The reverend waited for the Barkley family to take their seats in church. Heath Barkley gave an apologetic smile and stood holding his hat as each child filed past to take their seat. When one pew was filled, they moved to the one behind and began filling the second until finally there was just his mother, Meg, Little Nicholas and himself left. Placing a hand at the small of their backs he assisted his mother and wife to their seats, finally taking up the last space with Little Nicholas sitting on his lap.
"Can't I go to Little Heath, Pa?" Nicholas asked, pining for his young friend. These days they could rarely be separated, and Nicholas had even asked his Pa if Little Heath could come to live with them.
His Pa had listened quietly to his son's logic and then told him ever so gently that if Little Heath was to come live with them, his own father and mother would be upset and miss him very much. Nicholas listened intently and eventually accepted what his father was telling him, but he still wished he had Little Heath for a brother and not just a cousin, who had to go home at the end of the day.
Nicholas wriggled. Of all Heath's children, including those younger than six-year-old Nicholas, he was the biggest wriggler, and as his bottom fought to get comfortable on his father's knee, Heath had to tell him to sit still several times. Reverend Johnson watching the boy's antics struggled to keep focus on his sermon.
Heath Barkley and his family always attracted the interest of the congregation. None could fail to be impressed by how he and Meg had raised such a fine family and the little ones were just adorable and far more interesting than the reverend's own Sunday sermon. When set after set of shy blue eyes turned around appealingly or mischievously from the pew in front, it was hard not to respond and often the congregation did.
Nicholas' tummy wasn't feeling too well and its owner snuggled into his father's chest, wanting his father's attention and for him to make it better. Heath didn't disappoint and dropped a kiss to the top of his son's head of still baby soft blond hair. Sharing a concerned look with Meg over their little boy, he pulled Nicholas closer whilst Meg felt her son's forehead for fever.
In response to Heath's questioning look, she smiled and reassured him that Nicholas wasn't feverish. "I'll put him to bed when we get home," she counseled with a mother's instinct, "I am sure he will be better after a good sleep."
"Don't want to go to bed, Ma." Nicholas protested, though his sleepy eyes told a different story. "Want to play with Little Heath after church," he mumbled as even his lips struggled to keep awake. "I was going to show him my new roping tricks with Max. We were going to......." Nicholas words slowed and he rubbed his fist across his eyes.
"Shush, Nicholas," Meg pacified. "You can see Little Heath tomorrow when you are feeling better."
Nicholas didn't look happy and appealed to his father with his expressive eyes. "You heard your Mother." Heath answered. "Your mother knows best when it comes to making her little boys well. Doesn't she always fix me when I am not well?"
Nicholas nodded. "But Ma always gives you that 'orrible medicine too. Mother, don't give me any of Pa's medicine, will you?"
Aware that the reverend was trying to conduct a service, Meg put a finger to her lips, indicating that Nicholas must now be quiet. "No, you won't need any of your father's medicine, I promise. Now try and get some sleep."
Nicholas nodded and closed his eyes.
On the other side of the church, Nick Barkley sat with his own smaller family.
His only son, Little Heath, stood on his lap, every now and then his little feet finding a tender spot and causing Nick to wince. Little Heath, his tiny arm snuck around his father's neck was looking out for his cousin and best friend. When he couldn't see him in all the sea of faces in the congregation, he tried climbing up his father's upper body to get a better view, his bottom finally coming into contact with his father's cheek as he scrambled up like a little squirrel, legs up in the air.
He was at that age when children had no fear and it was all Nick could do to keep hold of him and pull him down back to safety. Little Heath pouted and offered the word "Nicholas" as an explanation of what he wanted in his quest
"I know pardner, but you will have to wait until after church. In the meantime, why don't you try putting your hands together like this and saying your prayers." Little Heath watched his father's hands intently and then pushed his two chubby hands together just like his father's.
Reverend Johnson couldn't help smile on seeing Little Heath saying his prayers. "Wasn't that what Sunday service was all about?"