Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: GREED (03/08/18)
By Ann Grover
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Tea was waiting. Two scones, sliced precisely in half, a dish of butter, a bowl of strawberry preserves, a steaming teapot. Henry scowled at the meagre fare as he sat down, spread his napkin across his ample belly, and bowed his head. Ada, his housekeeper, was standing in the kitchen doorway when he opened his eyes.
“It’s most inappropriate for you to intrude upon my prayer time.”
Ada was a wisp of a thing, tidy and quick, both admirable virtues, but alas, attributes often negated by her ineptness and gracelessness. She’ll come around, given enough time, Henry often said, though he believed there wasn’t enough time in eternity for Ada to improve.
“Begging your pardon, but me mother’s poorly, and I thought I could go home early.”
After sipping his tea and pausing in grave contemplation, Henry said, “You’ll not be shirking your responsibilities, Ada.”
Ada hung her head.
“‘Forsake not the work of thine hands.’ Psalm one hundred thirty-eight, verse eight. Run along now. Back to work”
Henry was pleased with the way he’d handled young Ada, smiling as he dabbed at a clot of preserve he’d dribbled on his vest. When his blotting proved ineffective, he called Ada back to his table.
“The preserves are inordinately thin. Did you add water to the jam pot?”
Ada, wide-eyed, shook her head.
“I shall dock your wages, nevertheless. Mind you attend to my vest before you leave today, and in truth, you’ve been negligent toward my entire wardrobe. It’s disgraceful for a man of my standing to have sullied attire. Go now, finish your tasks.” He shooed her away.
“And fetch me more scones, at least three, and some ham. And is there any raisin cake?”
Ada walked home by moonlight.
The Reverend Henry William Bounsell had a restless evening. In his defense, he was burdened for his congregation, first mulling over Ada and her carelessness, which led him to consider the lack of commitment in Bertie, who seldom attended church and tossed miserably few tarnished pennies into the offering box when he did. Ruminating on the offering brought others to Henry’s mind: Stanley and Bertha and Mary and George and Arthur and Martha, all remiss in stewardship and commitment, all lacking the wherewithal to think for themselves. Children, all of them, simple-minded.
Thereupon the good minister was assailed by a bout of turbulent indigestion, which he treated most satisfactorily with a glass of ale and a plateful of buttered oatcakes. While brushing the crumbs from his nightshirt, he noticed the worn spot on the arm of his chair and became keenly aware of the lumpy cushion tormenting his broad backside. Indeed, the settee, carpet, and draperies were all quite shabby, and not even Ada’s diligent polishing and artful placement of antimacassars and doilies could disguise the air of dereliction.
It narrowed down to skimpy offerings and scant respect. Enough with the chickens and loaves and potatoes and eggs and apples. No more fobbing him off with oiled latches and repaired shingles and trimmed hedges. It was maltreatment, pure and simple. He could not be expected to live in such grasping penury, such hardship.
“I’ve been denied my due. ‘Thou shalt not muzzle the ox.’ Deuteronomy twenty-five, verse four.”
He’d endured enough. It was time to put his foot down. He’d write to the diocese and demand an increase to his measly stipend. He’d invite the bishop to pay a visit, to view the squalid manse for himself, and give a word to Henry’s wayward and recalcitrant congregation. That’ll bring them to their knees and remind them of their duties. To God, the church, and especially their suffering minister.
Smiling, and feeling heartened by the prospect, Henry shuffled to the kitchen and rummaged in a cabinet. His fingers found what he sought, a bottle of parsnip wine left on his front step by George the smithy, after the funeral of George’s beloved wife. Henry poured himself a glassful of the pale amber liquid, a toast to happy times ahead.
“‘Ask, and it shall be given.’ Matthew something or other.” He swallowed, then released a rumbling eructation. “I deserve better. I deserve more. After all, I am the Reverend Henry William Bounsell.”
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