The Cup Bearer
Sunday 24th November. 1995
Eric Hooson looked up from arranging his Bible and notes on the lectern and watched the worship band move to their places behind him. They were a good group of youngsters trying hard to not to tread on people's toes after the confrontation with Geoff Stanford, but in doing so, they were holding back too much. Poor Geoff - the doctors had warned his sister that he was suffering the early effects of Dementia. Sandy was good at leading the band but, having his back to the congregation he couldn't do a proper job, and there was no one in the group experienced enough to help. Eric had told them there couldn't be any half measures. The idea of a worship band had to work or the church would be better without it. Today was the day the council would decide whether or not the band remained, and Eric was sorry the kids had persuaded him to let them try in the first place. He hated to be the one to tell them the results of the council meeting if it went against them.
Sandy glanced up from his place at the organ, caught his frown, and frowned back. Sandy already knew the band's future rested on their performance that morning. There were just five minutes to go before the start of the service and the deacons were heading for the vestry for the pre-service prayer. As Eric moved to follow them into the vestry the band grouped together, their arms linked round each other's shoulders for their own prayer. At the back of the church two more people walked in to the almost full hall. Eric recognised the Spanish gentleman and the boy who carried a guitar case. The father sat down at the back of the church but the boy carried his case up the aisle and stopped at the lectern. "Good morning. Pastor, may I have a word with you?"
"Hello Gypsy; can it wait, please?" Eric replied, "we're about to begin the service."
"That's what I've come about. I've been called into His service and I would like to lead your worship group."
Eric studied the boy for a moment and saw something in the boy's eyes that made his heart beat a little faster. He had dreamed last night of a change in the church, begun by someone outside the congregation. Was this the one? "Jesus has touched you, hasn't He?"
Eric nodded and waved a hand towards Sandy. "Have a word with your friend while I'm with the deacons."
Before the service was half way through he knew the worship group was going to be totally accepted. The boy was certainly a confident singer, his guitar playing flawless. He sang from his heart and made the words of the songs mean something. Eric realised he was looking at their future worship leader, and what the boy lacked in experience Sandy would teach him. Eric relaxed in his seat and felt a great weight drop from his shoulders as the congregation joined in the hymn singing as they never had before. He glanced up at Evan Roberts, today's speaker, and caught his eye. The Welshman winked at him and Eric realised he was thinking the same thing. Young and old were going to combine very nicely at last. Praise the Lord!
Tuesday 24 th December. 1995
Gypsy stood in front of the great stone fireplace in the main hall of Northwood Hall and watched the flow of guests arriving for the Christmas festivities. Occasionally, he let his gaze drift to the ornate carvings round the edge of the ceiling, the pattern-work picked out in white and gold above the turquoise-green walls. The ceiling was very high, the windows large and draped with heavy gold velvet. To Gypsy the place was like something out of eighteenth century tales of pimpernels and highwaymen. He had heard of Georgian architecture but it was his first visit to such a grand example as this in the UK. Wanting to explore the place, he had waited impatiently for someone to show him round, and had hardly contained his eagerness when Brian's mother, Margaret, had offered to take him on a tour.
On his arrival, the Beak had thrust a glass of sherry into his hand and had excused himself while he went to greet other members of the family; and Gypsy had felt quite forgotten. He didn't like the sherry but accepted it because he didn't want to cause offence. He sipped it, grimaced, and wondered what to do with the drink when the old man of the house himself came to his rescue. Richard MacCaffrey was a ramrod straight old goat with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He took the glass from him and showed him to where there was a variety of soft drinks and to help himself. Then he had introduced him to Brian's parents, Paul and Margaret, such nice people and not at all like their one and only offspring. Margaret immediately took him in hand and marched him up the grand staircase with its beautiful wooden panelling and into a small guest room at the end of the first landing with its one large sash window filling the room with a blaze of winter sunshine. "This house was built in seventeen twelve by Samuel Hardingdale," Margaret explained. "He was a Manchester cotton merchant whose daughter, Sarah, fell in love with a fugitive from the Jacobite rebellion of seventeen fifteen, called Andrew MacCaffrey. How well do you know your British History?"
"I'm working on it."
"Good, because you're going to get a history lesson." Pleased to find an attentive pupil, Margaret took him on a tour of the house while she related the story of the MacCaffreys; and introduced him to the portraits of various ancestors dotted about the place. "That one with the white straggly beard is Samuel Hardingdale. When the rebellion was crushed, most of the Jacobites fled north; others were not so fortunate. Andrew MacCaffrey was one of the latter. He found his retreat cut off and sought refuge at Northwood. To cut a long story short, he fell in love with Sarah Hardingdale and married her, their eldest son inheriting the house on their death. Brian is the ninth generation of the MacCaffreys to live here and unless he pulls his socks up and marries soon he'll be the last. My two nieces will change their names when they marry, and Paul's younger sister has not the slightest intention of producing any offspring of her own; she's too busy mothering pop stars."
At this point in her narrative, Margaret had sighed unhappily. "Bev is so different from Paul and James; you wouldn't think she was related; lovely to look at with her long dark hair and flashing eyes, but quite a vixen when riled. You might think I'm talking behind her back but I just wanted to warn you. You haven't met Bev and her husband yet, have you? I know James is eager for you to meet them and I wouldn't want to dash your hopes, but they're an odd couple and have a nasty habit of promising the earth just to dazzle a naïve youngster into following them about like a faithful puppy dog. So you will be careful won't you? You look like a sensible young man and able to look after yourself; just don't take them too seriously till you get to know them."
He had thanked Margaret for her well-intended advice and when he actually met Bev and Jerry Hine, he kept her words firmly in the front of his mind. They certainly were an odd couple and he decided he didn't really care much for either of them. Bev was tall like James with too much heaving cleavage and sultry looks. Jerry seemed the perfect cad, complete with twitching moustache and affected speech. He couldn't clearly define what it was that put him off, but they gave him the same feeling he always got when Brian or his Uncle James were around. Like Brian, they were snobbish and put on a front that was entirely false. Gypsy didn't think Jerry had been born with any wealth or status to his credit. His rise to the upper levels of society must have been due to his marriage to Bev and his ability to persuade Bev to invest most of her fortune into his ailing record company.
Gypsy had also detected a lack of family bliss between Brian and the Hines, the former showing his condescending tolerance towards his aunt and uncle in the way he spoke to Gypsy about them. On explaining Bev's talent for turning up the most unusual starlets, mostly male, from all corners of the country, Brian said, "Some make it to the top with Bev and Jerry behind the; but most fall by the wayside. It all depends on whether the wannabees are willing to play their little games. You either play them their way, Gypsy boy, or you go under, never to be seen again. Just wait till they start offering you the carrot on a stick, you'll learn." And Brian had gone away chuckling to himself.
Now, as Gypsy stood by the fire with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and ice for company, he was not so sure he wanted to meet the Hines a second time; not after being warned by two people already. That night, after dinner, the party spirit grew as friends of the family arrived to join in the fun, and Brian finally put aside his animosity towards Gypsy; he played the Hammond for him so well, Gypsy almost forgot Shana was not with him, called away to the States at short notice; her mother having had a stroke. After his first twenty-minute spot, Gypsy sat in a corner of the hall with a glass of wine and spring water, and thought about Shana. Since Jo's wedding they had been very careful not to be anywhere alone with each other. Now that their dancing and skating partnership had been established, he no longer stayed in Blackpool overnight, and Shana always went back to Blackpool after visiting Trentham. If she had to stay at Visick Street she doubled up in Perquita's room. Gypsy wondered how much longer they could keep their hands off each other; Shana was probably wondering the same. Gypsy had a vision of her sitting at her mother's bedside, holding her hand instead of being here and holding his, and he wondered if she was thinking of him at this moment.
Suddenly he felt lonely and out of place here in this great hall, an outsider looking in on a family gathering. Even a couple of the younger guests had begged him to dance with them but he had declined the invitation. In his second spot he did a re-hash of 'the Bolero' and persuaded two of the male guests to get up on the floor and improvise a bullfight, with himself as the matador. Brian even used the Hammond to produce authentic sound effects and it all added to the fun of the evening. Everyone was delighted, especially Richard MacCaffrey who didn't bat an eye lid when Gypsy announced at eleven thirty that he would like to attend a watch night service at a nearby Evangelical church; he'd made enquiries about the service prior to arriving at Northwood. The old man was so pleased with the way the evening was proceeding he ordered his under- butler to drive Gypsy to the church, wait for him, and bring him back, the butler being the only one sober enough to drive.
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