* * *
Kembleford looked kind of nice, she found, strolling through the streets from the train station to where the lady at the butcher’s she had asked for directions had said the church and the presbytery were. Quaint but not antiquated. She understood why one would like to live here and return here frequently. Though she had never visited before, she felt like she might do so more often now. Or maybe not.
It could be said that she liked to take her chances with a thing or another, and while it worked out for her just fine most of the time, today it didn’t. The skies opened up for a downpour just when she thought that St. Mary’s came into sight and by the time she had made it to the presbytery’s door, she was drenched. As she often did, she told herself to carry an umbrella with herself everywhere, it could be a fashion statement, some people did that, didn’t they?
She was positively dripping when she rang the bell and the man, the priest, that opened the door didn’t hesitate but pulled her inside immediately after opening the door.
“Mrs. McCarthy, we’re going to need a few towels over here,” he called into the house, giving the young woman in front of him a smile. “And I’m sure our visitor would appreciate a nice cup of tea as well.”
“Thank you,” she said, looking down herself and indeed seeing water drip from the seams of her dress. “Sorry to drip all over your floor, Father.”
“No worries, it’ll survive,” he assured her with a grin and she couldn’t help but grin back. “I’m Father Brown.”
“Róisín,” she said quickly as steps could be heard coming nearer.
“Oh my Lord, look at you, you poor thing!” Mrs. McCarthy gasped upon seeing the soaking young woman leaving puddles on the entrance floor. “The bathroom’s just upstairs, dear, this way.” She ushered her charge up the stairs immediately. “Father, we’ll need a strong cup of tea for this young lady,” she called over her shoulder.
“Yes, of course, Mrs. McCarthy,” the Father replied dutifully.
Fifteen minutes later the young woman was bundled up in a change of clothes that Mrs. McCarthy kept at the presbytery as well as a spare dressing gown that neither Mrs. McCarthy nor the Father knew where it had come from and ushered downstairs into the kitchen for the cup of tea. Said cup of tea was placed in front of her the moment she sat down and she fixed it for herself with a heaping spoonful of sugar and a splash of milk.
“Excellent tea, Father,” she told the priest with a small smile after she’d taken the first tip.
“Thank you very much, Róisín,” he replied warmly. “And what brings you here, if I may ask? Other than shelter from the rain.” He made his question sound genuinely interested and curious which was the only reason why it didn’t make her feel as scrutinized as she felt under Mrs. McCarthy’s gaze at the mention of her name.
“I’m looking for a friend,” she told him and took another sip, warming her hands on the cup. “Sidney Carter.”
“Ah, yes, Sid.” Father Brown nodded. “I don’t believe he was set to come by today unfortunately. But we might call at Lady Felicia’s and see if we can reach him.”
“That would be great, thank you.” Róisín gave a small, grateful smile behind her cup of tea.
“And what business do you have with our Sidney?” Mrs. McCarthy inquired in a resolute tone, crossing her arms over her chest.
Róisín deliberately set down the cup very slowly. “I’m his wife.”
After that bombshell, Mrs. McCarthy followed Father Brown into his study where the telephone was, spluttering about what they had just been told.
“Who even is this girl? Showing up here out of the blue, at the presbytery, not even his own home! I’m telling you, Father, this is another of his floozies, only now he’s gone and got himself married to one of them, probably on one of his benders!” She silenced only for as long as it took her to take a deep breath. “This is just unbelievable, not one word! Not a single word, to any of us. I’ll be having words with him, Father, just so you know. Because I know you won’t but someone needs to set that boy straight, he can’t just-“
“Operator? The Montague estate, please,” Father Brown said into the receiver of the telephone, having picked it up whilst Mrs. McCarthy was still in the middle of her rant. “Hello Mr. Hornby, this is Father Brown. Would it be possible to speak with Sidney by any chance? – Oh, I see. – Yes, if I may, thank you.” He covered the mouthpiece for a moment. “Sid is out on an errand for Lady Felicia but he’ll be back shortly.” Then he perked up. “Hello Lady Felicia, how are you? – I’m fine, thank you. If it’s not too much of a hassle, would you mind sending Sidney to the presbytery after he returns? We have someone here to see him. – Yes, I believe so. – Thank you very much, Lady Felicia. Goodbye!” He hung up. “She’ll send him here as soon as he’s back.”
Mrs. McCarthy harrumphed. “I don’t know what his business with an Irish girl would be,” she grumbled.
“Ah, so you heard it too.” Father Brown smiled tightly.
“Try as she may, the practiced ear can always pick up on those subtle Irish influences,” Mrs. McCarthy informed him. “As if the name didn’t give it away already. I must say she also seems vaguely familiar but I can’t put my finger on why.”
“Well, maybe she’s visited Sidney before.” Father Brown didn’t seem too bothered which just made her grumble again.
“One would think so, if she really is his wife.” She followed the Father back into the kitchen where the young woman was still sitting, now with an empty cup of tea in front of her.
“More tea?” Father Brown offered already picking up the pot. “I’m afraid Sidney might be a while, he is out on an errand for Lady Felicia.”
“Lady Felicia,” she repeated after him thoughtfully. “She’s his boss, right?”
“Shouldn’t you know your husband’s employment status?” Mrs. McCarthy inserted herself with a reproachful question.
“Probably,” Róisín agreed completely unbothered and went about fixing her second cup of tea.
“Mrs. McCarthy, I believe some biscuits would be marvelous with this tea.” Father Brown looked at the parish secretary.
“We’re out,” she replied curtly.
He frowned somewhat. “The tin was quite full this morning when I snuck one.”
“A-ha!” Mrs. McCarthy huffed triumphantly. “So you admit it, Father. That tin doesn’t empty itself, does it?”
Father Brown preferred not to answer, he took a sip of his refreshed tea and let out a sigh of contentment. “Now, Róisín, if you don’t mind, would you tell us a little more about yourself? I’m afraid our dear Sid has kept his cards rather close to his chest, so to speak.”
Any friendliness that had rung through his words was shattered when Mrs. McCarthy next spoke.
“For example, how long you have been married?” She eyed Róisín with unconcealed disapproval. “And how come we haven’t seen you here before? You must not take a great interest in your husband’s life. If he even is your husband.”
Róisín’s lips pursed for a moment but then she just lifted up her cup again and took another sip.
“And now she won’t even answer our questions. I see how it is,” Mrs. McCarthy raged on, eyebrows drawn high. “You just wait until Sidney gets here and then we’ll gladly turn you out on your behind.”
“Mrs. McCarthy,” Father Brown interrupted her firmly. “Anyone is welcome at the presbytery for as long as they need it.” He gave his secretary a look and then a placatory smile to Róisín.
“Thank you, Father,” Róisín said quietly.
“Anytime,” he assured her and his tone let her know that he didn’t just mean right now.
The time until there was the sound of a car stopping, doors opening and shutting and then the front door going was spent in silence, an uncomfortable, bordering on tense silence. Father Brown took that time to have a good look at their guest, Mrs. McCarthy did something of the same, just in a much less friendly way.
Róisín was a young woman, roughly Sid’s age, with black hair and fair skin. A small dusting of freckles went across her nose and in the moment that she looked up when he offered another tea or some of the biscuits, he saw that her eyes had a vivid shade of blue. She seemed petite but at the same time robust. Most of all, she took note of Mrs. McCarthy’s glares and ignored them which he really had to give her credit for as he knew it was not an easy thing to do. While she played with her cup, having finished her second tea, he noticed the ring around her left ring finger. It was made of gold and portrayed a pair of hands holding a crowned heart.
Róisín looked up when she heard the front door and it was only a moment later that Sidney came stalking into the kitchen in his usual way.
“What is it you’ve called me here for, Father?” he called out before he was even fully in the room and then he stopped dead in his tracks when his eyes fell onto the dark haired woman now standing at the kitchen table. He looked dumbfounded for a moment but the easy smile he had been wearing never left his face. “Róisín.” He seemed surprised but not put off.
“Hello Sid,” she said quietly, suddenly seeming nervous with all eyes on her despite having spent the better part of an hour withstanding Mrs. McCarthy’s without so much as the blink of an eye.
“Who’s this, Sidney?” the woman who had entered the kitchen behind him asked curiously. From her clothes Róisín could tell that she had money and deduced that this might be his employer, Lady Felicia, as Father Brown had said. That would have also explained the green uniform he was wearing that she had never seen him in before.
“Well, give us a hug then!” Sidney said loudly and crossed the kitchen in two big strides, sweeping Róisín into a hearty hug. “You okay?” he whispered to her, unheard by the others.
She nodded lightly. “Haven’t seen you in a while there, little rose, bit of a surprise but good to see ya,” he said at his normal volume again, releasing her. He kept an arm around her shoulders as he turned to face the others, drawing her into his side in an almost awkward way. “Father, Mrs. M, Lady Felicia, this is Róisín. My wife.”
Róisín was under no illusion that the other three, or at least the two women, were not standing behind the closed door of the Father’s study with their ears pressed to the wood, listening in. Lady Felicia had looked just as surprised as anyone else, just without the side of blatant disapproval, before Sidney had grabbed Róisín by the wrist and ushered her into the study. He ‘needed to have a chat with the wife’, he’d said. Now he was the one scrutinizing Róisín as she stood there, pretending to study the bookshelf.
“You really alright?” he asked quietly and moving into her field of view to catch her gaze.
She nodded but the little furrow between his brows didn’t ease.
“And now again like you mean it.”
She rolled her eyes at him, a smile tugging on the corners of her lips, and he grinned in triumph. “I’m fine.”
“Not that I’m not pleased to see you but why didn’t you write?”
“I did,” she replied flatly. “But when you hadn’t replied after a month, I figured I’d come to see you myself.”
“Huh.” He frowned at that but then shrugged. “Wanna tell me why you’re here?”
A smile came to her face, a real one, a happy one. “I’ve got something for you,” she told him and got out something she had tucked under her dress which made him smirk and her give him a dark look in response. She held out a somewhat crumpled envelope to him.
“What’s this?” He took it and then his eyes widened when he saw what was inside. “Róisín?”
“It’s been five years and two months,” she stated, turning to take in more of the room. “I got it about a month ago.”
“This is yours.” He grabbed her hand to press the envelope back into it. She pulled her hand away and the envelope fell to the floor, spilling its contents.
“I told you I was going to give you half of it,” she insisted and bent down to pick everything up. “Now we can get a divorce and-“
The door burst open. “A divorce?!” Mrs. McCarthy shrieked, Lady Felicia behind her and another step further back Father Brown who heaved a sigh. “And what is that money?!”
Róisín was holding a stack of banknotes in her hand.
“Sidney Carter, you have some explaining to do!” Lady Felicia declared adamantly with no space for protest or discussion.
* * *