Christmas at the Vicarage

By: Rebecca Boxall

PROLOGUE


OCTOBER 2014

‘He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in their beds.’

Job 33:15 (NLT)

Rosamunde stood calmly at the shoreline. She watched the seals bob up and down in the distance and, for this moment, everything seemed right with the world. So still. So peaceful. Until suddenly it wasn’t.

In an instant she realised the figures weren’t seals at all – they were people. She knew them at once: there was her father and, next to him, her mother, Marguerite. Circling them like seagulls were Rachel, Kizzie, Stephen, Mrs Garfield and Benedict.

It was a bright summer’s day; there hadn’t been a single blemish in the sky and yet somehow an enormous black cloud had emerged from nowhere and the swimmers had almost simultaneously begun to panic. Rosamunde started to strip off her clothes; she simply had to help them, but her limbs felt heavy and as she lumbered into the sea she felt weighed down by an almighty force of gravity. As she swam into the deep waters she knew there was one person she must save first – someone who would drown if she didn’t get there soon.

Suddenly, Rosamunde was awake, sweating, her heart pounding with adrenalin. It was the same dream she’d had all week and she was never closer to knowing the answer to the critical question: who was the person she needed to save?





PART ONE





1.

SUNDAY 16TH NOVEMBER 2014

She’d been gone for fifteen years and was now in her forties. But the dreams, recurring night after night, had finally drawn her home. They’d been like an invisible lasso, pulling her tighter and harder until Rosamunde had inevitably found herself first at Perth International Airport, then at Heathrow, Paddington, Totnes and, finally, the small station of Thatchley, just ten minutes from Potter’s Cove.

Thatchley was so quaint it was the kind of place used by the BBC when it required a suitably old-fashioned station for a period drama. However dishevelled and travel-weary you felt, it was impossible not to feel the antique glamour of the place on arriving. Rosamunde, who by now looked decidedly unglamorous, lugged her various bags onto the platform and breathed slowly and deeply. Dark, crisp November air. With one breath she was filled with memories of bonfire nights past – fingerless gloves, sticky toffee apples, fizzing sparklers and piping hot jacket potatoes. Already her memory had been stirred and she hadn’t even reached Potter’s Cove.

She heaved her bags along the platform and bypassed the ticket office, taking the side gate towards the main road. As hoped, her shortcut won her the only waiting taxi and, rather gleefully, she opened the boot and had stowed her luggage before the driver – a funny-looking man with an enormous nose and (it turned out) dreadful halitosis – managed to hoist himself from his seat to help her. As she clambered into the back seat she spotted a couple of other train passengers emerging from the ticket office and looking hopefully about them. Rosamunde knew they would have a long wait for another taxi but she refused to feel guilty. After all, no one else could possibly have endured as lengthy a journey as her.

The drive took no time at all and yet seemed never-ending. As the taxi wound through the tiny Devon roads that squiggled down into the village and back up the small hill to the Vicarage, the driver slowed to an agonising snail’s pace. Rosamunde found herself willing the man to drive faster. She could hardly bear to wait a moment longer.

‘Could you possibly go a little faster?’ she called out to the front.

‘Sorry, love,’ said the man, though he didn’t sound very sorry. ‘More than my job’s worth.’

Rosamunde was not argumentative by nature, but even she had to bite her tongue, quite literally, to prevent herself from replying to this unhelpful response.

And then, suddenly, they were there. With the driver paid and the bags man-handled from the boot, Rosamunde hurried to the back door (‘family and tradesmen,’ her mother had always said, mocking her own aristocratic heritage). She was here. Her back ached and her eyes were gritty but, finally, she was here.

The thatched cottage glowed in the moonlight. It was unusually picturesque for a vicarage – an ancient cottage that had been spared being sold off by the Church when the more usual Victorian vicarages were considered too expensive to upkeep and had been replaced with modern bungalows. It had thick walls that kept the sea damp at bay and, while cosy, it had everything a growing family could require: an eat-in kitchen with Aga, a larder, a small utility and a downstairs loo; a well-proportioned sitting room with a working fireplace; a small study; and a creaky staircase leading upstairs to four reasonably sized bedrooms, though there was only one bathroom – which had caused a few squabbles over the years. The best thing of all, though, was the position of the cottage – perched above the village, suitably close to the little church, and with a sweeping view of Inner and Outer Cove – the magnificent beach below that divided into two as the tide drew in.

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