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The boy that drove the plow

If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” – William Tyndale

*****

CHAPTER 1

The Severn burbled alongside its banks. Longer than the Thames, and famous for its tidal bore, the river’s source lay in the moorlands of mid-Wales and its murky depths flowed past the city of Gloucester in three separate channels. There was the western channel; the easternmost channel, also known as the Little Severn; and the formidable middle channel, the one carrying the greatest volume of water, known as the Great Severn. The middle channel was spanned by Westgate Bridge, the longest bridge in England and one much prized by all Gloucester citizens, for it brought much business to the area. It was the route over which much merchandise passed – merchandise such as wood, salt, cloth, corn, wine, and cattle. It was also one of the pathways over which new thoughts and ideas crept into the city.

It was 1537. Thomas Drourie, a cattleman, reflected on these matters one early October morning as he guided his herd of cows along the crossover. Dark currents swirled below him. Drourie was a tall man, and for that reason was considered prosperous. The height of most men in Gloucester averaged five and a half feet. Thomas’ over six-foot stature was imposing. Yet when he smiled, the measure of his towering frame radiated friendliness. Dark of hair and swarthy of face, he was a lean, strong fellow, one who embodied hard work and resilience.

The hoofbeats of the cows echoed hollowly on the thick wooden slats. Trekking between his cattle, Thomas bellowed out a noisy, tuneless ditty. He’d noted his animals enjoyed music, for when he hummed or sang during milking the full udders spouted a greater amount of milk into his pails.

The bridge groaned and creaked with the collective weight of the party. Storms and flooding often wreaked damage on its timber anatomy. Almost a citizen itself, the Westgate was considered so dear to Gloucester that often folks would leave a bequest for its upkeep and repair.

“Thomas!”

Startled, he stopped his singing. Turning sideways, he peered down into the face of a Franciscan priest who had managed to edge in next to him between the cattle. The man flanked Thomas, although his plump form in its loose-flapping, wide-sleeved, cassock barely reached the height of the farmer’s shoulders. This man, Thomas thought to himself as he always did when he saw the cleric, was afflicted with bellycheer, afflicted with gluttony. “I haven’t seen you at Mass for a while, Thomas.” The words were calmly but loudly spoken, as need be, for the commotion of the cattle made soft talk impossible.

Thomas gave no answer but calmly continued walking, steering his animals towards the Northgate Street. He knew that Father Serly, for this was the name of the priest, would turn towards Westgate Street, where St. Nicholas’ Church stood at its far end and where he and a number of other friars resided.

“Thomas!” Father Serly’s voice was more intense now and no longer neutral.

“It’s been busy.” It was the only answer Thomas voiced before turning onto Northgate.

There were four main roads leading in and out of Gloucester, all meeting at a main intersection where the town’s high cross stood. All were named from the gates by which they entered town. Thus there were the Eastgate, Northgate, Southgate and Westgate streets. Northgate led to London; Southgate to Bristol; Eastgate to Oxford; and Westgate to Wales. People walked, rode in carts, and journeyed by horse on these unpaved roads. Some four thousand citizens made their home in Gloucester.

Passing the town hall, Thomas longingly eyed the nearby New Inn. Its strong, massive external galleries and courtyards attracted pilgrims and visitors alike. How he yearned to go into the public house and drink some of its frothing ale for he was thirsty after his long morning walk. But with these newly bought cows as his companions, he was forced to amble past the gabled and timbered structure, well aware that the priest probably still stood at the crossroad, eyeing his retreating form suspiciously.

The truth was that Thomas held no high opinion of the local priests, or of any priests for that matter, and only occasionally attended Mass. A devoted cattleman, he spent much time on his farm, waxing poetic to anyone who would listen about the state of his cows, calves, and steers. Praising their rich, dark brown color, he often remarked with a twinkle in his eyes that the color resembled the tint of Dory’s hair. And wasn’t she a beauty? Dory was his wife. The bulls in his herd, on the other hand, hued a blue-black shade, and while showing them off he would point to his own hair and grin. All of the Drourie cattle sported white bellies and were finch-backed. That is to say, they all had a white finching stripe along their spine, a stripe which continued on over the tail. Well-developed horns with black tips crowned their heads. Thomas Drourie was inordinately proud of his livestock. Noted for providing strong and docile draught oxen, the beasts also proved to be tender beef when roasted on the spit. As well, they were valued for the richness of their milk. The fat in that milk made a full, hard cheese – cheese with a buttery, mellow, nutty taste. Thomas sold it at the Gloucester market on Westgate Street. Aged for four months, double Gloucester cheese was popular throughout the region.

*****

Lizzie Drourie was born later that same day. Arriving home, Thomas learned that Janey, the midwife, had been closeted in the bedroom with Dory all night. A tinge of fear shivered through his stomach. By his calculations, it was a trifle early for the child to be born.

“We had to send for her about an hour after you left yesterday to pick up the cows at Noent, master. But it’s over now,” Nelly, the kitchen maid, assured him. “Janey just came down before you came home to say all’s well and that you were free to come up.”

Indeed, it was all well, and he relaxed moments later at the bedside of his Dory, his long legs sprawled out under the great bed. She looked weary, mounds of her dark brown hair spread across the pillow. But though her face was exhausted, it was also contented and he was lost in admiration of her.

“It’s a girl, Thomas,” she whispered, “a bonny girl, and I’d like to name her Elizabeth.”

He was of a mind to let her have whatever she wanted and nodded in agreement. “Lizzie, then,” he answered softly.

Janey tutted as she bustled about, carrying the swaddled newborn. A moment later, Thomas curiously peered into the tightly bound bundle she laid into his arms and he suddenly recalled with some alarm that it had been this very day a year ago that William Tyndale had been burned at the stake. He said as much even as he was overcome by the dark eyes of his firstborn daughter. But the memory of Tyndale somehow clouded the joy. “It’s a bad omen for the child,” he added after contemplating Lizzie.

“Oh, tush,” responded Janey, who had little ken of such as Tyndale, “the child is beautiful, your wife is doing well, and you’re just a bit daft not to note it.”

Dory smiled, and Thomas grudgingly had to admit that all seemed exceptionally propitious with both mother and child. So after sitting a while, stroking his wife’s hand and intermittently peering into the cradle where Lizzie had been laid, he left the birthing room for the stable where there was ample room to stretch his legs. And as the door shut behind him, Janey commented disdainfully that recalling the death of someone they had not even known, was ridiculous.

“But,” Dory protested weakly, her mind mostly on the fact that she had just born her first child, “Master Tyndale was, after all, a Gloucester man, Janey. He was from our area. It seems clear to me that all he wanted to do was give the English people the Bible to read. And although I have not read it for myself, I cannot help but think that such a gift had no evil intent. They say that Queen Anne,” she added a moment later, “the poor lass who was executed last year, had a small Bible, a richly ornamented one, and that she wrote the words ‘Anna Regina Angliae’ around its edges.”

It was a long sentence, a bit of a ramble, and she yawned towards the end.

“We’ve no need to read the Bible, lass,” the midwife cheerfully responded, “Why we’ve got the pope, haven’t we, to tell us what we need to know?”

“Yes, but,” Dory rejoined, her thoughts becoming fuzzier, “now that King Henry has made himself the head of the church, we haven’t got the pope anymore, have we? Besides that, I once saw master Tyndale here in Gloucester. He was giving alms to a beggar, and seemed to me to be a most kind and gentle man.”

After these words, totally drained of her physical energy, she fell asleep. For a brief minute, before she continued her cleaning up, Janey stood at the foot of the bed, smiling tender-heartedly at the sight of the spent, young woman. Then she continued her tasks, muttering softly to herself that King Henry was not really interested in being the head of the Church and surely everyone in England knew it. Was it not obvious that the man was only interested in power? And that which mostly occupied his waking days was passing that power on to a male heir. His third wife, Queen Jane, was about to give birth shortly and hadn’t English people like herself been instructed to pray for the child to be a son? Wouldn’t it be something to be the midwife in Hampton Court palace this month? Oh, well, Janey philosophized, even as she tucked a woolen coverlet around the newborn Lizzie, it really wasn’t any of her concern. Then she smiled into Lizzie’s wide-open, dark eyes.

“I stand to benefit from your birth, little one,” she whispered to the baby, “and isn’t that the truth of it! I’ll be needed for a goodly while as your mother regains her strength, and the extra income is most welcome to me. I’ve six moppets at home and their appetite is as large as your father is tall.”

Lizzie blinked and Janey smiled again.

CHAPTER 2

In those days the meadowlands embracing Gloucester were dotted with farms. One of these was the Drourie farm. Comprising two hundred acres, more than half of it was arable, quite suitable for growing crops. Most of the remaining land was meadow with some woodland included. Thomas grew enough produce to feed his cattle. He also bred fine animals, made cheese, and sold what he did not need at market. It was a good way to live, he reflected, as he stroked the finching stripe of one of the cows. Feeling rather emotional because of Lizzie’s birth, he preached softly to the animal. “There is a time to be born,” he murmured, “and a time to die. This is Lizzie’s time to live.”

The cow lowed softly in response and Thomas ground his foot into the hay reflecting that it was perhaps not wise to think beyond what one could know. This daughter, this brand new Lizzie, might live a long, long life, and he fervently hoped that she would, but he should not presume. She might also be followed by more children. Perhaps he would have a son in the years to come, a strong son who would take over the farm when he himself became too old. Lizzie as well, when she grew older, could help around the house and Dory could teach her to become proficient in the cheese making. He smiled to himself, and Albert, the young stable hand, watched his master aimlessly fork some hay into the loft. Albert was only twelve, but a strong, strapping lad.

It was an inheritance that had conferred on Thomas the small but handsome, granite farmhouse. Endowed with demesne, land attached and retained for the owner’s use, the two-storied home had a large kitchen, a bower room, and several side rooms. The projecting porch even boasted a parvise – an enclosed area surrounded by colonnades. The porch also led into a fine hall where the family ate. There were mullioned windows, oak-paneled walls and a sizeable fireplace. The premises suited Thomas and Dory very well, and they employed five servants, all of whom loved and respected them.

The district surrounding Gloucester was not only dotted with farms, it was also dotted with Articles – six articles, to be exact. Written by the king, these specific rules reminded the English who was in charge: not the Pope who lived in Italy, but Henry VIII who lived in England. Still a Catholic at heart, however, Henry’s first article insisted that his subjects continue to holding to transubstantiation – the belief that the bread at Mass was converted into the actual body and blood of Christ. The penalty for not believing this was death by burning at the stake.

Thomas Drourie sometimes pondered transubstantiation as he took care of his cattle. The word was as long as a cow’s tail. Why the king should care that he, Thomas Drourie, should believe this, was a mystery to him. One way or the other, would he not be the same English farmer? Stroking the side of a cow, he grimaced at the thought of church attendance. He liked not the priests that served the Eucharist and avoided going to Mass.

Besides that, there were new ideas coming to the fore in Gloucester, Protestant ideas. Thomas and his fellow citizens were well aware of them. Many deep, and often heated, discussions took place in the New, the Boatman, the Ram, the Bull, the Swan, and other inns in Gloucester. There was open dissension along the English countryside and in the city. Lately a local weaver attending St. Mary de Crypt Church on Southgate Street had denied the doctrine of purgatory because he believed that the Bible did not teach it.

Irritably Thomas slapped the cow’s buttocks and the animal turned its head, fixing its great eyes on her master. Thomas paid no heed. His thoughts wandered on. Although he had no stomach for dissension, he liked neither the church’s nor the king’s ways. Was it not so that the king also had a child named Lizzie, a little maid all of four years old? And did this child not wander around all alone in the royal palace because her mother had been first divorced and then beheaded? Ah, his own small Lizzie, although not a princess, was much more blessed. Did she not have a Dory to care for her?

*****

Lizzie Drourie was an only child for the first five years of her life. Strangely enough, the year after her birth, King Henry issued a royal license that the Bible might openly be sold to and read by all English people without any danger of recrimination. Another royal order was issued as well, appointing a copy of the Bible to be placed in every parish church. It was to be raised up on a desk so that everyone might come and read it.

Overnight Gloucester Abbey became Gloucester Cathedral. Clergy replaced the monks not just in Gloucester, but in all the monasteries and convents throughout England, Wales, and Ireland. Disbanded, their incomes were appropriated for the crown. Any resistance was viewed as treasonable. Under heavy threats almost all of the religious houses joined the new English church, swearing to uphold the King’s divorce and remarriage.

Gloucester Cathedral acquired a Bible also. John Wakeman, the first Bishop of Gloucester, made sure it was placed in an accessible spot and soon citizens cautiously dropped by for a look. Thomas and Dory came as well. Those who were able bought the book from printers, booksellers, or traveling tinkers. If they could not read, and many could not, they persuaded others to read Scripture to them. How different, Thomas and Dory pondered, had been the years before Lizzie’s birth. At that time anyone wishing to read the Bible had to do so secretly.

It was not until just before their second child was born, that Thomas and Dory also purchased a Bible from a traveling tinker. They’d known Philip for a long time, for he was wont to stop by their farm once or twice every year. A versatile man, his cart was filled with all manner of things. Carrying a pocketful of news about current events, he was also well-versed in languages, music, and Scripture.

Thomas, who could read, was much taken with his Bible. Sitting Lizzie upon his knees, in the evenings he read out loud to the child and to Dory. He did not understand all he read, but he felt privileged to be reading. Dory listened attentively from her easy chair by the fire and rubbed her swollen stomach. Another Drourie child grew large within her belly. She wondered if the baby could hear any of the beautiful words that Thomas read. Leaning back, she smiled contentedly. They had never before heard the Bible in their own language.

On the day Dory went into labor, Thomas sent Albert, who was now almost seventeen, for Janey and gave instructions to the dairymaid to take Lizzie to the bower room and keep her occupied, away from her mother. Janey, arriving shortly afterward, first made sure all the doors were unlocked. She explained that it was an old custom and aided childbirth. Thomas was in two minds about this, but Janey insisted. And indeed, it proved to be an easy birth. The boy child, although tiny, appeared healthy. Janey bathed the little, red body before an ash wood fire. Afterward she had him suckle on a cloth dipped in cinder tea, water into which a coal had been dropped. When she saw Thomas staring, she explained good-naturedly that all knew this drove Satan away.

“I don’t recall you doing that when Lizzie was born,” Thomas commented as he watched her, rather uneasy about the matter as it smacked of superstition.

“But you weren’t there all the time, now were you, Master Thomas,” she replied calmly, “and haven’t things been well with that lass?”

Speaking to himself in an undertone, Thomas strode over and lifted the newborn out of Janey’s arms, pulling the cloth out of the baby’s mouth. “Enough now,” he said, “there are other things you can find to do. And one of them is to tell Albert to distribute bread, cheese and ale to the poor of Gloucester. Go on with you and I’ll stay with Dory and the babe.”

His son whimpered in his arms. The face was red and wrinkled, reminding Thomas of his old deceased father. Sitting down by the bed, he studied his wife. She had now born him two children. He was a rich man indeed. Dory was almost asleep but she opened her eyes and smiled at him.

“We’ll name him Thomas for you. But it must be little Thomas, for you are so much bigger.”

And that is how the boy became known throughout Gloucester.

CHAPTER 3

During his first year, Little Thomas drank sporadically and was prone to mewling. Excessive crying caused discoloration around his eyes. Janey concocted a solution of nightshade sap, soaked a clean rag in it and laid it on the baby’s eyes.

“Perhaps he has cramps,” Dory ventured to guess, “I’ve heard that laying babies down flat and pulling their legs straight can help them belch?”

But Janey only smiled at her.

Lizzie proved to be a most helpful and patient sister, child that she herself was. Rocking her brother for hours on end, she often changed his clout, sang to him and kissed him.

“She is a better mother than I am,” Dory confided to Thomas, “and has the patience of a saint. I heard her say the other day ‘Little Thomas, I won’t ever leave you, even if you cry for a year.’”

Thomas smiled. “He will grow out of this crying and this colic, Dory,” he promised, “Just wait and see.”

*****

It was true. By the time Little Thomas turned toddler, he was thriving; and when the child turned six, although still small, he was so full of mischief that the scullery-maid was in fear of him. Intensely curious, he was also a naïve boy. Once, after the cook had wrung the necks of several pigeons in preparation for squab pie, leaving them in the kitchen on the table, she came back to find the boy holding onto one of the dead birds. Blood all over his hands, shirt and breeches, she asked what he thought he was doing.

“I thought perhaps,” he answered with a child’s logic, “that if you wrung the neck the other way, the pigeon might come back to life.”

Then he proceeded to do just that. Shocked, the cook took the bird out of his hands. “Growing chuff-headed, are you? Away with you,” she retorted, “or I’ll put you into the pie as well.”

Little Thomas loved Philip the tinker and often followed him about the farm when he came to call. Because Philip was kind, exemplary of character, and learned, Thomas and Dory did not mind in the least. They hoped the tinker would nurture little Thomas in piety. The truth was that Philip was a highly educated man. Able to read and write, as well as play the viol, Thomas and Dory eventually asked him to become their son’s tutor.

Just prior to Little Thomas’ birth, Henry VIII had founded a school in Gloucester. Previously there had been a school in the Abbey of St. Peter, but because all monasteries had been closed, that school no longer functioned. The headmaster of the new school was a solemn man and one who exacted strict obedience.

But because of his impishness, misdemeanors, and disregard for authority, Little Thomas was not a favorite student. The boy was, in fact, not fitting in very well at all, and was frequently in trouble with the headmaster. This pained Thomas and Dory greatly, for little Thomas was a gifted child. His almost photographic memory enabled him not only to read well but also to quote Latin and Scripture texts at will. The boy’s greatest offence had been climbing the bell tower with some friends, and swinging the clapper loudly during a service, thus bringing shame on himself and his family. He had capped that escapade by putting a duck egg under the cover of the headmaster’s bed and by hanging the man’s pantofles from the branch of a tree a week later. The headmaster did not want to see him back for at least a year, or until, as he had gravely said to Dory and Thomas, such a time as the boy had learned to unquestioningly obey rules and regulations.

Thomas, who had let his son feel the backside of his hand on more than one occasion, was at his wit’s end. Several times neighbors had suggested that little Thomas was heading towards a wicked end and that his parents must see to it that he was disciplined or he would turn into a ne’er-do-well. It was at precisely this time that Dory and Thomas asked Philip if he would stay and tutor the child. After some careful consideration, Philip agreed to do this for a time, thus becoming a permanent resident of the Drourie farm.

*****

Change was blowing through England during the children’s early formative years. In 1547 King Henry VIII died and was carried to his grave in pomp and splendor. Edward VI, Henry’s son, was crowned in his place. Although only nine years old, Edward had been instructed by Protestant teachers and his youthful heart was warmly turned towards the Reformation. He was a child used by God and one of the first things young Edward did was to overturn his father’s Six Articles.

*****

A few years after Edward’s ascent to the throne, little Thomas turned both eleven and more intractable. The boy, who attended church regularly with his father, mother, Lizzie and Philip, heard Dr. Williams preach in one of the churches in Gloucester. Dr. Williams was the city’s chancellor. A recent convert to Protestantism, Williams had publicly chosen the Protestant faith over the Catholic faith.

It is strange how God uses men’s words to change hearts, even very young hearts. And so it was on the day on which Dr. Williams preached, that little Thomas, for so he was still known, was transformed.

“The sacrament,” so Dr. Williams echoed solemnly forth from the fine pulpit as he spoke of the Mass, “is to be received spiritually by faith. It is not to be received carnally as the papists have heretofore taught.”

Now these were difficult words, and yet Little Thomas repeated them verbatim to Philip, his new teacher, as they were out walking together. “What think you, Master Philip,” he asked, “that these words mean?”

The tinker did not respond immediately. But after some thirty or so steps, he finally spoke. “First of all, I think that we must never in our thoughts or words, pity the Lord Jesus for dying on the cross.”

The child looked up at him questioningly. He did not understand. “To pity someone,” the tinker went on, “is to place yourself on a higher level. Our Savior Jesus Christ, is Lord over all and never on a lower level than we are. What think you? That we can make Him bread and kill Him again and again? He died once, child, and that willingly, of His own accord.”

Overhead a lark, nondescript and brown, sang an extravagant melody. “I think,” Philip went on, “that it might help you to call to mind the time that Jesus was eating bread with His disciples in the Upper Room. Do you recall it?”

Little Thomas nodded.

“Picture in your mind then, their gathering around a wooden table, a table such as we eat from together in the great hall. Hear in your heart what Jesus said to them, and says to us now, as He broke the bread: ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’”

As they were walking, the pair were traipsing through one of the fields adjoining the farm. Philip carried his viol case for the idea was that there was to be a music lesson out in the quiet of a pastureland. There were cattle grazing some distance away.

“Jesus did not mean that He was actually present in the bread, Thomas. What Jesus meant was that whenever people would eat the bread in the future, they were to recollect, to remember, that He offered up His body. This He did on the cross shortly after that supper, little Thomas. And we are to remember this and to believe it.”

Again, a melodious jumble of clear notes and trills rang through the sky overhead. The boy tilted his head up to gaze after the lark. The bird sang as it flew. Little Thomas stared up at the creature. He appeared to be not listening.

“To remember and believe that Christ died for you,” the tinker went on, making his words simpler, even as he stood next to the child, “is to know that you have eternal life. And then you can joyfully sing even as yonder lark.”

As the boy still remained quiet, he went on slowly, probing the heart. “You are getting too old to be known as Little Thomas. I think I will call you Tom from now on. Do you believe what I have just told you, Tom?”

The child nodded and followed up the nodding with a question. “Can we have a music lesson now, Master Philip?”

Now it was so, that Philip was proficient in viol playing and, at Thomas’ and Dory’s request, he was beginning to pass this skill on to their son. A distant relative of the violin, the viol was a bowed instrument with frets. Flat-backed, it was played while set on the ground between a player’s legs. Its tone was quiet but had a distinct, low quality. A gentleman’s instrument, it was played in salons, whereas violins were more often played on streets to accompany dances or to lead in wedding processions. The Drouries hoped the learning of the viol might calm their child and stand him to good advantage.

Philip concurred with Tom’s wish. “Fine, child. Let us sit ourselves down on this log.”

They had come to a small copse. A field lay in front of them and a forest behind them.

Philip took the viol out of its bag, and both seated themselves on an old, fallen horse chestnut tree trunk lying in front of the thicket. It was quiet, except for the lowing of some distant cattle.

“Hold the bow,” Philip instructed his pupil, propping up the instrument between the child’s legs, “betwixt the end of your thumb and the two foremost fingers of your right hand.” Tom eagerly reached for the convex stick. He loved the music Philip often made in the front room as they sat evenings by the fireplace. The viol’s body was light and the six strings seemed to him to be magical.

“Now fasten the thumb and first finger of your left hand on the stalk.” Philip knelt down in front of the boy. His hands instructed the much smaller hands – hands which worked fearfully hard at contorting fingers to meet the requirements. It was difficult and awkward because this was the first lesson. Through his concentration, Tom thought he heard a snorting sound. Looking up over Philip’s shoulder, his hands froze. One of his father’s bulls, massive and terrifying, the black tips of its white horns aimed directly at them, was galloping through the meadow in their direction.

“Master Philip!” he gasped, “Look yonder.”

Philip turned his head and immediately stood up. Taking the viol away from Tom, he commanded the lad to stand behind him and then to quickly walk backwards towards the nearby woodland. He himself sat down on the tree trunk, calmly placing the viol downwards between his legs. Glancing over his shoulder he saw that Thomas was moving, moving slowly and woodenly.

“Obey me immediately,” he ordered again, “Walk faster, Tom, walk faster, child. And find a tree behind which you can stand.”

“What…. what about you?” the boy stuttered, tripping over both his words and his feet.

“I believe the bull is bellowing in a B flat and I shall try to outdo him,” Philip answered and proceeded to draw his bow across the strings.

The low, quiet hum of the viol resonated across the field. It met the bull’s wheezing midair. Though Tom was only some thirty feet away by this time, he stopped walking backwards at the same moment that he saw the bull stop charging. To his great amazement the boy beheld the animal shake its bulky head a few times and then peaceably turn and amble away.

“Well now, you have learned two rather unique and wonderful things, Thomas,” Philip said, when the boy was back at his side. He kept playing as he spoke, sliding the bow over the strings, harmonious notes spilling onto the grass around and beyond like heavy raindrops.

“What?” the boy asked, his heart still thumping as he watched the backside of the massive bovine saunter away.

“Firstly that bulls do not like the key of B flat,” smiled his teacher.

Tom grinned, although tremulously. “And what is the second,” he demanded a moment later.

“That Almighty God keeps an eye on those who call out to Him in trouble.”

“Oh,” replied Tom, “and did you call out?”

“Yes,” accorded his teacher.

The boy stared off into the field. The bull was still in retreat and seemed to not even remember their existence. He sighed heavily and then grinned again, high spirits returning.

“I am sorry for one thing,” he joked, “and that is that Lizzie was not here to see it, for she will never believe me when I tell her what happened.

CHAPTER 4

That very evening Tom fell ill of a high fever. It charged at him even as the bull had run at them with lowered horns through the field. He thrashed about so much that he woke Lizzie who slept in a room next to his, and she, in turn, woke her parents.

In spite of the fact that prayers were raised and many herbal remedies applied, Tom was long in recuperating. His eyes seemed affected and discharged pus. Oozing continually, the boy could not open them. Though the fever had abated after a few days, the infection lingered. Dory, Lizzie, and Philip took turns in sitting with the lad during the day. His father, although often looking in on his son, sat with the boy at night. It became apparent to all of them, after a week or two, that the boy would not regain his sight.

*****

“I have just received a small booklet, Tom.”

The boy was sitting up in bed. Philip, who came and went at will, regarded the boy with affection.

“What is it?”

“It is a catechism written by a man named Alberus, Erasmus Alberus. He wrote it in German and he wrote it for his children. I know that you are rapidly approaching manhood, Tom, but I thought you might like to learn its questions and answers if I repeat them to you.”

Tom nodded.

“Alberus wrote the booklet so that the important parts of Scripture might be learned by rote.”

“Please let me learn also.” Startled, Philip turned and faced Thomas Drourie who stood in the doorway.

“I was not raised with Bible knowledge and often when I read I do not understand what I am reading. Perhaps I can learn with you and we can speak of these matters.” It was a humble confession and Philip was moved. Thomas came in and sat on the edge of the bed. Philip smiled at him.

“Well, it would be fine for us to read and memorize together and I have added some questions and answers myself.”

So they proceeded with simple but very direct dialogues.

Do you love Jesus?
Yes.

Who is the Lord Jesus?
God and Mary’s son.

How is His dear mother called?
Mary.

Why do you love Jesus? What has He done to make you love Him?
He has shed His blood for me.

Has he shed His blood only once or more than once as the Mass teaches?
Jesus has shed his blood only once on the cross at Calvary.

Could you be saved if He had not shed His blood for you?
Oh, no.

What would then have happened?
We would all be damned.

Is God’s only begotten son, the son of the living God, your brother?
Yes.

So you are for sure a great and powerful king in heaven because Christ in heaven is your brother?
That I am, praise God.

How blessed you are! For the Lord has done a great thing for you.
Yes, He has. For He saves a poor, damned child from the Devil’s kingdom and gave me eternal life.

The Drouries all benefited from these and other questions and answers that Philip taught them, and from the many conversations that took place around the bedside of the sick boy.

*****

“Lizzie, Lizzie, I still can’t see.”

“I know. Hush, and lay down. If you move about too much, you will just get sicker again, Tom.”

“Why are you calling me Tom, Lizzie?”

“Well, Master Philip says you are not little Thomas any longer. You have grown so. And I have heard Master Philip call you Tom, and mother and father call you that too now. So I think I will call you Tom.”

“Will I never see again, Lizzie?” The question was uttered in so plaintive a tone that Lizzie sighed.

“I hope you shall but I do not know.”

“You are just being kind, are you not, Lizzie?”

She reached over and kissed her brother. “I shall always be there to be your eyes, Tom. I shall tell you everything I see.”

“It won’t be the same.”

She knew that he was right but was not sure how to respond. “I heard a new pastor preach in the cathedral, Tom. His name is John Hooper.”

“He is not new, Lizzie,” the boy replied, half-sitting up against the pillow, “he has been here for more than a year already.”

“Oh,” his sister said, disappointed that she could not tell him something he did not know, “and how would you have ken of that?”

“Master Philip has told me. He said John Hooper was called to preach before King Edward himself and that the king, who is only four years older than I am Lizzie, very much liked him and then made him Bishop of our city of Gloucester.”

“Oh,” Lizzie repeated.

“John Hooper,” Tom went on, his hands fidgeting with the blanket, “is an honorable man and one who does not like to wear the rich garments that priests and other clergy wear. He says a man should dress humbly, even as your heart should be humble. So you will not see him clad in a chimere and rochet, such as other bishops wear, Lizzie.”

She smiled at her brother and reached over, patting his hand. “You are all about clothing now, are you, Tom?”

He grinned for a minute and then teased her. “And you are not? I have seen, when I could still see, how you constantly preen, Lizzie. And I know you do it for Albert. Only I do not know if father will allow you to marry him. He is, after all, the hired hand.”

Lizzie blushed and was glad for a moment that Tom could not see.

“But Albert is strong and a good lad,” Tom continued, “And…. and I will not be able to help father plough now that I am…. now that I am…. well, now that I might be blind.”

“Hush, Tom.” It was all Lizzie could say, for tears welled up in her eyes.

“Master Philip says that John Hooper, for all that he is the high and reverenced bishop of Gloucester, is a very good man.”

It was quiet for a spell. Lizzie’s thoughts turned to Albert, who was such a dependable young man – a hard-working man, one on whom her father could count. Indeed, she did love him and admired him more than all the young men she knew. But father might object to a marriage, that Tom had indeed said rightly.

“Master Hooper,” Tom’s voice interrupted her contemplations, “has a wife and children, just like our father. His children, Master Philip says, are well mannered. It shames me, Lizzie, now that I lay here on this bed, to think of all the tricks and mischief I set about just a short while ago.”

“Oh, you mustn’t,” began his sister, but he interrupted her.

“Why ever not, Lizzie, ” Tom responded, “for ….” And then he stopped and turned his face to the wall. He did remember with great shame the sorrow he had caused his parents who had been so eager for him to go to school. If his eyes had not been painfully oozing, he might well have wept like a child, for he felt so miserable.

“Tom,” Lizzie’s voice was soft. “Tom, you have been such a good brother to me always.”

Tom swallowed audibly.

“John Hooper,” he went on, his voice shaking a trifle, “is such a man as I would like to be. Perhaps I shall be a preacher, Lizzie. For surely people can be blind and still preach.”

The girl smiled. Although she had great sympathy for her brother, she could not for the life of her picture him as a preacher.

“I know you are smiling,” the boy said, “I can sense it, you minx of a sister! But I mean it. I have done with wasting time. I will ask Master Philip to school me more and more in Bible knowledge. And I also want to go and hear John Hooper preach. Master Philip has told me that at his home there is a table spread in the common hall with a good store of meat. It is daily beset of beggars and poor folk. Every day John Hooper eats with a certain number of poor folk, Lizzie. Is that not a great thing to do?”

The girl nodded, but then remembering that her brother could not hear a nod, spoke. “Yes, Tom.”

“He also questions the poor folk at his table as to whether they know the Lord’s prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and what they believe. And after this he sits down with them and eats.”

“He sounds like a good man, Tom.”

“Yes,” her brother agreed, repeating, “and when I am better, Lizzie, you shall take me to hear him preach. I think he preaches in the cathedral and also betimes on the street.”

*****

It took the greater part of a year for Tom to fully recuperate. Afterwards he walked about with a cane – tapping out the space before him – amazing himself that he was able to recall the steps, the ruts, the holes, the sights and sounds of the farm and thus ascertain where he was. After a few weeks, he ventured into Gloucester. At first, Lizzie guided him. Later his mother accompanied him into town, or he would venture with Philip for a stroll into the country.

The lessons continued. The boy had grown in wisdom as he lay on his sickbed, drinking in the tinker’s instruction with a great thirst. “Why did you not become a preacher, Master Philip?” he questioned his tutor one day as they were strolling.

“I don’t know,” the man answered honestly, “but I do think that God has used me to sell Bibles and to explain certain matters about Scripture to all sorts of country folk as I traveled the roads. These were good things to do and I think that God required it of me. God has tasked me with various matters over the years and right now, methinks, he has tasked me with you, Tom.”

“Well, I am glad,” the boy replied, and then, switching the topic, “I have heard tell in town that King Edward is ill with a fever. Have you heard this also, Master Philip?”

“Yes, I have,” the tinker answered gravely, “and I fear it is common knowledge that our young and good monarch is dying. It is also said that there is a plot afoot to put his eldest sister Mary on the throne to succeed him.”

“Mary?”

“Yes, and I fear that she would return the country to papistry.”

“What would that mean, Master Philip?”

“You know what that would mean, Tom. It would mean that all the things I have taught you over the past year would be condemned as heresy.”

The boy stood still. He seemed dazed. “Tell me more.”

The tinker saw that the lad’s face was serious. “Well, Tom, images and relics would come back; people would be encouraged to kneel to a piece of bread at Mass; and they would be told to confess their sins to a priest rather than to God Himself.”

Phlox was blooming alongside the path. Its perfume was a sugary, sweet scent and Tom recognized it. The smell vividly brought to mind the memory of the pink they were. Alongside their smell, he could detect the faint odor of carrot and knew that, white and delicate, queen Anne’s lace, could not be too far off. Queen Anne’s lace was more commonly called bishop’s weed. Perhaps, Tom thought, if Bishop Hooper had been a plant, he might not have minded wearing queen Anne’s lace. And then he grinned to himself.

CHAPTER 5

In the year that followed, Thomas grew more and more accustomed to walking the roads. History surrounded him as he walked and tapped the cane in front of him. Edward VI died and the brief ten-day reign of Lady Jane Grey followed. Then Parliament, having restored her right of succession, aided Mary to the throne. The Six Articles were reinstated and the citizens of Gloucester learned that their beloved Bishop Hooper had been imprisoned by the new queen. But just before this occurred, to the dismay and horror of the entire Drourie family, Tom was taken into custody. He was thirteen years of age.

Thomas’ arrest happened quite suddenly. Walking across Westgate Bridge one early morning, carefully tapping out his steps, he met Father Serly. Father Serly, still short and stout had survived Edward’s reign by outwardly conforming to Protestantism. However, as soon as Mary ascended the throne and papist rules were back, he emerged ready to wage war on anyone who was not attending Mass.

“Thomas Drourie,” he called out, as the blind boy was about to pass by him.

Thomas stopped, recognized the priest’s voice, but answered nothing.

“I have not seen you at Mass of late,” Father Serly went on, using the very same words he had spoken to the boy’s father more than a decade past.

“No,” Tom agreed.

“Have you been ill? Has there been no one who could guide you?” The words were friendly enough, but there was underlying threat. Tom perceived it. His father made no secret of the fact that he disliked Father Serly and a great many of the other priests. He was also fully aware that the Cathedral had reverted back to papistry and that many Protestant Englishmen had fled England.

“Well, Tom?” As the boy still did not answer, the priest assumed that perhaps the lad did not know it was a priest he was speaking with.

“I am your Father,” he said, somewhat loftily.

“I have only one Father,” Tom then replied, “and He is in heaven.”

“Are you being rude, young sir?”

But Tom stood quiet again, and there was no sound but the water of the Big Severn rushing underneath the bridge. Deciding not to continue in conversation with the priest, he began tapping out his steps again, walking forward as he did so. The stout cleric blocked his path.

“I asked you a question, young Thomas Drourie.”

The boy laughed and pushed at the black robes preventing his leaving. He was young and blind, but he was strong and his shove succeeded in thrusting the priest against the side of the bridge. Not only that, but the motion caused the friar to fall down on the slats amid the laughter of some local folk crossing over from the other side. Humiliated, the priest complained to the town’s guard and the result was that Tom was taken into custody for an overnight imprisonment. His father had to pay a hefty fine the next morning to have the boy released.

*****

“You must not be so bold, Tom” Lizzie was sitting on a bale of hay next to her brother. “You could get father and mother into trouble by such behavior. You would not want that.”

Her brother shook his head. “No, of course I would not.”

“Well, then, you must stay at home and if you want something, either I or Albert will go with you into town.”

“Philip has told me that Master Hooper was arrested, Lizzie. He is being kept in Fleet Prison in London.”

“Yes, that is true.” The girl spoke softly, knowing that Tom looked up to the man, admired him and would feel badly about the news.

“He probably,” Tom went on, “has no family who can set bail for him as I have heard that his wife and children have left England. The queen, Philip said, wants him dead.”

“Oh.” It was all that Lizzie could think of to say. She was seventeen now and a beauty with long brown hair, just like her mother. She and Albert now had an agreement between the two of them. He had of late, spoken with her father. For a moment she forgot the young brother sitting next to her on a bale of hay. Albert was almost thirty now and she knew that during the conversation he’d had with father he had not been refused. Father would have to weigh the facts and these were that Tom would never be able to run the farm on his own; that Albert was an honest man who truly loved Lizzie; and that Albert also cared for Tom. She glanced at the boy sitting next to her. He was staring straight ahead. But surely it must be at something within himself, for his eyes saw nothing in the barn. Albert took him ploughing in the fields, had him walk by his side, explained what he was doing, always included him in conversations about planting, harvesting, and caring for the cattle. Could they not all live in harmony – father, mother, Albert and herself – caring for Tom and for the farm?

“They say,” Tom interrupted her thoughts, and speaking vehemently, “that those who put Bishop Hooper in prison accuse him of owing the queen money. But it is not true. They are lying about him.”

“Hush, Tom! Do not take on so.” Lizzie put her right arm about Tom’s shoulder as she spoke.

But Tom went on, his hands striking the air in anger. “The real reason, Lizzie, is that they want him dead. They want him dead because he is a Protestant just like we are.”

She was slightly alarmed at his words.

“The heresy acts have been revived,” Tom continued, his voice somber now.

“We just have to stay on the farm, Tom,” Lizzie answered, “We won’t get involved. Father and mother don’t go into Gloucester very much anymore and we have all we need right here.”

“There is a rumor, but I think it is the truth,” the boy went on, “that Bishop Hooper will be transferred to Gloucester at some point. When he is, I want you to take me to his place of confinement, Lizzie. Will you promise me that you will?”

Lizzie did not answer.

“Well, if you will not take me, then I shall ask Master Philip or Albert.”

“No, not Albert.” Lizzie’s answer was swift now.

“Well, then?”

“Yes, Tom. If and when Master Hooper comes back to Gloucester, I shall take you to see him, if that is possible.

Satisfied, the boy leaned into her shoulder. “You are a good sister, Lizzie.”

*****

Approximately two months later, in February of 1555, word came to the citizens of Gloucester that their former bishop, John Hooper, would be taken, under heavy escort, to Gloucester. It was Philip the tinker who recounted this to the Drouries at noon.

“Actually,” he went on, glancing at Tom’s white face as he spoke, “he was taken to Gloucester today. Although the news of his coming was kept secret, it leaked out. A mile outside town, I saw crowds assembled – men and women all crying and lamenting Hooper’s sorry state as he passed.”

“You were there? You saw him?” Tom asked.

“Yes, I did, Tom. I watched as one of the queen’s guards, and there were six of them for the one man, rode into Gloucester to ask for the aid of the mayor and sheriffs. These namby-pamby guards were worried that Hooper would be rescued by the people standing at the side of the road. I saw a great many officers armed with weapons come to the North Gate. They ordered the people to go home and to stay home and then conducted John Hooper to a place where he will be kept until…. ” He left off and it was quiet.

“Until what?” Tom finally threw out.

“Until his burning at the stake tomorrow.”

There was quiet around the table. Lizzie, who sat across from Tom, felt his foot kick her shin. She winced slightly, but she knew what it meant.

CHAPTER 6

They managed to leave the farm together under the pretext of visiting one of Lizzie’s friends.

“I don’t know where to take you, Tom, for Philip did not say where they lodged the bishop.”

“You must take me to the Cathedral, Lizzie. For at that place they will know of a certainty where he has been taken.”

“Even so, Tom, why should they tell you?”

“Because they will.”

“Well, I will take you. But you must promise me to be careful.”

The boy did not answer and they walked along in silence, the boy tapping his path all the while, his cane in his right hand and Lizzie holding his left.

When they arrived at the Cathedral, the Gloucester streets lay still. The people had been ordered to stay indoors.

“Take me to a side door, Lizzie, and I will knock. You need not stay. But do not go too far either.” His sister brought him to a nether door and the boy began knocking almost before she had time to find her way around a corner. Tom knocked loudly and persistently and at the beginning no one came to answer. But he continued in fervor, scraping his knuckles on the wood. At length, a guard opened the door.

“What do you want, boy?” His voice was not unfriendly and Tom took heart.

“I want to see Bishop Hooper.”

The guard was taken aback for he could see that Tom was blind.

“Please sir,” Tom repeated, “can I speak with the Bishop to hear his last words to me before he goes to the stake.”

“Are you family?”

“Yes, he is to me as a father.”

The guard, who was not a bad fellow, relented upon hearing the earnestness in the boy’s plea. “Very well, then, come along.”

“You must give me your hand, sir.” Thomas reached out and the guard took his hand, pulling him inside the building.

“Come along then and tell me your name.”

“Tom Drourie, sir.”

The guard walked along a corridor, talking the whole while. “My name is Edmund Wells, Tom, and it is a sad business, this whole thing, is it not? But your name sounds familiar. Was there not a boy named Tom arrested a short time ago for….”

He stopped, scratched his head, and then smiled. “Yes, now I remember. It had to do with Father Serly, a man I care little about. If I recall correctly, it was because this certain Tom had pushed him.”

“Yes, sir.” Tom answered softly, hoping the conversation would not cost him his chance to see Bishop Hooper.

“Well, Tom, if that was you, I would not take it to heart. Father Serly is…. well, he is not overly truthful and he is much concerned about himself. But be careful what you say, boy, for these are treacherous times.”

Tom nodded and the guard talked on.

“Bishop Hooper will be taken to Robert Ingram’s house later today. He’s not to stay in a common gaol, that good man, but in a home where they respect him. So that is a blessing. And now we have come to his cell. I must let go of your hand to open the door with a key. There’s a good lad. Just stand here.”

Thus speaking, the guard opened the door before returning to Tom. Reaching for his hand, he propelled him inside a small room.

“Here’s a young lad come to bid you good day, Master Hooper. Says his name is Tom – Tom Drourie. I believe Tom was arrested a while back as well for speaking disrespectfully to a priest. I’ll collect him by and by.”

With that he shut the door and Tom was alone with the bishop.

*****

It was a small room. Tom could feel the walls close and the ceiling low. He stepped forward hesitantly, tapping his cane carefully. “Good afternoon, sir,” he finally said, his voice small and thin.

“Good afternoon, Tom,” he was answered by a friendly and low voice, “and what brings you to visit me here in this sad place?”

“I wished to say….” Tom began, “I wished to say that I will pray for you, sir. It must be dreadfully…. dreadfully….” He could not go on and a moment later felt a hand on his shoulder.

“There, lad,” both Bishop Hooper’s voice and hand guided him along, “Here’s a chair. Sit yourself down and we shall have a talk, you and I, and find out what is in your heart.”

Tom breathed in deeply, ashamed that he was blubbering like a child again. “Thank you, sir,” he managed.

“Well, Tom,” the bishop continued, putting him at his ease, “I’ve a lad just like you at home. Only he’s left England and I don’t get to see him any more. I miss him very much and so appreciate your visit for that reason alone. If I had my lad here, I would counsel him to hold fast to the faith.”

“Yes, sir,” Tom responded, his blind eyes fixed upon the direction of the voice.

“Do you believe in the Lord Jesus, son?”

“Oh, yes, sir.”

“Do you confess His one sacrifice on the cross and deny the popish idolatry in the Mass?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” Tom breathed out again.

“Well, lad, then there will not be a goodbye between us once the guard comes to take you back. For of a verity, we will see one another in heaven.”

“Do you think I shall see?” Tom ventured, “in heaven.”

“Yes, Tom, you certainly shall.”

There was a long quiet, but it was not awkward. The bishop had taken the boy’s hand into his own. After a while he spoke again. “Ah, Thomas! Ah, poor boy! God has taken from you your outward sight, for what consideration He best knows. But He has given you another sight much more precious, for He has induced your soul with the eye of knowledge and faith. God give you grace continually to pray to Him that you lose not that sight, for then you should be blind both in body and soul.”

Tom nodded, his eyes again filling with tears. At that moment the door opened with a groan of heaviness and disuse.

“Tom, time to go.” It was Edmund and Tom stood up.

The bishop clapped him on the shoulder. “Son, may God bless you and keep you and let His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.”

Taking Tom’s hand, the guard steered him towards the hall and all the while Tom was mindful of the lark in the field where he had been with Philip. And he recalled with great clarity how the bull had charged and how Philip had played the viol.

Walking back towards the entrance, Tom begged Edmund for permission to hear Bishop Hooper speak prior to his being burned at the stake. For so it was that condemned men were allowed to address the crowd prior to being martyred. Without a word, the man took the boy through to another anteroom, one that led into the cathedral. Although Tom could not see it, this was the place in which Dr. Williams, the Chancellor of Gloucester, was sitting behind a desk. The registrar sat next to him and they were concentrating over some paperwork. Without waiting for permission, the guard spoke.

“This boy wants permission to hear the bishop speak tomorrow before his martyrdom.”

“Martyrdom, Wells?

“Whatever it pleases your Honour to call it,” the man answered, before he turned, leaving Tom in the sanctuary.

Dr. Williams, who was a heavy-set man, turned from the paperwork to peer at Tom. “What is your name, boy?”

“Thomas Drourie, sir.”

“And you wish to see Bishop Hooper die?”

“Not die, sir, but live.”

“Are you a good Christian, Tom?”

“I try to be, sir.”

“Hmmh,” the chancellor said, and glancing at the registrar added, “Well, suppose we ask you some questions as to ascertain that.”

Tom stood in front of him, cane in hand, eyes fixed on where the chancellor’s voice came from.

“Do you believe,” the chancellor began, “that after the words of the priest’s consecration, that the very body of Christ is in the bread?”

Tom responded strongly with a very loud, “No, that I do not!”

Dr. Williams looked keenly at the disabled boy in front of him. “Then you are a heretic, Thomas Drourie. Do you know that for this reason you can be burned? Who taught you this heresy?”

Tom, the eyes of his heart bright, even though his outward sight was dull, answered clearly, “You, Mr. Chancellor.”

Dr. Williams sat up straight. “Where, I pray you?” The words echoed hollowly through the sanctuary.

Tom replied softly but clearly, pointing with his cane towards the place where he supposed the pulpit was, “In yonder place.”

Dr. Williams was aghast. “When did I teach you so?”

Tom, now looking straight at where the chancellor’s voice was coming from, replied plainly and distinctly: “When you preached a sermon to all men, as well as to me, upon the sacrament. You said the sacrament was to be received spiritually by faith, and not carnally and really as the papists have heretofore taught.”

Dr. Williams looked down at the papers in front of him. He felt a certain shame in his heart. Nevertheless, his voice boomed out and resounded in the aisles. “Then do as I have done, and you shall live as I do and escape burning.”

Aware that the bull was charging, but hearing the viol, Tom answered calmly and firmly: “Though you have easily dispensed with your own self and mock God, the world, and your conscience, I will not do so.”

Dr. Williams was vexed, vexed in his soul. Although he tried for some time to convince the boy otherwise and threatening him plenty, there was no recantation. Finally, he bellowed: “Then God have mercy upon you, Tom, for I will read you your condemnatory sentence.”

Tom answered, “God’s will be fulfilled.”

At this moment the registrar nudged Dr. Williams. “For shame, man! Will you read the sentence and condemn yourself? Away with you! At least substitute someone else to give sentence and judgment.”

But Dr. Williams would not change his mind. “Mr. Registrar!” he barked out, “I will obey the law and give sentence myself according to my office.” After this he read Tom his death sentence, albeit with a shamed tongue and a twisted conscience.

“Wells,” he then cried out, for the guard was present once again, “take this boy to a cell.”

“Sir, I beg you,” a small voice cried out in the back of the sanctuary, “have mercy on my brother.” It was Lizzie who had been let in by the kindhearted Edmund.

“Do you wish to be arrested alongside your brother?”

“Sir, I would feign take his place if it would help his case.”

Tom felt love well up in his heart for his sister. Often she had kept him from wrongdoing in the past; often she had nursed scraped elbows and bruises; and often she had comforted him after he had been lonely. She was like a second mother. Ah, his mother! Tears sprung to his eyes. He had not thought of his parents this whole time. Lizzie slowly lifted one foot in front of the other, as if she were gathering courage in those unhurried steps, and approached the front, standing right before Dr. Williams.

“He is but a lad, your honor,” she haltingly began, “and his mother ….”

Then she wept. Tom was at her side in an instant. “Don’t cry, Lizzie,” he pleaded, “please don’t cry.”

“How can I help it Tom?”

“You will see me again, Lizzie.”

She lifted her tear-stained face towards him, doubtful and hopeful at the same time.

“Tell mother and father that I shall be home shortly, Lizzie. And tell them that I look forward to that homecoming more than anything else.”

Then Edmund Wells took the boy’s hand in his own and led him away.

*****

A true story, flavored with fiction, the blind boy Thomas Drourie (together with a bricklayer by the name of Thomas Croker) was burned at the stake on May 5, 1556. This was three months after Bishop Hooper was burned. Three years later, during the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, Chancellor Williams poisoned himself, thus adding suicide to his previous crimes. For Thomas Drourie, Bishop Hooper and other faithful believers, there was the light of God’s countenance; for Chancellor Williams, what shall we say?


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Song of Songs (A Christine Farenhorst Christmas story)

Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? – Job 38:4-7 Chapter 1 There are innumerable, worthy symphonies which have been composed over the ages. Think of Beethoven's Eroica symphony, Handel's Pastoral in his great work The Messiah, Mendelsohn's Scottish symphony, Haydn's Clock symphony, and many other amazingly wonderful works of music. But the oldest and most beautiful of all symphonies is often forgotten. Entitled Ephesians 1, it was written by the Trinity. An orchestration wrought before the beginning of time, it is a harmony par excellence. Its arrangement, which is found in the Holy Book, sings of the chosen ones, the ones who are blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Its first performance took place in eternity. Preludes resound. **** When little Marsha Tennison enthusiastically raised her hand towards the ceiling to ask a question, even her thin pigtails danced with earnestness. “Pigtails,” Jason Brook mused, even as he nodded his head that she might speak, was a strange term. Little Marsha was anything but a piglet. The wispy curls which escaped from both her red barrettes were auburn; red freckles jumped about on her cheeks; and her bright, blue eyes were filled with joy at being allowed to talk. "If the stars," the child began clearly in a well-modulated voice, "are the work of God's fingers, then He must be really big. But my eyes are not big enough to see all of the stars at night." She stopped for a moment and caught her breath before continuing. "I was thinking that it would be a wonderful thing if you could catch a bus and climb up into the sky to get closer to the stars. You know, like Jacob's ladder." Her voice petered out. Some of the children were giggling. The sound subdued her somewhat. "We will see God, I know," she added in a much lower tone, "when we die." Samantha, one seat over from Marsha, gasped audibly. She was a sweet child too, but one steeped into supposing that a person could climb into heaven on a Ten Commandments ladder, certainly not on a bus resembling a Jacob's ladder. It was well-nigh three thirty and almost time to go home. Bible was the last subject on the agenda. "It's a good thought, Marsha," Jason encouraged "And anyone who has ever looked at the multitude of stars at night will understand what you were saying." Marsha beamed and settled back in her desk. She held one of her long, thin braids between the fingers of her right hand. A trusting eleven, as were most of the children in his Bible class, she was a dreamer. Jason smiled at the sea of upturned faces. Half of the faces were focused on him; the other half were focused on the clock. "If any of you think God is small, then surely you will not expect Him to be able to do great things. But if you think, or rather know, that He is big, " he added, "and that the stars are the work of His fingers, then you will believe He can do mighty things. When we die," he went on, "we will see Him as He is. Even though we can't understand how that will be, Marsha, we know it is true because the Bible tells us so." Samantha raised her hand and spoke quickly, almost before he could nod permission. "But God is not a person, pastor Brook, so how can anyone think of Him as, well, as just plain big? Isn't that wrong?" "Well, you are right in one way, Samantha. God Almighty is not a person as we are, although we should never forget that He took on our flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ. I think though, that what Marsha meant by her question was that God is mighty beyond what we can physically see and understand? I think she tried to say," and here he looked straight at Marsha who moved her head up and down vigorously all the while clasping one of her brown braids, "that it is amazing that the stars which are so high above our heads, were formed by the words of God's mouth and that the Bible actually calls the stars the work of His fingers. And how can it be possible that we, little and sinful people that we are, will eventually be able to see such a mighty and holy God." Marsha blushed. They were fine words, the words of pastor Brook. She felt them inside but could not always iterate them clearly. But he had read her question rightly. Those were matters she thought about a lot. She would like to ask him to explain more things, but she dare not ask them now lest Samantha criticize that as well. Perhaps later. Her teacher winked at her and she blushed again. "We have a very mighty God, Marsha," he added, "and He does not mind what we ask, as long as we ask questions on our knees, full of reverence." "Can we ask Him anything?" Samantha suddenly said, not even raising her hand. "Yes," Jason responded quietly and confidently, "anything at all as long as we ask sincerely and according to what He wills." Another hand shot up. This time it was Penny, a twelve-year-old going on eighteen. When she had been given permission to speak, her truculent voice struck the wooden desks with a certain amount of bravado. "Well, I'd like to ask Him to give you a wife, pastor Brook." A stillness descended on the classroom. Little Marsha stopped fidgeting with her braid and anxiously scanned her teacher's face for his reaction. Samantha turned around to raise her eyebrows at Penny. But Penny, unperturbed, went on. "I'd like to ask Him to give you a wife who doesn't mind that you limp. You need some looking after and your mother is getting older. Besides, everyone says a pastor shouldn't be a bachelor." Jason held up his hand at this point to stop the inappropriate waterfall of words gushing out of Penny's mouth. He smiled at her even as he grimaced inside. "Thank you, Penny, for your concern. That's very kind of you." Everyone stared at him - the girls sympathetically and the boys uneasily. He closed in prayer and then they trooped out. **** It was mid-June and nearing summer vacation. Jason Brook taught two Bible courses at the local Christian academy every Friday afternoon. His first class consisted of the fourteen and fifteen-year-olds whereas the second class was comprised of eleven through thirteen year olds. "Pastor?" He startled and then smiled broadly. It was little Marsha who had returned to the room. There was no denying that she was one of his favorite students. She lived in his neighborhood and he often spoke with her. "Thank you for teaching me.... for teaching me that you can talk to God about anything. You are so helpful. And you know what," she added softly, "I never notice that you limp." She flashed a grin at him and then she was gone, brown braids spindling behind her. Jason stood still for a moment, a small frown on his face. Even coming from a sincere child, a child who meant to comfort and build him up, the words hurt somewhat. He was thirty-six years old and in the sudden stillness of the classroom after Marsha's departure, he could hear his mother's voice, could hear it as clearly as if she were standing next to him. "You have a false sense of pride, son." She'd said those words to him just last week, just before informing him that Gena Ardwick, the daughter of an old friend, had been invited by her for a few day's visit. His face must have shown dislike and apprehension because that's when he had been reproved. "You immediately suspect I'm setting you up and you retreat behind that shell of yours. There is no sin in having friends, Jason, and you need not look for me to be matchmaking behind every tree." "You are right, mother," he had sighed, "and I apologize. I'll be a good host, I promise. **** Later, after straightening out his desk and cleaning the blackboard, he picked up his briefcase and began his walk towards the bus stop. People, he reflected, as well as adults, were often most comfortable with the status quo, with the way things were always done. There was no denying that he sometimes fell outside the accepted status quo. Perhaps his childhood polio endowing him with this uneven gait, or perhaps the early loss of his father, had marked him. Yet these events had not been bad, he mused on, but rather had worked for his good, for had they not made him depend on His Creator more and more? He breathed in deeply. Sure he prayed for a wife, prayed punctually as one might pray for good weather. But if it rained, the truth was that he was quite content to sit at home and read a good book, or to take a walk under an umbrella. He vaguely remembered Gena Ardwick, the girl who would be stopping in to see his mother today. She had lived next door to his family years ago when he had been a boy about the age that little Marsha was right now. Gena had been a snippy, self-willed girl, if he recalled correctly, and he had not cared for her. She'd always been ready with an opinion and she had not liked either dogs or cats. Strange that he should remember the part about pets. Unconsciously he shrugged as he walked. In spite of his mother's protestations to the opposite, there had been questionable female visitors in the past: a far-off distant cousin afflicted with a slight stutter; the organist's older sister over for holidays from Amsterdam; and the neighbor's orphaned, sewing pupil. He suddenly laughed out loud, switched the briefcase to his other hand and chided himself for brooding. **** There were no other people waiting at the bus stop. Setting down his briefcase, Jason unashamedly stretched his tall form. Friday afternoons could prove to be long, even trying, but he enjoyed them - enjoyed the teaching and the interaction which he had with his students, even students like aggressive Penny. Glancing at his watch, he expected that the bus would be along shortly. He'd known the bus driver for years. Sure enough, rounding the corner right on time, the front end of a grey bus turned towards him. Automatically he picked up his briefcase with his right hand while his left hand reached for a bus token in his pants' pocket. The bus smoothly slid to a stop in front of him and the door opened. "How're you doing, Jake?" "Great! And yourself, Jason?" "Fine." Smiles were exchanged and Jason habitually walked towards the seat where he was wont to sit. Only…someone else was sitting there. It was a woman wearing a dark blue hat, a light blue sweater and a grey skirt. He saw this all in one glance. She nodded slightly when he caught her eye, moving past to a seat behind her. It miffed him a trifle that she was sitting in his spot, but he knew this was bordering on the ridiculous. Public transport was just that, public transport and the public could sit wherever they pleased. Ten minutes later he stood up. His stop was next. He'd always counted it a blessing that he lived only a few houses away from the bus stop, especially during bad winter weather. The woman stood up with him simultaneously. She picked up a small leather suitcase from the floor and eased into the aisle in front of him walking towards the exit door. He could smell a faint scent of jasmine exuding from her person. The bus came to a halt. Stepping down, the woman turned in the direction of his house, leather suitcase dangling from her right hand. It came to him suddenly, as he followed her steps, that this woman could be Gena Ardwick. But his mother had gone to pick her up at the train station in South Hanker. Maybe mother had missed connecting with Gena and the girl had taken matters into her own hands. Sure enough, she was slowing down and peering at house numbers. Then, before Jason's very eyes, her heel caught in a crack of cement causing her to stumble and fall. The incident occurred right in front of his home. The small suitcase flew out of her hand and landed neatly at her side, but as he hobbled up behind to reach her, the girl had already scrambled back to her feet. "Hey, are you all right?" She nodded, but he noticed a shining in her eyes - unshed tears just like the ones his students blinked back after they had been given a very low mark or had inadvertently tripped over someone's feet in class. Reaching over to pick up her suitcase and putting her full weight on her left foot, the woman gave a small cry of pain "I think you better lean on me." Unquestioningly she took the arm he offered, reinforcing his notion that she was indeed Gena Ardwick. A surge of protectiveness washed over him. Shuffling up the sidewalk as she held on to him, she didn't say a word. "What providence," he said, glancing at her as he spoke, "that I was just behind you, Gena." She stared up at him. But then another tremor of pain passed over her face. "I hope you didn't break anything," Jason went on, "We'd better get you to sit down quickly so we can have a look." **** It was quiet in the hallway and the cat ran down the stairs to meet them, rubbing up against Jason's legs. "This way to the living room, Gena," Jason spoke softly, "and I hope you don't mind cats now. Harry is a people cat and hates it when I'm gone. " She shook her head as he led her through the hallway door into the living room, carefully sitting her down on the edge of the couch. Resting back, she smiled up at him wanly, her face very white. "I think I'll put on the kettle for a cup of tea. Just sit for a minute before we have a look at that foot." Propping up a pillow behind her back as he spoke, Jason expertly pushed a footstool in front of the couch. "There you are. Can you lift your foot up on it?" She obliged and Harry jumped onto the couch next to her. It brought a tiny smile to her face and somehow this pleased Jason a great deal. He disappeared into the kitchen and pondered his next move. Hopefully, mother would be home soon and that would take the onus off himself. The situation was a bit awkward. She hadn't said a word so far and she was also a bit chunky or, as his mother would say, pleasingly plump. The doorbell rang. Now who could that be? Striding back to the front door, he was surprised to see little Marsha standing on his steps. Grinning broadly, she was holding a tray of cookies in her hands. She lived only a few doors down from him. "My foster mother made these for you, pastor Brook, because you taught me all year and because you visit all the time." "Well, thank you, and please thank your foster mother. That's very kind of you both." A luminous idea struck him. He gestured that she step inside and when she happily obliged, he walked her past the closed living room door leading the child into the kitchen. Once there he spoke in a low tone. "Marsha, I have a visitor in the living room and she's hurt her ankle. She's my mother's friend and will be a guest here for a few days. Would you mind helping me with her for a little while?" The girl was all smiles and nodded eagerly. "No, pastor Brook, I wouldn't mind that at all." "Thanks, Marsha, I appreciate that very much." He pointed towards the living room and she immediately stepped back into the hallway, making her way to the living room. He followed her. Opening the door, they could see Gena bending over, trying rather unsuccessfully to take off her shoe. Marsha lost no time. She was by the couch and on her knees in a trice. Assisting nimbly, her small fingers undid the buckles, even as she spoke in a low tone. "My name is Marsha, but most people call me little Marsha because I'm not as big as I should be. What's your name?" "Gena." It came out softly and it was the first word Jason heard her say. So he had been correct then in surmising that she was his mother's guest. "Gena's a real nice name," Marsha went on, "and look, your shoe's off and that's good because I think your foot's a bit swollen. I can see it through your nylon stocking. Hope it doesn't hurt too much." Arnica, thought Jason who was still standing in the hallway door, mother's arnica in the medicine cabinet would help right now. Turning, he made his way to the bathroom and checked cupboards until he found the arnica tube. To his disappointment, it was almost empty. He'd have to go to the pharmacy for a new tube. Maybe he should also offer aspirin with the tea for pain? He slowly walked back into the living room. "Her foot's not broken, pastor Brook," Marsha called out cheerfully from the couch while stroking the cat's head, "You can wiggle your toes, can't you Gena?" Gena nodded. "That's fine," Jason said, very much relieved, "but I think I'll walk over to the pharmacy anyway to pick up some arnica. It's a good remedy for bruising and swelling. I can see from here you might have a bit of a bruise." Gena shook her head. "There's no need for you to do that," she protested weakly. "Not a problem," Jason waved away her protest, "Little Marsha, can you stay here until I come back? You can put the kettle on for tea and you know where the mugs are. You can also serve some of the cookies you brought along." The girl nodded eagerly. "Sure thing. And I'll phone Aunt May to let her know I'm helping out." Chapter 2 The symphony of Ephesians 1has a recurring theme. The consonance which weaves through its melody is that of predestination. With singleness of purpose, the notes, again and again, point to children adopted through Jesus Christ in accordance with His pleasure and will. We don't always hear a theme until it is pointed out. But the truth of it is that election reverberates throughout Ephesians 1. **** After little Marsha had telephoned her foster mother, she asked Gena if she wanted a cup of tea and a cookie. The woman smiled at the child standing in front of the couch. "You are eager to help. You're a very kind, little girl." Marsha dimpled. "Any friend of pastor Brook is a friend of mine. And I'm sorry you hurt your foot. Shall I put pillows under it?" The doorbell rang. "Excuse me," little Marsha said. She got up from the couch and stepped back into the hallway, leaving the door to the livingroom half-open behind her. **** There was a coolness in the foyer and the child shivered before she opened the entrance way which Jason had locked behind him. Two women stood on the doorstep. They smiled at Marsha. "Hello, it's a nice day isn't it?" One of the women, portly but gracious, extended the greeting. "Yes," Marsha replied. "Is your mother at home?" "Yes," the child answered for the second time and without hesitation, "She is." On the couch in the living room, Gena, who could hear each word, winced. The girl was lying. That was a whopper. "Can we speak to her?" "No, I'm afraid you can't." The second of the two women coughed delicately into a hanky. "And why will you not let us speak to your mother?" "Because she's in heaven with the Lord Jesus." There was silence on the doorstep for a long moment. Shifting her position on the couch slightly as she leaned forward, Gena strained her ears. "I know," Marsha's voice reached her, "that you are Jehovah Witnesses because you come down the street a lot and start by saying that the weather is nice. Pastor Brook has told me to be careful about you." There was another silence and then one of the women opened her purse, taking out a small tract. "Well, I'm sorry to hear about your mother, honey, but maybe I can leave this little booklet with you." Little Marsha put her hands behind her back. "No, thank you," she answered clearly, "Jesus would not like me to do that. Pastor Brook told me that too. You see you don't know.... that is, you don't believe...." She stopped and took out her right hand, fingering one of her braids thoughtfully. "We don't know or believe what?" Both of the women responded almost simultaneously, talking through one another and eyeing little Marsha with a mixture of both disdain and interest. "That Jesus is God," little Marsha said, finishing her sentence carefully. "He is a god," this time the women spoke in unison, the back one trying to read the girl's face as she stood in poised in the doorway. Unfazed by their scrutiny, Marsha responded once more. "No, He is not a god. He is the only God there is and we can't say lies about Him. You see, God says, and I forget where He says it, ‘I am He and there are no gods with Me.’" The two women looked at one another. "Pastor Brook told me that too," little Marsha added as an afterthought, "and you might like to think about that. But now I have to stop talking to you because I'm helping out a friend who has a sore foot." The two women turned and began to walk away, the first one shrugging as she left. But the second glanced back over her shoulder, giving Marsha a smile and a little wave. Closing and locking the front door carefully, Marsha made her way back to the kitchen. She plugged in the kettle and leaned against the countertop as she waited for the water to boil. When it did, she pulled the plug and made tea. Carrying a stone mug into the living room, she saw that Gena had taken her foot off the footstool and was gingerly bending over, rubbing it. "How does it feel? Does it hurt a lot?" she asked sympathetically. "A little bit, but it'll be all right, I think." Marsha deposited the mug on the end table. "Would you like some sugar and milk with your tea?" "No, that's fine. Thank you for your help and for making the tea." Marsha sat down on the floor in front of the couch, resting her back against it. "Tell me about yourself, Marsha." Turning her face, Marsha stared up at her. "About myself? There's not much to tell." "Why did you tell the women who came to the door that your mother was home when .... well, when you don't even live here?" Gena put her foot up on the footstool again as she spoke and reached for the tea. "Well, my mother is at home. Only her home is in heaven. I did tell them that." The clock ticked and Gena folded her hands cautiously around the hot cup of tea. "I'm sorry, Marsha," she eventually said, as she put the cup back on the end table, "not having a Mom must be hard." "No," Marsha answered rather matter-of-factly, "you needn't feel sorry for me, Gena. You see, I'll be seeing her soon." Gena picked the cup up again. "What do you mean?" "I've got.... I mean, I'm sick and right now I'm OK, but the doctor says...." She stopped and Gena could not take her eyes off the child, wispy braids dangling disconsolately on her thin shoulders. "I'm sorry," she began again rather lamely, and then stopped. "No," little Marsha repeated rather earnestly, "You don't have to be sorry." "Can I comb and braid your hair, Marsha? I used to have long hair myself and I miss doing the braids. Maybe you can borrow a comb out of the bathroom. We just won't tell anyone." Marsha smiled. No one ever offered to braid her hair for her. Her foster mother was too busy and her own fingers were a little messy. She got up and disappeared down the hall, reappearing shortly with a long blue comb. "That's great. Now come and sit in front of me." Marsha sat on the floor, eyes wide with expectation. Gena had moved the footstool and had positioned her sore foot at its side. Taking a tiny sip of her hot tea before undoing Marsha's braids, she began untangling the knots in the child's hair. Marsha blissfully shut her eyes as she leaned her shoulders against the gray skirt. Gena massaged the little scalp with the auburn hair, and listened to the clock ticking as she worked at fashioning a French braid around Marsha's head. "Why," she suddenly heard herself saying, "Why are you not sad, or scared, or well, upset. You don't seem to be upset, Marsha." The girl smiled, her eyes still closed. "Sometimes I am. I really am, "she admitted candidly, "But then I try to remember a story that pastor Brook told me. He heard it, or read it somewhere and then he told it to me." "What was the story?" The child stretched out her legs in front of her and took a deep breath as if she was about to plunge into a pool of water. Gena stopped braiding and listened, her hands resting on the child's head. "Well, in the story there was a little girl. Maybe she was my age. This little girl was out on the street, sitting on the doorstep of a house in the middle of the night all alone. Someone came along the street and asked her, 'Little girl, why are you sitting there? Do you not have a house to live in?' She said, 'No, sir, I don't. I have no home.' 'Where is your mother?' 'My mother is dead,' said the little girl. 'Where is your father, then?' 'I have no father,' she replied. 'Have you no home at all to which you can go?' 'No,' answered the little girl, and she shivered. You see, Gena, it was night and she was shivering with the cold." Marsha stopped and unexpectedly turned her head, causing Gena to cluck in distress as auburn strands of hair flew out of her hands. Marsha apologized, even as she spoke. "I'm sorry to have moved, Gena, but are you not very sorry for this little girl?" Gena moved her head up and down even while she was trying to sort out the wisps of hair that had broken loose from the French braid. She was, indeed, both puzzled and fascinated by Marsha's account. Satisfied that her audience was paying attention, Marsha positioned her head forward again and went on. "Well, I was sorry for this little girl too when pastor Brook told me this story. It was so sad. I think I even cried. Then pastor Brook said to me, 'In a way many people in the world are like that little girl, Marsha. Although they have a home for their bodies, they have no home for their souls. And at night they sit on the doorsteps of the world and their souls have no place to go.'" It was quiet for a bit. Gena was intrigued. She prodded the child with her good foot. "Go on, Marsha. There must be more to this story." And Marsha continued. "Then pastor Brook said, 'I know you love the Lord Jesus, Marsha, and because you love the Lord Jesus, your soul does have a place to go. You have God for a Father and His Son Jesus has made a home for you in heaven where there are many, many rooms for His children.'" Marsha stopped her narrative again and rubbed her right hand along the carpet. "Is that the end of the story?" Gena asked in spite of herself. "No, it isn't. Only when I get to this part, I often cry, you see, and I don't like to do that in front of other people. But I'll tell you the story to the end." Marsha's right hand stopped caressing the carpet and she pushed her shoulders back so that they touched Gena's stomach. "Yes?" Gena encouraged. "Well, I'm guessing you think that I'm the little girl in the story, sort of. But actually, my story is just a bit different. In my story I'm sitting on the doorstep of heaven. An angel stops by and asks me if I have no house to live in and I answer him, 'Yes, sir, I do have a house. It is my Father's house and He is making a room ready for me in His house.' And after I tell the angel that I believe that Jesus is God and that He has died for me on the cross, he smiles and opens the door for me behind the doorstep and tells me that he knows that my room is quite, quite ready." Marsha's voice trembled with the telling of the last sentence and after she stopped speaking there was only silence again and the constant ticking of the clock. "I see." But Gena didn't see. Her hands came away from the hair and rested in her lap. The flat-bosomed, trusting eleven-year-old sitting on the floor in front of her, with a tiny French braid crisscrossing her head, suddenly seemed lovely beyond comparison. Inexplicably she was jealous. She could not fathom it. "Maybe you will get better," she offered, "and then you will not...." But she didn't finish the sentence, because she didn't know how to finish it. Marsha turned and looked up at her. "Are you all right? Is your foot throbbing?" "No, actually it is feeling quite a bit better and I should be going now. I've stayed way too long as it is." "Stayed too long?" Marsha's voice was surprised and she scrambled to her feet even as she continued to speak. "But you just got here. And pastor Brook's gone to get some medicine to put on your bruise to help you. And his mother is not even home yet." "But I think I can walk now," Gena answered, and to prove it she stood up as well. Indeed, her leg was able to bear weight and she took a few steps. "But where are you going? Are you not supposed to stop and visit here for a few days?" "No, whatever made you think that?" "Pastor Brook. He told me you had come to visit his mother for a few days. She should be home soon, I think." "His mother! But I don't even know his mother and I don't know pastor Brook either." "But you came into their house!?" Marsha could not comprehend the way things were going. She watched in amazement as Gena slowly but purposely limped towards the front door. "But why did you come in if you didn't know who lived here?" Gena's fingers were wrapped around the door handle. "I don't understand it myself, little Marsha. I think it was because he knew my name." "Your name?" "Yes." Gena winced even as she spoke. "And now, little girl, perhaps you can call me a taxi." Chapter 3 Sometimes the Ephesians1 theme appears to be lost. Raucous notes and cacophony seem to drown out the sweeter airs. But, as in many musical compositions, there is frequently a coda, a conclusion, a postscript, a postlude as it were. And the Ephesians1postlude is praise – praise of the glory of the grace of God. Listen carefully. **** It was only a half a year later that little Marsha's funeral took place. Conducted by pastor Brook, it was in the church he shepherded. There were not very many people who came to the funeral. The school Marsha had attended, the same school at which Jason taught Bible every Friday afternoon, did come out in full number. The children and teachers had been given leave and they sat in the front pews. As well, a few members of the congregation showed up. Some had known little Marsha; others were curious. The coffin stood in front of the pulpit. It was a small coffin. Made of white pine, smooth and shiny, it would not be very heavy for the pallbearers. It was snowing lightly outside and Jason's text fell with the snow: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." "Little Marsha had faith," Jason said and his voice faltered. It faltered because even as he spoke he could not fathom why this child, who had been so wholly trusting in her Lord, might not have lived a longer life, might not have had the possibility of being a mother in Israel. Of such, indeed, they had much need. He studied the young faces in front of him, and he preached. He preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He always did. But the why of the coffin continued to confound him even as he spoke. And through his sentences he saw a little girl with two wispy, auburn braids dancing her way up his sidewalk to tell him some new wonder that she had thought of during that day. **** Afterwards, when the “amen” had fallen, opportunity was given for classmates and others to speak. Jason issued the invitation and waited. A long silence hung over the sanctuary. He did not think it likely that any of the children would come forward and certainly did not expect any of the adult members to speak. So few had really known little Marsha. But just as he was about to conclude the service, a figure at the back of the church stood up and began a lonely trek towards the front. Jason strained his eyes. It was a woman and he did not know whom it was. He did not recognize her and neither did any of the people in the pews. They all watched her advance. She was uneasy. Everyone could sense it in her uncertain gait and yet she continued her walk to the pulpit. Having reached it, she sighed, glanced upward and proceeded to climb the steps. The lectern seemed to give her some measure of security, for she gripped the wood with both hands. It was only when Jason handed her the microphone and caught the scent of jasmine, that he remembered her. "Hello," she began, addressing the people in the pews. The voice took Jason back to a summer afternoon earlier that year, an afternoon in which someone had taken his seat on the bus. "You don't know me," her voice went on. Jason sat down in the chair behind the pulpit. He could see that the woman was taking a deep breath before continuing. "I had the pleasure of meeting Marsha, or little Marsha, as she told me people called her, a number of months ago." In a row of children on the second bench, Penny nudged Samantha. "She's a nice looking lady." "Shh," Samantha whispered back. The woman's voice stilled both of them. "I apologize if my story seems a bit stilted, but I'm not a trained speaker like your pastor here behind me." Jason looked down at the floor. "I'll introduce myself and hope that you won't all leave after I do. My name is Gena and my second name is not important. I am, or I should say, I was," and here her voice faltered, "a prostitute." A palpable hush fell on the sanctuary. Penny pinched Samantha. "Do you know what a prostitute is, Sam?" Samantha pinched her back. "Quiet." "About a half a year ago, I hurt my foot in front of your pastor's house. Summer had just begun. It was a beautiful day. Your pastor did not know me, but when I hurt my foot in front of his home, he took me inside and ...." She stopped speaking. Someone coughed in the back of the church, but on the whole it was deathly quiet. Only the coffin spoke through the stillness proclaiming that little Marsha was dead. "My parents divorced when I was about Marsha's age. My father left and my mother was given custody. Not that it meant anything. She was always gone. When I came home from school every day there was no one." Both Samantha and Penny listened with rapt attention. Indeed, the whole church was fixated on the figure in the pulpit. Gena was wearing a blue coat. Open at the collar, a grey scarf covered her neck. Jason's eyes had lifted from the floor and were now riveted on the back of Gena's head. "I'll spare you the details of my tumultuous teenage years. There were parties, drugs and boyfriends. I know now that I was looking for love, for some semblance of acceptance. I wanted someone who was interested in me, someone who would...." Samantha and Penny without being aware of it, were leaning into one another. "My mother eventually threw me out when she came home one day and found me drinking with several boys." The silence into which Gena's words were spoken became louder. "The day that I spoke of, the day that I hurt my foot and your pastor took me in, that was the day I was on my way to have an abortion. Only I had gotten the address mixed up and had gotten out several stops too early." Gena took a kleenex out of the pocket of her blue coat and blew her nose. Jason felt an incomprehensible bond with the girl. He did not know why. Everything he stood for had been repulsed by her. And yet here she was on the pulpit, confessing sins. "Little Marsha came to the door to bring your pastor some cookies. She came inside and introduced herself to me. When he left to buy some ointment for my foot, the child made me some tea and then, well then we talked together." Jason could see his mother in the fourth row. Her eyes were lifted attentively towards the girl, the girl whom he had supposed was Gena Ardwick. The real Gena Ardwick, it turned out, had not shown up at all because she had caught influenza. Strange that this girl's name had also been Gena. "Little Marsha told me that she was ill and that she would probably not live much longer. She was right, wasn't she?" Everyone's eyes automatically shifted to the small, white coffin in front of the pulpit. Samantha remembered with a pang of conscience that she had ridiculed Marsha when she had asked Pastor Brook how she could see God when she died, because God was so big that He had made the stars with His fingers. She shivered a little. "Marsha was a very special girl," Gena's voice broke over the sentence and Jason could see that her right hand clenched the kleenex which she still held. "She had a gift - and that gift was faith. She believed with all her heart and ...." Her voice broke again and Jason fought the urge to go and put his arm around her. "The truth is," Gena went on, "that God used little Marsha in my life. When I told her that I was leaving and that it was only by chance that I was there in pastor Brook's home, she called a taxi for me. Then she persuaded me to sit down on the couch again and she sat next to me." Penny and Samantha and the other children held themselves rigidly quiet, waiting for Gena to finish a story of which they could not guess the ending. "I say she sat next to me, but the actual truth was that she leaned into me. 'I like you, Gena,' she said, 'and I wish you could be a foster mother to me. I've had about six, you know.' 'Six?' I asked her. 'Yes, six and some of them were quite nice. But I'm always moving to another place. I guess it's hard to have someone like me who is in the hospital a lot.' And then Marsha added something else. She said, 'I think you will be a good Mom to this baby you are having, Gena. That is a really lucky baby to have you for a Mom.'" A child cried in the back of the sanctuary and was shushed by its mother. Gena stopped for a moment and blew her nose again. "I said, 'Marsha, how do you know I'm expecting a baby?' And she lifted her head from my shoulder and looked up at me. 'I felt the baby kick,' she said, 'when I leaned against you and you were doing my hair. My shoulders felt your stomach and I felt a little kick and I thought the baby must be so nice and cozy and safe in there. My last foster mother was expecting a baby too and she let me feel her tummy.' " Samantha felt a tear slide down her cheek. She let it slide right down to her chin. Then she took the back of her right hand and wiped it off. Penny cast a sidelong glance at her and then put her hand on Samantha's knee. "I told Marsha that she was right, that I was expecting a baby. 'What will you call it?' she asked. I told her that I didn't know. 'Perhaps, you can call it little Gena,' she suggested." Gena shifted her position behind the pulpit. Bending over, she put her elbows on the lectern, supporting her face with her hands for a moment. Then straightening up again, her gaze went up and down the pews. "Then Marsha asked me the most important question anyone has ever asked me. She said, 'You do believe in the Lord Jesus, don't you Gena? Because if you don't, I'll never see you again.'” She stopped and looked down before she continued."I have to tell you all very honestly that I did not believe in God at that time, let alone His Son Jesus. And I told her so." The ceiling lights flickered on and off and back on. In the distance a car honked its horn and white snow still fell past the sanctuary windows. "Then Marsha did what no one has ever done for me before. She wept for me. Curling into my side, she sobbed her heart out. I hugged her but she would not be consoled. She kept on crying. Eventually she managed some intelligible words and these words were: 'I don't want you to be lost, Gena, I want you to come to the doorstep of God's house just like me.'" And Jason thought of all the sermons he had preached, of all the benedictions he had given, and he knew that not one of them came even close. "The taxi driver came to the door then, and I stood up. My shoulder was wet, wet with little Marsha's tears. I never saw her again." Gena was finished. She stepped back from the lectern and moved towards the pulpit steps. But then, as if she had forgotten something, she returned. It was for the postlude. "Oh yes," she said, "I do want you all to know that I will see her again. And so will Faith, my little daughter. Faith, who was born the day little Marsha died."...


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