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Helium has now finished so those links to excerpts from A Weaver’s Web, below, no longer work. The ones to Bubblews should work but currently don’t and I’m sorting this out with Bubblews. Meanwhile, here’s another excerpt. It was posted to Helium under “Novel excerpts – Christian”.

Henry visits Father Edmond …

Resplendent in his robes, the priest adjusted the cushions on his armchair and sat down. He crossed his legs and stirred his tea. Holding the spoon up, he checked for any sugar that hadn’t dissolved, before putting the spoon on the saucer balanced on his lap. “Nice of you to drop by, Mr Wakefield,” he said. “I haven’t seen you for a while. Come to beg forgiveness for your sins?”

“I’m here to ask your advice, Father Edmond,” Henry said, struggling with his teacup. He was used to drinking from a tin pot with no handle.

They were in the vicar’s study, a room leading off his sitting room. Henry was on one of the velvet visitors’ chairs, admiring it all. His whole house would fit into this single room. A fire crackled in a large fireplace, flames leaping about. Curtains reached down to a polished floor. Candles in magnificent holders hung beside the door. Hundreds of books lined two walls while a large painting of a biblical scene adorned another wall. It had little white lambs, smiling as they ran and skipped through a field. A shepherd in the background was hurrying up stragglers as he fended off a wolf.

“And what’s bothering you, my good man?” asked Edmond, a hefty gentleman in his fifties, grey hair receding.

“I got a visit from one of those agents recruiting families to work in factories in Manchester yesterday, Father.”

“Oh, I see. I believe they’ve been active in these parts lately.”

“Mrs Wakefield and the children want to go to the city. All they’re interested in is the money.”

“And you’re not, Mr Wakefield?”

“Yes. I mean no. I just want to keep my family together.”

“Very decent of you,” Edmond said. He sipped his tea and clinked his cup as he put it back on his saucer, quite audible above the rain outside.

“So, what should I do, Father?”

“You didn’t accept, did you?”

“No.”

“You’ve done the right thing, Mr Wakefield. I always tell parishioners to be patient, moderate and loyal. Fasting, temperance and prayer are better than luxuries. More regular attendance at church is necessary too. Our time on Earth merely prepares us for the next life.”

“Yes, I know, but …” Henry again gazed at the expensive furniture and the numerous books.

The priest waited for him to continue. “But what?” he said at last.

“They’re sick of potatoes, but I can’t afford much else.”

“Nobody died from eating potatoes.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“Then what’s your problem, man?”

“My family …” He sighed. “Father Edmond …”

“Yes.”

“I …”

“Out with it, then.”

“Would you be so kind as to talk to them and tell them money isn’t everything and we’d be ill-advised to move? They’d listen to you.”

“Yes, but I don’t know if I can today.”

“What about tomorrow?”

“Let me check.” The priest put his cup and saucer on a stool next to his armchair. He shuffled across the study to his desk and opened his diary. “I have business in Middleton tomorrow.”

“How about next day?”

Father Edmond turned the page. “I have to prepare for a trip to Manchester.”

“Manchester?”

“I’m going there the following day. A new Sunday school is opening. I’ve been invited to a banquet.” He patted his stomach and smiled. “We’re building as many schools as possible. We have to wrest support from those blasted Nonconformists.”

“Do you have any time next week?”

The priest turned a few more pages. “I’m off to Bolton to help open a grand new church.”

“After that?”

He flipped over another page. “Back to Manchester, to sign a petition against Roman Catholic relief.”

“So when can you talk to them?”

“In good time, Mr Wakefield.” Edmond got up from his desk chair and returned to his armchair. “I have important business to take care of. The Dissenters preach evil. They’re heretics and a threat to society. There’ll be bloody revolution if they’re left to their devices. Our only hope of salvation is for them to rejoin the Establishment.”

They were interrupted by a knock on the study door.

Henry squirmed uneasily on his chair. “Shall I be on my way, Father?”

“No, no,” Edmond said, gesturing to him to stay. He called out: “Yes, what is it?”

The door opened to reveal a plump little woman in her forties wearing an apron. “What time would you like supper, Father?”

“Let me see, Cook. I’ve got some letters to write and I’m meeting somebody at the church at half past four. How about six?”

“Thank you, Father.”

“What are you making?”

“One of your favourites – lamb with ox tail gravy.”

“Ah, Cook, you’re a marvel.”

“Thank you, Father.” She smiled and closed the door behind her.

Meanwhile carvings of angels on the high ceiling caught Henry’s eye. They appeared to be dancing across the sky, looking down from heaven, making sure everyone was behaving. He wondered what they thought of the Nonconformists and the Catholics, and didn’t think the angels would let them in. They would surely let Father Edmond in. He would become one of the chief angels and throw out any sinners let in by mistake. Would Henry be let in? He hadn’t thought much about heaven lately. Somehow there didn’t seem much point. He prayed but he just got poorer. He looked at the painting on the wall again and imagined Father Edmond as the shepherd, the sheep were the Anglican flock and the wolf a Catholic or Methodist or Baptist.

“Wonderful woman, Cook. Now, where were we? Oh yes. You want me to talk to your family. The problem is I just haven’t got time at the moment, Mr Wakefield.”

“I shouldn’t have bothered you, Father.” Henry went to get up.

“Tell you what – why don’t you all come to service this Sunday morning. I’ll try and have a chat to them. I can’t promise though.”

“But I have to work on Sunday.”

“You what?” His jaw dropped.

“I have to finish a job for a merchant in town, and take it to him on Monday. If I don’t work on Sunday, I won’t complete it and I won’t get paid.”

“Working on the Sabbath, Wakefield?” Father Edmond frowned at him. “I disapprove. That’s the Lord’s day.”

“I have to feed my family.”

“You need to pray more and come to church more. Your sins will be forgiven.”

“Yes, Father,” Henry said without conviction.

“I’ll see you on Sunday then?”

Henry didn’t answer straightaway. He thought of the weaving he had to do. But he knew the minister could talk some sense into his wayward wife and children. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said.

Father Edmond took that to be a “yes”. He smiled broadly. To him, he had as good as saved another parishioner from the wicked influences of the Nonconformists. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some correspondence to tend to.” He got up. “It’s been nice talking to you, Mr Wakefield.”

“Thank you, Father, for giving up your valuable time to hear me. I’m much obliged.” He wasn’t sure why he said this to the priest. The words just came out that way. Edmond had never done much for him. But if such an important figure in the community advised them not to move to the city, Sarah and the children would surely take notice. Henry got up. He was shown to the front door and took his hat off the hatstand and left.

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