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Life and Debt

By Virginia Sue Foreman All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Adventure

Chapter 11

The trip from the barn to the vicarage seemed interminable, but by very late in the afternoon, the five men arrived at the back door.

“Speak to no one when we go inside,” Father John cautioned. “Once Michael is settled, and the doctor is with him, I will instruct you in the proper behavior while you’re here. Until then, I’ll tell everyone you’re in seclusion and prayer for your sick friend. The others in the household will respect that and not bother you.”

With Mike supported between them, Henry and Father John carried him up the steps, and into the vicarage. He was awake, but very weak as they half carried, and half dragged him upstairs into the Bishop’s own room. They laid him on the bed, and undressed him. Mike wondered why they were doing these things when he was about to die. All he wanted was for the pain to stop and be left to die in peace.

When the doctor came in, he waved everyone away from the bed so he could examine the patient. Father John called a young student to take the others to the kitchen and feed them, then show them to their rooms.

“Our guests have traveled a long way, and are tired. They wish to be in seclusion and prayer as much as possible until their companion is on the mend, so please respect that. I will answer your questions later, after the doctor leaves.” The young man nodded, and motioned for them to follow him to the kitchen. Father John closed the door behind them as they went down the hall behind their guide.

An hour later, the doctor opened the door of the room to find the Bishop, seated outside, watching it intently.

“Your Grace.” He motioned to him to come into the room. Once they were both behind the closed door, he continued. “I don’t know how this man came to be in this condition, but it is a good thing I got to him when I did. A few more hours, and he would have been dead.”

“He will recover?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure. I’ve done all I can for him. The rest is up to him—and God.” He pulled his coat on and adjusted his collar. “I removed the ball, and put on clean bandages. He has lost a very large amount of blood. It will take him a long time to recover from that alone.”

“What can we do for him?”

“Keep the wound clean, and change the bandages as often as they need it. Keep him warm. Keep the cool cloth on his head until that fever breaks. I left some salve for the wound, and some laudanum for pain.” He shook the Bishop’s outstretched hand. “Give him broth and water whenever you can until he wakes and is able to eat. Call me if you need to.”

“Thank you, Dr. Weston. I am very grateful for all you’ve done.” He placed a coin in the doctor’s hand.

“I hope what I have done is sufficient.” He hesitated at the door. “Your Grace, who is he?”

A sad smile pulled at the corners of Father John’s mouth, “He is a child of God in need.” His eyes locked the Doctor’s, communicating that he was not about to tell him anything more.

“I see.”

“It would be greatly appreciated, if you did not mention to anyone that you have been here, or what you have done.”

Dr. Weston pursed his lips in thought. This request went against his better judgment and his duty. “I have known you for a very long time, John. You wouldn’t ask such a thing of me if it were not important, I suppose.”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

He nodded, more to himself than Father John. “You secret is safe. I hope your friend recovers.”

“So do I. You can see yourself out. I want to sit here with him for a little while.”

Alone at last and the door closed, Father John knelt beside the bed. Mike opened his eyes slightly and tried to smile before slipping back into unconsciousness. Holding Mike’s limp hand, Father John bowed his head, resting his forehead on their clasped hands.

Wakened by the morning bells Jericho quietly opened the door of the room, and found the Bishop asleep in a posture of prayer, still clinging to Mike’s hand. At the touch of Jericho’s hand on his shoulder, Father John jerked awake, looking first to Mike’s face. Mike’s eyes fluttered open briefly at the sound of movement. Then Father John realized someone was beside him.

“Jericho. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“You were asleep. How long have you been here?”

“I don’t know. All night I suppose.” Jericho took his elbow, and helped him to his feet. Father John touched Mike’s face, and changed the cloth, then crossed the room, and sat down near the window. Jericho sat opposite him on the extra chair by the little candle table.

“What did the doctor say?”

Father John took a deep breath and let it out. “He said he did all he could do. The rest is up to Mike.”

“Then he’ll be fine. Mike’s a good lad. He has a strong will to live,” he assured the Bishop.

“I pray you’re right.” Father John covered his face with his hand, pulling it down over his chin, feeling his morning stubble.

“Why not? Look at all the things he’s been through up to now. God wouldn’t spare him through all that, if he was done with him.” Jericho leaned back into the chair, and rested his elbows on the arms of the chair.

“I suppose you’re right. It’s just so hard to be objective when it’s your own—” He stopped abruptly, his face reddening.

“Your own?” Jericho asked quietly.

“When it’s your own friend.”

“Mike’s a fighter. He’ll get through this. So will you.”

Father John nodded to his hands in his lap. “Thank you, Jericho.”

Jericho stood and held out a hand to the Bishop. “Come on. You need to get some real sleep. I’ll sit with him now.”

A visit from a guard of the lock-hold disturbed the peace of the afternoon at the vicarage. The clerical student announced him to Father John while Henry, Jericho, and Tom were with him in the room with Mike. Mike groaned and moved in an effort to get up.

“You lie still! This is something I can handle. The rest of you stay here and be quiet,” he cautioned. Father John left the room, and they quickly opened the door a crack. Their hearts pounding, they listened as he greeted the visitor. With only an occasional bold peek out of the door to see what was happening at the bottom of the stairs right outside the room, they could hear every word clearly.

Father John descended the stairs to find the man standing with his hat in hand staring out the little window beside the front door. He turned when the Bishop reached the bottom step. “Sorry to disturb you, Your Grace, but I wondered if I might ask you a few questions.”

“Questions? Certainly! I am always delighted when people want to know more about God.”

“Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that sort of questions.” He was obviously flustered.

“Forgive me. Then what do you want to know?”

“Well, that man you were called to the lock-hold to pray for a few days ago—the one that escaped before he was hung—”

“Wasn’t that astounding? I was right there when it happened. Did you see it, too?”

“Yes—well no, not exactly. I was there after it all happened.” He shifted on his feet. “Your Grace, you knew Harrington, didn’t you? Before the incident.”

“Well, yes. I knew his parents. They were a fine family. I was shocked to learn of the trouble the boy had gotten into.”

“You didn’t have anything to do with the escape, did you?”

“Me! Sir, may I remind you that I am a man of God? I am bound by God to do right.”

“Yes, I know, but I still needed to ask … Have you seen Harrington since he escaped?”

“Where would I have seen him? They all rode off at a gallop, as I remember. I’m sure they were bound for parts unknown.” Father John sounded amazed at the question.

“It was reported to me that there were five men arrived at this address yesterday.”

“Oh, yes, fellow clergymen from London. Old friends. They were on their way to their new parish assignments. They stopped by to rest and visit before continuing on.”

“It just seemed odd that a group of men shows up here just after the escape, and it was a group of men involved in the escape—” The man’s words were suggestive.

“My good man, have you nothing better to do than spy on the comings and goings of the clergy? Did my friends look like criminals to you? Did they resemble those men in any way? I can assure you, that you will not catch those criminals here in this vicarage!” Father John was obviously finding it hard to stay calm and steady.

“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, Your Grace, but it’s my job to look anywhere Harrington might turn up. You will notify us if he should?”

“If the man comes here seeking asylum, we will be in touch with you.”

Henry ventured a bold look beyond the crack of the door and saw the man as he placed his hat on his head, bowed slightly to the Bishop, and walked to the front door. “Thank you, and good day, Your Grace.” He left quietly. Father John held his breath until he saw the man turn the corner at the end of the street.

Mike slept most of the next few days, waking only occasionally. Whenever he was awake enough, one of his friends would spoon broth into his mouth, or tip a cup of water carefully to his lips, until he either fell back to sleep or refused more. He was barely aware of anything around him during those times. They took turns sitting at his bedside, ready to meet any need.

Even after several days, Mike still slept most of the time, and his fever was nearly gone. The Bishop and Jericho were sitting quietly in the room, late in the afternoon when a stirring, and weak murmur from the bed interrupted the quiet.

Mike moved his head back and forth on the pillow, and then sleepily opened his eyes, trying to focus. The room was washed in late day sun, and it was unfamiliar. He was confused. Where was he? How did he get here? Two black clad figures came and stood expectantly beside the bed, looking down at him. After a moment, he recognized the one as Father John, but the other seemed odd to him. He was a minister, but—

“Jericho? Is that you?” he asked in a weak voice.

“It is! How do you feel?” He touched Mike’s face, and found it cool. The fever was finally gone.

“Hungry.” He still tried to puzzle out his vision. “Why are you dressed like that? Where are we?”

“We’ll get to that in good time. First, I’d best get you something to eat. This is the first good sign we’ve seen in days.”

“Days? How long have we been here?” He made an effort to sit up, but found he was very weak.

“You’ve been sleeping in the Bishop’s own bed, for the better part of a week.”

The Bishop? Father John, of course. But, he lived in Cambridge. They had fled from there. How could they be in Cambridge, and yet be free. They had been going somewhere else.

“The last thing I remember is going to the barn. How did we get here?”

“It’s just as well you don’t remember most of it. You was in a lot of pain. And, it hasn’t been real easy on the rest of us, either. But, that’s not important just now. I’m sure, Tom will be happy to tell you all about it. I’ll send him in on my way to the kitchen.” He turned and left practically with a skip in his step.

Father John sat down on the side of the bed smiling broadly. “It is good to see you awake. You worried all of us.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t really remember much of what happened. Right now, my dreams seem to be jumbled together with truth. I thought I was talking with Mother, Father and Janny. They were waiting for me to join them somewhere, but then they told me to go back. They said, ‘you have to go back now. Father John needs you. You have something more to do.’ Isn’t that strange? I can’t imagine what that could mean.”

Father John cleared his throat. “I don’t know what that could mean, but I am glad you’re back with us.”

Tom bounded into the room, ending their conversation. “Mike! You’re awake! I thought you were going to sleep forever.”

From that point, Mike’s recovery was quick. Tom happily told him of all their adventures since the trial, and Henry began making plans for them to move on, as soon as Mike was able to travel. Father John managed to obtain some new clothes that would help them look different from the fugitives they were, and supplied them with provisions for their journey.

Finally, the day of their departure arrived. As they packed their saddlebags and prepared to mount their horses, Father John gave them his blessing and bid them good-bye.

“Michael, promise to let me know when you are safe. Find a way to let me know where you are. I would like to keep in touch with you. You have been a part of my life for a long time. I don’t want to lose touch with you again.”

“He will do that, Bishop. I promise, now that I know how important he is to you,” said Jericho with a wink as he mounted his horse, then they waved to the Bishop as they turned their horses and rode away.

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