“Here comes that child again,” Miss Beulah intimated to her companion as she guided her onto a path behind a stand of giant dahlias. “My dear, let’s rest here.” Miss Beulah indicated a bench beneath a weeping willow.
“Miss Beulah, you weary me with your fussing,” murmured Paulina May
“I have no wish to encounter Clarence Lee Washburn today. Surely you understand?” Miss Beulah fanned herself.
Paulina May understood. Clarence Lee Washburn was precocious, his grey eyes piercing and intense, and an encounter with him was not a guarantee of an exchange of pleasantries. Indeed, he had an opinion about unchildlike topics: foreign exchanges, skirmishes on faraway shores, voting privileges, and import taxes. Miss Beulah found Clarence and his notions to be most disconcerting, largely because she was grossly ignorant of anything beyond the world contained within her slightly peeling picket fence. A conversation with Clarence left her feeling as if she were adrift on a leaking punt, tossed to and fro, rocking aimlessly.
Clarence had one other confounding habit. He told the absolute truth.
Once, Miss Beulah was quite overcome with Clarence’s attentiveness in Sunday School class, his eyes pinned to her face throughout the entire lesson, and so she waxed even more eloquently, hoping to engage him even more thoroughly in the tale of heroism and adventure. At the end of class, Clarence thanked her, as was his way, and then told her, in front of the scandalized children that there were whiskers on her chin.
It wasn’t just Miss Beulah. He told others that their clothing was unsuitable, they had too many children, their voices were too shrill, their house colour was too garish, and so on. Why, he’d even stood up in church and announced to the pastor that the sermon had gone past the time recommended for absorbing material, and that any more preaching that day would be a waste and a superfluity.
There was a moment of twittering and an “amen” whispered before a gasp was heaved in collective shock throughout the church.
Yes, Clarence Lee Washburn said what was on his mind. He got a nugget of an idea, and it grew like the proverbial snowball, picking up more grains and flakes, then spewed forth after he’d carried it, nursed it. No clemency. Mission completed.
“Oh, dear,” sighed Miss Beulah, as she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Clarence was looking at the roses; at any moment, he’d see the ladies. Paulina May busied herself with her satchel. Perspiration prickled Miss Beulah between her shoulder blades, and she fanned herself furiously.
Clarence was strolling toward them, the sweeping branches of the weeping willow not providing enough sanctuary against the seeking eyes of the lad.
“Good afternoon, Miss Beulah, Paulina May.”
“Good afternoon, Clarence.”
Swish, swish, the song of the fan filled the time.
“Lovely weather,” said Paulina May, ignoring Miss Beulah’s glare.
Clarence cast an glance skyward and said pompously, “Small talk about the weather usually indicates a dereliction in matters of academia, an intellectual drought, so to speak.”
Paulina May withered, while Miss Beulah’s face crimsoned. “Young man, apologize to Paulina May.”
“Don’t fuss, Miss Beulah, he’s just a child and doesn’t know better.”
“It’s high time he did. I’ve half a mind to take him over my knee. He’s been getting away with his know-it-all ways for too long.” Miss Beulah was shaking with anger.
“Know-it-all ways? I just tell the truth. I tell what I know,” Clarence defended himself.
“And you know too much for your own good. There’s a time and place for saying what you know. Hasn’t any of your reading told you that?”
“I suppose, but I just thought I should be honest and forthright always, no matter what the books said.” Clarence hung his head. “I’m sorry, Paulina May.”
“You’re forgiven. You’ll do fine, Clarence Lee Washburn,” Paulina May reassured him.
Clarence Lee Washburn did do fine, although not all at once. It took many years for the rough edges to be whittled away, and for his arrogant attitude to be hewn into humility, something God could form into usefulness.
Amazingly, God used Miss Beulah as the chiseler, to love and refine Clarence into a man of God, to help empty his head of vain knowledge and fill it with His discernment and truths instead.
How do I know these things?
I’m Clarence Lee Washburn.
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