I knew mother had already left when I awoke the next morning. We had said our goodbyes the night before and I was not one for sentimental teary-eyed farewells, so it was a relief to find her gone when I descended from my chamber.
I found Maggie in the kitchen fussing over a plump, plucked chicken and smearing it with yellow lard. Not wanting to interrupt, I helped myself to some bread, butter and golden honey that had been laid out on the table.
“There's a fresh pot of tea just made as well if you'd like some”, said Maggie flipping the chicken on its back. I watched with interest as she expertly inserted a sage and onion stuffing up its nether regions.
“Father Fannon likes a good roast chicken he does, especially one that's been well stuffed,” she said, looking pleased with herself. It seemed a large chicken for one man to eat all by himself, but Maggie assured me we would be seeing the leftovers for the next week in soups and pies.
After I'd had breakfast my first task that morning was to dust the books in his study, which led off the drawing room. I was surprised as I hadn't noticed any door in the room, but Maggie handed me a duster and shoo shooed me out of the kitchen before I could ask exactly where it was.
Since it was Saturday, Father Fannon was at church preparing for tomorrow's sermon, or so I assumed. I went into the drawing room and began searching for the door to the study. After several minutes of aimlessly wandering around and half-heartedly dusting the vases on the sideboard, I finally came across a black oak door in a small alcove tucked away at the back of the room.
To my amazement, it was a library room that was filled floor to ceiling with books. In the middle, surrounded by that literary ocean, was a small writing desk covered with papers, and a pot of ink with a quill. Light spilled through a window inset into the bookshelves on the left hand wall and a chaise longue in white and green striped silk had been neatly fitted underneath.
I had never seen so many books. I breathed in that special dry, dusty smell that only books seem to exude. As I walked around with my fingertips touched their spines reverently, some seemed fit for kings with their rich gold lettering and green leather bindings.
One caught my attention more than the others. It was a slim volume with a midnight blue cover and a sprinkling of silver stars on either side of the title. The lettering of the title was also silver and was long enough to run into two lines. I drew it out carefully and touched the letters on the cover expectantly as if by some miracle I would suddenly be able to read what it said.
“Aha fine choice!” a voice suddenly said behind me, “I've had many a good chuckle at the adventures of Lord Alby and his irreverent escapades”.
I turned and Father Fannon was there peering over my shoulder.
“Oh!” I said quickly, feeling my face turn red, “I didn't hear you come in sir, I was just dusting the books.” But then unable to help myself added “But Father, what is this book called?”
Father Fannon beckoned me over to the chaise longue and took the book from my hands.
“Do you not know, my child?” I shook my head, feeling ashamed.
“No, I can't read.”
“Well then”, said Father Fannon his green-grey eyes looking into mine intently, “No shame in that, Mercy, most of this parish can't read, and those that think they can are sorely mistaken. The book is called The Mishaps and Misfortunes of My Misspent Youth in Venice and it's by Lord Albert P. Ryder the Third, a most delightful scoundrel if ever there was one.”
He went on to tell me that young men, particularly rich young men, often take a Grand Tour of Europe where they learn about art and history and other such things, and then come back enriched and educated by all the sights they have seen. Young Lord Alby was one such 18-year-old who toured Italy and was so captivated by Venice and all that went on there that he felt compelled to write about it. I was intrigued by this.
“What went on there, Father?” I asked and Sebastian shifted slightly on the chaise longue. I noticed then that he wasn't wearing his starched black suit, but well-cut soft beige trousers and a loose white overshirt with plunging neckline, as one might wear as a nightshirt to bed. He seemed more comfortable in this getup, but it struck me as a strange outfit for a rector to wear, especially one who was meant to be writing a Sunday sermon. I tried not to look at his chest which was smooth and slightly pinkish as if he'd taken a little too much sun.
“Oh, not too much child, ahem, but look I must let you get on with what you were doing, time's ticking by and it'll be time for luncheon shortly.” He handed me the book and went to the door, then paused as if struck by a sudden thought.
“Oh, and Mercy?” he said turning to look at me still seated on the chaise longue.
“I'm going to teach you to read.” He smiled softly to himself and slipped out the door.