What is a “verger”? 1. Where does he live? 2. What does he do?
The Short Story
A new vicar has been appointed at St Peter's Church, Neville Square in London. Accompanied by two distinguished churchwardens2, a lord and a general, he has come to see Albert Edward Foreman, the verger.
The vicar began. "Foreman, we've got something rather unpleasant to say to you. You've been here a great many years and I think his lordship and the general agree with me that you've fulfilled your duties to the satisfaction of everybody concerned." The two churchwardens nodded. "But, the other day, I discovered to my astonishment that you could neither read nor write." The verger's face betrayed no sign of embarrassment. "The last vicar knew that, sir", he replied. "He said it didn't make any difference. He always said that there was too much education in the world for his taste." "It's the most amazing thing I've ever heard", cried the general. "Do you mean that you've been verger of this church for sixteen years and never learned to read or write?" "I never seemed to have the time. I think a lot of young fellows waste a lot of time reading when they might be doing something useful." "But don't you want to know the news?" said the other churchwarden. "Don't you ever want to write a letter?" "No, my lord, I seem to manage very well without. Now they've got all those pictures in the papers, I get to know what's going on pretty well. My wife's quite a scholar and if I want to write a letter, she writes it for me." The two churchwardens gave the vicar a troubled glance and then looked down at the table. "Well, Foreman, these gentlemen agree with me that the situation is impossible. At a church like St. Peter's, Neville Square, we cannot have a verger who can neither read nor write." Albert Edward's thin face reddened, but he made no reply. "Understand me, Foreman, I have no complaint to make against you. You do your work quite satisfactorily; I have the highest opinion of your character and of your capacity; but we haven't the right to take the risk of some accident that might happen owing to your lamentable ignorance." "But couldn't you learn, Foreman?" asked the general. "No, sir, I'm afraid I couldn't, not now. You see, I'm not as young as I was and if I couldn't get the letters in my head when I was a nipper3, I don't think there's much chance of it now." "We don't want to be harsh4 with you, Foreman", said the vicar. "But the churchwardens and I have made up our minds. We'll give you three months, and if at the end of that time you cannot read and write, I'm afraid you'll have to go." Albert Edward had never liked the new vicar. He'd said from the beginning that they'd made a mistake when they gave him St. Peter's. "I'm very sorry, sir, I'm afraid it's no good. I'm too old a dog to learn new tricks. And if I could learn now, I don't know if I'd want to." "In that case, Foreman, I'm afraid you must go." "Yes, Sir, I quite understand. I shall be happy to hand in my resignation5 as soon as you've found somebody to take my place." 1 2
the verger: le bedeau churchwardens: membres du conseil paroissial. 3 nipper: gamin 4 harsh: sévère 5 resignation: a formal statement of your intention to leave a job, position or organization.
Albert Edward locked the church door behind him. Deep in his sad thoughts, he walked slowly along. His heart was heavy. He did not know what he should do with himself. He sighed deeply. Albert Edward was a non-smoker, but with a certain latitude; that is to say, when he was tired he enjoyed a cigarette. It occurred to him now that one would comfort him and, since he did not carry them, he looked about for a shop where he could buy a packet. He did not see one and walked on a little. It was a long street, with all sorts of shops in it, but there was not a single one where you could buy cigarettes. "That's strange", said Albert Edward....