Lionel ambled up the trail, whistling a Bach cantata perfectly suited to an October morning. There was simply nothing like it: the scarlets and golds of autumn foliage rising above the mists, piercing the clear blue sky. Though he’d not held this parish long, he’d discovered the unparalleled view from atop Wotton Hill where the Severn Valley stretched below, illuminated in autumnal light. It was the perfect place to meditate on the glory of God’s creation—and gain insight for Sunday’s homily.
The rattle of a pony cart silenced his whistling. Annoyance lanced through him. The ladies of his congregation had made him aware of every daughter yet unwed, and he valiantly strove to avoid them. If one of them were to follow him to press her suit, his morning was lost.
Rather than hail him, the driver attempted to ease the two-wheeled cart around him, to Lionel’s relief. If the occupant was disinclined to chat, his time would remain his own. Alas, the ditch caught the right wheel, tilting the whole equipage. His whistling faded into a sigh, as much at his own uncharitable attitude as at the prospect of righting the cart. He turned, a look of helpfulness in place.
“Good morning, Miss,” he greeted the driver, a young lady bundled in a thick cloak. Despite his longing for solitude atop the hill, he found himself curious about what, besides ensnaring a husband, might bring a young woman this way so early. “It seems you’ve got a spot of bother there. May I assist you?”
“I apologize, Vicar. I’m afraid I do need your assistance. The wheel, you see…”
“Ah yes. Vicar Lionel Shrimpton at your service.” He offered a half-bow. “But you seem to know that already. Let me see what I can do.”
Praying he would not be found unequal to the task, Lionel applied his shoulder to the wheel and pushed it back onto the trail before the young lady could step down from the cart. The pony did the rest.
“Oh!” She startled. “Thank you, Vicar. May I give you a lift somewhere?” Her demeanor belied the sincerity of her offer.
“That’s quite alright, Miss…”
“Neeley.” Relief fueled her smile. “Well, if you’re sure…”
“Quite.” He grinned back.
There could be no doubt the answering smile was warmer than the previous one she’d offered.
“Good day to you then, Vicar,” she called, rolling away.
“And to you, Miss Neeley.”
Lionel stared after her. He should be relieved she didn’t linger. She seemed unimpressed with the title of vicar. And him. Too bad really, she was quite lovely. He batted away that thought. She was not what should occupy his mind on this glorious morning. He turned his thoughts back to his prayers and his whistling back to Bach.
When he reached the crest of the hill, he groaned in frustration. There she was again. Spread out with easel and paints on his favorite patch. This was his hill!
He laughed at his presumption and selfishness. God’s hill first, and apparently Miss Neeley’s hill second. He decided to continue past her, but the young lady called out. Rather reluctantly, he thought.
“I do hope I haven’t taken your spot, Vicar.”
“No, no,” he lied.
A delightful chuckle, merry and musical and full of a sense of the absurd, acknowledged his tarradiddle.
“Vicars are not supposed to lie,” she teased.
“You’ve caught me. At least you’ll know I’m not very good at it.”
She bit her lower lip. “I really cannot give up this spot now that my paints and easel are set up. And there’s the light…”
“Of course. It must be perfect for painting.” He was trying to be gracious.
“But I can share.”
Lionel considered a moment. “Then I must share as well. You won’t even know I’m near.” But he would.
“Then welcome.” Her eyes twinkled before turning back to her paints.
Lionel searched for another set of rocks as conducive to sitting and writing as the ones Miss Neeley had usurped. Nothing too close in case they were seen as together. What would his parishioners say? Ridiculous society rules!
He finally found a spot that offered the view he wished, a rock to write on, and log to sit on. Perfection! Leaning back on his elbows, he let the sun warm his face, soaking in the beauty of autumn for a moment before he began his notes.
Aware of her nearness, yet strangely at ease, time vanished until a drop of water smeared his ink, interrupting his work. He hastily blotted his completed pages, stowed them under his jacket and ran to help Miss Neeley who was frantically gathering her paints and papers as well.
Together they bundled everything back into her charming cart before the clouds burst upon them.
“Grandfather will scold me for my lack of sense.” She grimaced as the drops came faster. “And lack of propriety.”
“Best be off, then,” Lionel urged. He pushed back his dampening hair to wave a regretful farewell.
She paused, eyes sparkling at their predicament. “Oh, do climb in, Vicar!” She shook her head. “I can’t leave the village’s most eligible bachelor in a downpour.”
He quirked an eyebrow at her, but she laughed again.
“And hurry! Lancelot does not like a storm.”
He leapt onto the seat, pleased for more time in her presence and a chance to study her as she drove. What a delightfully surprising lady. Resourceful, talented, unaffected. Beautiful. In harmony with his enjoyment of October’s weather, even the rain. His appreciation grew when, nearing the vicarage, she glanced at him slyly.
“I didn’t want to share, you know.”
He laughed. “Neither did I, but I must thank you. My new spot is even better than the one you appropriated.”
“Impossible! But the very next sublime October morn, we shall switch.”
“Next time,” he agreed. On impulse he kissed her hand, enchanted with the promise of sharing his hill, and much more, with her.
The mother of two, the grandmother of two, she dragged her special agent husband back to her southern roots to live happily ever after in South Carolina.