| William Conrad Chesterton, thrust into a world full of promise, hope and endless possibilities, entered this existence with a first precious breath of air. William was different from most infants. He would never cry, slept through every night, and would always have a smile upon his angelic face. His bright blue eyes would always look at you as you talked to him. They would search the faces above him with a curiosity and wonder far beyond their tender years. When his eyes met yours it would almost appear as if he were looking into your very soul. Everyone who saw William, including strangers, would comment on his incredible beauty as well as his quiet, yet happy temperament.
William was the pride and joy of a young couple named Thomas and Sally Chesterton. They were kind and gentle parents who lavished William with boundless love. Even at a young age they knew he was a very special child. By the age of six months, William was already taking his first tentative steps as he rushed out into the world to explore and learn all there was of life's wonders and mysteries. By the age of three he was reading classical literature from his father's extensive library. His parents knowing how special young William was did their best to guide and encourage an ever-growing intellect along with an insatiable curiosity of the world around him.
Professors from a local college had come to the Chesterton's home when William was four and performed a battery of written as well as verbal tests. They marveled at his intelligence, and determined that William did indeed have a very bright future. They spoke words such as brilliant, amazing, and a magnificent intellect. William of course understood all the words, but pushed them aside. He was as far from arrogant as any four year old could be. At five his father presented him with a violin in the hopes of fostering any latent musical talents. Within six months, the Chesterton home was filled with the exquisite sounds of Beethoven and Mozart. Soon he had mastered the piano and the viola. He was told he was a musical prodigy with a rare and special gift. It seemed he possessed the ability to bring forth wonderful feelings in others through his music.
Sally, being a Preacher's daughter and a Christian, did her best to give William a view of God in all his goodness and mercy. Every night before bedtime she would read the Bible as he would quietly and intently listen. Though he read hundreds of books from science to philosophy to astronomy, William seemed to take particular pleasure in reading the Bible. Within a year he had memorized it from cover to cover. Still he would peruse the well-worn pages for words and sentences that brought him comfort. Each night he would sleep with it close by his side.
As William grew into a strong and healthy young boy, he began to show other special gifts. For all of William's formidable intellect it appeared that his most special gifts were those which are not so obvious. He seemed to have an overabundance of gentleness, kindness, and in particular empathy for others. William’s empathy was especially directed at those who were the weakest among us. William, though he was smart, was also strong and fast. He loved to run and play with the other children at a local playground where his mother would take him each morning. It was soon learned, even among some of the older and larger children who had often terrorized the playground, that bullying would not be tolerated when William Conrad Chesterton was present. William seemed to possess both strength and gentleness in a rare and special combination. It was easy to find William on the playground as he was always surrounded by the other children who seemed to sense that William was much more than he appeared. Even adults were drawn to William as a moth is drawn to the light. To the other children, William was like a bright and warm fire on a cold winter’s night.
There was one particular boy named Thomas whose mother brought him to the playground each morning. Thomas Jonathan Nevers was a bright and inquisitive boy with large green eyes, a head of unruly brown hair and an ever present smile. He was a year younger than William and small for his age. Thomas had also been afflicted by a childhood illness which had made his legs weak. He wore large and cumbersome braces which made walking difficult as he struggled to play with the other children. As children sometimes do they laughed and made fun of poor Thomas. With the arrival of William things immediately began to change for Thomas. It was easy to spot Thomas on the playground. All you had to do was look for William who treated him as if he were a younger brother. William who was tall and strong for his age could often be seen carrying a laughing Thomas on his shoulders as he ran and played. Thomas who was once a sad and lonely outsider now had a friend and protector in William. William for his part loved little Thomas. William saw in Thomas, not the limitations of his handicap, but his indomitable spirit, and his love for life. Those were traits which William also possessed. It seemed that all was well in the life of a young six-year old boy named William Conrad Chesterton. A life and future full of joy and hope, and endless possibilities beckoned.
As we all know, life has a habit of not always working out the way we had planned. In the fall of William's seventh year, his parents had suddenly taken ill, and a few weeks before Christmas they both died within hours of each other. In his heart, William was glad they had left this world together. He knew how much they had loved each other, just as they had both loved him. At the funeral a young, yet tall boy of seven stood over his parent’s coffins as he silently said his own goodbyes. William Conrad Chesterton, a very special child, was now alone in the world.
William rarely cried. He had only ever cried tears of joy, but as he looked down at his mother and father, a single tear coursed down his cheek and then dropped silently to the floor. Soon more tears began to fall as the sadness overwhelmed him. An emptiness which he had never felt before welled up inside him. As he wept openly, he soon felt the pressure of comforting hands as he was led away. With a backward glance he took one final look at his parents, and with a heavy heart wondered what tomorrow would bring. William may have had an incredible intellect as well as many talents and gifts, but he was still a child. A child who had lost everything that he had ever loved.
William was soon sent to live with his Uncle Vern and his Aunt Matilda. The Dolby's owned a horse farm out in the country on a large tract of land, bordered on one side by a river and on the other by rising foothills covered in woodlands. On the long ride to the farm William had time to think. It is often said that with great intelligence comes the ability to feel more than most. William was no exception. He already missed his life and the parents he had loved. He knew that the emptiness that he felt inside, would most likely always be there. He also knew that his parents would want him to move on.The old and well-worn Bible which was packed in his bag with his clothes told him that he would see them again. He also understood that life is a journey with many unexpected twists and turns. He intuitively knew that he would see his friend Thomas again. For now he would be good and do whatever the Dolby's asked of him. William had always looked at the world as a grand adventure. To him it was a gigantic puzzle just waiting to be solved. Though he moved towards his new life with the intellect of an adult, he also moved forward with the awe of a child.
Over the next few weeks William would receive some harsh lessons in life from the Dolby's. Vern Nathaniel Dolby was a large man with hands as big as hams. His face as well as his body had been weathered and worn down by time and years of back breaking work. Vern was a hard man. He believed that a man's only purposes in life were to work, provide for his family, pray, work some more, and then die. To him laughter, dancing or any other such frivolity was a waste of time. He also believed that anything more than a basic education had no practical worth in this world. William was soon to learn that not only was Vern Dolby a mean man, but he also struggled with his own personal demons.
Matilda Dolby was a small and wiry woman with hair beginning to gray, brown eyes which always seemed to be darting restlessly, and a quick way about her. She reminded William of the chickens he had seen in the barnyard. She was always in perpetual motion as she cooked, cleaned, mended clothing, and did whatever Vern told her to do. William had noticed that when Vern would talk to Matilda, she would lower her head and often flinch as if the force of his words had slapped her. William also began to notice that Matilda would sometimes have marks on her which she explained away as her own clumsiness.
Vern had determined that William would work on the farm, and would receive what little schooling that was necessary from Matilda. After a few hours of reviewing math, spelling and science, Matilda realized that William, even at the age of seven was so far advanced in his studies that there was little she could teach him. So began William’s life on the Dolby's farm. He was given a list of chores for every day of the week. If he didn't work he didn't eat. He was expected to attend Church on Sundays. If and when his chores were completed, any free time was his to do with as he pleased. He was expected to be up at dawn, and in bed when the sun set. William was soon to learn that the three things in life that had given him pleasure were now gone. Vern Dolby did not abide any books, music or laughter in his home.
Within in a week of his arrival William learned the dark secret of the Dolby farm as he became the unwilling victim of the first of many beatings at the hands of Vern Dolby. The beatings would always begin over some minor incident and ended in the wood shed where Vern kept an ample supply of well worn hickory switches. Life became a litany of hard work interspersed with regular beatings. What made it worse was that William never cried out in pain or shed even one tear. He would stoically stand with his back to Vern and accept what was to come without a word. This seemed to infuriate Vern, and always led to more serious beatings. After a trip to the wood shed, Aunt Matilda would always wash and put a salve on Williams back. She never spoke a word, but he could always feel how gentle her touch was. Sometimes she would pause in her ministrations to trace the wounds with her finger tips. Once in awhile William would hear a muffled sob escape her tightly clenched lips as if she were feeling the pain herself.
After a particularly bad beating as they sat in the kitchen of the farm house, William turned to Matilda as she applied the salve. Slowly he put his small hands in hers and looked into her brown and gentle eyes with his own piercing blue ones. In a moment it all became clear to young William Conrad Chesterton. Aunt Matilda had spent years as the victim of Vern's rage. If he were to check her back he would most likely find a landscape of old scars along with fresher wounds. Worse than the physical scars were the ones that covered her heart and mind. William's arrival had apparently focused Vern's anger not on her, but on William instead.
As he continued to stare into her eyes he could see more. He could see her fear for him, but also a relief that she was not in that wood shed herself. William could see the shame she felt for her own weakness in not protecting him. He could also see that she was a kind and gentle woman who had been so beaten down by circumstances that she had lost her way. Holding her hands firmly he could feel them tremble as he spoke these words; "Aunt Matilda; everything is going to be okay. You've done the best that you could. Don't worry about me. I can take the pain." As Matilda dropped to the floor and sobbed, it felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off of her soul. If someone had witnessed the scene it would have seemed strange to see a grown woman sob uncontrollably as a tall boy of seven stood with a hand resting gently on her shoulder. At that moment William realized that he had gained not only an ally, but possibly a friend as well.
William decided to spend an hour before bedtime reading his Bible, and then he would sleep and dream. William always had good dreams. For as far back as he could remember he could not recall ever having a nightmare. Within a few hours a new day would dawn. William was sure that it would be a day filled with hope and wonder and unbelievable opportunities. William Conrad Chesterton not only was a highly intelligent and talented seven year old boy, but he was also an optimist.
To Be Continued