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The Healing Touch

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Prov. 3:7-8)

***

Chapter 1

It was a warm day, and Meggy adjusted her close-fitting cap with a sigh. Its whiteness covered thick, dark braids wound tightly across a high-held head, and enfolded the sides of a well-sculpted face. Meggy felt like itching her scalp but knew that a few steps behind them Hawys, who always walked to church with father and herself, would comment on it. Capitulating to the older woman’s unspoken influence, she refrained, and merely adjusted her waistcoast with a shrug of her small shoulders.

“Do not move about so much, child. It is the Lord’s Day after all.” Hawys’ correction came swiftly. Father glanced at Meggy with a sidelong look, and smiled an apologetic smile. He was not one for arguments although she was sure he sympathized. They both knew Hawys did not mean ill and besides that, they were staying in her house, living partly on her charity. “I can hear the Sanctus Bell.” Hawys, picking up both speed and her long, dark blue skirt, swept past them.

Meggy automatically increased her steps as well. “Come, Father,” she whispered, as she tried to pull him along, “it will not do to irritate Hawys.”

Undisturbed, he calmly answered, “Surely the bell ringer has only just begun and we have time to spare.” Not multiplying his measured paces, he ambled on, all the while tranquilly regarding their surroundings. Meggy was unsure. Should she stay with father, or should she shadow Hawys? In the end it was the sense of father’s words that convinced her. St. Mary’s Church was but some ten minutes or so from where they were, and surely the sexton would not shut the doors against them? “Have you perhaps knowledge that the Archbishop himself is attending today? Is that why you and Hawys are in such a hurry, Child?” Father was teasing her. Slowing down, she affectionately squeezed his arm. “It would be wonderful,” he continued, “to hear actual instruction from the pulpit. But I confess that I have not much hope for it.”

Meggy did not answer. Her eyes were still fixed on Hawys who, glancing back over her shoulder every now and then, was gaining great ground. “We might walk a trifle faster, Father,” she suggested, but he seemed not to hear.

“Your mother, although a mite argumentative, was fond of a good sermon, Meggy,” he went on, “and I vow that in the long run she would not be in favor of us continuing to attend St. Mary’s.”

Meggy could see the flint and ironstone makings of the church building coming up ahead. It was a beautiful structure and she loved it. The graveyard at the rear where mother was buried was very peaceful. Betimes she walked there and marveled at the monuments and admired the many stained glass windows that laughed at her from the grey church walls. There was one special window she favored – one with green diamond-shaped panes between its lead outlines. She often stared at that window during services. Sometimes she felt as if staring at something beautiful might reflect into her own heart and consequently make it beautiful. Is that how one was saved?

“Meggy, Child, we are here.”

Indeed, they were. To her relief, Meggy saw that there were many folks still entering the rounded-off-at-the-top double oak doors. After quickly looking up at the top of the tower, as she always did before entering the church, she espied the signal beacon, part of an ancient series of signal beacons.  “Look Father, the beacon.”

She sped up her steps even as she spoke but Father pulled her back. “Easy, Child. The building will not run away.” He was forever chaffing her. “Know you that the church was probably built in the 1200s, and rebuilt in 1494?”

She nodded. Yes, she did know that.

“Well, Meggy, now the year is 1672, and that makes this building some four hundred years old. All that time it has stood there and it will very likely outlive us.”

“Yes, Father.” Meggy lifted her skirts and crossed over the church threshold. Her father followed close behind. The foyer was cool and quite empty. Meggy immediately walked through and on into the church proper. Standing in its wide doorway with the entrance behind her, she searched for the familiar figure of Hawys who was wont to sit in the back on the right. About to enter, a voice made her turn. It was a voice addressing Father.

“Good to see you, James Burnet.” It was a low, male voice. She did not recognize it immediately. But as she turned and moved back into the foyer, she saw that it belonged to Timothy Newham, a haberdasher, who lived close to Whitehall. She had never before seen him in their church or, for that matter, at a conventicle. In all probability he was not a religious man.

“Hello, Timothy.” Father answered the haberdasher’s greeting courteously.

“I had been hoping that you would come by my shop this past week, James.”

Father shrugged. Meggy walked back to stand by his side. There was something sad about that shrug and she sensed he needed her.

“You owe me some money, James Burnet, and I am here to obtain it.”

“My dear fellow,” the reply came softly and courteously, “perhaps you could come by my shop later this week. It seems unfitting to discuss this matter here in church.”

“I have waited all of a month already, James, and have seen neither hide nor hair of you.”

Meggy could feel the eyes of fellow churchgoers pry into her back. She put her arm through father’s. “Let’s go on into the sanctuary, Father,” she whispered.

“Is this your daughter?”

“Yes, I am,” Meggy answered for him, “and I beg you, Sir, do not make a scene here in the Lord’s house, for that is not proper.”

“Is it proper then to withhold five pounds owing me? Five pounds that have been loaned out for more than three months even though the understanding was that it would be paid back in two months time?”

Meggy took note of the fact that father’s breathing was becoming uneven and rapid. And she minded the times of late that he had been tired.

“I have followed you to church, James Burnet,” Timothy Newham went on, “and I will follow you inside the church sanctuary if need be, and demand in front of all these people that you give me my money. Perhaps shame will make you pay me back.” At the last words, he raised his voice threateningly and it seemed to Meggy that it reverberated off the foyer’s high ceiling.

“Come, Father,” she repeated gently, “maybe we should go home and we will sort it all out when we get there.”

“There is nothing to sort out,” Timothy Newham insisted, “Your father owes me five pounds, a tidy sum when you are a poor man such as I am, and I’ll wager that he has that amount hidden some place here or there in his shop.”

“Not so, Sir,” Meggy replied, “and I would ask you to do us the kindness of leaving. Please call at our home at the noon hour tomorrow and we shall receive you properly. You have our word on it.”

Timothy gazed at her thoughtfully, gazed long and hard. It made her uncomfortable. He was an older man, and it did not seem fitting. “Very well then,” he eventually retorted, “tomorrow it is at about twelve of the hour.” He swung about and disappeared through the heavy oak door before a reply could be made.

Chapter 2

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)

It had been only four years since Cromwell, the Lord Protector, had died. During his time greater religious freedom had come about for the Protestants. However, then “the Restoration” had planted a new ruler on the English throne, a ruler who did not know Cromwell. He was of the house of Stuart and his name was Charles II. Although only a youthful thirty years of age, he was well versed in the vices of the world and his skill in these vices had spilled over into the country.

Countries are labeled – labeled as republics, monarchies, dictatorships or otherwise. But should they be labeled thus? He who sits in the heavens laughs, and holds nations in derision. He has all things under His control and what He desires comes to pass. England breathed laboriously while Charles II ruled and was in great need of a physician.

*****

James Burnet and his daughter stood in the church foyer for a few moments after Timothy Newham had left. Then, as if by common consent, they turned and departed the church building. No words were spoken on the way home. The streets lay silent for the church bells had stopped ringing. Meggy clung hard to her father’s arm. James stopped walking every twenty steps or so and reflected on the fact that he had not been able to do as much work lately as he was wont to do. By his side, Meggy wished for the hundredth time that she had been born a boy and that her mother was still alive instead of lying in the burial ground back of the church. How they would both help father. She knew that they would.

James Burnet was a pewterer. Although only a trifler in the trade, there was much call for the items he fashioned, items such as inkwells, mugs, badges, and candlesticks. He was not a wealthy man but small pewter utensils were popular and he sold of his wares to traveling tinsmiths who hawked them in the countryside. The Burnet family had been able to manage. James had taught his daughter much as she was growing into a young woman. Even now as they passed through the silent streets, Meggy could hear his instruction. “Pewter into which no water has come, becomes more white and like to silver, and less flexible,” and “Nine parts or more of tin with one of regulus of antimony compose pewter,” and “Pewter is called etain in French.”

The Worshipful Company of Pewterers in Oat Lane near the London Wall, stipulated that marriage to a member of the pewter guild conferred upon a woman the rights and privileges of the business. Mother, when she was married to father, had been put in charge of the financial side of the business and she had received the payments for all the work father had done. Her receipt to buyers had always been valid. One should not speak ill of the dead, but James’ wife, although a hard worker, had clearly not enjoyed the trade and had made her husband’s life rather miserable because of it. But she had been capable, and Meggy sorely missed the independence their little family had enjoyed.

The Great Fire of London of 1666

The Great Fire of London had come in 1666 hot on the heels of the bubonic plague, which had hit in 1665. Destroying 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Fire had also burned both Margaret Burnet and her home. The Pewterers’ Hall on Oat Lane had been destroyed as well, but it was being rebuilt. James Burnet had not had the money to rebuild his home. For a short while Charles II was blamed for these disasters. Some said his wicked lifestyle had brought about God’s punishment on the city; others whispered that the king himself might have instigated the fire to punish the people of London for executing his father.

Although James Burnet had been able to salvage some of his tools, the truth was that he and his daughter were left homeless. Hawys, a distant relative on mother’s side, had kindly offered them living quarters. Her son Roger, a great big hulk of a lad, had from the beginning of their moving in, shown great interest in helping his relations. It had become a tacit agreement of sorts that he was working an apprenticeship. But nothing had been verbally agreed upon or signed. James, who was of a very cheerful and carefree disposition, had been glad of the young man’s help. Irrationally, seventeen-year-old Meggy had not much liking for Roger and avoided him. Five years her senior, he displayed affection for father and her father returned it. Perhaps she was jealous. If father were to marry Hawys, the trade would eventually revert to her and later, to Roger. And it was a fact that Father was not well. He had of late been fatigued, unable to work much. Also, Meggy had noted that her father had a small, red swelling in his neck. Was he afflicted with a disease? She shrugged her small shoulders again. She did not like to think of such things, but the fears that crept into her mind and the raising of her small shoulders did not push the thoughts away.

*****

Hawys asked no questions when she came home from church but simply laid out the Sunday meal on the kitchen table. Being discreet was a virtue, Meggy mulled, as she helped put the plates and ale on the board, admitting to herself that they were blessed to have such a relative. Although always adamant that they be in church on time, on the whole Hawys was a sweet-tempered woman and a good housekeeper. Father was determined that Meggy obey her in all matters. And rightly so, for did not the household run smoothly under her guidance and were they not clean and well fed? Hawys truly seemed to care for Father and for herself. Was she not even now fixing potions for his ailments, making sure he ate enough and did she not mend his clothes?

Chapter 3

It was Lent. Now is the healing time decreed, for sins of heart and word and deed, when we in humble fear record, the wrong that we have done the Lord. So rang an old Latin rhyme and Meggy had heard father recite it often.

Truthfully, Meggy was not aware that she had ever wronged the Lord. After all, she was quite careful to do all that was right. She obeyed father, loved him and worked hard at the chores Hawys gave her each day. So what was a healing time? She went to sleep thinking about it.

But she had forgotten the words upon opening her eyes the next morning because the early air was filled with the sound of her father’s coughing. Turning over uneasily, she listened as the grating noise crept under her bed and agitated the coverlet. Next to the bed, on a chair, she eyed her stay. She only wore it each Sunday and it had been mother’s. Disliking its stiffness against her body underneath her gown, Meggy was glad it was Monday so that she could safely tuck the corset away into her dresser drawer.

Hawys’ spinning wheel was tucked into a nooked corner

The coughing stopped and, breathing easier, Meggy turned onto her back. Her truckle bed stood at the foot of Hawys’ fine feather bed. Hawys always rose at the crack of dawn and Meggy could now hear her rather shrill and drawn-out singing in the kitchen. Father slept with Roger in a side-room off the kitchen. He maintained that the kitchen was too cluttered and busy for him although Hawys was sure that sleeping on a cot in the kitchen would be a great deal warmer for him than the side-room. The kitchen was a room full of pewter, kettles, and skillets, with Hawys’ spinning wheel round and annular in a nooked corner. The older woman had been trying to teach Meggy the intricacies and wonders of spinning, but the girl’s hands stubbornly refused to convert fibers into yarn.

Stretching her fingers, Meggy sighed and sat up, swinging her feet over the edge of the small bed. It might be a very fine day indeed were it not for the dismal fact that Timothy Newham was coming to see father. Sighing again, she stood up slowly and walked over to the washbasin atop the dresser next to the larger bed. Scrubbing her face hard to wash out the sleep, she pulled on a week dress overtop of her white shift.

*****

“Good morning, Meggy,” Hawys stopped singing to greet the girl’s entry into the kitchen. A large wooden spoon in her hand, she stood stirring the porridge in a kettle hanging over the hearth. She followed her salutation with “How silently you enter this day, Child.”

“I am not a child,” Meggy responded petulantly.

“I know. I know,” Hawys replied soothingly, “but I do want to braid your hair, big as you are, so come along and stand by the table after you fetch the comb from the side drawer.

Meggy obeyed. She fetched the comb and stood quietly by the table as she watched the smoke from the fire on the hearth channel up the chimney. By and by Hawys came over and began to plait Meggy’s hair.

“You are truly silent,” Hawys said once more as she put the finishing touch on the second braid, “and now that your hair is done, I would have you wash the front steps before breakfast.”

“Think you truly, Hawys,” Meggy answered as she stood twirling the left braid with her right hand, “that Father might be ill and that he might… that he might perhaps have the scrofula?”

“He has of late complained of a sore throat,” Hawys answered.

“But he could simply just have a sore throat for a while and then it will be gone. That has often been the case with me and with Roger. And I know that you have given him a tonic, and such complaints are common, are they not?”

“As well, there is a small red swelling in his neck,” Hawys said softly, hands on her aproned hips as she contemplated Meggy, “but that also is not uncommon. Indeed it could simply be a sting or some such thing. You as well as I know….”

Her discourse was interrupted by her son Roger who burst into the kitchen from the side door. Tall and gangly, he was red in the face from some sort of excitement. “I can obtain a part-time position at the Palace of Whitehall,” he broke in on his mother’s words. “They are in need of gentleman ushers, seeing that Lent is here and that the king will begin audiences to touch the ill.”

“And what about your work for my father,” Meggy demanded, letting her braid fall down, even as she emphasized the word my.

“Oh, but I can do both,” the young man answered, surprised at her vehemence, “for this work at the palace is only during the healing ceremonies this Lent. I simply help usher the poor into the king’s presence and sprinkle rose water in the aisle to offset the stench these people carry. There are a number of young men who will do so. There will be a lot of people attending the ceremonies – from as far away as Russia, it is said. Besides that the work will pay.”

Meggy was not listening any longer. Her thoughts had wandered back to her father. “Father needs help all the time, Roger! You cannot be coming and going to ceremonies at the palace. You should constantly be with father and make sure he does not overwork.”

Roger looked surprised. His loose-fitting shirt was open at the neck and his collarbone protruded. “What ails you, Meggy? I am always helping him.”

“We were speaking of the scrofula,” Hawys helped him out, “for Master Burnet has a red spot in his neck….” Again she was interrupted.

“A red spot that could easily be the bite of an insect.” Meggy’s voice was shrill now and both Roger and Hawys eyed her uneasily. “An insect bite is quite likely,” Meggy repeated loudly, “and is it not so, Roger, that you ought to be in the workshop with him right now, at this very moment.”

There was a lull in the conversation. Then Roger spoke on. His voice was calm and meant to put Meggy’s fears at rest. “It is true that scrofula is called the Evil by many. It is a swollen and ulcerous condition and most pitiful to the eye. I have seen many people with it. Even now the ill are gathering in the streets awaiting the time when they will be allowed into the palace. But it is also said, and I know it to be true, that the scrofula, as well as other ills like it, often disappear of their own accord.”

“Well, father does not have it.” Meggy stamped her foot on Roger’s words as she spoke and then turned, walking past him out of the side door to her task of scrubbing the front steps.

*****

During the next half hour, braids swinging back and forth as she scoured the stone steps, Meggy reflected again that Hawys and Roger were both actually very kind and that she had been rude. It was Roger who irritated Meggy. He was always so sure of himself, both in his demeanor and in his words and there was no doubt that father respected his opinion. She also had to admit, as the suds flew about the steps, that Roger was a fine help to father and seemed to be learning the trade. Perhaps, she pondered on as she swabbed and brushed, she truly was jealous. But jealousy was, as preacher Baxter had often pointed out in his sermons, a foothold for the devil to come into one’s heart.

Meggy and her father, as well as Hawys and Roger, divided their worship time between attending the Church of England and patronizing conventicles, even though conventicles were forbidden by law. Only five people, the law said, were allowed to meet together outside of the state church. Any larger number gathering for another church service was deemed illegal. Sometimes conventicles were held in the house of someone they knew, and at other times they were held in open fields.

Meggy paused, wringing out the scrub cloth with her hands. Even though she admired St. Mary’s Church, she also liked meeting out in open spaces, hearing pastors fervently extol God’s goodness, and singing in the fields with only the sky for a ceiling. Watching the water drip down the steps, she wished that worries would run away as easily as the water, for there seemed to be so many of them. The worst of them was the fear that Father might have the scrofula, but hard on its heels was the fretting, the worry that had the name of Timothy Newham, the haberdasher, attached to its label.

*****

After brealfast, Meggy was called into her father’s workshop. “I owe Timothy Newham,” he began, stopping rather abruptly and averting his face from her anxious gaze, before continuing, “I owe Timothy Newham,” he started again, “some money, Meggy. I’m sorry, but there’s the truth of it.”

He bent his head in such a way that she could clearly see the small red swelling in his neck. “What are we to do, Father?”

“Well,” her father answered softly, thoughtfully turning over a little pewter salt-shaker in his hands, “Hawys has graciously offered to pay the sum I owe and I would like you to deliver it to him. I would rather he did not come here, Meggy.”

“You want me to deliver the money to Timothy, Father?”

“Yes, Child.”

“But how are we ever to repay Hawys, Father?”

“I am going to marry her, Megs.” Father only called her Megs when he was very moved and she intuitively felt she ought not to say anything which could trigger more emotions in him.

“Hawys is good to us, is she not?” she managed, “But five pounds is but a little to build a marriage on surely?” He nodded and emboldened she went on, “Do you love her, Father? Do you love her like you did mother?”

Actually Meggy was not sure whether or not her father had loved her mother. There had been many arguments between them. And the truth of it was that she had never yet heard him arguing with Hawys. But how had it come about that father owed Timothy Newham money? Timothy was a haberdasher and dealt in thread, tape, ribbons and other such things as a milliner also uses. His wares were in demand. She had been by his shop on occasion, sent by Hawys for something or other, and she had seen that the counter and the shelves in the haberdashery were crowded untidily with many things – things such as drinking horns, knives, scissors, combs, chess men, knee spurs and even girdles. Her mind had been turned topsy-turvy with the disorder in his store. There were so many items lying about that one’s eyes became confused.

“Why do you owe him money, Father?”

“He had bought some tin in Cornwall, Megs, and he sold it to me for what seemed like a decent price at the time and I just have not been able to repay what he lent me for it.”

“Oh.”

Roger walked into the shop right into Meggy’s “oh.” After looking at them for a moment, he began oiling the pewterer’s wheel. The conversation fell silent. Father handed Meggy a small linen bag.

“Go, Child,” he concluded their discussion and then, turning to Roger, “I have some items for you to carry to Lion’s Inn.”

Chapter 4

It was a fine morning and Meggy enjoyed walking. Timothy Newham’s haberdashery was a good stretching of the legs away but she was young and relished the long stroll using the time to both look about and to think.

Father’s calling was to be a pewterer.

Father’s calling was to be a pewterer. Timothy’s, on the other hand, was to be a haberdasher. Haberdasher – she repeated the word in her mind. It was a strange word but it was Timothy Newham’s calling. And what was a calling? Calling was using one’s voice but it was also something else – actually two other things.

“There is a general calling,” father’s voice plainly rang in her head, “for everyone. And that is a calling to conversion and holiness. Are you being called, Meggy? Are you God’s child?” Father had asked her this question several times and always she had nodded in response, answering, “Yes, to be sure, Father.” But father must not have been satisfied with her sincerity, because he touched on the subject again and again. Was she converted? Was she holy?

Even now as she walked the road, she pondered on the question. Truly, she did all things required of her, did she not? And did this not make her holy? She heard father’s words again. “All those who come to church and sit in pews, Meggy, are not necessarily converted. To sit in a church does not mean you have been touched by the Spirit of God, Child.”

Meggy lifted her skirts to avoid the blackish droppings of a horse straight on her path. Although she stayed close to the buildings, the filth of the streets was difficult to avoid. She was a little nervous too about the rats that scurried through the muck and grime. Of a certainty, father had told her often enough, the accumulation of waste had helped cause the Plague. If everyone would scrub their steps, as Hawys made her clean their steps most mornings, surely the problem would be less. She lifted her skirts again. It was hard work to live and maintain a family in London.

She fell back to contemplating. “There is also a particular calling,” father’s voice continued on in her head, “for every person, Meggy. And that calling consists of the specific tasks and occupations that God places before a person in the course of his daily living. It might be the work a person does for a living. For me that would be the work or calling of pewterer.”

“And what do you think the particular calling is for me, Father?” she had countered, leaning cozily against him as they had sat talking in front of the hearth.

He had stroked her hair as he replied, “It might be that of cooking, cleaning, listening to someone’s troubles, or smiling.”

“Smiling?” she had interrupted sitting up straight, almost laughing at the silliness of the suggestion. “Shall I stand at a booth, Father, selling smiles for ha’pennies to passersby? How could that be?”

Father had laughed as well. “You see, Daughter,” he had explained, “you are good at smiling. Quite good, truth be told and God has given you smiles to bestow as a gift to others. Pastor Baxter, whom you have often heard at the conventicles,” he went on, “says there is a difference between washing dishes, scrubbing steps and preaching God’s Word; but as touching to please God, there is no difference at all. Do you understand this, Meggy?”

She had nodded.

*****

“Hello, Meggy.”

All the while thinking and walking, she had almost bumped into Timothy, the haberdasher, who was standing in front of his shop window. Timothy’s particular vocation, Meggy pondered on for a moment, was being a haberdasher. Of course he was also called to holiness, called to be a child of God? But he never….

“Are you dream-walking, girl?” Timothy spoke in jest as he looked approvingly at the blossoming young girl standing in front of him. Indeed, Meggy was pleasing to the eye. Red-cheeked, shining black braids bounching on her shoulders, clear, bright blue eyes warmly embracing her surroundings, she was a picture of health and self-assertion. Yet, at the same time, there was a shyness about her that appealed to the much older man.

“I’ve brought you your money, Sir,” she responded hesitantly after staring at him for a moment, reaching into the deep pocket of her skirt. Pulling up the small linen bag with the five pounds, she added, “Here is the money which father owes you.”

“Well, I was ready to walk to your house, but will not deny that I am happy you came here. It saves me both time and effort. Will you not come in for a minute while I make sure that all is accounted for?”

He opened the door to his shop and extended an arm downward in welcome. Although she did not want to enter, she considered that the matter ought to be settled. Passing in front of him, she entered the haberdashery. Again, as before, the cluttered mayhem of his store overwhelmed her sense of orderliness.

“Please sit for a moment,” Timothy said, following her into his shop and, wiping the dust off a wooden stool. He indicated that she should make use of it. Lifting her skirts once more, she obliged. “It’s a bit messy, I own,” he continued, “and I warrant, it could use the touch of a decent woman.”

He eyed her for a moment before emptying the money into his right hand. Counting it, under his breath, he quickly ascertained that the coins added up to the right sum. “Do you want a receipt?” he went on to ask, “and might I also inquire if you left your father in good health this morning?

“He’s a bit poorly,” she responded, before calling to mind that surely Timothy did not really care about her father’s health, for if he had she would not be here now with the linen bag containing the money that he had demanded so crudely in the church foyer yesterday. “Yet he is well enough,” she hastily appended.

“I’ve just had a consignment of lace come in,” Timothy volunteered the information slowly, regarding the girl as she sat on the stool, “and I’m thinking that a bit of lace would look fetching on your dress, Meggy.”

He spoke familiarly and it made her uncomfortable so that she gazed down at her hands without responding to his words.

“Well then, you must be worried about your father,” he went on, “for I call to mind that it is as you say, he did look a bit unwell the last few times I saw him.

“He is well enough, Sir,” Meggy defended, albeit in a flat tone, eyeing both the floor and the nearby door, hoping that the receipt would be forthcoming soon.

“I expect that you’ve heard that the king will be coming to Whitehall later this week.”

“Yes, I have.”

“Indeed, he’s come for the healing ceremony during this Lent. I am glad that you have heard of it.” Timothy’s eyes rested so long on Meggy that she nodded and he spoke on. “I’m surprised you’re not more animated by this. The practice of healing by a reigning monarch such as King Charles II assuredly is common knowledge and I’ve no doubt you’ll be wanting to take your father.”

“No, Sir.” But Meggy’s voice was unsure and Timothy was quick to latch onto it. He went on capturing her imagination with his words. “The practice of the ‘healing touch’ was first recorded centuries ago by the historian William of Malmesbury, who related the story of a barren wife. This wife, whose back was covered with ulcers, dreamt she was commanded to go to King Edward for a cure. So she traveled to court. The king, who much desired to help the poor woman, touched her back with water and her ulcers began to heal within a week’s time. Not only that, but upon returning home, she was delivered of twins within that same year.”

Timothy stopped his narrative and considered Meggy’s face. During the short discourse, he noted that she had become fascinated hanging onto his every word. Pleased and flattered, he continued, his voice lowered as if confiding a secret. “There have been other tales as well, including one in which King Edward carried a beggar on his back. The beggar was a cripple. The king carried him into St. Peter’s church at Westminster after which the beggar was cured.”

“Is this true?” Meggy asked, eyes round, “I have always been taught that only God can effect a change in disease, so is it not false to say that earthly kings are able to effect cures?”

Toffee-nosed, Timothy smiled down at her. “These ceremonies are extremely religious in nature. God gives kings this gift of healing as proof positive that they are chosen by Him to rule. So you need not worry about doing something that is wrong. Now if you are worried about your father’s health….” He left the sentence unfinished and seeing her face become eager with hope, he continued in a scholarly tone, “Well then, I would advise you to look into going to Whitehall tomorrow.”

“Whitehall? Me?”

“You speak, Meggy, as if you could not go there. But you could, you know. There are many who will go there.”

“But Father is not … and I’m sure he wouldn’t go. Besides I don’t even know how I could get in.” She stopped and shook her head before going on. “And I don’t even know if what you are saying, Timothy Newham, is true. It could all be false and you could be telling me a tale.”

“There were years, it is true, that kings did not touch anyone. And that is probably why you, being some years younger than I am, are not as familiar with it as I am. During the time of Oliver Cromwell the practice was not in vogue at all. But now that a true king rules England once again, the touching ceremony has come back as indeed it should. Parish registers are kept and miracles have been recorded. My uncle is one as who keeps such registers. That is how I know.”

“I do not know if I ought to believe you or not.” Meggy’s voice was unsure.

“Well,” Timothy responded, looking with pleasure at the roses appearing on Meggy’s cheeks in her agitation, “all I can tell you is that I can let you have a ticket so that you can enter Whitehall to listen to the ceremonies that will take place tomorrow. If you like what you hear, perhaps the day thereafter…? ” He left the sentence dangling.

“How is it that you can get such a ticket?”

“I told you that my uncle, Robert Newham, is a registrar and he is one who gives out tickets and he has permitted me to sell them to such as are in need of healing.”

“Tickets?” Meggy responded, “and pray tell how much do these said tickets cost? And the truth of it is that I myself am not in need of healing.”

“It would not cost you anything, for I will gladly give you such a ticket.”

“You would?”

“It makes me glad to see a daughter care so much for her father as you do for yours, Meggy.”

“He is not really ill, you know,” Meggy responded rather feebly, “but it would do no harm….” She stopped before she added softly, “He would not go though. I know he would not.”

“Perhaps,” Timothy suggested softly, “you might attend with me tomorrow, might attend the first ceremony at Whitehall to see for yourself what happens. Then, I am sure you would be persuaded of the reality of the cures effected by the king’s touch. And being persuaded, you could easily convince your father to go the second day.”

“He is not convinced easily,” Meggy responded, all the time seeing the swelling in her father’s neck grow.

“But you could go with me,” Timothy let the words dangle like a carrot in front of her, before he went on “and see for yourself what happens.”

Meggy did not respond.

“It is not an evil thing, Meggy. Gentlemen Ushers prepare the banqueting hall over which the king will preside. These ushers usually spray a perfume of sorts so that the stench of the ill will not overcome either him or bystanders. Next the Yeomen of the Guard bring in the sick, one by one, and they stand in the aisle before the king’s place of sitting. It is after this that the king enters and sits down on a chair of state. His personal confessor, the Clerk of the Closet, will be standing at his side. The Prayer Book is placed on a cushion close by. You see, Meggy, it is all very religious and honors God.”

The girl said nothing, but her eyes were brimful of curiosity and wonder.

“The Clerk’s assistant,” Timothy went on, “has gold medals or ‘touch-pieces’ hanging on ribbons on his arm. There are also two royal surgeons nearby waiting to escort the sick from the aisle right up to his majesty so that he can touch them. He strokes their necks, you see, in a loving way as they kneel in front of him, prior to their being healed.” He stopped his oration and Meggy was torn. The words sounded so very good, so very real and so very loving.

“I will go,” she suddenly spoke decisively, “I will go with you, Timothy Newham, if you will be so good as to take me so that I can see and hear this firsthand. But I must hide this from Father and Hawys for surely they would think it nonsense. They are not overfond of the king, as you must know, but they do think that prayer….”

She stopped and looked at the cluttered counter. So indeed was her heart cluttered, for there were so many things in there that she could not quite see straight. There was something askew with what Timothy was saying, but she could not manage to put her finger on it. “Whether you are well or sick, Meggy,” she could hear father say, “tis the Great God Who brings your state about. He is the One Who prevents sickness or brings it.” She nodded to herself. Yes, here was a bit of uncluttering. Again she heard her father say “Sometimes we are made ill, or someone we know is made ill, to test our faith and patience, Meggy.”

“Well, Meggy,” Timothy’s voice interrupted her thoughts, “if you are of a mind to go with me to Whitehall you must be here at about one of the clock tomorrow. And perhaps the next day you can persuade your father to come with you. Be here promptly and I will be glad to be of service to you and your father. What can it hurt, after all, just to go and have a look?”

This was true. Just looking and listening. Where could be the harm in that? She slowly slid down from the stool and stood directly in front of Timothy. He could possibly be an instrument in the hands of God to give her opportunity to help make father better. “I will be here at one of the clock tomorrow,” she returned, walking past him out of the shop, not noting that the corners of Timothy’s mouth had turned up, exposing square, yellow teeth in a half-smile – a triumphant smile.

Chapter 5

Meggy had to tell an untruth at the evening meal in order to be able to leave the house the next afternoon. Allyson, the chandler’s daughter, she mentioned to Hawys, her mouth full of pottage, had asked her help in making soap because her mother was ill with the ague.

Roger stared at her in a strange way, a sad way almost. It made her feel rather awkward and she swallowed her mouthful with difficulty, because it seemed as if Roger knew that she was lying and that he was disappointed in her. But father smiled a broad smile and commented that this was most kind of her and of course she should go and help her friend.

*****

Bells marked the one o’clock just as Meggy rounded the corner of the haberdasher’s street the next day. Timothy, who was just closing the door of his shop, saw her coming. A smug look appeared on his face. Turning, he offered her his arm. She stopped short, confused by the gesture.

“Come, come,” he said, “you are young and must be escorted. I promise I shall take good care of you.”

When she still made no motion to take his arm, he scratched his head with his left hand. She marked the dirty fingernails on it. Then he remarked that he had forgotten something of import in his shop which she might find appealing. Stepping back, he unlocked the door of his store.

“What have you forgotten?” she asked.

“Oh, something you might find interesting,” he replied, “Come in and I’ll show you.”

A tad uncomfortable, but curiosity overcoming her sense of acceptable behavior, Meggy crossed over the threshhold once more stepping towards the counter. Timothy closed the door behind them. The click of the latch and the rather musty smell of the place straight away awoke her to the impropriety of the situation. Timothy moved a few paces into the shop. Then he sidled back and stood in front of the door. Particles of dust settled down on the counter. Suddenly extremely anxious, she stood stock still, wishing with all her heart that she had stayed outside. Timothy inched a bit closer.

“You know,” he mouthed, “you’re a very pretty young lady.”

Meggy stepped sideways. Even though he was still some four feet away, she could smell his sour breath.

“So what I forgot to collect was a reward for helping you get into Whitehall,” he went on in a rough whisper, “and that reward is just one little kiss.”

“No!” she whimpered. Her voice had lost its ability to speak loudly, her heart pounded and her hands had turned clammy with fear. She continued pathetically, “Open the door and let me out. I don’t want you to….” She did not finish for he had moved forward, had put his hands around her waist and was pulling her towards himself. It was at this point that her voice regained its strength and a high-pitched piercing sound shook the objects on the counter. It flew through the cracks in the wall out into the street. Straightaway the hinges of the door almost flew off their frame as it was flung open. Roger’s lanky frame stood tall and forceful in the opening and Meggy had never been so happy to see him.

“What’s going on here?” he yelled, shoving Timothy into the counter, knocking bows, ribbons, pins, needles and lace onto the ground.

The girl immediately slipped past the men, and ran down the street. Her cap was askew and her cheeks were crimson. She did not know where she was going and she did not care. All she knew was that she had to get away. What had she been thinking? What had she done!? Passersby stared. She neither noted nor cared. Finally, out of breath and underneath the overhang of some roofs, she stopped. What a ninny she had been! And what should she do now? She trembled with the horror at the thought of what might have happened. A few minutes later Roger caught up with her.

“Meggy!! It’s all right. Timothy Newham won’t be bothering you again.”

Without looking up, she began to cry. Roger’s arms folded around her and her head leaned heavily against his bony shoulder. “He’s a beast,” she sobbed, “He’s horrible. He ….”

“I know,” Roger soothed, “but you ought not to have gone in there, Meggy. It’s a good thing I was due to go to Whitehall and happened to pass the shop. To tell you the truth, I followed you. Both Mother and I were worried. We knew that Allyson’s mother was not ill. So we wondered….”

She pulled away, her tear-stained face angry. “But I went to Timothy Newham for father, Roger. He was going to take me to the ceremony. I thought that if the king was giving out the ‘healing touch’ about which Timothy seemed to know so much, then I ought to find out as much as I could about it. I thought that father ought to… ought to have a chance to… and Timothy said he had tickets.”

Roger’s face became grim. “Surely you didn’t believe that chicanery. Timothy Newham is a deceitful man, Meggy. As well, he and the king are both lechers. The king wants to be popular with the people. He wants them to like him. They call him the ‘Merry Monarch’ but he wants to hide the fact that he is… is…..” Roger almost choked on his words, incredulous that she would fall for the jiggery-pokery of such a fraudulent royal ceremony.

“But you,” Meggy countered, wiping her face with the back of her hand as she spoke, “would work at Whitehall at this ceremony and would thereby help people enter deceit, if what you say is true.”

“Yes,” Roger conceded, “to make some money to help your father and yourself and, of course, my mother. But maybe you are right and I ought not to have such a job.” He stood for a moment, gazing down at her, and then repeating, “Yes, I ought not to have taken the job. I was wrong. Nevertheless, I think I will take you to the palace so that you can see for yourself what it is about.”

“You would take me there?”

“Not so that you could take your father there, but so that you can see that you ought not to trust in men, Meggy.”

She was silent and hung her head. Taking pity on her, Roger went on a little less vehement.

“You have heard good preachers often enough, Megs. Remember, their message. We, all of us, are diseased and full of infirmities. This is not such a strange thing here in this world. If your father is indeed ill, and God forbid that it is so, we will use such means as He provides for healing. But God does not use the wiles of such men as Charles II to heal folks. The ill vagabonds that flock to him, wretched creatures such as I see in the streets, only come because Charles provides them with a coin, a ‘touch piece.’ That is what they call such a coin. Most sell this coin as soon as they leave the palace and use it to buy food or who knows what. Some perhaps really and truly believe that Charles is sent by God to heal them. But would God use black to make white? I think not! Oh, Megs, wake up and trust God!”

Roger had unconsciously used her father’s pet name for her and she blushed. He continued with a last admonition. “And do you really think that your father would go with you to such a ceremony as would belie his faith?”

Chapter 6

There were many beggars lined up by the gate at Whitehall. A host of them had swellings and lesions in their necks. Meggy tried not to stare and pressed close to Roger as they walked past them. Surely Father, she thought, was not as badly off as these people. Actually, he was not like them at all. She came close to rubbing shoulders with one ill wretch who had yellowish fluid oozing down the side of his legs. Her stomach turned.

“Come, Meggy,” Roger said, “don’t stop and don’t look so scared.”

“I’m not scared,” she answered in a small voice, even as she eyed an emaciated woman with an ulcerated mass just above her shoulders. Next to the woman, a young boy lay convulsed on the ground, his mother desperately trying to pick him up. A blind man stood behind them.

“Come on, Meggy,” Roger repeated, “walk quicker.”

The disfigured disabled her feet. Was the king, she wondered, really such a wonder-worker as to be able to perform miracles? Such a wonder-worker as to heal these unfortunates? Did he have such a closeness to God as to cure these desolates and woebegones? Was father a such a one?

“We are nearing the Banqueting Hall,” Roger said, “and that is the place where the king will come to touch. One by one these poor creatures will be brought before him. They will kneel before the king and he will stroke their necks.”

Meggy shuddered. She knew not whether it was the thought of the king actually touching the misery around her that caused her to shudder, or whether it was the thought that it seemed blasphemous on the king’s part to think that he had power over illness.

They had reached the entrance to the palace and Roger pulled her off to the side. The queue, of which they were not a part, lay both behind and next to them. It was filled with crutches, bandages and disfigured persons. All of them were holding certificates verifying that they would be allowed into the king’s banqueting hall.

A man hobbled by to the right of them. He was disfigured in an appalling way. Growths of a most horrible kind hung from his neck, dripping both greenish pus and blood. In his dirty hands he clutched a crumpled ticket of admission. The ticket had been, if what Timothy had told her was true, signed and sealed by a minister or church warden declaring that he had never before been “touched” by the king. Despite her revulsion, Meggy ached for the man. He appeared so very ill. Yet there was hope in the very manner he put his feet down, put them down steadily towards the entrance of the palace. Mesmerized, she could not take her eyes of him. It was almost his turn to be admitted. A Yeoman of the King’s guard, one who conducted all the ill to a line attended by the surgeon, was also watching him and Meggy read loathing on the guard’s face for this particular man. But the man himself noted nothing. His whole being was simply fixed on entering the banqueting hall.

“Hey, you! Let me see your certificate.” The Yeoman’s voice was loud enough so that Meggy could hear each word. Startled, the deformed man handed over his paper to the guard who, after scanning it, threw it to the ground.

“It’s forged,” he announced in a gruff voice, “and I can tell because of the blood on it. You think that you can enter by smearing blood on a piece of paper and not be caught?! You were a fool to think it! Away with you!”

Meggy heard a sob catch the man’s throat as he watched his paper flutter to the earth. His face ruckled and his eyes, sunken in their sockets, produced tears. What a poor wretch he was!!

And it suddenly came to her that she was such a wretch too. And it came to her also that surely this was not the way it should be and not the way it was. Had she not but recently heard pastor Baxter say that you could not let yourself in at the gate of heaven, and that you could not pay your own way into the banqueting hall of Jesus? She had not really understood the words at the time but she understood them now. Pastor Baxter’s voice rang clearly in her head as she continued to behold the spurned man. And she beheld herself. “Take heed to yourself,” she heard pastor Baxter say, “for you have a depraved nature. You have sinful inclinations, Meggy! You are verily ugly in nature. And think you that you can come into heaven by your own strength?”

Meggy sighed a deep sigh. She recalled her jealousy; she knew that this very day she had lied to her father and to Hawys; and she remembered that her curiosity had almost caused her bodily harm but less than one hour back. Indeed, she was a wretch! Of a certainty, at this very moment she had lost her desire to enter Whitehall and kneel before Charles II. But she did have a deep desire to worship. Indeed, her heart was bowed low within her. It all depended, she thought, whom the king was. To be sure, was it not so that no one needed a certificate to come into the true King’s presence. All that was needed was the blood of the Lamb of God. “Therefore, … we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus …” Was that not what pastor Baxter had spoken on the last time she heard him at a conventicle?

Roger poked at her arm. “Meggy, what are you staring at? Have you seen enough, girl?”

She smiled at him. It was a tremulous smile. It was a contented smile. It was the smile God had bestowed on her as a particular calling.

“I have Roger.”


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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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