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The Carpenter's Sermon by David Ker


"Tell ye what, mates, this sort o' thing won't do. Here we've been at it these six weeks, and not a penny of wages yet. It's all very fine to say, 'Stick to your work,' but a man won't git fat on workin' for nothing, that's sartain!"

"Right you are, Bill. S'pose we knocks off work, and tells Sir James we won't do no more without he pays us?"

"Gently, lads: remember what happened to the dog as dropped his meat in grabbin' at the shadder. If we stick to this job, mayhap we'll git our money some time; but if we knock off, we won't find another job growin' on every bush, mark ye."

"Well, that's true; but it's mighty hard luck for us, all the same."

So grumbled, under their breath, a gang of English workmen, who were repairing the interior of one of the great London churches, one fine summer afternoon in the time of George I. And certainly they had good reason to grumble. Sir James Thornhill, the court painter, whom the King had employed to restore and redecorate the building, had his head so full of his own fine plans and sketches, and of the grand show that the church would make when all was done, that he had quite forgotten such a small matter as the paying of his men's wages. So, although the poor fellows had been hard at work for six weeks and more, not a shilling of pay had any of them received yet.

"Look here, boys," cried a tall, gaunt carpenter, with a dry, keen-looking face, "I've always heard say as Sir James is a kind old gen'l'man at heart, and mayhap it ain't that he don't want to pay us, but only that he's forgot it, like. Let's just draw lots who shall go and tackle him about it, and then there'll be no mistake."

The suggestion was at once followed out, and the lot fell upon the tall carpenter himself.

This was more than the worthy man had bargained for, and he looked somewhat nonplussed. However, there was no drawing back for him now. Up he got, and away along the aisle he went toward the spot where Sir James Thornhill was standing.

But the nearer he got to him, the slower he walked, and the more chop-fallen did he appear. Indeed, Sir James looked such a grand old gentleman, as he stood there like a statue, in his laced waistcoat and silk stockings, with his powdered hair falling over his fine velvet coat, and his hand resting upon his silver-hilted sword, that poor Chips felt as bashful as if he were going before the King himself.

But, as the proverb says, "Fortune favors the brave," and the valiant carpenter was unexpectedly helped out of his dilemma by the very man who had caused it. Sir James suddenly turned round, and seeing him coming up, called out:

"Ah, my good fellow, you've come just in time to do me a service. You see, I want to be quite sure that that pulpit yonder, which we're just putting up, is in the right place; for, of course, when the clergyman goes up into it to preach, his voice ought to be heard equally well in every part of the church. Now suppose you step up there and make a speech of some sort, while I stand here and try if I can hear you plainly."

"But what be I to say, your honor?" asked Chips, scratching his head. "I haven't got the gift of the gab like you gen'l'men have."

"Oh, say whatever you like—just the first thing that comes into your head."

The carpenter's small eyes twinkled, as if a bright idea had suddenly occurred to him. Up he went, and leaning over the carved front of the pulpit, began as follows:

"Sir James Thorn'ill, sir! Me and my mates has been a-workin' for you, in this here church, good six weeks and more, and we haven't seen the color of your money yet; and now we ain't going to do another stroke, without you pays us all that's owing!"

"That'll do, my man," said Sir James, hastily; "you may come down. Your elocution's perfect, but I can't say I quite admire your choice of a text."

However, the sermon was not thrown away. The very next morning the men received their wages in full, and Sir James gave the clever carpenter half a guinea extra for himself.