The sudden death of his father breaks open a new horizon for William Cooper and the future is filled with undreamt possibility.
"And to think I never knew that father was a man of means," marvelled Will, peering through a sullen November drizzle from the parlour window.
Apparently George Cooper had inherited a house and five closes in Brook Street, Syston, some years ago, and had seen fit to keep the fact dark. His son was now to receive an unexpected legacy.
"We'd made our bed here," said Hannah. "We'd no cause to go changing our ways so late in the day. Your poor father was always a 'doer'. He made no pretence of being a gentleman." Though her eyes glistened as brightly as ever, she looked withered and drawn, not long for this life herself.
It was a week since the yeomanly grazier had been laid to rest in Syston churchyard in the shelter of a spreading beech tree not far from the vestry door. He and Hannah had been married at St. Peter's and cherished the wish to be buried there. Now the last will and testament had been read, the baked meats consumed, the farewell respects offered by family and friends. Widow and son were left to pick up the thread of their lives as best they might.
"It's odd how matters have turned out," Will said. "He must have realised that the property adjoins Whattoffe's House."
"Ay, it gladdened his heart when you made up your mind to that. But he wanted you to act of your own accord."
"The question remains: what now?"
"You always did have half a fancy to be a gentleman."
"My stake in the world has redoubled overnight. We've no longer any need to delve and spin."
"Your Da was keen you should learn the lore of the land. Many's the time he upbraided me for encouraging you to fill your head with clever nonsense, but I doubt not there's a place for that too in the Lord's plan."
Will turned away from the window and, sitting beside her on the arm of the sofa, possessed himself of her bony hand. "It's what the future's about, Ma," he said earnestly. "Education for all. It's everyone's birthright. Then the upper classes shan't have the upper hand."
"The world's changing so fast, I scarcely know what to make of it." A bewildered sigh escaped the old lady. "It won't be the same here without....him."
"Then what say you we upsticks and make our home in Brook Street? You were born and bred in Syston."
"We'd be near your Da's resting-place," his mother said, brightening a little.
"The premises are much bigger than we're accustomed to, but just think what it could mean. We could entertain a host of travelling preachers, extend the Methodist church, create a place of worship under our own roof."
Hannah drew her shawl more closely around her. "I don't know.... Tis a heathen place, though I say it as shouldn't. God-fearing folk are thin on the ground in Syston."
"Then isn't that where we ought to be. Is it not what God expects of us. That house stands empty and idle since Mr Harcourt left."
"Your Da knew his day was nearly done."
"The want of a tenant is surely a sign."
Swayed by her son's eloquence, old Mrs Cooper agreed to the move, convinced that no good could come of resisting. She had already exceeded her allotted span and had lived in Rotherby for forty-four years. Where she might have clung on to the familiar like a life-raft, she was prepared to let go. Under no circumstances would William have left her and she did not want to stand in his way. Had she not foreseen that a time would arise when the seed planted long ago would come into season?
A faint amusement gleamed through her sadness. "He never lets up, Him Upstairs. Always wants us to go the second mile and give the cloak off our backs."
"Then do as you've always done, dearest Ma. Consider the lilies!"
By the Feast of the Epiphany, they were installed with their few goods and chattels in number 9, Brook Street, which had formerly been occupied by a surgeon.
Early in March, they received the dispiriting news that their guide and mentor, John Wesley, had gone to his Maker, united after a space of three years with his brother, Charles, who had written a prodigious number of stirring hymns. Mr Robert Carr Brackenbury had been at his bedside.
"Best of all," Wesley had whispered, "is God is with us."
Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...