And apart from whatever spiritual sustenance it was that he helped to give her, Fr. Jude also proved to be of immense practical help. At a time when we thought that Marie would really never be able to find and keep domestic staff for her house in Colombo, it was Fr. Jude who turned up trumps.
His first find was an old woman whom initially he asked Marie to keep as a favour for she had nowhere else to go. She was a widow he had known while he was in Chilaw, whose only son had abandoned her and vanished, leaving her to the mercies of a sister who was resentful and generally unkind. As a good Catholic he hoped Marie would assist, though he also added that she would find the old woman entirely trustworthy and very hard working.
To our surprise she lasted for month after month, and there were no complaints of any seriousness. And she obviously proved her worth to her mistress’ satisfaction, for Marie fell in eagerly with Fr. Jude’s next suggestion too. A little more than a year after the old woman had first gone to Marie, Fr. Jude wrote to say that the prodigal son had returned in a suitably penitent state of mind. Since the young man had a driving licence and he knew Marie had been looking out for a driver, he wondered whether she could make use of him. It would be a particularly kind act, he added, for Palitha was at a stage where he could go either way, and a steady job would probably help immeasurably in keeping him on the straight and narrow path.
Marie consented without the long process of trial runs she had inflicted on previous applicants for the post. Even the few who had survived the process had none of them lasted for more than a month. In between she had had to have Automobile Association drivers on a daily and therefore exorbitant basis, and had found them wanting too. In the light of all this we did not hold out much hope, but to our surprise Marie found Palitha most satisfactory.
Even more surprisingly, he too seemed content. To some extent this may have been because he was better off than the other drivers Marie had had. She had no room in her house for a male servant and drivers were not expected or allowed to stay overnight. Palitha too was no exception to this rule. But Fr. Jude had been able to arrange for a fellow priest to give him a place in his garage to sleep. Even more importantly, he was better off during the day as well. None of Marie’s previous drivers had been permitted into the house when they were off duty. Instead they had to wait patiently in the little barred-in verandah that had been built for the purpose outside her garage. My father described it as Marie’s zoo, and that was exactly what it looked like, as one driver after another sat on a bench in the caged enclosure staring into space. Palitha however at least had access to his mother’s room and to the kitchen. Into the rest of the house he was forbidden to go, and Marie’s elaborate system of internal locks prevented him from even straying there inadvertently unless he was specifically summoned.
Summoned however he was, with increasing frequency in fact, to help at the dinner parties Marie was now able to put on with something more like the style that had been maintained at Palm Court. It struck me indeed that something of the old confidence, that had been lacking in the long years she had lived by herself, in increasing discomfort, was beginning to return. I remember particularly one memorable occasion when she even got Palitha to don the coat the old cook had worn to serve at table at Palm Court on special occasions. I had not realized she had kept it all those years. The fact that she had, and that she now thought it could be at last brought out again, suggested that Colombo had turned out as well for her as she could ever have expected.