So--it's a short piece of a work in progress that may or may not survive the final polish. The character is one of several key characters. Very little that is mentioned is "wasted" or "pointless." I hope it's interesting.
“Forgive me, Father,” Daisy murmured. Her forearms pressed hard against the back of the pew ahead of her. Her knees pressed into the cushion of the kneeler. Her hands were clasped properly, fingers woven together. Between her palms she held a Catholic rosary she’d been given by an old woman up on the high pasture one day years before, when she went to bring the cattle down for milking. She had shown it to Father Powell, who had been Vicar before before Father Hoarworthy. Father Powell had allowed as how the church had nothing against rosaries as such, so long as she didn’t go whoring after papist idolatry, by which he meant very little beyond “Use the Book of Common Prayer and don’t go putting your faith in Rome.” Beyond that he was as fond of a nice statue of the Virgin or one of the Evangelists as anyone, and saw nothing particularly shocking about the angels, prophets, devils, and deities glowing on the church’s stained glass windows.
Well—he did think they were in questionable taste: all rather smirky Alexandrine work from the middle of the last century, when Her Highness had just come to the throne. He wished he could go and smack the Vicar and Vestrymen of the time for knocking out the old, warped, bubbled stained glass dating to the 1400s that had once adorned the windows, but there you are: people had no sense. How could they, when they chose to throw away fine stained glass that had survived Cromwell and the Roundheads and replace it with dumpy maidens showing far too much shoulder and breast, wearing rose chaplets and rolling their eyes toward heaven?
In any case, he’d accepted Daisy’s rosary with good will, never even asking to see the string of beads. Which was probably just as well, as Daisy would have asked him about the odd figure on the terminal pendant, which was not Jesus. Definitely not Jesus.
But, then Father Powell loved old things, even the image of the Sheila Na Gig. He knew the land and he knew its roots ran deep. He might have asked a few questions about the old woman on the hill, though.
Today, Daisy had praying to do.
“Forgive me, Father,” she murmured again. Then she glanced around, forever worried that someone else might be there. Someone from the Altar Guild, perhaps, caring for the fine linens, ironing the vestments, polishing the chalice and paten…
Almost sure she was alone, she whispered one more time, “Forgive me, Father—I love the war.”
Then she ducked her head down against the fist of her praying hands, and wept helplessly, shattered with the guilt.
She did, though: She loved the war. She’d loved it from the first—the excitement and the patriotism. The giggling women passing out white feathers. The hustle and bustle as the men left for training and the factories producing munitions started up. The sudden call to the women of England to rally for the good of the nation. Without the war she’d still be dodging her father’s stern rule, her brothers’ coarse “teasing,” the filthy whispers of Jem the farmhand. She’d be spending her entire life on the kitchen and the laundry and the chickens, with never a hope of a life of her own unless she married, and how she was to find a husband who wasn’t a farmer or a farm hand or, at best, working for one of the shops on the High Street was anyone’s guess. Now Pa was dead since Second Ypres, and Billy was killed by the Turks in the Siege of Kut, and no one knew if Len was dead or alive—but late at night Daisy hoped he was dead, because then the farm was Ma’s, and after Ma died it would be hers. And she ploughed the field with the big wild stallion she’d found up in the high pasture, where she’d met the old woman years before. She strode her acres in big Wellies, with the wind flapping her mackintosh around her hips and thighs. She put her golden hair in a long braid down the back, and refused to put it up from one Sunday to the next. She sang in choir, when before there was so much work looking after all the men on the farm that she couldn’t spare the time on a Wednesday evening. As for the chickens—they were Ma’s to worry about now, and Ma was better with poultry than Daisy would ever be. She walked the beach-side edge of the property at night, with a shotgun on her shoulder and a helmet on her head and a Home Guard bandoleer across her chest. She went to the nursing class. She even went to the movies, and sometimes even the dances the Women’s Institute held for the soldiers in training in the nearby camps—many of them men who’d never farmed a day, who she could teach from the ground up to do it right. Her way, not Pa’s. And if Len did come home, she just might find someone to marry who’d take her somewhere far away, so she couldn’t see what he’d do to the old place, because he and Billy and Pa had never loved the land the way she did.
“Forgive me, Father.” She knew no other words to say, and sometimes she wondered if she were saying them to her own father, dead over a year, or to the heavenly Father, who must find her a selfish, terrible thing, or to some kinder, better Father, who would understand.
She daydreamed, as she walked her fields. The work was hard and there was never an end to it, but she knew how to do it, and when, just as she knew the pulse in her veins and the beat of her own heart. She knew the feel of the soil, and could taste the ground and spit, knowing if it was sweet or sour—if she had to drain the lowland, or add clay to the sandy upland, whether to put in the new sugar beets in this field or that, and how to balance the cattle on the land so there were always young steers to sell to the government to feed the soldiers, and heifers to raise up to become milch cows, and she barely had to think to know where to plant oats and where to plant potatoes.
“It’s your granfer’s blood on my side, same as tells me what the ducks an’ ‘ens want,” her Ma said. “My family is old on the land. On it and under it, like as not.”
At night she dreamed of flying, riding Pegasus amongst the stars.
“Are you done, yet?” Father Hoarwell called, making her jump. He leaned in from the sacristy. “Only I want to close up, soon, and lock behind. There’s been people where there shouldn’t, I’m told.”
“Done,” she said, collecting her wits and rising. “Shame, that—needing to lock church doors. Not right, that. But there you are. There’s a war on.” She didn’t say how mixed her feelings were.
“Aye, so they say,” Father Hoarwell replied, wry and amused. “The good Lord knows, I hear about it from every side. Everyone wants a happy ending and the boys home soon…but it’s anyone’s guess what each of them thinks is a happy ending.”
Daisy nodded. Ma wanted Len back. She didn’t. She knew old folk who thought the war would be over and everything would go back the way it had been. But she knew a woman working in the munitions factory who swore that once they’d won they’d all come back and make England a new Russia, but without the revolution: rights for the workers and nationalization of the mines.
All Daisy knew was she was free. Free as a bird. Free as air.
She slipped her hands into her pockets and started the long walk back out to the farm, just east and north of town, where the Severn flowed into the Bristol Channel. It was past dark, and her path lit by only the moon and stars. She knew her way, though, and her heart was full and bold, and she sang as she made her way, not thinking twice about the old lyrics in German, that Father Hoarwell had stopped using last year when the parish complained. She’d never understood the German anyway. All she knew was that it was an Easter song, and war or no war, October night or not, her life felt like Easter...Father, forgive her for her joy…