WARNING: No warning… Surprise!
Charlotte has a proposition for Father Brennan.
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London – 1839
I was standing at the altar rail looking at the heavy silver candlesticks, contemplating what good cudgels they’d make, when Father Brennan came through the door and walked up the aisle.
‘I hope you’re not thinking of stealing those,’ he said when he was close enough to maintain a respectfully low voice.
‘Absolutely not,’ I replied, smiling.
He came and stood beside me and looked uneasily at the altar, I wondered if he was thinking about God watching us, but I suspected God had more important things to consider.
‘Why does the thought you weren’t going to steal them unsettle me?’ he asked, his Dublin accent thickening.
‘Are you having unholy thoughts, Father?’
‘What do you want, Lot?’ he asked with the air of a man who’d had to drag all the stones to build the church and didn’t like his work being disrespected. ‘More sins to refuse to repent?’
‘I need a man to front my business interests,’ I said. ‘A little sleight of hand, if you will.’
He allowed long enough to imply he’d considered what I said. ‘I don’t want anything to do with your money.’
‘Your congregation are dying at the hands of unscrupulous businessmen.’ I turned to face him. ‘Pick some and I’ll buy their factories; better conditions, better wages and I’ll pay double the contribution to the church.’
Finally he took his eyes from God and looked at me. ‘And what do you get from it?’
‘Profit,’ I replied. ‘A happy workforce is a productive workforce.’
His expression was unfathomable. I stared. He looked away first.
‘And where will you get the money for this?’ he asked.
I raised my eyebrows. ‘Really, Father?’
He wrinkled his nose. ‘Immoral money can’t be used for good.’
‘Fairly sure the bank isn’t guarded by Saint Peter,’ I observed.
Father Brennan opened his mouth then closed it again and settled for his repent-now-sinner glare. Only special people got that glare, I was quite proud. Since I’d realised I could never be the meek wife and mother The Church said I should be I’d known I was damned and if you’re damned anyway there wasn’t really much to incline you towards good behaviour. I thought he’d grasped that, but some people are irredeemable in their optimism.
‘Think of all the good you could do, Father,’ I whispered. ‘Think of all the lives you could save. Perhaps I’ll let you set up a school. All those little children learning instead of working. Think of the little children you didn’t save.’
He went pale, gripped the altar rail and looked towards the tongue of carpet beneath our feet. ‘Sweet Mary, Mother of God,’ he murmured and crossed himself.
‘Does that count as blasphemy? How many Hail Marys would that one be?’
‘Is this all a game to you?’ he asked and rubbed his face with one hand. ‘Life isn’t chess.’
‘Don’t you dare tell me what life is,’ I said quietly.
‘I tried.’ He kept his gaze fixed on the carpet.
‘You can’t save someone after the fact, Father, perhaps you can save a few before.’ I clapped my hand down on his shoulder and squeezed. ‘And there’s no bloody way I’m ending my days in the same place I started them.’
‘Self-interest,’ he muttered.
I leaned close and whispered, ‘Self-interest is how you survive, Father. You’d know that. I wonder what your congregation would think if they knew that.’
He shook my hand off and stepped away. ‘It’s not in your interest.’
I clasped my hands demurely in front of me. ‘Your own sister, Father,’ I clucked my tongue shook my head. ‘For shame, Father.’
His hands tightened into fists, turning his knuckles white.
I bent towards him. ‘I’ll leave you to think about it, shall I?’ And I walked away.
‘What if they don’t want to sell?’ he called after me.
I turned and spread my arms. ‘What’s worse, Father? The devil you deal with or the devil you don’t?’
He only glared.