“What’s that noise, Ma?” asked Simon, as they stood outside their cottage on Squire Henderson’s estate.
“I expect it’s poor old Billy doing some stone breaking again.”
“Why’s he doing that?”
“Well, he’s out of work, so the Squire gets him doing that to help him earn some money in his old age.”
“What’s the stone for?”
“Oh, you do ask lots of questions.” Mrs Barton returned to her kitchen. “Here, sit down at the table and I’ll tell you. Your father will be in soon.”
Simon was all ears.
“Well, the estate roads and tracks get holes and ruts in – lots after this last wet year.”
“I like splashing in them,” Simon giggled.
“Yes, I know that, my son. Anyway, Billy sits on the heaps of big stones they’ve carted down from the quarry and breaks them up with his big hammer.”
“And then they put them in the holes.”
“Exactly. So every time you hear that thump, you know that another big stone has been broken.”
“Does he have to hit them lots of times, Ma?”
“I expect so. Some stones are very hard.”
“Breakfast is just about ready my love,” Mary Barton said as her husband came in from the milking shed. “It’s the usual again, I’m afraid.”
“Let’s thank God for such mercies,” said John as he sat down at the kitchen table. “Let’s hope and pray the good Lord will see fit to give us a better summer than last year.”
“I hope so,” said Mary. “I hear they’re calling 1816, ‘The year without a summer.’ At least nobody starved in this part of England.”
“Got the meeting over at Sturton Priors tonight, Mary,” John said as he left the cottage to go back to the Squire’s livestock.
As a prominent local preacher, he was active in the flourishing Methodist circuit, and he loved preaching the Gospel that had transformed his own life.
“Morning, Billy,” John greeted the old man at the stone pile.
“Mornin’, guvnor,” he said, without looking up.
“Busy, I see. Good to have work these days.”
“A lot to thank the Lord for, my friend.”
“I ain’t no friend of you Methodies,” snorted Billy.
“God bless you, anyway,” said John as he flicked the reins of the carthorse to go on down to the field barn.
John was scarcely out of sight when one of the stonebreaker’s companions at the Blue Boar greeted him. “Earning your ale money the hard way again, Billy?”
“All right for you, Bert, my lad. You got it all cosy up in your little carpenters’ shop.”
“I hear as they were praying for you up at the tin chapel last night.”
“Pray for I till the cows come home if they like,” retorted the old man, bringing his hammer down ferociously on a particularly big stone. “I shan’t never listen to their rantings. No, sir!”
A few days later, Billy looked up while he worked at another heap of stones. Not that bloomin’ preacher again!
His usual sullen grunt followed John’s cheerful, “Mornin’, Billy.”
“Still breaking them stones, I see. Pretty hard lot, I reckon.”
“God’s given you a lot of patience, my friend,” John said, as he went on his way.
A week later John was walking the track again. “Preaching last night about patience, Billy. I thought of you.”
“Oh, leave a feller alone, for goodness’ sake. Keep on and on about the same old thing you do.”
“Well, the Lord was very patient with me,” John said. “Took a long time to break my old sin-hardened heart, I’ll tell you. The Almighty knows a thing or two about stone breaking.”
Old Billy thumped another big stone. “You don’t never give up, preacher, you don’t.”
“Well,” said John, “God never gave up on me. About three years ago, a minister came to the chapel and spoke on the text from Jeremiah, ‘Is not my word like a fire?’ says the Lord, ‘And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’ That night, God dealt with my old heart, for sure. And he can do the same for you, Billy.”
“The Lord bless you mightily, my friend.”
Up at the tin chapel a few Sundays later, the old stonebreaker was on his knees at the penitent form.
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