After suppers now, he entertained guests, and this, Mrs. Hatchitt had to admit, was a welcome alteration to his routine. They were men of the most diverse sort. Some were bankers and lawyers while others were hearty fellows in loud checks who made free with Mrs. Hatchitt in a way she could not help appreciating, giving her winks, imputing randy meanings to her simplest retorts, slipping her the odd coin for taking their caps. "A fine figure of a woman like you wasting away in this nunnery," one had said. "Why do these chaps in the odd collars get all the pretty women?" "Mr. Egan!" she had whooped, and gone off neglecting to reprimand him for tracking mud. Brutes, she thought happily, reminded of her days as a young barmaid.
But what was the Reverend doing with such men? They spent hours in his study, smoke seeping from under the door, occasionally poking a head out to have her to run down to the pub for a pitcher or to open another tin of sardines. It would have struck some as insidious, but Mrs. Hatchitt was reassured to have men in the house, to hear the low murmur of their masculine confidences. When she had asked the Reverend where he had met his friends he muttered something about "Oxford." So, he was reliving happy schooldays, though they were a mongrel lot to be University men. Even the bomb going off did not seem that unusual. It was only a small explosion and when the doors were thrown back and everyone staggered out they were all laughing uproariously except for the silent Mr. Pierce, who was emptying something into the grate. "A prank," he had explained, looking at the others with disapproval. Mr. Rossetti, the plump man who was so funny, took full responsibility, telling her a complicated story about Guy Fawkes that still had her in stitches the next day as, during her cleaning of the study, she picked up fragment after fragment of what seemed to be some sort of small black ball.
None of this was relayed to the ladies of the church. There was a nicety to Mrs. Hatchitt's gossip. She told much, but kept whole topics to herself. She felt she would be compromised if she let the others know about the Reverend's circle. They would sense her own satisfaction at this new liveliness in the rectory, and try poisoning it with disapproval and envy. "I knew you hoisted pints in your day," Mr. Egan said, when word of her former profession got out. "You still got the twinkle, you have. And the fizz."
One night, she was wakened by the sound of heavy footsteps in the hall. Peering out, she saw the Reverend and Mr. Egan carrying what looked like a small sack between them.
"Mrs. Hatchitt," the Reverend said, "go back to bed."
"No," Mr. Egan hissed, even though they were inside. "She can help."
Her hair was still down around her shoulders. Dressed only in a chenille wrap, she followed them to the study where they laid out what she now saw was a battered body.
"Why it's that one who sleeps in the church," she said. "Old Tom. What happened to him?"
"He took ill," the Reverend said, wiping his brow from the exertion of carrying the man.
"Took ill from a constable's baton," Mr. Egan growled. "Get us some brandy, will you Meg?"
When she returned, they had propped the little man's head up. His face, never a pretty sight, with its missing teeth, was now blood-soaked, both eyes swelled shut and a bloated tongue lolling out a slack mouth.
"Played pattycake with his skull, they did," Egan was saying. "Bounced him off the palace walls. Surprised you can't see the mark of the Royal Lion on his cheek."
"What was he doing there in the first place?" the Reverend asked.
"Looking for a way in, a drainpipe or something. He can squeeze through some pretty tight places, Old Tom."
"Well he will have to," the Reverend said, tearing open the filthy shirt and placing his ear on the man's chest, "where he is going."
"What do you mean? He's not--?"
"Thank you, Mrs. Hatchitt." The Reverend, troubled, got up and took the decanter from her hands.
"They will pay for this," Mr. Egan said. He removed the wadded-up coat they had used as a pillow and spread it now over the petty thief's lifeless face. "Won't they, Meg?"
"Indeed they will," she said, a fire in her cheek.
Later, Mr. Pierce came and the three went off with the body. There was no more mention of Old Tom in the rectory. Sometimes, when shopping on the Seven Dials Road, she heard people wonder aloud what had happened to the little man. Mrs. Hatchitt, unusually for her, said nothing. She only gripped her basket tighter.