Of Worms & Cakes – Part II
Chapter Three of Church of the White Rabbits continues…
It’s misty outside and the two boys skid on the wet cobbles as they turn the corner. Nathan grabs Davey for support and they both almost fall. Laughing, they tumble through the open doorway and out of the rain.
‘Bloody hell!’ Davey brakes to a halt and grabs his nose. ‘What’s that stink?’
Nathan pulls a face. An oily smoke billows towards them. It smells like an unholy combination of bacon, old socks and herbal bath oil. ‘Is your uncle experimenting again?’
‘Smells like it, don’t it.’
‘He’s not going to make us try it, is he?’
‘Bloody hope not.’
An eruption of coughing comes from the bakery. In its wake comes a figure wearing a long white apron. Streaks of flour cover the material: some of them hiding more questionable stains. Arthur waves the smoke away and blinks at the two friends. ‘Oh, it’s you two. I heard voices and thought it might be customers. You can come through if you want.’
Davey looks suspiciously at the cloud of smoke. It’s still hanging in the air and looks even thicker than when the pair of boys arrived. ‘Yeah but is it safe?’
‘Of course it is. I was testing a new recipe. Trying to perfect my breakfast muffins.’
‘It was an idea I had. Put bacon, cheese, sausage and bits of egg into a muffin, add a few herbs and voila! Everything a man could want in one bite.’
‘It’s French, it means…’
‘Yeah, yeah. I know what ‘voila’ means, Uncle Arthur. They make us learn French at school you know.’
‘Well,’ interrupts Nathan, ‘that’s not quite true. They try to make us learn French. Except Davey talks Spanish to annoy the teacher.’
‘You know Spanish do you?’
‘Ah, si, senor, muchos grandes bolas.’
Arthur raises his eyebrows. ‘That’s Spanish is it?’
‘Kind of. Anyway, looks like your breakfast muffins are on fire.’
‘Oh, no!’ Arthur turns in dismay. The smoke has got denser and it’s hard to see far beyond the doorway. He rips off his apron and waves it in the air, trying to clear the smoke before he plunges back into the growing cloud.
By the time the rest of the Judds arrive, total disaster has been averted. Arthur’s breakfast muffins, however, have been consigned to the dustbin of lost causes, a large plastic barrel in the back yard that’s filling up fast. Davey and Nathan haven’t ventured any further into Arthur’s new domain; instead, they’re now sitting on stools by the front door munching boulder-sized rock cakes.
George is first to come in. He sniffs the air and gives a slight smile but says nothing. Close behind are Davey’s younger sisters, Kim and Jessica. Bringing up the rear is Sally, who bends over with a sigh of relief as she sets down the newest member of the Judd family group.
A pair of small feet hit the floor with a thud and two dark little eyes lock onto what’s in Davey’s hand. ‘Cake!’ With a determined, almost ferocious expression, Gracie Judd launches herself at her prey. ‘Daya! Cake!’
‘Uh oh.’ Davey grins as his little cousin stomps towards him. ‘Little Elephant’s on the attack!’ He breaks off a chunk of rock cake and holds it towards her in his right hand.
Gracie smiles as she closes in. She veers briefly towards what’s being offered. Then bypasses Davey’s right hand and grabs the rest of the cake from his left before he’s had time to realise his mistake.
Nathan erupts with laughter before trying to twist away as Davey lunges for his cake. Soon pieces of rock cake explode all over the boys and the floor. Gracie makes a quick withdrawal, retreating to the protection of Sally’s legs, where she starts cramming cake into her own mouth as fast as she can.
* * *
Padraig slides the large glass of sweet sherry along the bar to the perspiring churchman. Leonard Presley takes it with a grateful nod and downs half in a thirsty gulp. He shakes his head and breathes out slowly before taking out a purple handkerchief and wiping some of the sweat from his brow.
‘Well, you look as if you’ve had a long day, Reverend.’
The Bishop’s Secretary nods. ‘Yes indeed, Mr Picard, yes indeed. And not a good one either.’
‘Ah, your congregation heckling you again are they?’
‘Sorry.’ Padraig shakes his head. ‘Just my joke. I’m sure no one on this island would have a bad word to say about your sermons. But I was wondering what’s put you in such a rare fluster.’
‘Oh, it’s terrible news, terrible.’
‘It can’t be that bad, surely?’
‘It’s not good, Mr Picard, not good at all.’
Padraig looks sympathetic. It’s an ability he’s cultivated over many years and one at which he’s extremely good. He’s always had a talent for making people open up: knowing which questions to ask and when to stay quiet and let them fill the silence.
Leonard Presley takes another large swig of sherry. He looks into the glass and sighs mournfully. ‘I just hope our Christmas celebrations can go ahead, I really do. It would be a disaster if we had to close the cathedral at this time of year.’
Padraig’s eyebrows rise. ‘And why on earth would you even consider such a thing? What’s the problem with the cathedral?’
‘Oh. It’s terrible. Simply terrible.’
‘But what is it?’
‘I’m not sure I should say.’
‘Oh well, if it’s something confidential you keep it to yourself.’
‘It’s not that. It’s just such bad news and I really don’t want to upset everyone on the island.’
Padraig shakes his head. ‘Now come on, Mr Presley. You know what they say: a problem shared is a problem halved. And besides, if you’re talking about closing the cathedral I don’t really think that’s going to go unnoticed. You’ll have to tell people something.’
‘You’re right.’ The Bishop’s Secretary looks resigned. ‘Oh well. I suppose I might as well tell you: it’s our bell tower. We had a very important expert come to visit us today. He was interested in listing our cathedral in a guidebook on exceptional church architecture. But while he was examining the building he made a very unfortunate discovery. The whole bell tower is riddled with woodworm and death watch beetle.’
‘Hmm. That doesn’t sound good. But surely it can be treated with a few chemicals.’
‘No!’ Leonard Presley throws his hands up in a gesture of despair. ‘It’s too far advanced. He’s not certain but we might have to replace a large number of timbers and that’s sure to cost an enormous amount of money.’
‘But surely the cathedral has a bit salted away for occasions like this.’
The churchman looks uneasy. While Leonard Presley is an innocent in many ways he’s not too sure about discussing cathedral business with a relative stranger, particularly one who’s an Irishman to boot and could well be a Catholic. However, the Bishop’s Secretary has taken a liking to Padraig. The Irishman has come over on holiday to watch the island’s birds and seems a decent sort. He’s certainly very generous and always happy to buy a sweet sherry for a friend. The Reverend Presley sighs. ‘I’m not sure we have, Mr Picard, not sure at all.’
‘Then a bit of fundraising?’
‘I don’t know, I really don’t. We’re not a wealthy community. This is a small island and our congregation is not a rich one.’
‘Oh I suppose I can understand that but you must have some assets you could draw on, surely?’
‘Well, the cathedral owns a bit of land on the island and I believe we have a few investments but nothing that returns the kind of income to pay for major repairs.’ He sighs. ‘To be honest, we can’t even afford to employ an accountant. I try to make sense of the books but… oh, they’re such a mess and very confusing. If the truth be told, I’m not really quite sure what we do have and what we don’t have.’
‘Then let me help you.’
‘What? But how?’
Padraig smiles. ‘Well now. I’m here on holiday as you know, having a little rest from business. But over there on the mainland, dealing with finances is what I do for a living. Stocks, shares and investments: that’s my bread and butter. If you’d like, I’d be happy to come and look at the books with you. Offer some advice if I can.’
Reverend Presley looks hopeful but cautious. ‘That’s very generous, Mr Picard, very generous indeed. But I’d have to warn you: we wouldn’t be able to pay you for your time.’
Padraig laughs. ‘Please, Reverend, don’t insult me. I wouldn’t dream of asking for payment. I’m happy to help out a friend in need and seeing as it’s for the church, well, I’d count it as my own small contribution to your own good works. It would be an honour and a privilege, if I was able to help you out.’
* * *
George looks around. The others went home a few minutes ago and now it’s just him and Arthur. They’re sitting on a pair of old chairs, pulled up next to the oven so they can make the most of the heat still oozing from it. A bottle of whisky sits on the table and both have a generous measure in their tumblers.
To be continued…
Sorry – I forgot to post yesterday’s instalment. I underwent a minor medical procedure a few days ago and my mind hasn’t been as focused as normal!
I’m curious, though,what readers think. If you’ve made it this far, please click on one of the choices below to rate the story so far. Comments welcome but not obligatory.