Train Up a Child
“Train Up a Child”
This story will make more sense if you have first read "Double Duty" and "The Perilous Journey," both available on the HHFanfic page that Sarah B. kindly maintains. In those two stories, readers will discover that in my fictional HH universe, Lady Barbara bears Horatio several children: the twins, Lydia and Edward, and another son, James.
The young man closed the volume, inspected the cover for a moment, and then replaced it on the shelf, taking down in its stead a pair of volumes offering commentary on the four Gospels. His back ached abominably. He hoped it was merely the result of a late night of having met with the vestry and not the beginning of another chest infection, to which he was prone.
He was three and twenty, a curate in a parish half a day’s journey from Maidstone in Kent. His office was modest, befitting the more junior minister, and boasted only two book-cases, which were lined with well-read volumes in Greek, Latin, German, and English, Bibles, commentaries, dictionaries, and prayer-books. He collected, in a modest way befitting his station and pitiful salary, scenes of the Nativity of the Infant Jesus, and some dozen small groupings of the Holy Family were ranged on the shelves. Two chairs, a side-table and a desk completed the furnishings.
He turned from the book-shelf and looked out the window into the deepening evening, bracing his hands on the sill.
Aside from the Nativity collection, the only object of note in the room was an hour-glass. He had a small, battered mantel-clock on one of the book-cases, but he frequently turned the hour-glass over, seeking – and perhaps finding – a message in the sand draining steadily from top to bottom. The hour-glass had been well cared for; its old wood was polished and smooth and the glass was kept clean. Faint worn patches on the three carved columns between the bases showed where hands had turned the glass over again and again.
He resembled his father almost in miniature, a more delicate reproduction. The son had curly dark brown hair, a broad studious brow, and a suggestion of gangling limbs, although he was not as tall and far less robust. His birth had been perilous and he had almost not survived to have been baptized James William. A bout of typhus, at eighteen months, had all but put paid to his young life. It was said later that it was his father’s stubborn constitution, which the toddler had apparently inherited, that pulled him through. Ever since, he had been slight, weak, and serious. Since he could not join in games with his older siblings, he devoured books.
By five he was beginning to decline Greek; by eight he was fluent in poetry. He had embraced his studies as the area in which he might take the lead over his brothers. In church, he was still and attentive and never had to be reprimanded for restlessness or drowsiness as did the other children. When he was ten, he had startled his father over dinner one Sunday by asking him about the nature of the triune God. His father had been left speechless; the vicar, who had been the family’s guest, had been delighted and had answered the lad with solemnity and a respect that had won the boy’s heart for ever.
Certainly his father made no secret of his own skepticism over religion: he was a profound student of Gibbon and disliked any sort of church service. Once, when James was very young, he had heard Mother murmur to Father that they were obligated to set an example for the children and that, as the village squire, he was obligated to set a similar example in the village. His father’s Sunday grumbling had died away, at least within the child’s hearing.
Despite Father’s skepticism, he did not display any surprise in his letters at his youngest son’s petition to be allowed to go to Cambridge and read religion, and was consistent enough to be pleased when James had won a first and been appointed to the curacy. (Father had always held that any man, whatever his station in life, might by dint of steady application and hard work better himself. Hadn’t Father himself ascended readily through the ranks of His Majesty’s service?)
The church was not large, but it was old and well established and boasted several prosperous families. The vicar lived simply but sufficiently and the curate was able to heat his rooms enough in the winter that he did not suffer chilblains – much. The young man thrived when allowed to minister to his flock. It seemed a plenteous harvest in reward for his years of studious diligence, and for the first time those who knew him saw color in his cheeks and not a dubious zeal to be mistrusted in the dark brown eyes but a deep and abiding love for his fellow-humans. James William felt the presence of a loving God as closely as he felt the cambric of his shirts, and could not but return it an hundredfold to his parishioners.
It had seemed since James’s youth that the quiet passion which drove him trumped his fear of earning his father’s disapproval for having chosen a field of endeavor of which his father was profoundly skeptical. His father, apparently fearing to do his son an injury by speaking harshly, had quietly assented by letter to James’s desire to read religion at Cambridge and had been, James thought, somewhere off Central America when James had been ordained. Since then, despite the relative nearness of the parish to his parents’ home in Maidstone, Mother and Father had not once been to see him. The rigors of the church schedule had prevented James from visiting at Christmas and Easter-time, and so it had been some five years since father and son had seen each other face to face. They had happened to have both been in the house one Christmas when it was between terms for James. They had scarcely exchanged a dozen words.
The evening had become too dark to see anything properly. James turned from the window and lit the lamp that stood on his desk, then turned back around. If he braced his hands on the sill once more, the pains in his back might ease.
A slight noise distracted him. He turned, a look of polite interest on his face, ready to greet whichever parishioner might need his attention.
His heart skipped a beat. His father, upon whom he had not laid eyes in five years, was in the doorway. Father and son stared dumbly at each other for several long seconds. Finally his father’s sense of humor, that saving grace, won the upper hand. His full mouth twitched at the corners and a twinkle lightened his brown eyes.
"Hello, son," he said, unconscious of the caress in his voice.
"Father!" Quite unaware of what he was doing, the curate impulsively embraced his father and five years of unnamed anxiety and doubt melted as he felt his father’s sturdy arms thump him soundly on his back. Now his father stood back, bracing his hands on his son’s shoulders.
"Well, and let me have a look at you," he said, gently.