“This was the Bible my mother gave me when I told her that I wanted to become a priest. It belonged to her favorite uncle who was also a priest.”
“You must cherish it very much.”
She saw that he was troubled. “Is something the matter, Father Kowalski?” she asked.
“Sister Francesca, I need your prayers.”
“Certainly, Father. Whom would you like me to pray for?”
“Yes, Sister. I need your prayers. You see, I’m wrestling with the flesh. My spirit is willing but my flesh is weak. There is a war going on inside me.”
“I understand, Father and I will pray for you.”
“Pray that I don’t enter into temptation.”
“Thank you, Sister.”
She watched him as he walked away. This was the first time in the seven years she knew him that he had asked her to pray for him.
It was a quarter past six when he set off for his walk. It was a beautiful evening. He wondered what Sister Francesca would say if she only knew the source of his distress. As he strode through the field, his thoughts wandered to Clara. Did she have any idea of the turmoil that she was causing inside him? In his mind, he knew that he should stay away but his heart rebelled at the thought. Against his better judgment, he continued going in the same direction.
She was already there by the pond. He quickened his pace, thinking how nice she looked in her blue dress. “Hello, Clara.”
“Hello, Pastor Kowalski.”
“It’s a lovely evening, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.”
“How is your grandmother?”
“She’s fine, thanks.”
“I’m happy to hear that.” A brief pause, then, “You’re all dressed up this evening.”
“The Andersons invited me to have dinner with them.”
“The Andersons are a very nice couple.”
“Yes, they are.”
“I have been meaning to ask you about the scar on your face.” He resisted the temptation to touch it.
She touched the left side of her face where the mark was. “I got it from a girl. I said something she didn’t like so she hit me in the face with a broken bottle. It took a lot of stitches. I know it’s ugly but it doesn’t bother me any more. It pales in comparison to the scars in Jesus’ hands and feet and side.”
“I don’t think it’s ugly.”
“You know if people were to see us together, they would talk.”
“What is there to talk about? I was taking one of my evening walks and I came across you. I decided to stop and have a word with you. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?”
She shook her head. “I guess not.” She wondered what he would say if he knew that she thought about him a lot and looked forward to seeing him in the evenings. She had confided this to her grandmother who didn’t seem at all surprised but very concerned.
“He’s a priest, Clara. There’s no future there.”
“I know that, Grandma. I don’t want to feel like the way I do about him but, I can’t help it.”
“Maybe I should send you away.”
“Where would you send me and how will you manage the shop without me?”
“I’ll manage. I can hire someone. And you’ve always wanted to go to London. I have friend you could stay with until you find a job and your own place.”
“Do you think leaving here will make a difference?”
“It just might. In London, you might meet a nice young man.”
“And you think this nice young man will make me forget—“
“Father Kowalski? I can only hope and pray that he does.”
“My grandmother suggested that I move to London,” she told Father Kowalski now.
“Why?” he asked. “Don’t you like it here anymore?”
“Yes, I do. I’ve been here for most of my life.”
“Then, why move to London?”
“I’ve always wanted to go to London but only to visit. My grandmother, though, thinks that it would be a nice change for me. I could get a job and have my own place.”
“Is this what you want, Clara?”
“Well, I don’t like the idea of leaving my grandmother.”
“You didn’t answer my question. Is this what you want?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it would be a good change for me. I’ll see what city life is like, be independent and maybe meet a nice young man…” Was it her imagination or did he look upset? Why should he be upset? No, she must have imagined it. “I’d better be going. I don’t want to be late for dinner.”
“Don’t let me keep you. Have a good evening.”
“Thanks. You too. Good night, Pastor Kowalski.”
She watched him walk away, a tall figure in black. Why did she have to mention London? What was she hoping for? What did she expect would happen? That he would try to persuade her not to go? That he would give her reasons to stay? Stop kidding yourself. Grandma’s right. There’s no future here. His love is the church. He’s married to it.
Sighing, she turned and went in the opposite direction.
His steps seemed to be heavy and plodding as he crossed the field. It had to be the weight of his affections for Clara which were growing by leaps and bounds. Sister Francesca was praying for him and he had been fasting and praying. Still, the desires were there, tormenting him, driving him to distraction and making him think and imagine things he ought not to. He had come very close to touching her face. He knew that if he had, it would have been his undoing. The feel of her soft skin would have inflamed him and he would have been tempted to kiss her.
He dragged his fingers through his hair in anguish. I have to fight and win this battle. I must. He resolved never to see Clara again. From now on, he would take another route when he went for his walk.