My heart was pounding as I left my chamber and ventured back downstairs to the warm kitchen, which was fast becoming my favourite room of the house. I breathed in the familiar smells of bread, rosemary and freshly made teacake. Then, rather reluctantly, I set off to find the drawing room. I didn't even know why it was called such a room. Was this where Father Fannon did his sketching, I wondered?
I had changed into my best white linen skirt and blouse and a front laced bodice of pale green. All had been newly acquired from the Chelmsford rag fair once my mother knew there’d be money coming in. A matching green velvet ribbon, last year’s birthday gift from father, held back my dark hair. But however much I tried, I knew that my efforts to beautify myself were in vain. I could only hope that Father Fannon, being a man of God, would overlook the distasteful state of my face, for he would have far more opportunity to see it than I would.
I entered the room so silently that Father Fannon didn't see me at first, so I had the advantage of looking without being looked at. He was talking to my mother in the bay window, while Margaret set up the tea on the sideboard.
He was much younger than I had thought, perhaps in his thirties but barely, and of medium height and slim build. Thick flaxen hair fell in a lock over a broad forehead. He seemed ill at ease in a well-starched black rector's suit with a stiff white cravat.
Margaret noticed me then and beckoned me over to help her serve the tea, saying over her shoulder, “Father, here's Mercy.”
Then before I knew it my hand was taken in a warm grip and I found myself staring into an inquisitive pair of green-grey eyes.
“The pleasure is all mine,” said Father Fannon, scanning my face at a closer range than I would've liked.
“Thank you...er...Father,” I mumbled.
“Oh she does speak after all,” I heard Margaret chuckle to herself.
“Well of course she does,” said Father Fannon, helping himself to a teacake and sprinkling the carpet liberally with crumbs. Margaret subtly handed him a plate.
“Mercy and I will be great friends, won't we, child?” he continued, seating himself on the sofa and crossing his starched legs stiffly. I passed him a cup of tea.
“Er...yes...Father,” I said, not too sure about being called 'child' by a man barely in his thirties.
“Oh please, call me Sebastian. I can't stand all this 'Father' business, though I know Maggie here won't hear of calling me anything else. Thinks she might get struck by lightning if she doesn't.”
He laughed at this, spraying more crumbs on the carpet. I wondered if I would have to clean them up. Margaret, or should I say Maggie, handed my mother a plate with a teacake and waved her to the chair across from Sebastian. She looked a bit surprised to be invited to sit with the rector but sat down obediently.
“Well now Father, if I may say, it is your title, and who am I to disrespect a man of the cloth?” Maggie said, pouring tea for mother. Sebastian seemed to find this very funny and guffawed loudly, but luckily he wasn't chewing on any teacake this time.
My mother raised her eyebrows at me as if to say “Is this man mentally unhinged? Perhaps this was a mistake?”
Indeed Sebastian seemed unlike any rector I had ever met. When I thought of our own in Chelmsford with his balding head, bifocal glasses and bird-like habit of sticking his beak into everyone's business, the difference was as chalk to cheese. I had a strong conviction I was going to feel at home here.