If you missed the first instalment, you can read it here before enjoying the end of the story.
Something thuds and reverberates fear through my heart. I grip the armrests of my chair. “Thomas!” Nothing but silence meets my cry. “Fitzwilliam, where is Thomas?” My voice trembles with fear. My world is still so maddingly black and has been for days.
“He is fine, Marianne.” My husband’s lack of patience bleeds through his tone.
“Don’t patronize me. Check him. I heard a thump.”
“It was me. I dropped the lid of a chest.”
“Why were you in a chest. Was it my chest? Did Tom get his fingers caught between the lid and the base?”
“You would have heard him howling by now if his fingers had been caught, Marianne, and why would I be in your things? It was Tom's chest.”
That alleviates only a little of my fear. I hate this black void I live in. “What were you doing in there?”
“Fetching the toy soldiers for Tom to play with…” Fitzwilliam stops, but the cadence is wrong for that to have been the last thing he intended to say. He is holding something back, hiding something from me. If only I could press him, but I know he will not answer. I am at his mercy, and he has so little of it left after the last few tense days of blindness.
“They have pointy parts. Watch him, make sure he does not stab himself in the eye.”
“He will be fine, Marianne.”
But will he be fine without me to watch over him? I press my spine against the back of the chair and tip my head towards the ceiling I cannot see. Oh, how could I be so foolish as to stick my head up a chimney, allowing fury to guide me? A mother should never be ruled by her emotions.
Fitzwilliam murmurs something to Thomas, too quiet for me to understand.
“Yes, Papa,” Thomas says, and I wish I knew what was happening. Anxiety, a rising and never-ending tide these days, swells within me.
What will I do if this blackness never lifts? The local apothecary's application of salve and wrapping my head in bandages is not working. At least, it does not seem to be working, not that they will let me take off the bandages to see. But my eyes do not feel different.
“Has there been any more word about the physician coming from London?" I ask.
No one answers me.
“Papa’s gone,” Thomas says.
“Gone?” I jolt up in my chair, wishing I could see where my son is. Wishing I could see anything.
“He said he had to do something,” Tom’s voice sounds odd, almost like it has an echo.
“Where are you?”
“I think the chimney sweep is here.”
“What are you talking about? Thomas, where are you?” I straighten my spine, straining to hear.
It takes him too long to answer. I start to rise before I hear his voice. It does not echo this time. “I was just looking at something, Mama.”
“Where and what? Why did your voice sound odd? Come to Mama this instant.”
“Papa said to play with my soldiers and not to bother you.”
“You are not bothering me.”
“You sound bothered.” His voice is plaintiff and drawn then drops to almost a whisper. “You always sound bothered when you talk to me.”
Do I always sound bothered with Thomas? Does he think I do not love him?
“Tommy, you never bother me. I love being your mama.”
He does not answer. A shuffling, scuffing sound comes from above my head, almost like it might be from the roof.
“It is him, Mama.” Thomas’s voice sounds echoey again. “The chimney sweep.”
A rough, youthful voice calls out, “Oi, are you daft? Clear off. Get yer head…” A loud poof cuts off the rest of the stranger's words.
Thomas starts screaming, and a bitter, dark smell invades my nose, the same smell from the day soot turned my world black.
“Thomas?” I scream.
My son is crying and calling for me, but his voice is muffled and strange. I attempt to stand and find him, but I trip and bump so many things. After shifting around a few items, I've lost all sense of direction.
“Mama, help!” Thomas's cry from behind me provides direction.
I spin and head off towards him, but trip over something large and low to the ground. Mayhap a chest? The floor meets my shoulder and pain explodes through my body.
Oh, God, what have I done? I lay their panting through the pain. Wishing I could see. The blood is rushing so hard in my ears that I cannot hear Thomas properly. I scream for Fitzwilliam, for anyone, but like the boy in Aesop’s fables, I have cried wolf too many times.
I should not have fussed when nothing was wrong. I should have trusted. What had Fitzwilliam accused me of? Losing my faith?
No, misplacing my faith. I need God to intervene now. “Please, God, I cannot do this. I need help. Please, send help.”
Shuffles come from somewhere. I am too disorientated to know where. Waves of that bitter coal smell wash over me again and again, filling me with dread. "Please, God?" I beg. "Help us."
A thud sounds to my left. I turn my head towards the sound.
“There now,” says the uneducated, youthful voice from before. “You needn’t cry about it. Just wash yer face, and it be al’right.”
“Who are you?” I call to the boyish voice.
“Just the chimney sweep, ma-am. This young fellow done stuck his head up the fireplace. Too curious for yer own good. Don’t you know what I is doing up there? Cleaning it out after it near blinded yer mummy.” The sounds of shuffling and splashing of water reach my ears.
“What are you doing to him?” I ask, wishing I could see.
“Just runnin’ water over his eyes. 'Tis a trick I learnt. Get soot in the eyes aplenty doing me job. No need to fear, but them tears is good. Keep a crying. It will wash the soot out.”
“Will I be blind like Mama?” Thomas sounds so distressed.
“Naw, just a drop of water more and you’ll be right as rain.”
There is something soothing about the boy’s confident tones. Something that stops me from screaming for Fitzwilliam again.
“There now. All better. You can still see your mama, can’t ya?”
“Yes,” Thomas’s voice is hesitant and laced with tears, but so very sweet to my ears.
“Tom?” I cast my voice out, unsure just where he is in the chambers. I walk a little closer to where I think he might be and blindly reach for him. I find nothing but air.
“I can see Mama. It stings a little, but I can see.”
My heart drops with relief, and I halt my stumbling, lest I trip on Thomas. “Oh, thank you, young man. Thank you! Who are you, son?” He does not sound very old, just a little older than my son mayhap.
“Just the chimney sweep, ma-am, and I’m right sorry this chimney has caused you lot so much trouble. I best get back to sweeping it out.”
“Don’t go!” Thomas begs.
“I got's to go, got me a job to do, and a few more besides this one. The boss don’t like it when I’m late.”
Panic lingers in my blood like a sickness. I'm not ready to be alone with Thomas after such a near disaster. “I will pay you. Pay handsomely if you will stay at least until my husband comes back.” Fitzwilliam must be gone from the inn. He would not have ignored our son's panicked cries.
“How handsomely?” the boy asks, a note of intrigue in his voice.
“Three times what you would have made on the chimney. Nay, fives time.” A king’s fortune would not be enough to thank him.
“I reckon the gov’ner won’t mind if I’m a wee bit late to the others if there’s coin to be had.”
I imagine not. The 'gov’ner' sounds like a right greedy fellow, forcing such a little boy to work. “What are you doing, sweeping chimneys anyway. You ought to be playing. You do not sound very old.”
“Got's ta keep food in me tummy, and only the little ones can do the work, ma-am. Get too big and ya get stuck in the chimney. Right terrible way to go, let me tell you. Gotta be real tiny and nimble, and that I be.”
“How old are you, boy?” I ask.
“Don’t rightly remember,” he hedges quietly.
I slowly make my way closer to the pair, hands out patting at the air until I can hear Thomas clanking his soldiers at my feet. My hand finds my son's head. I drop to the ground and clutch him close to me. For once, he does not complain and holds me just as tight. He must have been so scared.
“Use to have me a set like this once.” The chimney sweep says softly, a clink sounds as if he has picked up a toy or clashed two of them together.
“What happened to it?” I ask.
Thomas pushes to be released, and realization bursts through me. Fitzwilliam was right. I cannot hold my son forever, and even if I tried, only God can keep him safe, if He so chooses. Please, God, help me find my faith in You. I reluctantly let Thomas go.
That peace Fitzwilliam challenged me to find floods my heart as I place my son in God's Hands. I let out a sigh of contentment. It has been so long I forgot how wonderful God's peace is. Thank You, God. For keeping Tom safe, and for sending us this strange angel in disguise to be Your Hands just now.
Finally, the silence in the chamber registers to my distracted mind. I had asked the boy a question. “Boy? Are you there?”
“Aye.” His voice is whisper soft.
“What happened to your soldiers?”
The silence stretches so long I begin to wonder why he does not answer what ought to be a simple question. Should I push or let it go?
“Ain’t allowed to talk about it,” he finally says in a quiet, timid voice.
“Bad men said not to.” Fear lurks in his voice now and pulls at my mother’s heart.
“See here, lady.” His fear fades into a testy snap. “Said I can’t talk about it, didn't I? So stop yer askin’.”
A clanking fills my ears. Thomas starts to cry.
“You’re right clumsy, ain’t cha?” The unknown boy says with something between frustration and amusement. “First ya stick yer head up a chimney, and now, ya pinch your fingers. Well, quit your caterwauling. 'Tis only a tiny prick.”
My heart upticks at the sound of a wound on my precious son, but the chimney sweep sounds so calm. Thomas even settles at the gentle (if-uneducated) tones of this unknown boy, and my heart slows back to a steady pace.
“There you go. Just a bit of cloth, and all is well.” How can a chimney sweep calm me, calm both of us? It must be God working through him. Thank You, God, for sending this lad to us.
Thomas hiccoughs as if still crying but bravely trying to stop.
“There now,” says the boy. “I’ll sing ya a song me mum taught me. Been a while, but I reckon I remember all the words.” He takes a deep breath and begins in a reedy voice to sing, "'Rest. Sleep. Close those precious little eyes...'"
The tune, the words strike deep inside me. How does a chimney sweep in a tiny town so far from our home know the lullaby I wrote for my eldest son, the song I have not sung since Percy went missing?
The song draws to a close. “…Sleep my little son. I will always hold you close.”
“Who… who taught you that song, boy?”
“Me mum,” he says in a quiet, sad voice.
“Yes, ma-am. Been a long time, but I still remember it.”
A scramble and scuffle sounds before me. “How’d ya know me name, lady?” Fear lurks in his voice, and he sounds farther away. Like maybe the scuffle was the boy drawing back.
“Who are you?” He turns the question on me.
A woosh and creak come from my left. “What is the meaning of this?” Shock and anger pings around Fitzwilliam's voice.
Before I can ask him if it is indeed our Percy right here before us. The chimney sweep says, “Papa?”
My heart leaps to life. If I had any doubts before, they have been obliterated with Percy’s recognition of his father. It must have been the mountain of bandages around my head that kept him from knowing me.
“Fitzwilliam, it’s Percy.” I’m grasping blindly again. Trying to find my long-lost son in the blackness that blankets my world.
“Do not be absurd, Marianne. 'Tis a chimney sweep.” But there is a note of disbelief in my husband's voice. As if Fitzwilliam is unsure.
“He sang my song, Fitzwilliam. The one I wrote for Percy. He sang it word for word!” My fingers cannot find a thing but empty air. Where is Percy?
“Who are you?” My husband sounds closer, but not convinced.
“N...nobody, sir.” Percy sounds scared, as if he wants to run away. He is to my left now, closer to the chimney. My hands still meet empty air.
I rip at the bandages around my head. They have to come off. I have to see him, hold him. Keep him from running away.
“I asked you a question. Who are you, boy?” Fitzwilliam demands, very close to me now. Possibly standing before me, just to the right.
“Please, ya gotta let me go, Papa,” Percy begs. “They’ll find me. They swore they’d find me if I ever told.”
“Who did?” Fitzwilliam asks, softer this time.
“Them bandits. Them ones that stole me away. They left me at the orphanage, but they made me swear never to say. And I didn’t. I ain’t never told nobody who I is. Please, Papa, ya gotta let me go.”
The wrapping around my head is maddingly. How many strips did the apothecary put on me? Every time I reach an end of one cloth, there is another. I claw at my head, uncaring that I sometimes tear skin.
“Percy?” I can hear it. The belief in my husband’s voice but the questions too. He is starting to believe as I have that God has brought our little boy back to us.
The last of the cloth falls away. The world is bright and blurry at first. I cannot see as well as I could before, but I can see enough. I can see what Fitzwilliam must have when he first opened the door, why he yelled. The chamber is covered in soot. Dirty water is puddled where Percy washed out his brother’s eyes, but then finally, I see him, see them.
Fitzwilliam and Percy are somewhat blurry, but it is my little boy. He has grown since last I laid eyes on him. He is nine now, but he still looks small wrapped up in his father’s arms. I am not sure how he can look all grown up and small at the same time, but he does.
“Oh, Percy. Percy.” Fitzwilliam cries. I have never seen him cry. "You never have to be afraid again."
“Percy.” I smile and joy mixed with gratitude floods my soul. God has brought our little boy home. Oh, thank you, Father! Thank you for forgiving an ungrateful wretch as me and showing us mercy.
As I wrap my arms around my family, I catch a glimpse of the fireplace, the place I had scoffed. The one location I had been so certain would be ludicrous to pretend anything could be found in there. A chuckle tinkles my throat, and I throw a smile up towards heaven.
I had found my faith inside a chimney after all.
Before I leave you, I would like to share the inspiration for this story. It would be wonderful if I had a url to place right here, but alas, I didn't know how important it was to save website links years ago. So, I will just have to credit it as someone somewhere stated that there once was an English lady who stopped at an inn on her journey only to discover the boy cleaning her fireplace was in fact her kidnapped son. And from that random titbit came this story.
Until next time, remember that we cannot do anything of ourselves and keep your faith in God.