The bird was on the wing on this particular June day in Goatshead outside of London. It was 1665, Charles II was on the throne and all seemed right with the world.
On that summer day, protected in the foliage of a large oak, Jeremy, age 12, and his cousin, Taylor, age 11, watched a birthday party unfold on the orderly lawn of their grandfather, Lord Paxton’ manor. The party was given in honor of Jeremy’s sister, Phoebe, age six.
Both lads lay on a plank of wood, secured as a crow’s nest to observe such occasions; and to watch the world come and go along the winding road leading to the estate.
“I would think Phoebe to be the most humble of all creatures,” Jeremy began, elbows propping him up. One knee was bent, its foot moving in aimless circles
“How so?” asked Taylor, mimicking his cousin much as a mirror reflects an object set before it.
“Think of it. Today is June 25th. That’s half-way before and half-way after our Lord’s birth. Her being born is neither an affront nor a challenge to God. It is the most humble of any day to be born.”
“I dare say I shouldn’t want to be born on Christmas then.”
“Indeed. I would think that most difficult; and it might account for some people’s displeasing dispositions.”
“Are you thinking of Grandfather?”
“To be sure, but it’s only reasoning on my part. He was born on December 25th and can be most displeasing at times”
Taylor seemed to consider this. “Do you think we get to choose when we are to be born?” When Jeremy nodded his assent, he continued. “Why then would Grandfather choose to be an affront to God and have such a displeasing nature?”
“Because those that challenge God make him more real to the rest of us; and, had he not been so displeasing, he would never have married mother who swore to change him.
They both laughed and Taylor went on. “And I believe, not only when, but where.” He gestured toward his sister who was chasing a croquet ball sent sailing through the groomed grass by her mother. “I can’t imagine wanting to be born to wear frilly dresses and lacy bonnets. No, I’m sure I chose to someday wear long pants and captain a boat like my father.”
Taylor turned on his back, to look up through the dappled branches into the cloudless sky. “Someday, I too will surrender my knickers for long pants and become a colonel in his majesty’s service in India or Africa.”
He turned back to watch the party below just as Samantha, Jeremy’s other sister, age 10, was wheeled out onto the lawn by her governess, Miss Rosehill. Though in the heat of mid-day, a blanket lay across her knees. She waved a gloved hand at Phoebe.
“Do you think, then that Samantha chose her fate as well?”
“I think next to Phoebe, she chose most wisely.” A breeze stirred the leaves, exposing an inching caterpillar. He reached out and gently picked it up to cradle in his palm. “I discussed it once with Miss Rosehill, and she said that to us it seems as suffering, but to my sister it is patience to bring about a perfect work.” He stroked the caterpillar. “Someday she will emerge as a butterfly more glorious, shaming the rest of us.”
“What makes you so wise?”
Jeremy shrugged. “Miss Rosehill loves to talk philosophy. She says all of us can be enlightened by calculated thoughtful reasoning. Everything, she says, has its good purpose.”
The sound of thundering hooves broke into their conversation. It was a dusty, but will-appointed coach. The driver drew to a halt beneath their tree. Samantha’s surgeon withdrew and mumbled something to Lord Paxton who had hurried from his manor to greet him.
“The news from London is not good.” They heard the surgeon whisper. “It is fortunate that you live in the country as some strange malady is taking the citizenry in a most horrible manner…” His voice faded, mixing paradoxically with the gaiety coming from the lawn.
The cousins cocked their heads, straining to hear more when a quick movement from the back of the coach caught their eye. A rat, black and shinny jumped from the folded leather boot and onto the ground where it scurried up their tree.
“Shall we consider this rat then?” asked Taylor. “To what good purpose do you think it’s come to Gatehead?”
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