of sadness steal over him.

I’ve attended quite a few funerals, but this one is personal,” he muttered.

The service itself was a surprise to him because, although it was being held in his father’s church, his father wasn’t conducting it. It struck him that there might have been no love lost between the late lamented Mildred Haystacks and Julian Pyke, the incumbent vicar. She had often said as much because she was well aware of some of the worst traits of his nature. But the parson who committed Mildred’s body to the Hereafter was one that Josiah didn’t recognise and when he spoke to him afterwards the reason was clear: he’d travelled virtually the length of the country to perform this last duty for his sister.

Josiah had never known that Mildred had a brother, and he wondered why but felt it wrong to ask.

She was older than me, and a bit of an atheist,” her brother told him, “but even so, she was an angel and I was only too pleased to help her on her unbelieving way with love in my heart. Brotherly love, you understand.”

They might have debated the loveliness and generosity of the late lamented for some time but were interrupted by a shout.

Hey! You!” came thundering from behind a stone wall which concealed all but the head and clerical collar of the Reverend Julian Pyke as he strode into view.

He marched straight up to Josiah as if he was a close and intimate friend or, maybe, the bitterest of enemies.

Ah, a man of the cloth!” he said, his voice carrying well beyond his biological son who was standing with a surprised expression on his youthful face.

Hello father,” said Josiah evenly.

No! Not father! I’m not of the Roman persuasion,” grated Julian, “I’m a mere protestant with an eye on the Hereafter.”

So am I,” murmured Josiah, his heart sinking ever lower as he eyed the bully in front of his. And images from his young past raced through his mind combined with a sense of the pain he’d had to suffer in the name of being cleansed from sins he’d never committed. “I’m Josiah your son, the child you flogged,” he added, and almost wept with joy when he saw the sudden shock mingled with shame that things were being spoken of in public cross the older man’s face.

And taking Ophelia by the hand for the first time ever, he led her away, towards the bus stop, with a heart that was lighter than it had been five minutes earlier.

© Peter Rogerson 25.03.18

© 2018 Peter Rogerson

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Added on March 25, 2018
Last Updated on March 25, 2018
Tags: reckoning, father, Ophelia, funeral, Josiah Pyke



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..