A Very Small Pond
This self-contained story is the first main chapter from my work-in-progress, The Descent of Chloe Jackson. It’s available free as an ebook, PDF or online to all members of my Readers’ Club. Contact me, if you’ve forgotten how to access the Members’ Page.
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It’s 1896. The dawn of the motor age. Sarah Quicke, the wilful daughter of the Rector of All Saints, Harnham, plans her escape from the weary confines of village life.
A Very Small Pond
(Chapter 2 of The Descent of Chloe Jackson)
Paul C. Mercer
The church bells rang the half hour, calling Sarah’s attention back to the picturesque Norman church she was supposed to be painting. She compared it briefly to the image on her easel, and frowned. She had no real interest in ecclesiastical architecture.
A waggoner was watering his team at the horse trough on the other side of The Green. They would have made a delightful subject, but she wasn’t interested in old men and horses either. Not right now. Right now, she was interested in Mr Lanie.
All she could see was his head, looming above a crooked gravestone by the lychgate, the one ‘Sacred to the Memory of Henry Collard.’ She adjusted her seat and easel for a better view. He was talking to the other engineer, the old man with the stiff leg. She could hear them laughing; his younger, stronger voice echoing off the flint stonework.
She lost sight of him behind the stone, ‘Also of Ann, wife of the above.’ All the stones on that side of the church leant a little. Lines of Collards, and Pritchards and Pullens; all of them stooping endearingly to the left. Old friends.
She wet her brush, and agitated the little block of burnt umber, giving herself far more than she needed for the tiny sliver of shadow clinging to the base of the church tower.
What if he and the man with the limp went off somewhere together? She’d just have to be patient, and try again next Sunday. And the Sunday after. If necessary, she would paint the church from every angle, and through every season. Eventually he would revert to his regular habit, and she would be there, by happy coincidence.
She heard him bid his colleague farewell, and knew without looking up exactly where he would be, and what route he would take. Each Sunday he left his lodgings above The Royal Oak, crossed The Green, and came in through the old lychgate by Henry Collard’s stone. He passed the church on the south side, and left by the gap in the wall at the crab apple tree, then up the hill towards the hospital. She had observed him for the last five weeks now, and his routine was invariable.
She risked a glance; after all, he was walking past the church, and one couldn’t pretend to sketch without taking a good look at one’s supposed subject. He was just past ‘Nathaniel Moon of this Parish,’ and he had definitely seen her. He couldn’t possibly pass without acknowledging the Rector’s daughter, even if he only raised his hat in her direction. If he didn’t stop, she would risk a ‘Good afternoon,’ but no more. It would be unseemly to call after him.
‘Good day, Miss Quicke.’ He removed his hat.
Her smile was perfectly judged. ‘Good afternoon, Mr…’ She left the query hanging, though she already knew his name, his calling, and every other personal detail that could be discovered by careful and discreet inquiry. More importantly, he knew her name too, presumably by dint of careful and discreet inquiries of his own. So much for Agnes’ suggestion that he hadn’t noticed her…
“Who’s Agnes?” I hear you cry. To find out, and to find out quite where Sarah’s machinations get her, please sign up for my Readers’ Club. You’ll get the rest of this story (and others), as well as regular Newsletters every six weeks or so sharing some of the things I’m learning as I set out to write this book.
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