Two Women

“Might One,” she said, wiping crumbs from her thin mouth with the dab of a handkerchief, “ask a question?”

“Assuredly,” replied the affable Geoff, from the projector.

“One understood from what one was told, and shown, this evening that Walsingham is heterodox. Would that have been an incorrect assumption?”

“Well…that is not a word I used,” answered Geoff, “but in the past, during the tenure of Hope Patten, the shrine was controversial, but that is long past, and Christians of all denominations freely visit it today and make of it what they can. It draws both the devout and the merely curious. It has, after all, been there for centuries.”

“One hopes to be forgiven for persistence,” continued Miss Elderkirk, “but the vexed issue of ecclesiological disputation cannot be so easily circumvented. A prominent feature of Christology has ever been this… disputatiousness. A prominent feature. St. Augustine endeavoured…No, wait.” She faltered. “The Bishop of Bithynia in the sixth century …considered unorthodox…” There was a longer pause. The hall was deathly quiet. “Archdeacon Grantly, a gentleman of my acquaintance in… former days, told me in confidence… that this… was so.” She sat down. What was so? Miss Elderkirk did not look as confused as she sounded. Archdeacon Grantly was a character in one of Trollope’s novels. Could there be two of them? Was she confusing art with life, or theology with tourism, or both? The tension in the room cried out to be broken.

“And so it is, Miss Elderkirk,” I said. “Thank you for the reminder, and thank you all, especially Father Geoff, for participating. Next week we will be back here for Songs of Praise. Hope to see you all then.”

“Ah, rector,” said Miss Elderkirk, who had sidled up to me and was attempting to push a serviette filled to bursting with Mrs. Arkwright’s confections into her large handbag. She wagged an admonitory finger at me coyly. “Non est potestas super terram,” she confided cryptically—and then left.

Over the next few months, Miss Elderkirk appeared in church infrequently. Fall was a busy time for us, and I had other preoccupations. After the Harvest Thanksgiving service, however, I was disrobing in the vestry when the telephone rang. It was George Arkwright. He sounded upset. “I’m so sorry to trouble you, Father, but she won’t speak to anyone but you.”

A tiff with Martha? Surely not…

“Who won’t, George?”

“Miss…umm… Elderkirk. She’s sitting on the grass under a tree. She didn’t come to the front door. I don’t know how she got here.”

“Got where? Where are you?”

“At home. I know this sounds strange. We were at the earlier service because Martha needed to be… ah, preparing. We’ve invited family and friends, and… we don’t have room for her,” he ended lamely. “Martha doesn’t know she’s here,” he whispered.

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author
Peter was born in England, spent his childhood there and in South America, and taught English for 33 years in Ottawa, Canada. Now retired, he reads and writes voraciously, and travels occasionally with his wife Louise.
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