1: THE BLESSING
What are you doing?" the childish voice demanded.
William Rogers paused, weed in hand, to look up at his small neighbor. He pushed graying hair from his eyes and smiled at her. The cloud of ruffles and lace she wore proclaimed her a child of England's wealthy class. But she did not smile. Her eyes questioned and flashed impatience.
"I'm helping the good Lord make the flowers grow," he told her. He lifted a pansy face for her to see.
Her voice still disapproved. "My grandpapa would never pull weeds. Pulling weeds is for servants."
"Servants cost money," he answered mildly. He might have said much more. Had her grandfather not caused his expulsion from his pulpit as a "Nonconformist" minister, Rogers might have had money for servants.
"Nonconformist." In these days of hypocrisy and greed one could sell his soul to Parliament by preaching whatever passed for truth at the moment; or one could sacrifice security, liberty, perhaps even life, to preach the message of God. He dropped the last weed into the basket and straightened his tired back. The bench in the shade of the old oak looked inviting. Sitting down, he beckoned the child to him.
"Would you like a story?" he asked. The little girl pressed against him. Putting his arm around her, he began the story of Daniel. Her eyes never left his face. She drank in every word and also his kindly affection with a suppressed hunger. Small wonder that she came whenever she could escape the watchful eye of her grandfather's servants.
Breathless, a liveried servant burst through the gate. Miss Hattie, Miss Hattie, where have you been? Sir Richard is looking for you!"
She hardly glanced up. "I'll come when I finish talking to my good old gentleman."
"Please, Miss Hattie," he pleaded. "Sir Richard doesn't like for you to come over here. You know that. He's already furious because we couldn't find you. Please, please come now."
"Oh, all right. Don't worry so about Grandpapa.I'll take care of him." Waving good-bye to her friend, she led the way back across the sun-swept lawn of the estate next door.
With sadness twisting at his heart, Mr. Rogers watched her go. Small as she was, she ruled her household with a passion. Once in an outburst of fury she had injured herself with a knife. Since then her grandfather had ordered his servants not to cross her will in any way.
Yet William Rogers loved the spoiled child. He longed to show her Jesus that she might find peace for her troubled heart.
A few days later found him sitting in his book lined study. The Bible lay open before him, but he no longer saw the well-worn pages. Oak-filtered sunlight fell unheeded across the old desk.
Instead of the familiar room, he saw a darkened street. One by one, two by two, people came through alleys and unfrequented lanes. And one by one, two by two, they knocked quickly at the back door of an old house and slipped in, glancing nervously over their shoulders.
He saw a crowded room, lighted only by candle glow, filled with eager, upturned faces. They hungered for the Word and had risked much for their Saviour. Tears started to his eyes as he read again the text before him. "And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment. (of whom the world was not worthy)."
Today a strange presentiment haunted him. It seemed that danger, like a threatening cloudburst, hung over his little flock. For hours he sat, absorbed in meditation.
Then, shattering the silence, came the sound of pounding at the door. For a long moment he did not move. It had come.
His heart peaceful, his movements deliberate, he rose, walked down the dark hallway, and opened the door. Outside was a blur of angry faces. Hands grabbed, pushing and pulling him. Rough ropes hurt his wrists. The mob shoved him across the lawn next door. Only one thing caught his eye in the noisy crowd. Two young men and a woman were prisoners like himself. Tears streaked the woman's face. He threw them a glance of love and encouragement. Thomas Powell, Jeremiah Abbot, and his wife, Sarah-how often they had stood by his side and helped him minister to others.
At Sir Richard Craddock's door a servant met them and hastened to call his master. Sir Richard emerged, rubbing his hands together and smiling. "So, my dear sir, at last you have been found out. How sad that you had to continue preaching to these poor, misguided souls after your license had been revoked. As magistrate of this area, it is my solemn duty to prevent wolves such as you from leading the sheep astray. Perhaps a term in prison will quiet your restless tongue and disillusion these foolish followers of yours. I shall go and make out the papers."
With that he turned and left the room. The prisoners stood just inside the majestic entrance hall. A long stairway curved away into the dimness of the upper story. Hushed, the rabble waited outside. Sarah's deep sobs shook the silence. Her husband's eyes reached out to comfort her.
" 'Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.' 'Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.' " William Rogers' quiet voice rang with courage. The faces of his companions lifted. 'Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps,' he comforted.
"Forgive us, sir," Thomas said. "For a little while we lost heart. But we will stand for Christ whatever comes." Plainly he spoke for them all.
Suddenly Hattie erupted through an inner door, shouting her excitement over some trifle. Seeing the knot of strangers in the hall, she skidded to a stop. Then she recognized her friend of the flower garden.
"You've come to visit at last!" she cried, darting to his side. He smiled at her but made no answer. "What's the matter?" she questioned the deputy who held Mr. Rogers. "What are you doing to my good old gentleman?"
"Good old gentleman, is he?" the deputy smirked. "We'll see about that. He's a wicked man, but he'll pay now."
The little girl's face grew dark with anger. "What are they going to do with you?" she demanded of Mr. Rogers.
"Your grandfather says that I and my friends must go to prison," he answered gently.
The child flew into a rage. She stamped her foot, and her voice rose to a shout. "You will not go to prison. Grandpapa can't do that to you."
The girl raced down the hall to the room her grandfather had entered. Finding the door locked, she banged her head against it, then kicked it furiously, demanding entrance. Someone opened the door. She charged across the room to stand before her grandfather. "What are you going to do with my good old gentleman out there?" she continued to shout.
"That is none of your business. Go on out and play," her grandfather answered shortly.
"But I will not. He says you are going to send him and his friends to jail. If you send them to jail, I will drown myself in the pond as soon as they are gone! I really will!"
Sir Richard stared at his granddaughter in astonishment and concern. For a long moment he didn't answer. Finally, picking up the paper from the desk, he walked down the hall to the group who stood waiting for him.
"I had intended to send you all to jail, but my granddaughter has requested that I show you mercy. You are all released, See that you do not repeat the offense."
The deputies muttered, but they released them. With deep emotion the prisoners thanked Sir Richard. Then Mr. Rogers turned to the child whose intervention had saved them much suffering. Laying his hand on her head and lifting his eyes to heaven, he said, "God bless you, my dear child. May the blessing of that God whose cause you now plead, though as yet you know Him not, be upon you in life, at death, and throughout eternity."
Many years went by. William Rogers went to his rest, loved and honored by many for the saint he was. His son, Timothy, became a worthy follower in his father's footsteps. A sincere Christian in an age when there was far less danger in pursuing such a course, he became a well-known writer on religious subjects.
One evening he sat in the parlor of a lovely home in London, visiting a friend famous for her hospitality to those who loved the Lord. Now he spent a pleasant hour telling the story of the deliverance that God had given to his father by means of a little child.
Mrs. Tooley listened with deep interest. "And are you that Mr. Rogers' son?" she asked.
"Most certainly I am."
She shook her head in wonder. "As long as I have known you I never realized that. I am the little girl your dear father blessed. It made such an impression on me that I could never forget it." She leaned back and smiled, her face tender with memories. "Now let me tell you a story," she said.
And here is the story she told:
At the ancient Roman town of Bath in western England a fashionable young woman paced the floor with restless tread. The eyes of the old man in the great armchair followed her up and down the room.
"I can't go on this way, Doctor!" she exclaimed. "How many young ladies would give anything to be in my place. I have everything I could ever wish for. I have so much money that I need never concern myself about it as long as I live. I have more beautiful gowns than I could wear in a year. I am invited to every fashionable party and courted by every eligible young man, and yet all of it means nothing to me. I am miserable. I go back to my luxurious lodgings and cry myself to sleep. I have been considering suicide. After' all, if I don't find some satisfaction, some happiness in life, what's the use of my living at all?" She halted for a moment, her eyes challenging him.
Deeply serious, he met her gaze. "What you need is religion. That's the only way to find the peace you seek."
"Oh, my good doctor, please don't be ridiculous. I'm, not a child." She waved away the suggestion.
"No, you are not a child. But you have not lived so many years as I have, and you asked my counsel. Now you can take it or leave it, but that is what I think."
"Well, what do you suggest I do?"
The doctor hesitated a moment. "The very best thing I could suggest for you, Miss Hattie, is to read the New Testament for yourself."
The girl nodded slowly. "Very well, I will try it. I'm desperate, and it can't do any harm."
"Do you give me your word you will finish it?"
"I give you my word."
In the days and weeks that followed, Hattie kept her promise. But she found no peace. Rather, her uneasiness deepened. Still an intense conviction took root in her mind that the answer might lie in that direction after all.
One morning after her return to London she called to Jane, her companion. "Get ready, Jane. We're' going to church today."
Jane looked at her in amazement. "Very well, Miss Hattie, but that's a strange thing for you to do."
Putting on appropriate clothing, they began walking up one street and down another. At last Jane's curiosity reached the bursting point. "Where is this church we're going to, Miss Hattie?"
Hattie put off her answer as long as she could. Finally she confessed, "I don't know. During the night I had a vivid dream. I was sitting in an old church. It seemed as if . . ." Her voice trailed off.
Jane's face reflected her feelings that Miss Hattie was a strange one. But Hattie didn't notice. Her eyes searched every church they passed.
"If only I could find it!" The pent-up yearning of those years of frustration threatened to explode.
They passed the fashionable part of town and turned down a narrow lane called The Old Jewry, off Cheapside. Numbers of people here all seemed to be going to the same place. Following the crowd, they found themselves outside a little church.
"It's the one!" Hattie cried. She pressed through the door and down the aisle to a front seat, her face glowing. Jane's eyes disdained the simple chapel, but she followed Hattie to a seat. A man entered the pulpit.
"Oh, Jane," Hattie exclaimed in a whisper. "That's the very man I saw! If it's all true, he'll preach on the text 'Return unto thy rest, 0 my soul.'
The minister prayed, lifting his hands to heaven. He poured forth adoration and praise in words that brought tears to Hattie's eyes. Then, as both girls listened in amazement, he announced his text: " 'Return unto thy rest, 0 my soul.' "
"That day I met my Lord and found the rest my soul so long had sought," Mrs. Tooley concluded. "God heard your father's prayer. That blessing has followed me all my life, and I doubt not that it will accompany me to the world to come."