Chapter I

"A marriage of Convenience"


I stood leaning against the railing on that warm evening in August as the ship moved silently through the waves toward Australia. Without a moon the sky appeared like black satin, the stars glowing with intensity that I don't recall ever seeing before. My thoughts were aimless before thinking of Father Raphael slouched in his overstuffed chair, cigar in hand with the scent of expensive brandy on his breath. He had given me an odd questioning look when I told him I wanted to take a sabbatical from the priesthood. I couldn't help but wonder if he knew my reasons even before I admitted them to myself.

My feeling of melancholy was broken when further down the deck I heard a door open and saw a man caught momentarily in the light before he stepped into the shadows. He appeared young, maybe in his 20's, close to my age I thought. He staggered before reaching for the railing, there was enough starlight so I could see he was crying. He obviously had more then he should to drink, I felt a sense of empathy as I wondered what caused him to be in such a state.

I stood quietly observing him when suddenly I realized he was climbing over the railing. He had both legs over the side, hanging on the rail by one hand when I reached him pulling him back onto the deck. We laid there both of us stunned, he realizing I had seen and stopped him, me by what he had planned to do.

No words pass between us until I came to my senses and asked, "Why would you attempt to do such a thing? I lifted him from the deck with my arm under his; he kept his arm around my waist hanging on tightly leading me to believe death wasn't what he really wanted. I sat him in a deck chair and knelt beside him

He spoke for the first time, "Please don't tell anyone about this."

I replied, "Someone's going to have to be told what happened, your wife, a friend or your parents, you shouldn't be left alone.

Finally he said, "My family is in the dining room, there'll be an older woman at a table with my father, sister, and my wife. Just ask for the Thompson family, my aunt's name is Mildred just whisper that I need her, she'll come."

Entering the dining room I located them immediately from his description and the fact that there were only a few people still lingering. I approached the table and whispered to the older woman passing on the message the young man gave me. She gave me a contemptuous look but got up immediately and followed me out on the deck without a word spoken.

"Ian, what's going on?"

"It's just an accident auntie, nothing to get excited about."

I decided to interject some truth into what appeared be a glossing over of a serious situation. "Excuse me, but since Ian was about to kill himself by jumping overboard, I think it's a bit more than a little accident."

Another contemptible look directed at me, "I'm sure no such thing happened."

Ian spoke up, "Actually Aunt Mildred, that's exactly what happened if he hadn't intervened I would be dead by now." Looking at me he continued, "I'm sorry I never thanked you for saving my life and I don't even know your name."

"I'm Father Michael, and I'm thankful to have been there at the right time. Are you sure you'll be okay now?"

"He'll be fine now that I'm here, Ian's aunt continued to look at me with anger flashing in her eyes; I returned that look with the type of smile that let her know I didn't appreciate her attitude, nor did I scare easily. Turning to Ian I asked once again if he would be okay and added that since I was on sabbatical he should call me Michael rather than Father Michael, and added if he wanted to talk the ships purser would find me.

"I told you I'll take care of him, and Ian will not be asking for you. Out she stormed with Ian in tow; he glanced back just long enough for me to detect a bit of a smile.

Suddenly my curiosity was aroused as well as my spirits; a mystery was at hand, a handsome man obviously in great distress, a controlling aunt, a father, sister, and more importantly a wife who were all to be kept in the dark about Ian's attempt at taking his own life. It didn't take a university degree to tell this family came from wealth and power, which means if I was going to look into the reason behind Ian's attempted suicide; I would need to proceed with caution. And to be sure I was going to look into the lives of this family, well at least Ian's.

The next morning as I was on the promenade I saw none other than Ian walking toward me with whom I assume would be his wife on his arm. They were accompanied by a handsome middle aged man with a very attractive young woman on his left who must have been Ian's sister along with their auntie who was making an attempt at smiling.

Ian stopped and said, "Good morning Michael" as we shook hands. His Aunt Mildred interrupted with a caustic, "It's Father Michael, a priest on sabbatical Ian, try and remember that."

She managed to make Father Michael and sabbatical sound like dirty words. This woman obviously did not want Ian near me; a rather odd reaction considering I had saved her nephew's life the night before.

Ian continued his family introductions including his Aunt Mildred, who was not happy at this turn of events. Ian explained that we had met on deck the evening before while he was taking a breath of fresh air following their evening meal. It was a lie, but understandable considering the circumstances.

Ian's aunt actually looked relieved as I replied, "Good to see you again Ian, and what a pleasure it is meeting your family."

Ian's father shook my hand and asked if I was visiting Australia or returning home from my sabbatical. I explained that it was my first visit to Australia and I was on a mission of sorts looking for direction in my life. He said, "In that case you must come and visit our little community, we have a small church called Saint Paul's, our priest, Father Luis has been with us for over 50 years I know he would be delighted to make your acquaintance. You could stay with us while you're here and see our part of Australia."

Eve took my arm and started to walk with me as she spoke of the beauty of this part of Australia.

The pleasant familiarity with which each person greeted me appeared to cause their Aunt Thompson to look a tad green around the gills making me wonder what her problem really is, and why does she see me as a threat.

I told them I would very much like to see this part of Australia, but would not feel right imposing on their hospitality adding that perhaps Father Luis would grant me temporary hospitality at his parish.

Ian's Aunt Mildred jumped at my suggestion, "Yes, I know Father Luis would love to have you stay at the parish with him, he does get lonely I'm sure he would appreciate the company."

Ian's father added, "It's settled then when we arrive I'll speak to Father Luis and Mildred's right I'm sure he'll love the company, but you must come and dine with us soon." The color once again drained from Aunt Mildred's cheeks. I believe I saw a conspiratorial look flash between Ian and his sister. This family just keeps getting more intriguing by the day.

What was it that Mildred was afraid of, and how far would she go to make sure I didn't find out? If Ian was willing to end his life to keep a secret I couldn't help but wonder if she was willing to let her nephew die rather than allow a scandal to blemish the family name. Snobbery runs deep in the veins of the English aristocracy. And it was apparent it was Ian who was the key, but was he also the secret Mildred was hiding.

After arriving and getting settled at the parish, Father Luis, who actually was grateful for my company shared a whisky with me while I answered numerous questions about what had taken place in England in the last fifty years. Since I'm only twenty-five it took a bit of a stretch to fill in the missing years, but the good Father hung on every word.

Within days an invitation arrived to join the Thompsons for an evening meal which turned out to be quite pleasant considering Mildred Thompson's earlier behavior. I quickly discovered her change in attitude had more to do with having someone new to impress with her story of being at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II rather than it did with me personally. I had to admit it wasn't just anyone who was invited to the coronation, so the Thompson family must be several steps up the social ladder.

I was thinking it's strange how things happen, here I am a young priest doubtful of my vocation, searching for a direction for my life and by a fluke of fate I save a young man's life. Or was it just a fluke of fate? I lay in bed at the parish wondering what the odds of that happing by chance were as I subconsciously ran my hand down my chest and over my groin before falling asleep.

Early the next morning to my surprise Ian's sister Eve arrived on horseback, leading another horse already saddled and ready for our ride around the countryside. Smiling she said there was someone special she wanted me to meet but I couldn't tell anyone about him.

What was it with this family and secrets? And why did these exceptionally intelligent and handsome young adults feel a need to keep secrets. I returned Eve's smile as I said, "Eve, I can't wait to meet your special someone."

We rode together for several miles before coming to a cottage surrounded by rolling hills and sheep. What a beautiful pastoral scene lay before me. As we rode closer to the cottage I caught sight of a young man stripped to the waist busy shearing sheep. He looked up seeing Eve and smiled happily until he noticed me riding beside her. His smile faded even faster than it had appeared.

She jumped down and hugged the young man before introducing me as Father Michael, a guest staying at the parish with Father Luis. Eve explained that she was showing me around the area as she introduced me to her friend Peter. We shook hands and he smiled broadly realizing I was a visiting priest. I noticed she had stressed the Father Michael part of my introduction.

I could see why Eve was attracted to Peter with his black curly hair and muscular body that was deeply tanned from working outside most of the time. It was also obvious from the way they looked at each other they were more than just friends.

I wondered to myself if all of Australia is populated with such handsome people or is it something unique to this area. A silly thought for an educated man to have, but then I'm also a healthy young man with the same thoughts and urges as other men.

So Peter was another family secret or I should say more likely a secret kept from the family. Peter would definitely not be acceptable to this aristocratic family, at least not to Aunt Mildred Thompson. I wasn't sure about Eve's father he hadn't come across as a snob, but whether or not that was true remained to be seen. As I said before, class distinction is bred into the British psyche and not easily overcome.

On our way back to the parish Eve asked what I thought of Peter.

"Well, he's surely a handsome man, strong and a hard worker from what I observed, but Eve, the question is what do you think of him?"

"Michael, I'm crazy about him, I'm in love but my family would never allow me to marry Peter, they consider him low born."

I noticed Eve no longer referred to me as Father Michael when out of earshot of Peter.

"Eve, do you consider him low born?"

She replied, "Michael aren't we all just born, the whole question of high born or low born doesn't make any sense to me. People are just people."

"Oh, I agree totally but class distinction is society's way of making a few feel above or better than others, the need to feel superior seems to be ingrained in the British mindset. We are all pretty much the same, but the playing field has been rigged to favor a few. And those few aren't about to give up their advantage, would you?"

"Michael, I've thought about that a lot, and to be honest I'm not sure. I love Peter but am I willing to give up the advantages of what I have to live with him in his cottage. The thought of it scares me."

We stopped as I looked at this beautiful young woman before speaking again.

"Eve, you are amazing if for no other reason than you have even given thought to what it would be like to live in a manner like Peter does in his small cottage. He's healthy, handsome, and appears to have all he needs for a happy and full life. A life filled with laughing children and friends; friends of his own choosing if that is his choice."

"On the other hand, you have all the advantages of living an aristocratic life, a beautiful home, fancy cars and clothes, elegant parties to attend with privileges that most people only dream of. But do you have all you need for a happy and full life with the person you love. The freedom Peter has is something that your station in life may not allow, that is unless you have the strength to choose love over material wealth and privilege, not an easy choice for most people."

Eve rode on ahead, when I reached the parish house she was not there. Father Luis said a stable boy would come for the horse and that Eve said to say thank you for sharing your thoughts with her.

The next few days I was free to wander around the village and countryside alone. Father Luis loaned me his bicycle for transportation. I was riding one late afternoon enjoying the countryside when I ran across a car pulled off the narrow road in the shade of a large tree. Much to my surprise there was Ian, pants rolled up to his knees, his shirt having been removed was lying on the grass beneath him.

His eyes were closed, a blade of grass between his lips; it was a scene of peaceful bliss. I knelt quietly beside him and ran a dandelion over his bare chest. To my surprise he barely moved, opening only one eye he said, "Good afternoon Michael."

I laughed and sat beside him, "What are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?"

"Waiting for you."

"You were waiting for me?"


"How did you know I would be out here on this particular road?"

"This is a small community Michael, there are only a couple of roads you could have taken, I chose this one and here you are."

"I see, and is there a special reason you were waiting for me?"

"Indeed there is, you made my sister cry?"

"I made Eve cry, how did I accomplish such a heartless act, I surely had no intention of making her cry. Do you plan on doing the brotherly thing and challenge me to a duel?"

This made Ian laugh. He said, "You are a bit of a smarty Father Michael, maybe I will cuff you aside your handsome head."

"I must warn you, I cuff back. So you think I have a handsome head do you?"

"Yes, no question about it, you are handsome from top to bottom at least what I can see of you."

"That's quite a compliment coming from you Ian; you must be the most handsome man in all of Australia. How's that for a comeback?"

Ian suddenly had a wicked twinkle in his eye as he looked at me and asked what priests do to relieve their sexual tension.

Without hesitation, I replied, "We masturbate."

Ian sat straight up eyes wide. "Really, do you think the pope masturbates?"

I said, "Don't be silly Ian, he's the Pope, he probably has someone do it for him."

Ian literally rolled into a ball of laughter, when he finally calmed down he said, "Michael, you're not like any priest I've ever met before."

I said, "Well, maybe not like Father Luis, but there are plenty of us in the priesthood who see ourselves as almost human."

Ian jumped up and straddled my lap with his knees on either side of me with hands on my shoulders; he leaned in and kissed me. I kissed him back. I then pushed him back hard enough to shove him off of me onto his back; this appeared to have startled him. I quickly moved over him putting my hands on each side of his face as I leaned in and kissed him more passionately.

Ian looked up at me with that handsome smile of his, all he said was wow! I stood and took his hand pulling him to his feet and asked if he was alright.

He said, "Better then alright Michael, he winked and added, is this how you made my sister cry?"

I laughed before saying, "Not quite and added, it's beginning to get dark I need to start back to the parish before Father Luis sends out a search party."

Ian told me to put the bike in the backseat and he would drive me back, which he did while keeping one hand on my thigh close to my crotch, I made no attempt to move it. His touch felt good, comforting, I could feel warmth from his hand though my linen trousers. I had almost forgotten what emotions could rush into your heart and physical being by something as simple as a touch from another person.

I placed my hand over his to let Ian know I enjoyed his intimacy, he turned and leaned toward me and we kissed before riding the rest of the way in silence.