Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:1-3)
Elder Jud Norbit was a wizened old man, weathered by work and age. He left for his office at a quarter past seven and returned at a half-past six every day except Sundays. He was met at the door by his manservant, Pritcherd, who wore a sympathetic look just as effortlessly as he anticipated every movement in his boss’s routine. There was a nod that passed between them, a glance aside for the mail and afternoon paper, a glass of whisky at his elbow as he sat in his armchair by the fire in the winter, by the window in the summer, and then a decent meal with Mrs. Gray serving in her white apron, followed by a steaming cup of cider in the winter, tea in the summer, on a polished silver tray at his desk in the study. A quick look at the accounts and the necessaries on his computer, a brief email sent here and there, and he closed his browser and rose and stretched. It had been a long day.
He read his Bible in bed, followed by a short passage of commentary by his pastor’s favorite theologian, placed his reading on the night stand, bowed his head in a short prayer, switched off the light, and fell immediately asleep.
On Sundays there was church, of course, and meetings with the Session if any were scheduled. He shook hands with the pastor and made sure he had something to whisper in his ear. Naturally the pastor was properly impressed by his condescension as were those waiting behind. Every year he secured the lead instructorship of the boys eighth grade class. He had found it the least inquisitive and the most polite and any clowns in the class were easily discouraged.
All in all, his days were well-managed and productive. No one could point the finger at him and accuse him of being anything other than a solid citizen and contributing member of his church and community. Indeed, no one could accuse him of anything amiss at all. And for this he was devoutly grateful.
Having been bestowed with excellent health all his life, it came as a shock when his physician, Friese, informed him that he had reached the time in his life when he ought to start slowing down. Since he didn’t know what this entailed, he inquired as to particulars and was told to take shorter work days, daily constitutionals, Saturdays off and visits to museums perhaps, walks in the park, longer holidays and the like. Friese sounded quite irritated at having to explain, so no further explanation was demanded and Norbit contented himself with the knowledge that Pritcherd would undoubtedly be more helpful anyway. Museums indeed! As if he were a tourist!
Once at home, he began questioning Pritcherd who looked comfortingly as bewildered as he felt and for once failed to give satisfaction. Resigned, he made an outline of a newly revised schedule. In it he made one addition only: Saturdays off. Feeling that even this was beyond the pale, he was about to change his mind when he recalled the face of the goateed, lab-coated Friese, a man who made it clear he was second-in-command to the Grim Reaper alone.
Thus it was that one fine Saturday morning, in the middle of June, Norbit took a walk in the park. A small botanical park, mind you, with a fountain in the middle and all sorts of paved paths leading in and out of lines of ornamental bushes and manicured lawns besides stands of labeled trees. His first turn in the park impressed him with its predictable qualities and by his second and third visits he had acquired a regular pattern of walking that made it less necessary to look to the right or to the left but simply ahead. Unfortunately for Norbit, it was just this newly acquired habit that caused him the most discomfiture that ever he had experienced in life.
For as he was looking straight ahead anticipating the next turn, there shot out in front of him a man on a cycle making the most striking spectacle of himself and causing Elder Norbit to come to a perfect standstill, though his left foot did not escape being run over by the smaller back wheel of what looked like a bicycle without a chain or pedals.
What happened next almost defies description, though to be sure, I’ll do my best.
*for part 2 and the conclusion, click here.
artwork courtesy of Wallie's Wentletrap