Chapter 8

Written by: Ray Stone
The granite walls closed in as Mr. Kirkman faded from view. 
“My dear Sir, are you well?”
The soft voice got louder as all around me gradually came into sharp focus. Never having fainted, the experience was quite confusing and frightening. “I’m all right,” I answered, looking down at my trembling hands, although I would have fallen if I had tried to stand.
“Perhaps we might wait until you are fully recovered before I continue to explain your mater’s wishes.” 
Mr. Kirkman looked most concerned.
“No, please. I’ve been traveling and have spent an uneasy night in the company of a priest who has taken a life and related to me the upsetting story of my mother. Perhaps some food might do me well while we talk.” I held out two shillings.
Mr. Kirkman smiled thankfully and with one hand under my right arm, helped me to stand.
“Then let us walk to my cottage at the other side of the grounds, and you shall eat rabbit and home-baked bread.”
***
The cottage was small and sparsely furnished but clean and tidy. The white-washed walls reflected much sunlight shining through some latticed windows. My stomach churned as the pleasing aroma of stewed rabbit wafted under my nose. In no time at all, we were sitting at the small dining table.
I tore a small wedge of crusty bread and dipped it into the stew as Mr. Kirkman spoke.
“Your mater made a strange request before she passed away, in that I should tell, rather than request, that you open the letter she wrote you only after you met your sister. Of course, I do know where you will find Mary, for that’s her name.”
“And you have more to tell me about my mother?” I asked, chewing rabbit.
“Indeed. Your mater harboured a secret that only Joshua and I were privy to, and only then revealed on her deathbed.”
From his pocket, Mr. Kirkman produced a long white envelope and placed it on the table, keeping his hand upon it.
“What I reveal now is her story and told as she told me - a story I cannot prove nor disprove for I was not there. However, I am sure of the facts, knowing her as I did as an honest and loving woman.” 
He sighed gently and withdrew his hand from the table.
“When your mater arrived, she was greeted by Father Droon. After relating her position to him, he took her in and within a short time she was nursing within the hospital. Joshua and Father Michael could not understand that your mater would give of herself freely. It was much later, after Father Michael’s death, that the reason rested in an arrangement for care without payment. All next of kin had to pay whatever they could afford. Your mater had nothing.”
“So she paid her care by nursing.”
“No. When she arrived, she was accompanied under cloak by your sister, two years your senior. She is here.”