Title: Hello Bee
Characters: Gideon West and Andrew Farthingdale
Warnings: Much more silliness. It's been a silly weekend. And apologies to the vicar of dibley. ;) This story owes very much to Cat who cast and set this for me, and who I'd back against the women's institute any day.
Mrs Dunwoodie, pillar of the village Women's Institute, four times winner of the Best HomeMade Fruit Jam award and acknowledged local champion of Properly Risen Scones at the village fete, had her long and pointed nose pressed firmly against Mrs Ackwell's kitchen window.
This was purely because Mrs Ackwell, trying to get Her Fred's packed lunch finished for him to take to work and upto her elbows in tuna, hadn't yet responded to the tap on the glass and opened the door. Eventually Mr Ackwell, haunted by the nose and beady eyes glaring at him over his toast and marmalade, got up and padded across in socks and braces to open the door for her.
Mrs Dunwoodie, who did not approve of men eating breakfast in their vests, ignored him with superb dignity and scuttled across to his harrassed wife.
"You'll never guess what Aggie! There's a removal van pulled up at the vicarage!"
"Amazing." Mr Ackwell said with heavy sarcasm. "The vicar moving into the vicarage, whatever next."
"And TWO cars with it, one of them battered old cockroach type things, and one big red one with the roof down!"
"Cockroach?" Mrs Ackwell said, bewildered.
"Beetle. VW beetle." Her husband said without looking up.
Mrs Dunwoodie, feeling her news was not being taken with proper seriousness, upped the ante once more.
"AND that beetle car was pink. PINK. Do you think it's the bishop visiting to meet him?"
"I don't think the bishop drives a pink beetle." Mrs Ackwell said feebly, wrapping sandwiches in foil. Mrs Dunwoodie shook her head impatiently, nearly dislodging her hat.
"No, the convertible! That big shiny red thing! Do you think it's the bishop? If it's the bishop we ought to do SOMETHING, take some flowers over or a nice pot of jam,"
"Be nice to do that for the vicar, never mind the bishop." Mr Ackwell said dryly. "The parish was empty long enough, we ought to be proper grateful to him for taking on the job."
"But the BISHOP-" Mrs Dunwoodie said, undaunted. "Can I have some scissors Ag? I'll just cut a NICE bunch of flowers and take them over just in case-"
"Not my daffs you won't." Mr Ackwell said firmly. "You cut your own flowers Bella Dunwoodie."
Toast abandoned, he got up and shouldered into a shirt, doing up the buttons with careful deliberation.
"You take some scones or cake over Ag if you want to, I'll put my head over the hedge and see if they want any help shifting things. We should make the poor feller feel welcome."
"With your baking he'll be hardly encouraged, will he?" Mrs Dunwoodie said nippily. Mr Ackwell kissed his wife and took the sandwiches.
"Put up a scone for me too my girl while you're at it. Always say there's no one in the county can make a scone as light as you can."
Pocketing the scone and pulling on his jacket, he gave a cheerful nod to their bristling guest and headed for the door. "Mind how you go Bella."
The sun was full on the street outside, reflecting off the red brick cottages that led down to the small village green and the church. Mr Ackwell stamped his boots to comfort, buttoned his jacket and crossed the road. There were no pavements in Much Magden village. The streets were little more than lanes, asphalt with a light dusting of sand and gravel, and the low wall around the church yard was more for decoration than a boundary. Mr Ackwell stepped over it and passed the little weathered church, moving between the battered and mostly illegible tombstones that stood around it, and down the short slope that led to the rectory itself. On the Parish noticeboard there was a sign that for several weeks now had been attracting attention throughout the village.
"The post of Vicar to this parish has been taken by the Reverend Andrew Farthingdale, position to be taken up March 3rd 2004."
There was indeed a large removal van outside the rectory, but no sign of action. And in front of it, just as predicted by Mrs Dunwoodie, was parked an old and battered- and pink- VW beetle, beside a highly polished and immaculate, red jaguar convertible. The rectory gate, weathered with age and a strange brown grey colour, stood closed, and the chin high hedge, kept neatly trimmed by the church wardens, concealed the front door. All that could be heard was a strange and faint swishing sound. Mr Ackwell put his chin over the hedge and cleared his throat.
A long, angular man with a sword in his hand, half crouched with his other hand arched over his head, looked up and then without a trace of embarrassment, stood upright and flicked the sword before his face in a gesture of salute.
He had a deep, resonant voice and dark eyes that surveyed Mr Ackwell from between equally dark and somewhat tousled hair and an immaculate moustache. He was wearing white flannels, a white shirt open at the collar and a tan coloured waistcoat, which went impeccably with his black, polished riding boots. The effect overall was of a Byronic hero escaped from a Jane Austen film set, and it gave Mr Ackwell a moment of serious pause, used to village cords and tweeds.
"Good morning." He said again feebly. The man smiled and strode down the ragged and overgrown garden towards him, offering a hand over the hedge.
"So you're not the vicar?" Mr Ackwell said equally feebly. Another thought struck him. "You're not the bishop are you?"
"No, no." The man gripped his hand firmly. "I'm the vicar's husband. Or wife if that's more convenient." He quirked one eyebrow at Mr Ackwell, eyes glinting. "I have read up on my duties. I can make scones. I understand that's requisite for the vicar's wife in a rural parish. Also flower arranging, jam making, bee keeping and if necessary leading the Women's Insitute, I'm quite prepared."
Mr Ackwell looked blankly at him. The man smiled and glanced back towards the house, lifting his voice.
There was a crash from inside the house, a number of thuds, and then one of the sash windows slid up and a young man in jeans and a blue silk shirt vaulted out and brushed off his hands. He was more squarely built than his partner, not exactly plump but with a soft roundness to him, and he jogged across the grass with an easy grace that disarranged the heavy fair hair across his forehead. Mr Ackwell took in happy, bright blue eyes and an engaging, choir boy face before he was hit with the full bounce of an Andrew smile that froze him to the spot.
"Hello!" He took Mr Ackwell's hand and pumped it up and down, looking somewhere between excited and earnest, as though he was confiding some kind of crazy secret.
"Hello! I'm the vicar! Andrew Farthingdale." He released Mr Ackwell's hand and stepped back, dancing on the spot for a moment to some internal tune, hands and hips gyrating, whole body moving with a contained energy.
"Da dada da dah- well! This is exciting isn't it? Have you met my partner? This is Gideon," he went on charmingly with the air of his best party manners, indicating the dark man with both hands, "And Gideon this is- I have NO idea of your name?"
"Fred Ackwell." Mr Ackwell said, starting to smile. "One of the church wardens. I just came along to see if you'd be wanting any help this morning."
"How kind!" Andrew's smile shone back at full beam. "We've just got here you see and you've never SEEN such a mess, and half the doors are stuck and we can't even find where to turn on the water. Really. And Gideon got SO brassed off that he found his sword - only to practice, he wouldn't actually USE it-"
"I might." Gideon said thoughtfully. "If they keep dropping boxes."
"And now the removal men won't go near him-" Andrew continued without pausing for breath. "So it's all rather difficult-"
"The doors aren't stuck, just locked, and the keys are in the kitchen pantry." Mr Ackwell said paternally, breaking into the chatter. There was something about Andrew's bright eyes and the tumbling over speech that made him slow his own speech down to sound calming. "I know where they are son, I'll come and unlock for you and put the water back on. The rectory was empty that long that we didn't want pipes bursting."
"That's extremely kind of you Mr Ackwell." Gideon tucked his sword under his arm and opened the rusting gate. "I do hope we're not holding you up from work?"
"No- not at all." Mr Ackwell came up the path, treading carefully over the broken paving slabs. "I'm hedge trimming today and it doesn't matter when I start so long as it gets done."
"Well we'd absolutely love your help if you're sure you can spare the time. This is so kind of you!" Andrew dug through his pockets for a key and then gave his partner a rather helpless look. "Although this DOES look like meaning getting in through a window, I appear to be somewhat keyless. Would you mind getting through a window? They're quite LARGE windows."
"It was the BEST butter." Gideon murmured, polishing his sword with his sleeve.
Mr Ackwell looked once more between the two men and thought of Mrs Dunwoodie. And his smile grew still wider.
"It'll be a real pleasure Vicar."
The rectory had been built in the days when families were respectably expected to contain a minimum of three to five children and several servants. As a result it was large, draughty and echoey with several long stone passageways downstairs and numerous bedrooms.
"Well that's groovy." Andrew had said cheerfully when given the parish description of the house. "We can have a bedroom and a dressing room and an ante room and a sewing room and a music room and a library-"
The library seemed a good idea. Gideon inspected the downstairs rooms and appropriated one at the front of the house with an open fire, in which he requested the removal men to put the bookcases and numerous crates of books, his desk and chair and computer. Upstairs, Andrew was conducting an orchestra of removal men and steadily streaming furniture into different rooms according to his own formula and Gideon left him to it, merely indicating an old box room off the scullery to be used as a junk room with anything left spare. Considering their flat in London had not been large, Andrew was likely to run out of furniture before too much longer anyway. Finding a carefully packed and wrapped crate, about six foot by two foot in length, Gideon prised it open and began to take out the several bows and swords it contained, unwrapping each and hanging them carefully on the wall. He had the last of them up when Andrew bounced downstairs and put his head around the door.
"Gay? Would you like to choose a bedroom?"
"You mean you haven't?" Gideon said wryly. Andrew grinned.
"Well yes, but come and tell me if it's all allright? You see if it isn't then there are the others, but some of them are smaller and none of them are quite as light, which is fine if you don't LIKE the light shining in on you in the morning, but then there's the view to take into consideration TOO-"
The removal men were in the kitchen around the table and the packing cases, drinking tea. Gideon took Andrew's hand and followed him upstairs. Andrew had predictably chosen the sunniest of the rooms as theirs, the one which overlooked the church, and he'd positioned the furniture already, the large double bed directly opposite the sash windows. Two of the other rooms were already set up as guest rooms, and the third showed signs of becoming a dressing room from the packing cases set in it.
"And downstairs," Andrew went on, ticking them off on his fingers, "We need your study, my office, you'll need a studio for teaching and then the sitting room, so I thought you could have the FRONT parlour for the studio where you can have the floorboards-"
Gideon unhurriedly nudged the door closed and went back to his partner, running his hands slowly and heavily down the silk shirt from shoulders to waist. Andrew revelled in this kind of chaos. Any challenge, especially to organisation or creativity, made his eyes shine and his energy overflow in all directions. And his tongue run on like a hyperactive whippet.
"…..and the LOUNGE," Andrew was carrying on, regardless, "has this open fire which is totally amazing- did you SEE the open fire?? - And which-"
He broke off, finding himself nose to nose with his partner, and blinked.
Gideon put a hand over his shoulder to lean against the wall and kissed him, thoroughly and with care. He was aware of Andrew drawing breath once or twice to talk, and then changing his mind, and finally of Andrew's arms lifting to close around his neck. Without much effort he wrapped his own arm around Andrew's torso and without breaking contact took the few steps across to the bed, lowering them both to sprawl more comfortably across the mattress in the sunshine.
It was some time before he moved back, and when he did it was to lie on one elbow, the other hand rubbing gently and deeply across Andrew's exposed throat and shoulder, the silk shirt collar wide open. Andrew, eyes closed, lay like a cat, arms stretched above him, purring quietly. Gideon propped his head on his hand and watched him, enjoying the feel of the fabric over Andrew's skin as much as touching his lover himself. Andrew loved tactile fabrics and bright colours, silks, satins and velvets. In a few days their house would burst with colour as he unpacked and arranged.
"You do realise," Andrew said without opening his eyes, "That there isn't a gym for twenty miles?"
Gideon raised an eyebrow, tracing a finger along his collar bone. "Well since I don't use a gym, and you take out incredibly expensive membership but never once actually enter the building, I don't think that's likely to be an overwhelming difficulty."
"I can take membership of any gym I like like that, I could join a gym in Switzerland if I don't have to actually go, it's very exclusive stuff."
"I think they beat you with birch twigs in Swiss gyms."
"Well I'm open to new ideas…." Andrew said absently. And then looked up at him, wincing. "I keep thinking, oh HECK what have I done? I mean from London to here, the middle of NOWHERE-"
"You always wanted a rural parish." Gideon reminded him. "Somewhere that didn't have all the services to hand. A different style of community. A closer contact with the entire community."
"There's a school. Did you see the school? It must house all of fifty children." Andrew opened his eyes, a deeper blue and faintly anxious. "Gay? Are you going to be bored to death here? Are you SURE you won't hate it?"
Gideon leaned down and kissed him again, more gently. "I won't hate it."
"You're sure you can work from here?"
"We're not far from the motorway, it's not THAT out in the middle of nowhere."
"Are you sure your clients will come to some gothic rectory in the middle of Wuthering Heights-?" Andrew broke off, the sparkle coming back to his eyes. "Did you SEE that graveyard?"
"I did and they'll come." Gideon ran a hand down over his stomach and patted. "How about we get rid of the removal men and think about lunch?"
"I'm dieting." Andrew said automatically, rolling to his feet and trailing him downstairs. "I'll have slim fast or something when I find it, it's in the box with the kitchen stuff."
"Do that and by three o clock you'll be mowing your way through mars bars." Gideon said firmly. "And then I'LL beat you with birch twigs. Naked on the front lawn, tied to that horrendous apple tree."
"You kinky devil. Anyway I won't," Andrew pointed out, heading into the kitchen. "I don't think there's anywhere for miles that sells mars bars- hello?"
An elderly woman in a ferocious hat was arranging daffodils in a vase on the kitchen table. Or had been. She was currently poised in shock, looking at the two men like a rabbit trapped in the headlights. The removal men were gone. Andrew gave her a friendly smile, well aware she'd most likely heard their conversation.
"Dunwoodie." The woman unfroze a little and gave Gideon a shocked glance. "I was looking for the vicar-"
"Mrs Dunwoodie! Hello! I'm the vicar." Andrew took her hand with his most charming smile.
BLUE silk shirt! Mrs Dunwoodie's internal voice mail registered. BLUE silk shirt and not one SIGHT of a dog collar!
"How kind of you to visit Mrs Dunwoodie, I'm afraid we're in a bit of a mess this morning."
BIRCH twigs. And on the FRONT LAWN……!
"Vicar-" Mrs Dunwoodie began in shock.
"Andrew. Please." Andrew pulled out a chair. "This is my partner Gideon. Would you like a cup of tea Mrs Dunwoodie?"
Gideon gave her one of his more discreet smiles. From a height of six foot two and through slightly hooded eyes many people found that more than a little intimidating. Mrs Dunwoodie retreated.
"No Vicar, I can't- stay- I just thought I'd-"
"Very nice to see you." Andrew said, following her to the door, "Do please drop by again, thankyou so much for the flowers!"
The cloud of outraged dust behind Mrs Dunwoodie raised higher as she scuttled down the rectory path, up the street and straight into the post office where several of her acquaintances were buying their morning groceries.
"You'll never GUESS what's going on at the rectory……..!"
"They seem like a nice couple of fellers." Mr Ackwell said peaceably at dinnertime. "The vicar can talk for England but that Gideon's got his head screwed on, he showed me some of his sword collection."
"But swords, Fred!" Mrs Ackwell said, peering down the street towards the rectory. "What does a man want with swords? And Bella said they're both queer-"
"Well it stands to reason they both would be if they're living together." Mr Ackwell pointed out, digging into his shepherd's pie.
"But you can't have a gay vicar Fred!"
"Seems to me it shouldn't make a difference on how he does his job. You wouldn't think twice if he'd moved in there with a wife, would you?"
"It's not the same!" Mrs Ackwell said in hushed protest, "We've never had anyone like that in the village! And did you HEAR what Bella said they were planning? CAVORTING on the front lawn she said, NAKED, bold as brass with her in the house-"
"Well if it's going to make old Ma Dunwoodie stop and think a bit then I'm all for it." Mr Ackwell said frankly. "She drove the last Vicar nearly mental with her running in and out of the rectory like she owned it, and her do this and do that. Thinks she runs the blooming parish. Like to see her try to run these two! You drop in and say hello love, and take no notice of Bella, they're nice lads both of them. I'll tell you what too, I'll bet everyone's still awake by the end of the sermon on Sunday. Bit of new blood and someone young, that's what we need around here."
Sam Broadbent and Joe Thatcher, who were what passed for Much Magden's answer to odd job men, window cleaners, ditch diggers, crate shifters, rubbish removers and rag and bone men, were on their way down to the Pig and Whistle at eight pm when they passed the Rectory.
By nine pm they were both well oiled on pints bought by a fascinated crowd surrounding them, listening to the tales of debauchery they'd witnessed there.
"Just as we passed the hedge," Joe said, eyes still wide over his pint, "All lit up like a gin palace it were, every window lit and no curtains, and music thumping out-"
"What kind of music were it Joe?"
"Somethin' about getting knocked down but getting back up again," Sam said in tones of deep horror, "And pissing the night away- and him the vicar!"
"And then this car sweeps up," Joe went on, not to be outdone, "This blue striped thing like an 'umbug it was, and two fellers get out, and one of 'em's wearing makeup!"
"NO!" went the crowd in delighted horror and bought more beer.
"Yes!" Sam vouchsafed with ghoulish satisfaction. "All foundation and eyeliner, and this little dog with them. And that big man in the moustache, he comes out, and the three of them kiss on the lawn like Rhett Butler and Scarlett Oo flipping Hara."
"It's true! True as I stand here, all three on 'em. On the lawn. And then the vicar comes running out and throws himself down on the path to 'ave a cuddle with that little dog and I says to Joe, you know what? You know what Joe? That there bloody dog's wearing a bloody leather jacket."
The shocked silence that greeted that statement gave Sam Broadbent more satisfaction than any one of the pheasants he'd ever poached off Much Magden land.
"Darcy left his wallet on the table." Gideon commented, dropping it into Andrew's lap on the way to the bathroom. Andrew, wearing very little and no less to Gideon's taste for doing so, rolled over onto his stomach and opened it, whistling softly.
"WELL… black and ribbed… strawberry flavoured…. Gold Olympic Special.. no wonder Pete's strutting about like the cat with the canary."
"Will he need it? Should we ring?"
"There's only the incriminating evidence and a fiver in it, he'll live." Andrew tossed it across to the dressing table and flopped back down on the bed. "I told him to put it in his coat pocket when he suggested playing twister."
"Possibly we need curtains installed before we try that again." Gideon said dryly.
"Only because you're no good at it."
"I saw the face of that woman with the ferret nose, she looked ready to have a fit." Gideon returned, bare chested, and sat down to unfasten his boots. "Although why she keeps on peering in the windows- hey." He leaned over to prod Andrew in the ribs, making him squirm sleepily. "Clean your teeth before you fall asleep there."
Andrew edged out of reach of the poking and slowly got to his feet, smiling at the small liver and white King Charles Spaniel that promptly got up to follow him.
"Come on Pilate. Come on baby."
The dog pattered after him into the bathroom. Several choruses of something loud and vaguely tuneful came from the direction of the front of the house. Gideon got to his feet and went to the window, pushing up the sash to lean out. Two men, propping each other up, were staggering through the churchyard, singing solemnly and with great purpose.
"Oh my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord He is trampling on the vineyard where the grapes of wrath are stored…"
"Not hard enough or soon enough." Gideon commented, and shut the window.
"Who is it?" Andrew inquired, coming back to bed in nothing more than blue silk boxers. Gideon snapped the light off and climbed under the covers.
"The pub emptying. Put something on, you'll freeze."
"I can't find anything, it's all packed still."
"Then put something of mine on."
"Yours is all packed too."
There was a thump as Andrew knelt on the floorboards. Gideon glanced up and saw the outline in front of the window, elbows propped on the sill.
"Are you praying or spectating?"
"Both actually." Andrew said cheerfully. "Few people know this but the two things are not actually mutually exclusive. There is nothing, anywhere, in any religious text to my knowledge that specifies exactly WHAT one should be doing while-"
"I'm going to sleep now Andrew."
"I'm praying for you then?"
"I'll leave it in your capable hands." Gideon said, turning over.
He was woken ten minutes later by Andrew's freezing cold feet and hands as he dived under the covers, closely followed by the dog.
"I'm done, you're covered for another night."
"Thankyou." Gideon shifted to accommodate Andrew and pointed at the floor. "Pilate, in your basket."
"He is not sleeping on the bed."
"It's COLD downstairs, and half the lights don't work and I DID look everywhere while I was down there so-"
"END of the bed." Gideon interrupted, pointing. Pilate slunk to the end of the bed and curled up. And waited until Gideon's breathing became regular before he slid on his stomach in the direction of the beckoning hand, nipped under the covers and settled, with a sigh of contentment, between the two men.
Jo Dickson, the teacher of the infants class at Much Magden's infants school, was standing at the end of the playground and ringing the handbell when three members of her class skidded to a halt in front of her.
"Miss! Miss! The vicar's there with his little dog!"
Does it have a leather jacket on? Jo just prevented herself asking in time. Her husband had been in the pub the night Sam Broadbent had been telling his tales. She lowered the bell and came face to face with Andrew's shattering smile and the enthusiastic attentions of a small spaniel.
"It's Pontius Pilate." Andrew explained apologetically as she stooped to return the dog's advances. "He has a lot to live down, so he tries hard. I'm Andrew Farthingdale."
"The new vicar." Jo straightened and took his hand, her smile rapidly becoming genuine as she took in the liveliness of the face above her. "I'm Jo Dickinson, I'm on the parish council."
"And you teach? You teach here? What a beautiful school. I'm just passing, I thought I'd stop and say hello."
"Come in and meet the children?" Jo suggested. Andrew scooped the dog up and followed her across the small playground.
"Is that allright? What about the head teacher?"
"We don't actually have one at the moment." Jo said apologetically. "There's me, and there's Helen Fox who teaches the big class- key stage two- and at the moment I and the chair of governors run the school. Ofsted are on our heels about it, but it's hard to make an appointment out here."
"I heard the vicar post was empty for over a year." Andrew said ruefully. Jo nodded, opening the heavy door into the Victorian brick building.
"It was. We've been cobbling together services for months with occasional visits from the Little Beresford parish vicar. And the parish council is also the school board of governors, there just aren't enough people to make up separate bodies-" she lifted her voice to attract the attention of the fourteen chattering five to seven year olds sitting on the carpet by the teacher's desk. "Children, this is-"
She paused, looking to Andrew for help. "What would you like them to call you?"
"Andrew?" Andrew suggested. She shook her head faintly at him and turned back to the children.
"This is the new vicar. Kevin, get the vicar a chair- we were just about to have news time, I hope you'll join us? Who's going to start?"
Jo took a chair at the front of the group and looked down into the sea of faces as Andrew perched on a child's chair at the back. Fourteen hands shot into the air. Jo smiled at the nearest.
"Christopher. What's your weekend news?"
The small boy at the front with missing front teeth gave her an earnest stare and leaned forward to whisper loudly.
"I've got a blue jumper on."
"Yes." Jo said patiently. "What's your news? What did you do over the weekend?"
"My dad got a new cow!" a little girl at the back shouted joyfully. "It's all brown except for the white bits!"
"What's your cow's name?" Andrew asked, smiling at her. The little girl beamed at the recognition.
"Mrs Dunwoodie! Cos my dad says she's a real-"
"That's nice Sarah." Jo said hastily. "Anyone else got any nice news?"
"My brother ate my fish." A little boy near the front confided, gazing at Andrew. "But it's ok cos Mum said it was dead anyway."
"Miss?" another little girl with brown bunches said anxiously. "The vicar's little dog's eaten my crayon."
Jo, looking in her direction too late, saw the spaniel enthusiastically take the last fragment of crayon he was being offered. Andrew, grimacing, picked the dog up.
"You shouldn't feed crayons to dogs Hannah, it can give them tummy ache. I'll get you another crayon- now the vicar is a special guest today, because he's new in our village. Does anyone know what the vicar's job is?"
"He talks to God." Hannah said triumphantly, watching Pontius Pilate spit out crayon.
"Good Hannah." Jo said cheering up. "And why does he do that?"
"Cos he's got more time than everyone else." Said a little boy at the front.
Andrew looked to Jo for help. "I don't think that's-"
"You do!" The boy protested. "My mum said to my dad he ought to come to church with us last year and my dad said once the lambs start coming he works all day and he's up half the night and he still hasn't got time to scratch his arse on Sundays."
"At which point I nearly died." Jo said later to Helen Fox in the big classroom as they watched the thirty two pupils of the school devour their packed lunches.
"Was he shocked?" Helen asked. "Michael, DON'T eat all that at once, bite bits off or you'll - there. Now pick it up."
"No," Jo said thoughtfully. "He didn't laugh either although I could see he wanted to, he handled it really well. He asked the children to draw pictures for him of what they thought he did, and he invited the class up to the church on Friday to have a look around. The kids really took to him."
"It'll be nice to have a vicar who actually knows do with children other than patting heads." Helen said dryly. "He's rather dishy too apparently."
"From what I hear," Jo said under her breath, "You've still seen nothing until you've seen his other half, and NEITHER is available."
"What IS that?" Gideon said, pausing with the rifle he was drilling with on the front lawn and coming to peer over Andrew's shoulder at the paper being spread over the door. Andrew unrolled it, held it up and frowned at it absorbedly.
"It's the hello bee."
"The hello bee?" Gideon twisted his head to peer, without sounding too flummoxed. Living with Andrew had innured him to waiting for information.
"You are such an atheist." Andrew gave the picture one last look and carefully rolled it up again.
"I don't remember any bees in the bible." Gideon shouldered his arms. "Not one. These are new, want a go with one?"
Andrew caught the rifle he was tossed and turned it over. "Nice. Reproduction?"
"Yes, all brand new. I've got a client due at three, by which time I need to have figured them out. What is the bee for?"
"Every vicarage should have one." Andrew shouldered the rifle, brought it to the present and shook his head at Gideon. "That isn't right, you'll have to show me."
Gideon took it and expertly flicked it over into position. "Historically here, then here, then HERE at this angle and down. I've got the main actors from the platoon coming, circa 1812 apparently."
"Ah the battle of Waterloo. Josephine," Andrew added in a strong French accent, "Ve vill haf ze little ho ho ho n'est ce pas? Josephine, m'est fourni avec, nous aurons une petite conversation dans le parc ne nous fera pas? Ooh Monsieur Napoleon! Quel le gros canon que vous avez! Le quel grand nez que vous avez! Tant mieux vous envahir avec mon cher. ....."
"Are you home for lunch?" Gideon inquired, following him into the house, Pilate at his heels. Andrew paused in the doorway of the kitchen and turned to give him a bright smile.
"En effet! Qu'aimeriez-vous pour le dîner mon chéri? Les jambes d'escargots ou grenouilles?"
"A sandwich would be fine. How was the school?"
"TINY." Andrew opened the fridge and peered into it. "Why is it we've been here twenty six hours and already the fridge is a wasteland? There's that tin of sardines that's been sitting there for ooooooh, two hundred years and was probably there before the fridge was invented, never mind built, and there's a box of highly suspicious milk, and that fruit we brought with us yesterday. Where IS the nearest Asda?"
"We're going to have to go shopping in Towcester, I told you." Gideon said, laying the gun on the table. "That's got a Tescos and a Safeways and a Co op apparently. Plus the smaller shops."
"Well I'll be allright with fruit." Andrew said, shutting the fridge. "It's such a brilliant diet food fruit. You look at it, and it looks back and you think….. no, I don't really fancy eating after all."
"What did you have for breakfast?" Gideon said darkly. Andrew lifted his hands towards the fruit in accusation as Gideon advanced on him.
"It looked at me and I looked back-"
Gideon turned him around and landed a sound smack across the well curved seat of his tight, black jeans.
"Get a jacket, we're going shopping. Pilate, basket, you're going to stay."
"No, fruit is fine." Andrew said firmly, backing out of the kitchen ahead of his lover. "I'm dieting, remember? I looked in the mirror this morning and I had a bum the size of Newcastle. And a vicar CAN'T go around in a surplice demanding "Does my bum look big in this? It gives all the wrong impression. When are your soldiers coming- no DON'T swat me again, these jeans are way too tight! AND DON'T TICKLE EITHER!"
"Good morning Mrs Dunwoodie." Gideon said, pausing on the path outside the front door, still gripping Andrew. Who'd stopped squirming and screeching on the word. The woman under the black hat gave them a scandalised look and scuttled away.
"That's the ghost of 'I know what you did last Christmas'." Andrew said, pointing after her. "She haunts the church too, you've never SEEN such boring flowers. They're going for a start."
"You do realise you're going to have to break this parish in gently?" Gideon pointed out, locking the front door. "You're used to inner London where the melting pot is very thoroughly melted and half the congregation were of alternative sexualities."
"That's one way of putting it." Andrew agreed. "This lot are all farmers, you'll never guess what one of the kids told me today-"
"Drew." Gideon said more firmly. "You need to take it gently. Don't want anyone complaining to the bishop."
"I can handle the bishop." Andrew said cheerfully. "What time is your platoon arriving?"
"Three. We've got plenty of time. No, my car, we need to be BACK by three."
"You have no faith." Andrew said, getting into the jaguar. Gideon turned over the engine which purred softly and smoothly, gliding the car away from the curb.
"I have plenty of faith, I just also believe in not tempting fate."
Gideon, who was a natural navigator, found the little market town of Towcester about fifteen minutes out of their village. Small, pretty and muddled between Georgian and Medieval, it was a long street of shops around the market square and little alleyways running off on each side. Gideon parked just off the market square and they spent some time investigating the small shops before they walked down to the large Safeways. Shopping with Andrew was an acquired skill. A lot of eyes turned as they walked, the tall and somewhat eccentrically dressed dark man, and the fair, chattering man in a blue silk shirt and a dog collar, who more or less walked and surrendered to the powerful grip on his hand that towed him down the highstreet, but who's attention was everywhere. Up the short steps that led into shops and jumping off them a minute later, darting up each alleyway to see where it went.
"But we must know!" he protested when Gideon pulled him back. "Might go somewhere important! Might go somewhere NECESSARY-"
"Walk." Gideon said, who knew when he was being facetious.
Andrew grinned but fell back into step. "Darling you are such a killjoy. If you didn't have such wonderful legs I might not know what I see in you. Oh I MUST go in there!"
Gideon glanced at the boutique with grim acceptance. "Ok. I want you in Safeways in five minutes. No more. Clear?"
"Da." Andrew clicked his heels and bowed. And ran up the steps of the boutique. Gideon kept walking, nodding politely to the people who crossed his path, and took a trolley at Safeways, beginning to gather the essentials of life.
"WHERE do they keep the pesto and the crème fraiche?" Andrew demanded some minutes later, appearing at his shoulder. Gideon glanced pointedly at his watch.
"I said five."
"I'll owe you a minute." Andrew said apologetically. "But I got these. Aren't they great?"
Gideon surveyed the pink fluffy handcuffs.
"What are they for? Because if you think I'm playing with-"
"You look nothing like BDSM Barbie." Andrew promised, pocketing them before the old lady across the aisle fainted from shock. "I got them for Darcy for his birthday do next week, he and Pete probably WILL play with them and at any rate they look fun. Where IS the pesto?"
"This is the country." Gideon said firmly, moving on into the bread aisle. "They probably have the basics and essentials."
"Pesto IS an essential! Chapter nine verse three, the gospel according to St Essential SAYS: 'And lo, residing in the fields there was pesto and all manner of amazing Italian things'".
Gideon stopped the trolley and turned around. Andrew caught his eye and subsided, moving rapidly from mid bounce to penitent and definitely too cute to be cross with.
Gideon didn't move. "There are not going to be any spoilt brat attacks, are there Andrew?"
"Ooh no." Andrew said zealously. "Never. Not one."
"Good." Gideon said meaningfully. "There is no need to be snobbish about straight forward foods. Bread, milk, meat, vegetables, that's all we need."
"We need spinach." Andrew said promptly, bounding ahead of him. "We do, we have to have spinach, it's the law. Do they do venison here? Quail? DUCK even? What kind of a place is it that doesn't sell duck?"
"You can't send me to bed, it's a parish council meeting tonight." Andrew explained contritely, sitting on the stairs. Mostly to remove any potential target out of his partner's reach. Gideon shut the front door and pointed.
Gideon just stood, waiting, looking distinctly sinister.
"You'll never guess what now!" Mrs Dunwoodie said an hour later, scuttling into Mrs Ackwell's kitchen. "There's eight soldiers marching with guns in the vicarage garden and the vicar's on his knees in the hallway, scrubbing the floor!"
"Drew?" Gideon called, hearing the front door shut. There was silence. It was long since dark outside, the grandfather clock, newly unpacked in the study for Gideon who liked all things old and traditional, stood at five minutes past eleven. Gideon laid his book down and got up.
The tiles in the hallway were gleaming. As Victorian as the house, black and white, and stretching some way through the big house, they were going to give Andrew serious time for reflection in keeping them polished whenever he let his mouth run away with him.
The lights were off in the kitchen too. Andrew was sitting at the kitchen table, his hands steepled in front of him. Too still and too quiet. Gideon quietly dropped both hands on his shoulders and rubbed.
"Mmn." Andrew said without moving. Gideon pulled a chair out beside him and sat down, watching his face.
"Go on then. Let's hear it. How hostile are they?"
"Considering we're gay, I'm flamboyant, apparently, you wave swords around and march soldiers about, we kiss strange men in the front garden and grope each other at every opportunity?" Andrew gave his hands a wry smile. "They feel they're being very tolerant. We were item number three on the agenda. Explain to the vicar the codes of appropriate behaviour."
Gideon nodded slowly, his hand resting between Andrew's shoulder blades, rubbing gently up and down.
"Right. We expected this. Didn't we?"
"Yes." Andrew said quietly. "I knew what to expect. It just wasn't very easy to hear. Or nicely put. Mrs Dunwoodie is on the council. Mr Ackwell is too and he was nice, he argued for us, and Jo Dickinson too, but the others were a bit grim."
Gideon leaned on the table, still rubbing his back. "What did you say?"
"The professional negotiator stuff." Andrew said tiredly. "I listened. I reflected. I responded to the feelings rather than what was said. Managed to get it as win/win as possible- they felt listened to and I hadn't actually agreed to anything."
"That's what you need to do." Gideon said mildly.
Andrew didn't respond. Gideon got up and took two glasses out of the cupboard, dug for a while and found a bottle of scotch, pouring a double shot into each. Andrew took the one he was handed and leaned back against the hand Gideon rested on his shoulder.
"What's the worst they can do?"
"Log a complaint with the bishop." Andrew said, sipping his scotch.
"He told you he wanted you here to drag this parish into the 21st century. And he said it would be kicking and screaming."
"I know." Andrew took another sip, staring into his glass. "And the bishop fancies me anyway."
Gideon smiled and leaned down to take his hand.
"So come up to bed."
Andrew didn't move for a minute. Then stood up, lifting his glass with him.
"What do you think Sunday's going to be like?"
"Sunday service? Packed." Gideon said dryly. "They'll be consumed with curiosity."
Andrew's eyes gleamed briefly. Gideon pulled him close and slipped a hand under his shirt, massaging over the column of his spine. Andrew gulped the last of his scotch, then put the glass down and cupped Gideon's neck to pull his head down and kiss him. Gideon rested his hands on Andrew's hips for a moment, then bent and picked him up, bringing their faces to the same level in the dark kitchen. Andrew's hands found the neck of his shirt and started unbuttoning- and they both froze as the ancient doorbell rang. Gideon reluctantly put Andrew down.
"I'll get that."
Andrew leaned back against the counter, taking a few deep breaths. Gideon, not unused to people requiring the services of their vicar at odd hours and times, and not unused too to making decisions about how real and urgent that need was, opened the door and looked with taciturn eyes down at Mr Ackwell, who looked grim and worried.
"Hello Mr West, I'm right sorry to ring at this hour, I was wondering if we can have the keys to the parish hall. We've got a child gone missing in the village and the family are going near out their minds, we need somewhere to use as-"
"Andrew!" Gideon called sharply. "Come in Mr Ackwell, if you need a kitchen and somewhere to talk to people then we've got plenty of room and plenty of mugs. What can I be doing?"
"Well the police are coming out they said and they're asking us to get people together to search," Mr Ackwell said harassedly, "We need to get some maps out and start organising, people are looking in the obvious places now but there's so much land around here-"
"Mr Ackwell?" Andrew said, appearing beside Gideon. Gideon moved out of his way.
"A child's gone missing Drew-"
"Which child?" Andrew demanded. Mr Ackwell gave him a distracted glance.
"Little Sarah Vaughan."
"In Mrs Dickinson's class?" Andrew took his jacket off the hall peg, following them into the kitchen. "Where was she last seen?"
"Playing up near the woods with her brothers, they came back for bed and she didn't, her mother's that scared."
"Where is her mother?"
"She's with my missus at their house, they're staying there in case Sarah comes home- number seven, Church Street-"
"Ok." Andrew grabbed his scarf off the peg and wound it round his neck, heading out of the front door.
"I'm not sure she'll want it," Mr Ackwell said anxiously, taking half a step after him, "Not always helpful to talk to people about trusting and praying when they're scared half out their minds. And I'm not even sure Annie Vaughan's C of E- I know Jim Vaughan isn't-"
"Trust me, Andrew won't make things worse." Gideon said firmly, digging in the cupboard. "This is the best map I've got Mr Ackwell, I'll find some torches, how about you get as many people here as possible with some other maps and we'll start organising this search properly?"
"Mr West?" Mr Ackwell came down from the bank, squelching in the mud by the light of his thin torch. Gideon flashed his torch up to light his way.
"Over here. I think we're ready to move on to the next section."
"Aye, Sam and Tom Johnson are right behind me."
"What about the ditches beyond there?"
"The vicar's over there with Mrs Dickinson and George Dunkley, we can pick them up on the way."
Gideon followed him, taking his time over the uneven ground and using the stick he carried to check out the turf around him. The local police, the two of them in a squad car on duty, had looked at the countryside in despair and rung their local metropolitan branch at Towcester. They were hoping to get a helicopter out in the next hour, and some of the duty police from the nearest city twenty miles away, but even they said at this time in the dark it wasn't an easy task to find one five year old little girl. Periodically in the dark a voice rose, echoing slightly in the open fields and hills.
"Gay?" Andrew's voice said somewhere over to the left.
Gideon paused and Andrew's torch beam caught him. He looked alert, the hyper mood changed for one of intense and directed energy and he fell into step with the others.
"How's the mother?" Gideon said quietly.
"In a state, but I got Mrs Ackwell to ring her husband's parents, they've come over to sit with her. And Mrs Ackwell and Jo got everyone to search their houses in the village, all the out buildings, hen houses, the lot."
Gideon nodded. Two years ago he and Andrew had participated in a similar eight hour search in Notting Hill for a toddler who was found peacefully asleep under a bench in the local launderette, having escaped from his mother and wandered in unnoticed through the open doorway.
"Sarah!" A man's voice shouted again, with a growing note of desperation. Mr Ackwell winced, looking across the field.
"That's her Dad. I don't know where else we can go, we've covered a good mile out in all directions from that wood and she's only a little girl-"
"Split up." Andrew said steadily. "Half of us keep on going out, the other half go back and go over that ground again just in case we missed her."
Andrew turned around and headed in the direction of the voice. Gideon nodded to Mr Ackwell.
"I'll keep on walking. Want to send some with me and take the others back?"
"Aye for all the good it'll do." Mr Ackwell said unhappily. Gideon waited a moment, watching until some of the torch beams across the field began to move forward again.
It was nearly two in the morning when they reassembled in the vicarage kitchen, cold and tired and rapidly approaching despair. The police helicopter was still circling the village and police were now searching the fields, telling the exhausted villagers to go home and rest.
"As if I bloody could." The girl's father said bitterly, dropping into a chair at the kitchen table. "She's five bloody years old! Only five…"
Mrs Ackwell, who'd been sitting with the two Vaughan boys in the front room, put a tray of mugs down on the table. The smallest boy was asleep on the sofa, the second, a boy of eight, was awake, wide eyed and tearful in the doorway. Mr Vaughan sat back and held out an arm to him and the boy scuttled across, burying himself in his father's arms.
"He's been crying for hours," Mrs Ackwell said quietly to her husband, nodding at the boy. "On and on poor lad, I can't quiet him."
Andrew, leaning against the counter, looked down at the boy with absent pity. Then edged through the crowd of men and women sipping tea. Gideon saw him move and turned around to watch, folding his arms. Andrew crouched beside Mr Vaughan, resting his elbows on his knees.
"What's your name son?"
Mr Vaughan looked down at him with dulled, shocked eyes.
"Dean. This is Dean, Vicar."
"Dean?" Andrew said softly. The boy didn't answer for a moment. Andrew rubbed his arm gently. "Dean?"
The boy's head turned slowly against his father's arm to look at him. Andrew gave him a steady look.
"Where were you playing this evening?"
"We've been through all this, Vicar." Mr Vaughan said wearily.
"It's worth checking again." Andrew said lightly. "Where were you playing, Dean?"
"By the stream- in the woods-" the boy said very unsteadily.
"And where was Sarah when you and your brother came home?"
The boy shrugged, turning his face away again. Andrew waited, watching him.
"Dean? Where was Sarah? Where had she gone?"
The boy shrugged again. "Don't know, she must have wandered off."
"What were you playing?"
The boy didn't move. Mr Vaughan shook him gently.
"Dean, answer the vicar."
"Just stuff." Dean said tearfully. Andrew shook his head.
"You and your brother and Sarah. You were all up there together, what were you playing?"
"Dens." Dean said eventually. "Just dens."
"Where's the den?"
"Up by the stream-"
Andrew looked up at Mr Ackwell. "Did we check it?"
Mr Ackwell shook his head, bemused. "No, we didn't see it. Where is it Dean?"
The silence this time went on for longer. Mr Vaughan finally shook his son again, slightly less gently.
Dean twisted his fingers, tears welling up again.
"Oh my God." Mrs Ackwell said devoutly.
"It was a gap under some tree roots in the bank that they'd dug out and put boards in." Mrs Ackwell said to Mrs Dunwoodie over the back of the pew. In the front of the church, Mrs Dunwoodie always sat right at the front for every Sunday service.
"They'd shut her up in there because she was annoying them, and gone home forgetting all about her. And then from what Annie Vaughan told me, when they remembered and everyone was panicking and looking for little Sarah the boys were too frightened to own up to what they'd done. Got a tanning and a half from their dad, both of them, when Jim got home with Sarah and they were sure she was allright. Fell asleep in there poor little soul, nothing more than scared and cold and crosser than a wet cat. My Fred went up there with Jim and the vicar and Mr West, he said even though it was three in the morning they insisted on going along and helping if they could, and the vicar called an ambulance in case they needed it. And Annie said he was kindness itself, the vicar. No preaching and fancy talking, just common sense."
Mrs Dunwoodie sniffed. Mr Ackwell, softly closing the heavy church door ready for the start of the service, came down the crowded aisle and took the seat next to his wife. Half the village had turned out for the vicar's first service, there was a buzz of anticipation right through the church. He took in his wife's expression and jerk at Mrs Dunwoodie's hatted head and grinned.
"Bella not first with the news? You'll be in for the cold shoulder then my girl. Has she seen Mr West yet?"
Mrs Ackwell followed her husband's satisfied nod at the far pew which was semi tucked out of the way behind a pillar.
Gideon was wearing a scarlet and antique officer's jacket with pips, over a white shirt, cravat and spotless white flannels. Riding boots completed the ensemble and gleamed, reflecting back the lit candles on the altar.
"Heathcliffe." Mr Ackwell said cheerfully. "And here comes Cathy."
"FRED." Mrs Ackwell said, trying not to giggle. "That's irreverent!"
Andrew, who actually looked classically angelic in surplice and robes, mounted the pulpit with slow and stately tread, leaned out over the congregation and gave them that sweet, shattering smile.
"Good morning. How WONDERFUL to see so many of you, welcome to this morning's service at St Michael's."
"Are my eyes deceiving me," Jo Dickinson murmured to her husband, "Or is he really wearing blue eyeliner?"
Mr Dickinson gave his wife an alarmed look. And she returned the shrug.
"He's definitely wearing lipstick."
"I'd like to begin today," Andrew went on cheerfully, "By talking about the so called virtue of tolerance. The kind of tolerance that makes us think about the unique perspective of others. Whether this is your sister who wants her Lara Croft doll to play along with her Barbie, instead of in the more exiting role you envisaged. Or whether this is accepting one of societies many cultures and facets that may be unfamiliar to you."
Gideon, sensing danger, looked up and fixed Andrew with a penetrating stare. Andrew avoided it, smiled at Mrs Dunwoodie and clipped the pink and fluffy handcuffs to the front of the lecturn before he leaned against it.
"I saw an EXCELLENT example of this on ER the other night……"
"Provocation." Gideon said sternly, flexing the cane he'd just extracted from the grandfather clock case. "Pure and simple and disgraceful, Andrew Farthingdale."
"It was a sermon!" Andrew, standing in front of his desk, did not look convincingly penitent. Although the remainder of eyeliner and lipstick left from an over hasty scrub at his face in the vestry after the service, gave him the deceptive and somewhat plaintive look of a small boy bruised from a fight.
"I can use symbolism and drama in my sermons, it's part of what I do!"
Gideon, still in his scarlet uniform, his long hair gleaming and his long moustache bristling, did not look in the least receptive. He had what Andrew usually referred to as his headmaster's face on.
"Then let me demonstrate a little symbolism and drama to express MY point Andrew. Take down your trousers young man."
Andrew winced, but began to unbutton his black jeans. Gideon placed a wooden chair in front of him in the hearthrug and waited, until Andrew unwillingly pushed the jeans down to mid thigh, and still less willingly bent over the back of the chair, taking a firm grip on the seat and bracing himself.
"This isn't fair Gay, my pulpit is sacrosanct-"
"It is not your personal soap box." Gideon raised the tail of his shirt and stepped back, unhurriedly taking his distance and laying the final foot of the cane lightly across the presented and well curved seat of Andrew's red silk boxers.
"There will not be rudeness and provocation in your sermons young man, there will not be deliberate attempts to shock and challenge on your own personal agenda. There will not be little digs of your own from that position of power on people who happen to have annoyed you. It is not an acceptable way to behave, and we do not do it. Do we Andrew?"
Swallowing on both the lecture and the waiting time, and the overwhelming urge to fidget, Andrew shut his eyes. "No sir."
"PINK handcuffs." Gideon muttered, half under his breath. Andrew stifled a very inappropriate giggle which promptly transmuted to a hiss and a yelp as the cane raised and whipped down soundly across the seat of his boxers.
"OW. One sir."
The second fell harder, and an inch lower, and the third flicked in right across the junction of buttock and thighs, making Andrew rise to his toes in a hurry, back and voice arching tightly upwards.
There were no appropriate words for that biting sting. Andrew stayed where he was, gripping the chair seat and squirming, until Gideon's voice, still stern, said shortly,
"You may get down."
Andrew straightened up and tenderly rubbed his backside with both hands, massaging the smart where it was worst and shifting his weight from foot to foot. Gideon pointed at the corner by the fireplace, where bare wall met bare wall.
"Pull your trousers up and stand there, not one sound."
Andrew carefully restored his trousers to their rightful place, easing them over his blazing bottom, and made his way to the corner, resignedly lacing his fingers on the top of his head.
"PINK handcuffs." Gideon muttered again. Andrew stifled the urge to smile despite the throbbing, and shut his eyes, summoning his thoughts and his sense of orientation as he heard the familiar quiet click of Gideon restoring the cane to its place inside the grandfather clock.
Its sense of order was permeating. As calming as Gideon settling to read behind his desk, as he would for the full half hour Andrew knew he would stand here. As sure as the church that stood in the village where it had for six hundred years, welcoming and uncritical of the people who came to it for shelter.
With determination Andrew dragged his mind onto the point at hand, accepted it and began the process of calming himself down. Not blaming, not angering, not fretting, allowing this to be done. To be over. To be a fresh start.
Gideon turned a page and on the rug, Pontius Pilate sniffled, turning over in front of the slowly crackling fire to stretch more of his liver and white belly to the warmth. Despite the unfamiliarity of the house, those were the noises of home.
Andrew drew one more deep breath, and let go.
When the grandfather clock chimed the full half hour, Gideon lay down his book.
"Come here Andrew."
Andrew lowered his hands and rubbed once more at his still tender rump as he made his way across to his partner. Gideon pushed back from the desk to make room and took Andrew on his knee, wrapping both arms around him as Andrew curled up against his chest.
Gideon didn't reply, just bent and kissed the top of his head.
Outside, Mr Ackwell straightened from trimming the rectory hedge and gave Mrs Dunwoodie a long stare.
"Can I help you Bella?"
"They're CUDDLING." Mrs Dunwoodie said in outrage. "And him on Mr West's lap too!"
"Well you'll see funny things if you go poking your nose in other folks windows." Mr Ackwell observed. "Maybe you ought to know better and keep your nose out, and your feet on the pavement instead of in the rectory gardens. What do you think?"
Mrs Dunwoodie bristled, red faced. Mr Ackwell smiled to himself and went back to clipping. Mrs Dunwoodie, scuttling for the gate, paused and stared, bemused, at the laminated picture attached to the rectory front door.
"What's what?" Mr Ackwell straightened up. Mrs Dunwoodie pointed in outrage.
"That! Some heathen symbol-"
"Little Sarah Vaughan drew that at school for the vicar." Mr Ackwell said sternly. "It's the hello bee, and any God fearing person should know that."
"The -" Mrs Dunwoodie gave him a bewildered stare. "Fred Ackwell, I never thought to see the day, but you're madder than a March hare and I'll tell your poor wife that too! Hello bee…."
She scuttled down the pavement, leaving Mr Ackwell to nod after her.
"Aye. Our father, which art in Heaven, hello bee thy name. Afternoon Bella."