A few days later I finally do attend Evensong; but I am not proud of my motivation: I am escaping Richard’s mother, Marjorie, who is occupying the sitting room and indulging her grandsons.
‘Richard said you were going out tonight,’ she remarks, pulling a magazine with a multi-coloured cover from her tank of a handbag. It is a misunderstanding: only Richard has gone out, on what he calls a ‘lads’ curry night,’ because I said I didn’t want to go anywhere with him. Marjorie says it is a pity I haven’t gone out. Though she provides a jolly commentary on the boys’ every action she has little to say to me, and few opinions about me either. The only one I can remember Richard reporting back is that I ‘read too many books.’ Tonight she planned to be alone with James and Christopher, for Marjorie is a grandmother who properly worships. Sometimes I can see her almost feeding on their attributes, devouring them as they play and eat and fight.
I watch her now delighting in each inconsequential action: the unwrapping of the chocolate she has brought, the chubby greedy smiles, the jostling then the pushing and the shouts. I remember my dark reticent children flitting about the shadows of the garden, indifferent to chocolate. Marjorie’s smile implies that this snatching and greed are marks of masculine vigour, boding well for the family line. She glances at me and smiles fatly and faintly, dismissive, as at a failing patient when the bell rings and visiting time is over.
The evening bell is tolling, voicing the habitual village melancholy, but tonight it tolls for me. The night is quiet, the air unmoving and I slip out of the back door like a guilty servant, trailing my long mouse-coloured scarf. The only soul abroad is a man in a thornproof with a woollen hat pulled well down, smoking over the notices in the Post Office window. He is a surly man, a crony of Peter Hopkirk who is supposed to shoot blackbirds for his supper.
It is difficult to say what I am hoping for but when I arrive at the church I find Hilary Green, a villager who goes about weeding the countryside. She is wearing a man’s cap and muffler, gabbling to herself and pulling up nettles by the lych-gate. Her hands are red with nettle stings and crazed with scratches and grime. It's hard not to stare.
A small man in a bad suit is waiting in the shadow of the monumental door. He is the butcher’s assistant, charged with making the famous oversized village sausages and guarding the secret of their special ingredient, which Richard swears is paraffin. He smiles self-consciously as he hands me a service sheet and hymn book and I am ashamed that I notice the suit doesn’t move when he does. The headmistress in her best sage tweeds and Mr Dilkes, who is a churchwarden, both unnerve me by the cold force of their welcome. Mr Dilkes, who has gout, is leaning on a stout stick with a stoat’s head handle. At the organ old Jacob Hopkirk is playing something unfathomable in a minor key. He stares into space, distracted and a little demented. Probably he is thinking about climbing the tower again.