Liam looked at his soiled pants. He was told to brush them down every night after work, but the night before his superior had elected to work longer hours in order to fill a demanding customer order. Liam was forced to shovel fresh charcoal to keep the embers burning; for coals would provide the power in the silver smith’s shop.
“Liam, ye not brush them pants, now the Vicar chide me, he will.” His mother pounded her broom on the floor.
Liam ducked his head to absorb the swat he knew was coming. “Sorry ma, I go to outside and brush them now.”
His mother ignored his plea and raised her hand to strike him. Liam quickly ran to the door and began vigorously slapping the legs of his pants. Coal dust fell to theground and covered his bare feet. Liam shook his feet and snuck back in the house.
His mother caught him with his first step and drug him back outside, then with the broom she swept the coal dust off the back of his pants and shirt. “Well, ye will smell to high heaven, but it cain’t be helped.” She pulled him alongside of her and they walked toward the large stone church. “Mind ye, do as the Vicar’s people say, and none of yer gutter mouth neither.” She spat on the sleeve of her blouse and rubbed a place on Liam’s face.
“What we do here?” Liam halted at the church gate.
“Ye be sitt’n school.”
“But, it’s Sunday, and I haven’t a farthing.”
“No matter, the vichy mistress say, this school is for the poor.”
“What I do?”
“Ye do the Master’s will. They tell me a master teach ye Bible.”
“What it be?”
“The book of the Lord.” She looked up at the church steeple and crossed herself. Then she pushed Liam through the gate. “Remember, ye now on God’s property. Dun’t steal nuth’n.” She closed the gate and disappeared.
Liam looked around the tiny courtyard. A half dozen other boys were seated on the ground in front of a tall, dark coated man.
“You char boy, sit here.” The man pointed at Liam and indicated he was to sit on the edge of the group.
Liam nodded and quickly sat cross-legged on the ground. I wonder how he know me a char boy?”
The man read a verse, and then the chorus of boys repeated the verse. Liam stumbled and tried to follow. The man picked up a long stick and stuck Liam on the top of the head.
“Again.” He held a black book with one hand and seemed to watch the boys. Then, he read the same verse.
The boys echoed the words back to the man. Liam tried to keep up and expected any minute to feel the swat of the stick.
The man continued for three verses, then asked a red haired boy to stand and repeat. The young man stumbled along, but with only one swat was able to say each verse. The routine went along from boy to boy until it came to Liam. The man paused and waited.
Liam took a deep breath and stood, then repeated the verses just as he had heard them. The tall man seemed to smile.
After two hours of the process the man walked to the gate and pushed it open. “Be back here again next Sunday. And, char boy, dust ye pants.” The young men exited and he closed the gate without another word.
Liam walked along the street to his mother’s flower stand. She was waiting on a customer when he approached.
“And what ye learned in this Sunday school?”
Liam cleared his throat and stood proudly. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake."
Middle English to 20th. Century. "Selected Verses." London: Oxford Press. 1994. 238.
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