6. The Old Settee

6. The Old Settee

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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TALES FROM THE BOOKSHOP (6)

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The Reverend Bertram Smythe was no longer the alert and perky young curate then vicar that he’d once been. He supposed that he mentally marked the start of a long decline from that wretched moment when he’d sat by an awful woman’s dying bed, what, a decade ago now, and whispered her to the Afterlife? And he’d actually watched her die eith the absolute certainty in his head that her soul was destined for the deepest pits of hell where the fires blazed the hottest and were stoked by the likes of her, because hadn’t she been everything Our Lord despised?

Well, most of it, anyway. Pretentiousness. The over-arching will to dominate all comers. The conviction that of all the people under the moon and stars that she was the only one who was always right because she was incapable of being wrong. And the way she treated that weasel of a man, her husband, who seemed obliged to repeat the phrase ‘of course dear heart’ ad nauseam until even the Heavens must have been sickened by his self-effacing mantra.

So now he was on that downward slope that had already been marked by his inability to get up on Sundays in time for the early service, which didn’t really matter because it invariably had a congregation of less than one. He had other problems that didn’t matter so much as his brand new and very big problem. Somehow he’d lost his ancient and treasured copy of The Holy Bible.

Which was why he was standing outside Mrs Bookworm’s wonderful book shop, an establishment that promised all the most recent titles and a vast array of used, pre-loved, second or third hand, call them what you want, tomes.

It seemed inconceivable that his Holy Bible could have reached this particular outlet for the printed word, but if it hadn’t he was at a loss to know where it might be. He’d searched everywhere back at the vicarage (though the back of his elderly and somewhat wilted settee was an area that so terrified him on account of a fear he’d had since boyhood of rodents that the search there had been, at best, cursory).

It wasn’t that the lost volume was more precious than any other ordinary copy of the Holy Book. It was one that had been printed in unknown tens of thousands when eager evangelists had decided that missionary work was to be their calling, and had gone in their tens into the darkest reaches of Africa where there was always a group of locals bored enough with the simple life to want to spend a few minutes being converted to belief in a deity that made little intellectual sense to them.

But that copy, his tattered copy, was precious. He’s been given it as a boy by an old man who had been more interested in the contents of his shorts rather than his immortal soul. The old man had come and gone, to Heaven he supposed, his shorts had, thankfully, been left untouched so far as he could recall and the Bible became a symbol of permanence in his mind when all around him was falling to violent pieces (courtesy of the second world war and the Luftwaffe).

But permanence is an impermanent thing and he was deeply troubled to have lost that tattered tome.

Aren’t you coming in, your Reverence?” asked a voice from the door, and he looked up at the beaming face of Mrs Bookworm.

Er, sorry, maybe, yes,” was his uncertain response.

It’s a lovely day,” she enthused, ignoring the odd drop of rain that somehow found its way down from an almost completely blue sky.

Quite beautiful,” he confirmed, wiping a spot of moisture that had unaccountably found its way onto his forehead, putting it down as a comment from his God, and teetering into the shop anyway.

I was hoping to see you today, your Reverence,” wittered Mrs Bookworm, “on account of a valued customer of mine I need of spirtual advice.”

He hadn’t got where he was in a long life by ignoring his surroundings, so he smiled a wrinkled smile at her and waved one hand, indicating the contents of her shop.

You seem to have a wide sufficiency of printed matter all around you, dear lady,” he said with a geriatric smile, “one would have thought it contained more than enough wisdom to satisfy the whims of a single customer!”

Ah, but it’s personal that I need,” she said, an air of confidentiality accompanying the words, “concerning a consumer of my wares.”

Tell me more,” he invited her as he noted that the solitary raindrop that had assaulted him on his way into the shop was rapidly being joined by a host of others, and not having his umbrella with him.

It’s a gentleman, no names, no pack drill,” she said, smiling, “and a lady,” she added, dusting the top of the till in a careless manner.

Ah. Not so much an ecumenical problem as a personal one?” he asked.

Well, the gentleman is a widower and he only mentioned when he spoke to me this very morning that your eminence was present some ten years ago when his dear good lady passed away in her bed, at home.”

He liked being an eminence but that didn’t stop his mind from leaping instantly to the Archer woman and her death, an act of final submission that had been scorched onto his brain ever since. The only blessing as far as he was concerned was a welcome reduction to his congregation by one. In short, he had found her to be unbearable. She had even tried to urge him to rearrange the order of service to make it more to her own liking, and he’d been obliged to point out that the order had been as it was in the prayer book for centuries and its arrangement was a legal matter. He wasn’t sure of that, but when he said it to her he must have sounded convincing because she never returned to the issue, but frowned at him at appropriate moments during the service every week, conveying her personal displeasure by doing so.

So her death, apart from being harrowing, was welcome so far as he was concerned, though he never told anyone on account of him suspecting that in his thoughts there might lie the seeds of blasphemy.

I know of the lady you are referring to,” he told her, shuddering, “her demise was painful.”

Serve her right!” snorted Mrs Bookworm, “she made that husband of hers into a loveless loon!”

I did feel the odd pang of sympathy for him, but he was not of my flock, so to speak, and my sympathy is mainly reserved for my regulars,” he told her.

Nevertheless, he needs a woman, if only to sew his trousers,” said Mrs Bookworm.

Then we might be able to help him,” smiled the Reverend Smythe, “tell me, where are your reference books?”

There are quite a lot, over there,” pointed Mrs Bookworm, curious at the sudden change of subject matter. But she would not be mystified for long, for the good Reverend returned to the counter and placed a book in front of her. It was somewhat well thumbed and even tatty (though not as tatty as his lost Holy Bible), and marked at ten pence (for a quick sale).

Give him this next time he pops in,” he said, paying the ten pence for it, and he pointed to the title.

Teach Yourself Sewing. She smiled at him, and winked, which pleased him.

He nodded happily to himself on his way home, even risked an odd geriatric chortle, and accepted his heavenly reward when his housekeeper produced the lost bible.

You’ll have to get that settee fixed,” she said, somewhat unforgivingly seeing as she’d mentioned it before, “look what I found down the back of it this time!”

© Peter Rogerson 28.06.20




© 2020 Peter Rogerson


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Added on June 28, 2020
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Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 76 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..

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