He checked the empty windows. He listened for approaching footsteps but he guessed he’d be in luck. The fuss his sister was making over her Sunday outfit was distraction enough for everyone else. He held his breath, reached up his grubby hand to the key and turned it. Click.
He was free! No church for anyone in this family today. No hard pews where you could never find a comfortable spot. But then, comfort was not what they were aiming for with their soporifically long sermons and prayers.
They had their own family box pew so that meant he couldn’t even stare at other people, just the same old faces of his own family. Fidgeting was never going to be allowed when his father and mother were right there watching him. Once he’d spotted a wood-louse crawling slowly across the floor. He’d put his foot out to let it crawl over his shoe, bent down and picked it up in his fingers. Not to kill it, just to look at it. He thought he’d got away with it until he felt the heat of mother’s eyes, glaring at him.
So, of course he didn’t want to go to church.
He jogged round the edges of the stony drive, whistling. He stopped to pull the barley stick out of his trousers. Sucking carefully so it didn’t lose its shape and he could put it back where he’d found it, he skipped through the gates and took a sharp left into the fields. It felt right to stay out in the summer air today, not closed in a stuffy, dusty, dark church. God would understand.
He reached the woods in no time. The trees stood to attention and bowed in the wind as he passed. He found a soft place to sit down and smiled. Definitely better than a pew. It was only when he’d tired of whittling with his trusty penknife that he realised he wasn’t alone. A twig snapped behind him. He spun round,
His wee brother was panting,
“I followed you! I saw you lock the door and put the key in your pocket!”
William scowled at him for a second and then turned away. He grabbed the lowest branch on the fir tree and swung himself up. He climbed higher and higher until his wee brother’s voice and face were fading. He reached the highest point easily. He’d climbed this tree before.
All of a sudden the branch beneath his foot snapped.
Through twigs, needles, sap and scraping wood until he hit the ground.
Jacob’s face was close again and the crying was deafening. William closed his eyes. The wails got louder.
“William! Are you all right?”
William kept his eyes closed.
Jacob was wringing his hands. It was strangely fun to watch through half-open eyes. William went for broke,
With screams, Daniel went running back to the house, where the rest of the family were just emerging from the back door, already cross.
When he told them the shocking news, mother started running towards the trees. His sister just harrumphed and stamped back into the house. It was too late to go to church now. Too late to swish in with her new dress and matching petticoat.
Father just sighed and went back to his study. What else could a man do, when he lived with such a wee rascal?