Read Cast the First Stone Online
Authors: Margaret Thornton
Table of Contents
A Selection of Recent Titles by Margaret Thornton
ABOVE THE BRIGHT BLUE SKY
DOWN AN ENGLISH LANE
A TRUE LOVE OF MINE
UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN
TIME GOES BY
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First published in Great Britain 2012 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9-15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
First published in the USA 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS of
110 East 59th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022
eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2012 by Margaret Thornton.
The right of Margaret Thornton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Thornton, Margaret, 1934-
Cast the First Stone.
1. Spouses of clergyâEnglandâYorkshire DalesâFiction.
2. SecrecyâFiction. 3. Yorkshire Dales (England)âSocial
life and customsâFiction.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-360-0 (epub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8230-1 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-461-5 (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being
described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this
publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons
is purely coincidental.
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âIf you ask me it's far too soon, and he will live to regret it.' Mrs Ethel Bayliss stopped for a moment in her task of opening another packet of sandwiches. She looked towards her small team of helpers â all stalwart members of the church congregation and the Mothers' Union â for support and encouragement. âTalk about marry in haste and repent at leisure! Poor Millicent! She must be turning in her grave.'
âYes, and it's not all that long since he laid her to rest.' Mrs Blanche Fowler nodded in agreement, setting the bunch of artificial cherries on her hat bobbing as if in assent. âA dreadful shock, wasn't it, her dying like that? Just as we were beginning to get to know her a little better. And to like her more as well. Do you remember, we weren't too sure about her at first?'
âWell, she was finding her feet, wasn't she?' replied Ethel Bayliss. âJust like he was. And it had been a long time since we'd had a rector's wife at the helm. We'd got used to doing things in our own way.'
And you didn't like a newcomer telling you what to do, thought Mrs Ruth Makepeace, although she didn't voice her opinion. She was some fifteen or twenty years younger than most of the women and rather in awe of them. Besides, Ruth liked to keep her opinions to herself.
âBut she turned out all right in the end,' Mrs Bayliss continued. âShe was a very determined woman, was Millicent, and very astute. Happen a bit straight-laced at times, mind.'
âNo, not much sense of humour, had she?' added Mrs Joan Tweedale, another member of the little group. âNot like the Reverend Simon. He's always ready for a laugh and a joke, isn't he?'
âA bit too much so at times if you ask me. Like chalk and cheese they were, the rector and Millicent.' Ethel Bayliss was arranging the contents from the next packet on to a large white plate. She lifted a corner of a sandwich to peer at the contents. âHmm . . . some more salmon. And it looks like that cheap salmon paste out of a jar.' She gave a derisory sniff. âTinned red salmon is much nicer. Who brought these? Does anybody know?'
âI think it was that young Mrs Jarvis,' replied Mrs Tweedale. âYou know, she's got three children in the Sunday school. I don't suppose she could afford anything else.'
âNo, maybe not,' Ethel Bayliss agreed, a trifle grudgingly. âWe'll just have to make sure they don't go on the top table, that's all . . . As I was just saying, they didn't seem to have all that much in common, the rector and his wife â his first wife I mean, of course.' She nodded meaningfully. âHe seemed to be heartbroken at the funeral though. I remember he looked real grief-stricken. But she was taken from him so sudden like, wasn't she? It must have been an awful shock. She'd only been poorly for a week or so.'
âBut it didn't take him long to find somebody else, did it?' The cherries on Mrs Fowler's hat were bobbing merrily again. âTalk about off with the old and on with the new! And he couldn't have chosen anyone more different. I mean to say â honestly! â red painted nails . . . and that hair! Although I must admit that I've found her to be a very pleasant young woman . . .' Blanche Fowler tried to soften her criticism because she really did like the rector's new wife despite the fact that she was a very modern young woman.
âIf you ask me a rector's wife should behave with a little more decorum; well, a lot more decorum actually.' Mrs Bayliss wiped her hands down the front of her floral apron. âPass me that basket, will you, Blanche, if you don't mind? I think that's Mrs Halliwell's offering. Her home-made gingerbread is always very popular. Oh yes . . . look. Gingerbread, and an iced sandwich cake. She's done us proud. Would you like to cut them up, please, Blanche, and arrange them on a plate? And there are some fancy doilies over there . . . Yes, as I was saying, our rector's new wife leaves a lot to be desired. Ah well, he's made his bed, and I reckon he'll have to lie on it. But if you ask me he'll soon live to regret it.'
But nobody is asking you, are they? thought Ruth Makepeace. She was quietly getting on with her task of setting out the cups and saucers. They were using the church's best crockery today â not china, to be sure, but a good quality earthenware with a willow pattern design â as it was a special occasion.
Ethel's remark was very apt under the circumstances, although Ruth doubted that the older woman was intending to refer to the newly married couple's honeymoon bed. It had been very much on Ruth's mind, however, over this past week whilst the Reverend Simon Norwood and his new bride were honeymooning in Scarborough. At one time Ruth had nursed hopes that she might be the âchosen one'. But it was not to be. As soon as Simon had met the newcomer to the small town, Miss Fiona Dalton, that had been it. He had had eyes for none of the others who might have had aspirations to become the rector's second wife. All in good time, of course; he had to be given time to grieve and to adapt to life on his own. But there had been quite a few helpful â and hopeful â young women who had made their way to the rectory door bearing a home-made fruit cake or a batch of scones.
Ruth had not been so blatant in her quest. She had, in fact, held back, believing that Simon might well turn to her in his own good time. They were friends already and had been so almost as long as Simon had been in the parish. As secretary to the Church Council Ruth had come to know him, and his wife, Millicent, quite well. She had never really taken to Millicent, though. A very humourless women â as some of the others had just been remarking â but one who had held firm opinions and had known her own mind. At least she had done her best to keep Madam Bayliss and company in their place, and Ruth had admired her for that. Fiona, the new Mrs Norwood, would certainly have her work cut out there, she pondered.
In the months following his wife's sudden death Simon had turned to Ruth, who was more or less the same age as himself, for companionship and friendship. Nothing more than that, although she had fancied she had seen a look of admiration in his eyes that might well have turned to affection. And she had found herself growing more and more fond of him, believing that it was only a question of time before her feelings were reciprocated. Which was why it had been such a surprise to her, and to the other members of the congregation, when the rector was seen to be quite openly paying attention to the newcomer to the parish. And then, a few months ago, less than two years since his wife's death, he had announced that he and Miss Fiona Dalton were engaged to be married.
The wedding had taken place at his own church, St Peter's, in the small market town of Aberthwaite, in one of the northernmost Yorkshire Dales, on a Saturday in June, 1965. Simon's friend from his college days, the Reverend Timothy Marsden, had conducted the ceremony; then he and his wife had stayed for the weekend and he had taken the services on the Sunday, in Simon's absence.
The tea party that was presently being arranged in the church hall was by way of being a âwelcome home' celebration for the rector and his new wife. It was what was known as a âJacob's Join' meal, a northern tradition where each person brought their own contribution. The offerings would then be shared out amongst all the people who were present. Members of the congregation who intended to be at the tea party had been asked to bring their bags of goodies earlier in the afternoon; and the meal would then be prepared by a small team of helpers. They had also been asked to stipulate whether they would be bringing sandwiches or cakes, savouries or sweets, so that there would not be a glut of one thing and very little of another.
Each item had been carefully scrutinized, particularly by Mrs Ethel Bayliss, although it was agreed that all offerings must be gratefully received and all must be used. The system was seen to be working quite well, as was usually the case. There was a wide variety of sandwiches: salmon, some with the cheap pink paste sniffed at by Ethel, and others of the more appetizing red variety; egg and cress; boiled ham or tongue; chicken or sliced turkey; and grated cheese. There were sausage rolls and meat pies, and the more enterprising of the ladies had brought vol au vents and dainty morsels such as tiny sausages, cubes of cheese or pineapple chunks on sticks. The offerings that appeared to be rather less attractive were hidden beneath the more perfect culinary efforts, and care would be taken that they did not appear on the âtop table'.
And it was the same with the cakes. The badly iced buns or the pieces of fruit cake that had sagged in the middle were secreted beneath the luscious slices of gingerbread, coffee and walnut loaf, and sandwich cakes oozing with cream or topped with chocolate. There were large glass dishes of trifle, too, which would be spooned out into individual portions. These trifles were works of art created by Mesdames Bayliss and Fowler, who always tried to outdo each other in the contents and the presentation of these delicacies. The rivalry was never admitted or referred to, but the ladies of the congregation â at least those who considered themselves to be in the know â were well aware that it existed. They knew, too, that if anyone else should offer to bring a trifle they would find that it was politely declined.