What a terrible winter evening it was that day when Father Ignatius had to visit Theodore Luxton-Joyce at his mansion.
It was about six o’clock in the evening, it was dark and it had been raining all day. It was that kind of annoying drizzle that you get for hours on end sometimes in England. Father Ignatius was glad to be indoors in the warmth when the phone rang and Theodore’s butler asked him to come over urgently. There had been some sort of emergency which he was “not at liberty to discuss on the telephone”, as the butler put it somewhat pompously.
The priest put on his coat and went out driving in the dark and in the rain. Something which he hated to do immensely.
Half-an-hour later he’d arrived at Theodore’s mansion and he noticed a police car parked outside.
The butler opened the door and said “let me take you to the library where all will be explained to you!”
Father Ignatius nodded and said nothing, following the butler and leaving a trail of water dripping from his coat and wet shoes.
Theodore was in the library with two policemen and a man in civilian clothing. As soon as he saw the priest the man in civilian clothing got up and signaled Father Ignatius out of the room again. “May I have a word Sir?” he mumbled as they walked out of the room.
Once out of the library the man asked, “Are you Father Ignatius?”
“Yes … I am” said the priest.
“It’s good you’re here Sir,” said the man, “I am Detective Chief Inspector George Drayton … we’ve been called because Mrs Luxton-Joyce has gone missing.
“She left here at about lunchtime to visit some friends down South. She drove her own car and has not phoned her husband to say she’s arrived safely, as previously arranged.
“Mr Luxton-Joyce should have heard from her two hours ago. He phoned her friends and they say she has not arrived.
“He’s in a bad state Sir … he refuses to see a doctor and he’s asked for you.
“We’re pursuing our enquiries with other police forces and hospitals … at this stage we’re keeping an open mind on what may have happened.”
“What do you mean?” asked the priest.
“Well … him being very rich and all that … anyway. I’ll keep a policeman on the premises should you need to contact us urgently …”
“You don’t mean …” Father Ignatius hesitated, “you don’t suggest she’s been kidnapped?”
“Well Sir … at this stage we have very little to go on … there would have been a phone call by now had she been abducted … we’re tracing all phone calls. I should be grateful if you could calm him down a little … in case anyone phones.”
As they entered the room again the detective nodded and the two policemen got out leaving the priest alone with Theodore.
Father Ignatius said a silent prayer in his mind, a habit he’d developed long ago, and approached Theodore quietly and placed his hand on his shoulder. The man looked up from his seat and said “Where is she Padre … why has she not phoned?”
His eyes were red albeit he maintained his composure.
“I pray it will be all right Theodore …” replied Father Ignatius gently.
“I’ve been praying too Padre … I’ve been praying so much I’m tired of praying … I doubt God is listening …”
“He is … just keep believing Theodore,” said the priest, “would you like some tea?”
Theodore shook his head.
“I couldn’t have anything … I’m so worried Padre … I couldn’t live without her … not after losing my first wife … if anything happened to her I’d die …”
“Hey … hey … hold it right there!” said Father Ignatius firmly, “you’re running ahead of yourself Theodore … just take a deep breath … that’s right … hold it there … now exhale gently. Do it again a few times.
“Let us trust in God … let’s keep calm … the police are doing all they can and they’ll let us know as soon as they hear something …”
“Yes … sorry Padre” mumbled Theodore, “but … what if she’s been kidnapped … I’d give everything to have her back …”
“Don’t even think about that for now …” interrupted the priest, “let’s keep calm shall we …”
Theodore nodded and said nothing for a few moments, sitting there staring at the telephone and willing it to ring.
“She’s changed my life since I met her …” he said eventually. “I never thought I’d meet someone else again … not after my first wife died and at my age … then Rose came into my life and changed it …”
Father Ignatius said nothing, preferring to let the man speak and perhaps calm down a little. Theodore continued.
“I so hate to be away from her … I have to travel sometimes for business and it’s hell being away from her …
“When I’m in a hotel alone I go crazy just thinking of her … when I’ve finished my business meetings and I go to my room … I dread it … I dread being there without her … I sit there and close my eyes and imagine she’s with me … I hold out my hand and it’s as if she’s there … I feel her love … I feel her presence near me …
“We may be miles apart … and when I phone her I can see her smile right there as we talk …
“And when we finish talking I just sit there in my room … I close my eyes and I’m with her … I could almost touch her … I love her so much Padre.”
Father Ignatius smiled gently.
“That’s wonderful …” he said, “have you ever told her how you feel?”
“Good Lord no …” replied the elderly man, “you don’t talk like that to a woman old boy … she’d think you’ve gone soft in the head … you must be strong old boy … expected of you and all that … what?”
Father Ignatius smiled again noticing that Theodore had rediscovered his usual impetuous character of speaking spontaneously without thinking.
“I believe you should tell her how you feel about her …” said the priest, “I’m sure Rose will love to hear what you’ve just told me … and how much she means to you …”
“But … but … it goes without saying old boy … she should know how I feel … there’s no need for me to spell it out …” blurted Theodore forgetting for a moment the situation they were in.
“No Theodore …” said Father Ignatius gently, “it does not go without saying … it needs to be said … and repeated often …”
“Sheer nonsense …” interrupted Theodore, “amorous words and lovey dovey affection is for young people … not for the likes of me and Rose …”
“That is not so …” continued Father Ignatius gently, “there is no age limit on love …
“Love is like a delicate flower which needs to be nurtured and cared for tenderly to help it grow and develop …
“I have met many couples in my days as a priest who love each other deeply … yet they never say it … they leave things unsaid … and perhaps take things for granted …
“Until sometimes it’s too late …”
The priest bit his lip as he realized he’d perhaps said too much. Theodore looked up at him as if awakened from a nightmare.
“It’s not … It’s not too late … is it Father?” he mumbled, his lip trembling uncontrollably.
It was the first time Theodore had addressed the priest as Father instead of the usual Padre which he was accustomed of using. It punctuated perhaps the seriousness of the situation and the depth of despair which Theodore had reached.
At this very moment God must have intervened, because before Father Ignatius had time to reply the door opened and the police inspector came in.
“We have some news …” he said, “Mrs Luxton-Joyce’s car was found half-an-hour ago in a ditch in a secluded country lane. It appears she took a detour on her way to her friends to avoid road-works. She lost control of her vehicle in the rain and slipped in the ditch causing her to lose consciousness. She’s been taken to hospital in an ambulance …”
“Is she all right?” shouted Theodore standing up.
“Yes sir … she appears not to have been hurt seriously … I have a car waiting to drive you to the hospital.”
Father Ignatius drove back home with a thankful heart that fateful evening when God heard his prayers once again.
And Theodore discovered for the first time not to keep his love silently hidden within his own heart.
Excerpt from the book
THEODORE LUXTON-JOYCE - THE LOVEABLE ECCENTRIC