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Shattered Shackles

Shattered Shackles

Georgia Davenport McCain

 

 

Published by Ron McCain at Shakespir

Copyright 2016 Ron McCain

 

 

Shakespir Edition License Notes

Thank you downloading this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied, and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favorite ebook retailer to discover other books by this author. Thanks you for your support.

 

 

Cover Art: Margaret O’Brien, artist-Convention Herald

August 1977

 

Originally printed 1981 by Old Paths Tract Society, Inc., Shoals, Indiana, 47581

Dedication

 

Lovingly dedicated to my sisters, Lois,

Edith, Oma, Bertie, Delia, Lucille, Billie, and

Elaine.

 

And to my brothers, David and Doyle.

Contents

 

1. Lola

 

2. Partings

 

3. Deserted

 

4. Loving Care

 

5. Sharing Expenses

 

6. Sarah and Ben

 

7. The Mysterious Surprise

 

8. How the Shackles Were Shattered

 

9. The Birthday Party

 

10. Broken Hearts

 

11. A Faithful Shepherd

 

12. An Unexpected Reunion

 

13. Prayer Prevails

 

14. A Burdened Heart

 

15. Happy Commitments

 

About The Author

 

Books By Georgia McCain

 

Letters From Readers of Georgia McCain Books

Chapter 1

 

Lola

 

Lola Reid lay, hot and exhausted, still clutching the old rag she had gripped tightly while the pains were on her. She opened her eyes and winced at the bright rays of the late afternoon sun, which glared mercilessly through the bare window of her bedroom. Listlessly, she turned the old rag over in her hand, then lifted it to wipe the perspiration from her face. “Oh, if only it would cool down!” she sighed. Reaching across the bed for her newspaper fan, she began to fan it back and forth across her face, trying to stir up a bit of breeze in the stiflingly hot room.

 

A pesky fly, about to settle itself on the little bundle beside her, served as a reminder that even tired mothers have unavoidable duties. She stirred herself enough to give the fly a futile swat with the newspaper she held in her hand. The little bundle, disturbed, moved slightly. At this Lola took sudden interest. She raised herself upon her elbow and peered intently into the tiny red face. Mother love welled up within her as she uncovered and examined the perfect little body from head to toe.

 

“You precious little innocent baby,” she murmured, “why were you ever born? You deserve a better chance in life than you’ll ever have in a home like this. Oh, how I wish things could be different for you-and for the others.”

 

“What did you say, Miss Lola?” Annie Long stood in the doorway, looking at her expectantly. “Can I do something for you?”

 

Lola pulled the thin blanket back over the baby and lay back, disconcerted. She had forgotten that Annie was in the kitchen.

 

“No-no, Annie. You have a ways to go. The children can take over from here. Let Jimmie walk with you back to your house. You must hurry before dark overtakes you.” She glanced gratefully at the lowering sun. Perhaps it would be cooler soon.

 

“Yes, Ma’am. Are you sure you’ll be all right with jus’ the children?”

 

“Don’t worry about me, Annie. I’ll be all right.” Lola spoke with the resignation of one accustomed to accepting less than the ideal. “Thanks so much, Annie, for coming, and for coming so quickly! When I sent Jimmie to fetch you, I was afraid you wouldn’t make it in time.”

 

“I worried ‘bout that, too, Miss Lola, knowing how fas’ you deliver, but I came jus’ as fas’ as I could. Well, call on me again when you need me.”

 

“Thanks, Annie, but I hope I never, never need you again to deliver a baby.”

 

“One never can tell,” Annie replied sagely. This was the sixth time Lola had needed a midwife in her ten years of marriage and Annie doubted it would be the last.

 

“Oh, Annie,” Lola called as Annie started out the door, “pass by that little shed out back and get you a big mess of potatoes. We made a good crop this year.”

 

“I thank you, Miss Lola, but don’t think you have to pay me for coming. I’m glad to help you out. With all your troubles—” her voice trailed off as she went down the steps.

 

When Lola was sure that Annie was gone, she closed her eyes and gave in to weakness, desolation, and despondency. “I’m a miserable wretch,” she mumbled to herself. “I’d be better off dead. But I’m so afraid—death seems so dark—so final—and I’m afraid I’m not good enough to die.” She paused. Voices of the children at play, nearby, penetrated her consciousness. One by one she envisioned them: sober, gentle Jimmie, seven; carefree Jacky, five; inquisitive Katie, four; and little Sue, two – hardly more than a baby, herself; and now this little one beside her. “Oh, what would become of the children without me? Oh-h-h,” she moaned in despair, “What will become of them anyway?”

 

“Mamma, what did you say?”

 

Lola started. It was Katie.

 

“What I was saying wouldn’t mean anything to you, Dear. I was just talking to myself.” With a thin, trembling hand, Lola lovingly patted her little daughter’s head, which was very much in need of a shampoo and brush.

 

Then, noticing Katie looking wonderingly at the strange little bundle by her side, Lola asked, “Do you like your new sister, Katie? See her pretty black hair and cute little nose.” Lola turned the baby slightly for Katie’s inspection. “Look, Katie, at these little fingers.” She placed her forefinger in the little closed fist and spread the little fingers across her own.

 

“Oh Mamma, she’s so pretty and sweet.” Katie stroked the little fingers with her own grubby ones. “What’s her name?”

 

“She doesn’t have one yet. What would you like to name her?”

 

“Let’s call her ‘Mary.” There was no hesitation in Katie’s answer because she loved the name “Mary.” That was her latest paper-doll’s name.

 

And so “Mary” it was. Lola added “Emma” for her middle name, but to her family, she was always just “Mary.”

 

“Katie, run see if Jimmie’s back yet. It’s almost dark. And tell Jacky to bring Sue in, so you all can eat your supper. Annie said she would leave it on the stove for you. If Jimmie’s back, he can warm it up. You can hand me a plate, also.”

 

Katie ran to obey, and in a few minutes she was back with the others, including Jimmie. But they were not as interested in eating as they were in admiring little Mary. Katie had told them all about the new baby, and each one had to hold her hand and pat her silky hair. She squirmed and stretched obligingly while they looked her over.

 

“Now Children, let’s put her little blanket back on her and let her rest. Little, teensy babies can’t be fondled much.” Looking at Jimmie, she told him, “Son, go into the kitchen and help the children get their supper. When all are through, you can fix me some of the stewed potatoes and corn bread.”

 

“Are you gonna eat right there in the bed?” Katie asked.

 

“Yes, Dear, your mamma doesn’t feel well. I can’t go to the table tonight. Maybe in a few days I’ll be up and around again.”

 

As the children went into the kitchen, once again Lola was left to her dismal thoughts. Perhaps if Annie told Mrs. Simmons about the baby and that Jim was away, maybe she would come and help out a day or so. She would never come if she knew Jim was at home, for she disliked him. Jim. Where was he? No doubt he had meant to come home before the baby came, but when he got to drinking, he simply forgot—or didn’t care. Lola sometimes wondered whether he cared at all for her and the children these days.

 

When she was seventeen and he was nineteen, they had thought they could not live without each other. She had defied her parents to marry him. With her hands on her hips and fire in her eyes, she had told them she was going to marry him, regardless of the consequences. Well, she married him all right, even though she had to run away to do it; and now there was nothing to do but suffer the consequences.

 

The one time she had gone back home for a visit with her parents, she had not let on to them that she was having it rough. Better to pretend that everything was fine than to hear their, “I told you so.” That trip was made when Jimmie was a baby. Jim had scraped up enough for her bus fare and encouraged her to go for a visit, thinking it might help her to be away awhile after the tragedy of losing their little Billy. But upon her return, nothing had changed; she had to face the same conditions.

 

“Perhaps, if I had not been so bitter about what happened to Billy, things would have been different,” she mused. “Until then, in spite of Jim’s occasional drinking, we were fairly happy, but—” Lola brushed the thought aside, refusing to take any of the blame for Jim’s awful habit and his neglect of his family.

 

“Jim should shoulder his own responsibilities and provide better for us,” she continued to ponder her troubles. “I have load enough trying to make ends meet on the little he gets from logging and the other odd jobs he finds now and then. When he stays away drinking all the time, it’s pretty hard to remember why I wanted to marry him. If he’d act like the man I married, perhaps this coldness in my heart toward him would melt.”

 

Times were hard for the Reid family. One baby had come after another, and Jim was more often away than he was at home. For a while he drank with his brother, Joe, who lived just outside Batesville. He stayed with him much of the time, especially during the shrimping season. He could make more money shucking oysters and peeling shrimp than he could logging, making crossties and hauling pine knots with Paul Simmons. And even though a big portion of his money went for drink he usually managed to bring home groceries when he did return.

 

Then his brother passed away. After that, Jim spent the next three years just rambling here and there, sleeping in box cars, under bridges, in the back of the saloon and anywhere else he could find a place. As long as the shrimp and oyster season was in, he had no trouble finding work while he was away from home; but when that was over, he had to take what he could find in odd jobs to pay for his liquor and buy food enough to keep his family from starving. Often he helped Mr. Michael in the saloon, and sometimes he took repair jobs on houses, did yard work, or whatever was offered him. Jim was not a lazy man, it was just that the drink had such a hold on him. Sometimes when he would be home trying to amend his ways, he would share some of his experiences with Lola. But when he was gone he never wrote, and she never knew where to find him.

 

Lola had to manage carefully and work hard to keep food on the table. With Jimmie’s help, she raised a little garden twice a year—in the spring and early summer, and then again in the late summer and fall. To supplement their meager diet in the spring season, Lola and the children picked blackberries, which they enjoyed eating fresh. When there was an abundant crop, Lola canned some of the berries for later use. Through the summer months they depended on the potatoes and other vegetables from the garden. And in the fall, they gathered nuts and persimmons from the woods nearby. Their main meal then was often baked yams served with collards or turnip greens. Still in spite of all Lola’s good managing, oftentimes the cupboard was so bare that the children resorted to cracking nuts and eating them to stop the awful gnawing hunger in their little stomachs between times.

 

Four years passed swiftly by and the children grew in spite of the hardships. But the passing years did nothing to improve matters in the home.

 

Perhaps the sadness in Lola’s eyes helped drive Jim to the depths he had gone in those years, but she could not seem to change, nor could he. It was hard for Lola to look anything but sad under the circumstances. Her heart ached for all that her children were missing. She thought of them now.

 

Mary, now four, was an unusually perceptive child, always sensitive to the feelings of others. She was the peacemaker in the children’s quarrels and the first to console their sorrows. This was brought sharply to Lola’s attention one morning when she became the object of Mary’s compassion. Lola was sorting dried beans to cook for dinner. Mary had been sitting on the floor, playing with her corn cob doll, never once seeming to look at her mother, until suddenly Lola felt a gentle pressure against her knee.

 

Lola put her arm around Mary’s shoulder as the little girl looked up into her mother’s face and asked, “Mamma, why are you so sad?”

 

Tears welled up in Lola’s eyes. Not being used to sympathy of any sort, it unnerved her.

 

“Mamma, why do you cry?” was Mary’s next gentle question.

 

“You wouldn’t understand, Mary,” Lola had answered. Then stifling a sob, she had added, “Run along now, Dear, and play.” She did not want Mary to see her all broken up.

 

Mary had turned and walked slowly out of the house. Lola left her work long enough to watch, making sure her own sorrows had not unduly upset her little girl.

 

Mary had headed for her favorite spot under the old oak tree. She had cuddled her corncob doll against her breast and talked in admonishing tones to it, then sat it down beside her. Then Lola had seen her squeeze her arms across her stomach. She knew what that meant. She had seen that in all her children. And she, many times, had tied her own belt as tightly as she could. It helped to ease the hunger pain a little. The persimmons they had had for breakfast that morning just had not been enough. Turning, she had hurried back to her dinner preparations, wiping her tears on her apron. The beans had been mostly soup again on that day, she remembered.

 

Lola sighed as she continued her meditating .

 

There was Jimmie, her eldest. Although he was still just a little fellow, too small for his eleven years, yet he was becoming unusually manly and helpful. It was almost as if he understood that his daddy was not carrying his end of the load and he tried to help his mother all he could. Many times, he had to miss school to help with the work. And when Jim was home, Jimmie had to help him with the logging and cross tie making. To Lola, it seemed terribly unfair. He should have been in the sixth grade by now, but he had barely fumbled through fourth last year, and it wasn’t that he was dumb, either.

 

Sometimes Lola was almost glad Billy was out of it all, at least she did not have to see him suffer hunger and need of clothes and lack of schooling because of their awful poverty. The only time any of them got clothes was when Jim would lay off his drinking for a while and stay home with them. Then he would be able to see their thin, ragged clothes and the shoes with the soles off. During these times, which were far too few, Jim would manage to buy them a few clothes. The rest of the time, they wore hand-me-downs and rags, patched to the best of Lola’s ability.

 

Next, Lola’s thoughts turned to Katie. Little blond inquisitive Katie had an unusually bright mind and wanted to know everything. She had only been able to attend school part time. She would have to stay in second grade again when Lola could get her started back. Sometimes, Lola tried to help her in her reading to keep her from getting so far behind, but there was very little time for such “extras” in Lola’s busy days, and in the evenings, she was always tired.

 

Then there was Sue, a little beauty, and loving and helpful. She was almost too big to cuddle anymore, but her little body always curved so warm and comfortably against Lola’s embrace that she still cuddled her, partly for the strength and sense of being needed that she drew from the little girl, but more because Sue was the kind of girl anyone would want to caress, that is anyone except Jim.

 

“Oh, Jim,” her thoughts turned to him again. “I wonder sometimes if I don’t actually hate you for what you are doing to me and these little ones.” .

 

Oh it was not that Jim, with his dark wavy hair and brown eyes wasn’t handsome and dashing enough for any woman. Those very features had, at one time, completely captivated Lola. He had been loving enough at first, but now with the drink and poverty, nothing was the same. As for the children, though Jim never showed any affection for them, yet they stood in awe of him and .eagerly awaited the excitement of his occasional homecomings. They accepted the peculiar smell that accompanied him as being natural. Sometimes Lola felt almost jealous. She knew the children clung to her for love and comfort; but Jim, not always there, was special, a sort of hero in their eyes. Only eleven-year-old Jimmie seemed to understand that Daddy was doing wrong, that he should be home with his family instead of rambling around.

 

Then Alice came to live with them.

 

When Lola saw Jim come walking in with the pretty sixteen-year-old Alice, her heart sank to the bottoms of her shabby shoes. Thinking that he was throwmg her over for someone younger and prettier, a fierce possessiveness rose up in her. She realized at that moment that in spite of his drinking and apparent unconcern for his family, that she still had a special feeling for him.

 

“This is Alice, Lola,” he introduced her. Alice, this is your Aunt Lola. She hasn’t seen you since you were a little girl.” Looking at Lola, he continued, “This is my brother Joe’s daughter. I was sitting in this joint—uh—this place, and this young lady was the one who waited on me. She looked so much like Joe’s wife, Maggie, until all I could do was sit and stare at her. Then after a while, I heard someone call, ‘Hey, Reid, catch that order over yonder in the corner.’ I couldn’t believe my ears. You know I haven’t seen Alice or her mother since Joe passed away seven years ago. Well, the first chance I got, I asked her some questions, and sure enough, she was my own niece. She told me her mother passed away a couple of months ago and she’s really had it rough since then. Said she despised to work in that place but it was all the work she could find.” He looked at Lola imploringly. “Lola, I guess we’re all the family she’s got. One more mouth to feed wouldn’t make much difference, would it?”

 

Giving Jim a critical look, Lola drew Alice to her in a loving embrace. “It won’t hurt you any, Jim” she thought. “You’re not the one to scrimp and stretch and manage to make ends meet.” But she kept her thoughts to herself and to Alice she said, “I’m so sorry about your mother, Dear. We’ll do the best we can for you.”

 

In spite of having another mouth to feed, Lola was grateful for Alice’s companionship. She became a sort of combination daughter and sister to her. And she proved to be a blessing in another way for quite sometime. Her coming seemed to awaken in Jim a sense of his responsibility. Perhaps, it was because of family pride that he did not want Alice to see how poorly he provided for his family. At any rate, he was home more often and they were eating better than they had for many months.

 

Lola was almost happy for a while, until Jim started buddying around with John O’Banion. He started drinking heavily again and spending more time away from home. John was from a family in the neighborhood, and though much younger than Jim, they had discovered that they enjoyed each other’s company, especially in the barroom. At first, when John began coming to the house, Lola thought it was to visit with Jim, but soon it became apparent that while he talked with Jim, his eyes were on the lovely Alice. Soon he and Alice began pairing off. Lola noticed them talking together more and more, and then later she saw them strolling through the woods or up the road hand in hand.

 

So, although heartsick, Lola was not at all surprised when, after several months, Alice came to her for advice. By this time, with Jim’s reversion to his old habits, the food was so scarce that both Lola and Alice were pretending not to be hungry so the children would not suffer so much.

 

“Tell me honestly, Aunt Lo, what do you think of John?” Alice asked shyly.

 

“Alice, I hate to hurt you because it is obvious that you are fond of him, but I’m going to be truthful. I feel very uncomfortable around him and I’m always glad when he leaves.” Throwing her arms around Alice, she pleaded, “Forgive me, Alice, for being so frank, but you asked me.”

 

“It’s O.K., Aunt Lo,” Alice answered humbly. Blushing and looking at the floor, she stammered, “I—I guess you won’t like what I’m going to say, but John has asked me to marry him. What do you think I should do?”

 

“Oh, Alice, I don’t know how to advise you. I’m sorry things have gotten so bad here. I wish I could say that you’d be better off here, but I’m not sure.” Lola felt troubled and ashamed that she could not welcome the girl anymore, ashamed that all the time she was thinking that if Alice did not have to have food, there would be more for the children.

 

“I think Uncle Jim expects me to marry John,” Alice continued. “I heard him talking to him once about it. He wouldn’t have so many mouths to feed then, you know.” She glanced at Lola, embarrassed.

 

With it out in the open, Lola could not help lashing out, “I guess he needs to be looking for somebody to help him provide for his own. He’s doing a mighty poor job of it himself. I’m starving!”

 

“I know,” Alice answered, her arms tight across her own empty stomach. “Well, what do you think? Would it be better if I married John?”

 

“Oh, Alice,” Lola caught her breath with a sob, “I know it’s wretched here, but when I think of you being married to John, it gives me goose pimples. This may seem of little importance to you, Alice, but just the way he talks would be more than I could stand. His talk grates on my nerves terribly.”

 

“It bothers me, too, Aunt Lo, but maybe I can teach him to pronounce his words as they should be, once we’re married. Let’s be fair. He’s really never had a chance with his lack of education. But regardless, I’ve got to make up my mind. Uncle Jim might turn me out if I don’t marry him.” Tears glistened in her eyes and her lower lip trembled.

 

“Don’t think too harshly of Jim, Alice. After all he has given you a home for a few months. It’s just the drink. He doesn’t seem to mind you staying here when he’s sober.”

 

“Yeah, but that’s not often these days. I can’t count on that. “

 

“I know,” Lola sighed. “He didn’t use to drink at home so much before the children; but since he and John are drinking together, he even stays drunk while at home. He’s worse now than he’s ever been, and just when I thought things were getting better for us. Oh, Alice, don’t make me say what you ought to do. But I can assure you it’s not much of a life being married to a drunkard. You can see that by looking around here.”

 

“I know, Aunt Lo. I’m not blind to what you and the children go through here. But maybe if I marry John, he’ll quit drinking. I do like him when he’s sober. I’m supposed to give him an answer Saturday night. Well, what do you think?” She looked helplessly at Lola.

 

When Lola merely pursed her lips without saying anything, Alice continued, “I don’t guess I’ve got much choice. I hate to leave you with all the work here, but I’ve got to have a place to live and something to eat.” There was sad desperation in her voice.

 

“Alice, I’m afraid you’re jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, but I guess you can’t get much worse off.” Again Lola put her arms about her and held her close. “If I could offer you anything better, you know I would, Alice. I just trust you’re not making a mistake you will regret the rest of your life.” She was thinking of her own unhappy marriage.

 

“Aunt Lo, just remember, that regardless of what happens, that I am doing all I know to do under the circumstances. Maybe everything will work out for the best. Everybody deserves a break in life once in a while.” Giving her aunt a loving peck on the cheek, she turned and walked outside and toward the woods. Lola watched her go, knowing that she wanted to be alone.

 

“Poor child. What will become of her?” she wondered sadly.

 

Chapter 2

 

Partings

 

When John came Saturday night, Alice gave him the answer he wanted to hear. There was a lot of jovial talking and back slapping on the part of Jim and John. Lola took her mending off to the bedroom. She did not care to hear their foolish jesting. She could not bear to think of Alice’s fate, but she felt completely powerless to change things.

 

A little later, Katie followed Lola into the bedroom. “Mamma, what kind of knot is John going to tie Alice up in?”

 

Lola smiled in spite of her dejection. “That is just a way of saying that John and Alice are going to get married. Alice is going away to live with John.”

 

“Oh,” was Katie’s only comment, but her face took on a sad expression. All of the children had learned to love Alice as a sister.

 

The very next Saturday, John came for Alice. She clung to Lola, sobbing, “I’m going to miss you terribly. You have been like a mother to me. Thank you, thank you, Aunt Lo, for opening your home and heart to me.”

 

Lola, embracing her, could only pat her lovingly. Her heart was too full for words.

 

Then Alice hugged and kissed each of the girls, whispering endearments in their ears. To Katie, the oldest, she whispered, “Help your mamma all you can. Try to make things easier for her.”

 

Her wet cheek against theirs gave the little girls an impression of something terrible about to happen. Getting married must be something scary, strange, and sad.

 

Except for the loud talking and laughing of the men, it would have seemed like a funeral. But Jim was slapping John on the back saying, “Congratulations, old partner, you got yourself a real peach there.” He winked his eye and the two guffawed loudly.

 

Then John spied the little girls shrinking back in terror. Reaching for Mary, who was nearest him, he teased, “Ain’t cha gonna kiss yo cousin bye now?”

 

“You’re not my cousin,” she cried out angrily as she slipped from his grasp.

 

This only caused more loud laughter. Jacky and Jimmie submitted to John’s hand shaking and cousinly claims a bit more gracefully, but they did not laugh with the men. They, too, caught the sense of pending doom from the tears of the women.

 

After John and Alice had gone, the little girls huddled on the steps together, but little Mary kept eyeing her daddy fearfully. Finally, tears began to slip down her cheeks.

 

She jumped off the steps and ran around the house to her favorite spot under the oak tree and fell on the ground sobbing. Lola had started to leave her work in the kitchen to go to Mary and comfort her, when she saw an unusual thing. She stood motionlessly, staring at the scene under the oak tree.

 

Jim had followed Mary, and squatting beside her, gathered her up in his arms, and asked, “What’s the matter, Girlie?”

 

Mary had tried to speak, but she could only cry hysterically.

 

“Come now,” Jim tilted her face and attempted to dry her tears. “Everything will be all right.”

 

Lola blinked her eyes. Was she imagining things? Was Tim actually trying to console little Mary? New hope filled her heart. He had never paid any attention to the children before. Was Alice’s going, like her coming, going to have its blessings, too?

 

Mary had snuggled up close to her much-admired, unapproachable daddy, and in her new status as cuddled daughter, she picked up enough courage to blurt out, ‘Daddy, you won’t bring nobody for me, will you?”

 

Jim only looked at her puzzled.

 

Stiffening in defiance, little Mary declared, “If you bring somebody for me, I’ll hate him! I’ll hate him like I do John. I will, I will.”

 

When Jim only stared at her in astonishment, she began to sob again and to beg, “Please, Daddy, you won’t bring nobody for me, will you, Daddy?”

 

“Wait a minute, Girlie, I don’t know what you’re talking about. You shouldn’t hate nobody, Mary, as sweet and young as you are.” He shuddered. “What’s the matter? Are you worried about Alice?”

 

When Mary nodded her head wordlessly, he said, “Why, you don’t need to worry about her. John is going to give her a fine home all her very own. She’ll have good food to eat and new clothes to wear. Why, she’ll have things a lot nicer than she ever had here.”

 

Mary was quieted by this. “Really, Daddy? Do you really mean it?” She looked up, searchingly, into his face.

 

“Sure, Mary.” He patted her tear-stained cheek. “She’ll have good meat and bread, and cakes and pies to eat. John will buy her milk and eggs for breakfast. Why, Mary, you can’t imagine how happy Alice will be with her pretty new dresses and shoes.”

 

Still not quite convinced, Mary protested, “But, Daddy, she didn’t look at all happy. She looked scared.” The tears welled up again as she remembered the sad parting.

 

Jim cleared his throat and stood to his feet, dumping Mary gently to the ground. Looking off into the distance, he said, “Aw, Mary, she cried a little because she was leaving us. You know, we’re all the family she has. But she wasn’t scared, she was just excited.” He coughed nervously and kicked at a dirt clod that lay on the ground.

 

“Come on, Girlie, let’s go see what we can find to eat. I’m hungry as a wolf.”

 

Wiping her eyes on her dress tail, Mary stood to her feet to follow Daddy into the kitchen.

 

Lola lived in great hopes those days. Even though she missed Alice terribly, Jim was staying home and providing for his family by logging, making cross ties and gathering pine knots to sell. He had even begun to show a little attention to the children, especially to Mary. Lola had never seen Mary so happy and carefree. She giggled at everything and hopped, skipped, and jumped throughout the day. Though she could not carry a tune, she attempted to sing the little songs that Katie had learned at school and sang to her. And she was on hand to help all who needed help. As Lola watched her antics, she had mixed emotions. She was glad that conditions had improved so that Mary could know what real happiness was, but on the other hand, she felt a dread that Mary’s happiness would be short-lived.

 

“Mamma, did you know that Alice has cakes and pies to eat and pretty dresses to wear and new shoes?”

 

Lola patted her little head and smiled sadly. She wished it would be like that for Alice but she had her doubts.

 

After several weeks had passed and Alice did not come to visit, Lola casually said to Jim, “I wonder why Alice doesn’t come over.”

 

“Oh, they’re not living over at his folks’ place. They moved to Taylor Hill.”

 

Lola was bitterly disappointed. Although the marriage had necessarily taken Alice from their home, Lola had hoped for her. companionship as a neighbor at least. Now she would probably never see her. She felt as if she had lost a daughter.

 

There was never any reasoning to Jim’s drinking habits. It was not long until he left again and was gone an unusually long time, and when he returned he brought very little food for his family.

 

“I’m sorry, Lola, I just haven’t had much work,” he excused himself. “No work, no money, no victuals, you know.”

 

She felt like lashing out at him, “You had money for your liquor.” But she had learned that this only made matters worse, especially with the children all in hearing distance. So without a word, she took the grass sack that he had put on the floor and began to examine its contents. There were the usual dried beans, one sack of meal, some lard, salt, sugar, a bar of yellow soap for washing, and a bag of rice.

 

“No flour?” she asked dryly.

 

“I bought what I could, Lola. There’s some grits under that sack of meal. That should hold you until I can get out a few logs.”

 

But before he could ‘get out a few logs,’ he was gone again. Depression enveloped Lola once more as she saw hm disappear around the curve in the road. “Maybe I should have told him about my condition,” she thought sadly. “But I guess it’s best I didn’t. He would regard it as nothing.” If only there was a close friend she could confide in but there was no one who cared. She thought of Alice. If she would only come to see them. How it would help to be able to talk to someone.

 

For the first time in a long time, she thought of her parents. An unspeakable longing swept over her to see her mother one more time, to be clasped in her arms as she had been as a child. Oh, how she wished she could sit down with her and have a heart-to-heart talk. She longed to let her know that she loved her and needed her now as never before in her life. “I’ll write my parents tomorrow, and express my love for them,” she purposed. “I’ll apologize for all the heartache and grief I’ve caused them and let them know that I long to see them.” She wiped her eyes as her thoughts turned from her parents to her immediate problems.

 

The little food that Jim had brought would not last long. She never had enough to satisfy the children’s hunger. It had rained so much in the spring that their potatoes had rotted in the ground and they were so late getting their garden planted that there were just no “extras” to depend on. The few berries they had picked had not helped much. Lola was literally starving herself to death in sacrifice for her children. With her physical ailment, her lack of nourishment soon began to take its toll on her body. As she sat on the porch long after Jim left, she thought of the times that she had felt so wretched upon awakening that she was forced to call for Jimmie and Jacky, or sometimes even Katie to carry out instructions for cooking, cleaning, and washing.

 

Because of pride and the bitterness she felt, she decided against letting Jim know her true condition. She had forced herself out of bed and about her tasks when he was home. He did not seem to notice how tired she looked and how she trembled as she went about her work. Though she felt depressed now with all her troubles, yet in a way, it was a relief that Jim was gone. She wouldn’t have to drag around the house all day doing work that was beyond her strength. Now she could remain in bed and let the children help when it was necessary.

 

One day something happened that caused Lola to stop and think seriously. She was sitting up on the side of the bed when Katie burst out, “Mamma, what’s the matter with your legs? Look how fat they are.” She had not realized just how bad off she was until Katie had drawn her attention to this peculiar swelling.

 

“Maybe I should send for a doctor,” she thought. But immediately, she cast that out as an impossibility. At least they weren’t in debt, even if they were outcasts and a disgrace to the neighborhood because of Jim’s drinking and their poverty. She would not make a debt she would be unable to pay. So she lay back in bed and had Jimmie to fix an old box to prop her legs up on, hoping that everything would turn out all right in the end.

 

She alternated between wishing Jim would come home and wishing he would stay away. She was so sick she hardly knew what she wanted. The children were having to manage the household affairs on their own.

 

One night, Lola got a terrified feeling that she was going to die. She felt she would smother with the thought of it. She called for Katie, but the child was sleeping so soundly and Lola’s voice was so weak, that it did not arouse her. As Lola lay alone in the dark with troubled thoughts of approaching death, she began having mental pictures of her childhood. She saw the face of her grandmother, and it was almost as if she was talking to her as he had so long ago.

 

“Lola,” it seemed she was saying, “I’m concerned about the way you’re living. You know that sin doesn’t pay. If you continue on like you’re going, you’ll have to reap, Lola, if not in this life, then in the hereafter. Why don’t you ask God to forgive your sins and let Him have His way in your life? He can give you a life of peace on earth, and then eternal peace and joy in Heaven after you die.”

 

“Oh God,” she moaned, “Grandma was so right. I have reaped dearly in this life and now it looks like I’ll continue reaping in hell.” She turned her head from side to side and closed her eyes tightly trying to shut out unwanted thoughts, but there was no getting rid of them. “Oh God,” she prayed feebly, “Is there any hope for me after I’ve gone my own way all these years? I’m so afraid of death—of hell.” She shuddered. “Oh, I wish I would have listened to Grandma when she tried to warn me,” she whispered in the dark. “I thought she was an old fogey then, but now I realize what a sweet Christian she was.” She turned over in bed and tried to sit up. “If only I could get one of the children awake. I ‘m so afraid. I wish daylight would hurry and appear,” she thought. But it was only midnight; daylight was a long ways off.

 

She doubled her pillow under her head and lay still once more. She wished her thoughts could be blotted out with the blessedness of sleep, but she was wide awake. Once again, she tried to pray. Could God hear her? Would God hear her? “I know I’m not worthy that you should ever listen, dear God, but oh, how I need you,” she pleaded.

 

Perhaps it was her own confession of unworthiness that brought back with poignant clarity more of her grandmother’s words, “I’m praying for you, Lola. I’m believing God to bring you to repentance, if He has to get you in a corner to do it. When that day comes, He will be waiting for you, Dear. Just call on Him with a penitent heart and He will hear you. He is not willing that any should perish. He died to redeem the lost from hell. Repent and believe, Lola, and Jesus will be there with outstretched arms. He can change you, make a new person out of you. Oh Lola, Honey, why don’t you let Him save you just now?”

 

“Oh, if I had only listened to Grandma,” she thought sorrowfully, “instead of being so scornful. How different my life would have been! I’ve been so miserable and had such little happiness.” Looking to God once again, she prayed, “Oh God, I do believe You died to save me. I do believe You can change me. I’m so sorry for my many sins. I want to be different from now on and teach my children a better way of life.”

 

As she prayed, her past loomed up before her like a mountain. All her ugly sins since her childhood days paraded through her mind, her rebellion, her arguments with her parents and her defiance toward them. She had been very stubborn in her life, always wanting her own way.

 

There was one consolation here, and that was that she had written her parents a few weeks before and apologized for all she had put them through and expressed her love for them and her desire to see them. Oh, she was so thankful that she had written that letter. And the sweet letter of forgiveness she had gotten back from her dear mother—such a tender response so filled with love. Her parents were both ailing and perhaps this had tendered her mother. As she thought of it all now, she felt somewhat comforted concerning her parents. Her heart was filled with deepest love for them.

 

But there was her wretched life with Jim. How much of it was she to blame for? Her thoughts traveled back to the day they were married as she took inventory. It seemed that every detail of their life together flashed through her mind. She shook her head as if to rid herself of thinking she was so weary. But still the thoughts continued to come. She saw herself in a new light with many faults and failures that she had never dared own up to before. She realized that because of her own bitterness she was partially to blame for Jim’s failures. Oh, how sorry she felt for the bitterness she had harbored and for the times she had created Jim so cold and scornful. “Perhaps if I had shown him love instead of bitterness, he would have been a different man,” she admitted to herself.

 

Once again she thought of God. Could He bring peace to such a troubled heart? Grandma said He would, so she began to pray again, “Oh, God, my sins are numerous and black, but Grandma said if I’d confess them and ask forgiveness, I could find peace. I’m so sorry, Lord, for all my sins and failures. They’re too heavy for me to bear. Will you please forgive my sins and bring peace to my heart? Oh, Lord, I believe that you love me as Grandma said. I believe that you want to make a new person out of me. I believe—” she hesitated and then continued, “Yes, Lord, I do believe that you forgive my sins just now.”

 

She lay exhausted, at the end of herself, waiting, believing that somehow God was hearing her desperate pleas.

 

And in the stillness, a sweet peace suffused her being and she knew that God had taken away her heavy burden of sin and had come into her heart in answer to her prayer and confession. Her heart was at rest. How wonderful she felt with all condemnation gone. The bitterness over the loss of Billy seemed to have melted away and in its place a love engulfed her. She was amazed at the love she felt for Jim, who she had always felt was so wrong in all he did. She smiled when she thought how she was going to prove her love for him when he came home again. Perhaps with love and kindness, he would quit drinking and provide a better home for his family. With an overwhelming peace flooding her soul, she relaxed and fell into a deep sleep.

 

When she awoke, the sun was shining in through the window and the children were moving quietly about the house. She could hardly believe that she had slept so long and so peacefully. Then she thought of her experience during the night and for a moment she wondered if it was only a beautiful dream; but the warm feeling was still there, and the peace that only God could give. It was not a dream but a precious reality.

 

She tried to sit up but was unable to. Once again, she had the feeling that she was going to die. She had thought the night before, after God had saved her, that she was going to get well, but this morning she was not so sure.

 

She called to Jimmie. When he came, she instructed him to call the other children. “I have something to tell you all,” she said weakly.

 

Jimmie felt instant alarm. Now thirteen, he was old enough to recognize that his mother was very ill.

 

When the children were gathered, Lola began, “I want you all to always remember that your mamma loves you very dearly. But though I love you and would like to be able to take care of you and watch you grow up into manhood and womanhood, I have a feeling that maybe I won’t be with you much longer.”

 

“Why, Mamma?” Mary cried in alarm, “Will Daddy bring someone to take you away and give you a nice home and a new dress and lots and lots to eat?”

 

“Hush, Mary.” Mamma was crying now.

 

“I’m sorry, Mamma, but I was just thinking of Alice. Why are you going away? I don’t want you to go away, Mamma. Please, please don’t go away.” She locked her little arms around Lola’s arm and held on as if to hold her.

 

This outburst made it increasingly difficult for Lola to continue to try to prepare the children for what she believed to be the inevitable. She lay in silence a few moments, stroking Mary’s little head with her other hand and trying to compose herself to continue. Finally she said, “Children, what I’m going to tell you is very important. Don’t interrupt me any more. Just listen and keep very still for I can’t talk very loud.” She cleared her throat and started again.

 

“Years ago, I had a grandmother who was a Christian. A Christian is someone who lives for God. God is someone we can’t see who lives up in Heaven and rules the world. He desires that everybody should live for Him, but most people live for themselves.” She turned over on her side so that she could face them as she talked. “My grandmother prayed to God that He would change me so that I too could be a Christian, so that I would live for Him and have peace in my heart. But I was rebellious. I did not want God’s way; I wanted my own way. I wouldn’t mind God and live a Christian life as my grandmother tried to get me to, for I loved the pleasures of sin and didn’t want to give them up. But I’ve found out that the way I chose did not satisfy, it did not make me happy at all.

 

“Last night when I was so sick, I remembered the things Grandma told me and I wished I would have listened to her. I longed for that peace that she said God could give. So I prayed to God, whom my grandmother served so faithfully, and asked Him to make me a Christian like Grandma, to give me the peace she had. Though I don’t deserve God’s mercy because I’ve spent my whole life living for myself, yet God heard my prayers and forgave all my sins, and gave me a deep-settled peace within. I am now a Christian, children, like my grandmother was. Thank God for her prayers and faith in the God she served. If it hadn’t been for her prayers and faithfulness to my soul, I would never have found this peace.” She paused for strength as she wept silently for joy because of her experience with God. The children stole shy glances at one another but no one spoke.

 

“After a few moments, Lola continued, “I want you to know about God so you can pray and have peace in your hearts while you are young, and go to Heaven when your life is through. So I’m going to tell you a Bible story that I learned in Sunday School. I hope you’ll never forget it, and that you will grow up to live for God. And boys,” she looked at Jimmie and Jacky, “don’t ever take one drop of liquor. You see what it’s done to your poor daddy, and how it has caused us to never have enough to eat and never have decent clothes to wear.” Again she paused, wondering if she would have strength to finish.

 

“The story I want to tell you is about a rich man who didn’t obey God, but lived to please himself. When he died, he went to a place called hell where there are flames of fire. There he was tormented. He begged for a drop of water to cool his tongue, but nobody would help him. You see, he had made his decision while he was living, and when he was dead, it was too late to change.

 

“But there was another man in the story. He lived for God. He made up his mind while he was living, to obey God’s commands, and when he died, he went to a beautiful place called Heaven, where there is peace and happiness forever with God. So you see, there is a sad part and a happy part to the story. And it shows that you have to make up your minds, each one of you, whether your life will be a happy story or a sad story. Never forget what I’m telling you.

 

“If God sees fit to let me stay with you awhile longer, I will buy a Bible and read it to you and teach you more about Jesus and Heaven. But if He sees fit to take me on, you will know that I’m in a beautiful place, living with Grandma and others who live in Heaven, worshiping God and enjoying all the things that He has prepared for us there. There will be no sickness or sadness there, and if you will let God save you, some day you can come to Heaven and live forever with us. I’ve asked God to save all of you, as well as Daddy, so that some day we will be together again.” Her voice was a bare whisper now and the children drew in closer to catch her words.

 

She lay in silence a few moments, breathing heavily, and then added, “Jimmie, if God takes me to Heaven before Daddy comes home again, you can go for Mr. Simmons. He will know what to do. Do the best you can, Son, for the little ones. I’ve committed all of you to God and asked Him to watch over you in His tender love and mercy.”

 

Jimmie’s shoulders drooped as he bit his lips to still their trembling. A pained expression appeared on his countenance .

 

There was an awkward silence and then Lola smiled and said gently, “Go fix the gruel, Katie. Measure it very carefully and don’t spill a grain. We must make it stretch as far as possible. Surely Daddy will bring something soon,” she added wistfully.

 

Jimmie stayed very near Mamma’s bedside the remainder of the day. If Daddy would only come to share the responsibility. He longed for Alice. She would know what to do. Glancing up, he saw Mary sitting on the floor at the head of her mother’s bed. She was quiet, picking at a piece of cotton wadding sticking out from the mattress. The tears were trickling down her cheeks and her look was one of frustration. A surge of panic swept over Jimmie, and he felt like running and giving vent to the awful feeling within. But he smothered the desire and sat quietly. There was a death-like silence in the house. No one felt like talking.

 

The day passed slowly and after a supper of more meal gruel, Katie helped to tuck Mary and Sue in bed and crawled in beside them.

 

Jimmie yet sat by Mamma’s bed. She had slept most of the day and had refused the gruel he offered her. Now, he heard her call his name.

 

He jumped to his feet. “I’m right here, Mamma,” he answered as he stroked her fevered brow.

 

“Jimmie, if Daddy doesn’t come home before I go, tell him I’m sorry for my part in making our lives together so miserable.”

 

Jimmie only mumbled. A stony look stole over his face as he clenched his fists. “No, Mamma,” he whispered to himself where she could not hear, “I’ll never give him that message and let him blame you for everything when he’s to blame himself.”

 

About midnight, the door was pushed open and Jim walked in. He had come home with a new resolve to reform. He had brought an abundant supply of groceries and a piece of yard goods for Lola and the girls’ new dresses. When his eyes became accustomed to the dim light by his wife’s bed, he was greatly shocked at what he saw. Lola was in a stupor.

 

“What’s the matter with her, Jimmie?” he asked broken as he approached her bed. Jimmie didn’t answer, but Jim saw immediately that she was near death. He realized that it was too late to call a doctor, too late to bring food, too late to amend his ways, too late to buy her a new dress—” He knelt by her bed, put his head on his arm and wept bitterly. Raising his head once again, he asked huskily, “How long has she been like this?”

 

“She took a turn for the worse a couple of hours ago,” Jimmie answered stiffly.

 

Jim took her hand in his, bent over the wasted form and with tears streaming down his cheeks and dripping off his chin, he cried, “Lola, Lola, can you ever forgive me? Can you hear me, Lola? I came home to stay this time, Lola, really and truly I did. I was going to prove to you that I could make you a good husband. I love you, Lola, I love you.”

 

Lola roused as if in a dream and a faint smile appeared on her lips. Something about that smile reminded Jim of his girl-bride of sixteen years ago,and he kissed her tenderly as he had on that other day when she had been so radiantly happy. Then she was gone.

 

Chapter 3

 

Deserted

 

Never had Jim been so broken-hearted. As he stood with head bowed at the foot of the grave that he, Jimmie, Paul Simmons, and Pete Long had dug, he vowed anew that he was going to be a different man. “I’m going to be the kind of daddy these kids will be proud of,” he promised himself. “I will have to be a mamma and daddy both now, and I’m going to show them I can do a good job of it.”

 

Mrs. Long and Mrs. Simmons, along with a few other of the folk from the community, stood just behind the silent, dejected children, grouped about the open grave. Katie reached for Sue’s hand and placed her arm protectingly around Mary, drawing her close. Jimmie stood with downcast eyes while Jacky kept kicking at dirt clods, gumballs, and whatever else that was within his reach.

 

A model T Ford came bouncing down the dusty road, and the children turned in one accord to watch. Another neighbor, Mr. Thompson, whom they knew only vaguely, got out along with a man dressed in black. Both of the men smiled and nodded their heads in greeting as they looked toward the children. They then walked over to Jim. After a few minutes of conversation, the man in black took a black book out of his satchel, opened it and started to read.

 

“Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her—She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.” Jim was sobbing aloud as he listened to the words that were being read.

 

“He oughta bawl,” whispered Mrs. Simmons to Mrs. Long. “The sorry thing, let her starve to death. I’d be ashamed to carry on like that if I had been acting like he has.”

 

“Pore Miss Lola,” was Annie Long’s only comment.

 

The man in black was still reading, “She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands—She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household…”

 

“She never gave meat to her household,” Mrs. Simmons commented softly to Annie. “She didn’t have none to give. Did good to get beans.”

 

“She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard …. “

 

“She never planted a vineyard, but she’s planted many a garden,” Mrs. Simmons whispered back of her hand to Annie. “She would of starved long time before now if her and Jimmie hadn’t of worked like slaves raising food in the garden.”

 

“She stretcheth out her hand to the poor: yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy …. “

 

“That’s her, all right,” Mrs. Simmons whispered again. “All day long, she was reaching out to the poor and needy—her own family. Poor Kids! I wonder who’s going to reach out to them now. That sorry daddy of theirs sure won’t take care of them.”

 

The man in black was finishing his reading. “ … In her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.”

 

Closing the book, he began to speak. Annie Long slipped away from Mrs. Simmons and stood beside her husband. She wanted to hear the sermon instead of listening to Mrs. Simmons’ comments.

 

The man in black was saying, “Though I wasn’t acquainted with this young mother, I trust she is at rest with Jesus in her beautiful heavenly home. There, all the heartaches, pain, grief, and troubles of earth are forever ended. God promised that He would wipe away the tears from the eyes of all who come to live with Him. You have a wonderful consolation in Jesus if you are a Christian. But if not, you need to come to Him while there is time and opportunity. He calls today, ‘Come unto me—and I will give you rest.’ Today is the day of salvation, tomorrow may be too late.”

 

When he had finished speaking, he bowed his head and prayed, and then turned to shake hands with Jim. Moving over to where the children stood, he shook hands with each of them. There were tears in the kindly man’s eyes as he looked at the little group of poverty-stricken children huddled together near their mother’s grave. What would become of these little motherless children? Had he known the whole story, he would have been much more concerned.

 

Turning back to Jim, he assured him that Jesus was a refuge in the time of storm. Mary looked upward, but there was no sign of a storm. She wondered what the man meant about a storm. He was now inviting Jim to church and telling him if he ever needed him, to be sure and call on him. He took a card from his pocket and handed it to Jim, but as the man in black turned to leave with Mr. Thompson. Jim let the card fall to the ground. Hastily, Mary picked it up and clutched it tightly in her fist. Later, at home, she put it in her little coat pocket. She felt that if such a kind-looking man gave it to Daddy that whatever was on it must be good.

 

After the funeral service was over and the women and children were gone, Jim, Mr. Simmons and Mr. Long filled in the grave. Then Jim walked slowly away from the little country graveyard and headed toward home. Mr. Simmons caught up with him and together they walked along.

 

“Jim,” he said, “I know words don’t mean much in a time like this, but I’m truly sorry. Lola was a wonderful woman.”

 

Jim did not answer; he was busy wiping tears from his eyes.

 

“Jim, I know how you feel. I’ve been down this road once myself, only it was different with me. I didn’t have no kids at the time.”

 

Still Jim did not speak.

 

Mr. Simmons cleared his throat and continued the conversation. “Maybe it’s none of my business, but aren’t Lola’s folks still living? I’ve heard you speak of them on several occasions. Did you send them word about her passing?”

 

“No, not yet, Paul,” he answered huskily. “They wouldn’t have been able to attend the funeral, anyway. Their health is poor. Her pa hasn’t been able to work lately and her ma has been caring for him. Anyway, I’ll send them word in a day or so.”

 

“You should, Jim; they need to know about her.”

 

They were both silent for a few minutes and then Mr. Simmons spoke again. “Jim, why don’t you heed the preacher’s advice and get your children in church? If you can’t go to his church, you could bring them to our little church up the road.”

 

“I’ll see, Paul. You know we don’t have any way to get around, and three miles is a long way to walk to church.”

 

“Why the kids would love it, Jim. Why don’t you give it a try?”

 

“We’ll see.”

 

“I guess you’ll think I’m really prying into your business, Jim,” Mr. Simmons spoke once again, “But there’s one more thing I want to talk to you about.”

 

“Feel free, Paul. You’ve been a friend down through the years and gave me work when I couldn’t find any elsewhere. I feel that whatever you say to me is a concern from your heart.”

 

“I’m glad you feel that way, Jim, for that’s the way it is. I’m concerned about you and your family. Uh—what I want to say is—uh—your kids need to be back in school.”

 

“Believe me, Paul, we’ve done our best to keep them in school—but—” his body shook with sobs.

 

“Brace up, ole boy,” Mr. Simmons tried to console him.

 

In a few minutes, Jim spoke again through his tears. “Paul, I want to straighten up my life. I made up my mind after my last fling that I was through with the stuff. I came back home to Lola and the children and was going to prove to them that I could change. Things are going to be different. But now—oh, Paul, what’s the use? She’s gone, she’s gone. How can I live without her?”

 

“You must be a mamma and a daddy now, Jim. Straighten up for the children’s sake. They need you worse than they ever have.”

 

“Yes, I know. Back to the subject of school, if I can get out enough logs and cross-ties to buy them a few clothes, I’ll get the children back in school, maybe by the next term. We had to take them out last winter because their shoes and coats were so ragged. Lola did the best she could, but—” he broke down again weeping uncontrollably. Upon regaining his composure, he added, “She did well to keep them alive with what little means she had. Oh, Paul,” he sobbed, “I’ve been such a failure and no way to ever make amends. How can I stand it?”

 

“You have a strong will, Jim, you’ll make it. You can make amends to your children. I’ll be pulling for you.”

 

“Thanks, Paul, you’re a real friend.”

 

“Here we are at your place, Jim. I’ll go on home. If you need me or my wife, call us. And you can work with me as soon as you feel up to it.”

 

“See you later, Paul.”

 

It was growing late when Jim entered the little cabin. The sight that met his gaze tore at his heart. Mary was huddled in a corner asleep. Katie sat on the edge of Lola’s bed with her arm about Sue, their eyes red from weeping. Jacky was sprawled face down on the floor and did not bother to look up when Jim came in. Jimmie sat on a box by the table, his chin in his hand.

 

“Well, Kiddos,” Jim tried to appear cheerful, “Let’s get some supper started. Hey, Mary, wake up. You won’t sleep tonight.” He walked over and gently shook her awake. She opened her sleepy eyes and stared blankly at him.

 

“Mamma,” she spoke her name quietly.

 

“Mamma’s not with us any longer, Girlie,” Daddy told her, choking back the sobs. “We must all do the best we can without her.”

 

“But I saw her. She was—”

 

“You’ve been dreaming, Mary. Get up now and go get me some kindling so I can get a fire started and cook some supper.”

 

“Mrs. Simmons brought some supper, Daddy. Said we wouldn’t have to cook tonight since we, since we—” Jacky stammered.

 

“Well, bless her old heart,” Jim said gratefully as he went toward the kitchen to see what she had brought. Had he been able to overhear her remarks at the funeral, he might not have been so appreciative.

 

For a few weeks, Jim remained home with the children. He and Jimmie worked with Paul Simmons in the woods during the day. Jacky was left to care for the children. For a few days, Mrs. Long and Mrs. Simmons brought food and did what they could to help comfort the children. But all too soon, they were left to themselves with their sorrow. The little cabin was very lonely without Mamma and many were the tears that were shed by each one. But with Jim staying home and trying so hard to mend his ways, the grief was a little easier to bear.

 

But it wasn’t long until Jim began to grow restless once again. One morning, he failed to awaken Jimmie as usual to go to work with him. Instead, he arose early himself, and boiled some beans and fried some potatoes. He then shook Jimmie awake.

 

“Jimmie,” he addressed him nervously, “I must be gone a few days to buy some victuals. Take care of the little ones and I will be back soon.”

 

Before Jimmie could protest, he had grabbed his hat off the nail on the wall, stuck it on his head and walked out the door. Jimmie jumped out of bed and followed him to the porch, but his daddy did not look back once. Jimmie watched him until he disappeared around the bend in the road, then he dropped onto the step with his head in his hands, a gesture which meant he felt utterly defeated. Someone touched him on the shoulder, and turning his head, he saw Mary looking down at him.

 

“Why are you up so early, Mary?”

 

“I heard Daddy talking to you, Jimmie. When will he come back? I don’t like for him and Mamma both to be gone.”

 

“Oh, he’ll come back one of these days, Mary,” he replied. “Yes, he’ll be back, but—” his voice trailed off.

 

“But what?” asked Jacky who had joined them.

 

“Oh, you wouldn’t understand,” he answered with a tremor in his voice. Then dropping his head in his hands once again, he shook with sobs. “We won’t stand for it, we won’t stand for it,” he kept repeating.

 

“Won’t stand for what, Jimmie?” It was Jacky again. Mary had wilted at the sight of Jimmie’s tears and was huddled up against the wall of the porch.

 

Jimmie stood to his feet and looked at his little brother and sister. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. Poor Jimmie! He had tried to be brave, as Mamma had always taught him to be. When there was not enough to eat, Mamma would say, “Jimmie, Son, you are older. You and I will do without and let the little ones have it.” When there was just one ragged coat between them, he was told to be brave and let Jacky have it. Jimmie had never complained and had always tried to be what Mamma wanted him to be. How it would help now to hear her saying, “Be brave, Jimmie, everything will be all right.” But Mamma was gone, and Daddy was gone, and the heavy load of caring for the children had fallen on his young shoulders.

 

Mary slipped over to Jimmie’s side and placing her little hand in his, she pleaded, “Jimmie, don’t cry. Maybe when we go to sleep, we’ll go to that beautiful place where Mamma is.”

 

“What are you talking about, Mary?” he asked in astonishment.

 

“The man in black said he hoped Mamma had gone to that beautiful heaven, and she did, ‘cause I saw her, and Jimmie, she was – she was so pretty and she wasn’t sad anymore.” Her little face glowed as she shared her cherished dream that she had the day Mamma was buried.

 

“The man in black!” Jimmie repeated wonderingly. “That’s the answer. If only we can find the man in black, he will help us.”

 

Mary and Jacky looked at each other without speaking as Jimmie continued excitedly, “Run, Mary, and wake up Katie and Sue.” Glancing toward the doorway, he said, “Never mind. Here they are.” To Katie, he said, “Go get the victuals ready. Daddy said he left some beans and potatoes cooked. Save enough back for dinner and put the rest in those two syrup buckets that me and Daddy take our lunch to work in. I think there’s some corn bread, too. That should do us awhile, until we can find someone to help us.”

 

“But how can we find anyone to help us?” Jacky was skeptical.

 

“Mr. Thompson will know,” he answered. “He came with the man in black the day of Mamma’s funeral.”

 

“But where does Mr. Thompson live?” Jacky still was not convinced. “We’ve only seen him three times, once when Mamma died, once when he brought food, and once when—”.

 

“Never mind, Jacky,” Jim interrupted with an air of importance. “We’ll find somebody that knows. We can’t just stay here and starve to death. Now go help Katie get things together. We want to leave right after dinner.”

 

“Why can’t we leave now, Jimmie?” It was Sue.

 

“I have things to do, Sue. I promised Daddy I would stick the beans.”

 

“But if no one’s gonna be here, why stick the beans?”

 

“A promise is a promise, Sue.”

 

And so it was a strange little procession that moved slowly along the dusty road in the early afternoon hours. Katie and Sue carried the buckets with the food in them. Jacky had an old blanket in case they had to camp out that night, and Jimmie carefully carried the kerosene lamp (in case the girls were scared in the dark), and a jug of drinking water. Mary was hanging onto her corn-cob doll, and wrapped in an old newspaper she held tightly was the yard goods that Daddy had brought the night Mother died.

 

“Why bring that?” Jimmie had scolded her.

 

“The man in black may have a lady that will make me and Sue and Katie new dresses,” she answered simply. Jimmie did not have the heart to make her leave it behind.

 

This was the first time that Mary and Sue had ever been any farther away from the little cabin than the wooded area that surrounded it. But the boys and Katie had attended school part time. Also, Jimmie, Jacky, and Katie had been privileged once to go to town with Mamma and Daddy in Batesville. They reminisced as they walked along. It was just before Christmas and Daddy had borrowed a horse and buggy for transportation. What a happy day that was. They were each allowed to select a toy from the dime store, the only real store-bought toys they had ever owned. Jimmie got a little truck with a trailer that could be removed, Jacky chose a plastic bat and ball, and Mamma bought a big red ball for Katie. For herself, she selected some dry goods for a new dress. Jimmie said he could remember how bright her face looked as she looked through the bolts of cloth.

 

“Mamma was so happy that day,” Jimmie smiled sadly. “I must have been five because you were born shortly afterwards, Sue, and there’s five years difference in our ages. But I remember it as if it was yesterday. Daddy stayed home a long time after that and then one morning he just walked off like he did this morning.”

 

This had been the only life the children had ever known. But somehow, they were able to accept what they could not change.

 

Darkness was fast creeping upon the weary little group. Their steps had slowed, and they stole longing glances at the buckets that Sue and Katie carried. The sounds of crickets chirping and the occasional bellowing of a bullfrog greeted their ears. When the eerie sound of a screech owl burst upon them, Mary moved closer to Jimmie and put her trembling hand to his.

 

“Let’s stop here under this big gum tree,” Jimmie suggested. “It’s getting too dark to see where we’re going and we’re hungry. We’ll eat part of the victuals and try to get some sleep.”

Mary began to sob, “I wanta go back home and sleep in my bed,” she cried. “I’m scared of the dark and—and—the screeching—and—and noises.”

 

“Hush, Mary,” Sue tried to comfort her. “You must be brave if we’re to find the man in black.” She put her arm about her little sister and held her close. But tremor racked her own body; she, too, was afraid of the dark.

 

“I’m afraid a snake will crawl on us,” Katie complained. “Or a spider might fall out of this tree, or a worm—”

 

“Be quiet, Katie,” Jimmie scolded her. “Nothing’s going to bother us. Here, Jacky, hold this lamp while I find a match. We’ll have a light here before you know it.” He fumbled in his pocket and located the two matches that he was able to find before he left home. Striking one on the buckle of his overalls, he carefully lit the lamp; but before they could get the lids off the buckets, the wind had blown it out. He reached for the other match but hesitated. If the wind blew that out, there was no more. Putting it back in his pocket, he said, “I reckon we can feel around in these buckets and eat what we want. Sue, did you think to bring the spoon?”

 

“Here it is.” Jacky fished it out of his pocket.

 

“Let Mary eat first. She’s the littlest,” Sue suggested.

 

“I don’t want nothing to eat,” Mary whimpered.

 

“Me, either,” Sue told them.

 

“Then Katie, you eat,” Jimmie said.

 

“If a worm fell out of this tree and fell into the bucket, I couldn’t see it and I would be eating a worm. Or maybe a bug—” she shuddered.

 

“Give me the spoon, Katie,” Jacky commanded. I’ll eat. Worms or no worms, bugs or no bugs. I’m hungry.” But before long, he passed the spoon over to Jimmie.

 

Jimmie ate slowly. The thought of a long, squirmy worm wiggling around in his beans caused him to reach for the lid and push it tightly on the bucket.

 

“Spread out the blanket, Jacky,” he instructed. “Let’s try to get some sleep. I’m tired.”

 

“Let’s go back home, Jimmie,” Mary pleaded. “I don’t like to sleep on the ground.”

 

“Mary, do you want to go home and starve? We have no food there,” he informed her.

 

“But I’m not hungry, Jimmie. I don’t care if there is no food there.”

 

“But you’ll be hungry tomorrow. Now lay down between Sue and Katie and go to sleep. I’ll sit up and watch over you tonight.” After many consoling words, Mary was quieted and soon their even breathing convinced Jimmie they were sleeping. Later he dozed off sitting at the trunk of the tree.

 

Upon awakening the next morning, Jimmie straightened his back and rubbed his eyes. Looking around him, he mumbled, “Where am I? Oh yes, we’re going to find the man in black.”

 

A sad look crossed his face as he took in the scene around him. The little ones, so thin and ragged, were stretched out on the old blanket. “Why did our Mamma have to die?” he asked himself bitterly.

 

Reaching for one of the syrup buckets, he opened it; but the sour smell was a stench to his nostrils. The potatoes were not much better, so he closed both buckets and stood to his feet. “No breakfast today,” he said aloud. “Probably no dinner, no supper, no nothing. Oh-h-h,” he moaned, “what are we going to do?”

 

His talking and movement awakened Mary and she sat up rubbing her eyes. Looking around her in a frightened manner, she began to cry.

 

“Sh-h, Mary. No use crying. That won’t help matters,” Jimmie said impatiently.

 

“I’m hungry,” Mary whimpered.

 

Jimmie opened the potato bucket and handed her a piece of potato. “Here, eat this fried potato,” he told her.

 

She reached for it, but after a bite, she whined, “It’s not any good, Jimmie. It’s soggy and tastes bad.”

 

“It’s all I’ve got to give you, Mary. Either eat it or starve.” He looked down into her little pale face and noticed her eyes filled with tears. Squatting down beside her, he apologized. “I’m sorry, Mary, for being so cross. I know you must be hungry since you didn’t eat last night, but this heat has spoiled what food we had. We will have to wait until we find the man in black before we can get anything else to eat. I believe he’ll help us if we can only find him.”

 

By this time, the others were awake. After explaining that they had no food and would have to finish their journey on an empty stomach, they started to hear a rumbling sound behind them. Turning, they saw a large vehicle, loaded with what they later learned was hay. The truck passed them and then stopped until the children caught up with it. A rough looking, heavy-set man got out of the cab.

 

“Where are you children running off to?” he scowled.

 

Jimmie turned pale and opened his mouth to speak. When words failed to come out, Sue blurted out, “We’re going to find a man in black. He told us if we ever needed hlm to call on him, and we—”.

 

“Hey, what kind of a story is this?” the man asked gruffly. “You children crawl up there on that hay and I’ll take you home to your folks.”

 

“But Mamma is buried in a big ole hole and Daddy left us and we don’t have nothing to eat and—and—”. Little Mary sobbed brokenly as she related her troubles to the unsympathetic stranger.

 

The man cleared his throat, shuffled his feet, cleared his throat again and then spoke a little more kindly, “Come on, young ‘uns. Get up there on that hay. Wait a minute. You girls get in the cab with me ‘til I can check out this story you’re telling.”

 

The five tired children meekly obeyed, not knowing anything else to do.

 

After a long, rough ride, the truck stopped in front of a large brown farm house, surrounded by an unpainted picket fence. In one corner of the yard stood an oak tree covered with wisteria vine in full bloom. A black and yellow cat sat in the sunshine on the front steps, licking her paws. Here and there, chickens were scattered, busily scratching for something to eat. A small black and white dog ran to meet them, his tail wagging in welcome, but the man yelled at him, “Get out of the way, Rock.”

 

A pretty lady, who appeared much younger than the man, appeared in the doorway.

 

“Sarah, I’ve picked up some young ‘uns, down the road a piece, who will have to be cared for until I can check out a story they tell.” He then called over his shoulder, “Come on in, young ‘uns, you can stay here awhile.”

 

Jimmie and Jacky climbed down off the hay, but the girls had no idea how to open the door of the cab to get out, so they remained where they were.

 

“Come on, children. Hurry up.”

 

“My sisters can’t get out of the—the—” Jacky stuttered.

 

“Then, you open the door for them,” he ordered.

 

“Jacky, and then Jimmie, tried unsuccessfully to get the heavy door open. They looked at the man helplessly. He turned back toward the truck with a look of disgust and freed the little girls. Shoving them gently toward the house, he said, “Go on in with the madam.”

 

Upon entering the house, the irresistible aroma of food cooking caused some of the children to rub their empty stomachs.

 

“Put some more water in the soup, Sarah,” the man instructed. “We have five extra mouths to feed today.”

 

“As you say,” she replied meekly and disappeared into the kitchen, but not before giving the children a warm smile.

 

The children were told to be seated on a long couch in one corner of the living room. After they were left alone, they cautiously surveyed their surroundings. The room in which they sat, was unpainted, and in the middle of the north side of it there was a fireplace. A grandfather clock stood in the corner opposite them and its pendulum swinging back and forth fascinated the children. The furniture was scanty, and yet unlike any the children had ever seen. The walls were bare except for a couple of calendars hooked over large, rusty nails. The children were still scanning the large room when the lady called “Sarah” entered and with a smile, invited them to come eat.

 

Obediently, they jumped to their feet and followed her. They had never seen such a feast, even though the food was simple. Sarah filled each plate, and they began eating, bashfully at first, and then as they tasted the delicious food, the hungry children ate ravenously. Never before in their poor little lives had they seen such a variety of good food for one meal. When they had cleaned their plates, Sarah served them peach cobbler topped with fresh whipped cream. Oh, how good it was! They began to relax and lose their fear. The warmth of Sarah’s smile made them feel right at home.

 

Chapter 4

 

Loving Care

 

Meanwhile, Jim Reid, the children’s father, stumbled along a side street in the town of Batesville. He was hungry, having spent his last penny on liquor, and he was feeling sick. Momentarily, the children’s faces, pale and thin, appeared before him, and he murmured, “I’m gonna have to do better. I must do better for my children need me. Lola’s gone now and they have nobody. Oh-h-h,” he groaned as if in pain as he stumbled into a nearby alley. Taking a few steps, he fell, and feeling too weak to get up, he lapsed into a fitful sleep.

 

When he finally awoke, he discovered he was lying on a cot in a dimly lit room. In astonishment, he tried to get up, but was weaker than he realized, so he fell back on the cot. A man appeared in the doorway, and Jim asked, “Where am I?”

 

“You’re with friends who want to help you,” the man replied. “How are you feeling? Would you like something to eat?”

 

Jim looked at the man and blinked. Was this stranger actually speaking to him? Telling him he was his friend and wanted to help him? He closed his eyes tightly and opened them again to make sure he wasn’t having hallucinations.

 

“I’m George Greene,” the man stuck out his hand to shake hands with Jim. “This is my wife, Ellen.” He motioned toward a lady who had followed him into the room. She had in her hand a glass of orange juice and offered it to Jim.

 

Jim accepted the juice as he introduced himself. “Jim Reid is my name.”

 

Mrs. Greene smiled warmly. “Are you feeling better this morning, Mr. Reid?”

 

“I feel terrible, Ma’am. But don’t call me Mr. Reid. That makes me feel older than my thirty-five years. Just call me Jim.”

 

“Sure, Jim.”

 

“How did I get here? The last thing I remember I was—” he stopped.

 

“My son, Alton, found you lying in the—in the alley when he came home last night,” she replied hesitantly. “He summoned help and brought you here because he recognized that you needed a helping hand. Just take it easy, Mr. Reid—uh—Jim, and I will have you something to eat shortly. How about some coffee?”

 

“The orange juice will do, thank you,” he answered gratefully.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Greene left his room, gently closing the door behind them. Jim tried to relax, but could not keep from turning and tossing.

 

“I wonder how Jimmie’s making out at home,” he muttered to himself, and then moaned pitifully, “My children, my children, why did I leave them? They’re probably starving and with nowhere to turn for help. I can yet see Jimmie’s little scared face looking up at me when I told him I was leaving. Oh-h-h,” he groaned again, “what a no-good daddy I am, and what a rotten husband I made. My dear Lola, why did you leave us? If only I could turn back the pages of time, I’d do differently. Oh-h-h.” He shook his head and swallowed a lump in his throat. “These memories haunt me day and night. How can I stand them any longer? If only I had a drink!” He knew he did not have a cent, but he felt he had to have a drink. “If I can just slip out of here and get to the bar, Mitchel will let me clean his place for a drink.” He tried desperately to get up, but with every attempt, he would fall back weakly onto his cot. His head was spinning, his eyesight was blurred, and he felt nauseated and hot as if he had fever.

 

In a little while, Mrs. Greene returned with a tray of food, but he was too sick to eat. She left and returned with a glass of tomato juice.

 

“Here, Jim, drink this. It will help to settle your stomach. Your face looks flushed. You may have a little fever.”

 

“I’m awfully sick, Ma’am. I don’t think I can drink the juice.”

 

“Please try. It will help you.”

 

Jim took a swallow, but in a few minutes, it came back up. When Mrs. Greene wiped his face with a damp cloth, she noticed how warm he was to her touch. She left the room with a look of concern on her face.

 

Jim dropped off to sleep, tossing and turning restlessly. Upon awakening, he was crying, “I’m coming, Mary. I’m coming.”

 

“Now, now, Jim. Take it easy there.” Mr. Greene stood beside his bed along with a strange man.

 

“But I saw her,” he cried pitifully. “She stood in the doorway and called to me. I started to run and gather her in my arms and tell her I’d never leave her again, but I stumbled and fell—I couldn’t get up. Oh-h-h—” he groaned as if in agony.

 

“It was only a dream, Jim,” Mr. Greene tried to console him.

 

The stranger spoke, “I believe he’s a very sick man, Greene.” He then proceeded to examine Jim thoroughly. When he placed his stethoscope to Jim’s chest and listened, he shook his head negatively. Calling Mr. Greene aside, he spoke in subdued tones, “He has pneumonia besides other complications. It will be a long pull. And in this man’s run-down condition, I’m afraid it will be a fight for his life. I’ll give him a shot and leave some tablets for him to take.” Then with a perplexed expression, he asked, “Who is this fellow, Greene? Where did he come from? You folk beat all I’ve ever seen for taking in people that you know nothing about.”

 

“You’re right, Doc,” he replied. “We know nothing at all about him except his name. That is, if he told us his correct name.”

 

“Give me a drink,” Jim pleaded as perspiration stood out on his forehead and tremors racked his body. “Please, I must have a drink. I’ll die if I don’t get one. Please, please have mercy on me.”

 

The doctor shook his head sadly and gave Jim a shot which soon caused him to drift off into a spasmodic sleep.

 

Darkness had settled when he awoke again. He tried to raise his head, but he was so weak that it fell back onto his pillow. The room swam dizzily about him, and he found it difficult to breathe.

 

A strange masculine voice spoke, “Here Jim, drink this juice, It will do you good.” Jim opened his eyes briefly and saw a man possibly eight or ten years younger than himself. This must be Alton, the son, he guessed.

 

He managed to drink a few swallows as the young man held up his head. This time he was able to retain it. After a few moments, he spoke in a weak voice, “Sir, you folk are very kind to me. I don’t deserve it.” Breathing heavily, he continued, “When I’m well, I’ll repay you. I’ll get a job and straighten up my life and pay you folk for all you have done.”

 

With bleary eyes, he looked up into one of the kindest faces he had ever seen. The sympathetic understanding he saw there touched his heart and caused him to vow once again that he was going to get off the bottle and reform his life.

 

For days, he was dangerously ill, many times delirious. The craving for drink was so strong that, at times, it seemed he would lose his mind. In his battle for life and his fight against his desire for drink, the children were temporarily forgotten, but when eventually his strength and health began to return, memories also returned.

 

“I wish I could discuss my problems with the Greenes,” he thought wistfully, “But what would they think of me? The children might all be dead from starvation. Oh-h-h,” he moaned, “these thoughts drive me crazy. Just as soon as I get my strength back, I must go back and find out for myself about my children. Maybe by some miracle, Pete or Paul might have taken them in.”

 

As Jim continued to improve, he was able to sit in a chair for short periods during the day. One morning as he sat watching the raindrops pelt against the window pane, Mrs. Greene entered.

 

“Good Morning, Jim,” she greeted him with her usual cheery smile. “My. it’s good to see you able to sit up. You’re looking great with that color in your cheeks. You must be feeling lots better.”

 

“Much,” he assured her, “thanks to you good folk. Do you have a few minutes to spare, Mrs. Greene? I’d like very much to talk to you. There are some things I’d like to know.”

 

“Sure, Jim, I can always spare a—few minutes to talk.”

 

Jim glanced at her as she seated herself in a chair across the room from him. She had been very good to him, as had her husband and their son, Alton. They had sat up at night with him when it was needful and had paid a doctor to treat him. They had given him special food and medicine, and courage to fight against the addiction of alcohol.

 

“Why did you folk take me in and care for me, Mrs. Greene? You knew I was a no-good drunk the night Alton brought me home. For all you know, I may never be able to repay you a cent and you’ve spent much time and money on me. I’ve never known very much kindness in my life, and I’d like to know why you have done what you have. There’s surely a reason. Do you mind explaining to me?”

 

“I suppose there’s a reason for most everything one does, Jim, but let’s not talk about it now,” she said quietly while tears welled up in her eyes. She arose to go, then changing her mind, she sat down again.

 

“Jim,” her voice quavered as she spoke, “I suppose you do have a right to know some things, but first tell me about yourself. Who is Mary? Is she your wife? You must loved her very much.”

 

At the mention of his precious baby girl, Jim shuddered. Where was she and the other children now? Perhaps they were huddled together in the little hut, dead from starvation. He tried to answer Mrs. Greene, but words failed him. He coughed as if he were choking and then dropped his head in his hands as sobs shook his frame. When he raised his head again, Mrs. Greene was gone.

 

Later, when Alton came into his room, Jim was back in bed staring at the ceiling. Alton pulled his chair up close to his bed.

 

“Hello, old partner. How are you?” Alton greeted him.

 

“Hello,” Jim answered. “You must be Alton.”

 

Alton nodded briefly. “Jim,” he began carefully, “Mother told me what happened today. Don’t you want to tell me about it? It will help to unload on somebody. Evidently, there has been tragedy in your life. Since we have had tragedy, too, Jim, it will probably do us all good to share our troubles with one another.”

 

Jim did not answer; he could not trust himself to speak. For a few minutes, there was silence between them. Then Alton started talking slowly and painfully.

 

“I was born a twin, Jim. Bud and I came along after our parents had nearly given up all hope of ever having any more children. Our sister was five when we were born. Mom and Dad loved us so very much, it was akin to worship. They gave us everything they could afford. We have never been rich, but we have never been in want of anything. My daddy has always had a good job and made good money; therefore, we were able to have just about what we wanted.

 

“Naturally, my identical brother and I were very close. I’m sorry to say that we didn’t appreciate the things my parents did for us. We were spoiled brats, and the more we got, the more we wanted. When Bud and I were in our teens, we started running with the wrong crowd and soon we were carousing around every night and drinking. This was a great grief to my parents, but we were heedless of their warnings.

 

As time went on, we became hopeless alcoholics at barely twenty years of age. We lost respect for ourselves, our dear parents, our sister, and everybody else. We drank up every cent we could get our hands on. We didn’t work much, but when we did, we spent every dime we made on liquor. I’m ashamed to confess it, but we actually stole money from our parents to buy the stuff.

 

“After our lives were completely ruined, Bud met a girl whom he fell in love with. She did not appear to be very fond of him, or so it seemed to me; nevertheless, she strung him along. He decided to quit drinking and to straighten up his life for the sake of this girl. My, how he loved her! So he stopped going to the bar with me and tried his best to get off the stuff. I saw him nearly suffer death when that craving for drink possessed him. He would walk the floor like a caged animal with the perspiration standing out on his forehead, crying and repeating over and over, ‘I won’t do it, I won’t do it. I won’t give in.’

 

“Well, I was mad at him because he quit running around with me, so I made it as hard on him as I could. I would torment him and tell him he wasn’t going to make it. I even went so far as to hold a bottle of the stuff close to his nose, forcing him to smell it. He would grip the back of a chair, looking wild and turning as pale as death. Then I would laugh like crazy and tell him that he didn’t have to suffer like that, all he had to do was to take a drink and relax.

 

“Oh-h-h,” he moaned, “how I have lived to regret those awful scenes. How could I have been so cruel? I would give anything, even my very life, to be able to undo what I have done, but it’s too late, too late—” He dropped his head in his hands and his body shook with sobs as he mentally reviewed what he had pushed into the back of his mind and tried to forget. Jim reached over and patted his shoulder, but words failed him.

 

In a few minutes, Alton continued, “For two weeks, he did not drink a drop and I thought he had it licked, but one day he came home staggering. When I saw him, I knew he had lost the battle. My heart sank, for more than I would ever have admitted, I had wanted him to overcome his awful addiction, realizing there was hope for me if Bud could only win the battle.

 

“But instead of showing my real feelings, I taunted him, ‘I knew you couldn’t hold out, that you are no better than I am. You are weak and spineless, Bud, old boy. I knew you’d give in sooner or later!

 

“He looked at me as if he hated me, and said, ‘You’re right, Alton. I am weak and spineless, but I no longer care. I have no reason to quit now. Laura broke off with me today, and I have no hope of ever winning her love. She was just stringing me along, when all the time her affections were set on Lee. I have lost the only girl I’ll ever love,’ he said bitterly, ‘so now I intend to drink myself to death.’

 

“My heart was touched deeply by his pitiful plight and I realized at that moment how much I loved my dear Bud. I decided it was my turn to do something about my life so that I could help him. But I had waited too long. He had lost all desire to live. He would go for days without drawing a sober breath. Much of the time, he went without food. He cared nothing for his appearance. He would go for days without even bathing. He lost weight until he looked like a walking skeleton. How I longed to help him, but all the help I gave him was to drink along with him. I was so addicted, myself, that I was powerless to help anyone else. When the desire for liquor obsessed me, I forgot about Bud and could not rest until I satisfied that craving within. The few times I was rational enough to think, I felt there must be help for us somewhere, but I did not know where to find it. Because of our lack of respect for our family, and our awful behavior, our parents persuaded our sister, Rachal, to go and live with our aunt. Only God knows what we put our parents through.”

 

Jim fought hard to control his emotions, knowing that he had fought the same battle as had Alton. He remembered, also, what he had put his dear wife and children through. Had it not been for Alton and his parents, no telling where he would be now, perhaps roaming the streets as in a drunken state, or else dead in a back alley somewhere. He wiped his eyes on the corner of the sheet as Alton continued his story.

 

“One night as I stumbled along a street, I noticed a light in an old building. Drawing near, I heard a young lady singing something about the love of God. As I stopped to listen, a most peculiar sensation swept over me. Deep down inside my heart, I felt that God must be the answer to our problems. If His love was as powerful as the song made me feel it was, if He loved the downcasts as the song implied, then, evidently, there was hope for even a miserable wretch like me. I tried to pick up courage to go inside the building, but it seemed as if an unseen power held me. I was unable to break loose from this invisible force that seemed to hold me captive; so, bewildered, I moved on down the street.

 

“I reached home and found Bud sprawled on the sofa. I tried to arouse him that I might share my experience with him. He raised up slightly, looking at me with bloodshot eyes. As I related my experience to him, he let out a hideous laugh and said, ‘Boy, it’s getting the best of you, isn’t it? There’s no help for you, Alton. You’re sunk. I’m sunk. We’re both goners.’

 

“I sank down on the floor beside him, buried my head in my hands, and wished I could die. I heard Bud clear his throat, and raising my head, I noticed him looking at me differently. A look of love and compassion had replaced the look of bitterness that I had become so accustomed to. He reached over and put his hand on my shoulder.”

 

Alton flinched as if the pain he felt at the recollection of that scene was too great for him to bear. Jim wondered if he would be able to finish his story. He turned his head away from Alton, feeling his own heart would break because of the sympathy he felt for this new friend. Alton cleared his throat a couple of times and continued his story.

 

“Bud said, ‘Alton, you deserve better than this. You could be a good boy. Why don’t you go back to that place and try to find that love of God she sang about? Probably, it is just what you need.’

 

“Oh, the love that overwhelmed me for my brother at that moment! Enthusiastically, I jumped to my feet with a smile and new hope within. I said, ‘Come on Bud, we will both go and lick this thing by God’s help.’ “

 

Jim smiled slightly. So this was how Alton had licked the drinking habit. But what about Bud? Where was he? He was anxious to hear the rest of the story. But it was not like he had expected.

 

“I caught him by the arm,” Alton was saying, “But the tenderness had left him, and with what seemed like animosity, he slapped my arm away and ran out the door with a scornful laugh. Horror gripped my heart as I ran after him. We ran past my parents, who were sitting on the porch, without so much as a backward glance. I remember my dad calling after us, trying to stop us, but we kept running. I felt with all my being that something terrible was about to happen. I wanted to cry out to God, but I did not know how and knew He wouldn’t hear me anyway. So I just ran on calling frantically, ‘Bud, Bud, come back. We can’t run away. Please come back, Bud.’

 

“As I ran along, I felt like screaming, but I kept running as fast as my half-drunken condition would permit me. I rounded a curve and there I saw him, stretched out in the street, struck by a car. I fell over his broken body, screaming until it seemed my lungs would burst. Someone tried to pull me away but I struck at them wildly with all the strength I could muster. That was the last I remembered.”

 

Chapter 5

 

Sharing Experiences

 

Alton sighed deeply and, with a pained expression, continued, “Sometime later, I came to myself and discovered I was in a large room with many other people. It startled me, because there were such awful expressions on their faces. And their actions were unlike people with sane minds. Some were grinning silly grins, some were crying, some were giggling, some were playing simple games like children, some had runny noses, and some were frothing at the mouth. I sat quietly and watched while an awful fear gripped my being. This was a mental institution, I concluded. What was I doing here? I felt dazed as if I was going to faint, and then I recalled the last scene of which I was consciously aware, Bud lying in the street covered with blood. Horror took hold of me. I looked around for someone who could help me and my eyes fell on a man dressed in white, whom I presumed to be a hospital attendant.”

 

“ ‘Hey fella,’ I cried, but there was so much noise that he could not possibly hear me. I stood to my feet, but my knees felt as if they would buckle under me. But in spite of my unsteady steps, I slowly made my way to where the man stood.”

 

“ ‘Hey fella,’ I repeated, ‘What am I doing in this awful place? Where is my brother? Is he dead? Tell me, man, is Bud dead?’ ”

 

“He looked at me sympathetically, but did not answer. My voice was getting louder as I shrieked at him, ‘Where is Bud?’ When he still did not answer, I reached out to get a hold on him. I intended to shake him until I could get the truth from him, but he seemed to read my mind and rushed from the room. I started after him, but my knees buckled under me and I fell to the floor. I started screaming and beating on the floor with my fists until I saw the blood oozing from them, then I lost consciousness.”

 

“Later, I don’t know how much later, I awoke and discovered I was in bed. I tried to get up but I was strapped to the bed. I could not so much as move my arms for they, too, were strapped. There was moaning and groaning all around me, and as my eyes became accustomed to the dim light in the room, I noticed rows of beds with people in them. Most of them were restrained with straps as I was. The very sight of it made me nauseated. I wondered what time it was, but saw no one to ask, so I just lay silently waiting—waiting—for what, I didn’t know.”

 

“After a long while, or so it seemed, a nurse came in and stood by my bed. I looked at her as she asked, ‘How are you today?’ I did not answer but asked a question of my own. ‘What am I doing here? Do you people think I’m crazy?’ “

 

“She laughed as if I had told her a funny joke and started taking my blood pressure.”

 

“I said, ‘Look, why don’t you tell me something? How long have I been in this gruesome place? Where is my brother? Did he die when the car struck him?’ “

 

“She laid the blood pressure kit aside and looked at me strangely. Calling me by my name, she said, ‘You’re better, aren’t you?’ “

 

“ ‘Yes,’ I tried to be calm though I felt panicky within. ‘Tell me about my brother. And where are my parents? I want to see them.’ Again I tried to raise up. ‘Hey, why don’t you take these straps off me? I want out of this bed and away from these lunatics. I can’t stand all this moaning and groaning and cursing and carrying on. It’s getting to me. Please do something for me, Nurse, before I crack up.’ “

 

“ ‘I’ll tell you what, Alton, you just lie back and relax and we will contact your parents and have them come see you. How’s that?’ She smiled at me as she wrote something on a chart. ‘Here now, let me check your blood pressure.’ “

 

“After this occurrence, my mind would come and go. There were times when they would wrap me in wet sheets and give me electrical shocks, which the doctor claimed was what finally brought me out.”

 

“I remember the first meeting with my dear parents, at least it was the first that I was aware of. Two of the hospital attendants came to my ward and informed me that my parents were in the visiting room, waiting to see me. The attendants accompanied me for a visit with them. I’ll never forget that meeting. When they pushed open the door that led into the visiting room, I would never have recognized them except under the circumstances. My, how they had aged. I thought I had been in that place for years, but later found out it had been only four months. The grief over Bud and me had caused my parents to age overnight.”

 

“My dad took a step toward me and then stopped to let Mother greet me first. The tears were falling like rain, even though they were doing all within their power to be calm.”

 

“ ‘My dear boy,’ Mother whispered as she hugged me close. ‘My dear son, Alton. We love you, Son.’ Her thin body was trembling with emotion as well as her voice. “

 

“Then Dad embraced me. He couldn’t seem to say a word. Oh, how I wept on his big shoulder. I felt like a little boy again.”

 

“We sat together on a couch, and the very first thing I wanted to know was about Bud. But they tried every way they could to evade my questions. The aides had evidently been instructed to stay in the room, and my parents would glance at them helplessly each time I would mention Bud’s name.”

 

“I said, ‘Tell me, Dad, for I must know. Is Bud dead?’ When he wouldn’t answer, I felt myself getting hysterical. ‘Tell me,’ I screamed. ‘He is dead, isn’t he? You’re not fooling me, Dad. He’s gone—he’s gone—he’s gone—’ “

 

“The aides rushed over and grabbed my arms and that was the last I remember.”

 

“I don’t know how long it was before I was allowed a visit with my parents again but I was much improved when I met them in the visiting room again. This time a doctor was present.”

 

“I was determined to get the truth out of them about Bud, but I knew I would have to be calm if I did. So I let them talk a few minutes before I asked, ‘Now, tell me about Bud. You know I’ve got to know and I’m better and stronger, so why don’t you tell me all about it?’ “

 

“The doctor walked over and laid his hand on my shoulder. ‘Your brother passed away a few hours after the wreck, Alton. I’m sorry to have to give you this news.’ “

 

“Again, I panicked. Though I had guessed the truth, yet to hear it as an actual fact was too much for me to bear. Again I became hysterical. Someone grabbed me and the next thing I knew, I was restrained again.”

 

“The complete recuperation took several more months, but little by little, with the help of the electrical shocks and other treatment, I began to improve. During one of my visits with Dad, I insisted he tell me all about the tragedy. He was very reluctant, but I was so persistent that he relinquished his resolve to not discuss it with me, and began.”

 

“ ‘Mother and I were sitting on the porch when you and Bud ran out of the house that day. I wanted to go after you, but Mother stopped me. She said you were only quarreling and there was no need of me getting involved. I felt awfully uneasy but thought that perhaps Mother was right. She usually seemed to have more wisdom than I.’ “

 

“ ‘Sometime later, as we were still sitting on the porch, a policeman drove up and told us we were wanted at the Mercy Hospital, that there had been an accident. We were horrified and went expecting the worst. Bud was in emergency, and they were having a time with you. You were screaming, cursing, and striking out at everyone in your reach. They strapped you on a bed and gave you a shot to calm you. They said it was shock and you would get over it, but when you didn’t, we had to let them bring you here.’ His voice trembled as he recalled the awful tragedy. After a moment’s hesitation, he continued, ‘Bud lived only four hours after they brought him out of the operating room. He aroused once and spoke.’ “

 

“ ‘What did he say, Dad? What did Bud say?’ I asked impatiently. “

 

“ ‘He said, ‘Alton, go back to that place.’ Then his voice trailed off and I leaned over him as he was trying to say more. ‘What is it, Son?’ I asked. ‘Find God’s love,’ he mumbled, ‘Hope—for—you, Alton.’ Again his voice trailed off and he never spoke again, I have often wondered what he meant.’ “

 

“My, how those words gripped my heart. I was grieved until I thought I would die. My mind would come and go, and at times I wished it would leave me altogether so that I would never have to think of my dear departed Bud again.”

 

“It was eleven months, altogether, before I was finally discharged and sent home, but I had become an entirely different boy by then. I no longer had to battle against the drink habit, for the long months of convalescence had lessened the desire for it. My moods were changeable, but most of the time I was very sullen. I missed Bud so badly that I contemplated suicide. But slowly time dimmed the ache and loneliness in my heart, and I was enabled to live a normal life, almost. It was then I purposed to do something to help others who had fallen into the same snare that Bud and I had fallen into. I discussed my plans with Mother and Dad, and they were so pleased for me to undertake something worthwhile, that they have cooperated fully with me. Bless their dear hearts. I have spent about all the money I make trying to help others. Some we have been able to help, but needless to say, many have gone back to the same old habits after leaving here. Some have been very grateful while others have taken the attitude that the world owes them help.”

 

“Now, Jim, you have my story. I hope you now understand some of the things that have perplexed you.”

 

Jim listened attentively to all Alton had told him. Now, he spoke tenderly, “Yes, Alton, I do understand, but tell me something.”

 

“And what could that be, Jim?”

 

“Have you ever gone back to the place where you heard the girl sing?”

 

Alton dropped his eyes from Jim’s earnest gaze. “No, Jim, not yet, but some day I intend to.”

 

Jim’s disappointment was revealed on his countenance. Alton patted his hand as he said, “I’ll tell you what, Jim. Just as soon as you are able, we will go together. O. K.?”

 

“O. K.” Jim smiled at him. “Say, Alton, may I ask you one more question?”

 

“Sure, Jim.”

 

“You mentioned a sister. Where is she? I haven’t seen her around. Is she married?”

 

“No, she’s not married. She had an unfortunate romance, and it has completely soured her on men. She still lives with my mother’s sister at Cypress Hills. She has a good job there as a receptionist at a medical clinic. I understand she wants to return home, though, if she can find work here. They have a new enterprise opening up in Batesville next year, so maybe with her experience, she can get a job here.”

 

Extending his hand, he said, “I must run now, Jim, but I will be by tomorrow to hear about your life before coming here.”

 

Alton was back the next day as promised. Jim had been in bed since he had left the day before. He had done lots of thinking and his heart was greatly troubled as he mentally reviewed his past life.

 

“How are you today, Jim?” Alton greeted him, shaking the outstretched hand. “Do you feel like talking? It will do you good. What about your past life? Where are you from and why did you ever start drinking? Do you have a family? Who is Mary? Forgive me, friend, for asking so many questions, but there is so much I would like to know about you, if you would be pleased to tell me.”

 

Jim took a deep breath, cleared his throat, and reluctantly started telling of his past. Since he owed these people his very life, he felt he should be honest with them.

 

First, he told a little about his life before he married Lola. “There were three children in our family: myself, a brother, and a sister. We were dirt poor since my poor old daddy had a drinking problem. Sometimes when he would be drunk, he would give me and my brother a drink. He called it a ‘snort.’ I suppose that’s why I took to drinking as I did. As sorry as I am to admit it, my own daddy started me and my brother on that road.

 

“I had known my wife, Lola, who is now deceased, for most of my life. We lived in the same neighborhood and grew up together. But her family was different from mine. Her grandmother was a religious fanatic and took Lola to Sunday School every Sunday. In fact, she got me to go a time or two, but I felt out of place with my patched overalls. Lola’s parents didn’t attend church much, but they sure put up a howl when Lola and I began to get serious. Well, we ended up running away to get married. That like to have killed her folks, for they did not want their daughter marrying the town drunk’s son, especially since I was following in his footsteps and drank myself.

 

“We didn’t stick around my home town long after we married, but moved down where my brother and his wife lived. We’d heard there was money to be made in the shrimping and oyster business when they were in season. Anyway, we made a couple of more moves and finally settled down out in the country at Cricket Hollow.

 

“My wife and I were both young when we married. She was seventeen and I was nineteen. We really loved each other. It wasn’t this infatuation stuff. And at first, we were happy together even though we didn’t have much. A year after we married, a little son was born to us which seemed to make our lives complete. But our happiness was short-lived, for when our little darling was two, he just disappeared. It was a mysterious thing. We never did know what happened to that baby. My wife had gotten him to sleep and put him on the bed that she and I slept on. Later, she went to see about him and he was gone. She was frantic when I got in from work and we put out the alarm in the neighborhood, but we never found one trace of him. We never could make ourselves believe that someone kidnapped him, so the only thing we could imagine was that he had gotten off the bed and wandered away from the cabin and perhaps drowned somewhere in the swamp nearby. It has remained a mystery and caused untold heartache and grief. Lola and I, both, had just set our hearts on that baby. We thought the sun rose and set in our Billy Boy, so you can see what a fix that threw us in, not even knowing what happened to him.

 

“A few days after Billy disappeared, another baby boy was born, but the vacancy left by Baby Billy could not be satisfactorily filled.

 

“I tried to be a man and make the best of things, but my wife seemed to draw herself into a shell and nothing could penetrate it.

 

“In a couple of more years, another boy was born. Lola was so bitter by then, that I began to ramble around and drink more than ever. Somehow, between drinking bouts, I was able to make enough money to keep my family from starving. It’s a wonder that I provided even as well as I did, for I was literally bound to the bottle, shackled as with chains. I wanted to get free, but I couldn’t. I tried over and over to reform but I always ended up in failure.

 

“In spite of our deplorable condition, three more children were born, all of them girls. I regret to say that I never showed any affection for them. I just kinda left that to my wife. After I had set my heart on Billy Boy as I did and lost him, well, I just didn’t want to get too attached to the others. I have to admit it wasn’t always easy to refrain myself. When my baby, Mary, looked up at me with those big brown eyes, I just wanted to let myself go and pick her up and cuddle her on my knee.”

 

Continuing the account of his life, Jim told of his wife’s death and how a few weeks later he had left his children and had not seen them or heard of them since. He held no hopes of ever seeing them alive again, as no doubt they had all died of starvation.

 

He related his story brokenly. “I have always wanted to blame my wife for driving me away and to drink because of her bitterness, but as I looked down into that dear sweet face the night she passed away, I realized that with a little understanding on the part of both of us, things could have been different. I begged her to forgive me right before she died, and somehow, I believe she heard me and did forgive me for it seemed she smiled.” As he finished, he broke down and sobbed.

 

Alton waited until he had quieted, and then spoke, “Jim, did I understand you correctly? Did you say you left five children alone with very little food to eat, more than a month ago?”

 

“Yes, Alton,” Jim turned his face away in shame. “I have as good as murdered my children.”

 

Alton jumped to his feet, “Man, we have to do something quickly. Maybe there is yet hope. Maybe a miracle might have happened.”

 

Jim mustered all the strength he possessed and got out of bed. A dim ray of hope shone in his eyes. Yes, they would have to do something and do it quickly. Was it possible that a miracle could have happened in the behalf of his precious children? They would return immediately to the little cabin and find out for themselves.

 

Chapter 6

 

Sarah and Ben

 

Back on the farm, the Reid children had found a home. Ben Barton, the proprietor, had carefully checked out the story as to why the children had left their home. The day after he had picked them up on the road, he had taken Jimmie and gone back to the little cabin. After seeing the run-down shack and going to the graveyard with Jimmie to see the freshly-dug grave, he accepted their story. But now, what was to be done with the children? Anyone who knew Ben Barton, knew he would not want to care for them long. But with Sarah, it was different. She longed for the companionship of these little orphan children.

 

“We can’t just put them out, Ben. Can’t we just keep them until we can locate the man in black?” she pleaded.

 

“The man in black,” he scoffed. “Don’t we have a good description of the person they’re looking for? The man in black, to be sure.” He angrily turned and walked out of the room.

 

But in spite of his hardness, he allowed them to stay, for he discovered that Jimmie was a hard worker, and Jacky could carry his end of the load, too. It was worth what they ate, to have them take so much of the burden of the farm work off his shoulders. As time went on, he even quit complaining about Sarah preparing extra dishes for the children. He felt he was getting his money’s worth.

 

The girls, also, were a help around the house. Aunt Sarah, as they had learned to call her, gave them regular chores to do. Mary fed and watered the chickens and the dog and the cat each day, while Katie and Sue helped wash the dishes, make the beds, and sweep the floors. Mary was also assigned to bring in kindling to start the fire in the stove.

 

In the beginning, there was the problem of beds for the children to sleep on, but Aunt Sarah solved that. She had the children to help her gather moss from the large oak trees on the farm. By fluffing it up a bit, it made satisfactory fillings for mattresses for them to sleep on.

 

For clothing, Aunt Sarah busied herself making dresses for the girls by using what material she could salvage out of some of her old dresses. These were suitable to wear around the farm. But they had one new dress each, which they saved for special occasions. This was made from the yard goods Daddy had brought home the night Mamma passed away. Since he had brought enough for Mamma to have a new dress, there was material left when Aunt Sarah finished making the girl’s dresses. They insisted she make one for herself, so she complied with their suggestion.

 

For the boys, she used Uncle Ben’s discarded trousers to make them garments suitable to wear around the farm. The children were thrilled to have a change of clothing, even though the clothes did not look as if they had come from a fashion catalog. They thought Aunt Sarah was the most wonderful person in the whole world. As for Uncle Ben, he scolded them often and was grouchy to Aunt Sarah, but they were thankful for a home, so they overlooked his conduct. They hoped they would never have to leave in spite of Uncle Ben’s despicable ways. Though they loved their daddy and missed him, yet they did not want him to find them and take them away from their new home where they always had plenty to eat.

 

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, and the leaves on the trees about the farm changed from the different shades of green to the golden hues of autumn. The wind that whistled around the corners and through the cracks of the old farm house began to feel nippy. As Aunt Sarah lighted the pine splinters to start the first fire in the fireplace for the season, the thought of coats for the children entered her mind for the first time. How would she ever be able to manage coats for five children? As the fire blazed up, sending the smoke curling up the chimney, she went to search through their meager belongings to see what she could find. Luckily, she found coats for Mary, Katie, and Jacky, and a sweater that could be darned and fixed for Sue. She took them out to clean, and when she took Mary’s little coat, a small card fell to the floor. Picking it up, she said, “Rev. Jack Delaney, 2224 Peach St., Batesville.”

 

She gasped. What did it mean? Why was this name and address in Mary’s pocket?

 

Mary, who was close at hand, explained excitedly, “The man in black, he gave it to Daddy, but Daddy didn’t want it so I put it in my coat pocket. I hoped that someday I could learn to read like Mamma, and then I would know what was on the paper. Can you read, Aunt Sarah? Do you know what’s on the paper?”

 

Aunt Sarah nodded wordlessly. “The man in black,” she mused. “So this is the man in black they’re searching for.”

 

Mary looked at her questioningly. “Will you tell me, Aunt Sarah, what’s on the paper, the man in black said—”

 

“The man in black,” Aunt Sarah repeated in amazement. “Why who would have ever dreamed that this was the man in black?”

 

“Do you know the man in black, Aunt Sarah?” Mary asked anxiously.

 

“Yes, Dear, I know him quite well.”

 

“Do you ever see him?”

 

“I haven’t seen him in a long, long time.”

 

“Do you know how to find him?”

 

“This is his address, Mary. 2224 Peach St., Batesville. “

 

“We don’t really want to find him now, Aunt Sarah. We’re happy here with you and Uncle Ben.”

 

Aunt Sarah smiled slightly as she hugged Mary to her. “I’m glad you’re happy, Mary.”

 

A change came over Aunt Sarah after this incident. She was much quieter and sometimes just sat and stared into space. Oftentimes, she slipped away alone and burst into tears. Her heart was sad and troubled. The little card she had found in Mary’s coat pocket had brought back memories of long ago which she had tried to forget.

 

One day after Ben and the boys had gone to work and she had sent the girls out to hunt hickory nuts, she sat down at the kitchen table and buried her face in her hands. Tears coursed down her cheeks.

 

“Uncle Jack,” she whispered, “your prayers have followed me down through the years and I’m afraid they’re catching up with me.” Her body shook with sobs. “Oh God,” she cried brokenly, “I have closed my heart to your entreaties for so long, but I’m tired of running from You, Lord. Today I’m coming home to Father’s house.” She could hardly speak for the sobs that racked her body, but with much effort, she confessed her sins and rebellion to God. “If You will only forgive me and save my soul, Dear Jesus, I’ll obey You whatever it costs me. I’m so sorry for my wayward life. Will you please forgive me, Father?” Her sobs subsided, and she was quieted, yet she did not feel her need was met. Arising from her chair, she went into the living room and fell on her knees by the couch. “Jesus, Jesus,” she erred brokenly, “I want Your forgiveness more than anything else in the world. You promised to forgive if one would repent. I have truly repented from the depths of my heart, Dear Jesus. I believe You right now to forgive my sins.” As she waited before God, a sweet rest came to her soul. She was at peace with God. He had forgiven her sins and saved her soul.

 

“Thank You, oh thank You, dear Jesus.” She jumped to her feet and walked back and forth through the house praising the Lord for forgiveness of sins.

 

It was a different Aunt Sarah the girls found when they returned. She had a radiant smile and such a peaceful look on her face, that they wondered what had caused the change in her. She asked them to be seated and told them her story.

 

“The man in black is my own dear uncle, girls,” she began.

 

The children gasped.

 

“He and Aunt Mae reared me and my little sister, Bessie, after our parents were killed in a train wreck. They had made a trip back home to attend the funeral of my grandfather. Aunt Mae offered to keep us until they got back. Well, they never did get back because the train wrecked and they were killed. Therefore, since my aunt and uncle had no children of their own, they kept us and reared us.

 

“Bessie is still with them. She is a sweet girl, spiritual minded, and a great blessing to Uncle Jack and Aunt Mae. With me it has been different. I was naughty and did not want to serve God. I married Ben against Uncle Jack’s wishes. Ben got mad at Uncle Jack because he didn’t approve of our marriage so we moved out here to get away from them. I know that was mean of us; but at the time, we didn’t care how we treated dear Uncle Jack and Aunt Mae.”

 

“The man in black—uh—your Uncle Jack is so good. How could you treat him mean?” asked Katie.

 

“I’m terribly sorry now, Katie,” she answered with tears in her eyes; “but then we thought he didn’t like Ben, and that’s what made us treat him mean.”

 

“Did he come to see you when you moved here so far away from him?” asked Mary.

 

“Yes, a few times, but I’m sure they never felt very welcome, so eventually they stopped coming altogether. Deep down inside, I always loved them, but I just didn’t care to be around them. Their lives were godly since they lived for Jesus; and, therefore, that was a reproach to my sinful life, so I always felt better away from them. But now—,” she sighed, “things will be different.”

 

“You mean the man in black—uh—Uncle Jack will come see you now?” Sue inquired.

 

“I hope so,” she replied wistfully. “We will see how Ben reacts when he hears of my conversion.”

 

“Your what?” The children did not understand.

 

“My conversion. Oh, I forgot to tell you the most important thing of all. Today, girls, while you were gone, Jesus forgave all my sins and saved me. Now I’m a Christian like Uncle Jack, Aunt Mae, and Bessie. They have prayed for me for years and at last their prayers have been answered.”

 

“A Christian is what Mamma said she was before she died, “ Sue said simply.

 

“Your mother was a Christian, Sue?” Aunt Sarah asked wonderingly.

 

“Yes, she said her grandmother told her about God—and about—Heaven—and about hell—and she asked God to make her a Christian and God did it.”

 

“And she went to that beautiful Heaven cause I saw her—” Mary began.

 

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” Aunt Sarah could hardly contain herself. “Girls, your mother is waiting up in Heaven for you. Someday you can go to her if you will live for Jesus.”

 

“I want to live for Jesus,” Mary looked up into Aunt Sarah’s face with tears in her eyes. “I want to be a Christian like Mamma and you and Uncle Jack.”

 

“Let us kneel here by the couch and ask Jesus to come into your heart, Mary.”

 

They knelt together and Mary sobbed out her heart to God and was soon rejoicing in sins forgiven.

 

Aunt Sarah looked at Katie and Sue. “How about it, girls? Do you want Jesus to come into your hearts, too?”

 

They looked at each other and smiled timidly, but neither spoke. Aunt Sarah did not persist. She thought it best to let the Spirit lead and convict them of sin in His own time.

 

That evening, they gathered around the table for supper, and as soon as they were seated, Ben reached for the roast, as was his usual practice.

 

“Ben,” Sarah said meekly, “Do you mind if I thank God for the food? You see God saved me today.”

 

Ben stopped, his hand in mid-air, and stared at Sarah in unbelief. Before he could give her an answer, she led out in a simple prayer, thanking God for saving her soul and then thanking Him for the food. There wasn’t much conversation around the table after this and not as much food consumed as usual.

 

After the dishes were cleared away, Aunt Sarah and the children gathered together in the living room, as was their usual custom, but Uncle Ben was nowhere to be seen.

 

“Where did Ben go?” Aunt Sarah asked. “It’s cold outside.” No one knew his whereabouts.

 

Since no one seemed to be very talkative, Aunt Sarah suggested, “Let us have prayer and go to bed. As soon as I can, I want to buy a Bible. Then we can read it for devotions at night.”

 

Shyly, the children glanced at one another and smiled before getting on their knees. This was something altogether new to them. As Aunt Sarah led in prayer, the sweet Holy Spirit settled down. She thanked God for salvation. She thanked Him for Uncle Jack, Aunt Mae, and Bessie’s prayers that had followed her until they caught up with her. Then she thanked God for getting to Mary’s heart, and prayed for the other children and for Ben.

 

Long after all were in bed and Sarah lay quietly wondering about Ben, he came in, dressed for bed in the dark, and slipped in beside her. She longed to talk to him about her new-found experience but refrained from doing so, because she sensed that he did not want to hear about it. Where had he been? Why didn’t he want to talk to her? Long after she heard his even breathing and knew he was asleep, she lay awake praying that somehow God would get to his heart.

 

The next morning, she awoke early to prepare breakfast for Ben and the boys. Perhaps this morning there would be an opportunity to talk to him, but when he came into the kitchen, Jimmie was with him. Had he got him up earlier than usual on purpose to keep from being alone with her? This thought troubled her.

 

“Hurry with the breakfast, Sarah,” he barked; “we’ve got a big day today.”

 

For several nights, Ben did his disappearing act. Sarah could not understand why he was evading her. One night, she decided to sit up and wait for him after the children had gone to bed. She blew out the lamp and waited in the dark. After what seemed an hour or so, the front door was eased open and Ben came in quietly.

 

“Ben,” she called.

 

He jumped when his name was called, and then asked gruffly, “What do you want?”

 

Sarah shivered. She hated for Ben to be ill-tempered with her. “I’d like very much to talk to you, Ben.”

 

“About what?” His voice was still rough.

 

“Lots of things, Ben. Will you sit here on the couch with me so we can talk awhile?”

 

“I’m tired, Sarah, I’ve worked hard today and I don’t feel like sitting up half the night gabbing.”

 

“If you’re so tired,” Sarah thought, “why haven’t you gone to bed much earlier?” But aloud, she said, “I realize you’re tired, Ben, but we haven’t had any time to talk since—since”.

 

“Since you went religious on me. Is that what you’re tring to say, Sarah?”

 

“Ben, aren’t you glad my life is changed? Aren’t you glad God has been merciful to me? Aren’t you glad I’ve found peace after all those troubled years? Ben, Dear, don’t you want this peace that Jesus can give you?”

 

But he had left the room and gone into the bedroom. Sarah followed.

 

“Ben, I don’t want to be a pest, but you’re acting so peculiar. What’s wrong?”

 

“Sh-h-h. The walls are thin. Don’t wake up the children. Good-night.”

 

“Good-night, Ben,” she answered feeling frustrated. For long hours after bidding him good-night, she prayed silently for God to get to his heart.

 

The next morning as she prepared breakfast, she heard someone come into the kitchen. Turning, she was face to face with Ben, this time alone. He looked pale and his hand shook when he reached for his coffee.

 

“Ben, are you sick?” she asked anxiously.

 

“Not really.”

 

“Then what’s wrong?”

 

“I didn’t sleep well last night.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Every time I dozed off, I had bad dreams.”

 

“What kind of dreams, Ben?”

 

“Oh, different kinds.”

 

Sarah washed the biscuit dough off her hands, dried her hands on her apron, and pulled up a chair close to Ben. It filled her heart with compassion to see him so subdued. Something was wrong and she wanted to help him if she could.

 

“Ben,” she laid her hand on his, “what’s wrong? Do you think that perhaps—that maybe—uh—that God is trying to—uh—trying to get to your heart?” It took all the grace she had to deal with Ben.

 

“Oh, Sarah,” he dropped his head onto his arms on the table. “I’ve been so miserable for days—maybe I should change that to years. I would give anything in this world to find peace as you have found. I’m so mean, so wretched, so hateful to everybody. It just seems I was born with a hateful streak.” Looking up at her, he asked, “Do you think I could ever find peace of mind and heart? I can’t explain it, but it just seems that for days now, I’ve felt somebody’s prayers. Even before you found peace, I felt it. Do you suppose your preacher uncle and family are praying for us? Do you think we could locate him and tell him I’m ready to surrender?”

 

Sarah was amazed at Ben’s confession. She answered, “Ben, Uncle Jack is the man in black the children were hunting when you found them. I found his name and address in Mary’s coat pocket. Maybe we can go today and look him up if you think your old truck will make it. Jimmie and Jacky can take care of the pressing duties.”

 

“I can’t believe it, Sarah,” Ben said in astonishment. “Jack, the man in black! Can you imagine?” He smiled at her and squeezed her hand. “The old truck will make it all right. You just get everything ready. I’m not hungry. The children will be fine until we get back.”

 

Several hours later the old hay truck stopped at 2224 Peach St. in Batesville. Sarah and Ben got out and walked together up the walk and knocked at the door. Bessie came to the door, but was speechless when she saw who it was.

 

“Bessie,” Sarah explained with tears in her eyes, “God has saved me. And Ben, also, wants to get saved. May we come in?”

 

Bessie threw her arms around her sister and they wept together for joy. Then she greeted Ben warmly and welcomed them in.

 

“Uncle Jack,” she called excitedly, “Come see who’s here.”

 

Uncle Jack entered the room with a quesioning look. When he caught sight of his visitors, a special smile lit up his face.

 

“Sarah, Ben, how glad I am to see you.” He walked toward them and Sarah threw herself in his arms, weeping unrestrainedly .

 

“What’s wrong, Sarah?” he asked tenderly.

 

Bessie could not wait until Sarah could regain her composure to break the news. “Sarah has been saved, Uncle Jack. Isn’t it wonderful?”

 

“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” he exclaimed joyfully.

 

“And Ben wants you to pray for him,” Sarah managed to tell him.

 

“Wonderful! Wonderful! he cried. “Oh, how marvelous are the workings of the Spirit.”

 

“Where is Aunt Mae?” Sarah asked anxiously.

 

“She’s visiting a sick lady. She’ll be back soon.” As he talked, Uncle Jack reached for his Bible.

 

Turning to Proverbs 28:13, he read, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Then he read John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

 

“You see, Ben,” Uncle Jack explained, “We’re to confess and believe. When you uncover all your sins and ask God’s forgiveness, then He will enable you to believe Him to save you. He says in Isaiah 1:18 that though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Would you like to pray?”

 

“Yes, Jack, but first I want to ask your forgiveness for the way I’ve treated you and your family all these years. Will you forgive me?” The tears trickled down his cheeks.

 

“Of course, Ben.”

 

“How about you, Bessie? Will you forgive me for my coolness and unkindness to you?”

 

“Certainly, Ben.”

 

“And you, Sarah. Will you forgive me for being such a poor husband? So hateful and mean.”

 

“Of course you’re forgiven, Ben.” All were crying.

 

As they knelt together in prayer, Ben repented in humble contrition. He did not spare himself, but told God all his meanness and asked His forgiveness. In mercy, God granted him full pardon and gave him the wonderful peace within for which he sought. He arose from his knees, a new creature in Christ Jesus. What a time of rejoicing they were having when Aunt Mae opened the door a little later. She could not believe her eyes. Such a divine presence was felt inside the little parsonage. And there were Sarah and Ben rejoicing with sins forgiven. What a blessed time of fellowship they had together.

 

“We must get back,” Sarah announced a little later.

 

“Why the rush?” Aunt Mae asked. “Stay for dinner.”

 

“We’d love to, Auntie, but we’ve made a home for some orphan children and we must get back.”

 

“Of all things,” she said in amusement. “Did you adopt them from an orphanage?”

 

“Well, not exactly.” Ben and Sarah looked at each other and laughed. “But we would sure like to adopt them.”

 

Ben looked at Jack. “Jack, I want you to come see us. Why don’t you three come next week one day and spend the day? How about Wednesday?”

 

“Wednesday is prayer meeting night, Ben. How about Friday?”

 

“That’s fine. See you then.”

 

“Bye for now.”

 

Chapter 7

 

The Mysterious Surprise

 

Friday was to be a big event at the Barton residence. The girls and Aunt Sarah had worked energetically getting everything in readiness around the house. Ben and the boys had endeavored to catch up the farm chores so that Ben could visit with their expected guests when they arrived.

 

There was peace and happiness on the farm since Ben and Sarah had been saved. Ben had humbly apologized for being so hateful to the children, and he had made special effort to show kindness to them since coming home from his visit with Uncle Jack.

 

The days seemed to pass slowly, but Friday morn dawned at last. Everyone in the Barton household was up early getting the/morning chores behind them.

 

“What time is the man in black coming?” asked Sue.

 

Sarah smiled. “Let’s just call him ‘Uncle Jack,’ Sue, “ she said. “He didn’t specify what time he was coming but I feel sure it will be early.”

 

About ten, they heard his T-Model Ford coming down the road. It was stirring up a thick cloud of dust as it came. Sarah and Ben walked to the front yard gate to meet them, but the children hung behind, timidly, not really knowing what to expect. The car stopped and Uncle Jack got out. Going around the car, he opened the door on the other side, and Aunt Mae and Bessie got out.

 

“That lady looks just like Aunt Sarah,” exclaimed Katie.

 

“I wonder if they’re twins.” Sue was in agreement with Katie.

 

“If Aunt Sarah’s hair was long like the lady’s, they would look just like twins,” Katie added.

 

Sarah had opened the yard gate and embraced each one, followed by Ben who heartily greeted each one.

 

Looking back toward the house, Sarah called, “Come here, children. Meet my folks.”

 

The children timidly walked toward them for the introductions.

 

“Where have I seen these children before?” Uncle Jack looked perplexed.

 

“Oh, you came when Mamma died and we had to put her in a big hole,” Mary piped.

 

“Oh yes, you’re the Reid children,” he acknowledged. “Reid? Jim Reid!” He turned and gave his wife a look of inquiry.

 

“Can it be?” she asked in astonishment.

 

“What are you two puzzling over?” asked Sarah.

 

“These children! We are fairly sure we know a secret about them,” Uncle Jack replied.

 

“A secret about these children?” Sarah could not hide her surprise.

 

“Yes, but let’s wait until later to discuss it,” suggested Aunt Mae. “Right now we’re anxious to visit and to see your farm. Hey look, Bess,” she changed the subject,” see the little chicks over by the fence. Aren’t they cute?”

 

They were soon wandering all about the farm seeing the new calves, exclaiming over the new colt, inspecting the fence that the boys had helped Ben build, jumping as a mother quail flew up almost in Bessie’s face, watching the large white goose taking her goslings down to the water pond, and hunting for hen eggs in the nests in the chicken house.

 

“I simply love it here, Sarah,” Bessie exclaimed. “Every thing looks so peaceful.”

 

“We’re thankful for our farm, Bess, but it really wasn’t too peaceful until the Prince of Peace came to live within our hearts.” Sarah smiled at her sister.

 

“Come, Bessie, and I will show you the baby kittens,” Mary told her.

 

Bessie reached down and clasped her little hand in hers. “Let’s go, Mary. I love baby kittens.”

 

All morning, the suspense as to Uncle Jack’s secret about the children, was uppermost in the minds of everyone of the Barton household. What did Uncle Jack know? What kind of secret was he keeping from them? They were anxiously waiting for him to reveal it.

 

After the noon meal, Sarah dismissed the children so she and Ben could visit with their guests. As they settled down in the living room, Sarah could wait no longer. “Uncle Jack, I can’t stand this suspense any longer,” she said. “What do you know about the children?”

 

Uncle Jack dropped his eyes from her earnest gaze. “You and Ben love them very dearly, don’t you?”

 

“Oh yes,” she answered without hesitation, “They’re almost as if they were our very own. It’s so wonderful that Ben found them, for it appears to me that no one wants them. It must have been God watching over them in answer to their dead mother’s prayers.” Looking at Uncle Jack with tears in her eyes, she added, “Ben and I could not have children of our own, and these have brought joy into our home as nothing else in the world could, except salvation. “

 

“The boys are really a help to me,” added Ben. “One can hardly believe Jimmie is only fourteen, the way that child works. And Jacky is no slouch himself. I was thinking of selling this old farm until they came along. With my failing health, I had come to the place where I couldn’t keep it up, but now it’s different. These boys have really taken a load off me. And they’ve never complained once. It’s amazing.”

 

Uncle Jack stood to his feet and walked over to the window. With his back toward them, he asked, “What about their daddy? Does he have any claims on them?”

 

“Why—uh—why, their daddy doesn’t want them. He left them to starve.” Sarah exclaimed. “Besides it’s been almost a year since he left them and he hasn’t contacted them once.”

 

“Perhaps he doesn’t know where to find them,” Uncle Jack said quietly.

 

“Well, maybe he doesn’t but it appears to me—” Sarah stopped as if something had just dawned on her. “Say, Uncle Jack, do you know anything about their daddy?”

 

Uncle Jack turned to face them while Aunt Mae twisted her handkerchief nervously.

 

“Jim Reid, the children’s daddy, is a member of my church.”

 

Sarah and Ben gasped. Slapping her hand over her mouth in unbelief, she exclaimed, “A member of your church? Are you sure it’s the same man?”

 

“Yes, Sarah, I’m positive.”

 

“But from what we have gathered from the children, he’s a drunkard. He hardly ever stayed home and was a poor provider for his family. The children have expressed over and over how thankful they are for food—said they were always hungry when they lived at home.”

 

“You’re right, Sarah. Jim was a habitual drunkard and a poor provider, but he has changed. He’s a wonderful Christian man now and has been praying night and day for God to help him find his children.”

 

“If he’s that concerned, Uncle Jack, why hasn’t he made a search for them?” Sarah asked, still somewhat skeptical.

 

“He has made an extensive search, Sarah, but remember this place is over twenty miles from their little cabin. He asked around at all the neighbors and the only clue he got at all was that the Simmons’ boy saw them going down the road one afternoon. From what Jim could figure, it was about the time he left. Sarah,” he walked over and laid his hand on her shoulder, “if you only knew Jim now and could see how in earnest he is, you’d feel differently. That dear man prays by the hour about his children. He told me a week or so ago that he felt God had taken the situation in hand. He has a house rented and is believing God to work a miracle in his behalf to help him find his children.”

 

“Sarah,” Ben said humbly, “there’s no wonder I’ve felt prayer as I have. Not only has Jack, Mae, and Bessie been praying, but the children’s daddy as well. God had to get to our hearts to get us in touch with Jack, so He could answer Jim’s prayers. We have no alternative, Sarah, but to let Jim have the children. They’re his and God has indeed worked a miracle to get him in touch with them.” He put his arms about Sarah who was weeping quietly.

 

“But how can I give them up?” she cried brokenly, “It will be like tearing my heart out by the roots.”

 

“God will give you grace and strength, Sarah,” Uncle Jack comforted her. “He will work everything out for His glory and honor. Let us pray just now and thank Him for answering Jim’s prayers, and ask Him to reach underneath you and Ben with His everlasting arms of mercy to sustain and help you.”

 

They fell on their knees and God met with them, melting their hearts and helping Sarah and Ben to put the precious children into the hands of God.

 

“May God’s will be done,” Sarah cried brokenly. “Though it seems it will kill me to give them up, I can truly say I’m thankful that God heard Jim’s prayers. How he must have suffered this past year.”

 

The children were called in and Uncle Jack related to them what he had told Ben and Sarah.

 

“But we don’t want to leave here,” Mary sobbed.

 

“We love Aunt Sarah and Uncle Ben,” Katie added.

 

“They’re so good to us,” Sue said, “And give us plenty to eat and Aunt Sarah makes us dresses and—”

 

“Now, now, girls.” Sarah arose and gathered the three of them in her arms. “Your daddy’s changed now,” she told them. “He will make you a good home with plenty to eat and—and—now, Mary, maybe you will be able to go to school as you’ve longed to do for so long.”

 

“Do you really mean it, Aunt Sarah?” Mary smiled through her tears. “When will Daddy come?”

 

“He’s off from work on Saturdays,” Uncle Jack told them. “If it’s all right, I’ll bring him out tomorrow. Oh, how thrilled he will be!”

 

That night after all were in bed, Ben called Sarah’s name softly.

 

“Yes, Ben.”

 

“What do you think of me selling the farm to Silas? He’s offered to buy it before and I feel sure he still wants it.” .

 

“But Ben, you love our little farm. You wouldn’t be satisfied anywhere else.”

 

“But I can’t keep it up by myself after the boys leave. You know I’m not in the best of health anymore.”

 

“But where would we move to, Ben?”

 

“I want to move to Batesville so we can attend Jack’s church and be near the children.”

 

“Oh, Ben, do you mean it?” she exclaimed joyfully.

 

“Sh-h-h, Sarah, these walls are thin. You might wake up the children.”

 

“You said that once before, Ben,” she whispered.

 

“Yes, I know. I didn’t want you to talk to me about your newfound joy. But I’m so glad tonight that I have that same joy and peace within. Sarah, God is not going to let us down. He has control of our lives. Everything will work out for the good of all concerned.”

 

“I believe it, Ben.”

 

Once again Saturday morning, everyone was out of bed early, hurrying through breakfast and early morning chores. When all was in readiness, they gathered in the living room to watch and wait. Sadness was intermingled with eager anticipation.

 

“Uncle Ben,” Jacky looked up into his face earnestly, “how will you make it without Jimmie and me here to help you?”

 

“Yes, Uncle Ben, I’ve been thinking the same thing,” Jimmie echoed Jacky’s sentiments. “Maybe Daddy will let me come back and help once in a while.”

 

“We’re selling the farm, Children.” Uncle Ben said softly.

 

“Oh no,” they cried.

 

“We feel it best, Children.”

 

“But what will happen to old Bossy and her new calf, and Rock—and the pony—and you and Aunt Sarah?” asked Katie.

 

Sarah and Ben smiled at each other. “All the animals will stay with the farm, Katie, and will be well taken care of. As for me and Sarah, we plan to move to Batesville as soon as we can find a place,” Ben answered her question.

 

“Will you live by my—my daddy?” Mary asked shyly.

 

“Probably somewhere near by,” Sarah answered. “We will attend the same church you do.”

 

“That’s great,” exclaimed Katie. All were smiling now.

 

“Here they come,” shouted Jimmie who was standing by the window watching. Pushing open the door, they rushed out, knocking Mary down in the excitement. But she was back on her feet in a jiffy and watched the Model T slow to a halt. Uncle Jack got out on the driver’s side while Daddy got out on the other side. My, what a different looking daddy, with his nice hair-cut, clean shave, and neatly pressed trousers. The children would hardly have recognized him had they not been told that it was he who was coming.

 

When Mary saw him, she lost all her timidity and ran to meet him. He picked her up in his arms, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, he praised God for answered prayer. When the others noticed the drastic change, they, too, followed Mary in greeting their daddy.

 

“Is this my boy, Jimmie?” he grabbed him in his arms. Jimmie, not being used to his daddy’s affection, drew back. Jim understood and let him go. “God bless you, Son, and you, Jacky.” He was attempting to embrace them for the first time in his life, except for the one time he had shown affection for Mary under the oak tree.

 

“Oh thanks be to God for His abundant mercy,” Jim said, laughing and crying at the same time. “I’m so unworthy—so unworthy.”

 

Looking at Sue through his tears, he exclaimed, “Sue, how you have grown. Those little cheeks look like rose buds. And look at those little plump arms. I can hardly believe you’re my little Sue. And this is my Katie. Bless your hearts. I’m overjoyed. “

 

Sarah, too, was crying as she held out her hand to Jim. Ben followed and could not help but embrace the father of the children he loved so dearly.

 

Jim spoke to them in broken tones, “Rev. Delaney has told me the whole story. I don’t have words to express my appreciation for what you two have done for my children. How can I ever repay you? You folks have been so good to me and to my family. Oh, may I never fail again.”

 

Sarah invited them into the house.

 

“Let us get on our knees before we do another thing and thank God for all He has done,” Uncle Jack suggested.

 

As they prayed, the Spirit dealt with Katie’s heart and she slipped over to Aunt Sarah and whispered, “I want to be a Christian, too.”

 

Sarah whispered, “Just tell Jesus you want Him to save you. Ask Him to forgive all your sins and give you peace within.”

 

She prayed earnestly with Aunt Sarah’s help, sobbing out her heart to God, and when they arose from their knees, Katie had found the peace she sought. She slipped over to Sue and testified of her

new found joy.

 

“I want to get saved, too,” Sue told her.

 

Again, Katie approached Aunt Sarah. “Sue wants to get saved, too, Aunt Sarah.”

 

When Sarah could get the attention of the others, she said, “Katie was saved while we were praying. Now Sue wants to get saved, too. Shall we pray for her, too?”

 

Uncle Jack looked at Mary, “How about you, Mary?”

 

“Oh, I’m already saved, Uncle Jack.”

 

“Wonderful, Mary. How about you, Jacky? And you, Jimmie?”

 

They nodded in the affirmative so once again they approached the throne of grace. Soon, all the children had wept their way through to God. What a time of rejoicing they had!

 

Chapter 8

 

How the Shackles Were Shattered

 

The sun was fast setting as Uncle Jack stopped his car in front of the white frame house.

 

“Well, this is it, children. Get out and take a look at your new home.” Jim gestured toward the house.

 

They hurriedly climbed out of the car and ran toward the house, eager to explore every nook and corner of it.

 

“I’ll run along, Jim,” Uncle Jack told him. “I have some preparations to make for my sermon tomorrow. So long for now.”

 

“So long, Brother Jack. Thanks a million for everything. We’ll see you tomorrow, Lord willing.”

 

A few minutes later, Daddy opened a door leading into a spacious bedroom. “This is your room, girls,” he told them. “I believe three girls can find room to sleep in here.”

 

“Oh yes,” Sue exclaimed as she caught sight of the large bed in the corner of the room. “We three have always slept together.”

 

The boys’ room was pointed out to them next, and then they were shown the kitchen. They had entered through the living room so they had seen all except Daddy’s room. When this was mentioned, Daddy chuckled, “I guess your daddy doesn’t need much room. I’ve boarded up a portion of the back porch for myself. Come this way and I will show it to you.”

 

They followed him, and what they saw made them appreciate their daddy more. On one end of the porch, they saw a very crudely built room. Upon entering, they found a cot and a wooden apple crate which was used for a table. On the crate lay Daddy’s Bible. Hanging across a large nail were his clothes, and a box served as a drawer for his other belongings.

 

“But Daddy,” Katie protested, “Your room is not as nice as ours.”

 

“We have a nice bed and a chest,” Sue added.

 

“And a closet to hang our clothes in,” said Mary.

 

Daddy looked at them with tears in his eyes. “This is plenty good enough for me, children. I want you to have the best. I’m trying to make up for the years that you had even less than what I have here.”

 

“You could sleep in our room, Daddy,” Jacky offered. “We have lots of extra room.”

 

“Thanks, Son, but I like to be alone,” Daddy declined the offer. “I get up at night many times to pray and I don’t want to disturb anyone. Don’t worry about me. I’m very happy and contented with my little room. You’ll never hear me complain.”

 

A little later, as darkness settled down, Mary burst into tears.

 

“Now, now, Baby, don’t cry,” Daddy said soothingly. “Everything is going to be fine. Your Aunt Sarah’s sister, Bessie, plans to come over Monday and help us.” Reaching out his arms, he said, “Come here and tell me all about life on the farm.”

 

Mary wiped her eyes on the back of her hands and was soon settled on Daddy’s knee. How often in her young life had she longed to sit there, but never dared intimate her true feelings. But now her Daddy was entirely different since Jesus had saved him. Soon the others were gathered around and together they related all the details of their life that they could recall since Daddy had left them many months ago.

 

Daddy wiped the tears from his eyes from time to time as he thought of how he had neglected his precious family. But now he would spend the rest of his life making it up to them.

 

“Daddy,” Katie asked, “how did you find Uncle Jack again? Did you know where he lived?”

 

Now it was Jim’s turn to tell of his experiences since the children saw him last. He began with his stay at the Greenes. “Children, your daddy was bound by a bad habit. The devil had me shackled to the drink habit with his chains. That is what kept me from being a good daddy. That was why I stayed away from home and you children and Mamma so much.” His voice grew husky at the mention of his departed wife. “I was off trying to satisfy my craving for drink.”

 

“What are shackles, Daddy?” Katie, always inquisitive, wanted to know.

 

“Shackles are something strong like a chain that binds people so that they can’t get loose. I was shackled to drink, but the devil has many different shackles that he uses to blind people. Some are bound by smoking, some by lying, some by cursing, some by gambling, some by stealing, and some by immoral living. All of these bad habits, besides many more, are shackles that Satan uses to help drag people to hell. All sinners are shackled by some form of sin. Many yearn to get free but can’t by their own power. I longed desperately to get free and tried time and time again to break my shackles, but I was so bound that I could not free myself. But the Greenes helped me to overcome the drink habit, at least temporarily. The Greenes also helped me find a good steady job and this house to rent. Alton went with me to search for you.” He then told of the heartache and grief he suffered when they failed to find them.”

 

“I felt that life just wasn’t worth living without you children, even though I did have a considerably better life after I stopped drinking.”

 

“One evening as I was eating my supper alone, I remembered something Alton told me. He had once heard a girl singing about God’s love and had promised to go with me to the place where he had heard her sing, when I felt up to it. I had a yearning in my heart for something I could not understand, so I went in search of Alton and reminded him of his promise.”

 

“Alton laughed. ‘All right, Jim, I’ll go with you, but that has been several years ago. No telling where that girl is by now.’ “

 

“ ‘But maybe there will be someone there to help me,’ I replied. So Alton agreed to go with me the following Sunday. He was as good as his word, but when he located the place, there was only a big empty building. I felt heartsick, but Alton only laughed. ‘I told you it had been a long time, old partner,’ He reminded me.”

 

“I returned home near to despair. I was searching for something, though I really didn’t realize what it was. I thought, ‘I’ll go back to my bad habit of drinking, but out of respect to Alton and his family, I cast that thought from my mind.’ ”

 

“Then one day, I was walking home from work and a young fellow handed me a tract. I stuck it in my pocket and went on my way. When I was only a few blocks from my old hang-out, the saloon, an irresistible desire came over me for a drink, so I turned in that direction and went into the saloon and bought a bottle. Still struggling against the desire, I stuck it in my big coat pocket and turned back toward my lonely home. Once inside, I paced the floor for a while, fighting what looked like a losing battle.”

 

“ ‘Oh, what’s the use?’ I said, and reached in my pocket for the bottle. Not only did I pull out the bottle, but he tract, as well. I set the bottle on the table and sat down to read the little message on the tract.”

 

“The words, ‘Do you need a friend?’ caught my eye. Certainly, I needed a friend. ‘Are you discouraged?’ I continued to read, ‘Near to despair? Then look to Jesus for He is a balm for every heartache, a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.’ “

 

“New hope was born within my breast as I finished reading the little tract. I had a great desire to know this Jesus who was a balm for aching hearts. But I had no idea how to find Him. I read the tract over again. It said, ‘Look to Jesus, but how was I to look to Him? It, also, referred to several Bible Scriptures, but I didn’t own a Bible. So I started to toss the tract into the wastepaper basket. But turning it over once again, my eyes fell on a name and address stamped on the bottom of it. ‘Rev. Jack Delaney, 2224 Peach St.’ Rev. Delaney! That was the man who came when Mamma died. I thought, ‘Maybe he can help me.’ “

 

“As I arose from the chair in which I had been sitting, my eyes caught sight of the bottle. A tremendous struggle raged within me. Shall I give in and drink and end up like I was before the Greenes rescued me, or shall I go in search of Rev. Delaney and seek peace for my troubled heart? With all the power of resistance I could muster, I grabbed my hat and went out the door.”

 

“I searched around town until I found the address. When I knocked at the door, a grey-haired lady answered.

 

“ ‘I’m Jim Reid,’ I stammered, ‘Does Rev. Delaney live here?’ “

 

“ ‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘Won’t you come in?’ “

 

“As I entered, a man whom I recognized as Rev. Delaney, stood to his feet and stretched out his hand to greet me. “

 

“ ‘How do you do, Sir? I’m Rev. Delaney and this is my wife.’ “

 

“ ‘Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Delaney. I think I have already met you, Rev. Delaney. Do you remember conducting a funeral for a Mrs. Reid several months ago in a little country community?’ “

 

“ ‘Yes. Oh sure, you are Mr. Reid, aren’t you? I recognize you now. Sit down, Mr. Reid.’ “

 

“He seemed to wonder why I had come, but I couldn’t find words to begin, so I reached in my pocket and pulled out the tract.”

 

“ ‘Do you recognize this?’ I asked.”

 

“ ‘Yes. The fact is, I wrote it. I had hoped it would be a help to someone.’ “

 

“ ‘Well, I will confess, Rev. Delaney, that it has put a desire in my heart to know more about this Jesus who is closer than a brother. I certainly need someone to stick by me.’ “

 

“ ‘Then you’re not a Christian, Mr. Reid?’ “

 

“ ‘No Sir, I’ve never had any desire to be one until lately and I am at a loss to know how to become a Christian. ‘ “

 

“Looking at me sympathetically, he asked, ‘Would you like for me to explain the way of salvation to you?’ “

 

“ ‘Yes Sir,’ I replied. “

 

“He reached for his Bible and read from 1 John 1:9, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ I have since memorized this Scripture as well as others he read. They help me to tell others how to find Christ.”

 

“I’ve been very, very wicked, Rev. Delaney, a no-good drunkard and bum. I was a sorry husband and father and neglected my family terribly. Perhaps I’ve been too wicked to be forgiven by God.”

 

“ ‘Mr. Reid,’ he said kindly, ‘all of us were once bad sinners. I would be ashamed to tell you of my past before Jesus came into my life. We were born in sin. Let’s read it right here in Romans 3:23. ‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ and in Timothy 1:15, ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.’ The apostle Paul, who penned these words, felt just as you do, and as I did when I came to Jesus, that he was the chiefest of sinners. But just as he was gloriously converted, and his life was a great influence for righteousness, so can you be, Mr. Reid, by the help and grace of God. Would you like my wife and I to pray with you?’ “

 

“ ‘Yes, I would appreciate it very much.’ “

 

“We knelt, and Rev. and Mrs. Delaney began to pray. I didn’t know how to pray; but I did the best I could, confessing every sin God brought to my memory. I was sobbing my heart out, for I was sick of my life and hungry for God. I prayed until I couldn’t pray any longer. There was a blessed presence lingering near. “

 

“Rev. Delaney spoke when I had finished praying. ‘Mr. Reid, have you truly repented of all you know to be wrong in your life?’ “

 

“ ‘Yes, Rev. Delaney, I’ve asked God’s forgiveness for all my many, many sins. I’ve repented of all I know.’ “

 

“ ‘Then take God at His word. He promised to forgive if you would confess. Ephesians 2:8 and 9 tells us ‘by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast.’ You see, even if we had good works to offer God, that would not save us. It is by His grace, through faith. Do you believe His word, Sir?“

 

“Why yes, Rev. Delaney, I believe God’s word. If God says something, then I know it’s true. He said to confess and I’ve confessed. He said we are saved through faith and that means to believe. I believe right now that by His grace He saves me.”

 

“When I stated my faith in His Word and His promises, something happened within me that I have no words to describe. God just blotted out my wicked sins and gave me the assurance that I was His child. I felt as light as a feather. I arose from my knees, thrilled to be free. We had a great time of rejoicing together. Oh, how I praise Him for being so faithful and merciful to me.” He blew his nose and wiped away his tears.

 

“Well, children, that’s how I met Uncle Jack again.”

 

“But what about the bottle, Daddy? what did you do with that?” Jacky was curious to know.

 

Jim smiled. “I forgot all about the bottle until I got back home. As I walked into the kitchen, there it was, serving as a grim reminder of how I had been shackled for years. Well, I took it up and stuck it in my coat pocket once again. Finding a hammer, I walked a mile to the city dump, and there I shattered the bottle into hundreds of pieces. My shackles were shattered at last, thank God. I’ve never drunk another drop. God took away the desire that night. Oh, how I do praise Him. I was like a bird who had escaped from a cage. It was wonderful and still is.” He was overcome with emotion.

 

“Well, children, after this experience, I started attending Brother Jack’s church regularly. As I kept my heart open for all truth and light, I soon discovered through his faithful ministry that I had a deeper need. He showed me through God’s Word that the old carnal nature I was born with could be eradicated, or uprooted. He read in Romans 8:7 that the carnal mind is enmity, or an enemy against God, that it is not subject to God’s law. One Sunday he preached from 1 Thessalonians 4:3, ‘For this is the will of God, even your .sanctification.’ Glancing around at the children, he said, “I’m sure you’re not understanding all I’m saying, but you will remember it and some day it will help you. Anyway, on that Sunday morning, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that I needed this second work of grace wrought in my heart, so I went to the altar and asked God to cleanse my heart of all its impurities and sanctify me wholly. I wanted to be rid of the carnal traits such as anger, jealousy, malice, envy, strife, pride, and all other evil tendencies in my heart. God answered prayer that memorable morning and I have been enabled, by His grace, to live a victorious Christian life ever since. Praise the sweet name of Jesus.”

 

“Does Alton go to church with you, Daddy?” Sue inquired.

 

“I’m sorry to say he doesn’t. He attended once, but he didn’t seem very interested. He laughed and said he would go to church when he found the one where the girl sang, but that’s been so long ago that it looks hopeless. I was hoping Bessie would sing the morning he came, thinking that might impress him, but she was sick that day. I wish you children would help me pray for Alton. He’s such a fine young man with high morals, but he’s just not interested in his soul.”

 

“Where does he live, Daddy?” asked Mary.

 

“Not too far from here. He will be by tomorrow afternoon, for I told him I would have a surprise for him. He will be delighted to know I have found you children. He spent lots of time trying to help me.”

 

“Well, children, I guess it’s about time we ate a few bites, had devotions and went to bed. We have visited long enough for tonight. This has been an exciting day and we’re all tired. Furthermore, we will have to get up early in the morning.”

 

“May we get supper, Daddy?” Katie volunteered. “We know how for we helped Aunt Sarah, and Mamma, too, when she was living.”

 

“Sure, go ahead, girls. It will be nice to just sit back and relax and let my daughters prepare supper.”

 

They ran eagerly into the kitchen to see what they could find to prepare. Jim went into his little room and fetched his Bible and began to read.

 

“Read to us,” Mary begged, “I wish I could read the bible,” she added wistfully.

 

“Just a little longer, Girlie, and you can learn to read,” Daddy assured her. “I intend to go right away and make arrangements for you children to attend school.”

 

“How wonderful! “ Mary clapped her hands and danced around the room with glee. “I can hardly wait,” she said, throwing her arms around Daddy’s neck and kissing him on the cheek. “I’m so glad you found us, Daddy.”

 

“So am I, Girlie. Let’s not forget to thank God for His leadership. Had it not been for Him, no doubt I would have ever seen you again.”

 

Mary kissed him again as he wiped the tears from his eyes.

 

“I love you, Daddy,” she whispered in his ear.

 

“I reckon I love you a little, too, Mary,” he teased as he smiled at her.

 

Chapter 9

 

The Birthday Party

 

Time seems to pass swiftly when all is going well and everyone is happy, therefore a year soon flew by. The girls had been enrolled in school, but Jimmie and Jacky had begged Daddy to let them get a job instead of enrolling in school. They were embarrassed because they were so much older than their classmates. Jim again felt keenly his past failures in not seeing that his children were properly educated, but he could not help but be sympathetic with his sons. He sought out Uncle Jack for council and was advised to consider a tutor coming to their house to teach them. They could just pick up where they had left off in school if they decided to follow that course. Jim thought that would be the solution.

 

The girls were overjoyed in being able to attend school in spite of the disadvantages. Katie had attended school part-time while Mamma was living, therefore, she was soon adjusted, but Mary and Sue had never attended. Upon learning of the situation their teacher was very kind and understanding and spent extra time with them. She explained to their classmates that they had lived in a rural area and had not had the opportunity to attend school regularly. Their classmates, as a whole, were kind and made them feel welcome. The girls learned eagerly and quickly, and with the extra tutoring from their teacher, they did amazingly well in school.

 

With Daddy’s help, Katie was soon reading portions of the Bible. They thanked God daily for bringing them together again and allowing them such wonderful opportunities.

 

One day Katie asked Daddy about their cousin, Alice. “Do you know where she is, Daddy?”

 

“I’m sorry to say, Katie, but I don’t know. I haven’t heard from her in quite a while. I ran into her husband once at the—uh—I ran into John in town once, but that’s been possibly two years ago. I’ve been praying for her and John. I trust we can find them one of these days. Dear Alice! We’re all the family she has. We need each other.”

 

Bessie came every day to clean house, wash, iron, and do the other household chores. The girls were lots of help when at home, but they were in school most of the day and had home-work to do after they came home in the afternoons.

 

Bessie enjoyed her work and, like Sarah, she became very attached to the children, and they to her.

 

“You are so much like Aunt Sarah,” Mary told her. “When will Aunt Sarah and Uncle Ben move into Batesville? I miss them terribly,” Mary said tearfully. “Except for coming to church a time or two, they have come to see us only once or twice since we moved.”

 

“It won’t be long now, Mary. They finally sold the farm. It took a long time because Mr. Silas had to raise the money. But now that it’s sold, they’ll move just as soon as they can find a place here. Uncle Jack is helping to look out for a house.”

 

There was someone else the children were very fond of, and that was Alton. He visited Jim and the children often and expressed his love for them in various ways. The children felt indebted to him for helping their daddy.

 

“How about going to church with us, Alton?” Sue approached him one day.

 

“Someday I will go with you, Sue, but not soon. Thanks for inviting me.” He smiled down at her.

 

“I appreciate your concern, Sue,” Daddy told her later. “Keep praying for Alton and invite him once in a while, but don’t pester him.”

 

“But Daddy, if Alton should die, he’d go to that bad place called ‘hell’. I remember Mamma telling us about it just before she died, and Daddy, ‘I can’t bear to think of Alton going to that awful place.”

 

“You said Mamma told you about hell?” The expression on Daddy’s face changed to sadness. “What made her speak of hell?”

 

Jimmie, overhearing the conversation, came into the room and seated himself on a chair near the window.

 

“She said her grandmother was a Christian and she took her to Sunday School,” explained Sue. “In Sunday School she learned about hell and she said she was scared to die and go there.”

 

“Poor Mamma!” Daddy took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes and blew his nose. “Guess she didn’t have a chance. If only someone could have won her to Christ before she passed away. I don’t like to think of it because it torments me when I get it on my mind. My dear Lola, if only she could have been saved.”

 

“But, Daddy, she was saved,” Jimmie and Sue replied in unison.

 

“What? You can’t mean it. Tell me about it. Oh, can it possibly be true? Tell me quickly, children.”

 

Together Jimmie and Sue related the testimony of their dying mother. Jim was overjoyed at the news of his dear wife’s conversion.

 

“And Daddy,” Jimmie looked directly at his Daddy, “Mamma left a message for you which I’ve never told you. I thought I never would because I didn’t want you to blame Mamma for anything, but things are different now.”

 

“Mamma left a message for me, Son? What was it? I’m very anxious to know.”

 

“Yes, Daddy. She said, ‘Jimmie, if I don’t make it ‘til Daddy comes, tell him I’m sorry for my part in making our lives together so miserable.”

 

“Did she say that after the terrible way I lived?” He bit his lower lip and his eyes filled with tears.

 

“Yes, Daddy, those were her last words.”

 

“My dear Lola, you died with a forgiving heart. It’s too wonderful to be true,” Jim said with a far-away look in his eyes. Then smiling through his tears, he exclaimed joyfully, “Children, Mamma is waiting for us in Heaven. Praise the Lord! We have a goal to work toward now, more than ever. We can’t afford to miss Heaven.”

 

“Mamma said she asked God to save all of us so we could meet her in Heaven,” Sue told him. “It must have been her prayers that caused us to get saved.”

 

“No doubt it was, Sue. Bless her memory. I am so happy to know that we will be reunited some day. I trust that somehow she knows her prayers have been answered and that I’m living for God and am trying to make a decent home for you children now. Maybe somehow, Jesus will let her know,” he said wistfully.

 

Later, after all had retired for the night, Jim slipped out of bed and got on his knees. “How excellent is thy loving kindness, oh God,” he quoted from the Psalms, “Surely thy mercy endureth forever.”

 

One morning, some months later, Daddy found Mary up earlier than usual. “And what is my fair lassie doing up so early this morning?” he asked wonderingly. “You could have slept thirty minutes longer.”

 

“I want to ask a favor of you, Daddy.”

 

“And what kind of favor do you want to ask of me, my little girl?”

 

“May I have a birthday party? My friend, Ruby, at school, said her mother let her have one. She invited her friends, and had a cake, and played games, and had a great time. We could invite our friends. There’s Aunt Mae, Uncle Jack, Bessie and Alton. Also, Bessie told me that Aunt Sarah and Uncle Ben have found a house and will be moving into Batesville right away. They are our friends, so they could come, too. And Alton’s sister, Rachal, has moved back home. She can be our new friend. Also, Mr. and Mrs. Greene can come. Bessie can bake a cake and we can sing and pray. Maybe it will help Alton. We can’t get him to go to church?”

 

“Mary, you make it sound interesting. If you want a party so that we can have a little church service to try to help Alton, how can I refuse you? You go ahead and talk to Bessie about it and if she’s agreed, then you have my permission. If Bessie is willing to bake a cake, then I’ll certainly be willing to help eat it.” There was a mysterious twinkle in his eyes as he patted Mary’s head. “Now run, hop back in bed and wait until it’s time to get up. O. K?”

 

“Thank you, Daddy. Thank you so very much. I know we will enjoy my party. I can hardly wait.”

 

As Mary had expected, Bessie was pleased with the idea of a party, so the plans were made. It was to be Mary’s ninth birthday. Excitedly, she helped Bessie clean house and prepare the refreshments.

 

When the special night arrived, Mary was almost beside herself with eager anticipation. Uncle Jack, Aunt Mae, and Bessie arrived first. Shortly afterwards, Alton and his sister Rachal came. Though his parents had been invited also, they declined the invitation, since Mr. Greene was not well. Uncle Ben and Aunt Sarah came next; and when the children saw them, they flew into their arms. There were tears of joy at the happy reunion.

 

“We’ll see you more often now, children,” Aunt Sarah told them. “My, it’s been lonesome without you.”

 

“How did you manage the farm without me and Jimmie?” Jacky asked.

 

“Silas and his boys helped,” Uncle Ben answered. “It was to his advantage to keep everything up, since they were buying it.”

 

After Mary had opened her gifts, which consisted of a blue head scarf; a jump rope; a pair of mittens; some ribbons for her hair; and a comb, brush and mirror set, the refreshments were served. Then someone suggested a song.

 

“Bessie, how about you singing?” Jim suggested. “Sing the one you sang Sunday.”

 

“No, let’s all sing together. It’s hard for me to sing without music,” she protested.

 

But the others joined in with Jim, insisting she sing alone. As her melodious voice rang out, her eyes shone with the love of Christ for whose glory she sang. As usual, her listeners seemed intrigued, one, more so than the others. Alton turned pale and dropped onto a chair.

 

“That voice—” he mumbled, “that’s the voice—and—and the song—the very same song—I could never forget it. But—but—it’s impossible. I—I—must be dreaming.” He mopped his brow with his handkerchief and trembled noticeably.

 

Jim saw him first. Rushing to his side and catching hold of his arm, he asked, “What’s the matter, Alton? Are you sick?”

 

“That voice—that’s the voice, Jim,” he stammered.

 

“The voice? What voice are you talking about, Son?” Jim looked alarmed. “Are you sure you’re not sick? Maybe I should call a doctor.”

 

By this time, Alton’s peculiar behavior had attracted the attention of the others. Bessie cut her song short and everyone gathered around Alton.

 

“Help me to get him to bed, Brother Jack. He’s sick,” Jim suggested.

 

“No, no, I’m all right. It’s just that voice. I’m so shocked. “ Turning to Bessie, he asked in a trembling voice, “Did you ever sing in a building on Elm Street?”

 

“Why yes, about four or five years ago.” Her mouth gaped open in surprise at his question. “We held a series of services there trying to reach some of the down and outers.”

 

“Suppose you tell us about it,” suggested Uncle Jack in amazement.

 

“Yes, please do,” others begged. So Alton repeated a portion of the experience he had once related to Jim. All were deeply touched. Rachal, especially, was greatly affected by her brother’s story.

 

“I promised Jim that if I ever found the church where you sang, that I would attend.” He smiled warmly at Bessie. “So I guess you folk will see my smiling face in church Sunday.”

 

“Wonderful!” was the exclamation that followed his announcement. God was moving in answer to prayer once again.

 

Noticing how quiet Rachal was, Jim tried to draw her into the conversation.

 

“It’s quite warm tonight, isn’t it, Miss Greene” he commented, not knowing anything else to say.

 

“Quite,” she answered, “but please just call me Rachal. All my friends do.” She smiled as she spoke.

 

Alton joined them, and suddenly realizing the two were nearly the same age, he couldn’t resist an urge to tease. Smiling at Jim, he asked, “Don’t you think my sis is pretty?”

 

Rachal blushed as Jim answered, “So she is, Alton, Very pretty. I must admit she doesn’t favor her brother in any respect, though.” He slapped Alton on the shoulder and laughed.

 

The mint green dress Rachal wore seemed to make her dark eyes even darker, and her shoulder-length hair glistened as the light shone on it. Turning to look at Alton, she said, “I’m glad to hear you say you’re going to church Sunday. I’d like to go along, too. I attended a little church a few times at Cypress Hills, and I enjoyed it. Will you let your sister go along?”

 

Alton patted her shoulder and then leaned over and kissed her cheek in a brotherly way. “Glad to have you come along, Sis. We will both be in church Sunday.” He smiled broadly at Jim.

 

And he was as good as his word. Both Alton and Rachal were in church Sunday. Bessie had never sung more beautifully, and Rev. Delaney’s message was full of wonderful truths.

 

“Christ is the answer for every problem,” he was saying. “To the hungry, He is the Bread of Life; to the thirsty, He is the Living Water; He is a physician for the sick and He brings pardon to the condemned. He is a Rock in a weary land and a Shelter in the time of storm. He is altogether lovely, The Rose of Sharon, the Bright and Morning Star. Christ is all and all. He’s calling you unto Himself. On earth, He called the humble fishermen and despised tax collectors as His disciples. He still calls today. ‘Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.’ He wore a crown of thorns that we might wear a crown of life. He took our place on earth that we might share His place in Heaven. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief; and we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all—He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. He intercedes just now for you, my friend. Won’t you come to Him, repenting of your sins and seeking His forgiveness? He loves you and bids you come. Are you cumbered with a load of care? Come to Jesus. He will lift your load and give you joy and peace within. He beckons just now. Will you come to Him while we sing a song of invitation?” Glancing in Alton’s direction, Rev. Delaney recognized that Rachal was convicted of her sins. He waited a few minutes, hoping she would come to the altar to pray, but when she failed to make a move, he walked down from the platform, and back to her.

 

“Miss Greene,” he addressed her kindly, “God is speaking to your heart. He wants to save you this morning. Won’t you come and kneel at the altar and seek His pardon?”

 

“I’d like to, Preacher, but there’s something in my life that I’m afraid God won’t forgive,” she told him with tears streaming down her cheeks.

 

“God forgives all sin except blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and I feel sure you’re not guilty of that. Come, and let God have His way in your life.” She walked down the aisle and knelt at the altar.

 

“How about you, Alton?” Rev. Delaney invited, “Don’t you want to join your sister at the altar?”

 

“Not today, Sir. Maybe some other time.”

 

Rachal was sobbing and confessing her sins to God. She prayed for forgiveness but could not seem to believe God. Aunt Mae knelt in front of her to try to counsel her, but she kept her head on her arm on the altar sobbing brokenly. After some time had elapsed and Rachal still had not prayed through, Rev. Delaney thought it best to dismiss the service. He told Alton he and his wife would drive his sister home later. Then he joined his wife at the altar to pray for Rachal.

 

“What’s wrong, Miss Greene? Why can’t you believe God forgives your sins? Do you want to confide in my wife and I about your problem? Everyone is gone except us.”

 

Rachal raised her head and looked back at the empty pews. Her eyes were red and swollen and on her face was a look of utter hopelessness.

 

“God loves you, Miss Greene,” Aunt Mae told her. “No matter what you’ve done in the past, He will forgive. He tells us in Isaiah 1:18 ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow—.’ Why don’t you just confess your sins to Jesus and trust Him to forgive?”

 

“But I’ve been so wicked.” She sobbed out her guilt and shame, confessing her wrong-doing to Rev. Delaney and wife.

 

Mrs. Delaney put her arms around her. “God knows how sorry you are for your sins. Of course, what you did was wrong and sinful, but God said if we would confess, He would forgive. He tells us in Proverbs 28:13, if we cover our sins, we shall not prosper, but if we confess and forsake them, we will find mercy. You have confessed, so let us pray again that God will extend His mercy and forgive you.”

 

Again, they agreed in prayer, praying for God to give Rachal the assurance that her sins were forgiven since she had confessed and forsaken them according to the Bible command. In a few minutes, she was smiling through her tears. The work had been done. God had met her need, forgiven her sins, and saved her soul. What a happy young woman went back home to her parents and Alton that day.

 

Alton continued to bring Rachal to church, and, though at times, it was evident that the Spirit was dealing with him, yet he never made any move toward God. But much prayer was going up in his behalf. Knowing that there is no case too hard for God, his friends fervently believed that God would eventually answer prayer on Alton’s behalf.

 

In the meantime, other thoughts were filling Alton’s mind. When Bessie sang, his eyes never left her face. But it was not the message of the songs that gripped his being as had once been the case, but the girl herself that began to possess his every thought. Her shining blond hair, her blue eyes, her vivacious smile all blended together in one harmonious whole that made her utterly irresistible to Alton. He found himself lingering after church for a few words with her. And something about the way she studiedly avoided him unless he approached her directly made him think she was not oblivious to his charms.

 

It was maddening to Alton to watch her care for Jim’s children as if they were her own. And Jim seemed to take so much for granted—casually walking her over to the parsonage at every opportunity. What could the man be thinking? Alton wondered. Surely he knew he was too old for Bessie!

 

But Jim didn’t know he was too old for Bessie. And he, too, forgot to listen to the words of the songs while he watched the pretty singer.

 

Chapter 10

 

Broken Hearts

 

One morning as Jim prepared to leave for work, he met Bessie as she came in to help get the children off to school. Dear Bessie! So lovely in character, as well as physical features. Such a consistent Christian! And his children loved her. “Watch it, Jim,” he mentally cautioned his runaway thoughts.

 

“Good-morning, Jim,” she smiled sweetly. “Am I early or are you late?”

 

“Neither, Bessie. I guess we’re just both on time today.”

 

He couldn’t help a lingering look. Her blue eyes seemed to sparkle as never before, and her blond hair shone as the early rays of the morning sun danced upon it.

 

“Have a good day, Bessie,” he said as he left the house.

 

“Bessie is too young for you,” one side of his mind argued. “But look at Sarah and Ben,” another thought countered. “Ben is ten years older than Sarah and they’re very happy together. And Bessie is Sarah’s sister—”

 

All day and the days that followed, these thoughts crowded into Jim’s mind. He made it a point to stick around in the mornings until she came. Did he imagine that she blushed when he smiled at her? And those little nervous gestures of hers, was it because she felt the same way he did? He could only hope and pray and bid his time until he could get a chance to talk to her.

 

The time came unexpectedly one afternoon when his boss let him off early to attend some business. He had no idea that Bessie would be at the house; the children usually took over when they came home from school. So he was pleasantly surprised when he opened the kitchen door and saw her busy peeling potatoes.

 

“Why, Jim,” she said in astonishment, “What brings you home so early? The girls were delayed at school today because their teacher wanted to help them catch up in their arithmetic and reading.”

 

“I have some business to attend to, Bessie, so I laid off early today.”

 

There was an awkward silence between them as their eyes met. Bessie dropped her eyes and blushed as Jim took a step toward her.

 

“Maybe God worked this out, Bessie,” Jim suggested. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you. You see, I—uh—I think-uh—” he was stammering like a school boy.

 

“What are you trying to tell me, Jim?” she smiled reassuringly.

 

Taking her smile as a sign of encouragement, he blurted out, “I—uh—I think a great deal of you, Bessie. You fit right in with my family, and my children love you very much. You’re like a mother to them. I wonder if-perhaps—you feel—”. One look at her face, and he was unable to finish.

 

Blushing a crimson red, Bessie answered, “Jim, I think you’re wonderful, and I do love your children very dearly. But Jim,” her eyes seemed to plead for understanding as they met his earnest gaze. “I don’t care for you—uh—I mean not the way you’re asking me to. I’m truly sorry, Jim. You’re a very special person, but I just don’t love you. Maybe some day I will if it’s God’s will. Let’s pray about it.”

 

Hanging his head, Jim said, “Sure, Bessie, I will wait. May God’s will be done.”

 

Since neither of them could seem to think of anything more to say, Bessie set the potatoes aside and picked up her purse to go. “The children will be here soon. They can finish getting the supper. I must run now, Jim. See you later.” She hurriedly left.

 

Just as she went out the door, Alton drove up.

 

“Hello, Bessie. Going some place?” he called.

 

“Yes, I’ve just started home. How are you this afternoon, Alton?” A smile lit up her face as she greeted him.

 

Jim watched as Alton offered her a ride. “Come on, Bessie. Let me drive you home.”

 

“Thanks, but I can walk. It’s not very far and I enjoy walking.”

 

“Then I’ll walk with you,” he informed her, falling into step beside her.

 

She glanced back at Jim uneasily. It was evident that she was embarrassed, but she did not protest further.

 

“So that’s it. I understand now,” Jim voiced his thoughts aloud, and with drooping shoulders he walked back into the house.

 

“Do you think Bessie likes Alton?” Mary asked him a week or so later. “He walks her home often.”

 

“It appears that way, Mary.” Jim sighed as he patted her little head. “May God’s will be done,” he said under his breath.

 

A change came over Bessie as she began to see Alton more and more. She did not talk on spiritual matters as much as before, and her singing was not what it once was. Mary approached her one day and asked, “Bessie, do you still love Jesus?”

 

“Why of course, child,” she assured her. “Why do you ask?”

 

“You hardly ever talk about Him anymore, and you don’t pray with me or read me Bible stories. I miss it.” Tearfully, she looked up earnestly into Bessie’s face. “Can we pray now?”

 

Falling on her knees quickly to hide her embarrassment, Bessie started to pray softly, but Mary lead out.

 

“Dear Jesus,” she prayed simply, “help Bessie to love You as she once did. Looks like Alton has taken Your place, Jesus, ‘cause she loves him the best. But help her to love You the most. Amen.”

 

Bessie arose from her knees and gave Mary a hug and thanked her for her concern. Her simple prayer had served its purpose in bringing conviction to her heart.

 

“You are a precious and unusual child, Mary. Not many children of your age are so spiritually minded. God has used you to show me what I must do.”

 

“What did He show you, Bessie?” Mary wanted to know.

 

“Perhaps you won’t understand, Mary, but Alton is not a Christian, and God has been dealing with my heart about seeing him so much. You see, God tells us in His word that Christians are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. I am very, very fond of Alton, Mary, but by God’s grace I intend to stop seeing him.” With tears glistening in her eyes, she added, “I love Jesus the most Mary, and I want to please Him.”

 

“You mean you never intend to see Alton again?” Tears swelled in her eyes.

 

“Oh, I’m sure we’ll see each other, Dear, but there will be no more dates.”

 

Alton came as usual that afternoon and he and Bessie walked off together. Once out of hearing distance of the Reid household, Bessie spoke, “Alton, I have something to tell you.”

 

“Before you do, Bessie, let me tell you something. I have been trying to pick up the courage for several days now.” He hesitated and then spoke his mind. “I love you. Bessie, my dear, and I sense that you feel the same toward me. Am I right?” He stopped walking and smiled down at her.

 

Bessie swallowed a lump in her throat and then answered, “Yes, Alton, I do love you, but—”.

 

“Then Bessie, I am going to be real bold and ask you something before I lose my courage. Will you marry me? I have been hesitant about asking you, knowing you are so-so religious, but I will take you to church regularly, and I promise I will never hinder you in any way concerning your religion.”

 

Bessie put her fingers to his mouth trying to silence him, but he continued, “I have never cared for a girl in my life until I met you, but you are everything I could ever desire. How about it, my dear, dear Bessie, will you make me the happiest man in the world by becoming my wife? We can be very happy together.”

 

Bessie was trembling as she looked up, revealing in that look her love for him. And looking into his eyes so full of love and admiration, she wondered if God really expected her to give up someone she loved so dearly? One who needed her so badly? One who was getting past the usual age to marry and had never been in love before? Had she only had an emotional reaction when Mary prayed for her? Had the Spirit actually been prompting her to make a clean break? Could she go ahead and marry him and win him to Christ afterwards? After all, he was attending church. But what did God’s word teach? She had known the Holy Scriptures from childhood so there was no mistaking the truth of God’s Word. Could she turn her back on God’s Word after God had been so good to her?

 

Alton was patiently awaiting the answer he felt sure he would get. She dropped her eyes and then her head as she told him, “Alton, I can’t marry you.”

 

“But why, Bessie?” he asked in alarm as the smile faded from his face. “You acknowledged that you love me. Then why can’t you marry me? I don’t understand.”

 

“The Bible says, ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.’ I’m a Christian, Alton, and you’re not. I would be out of God’s will to marry you. I must choose God’s way and abide by His Word regardless of the cost.”

 

“But Bessie, I wouldn’t interfere with your religion. You could live your life and allow me the privilege of living mine.”

 

“It won’t work, Alton. ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ “

 

“Then you’re turning me down, Bessie? Why did you lead me on, if you feel this way?”

 

“I was wrong to lead you on, Alton, and I ask your forgiveness. It was just that I loved you so dearly and thought something had to work out for us. I kept hoping and praying you’d give your heart to God. But this afternoon, God showed me plainly that I had to break off our relationship. Remember, Alton, I tried to tell you before you proposed to me, and you stopped me. I’m terribly sorry to hurt you, but I can’t marry you or keep company with you any longer.” The tears coursed down her cheeks as she bared her heart to him. The pained expression on his countenance caused her to bite her lip and start for home.

 

They walked a few blocks in silence. As Uncle Jack’s house came in view, Alton spoke again, “Guess it’s better this way, Bessie. If you care more for your religion than for me, we could never make it anyway. Good-bye, Bessie. Maybe you will meet the right guy some day—a preacher, perhaps.” He spat out the last words sarcastically.

 

“Oh Alton, please try to understand. If you were only a Christian, things would be different.”

 

“Well, I’m not and probably never will be. You see, I happen to be satisfied the way I am.”

 

He stopped and took her hand in his. “Good-bye Bessie, and good-luck.” His voice trembled noticeably and his face was drained of color as he fought to control his emotions.

 

Looking up into his eyes, she said, “Believe me, Alton, this is hard. I will pray for you every day.”

 

“Save your breath, Bessie, for I will never change. Well,” he added as an afterthought, “maybe I will change after this, for the worse.”

 

“Oh no, Alton!” But he turned abruptly and walked off. She stood staring after him, and through the tears streaming down her cheeks, she saw him wheel around and start back. Stepping in front of her, he tried to take her in his arms. Mustering all her strength, she drew back.

 

“O.K., Bessie, have your way. I know you hate me for attempting to kiss you, but I’ve dreamed of it for days,” Sadly, he added, “Good luck!” and left hurriedly.

 

“Oh God, help me,” she prayed brokenly as she stumbled toward the house. “I can’t make it without Thy help,”

 

“Hello, Dear,” Uncle Jack greeted her as she entered the door. “How are you this afternoon?”

 

She opened her mouth to answer, but burst into tears and ran from the room. Aunt Mae followed.

 

“What’s wrong, Dearie?” she inquired.

 

“I’d rather not talk,” she choked. “I’d like to be left alone.”

 

“Is it Alton, Bess, Dear?”

 

“Yes, Aunt Mae. I broke off with him this afternoon, but it was so hard. Please, Aunt Mae, I just want to be left alone. Don’t call me for supper.” Her sobs were heart-rending.

 

Aunt Mae kissed her wet cheek and left the room. “We will be praying for you, Dear,” she called over her shoulder,

 

“Jack,” she spoke softly upon re-entering the living room, “our prayers have been answered. My heart has been so heavy about our Bessie keeping company with an unsaved man. Sometimes young folk let their hearts rule their head.”

 

“Yes, I know, Mae. After what we went through with Sarah and Ben, I thought I couldn’t stand it if Bessie married Alton. Not that I have anything personal against the boy. He’s a real gentleman in every sense of the word, and very considerate of others, but he seems so calloused when it comes to his soul’s salvation. I’ve seen conviction on him in a mighty way, but he never makes a move toward God. He could cause Bessie to lose her soul.”

 

“With Sarah, she was so rebellious when she lived with us that it was no surprise when she ended up marrying Ben; but with Bessie, it was different. She’s always been obedient and has loved the Lord since she was a little girl. I was shocked that she ever gave Alton a second thought,” Aunt Mae declared.

 

“You have to admit, Mae, that Alton is a very handsome man, and has quite a personality. With him and Bessie being thrown together so much at the Reid’s, you can see how it got started.”

 

“Yes, Jack, I can understand. But what puzzles me is that there is Raymond and Jessie, fine Christian young men, and both interested in Bessie, but she never gives them a second glance. I just can’t understand it.”

 

‘’‘Well, I’ll admit I can’t figure her out either, but let’s be thankful our prayers have been answered and she broke off with Alton. We must pray now that God will strengthen her in her resolve to do right.”

 

“Let’s pray, now, Jack,” Mae suggested. “Bessie is brokenhearted.” They knelt together and prayed for the girl who was like a daughter to them.

 

Chapter 11

 

A Faithful Shepherd

 

Rev. Jack Delaney was a faithful pastor who spent many hours visiting the sick, the bereaved and the lost around about him. His messages were often prepared on his knees, for he knew that each time he entered the pulpit that he was facing eternity-bound souls whom he might never meet again on earth. He felt his obligation under God to preach the whole truth without fear or favor as God anointed it.

 

This particular Lord’s day found him up at four A.M. and on his knees, crying to God fur help in delivering his message for that day.

 

“Oh God,” he prayed brokenly, “I need definite help from Thee. Wilt Thou deal conviction to the hearts of my people? I feel such a heavy burden for those who are unsanctified this morning. Thou dost see the need of those who will be in attendance. Give me just the right message and anoint me to deliver it. Show the people the need of a pure heart. I’m trusting Thee, Father, to move in and take over the service.”

 

For two hours he prayed until he felt God had undertaken for the morning’s service.

 

A hallowed presence was felt by all, as they entered the sanctuary that Sunday morning. No one spoke except for casual greetings. Some knelt quietly while others sat reverently in their pews.

 

After the Sunday School hour, the song leader arose to lead the singing. Directed of the Spirit, he chose a consecration hymn. As the service continued, Jim was called on to lead in prayer and as his fervent prayer touched through to God, hearts were moved upon all over the congregation.

 

“We have a surprise for you,” the song leader announced. “Bessie’s sister, Mrs. Sarah Barton, has consented to sing with her this morning.”

 

As they arose to sing, Sarah said, with tears in her eyes, “I have a hunger in my heart this morning for more of God. I sense a deeper need in my soul. Pray for me.”

 

Then Bessie spoke. “I feel I need to ask the church’s forgiveness for a failure in my life. Through weakness on my part, I walked contrary to God’s Word a while, but you who know about it, know I have repented and have been restored to my former fellowship with God. But lest I cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble, I felt I should make confession to the church of which I’m a member.”

 

She caught Rachal’s glance and noticed her dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. Rachal understood as no other the suffering involved since Bessie had broken off with her brother. Alton had not come back to church since he and Bessie had gone their separate ways. Also, he had been very careful to avoid a meeting with her.

 

As Rev. Delaney arose to speak, a holy hush was upon the congregation. After he had prayed, he opened his Bible and began: “Beloved, I come to you this morning with a burdened heart. God woke me early this morning and burned a message of truth on my heart for you. Let us read from the first chapter of Acts, one verse in particular, verse eight. ‘But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’ “

 

“Now let us turn to the book of John, the fourteeneth chapter, verses fifteen through eighteen, ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him, for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.’ “

 

He closed his Bible, stepped away from the pulpit a few steps and looked over his congregation as he began his message.

 

“Just after the passover feast, on the last evening before Christ’s betrayal, the disciples were gathered together in the upper room, and Christ spoke to them concerning His departure. First, He commanded them to love one another. As He had manifested His love toward them, so they were to do likewise, showing love one for another. Then He admonished them, ‘Let not your heart be troubled,’ for though He was going away, He would prepare a place for them. But how could they help but be troubled? For if Jesus was going away, all their hopes would be gone. He had called them from their fishing nets and other occupations to follow Him, and now was He to leave them behind to get along the best they could? They were poor, weak, uneducated and unpopular; and they depended upon Him as their teacher, Master, adviser, helper, and friend. How could they possibly make it without Him?”

 

“But Jesus gave them a reassuring promise. He said, ‘Keep my commandments and I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another comforter, that He may abide with you forever.’ ‘I am going away,’ He was saying, ‘but another will come to take my place. He will never fail you or forsake you, but will abide with you forever and He shall be in you.’ Later He added, ‘It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the comforter will not come.’ “

 

“The blessed comforter or Holy Spirit was to come and reign in their hearts Jesus was with them, but the Holy Spirit was to be in them. Often Jesus was not around when they needed Him. Perhaps He was on the mountaintop while they were in the valley trying to cast out devils. And sometimes He was sleeping while the stormy winds were blowing around them. He often slipped away to pray, leaving them behind to face their problems and burdens alone. But the comforter, whom He was to send, would dwell in them and would always be a present help in trouble.”

 

Rev. Delaney paused momentarily. His deep love and concern for his people was revealed on his countenance as he preached that morning. All eyes were focused on him, awaiting his next words. He had a special way, by God’s help, of presenting the truth plainly. The Holy Spirit was using his message to reveal needs.

 

“Before we are saved,” he continued, “we are under condemnation for our sins, the sins we have committed and are responsible for, but when we come to God, confessing these sins with a godly sorrow, He forgives us and frees us from them. Thus our guilt is gone, and in its place there comes a peace that surpasses all understanding, for we have received a free pardon for all our past offenses. Praise God! We feel such a glorious work of righteousness in our heart at this time that we think there is nothing else to be done, but before long, we recognize evil tendencies within us that are beyond our control. We will find it hard to take the way of the cross and go opposite from the world, because of pride in our heart; and we’ll find ourselves taking the way of least resistance. Carnal traits such as selfishness, envy, covetousness, anger, bitterness, jealousy, stinginess, peevishness, and others will crop up from time to time keeping us from living an effective life for Christ. We may repent with bitter tears each time one of these traits overcome us, but we will find we have no power to rid ourselves of them. These carnal traits are caused from the Adamic nature with which we were born and have no control over. Paul called it the ‘carnal mind’ and said it was ‘enmity against God’ for ‘it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.’ One cannot possibly tame it or control it because it is God’s enemy. In Ephesians 4:22 and Colossians 3:9, it is called the ‘old man,’ and in Galatians 5:17, it is termed the ‘flesh.’ It is also called ‘inbred sin’ and the ‘depraved nature.’ But whatever the term for it, it is the sin principle that remains in the heart of man after he is regenerated, and it must be gotten rid of before the Holy Spirit can take up His abode in our hearts. This second definite work of grace is called ‘holiness of heart’ or ‘sanctification.’ Some speak of it as a ‘clean or pure heart,’ or ‘complete deliverance,’ or ‘Christian perfection.’ This second work of grace is God’s will for our lives. In 1 Thessalonians 4:37, we read,’ This is the will of God, even your sanctification—For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.’ In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24, we read, ‘And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you who also will do it.”

 

“When God sanctifies a heart He takes out every evil tendency, every tendency contrary to divine love. He rids the heart of selfish desires, worldly ambitions, shame of the cross, and all other traits of carnality. Then he fills the heart with His sweet abiding presence. His coming brings peace, rest, contentment, satisfaction, humility, purity, liberality, mercy, freedom, power, love of truth, holy zeal, holy boldness, concern for lost souls, and reverence and respect for holy things. Your heart will be filled with the fruits of the spirit such as love, peace, joy, longsuffering, gentleness, kindness, meekness, and endurance. Thus, you will be enabled to live a victorious life without sin and condemnation. Now the heart is made perfect toward God. Thus, we are able to fulfill the Scripture found in Matthew 5:48, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.’ But even though our heart is made perfect, our head is imperfect, causing us to make mistakes of reason, judgment, and memory. But God does not condemn us because of the imperfections of the head; He judges the pure motives of the heart.”

 

“Thank God, that a way has been made that we can be transformed by ‘putting off the old man with his deeds, and putting on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.’ “

 

“On the day of Pentecost, the disciples and others, a total of one hundred and twenty, tarried before God as commanded by Jesus, until they received the baptism of the Holy Ghost of which I speak today. Though signs, such as the sound as of a rushing wind, and cloven tongues like as of fire were given, and they spoke with other tongues, or languages, yet we do not seek for these signs when praying for His blessed infilling. Though these accompanied the ushering in of the Holy Ghost dispensation, it is not His signs, but it is the Holy Spirit, Himself, that we need. He, alone, can satisfy the deepest longings of the soul. “

 

“Though the disciples were already saved before the day of Pentecost and had been walking with Jesus for about three years, yet they had a deeper need in their lives. Peter had denied Jesus and had to repent with bitter tears; Thomas had doubted Him, James and John had felt themselves important and desired to sit on each side of Jesus in Heaven, and all of the disciples forsook Him. But after the Holy Ghost had come into their lives on the day of Pentecost, and had burned out all the carnal traits, they could stand up and be counted. No more denying their Lord, no more doubts in their experience, no more wanting first place. Listen to Peter in Acts 14:19, 20, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’ The old man-fearing spirit was gone now, neither was Peter wanting to cut off any more ears, but was bold in declaring God’s Word.”

 

“Perhaps you are wondering how to obtain this blessed experience. First, one must recognize his need of a pure heart and come to Jesus to meet that need. In Luke 11:13, we read ‘If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?’ And in 1 John 1:9, we read, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrigheousness.’ Therefore, we are to come ‘boldly to the throne of grace’ confessing the traits of carnality that we have recognized in our heart, and He has promised to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, from the old carnal traits lurking in our heart, and to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit to abide with us forever. Hallelujah! “

 

“Will you please stand. I have delivered the message God has given me, by His help. I feel that there are needy hearts here today. Won’t you come to the fountain that is open to the house of David for sin and uncleanness? God is here today. He wants to sanctify your soul.”

 

Little Mary led the way to the altar, followed by Sarah, Ben, Rachal Greene, and others. It was as if angel wings fanned the air as God came in sanctifying power to the hearts of all who sought Him and met the conditions set forth in His word.

 

There was much rejoicing on that memorable Sunday. Rev. Delaney wept for joy as he heard the testimonies and shouts of victory and saw the radiant countenances. How glad he was that he had tarried for God’s message and obeyed fully in delivering it.

 

An unspeakable joy flooded the hearts of God’s people as they left the little sanctuary that beautiful Lord’s Day. All felt that they had been on holy ground.

 

Thoughts used in Rev. Delaney’s sermon were partially derived from S. L. Brengles’ book, “When the Holy Ghost Is Come.” Used by permission.

 

Chapter 12

 

An Unexpected Reunion

 

“Bessie, maybe I should stay home from school today and help with the house work,” little Mary offered graciously one Monday morning. “I don’t think you can get all this spring cleaning done without help.”

 

“Thanks, Mary, for your concern, but I’ll make it. You mustn’t miss a single day of school unless it’s absolutely necessary. You are doing great work, far ahead of what I could ever have imagined, and you must keep it up. Besides Mary,” her voice took on a note of sadness, “as long as I can stay busy it helps to occupy my mind, I feel very lonely at times.”

 

“You still miss Alton, don’t you?” Mary queried.

 

“I’m afraid so, more than I like to admit. But I have no regrets in breaking off with him. God’s ways are always best.”

 

“Know something, Bessie?” Mary asked with a twinkle in her eye. “I think Daddy likes Rachal Greene. I see them talking to each other at church quite often,” she confided.

 

“Oh Honey, they’re just good friends. Both of them are interested in Alton, and that gives them something in common,” Bessie assured her. Reaching for Mary’s lunch pail, she handed it to her. “Here Dear, take this and hurry and catch Sue and Katie before they leave you far behind. Have a good day, Dear.” She gave her a quick kiss on the cheek as Mary went out the door.

 

“Bye now, Bessie. Don’t work too hard,” Mary called as she trotted off to catch her sisters.

 

After Mary had gone, Bessie got started on the spring cleaning. There were the windows and screens to clean, the walls to scrub, and the quilts and mattresses to sun, besides all the regular house work.

 

She sighed. “Dear Alton,” she whispered his name. “I should never have gotten so attached to him. God only knows how hard it is to forget him. But I must put him out of my mind once and for all.”

 

She scrubbed hard at a dark spot on the wall. Hearing a knock at the door, she dried her hands and hurried to answer. Who would be calling this time of morning?

 

Opening the door, she exclaimed, “Why Uncle Jack, what brings you here so early?”

 

“I came to ask a favor of you, Bessie, but I see you’re quite busy.” He was looking beyond her, at the scrub bucket and detergent on the kitchen floor.

 

“What would you like me to do, Uncle Jack?”

 

“After you left this morning, a man came to see me. He told me that his newborn baby had died, and though he wasn’t a church-going man, yet he wanted his baby to have a proper funeral. Mr. Spikes, from the funeral parlor, suggested he look me up to conduct the funeral. Well, I thought if you could come and sing a song, it would really help out. The man wants the funeral at three-thirty this afternoon. Do you think Jim would mind if you would quit work at noon today, so that you can assist me?”

 

“I’m sure he won’t mind under the circumstances, Uncle Jack. He would want me to put God’s work first. I’ll leave the cleaning until another day, but I will have to prepare something for Jim and the children to eat when they get home. Then I’ll come on about noon. O.K?”

 

“That’s fine, Bessie. I knew I could count on you.”

 

The funeral was a pathetic affair with only six people in attendance. They were Uncle Jack, Aunt Mae, the baby’s father, its grandmother, and Sarah and Bessie.

 

“The baby’s ma is very sick,” the man explained as they met at the church. “This here is my ma. She lives wid me an’ Alice.” He gestured toward the lady who was with him.

 

“Pleased to meet you,” Rev. Delaney greeted her. Looking at the man again, he asked, “Do you live around here some place?”

 

“We live ‘bout twenty-five or thirty miles out of town, in a little place called Goldonna. Ma and me have ta hurry and git back to the old lady. The woman that is stayin’ wid her can’t stay long. She jes’ ‘bout died when this here baby wuz born.”

 

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Rev. Delaney patted his shoulder. “Was this your only child?”

 

“Yeah, we thought we wud neva have no kids and—and—now this had to happen.”

 

“Are you a Christian?” Rev. Delaney asked the man. “Naw. We don’t go ta church if that’s whatcha mean,” he answered, turning nervously to find a seat.

 

Rev. Delaney walked to the front of the church and opened the service with prayer. He prayed especially for the bereaved family, that God would comfort their hearts and touch the sick mother at home. He asked God to help them to prepare to meet Him, that this present grief would be the means of leading them to know Him. After the prayer, Bessie sang a song, fitting for the occasion. Then Rev. Delaney read a portion of Scripture and said what he could to comfort them. He pointed them to God as the One who is a help in time of need and admonished them to give their hearts to Him. The grandmother kept wiping her eyes all through the short service. After another prayer, the little procession left for the grave site. There, Rev. Delaney spoke a few words, then all went their separate ways.

 

“The poor things,” he commented as the two of them drove off in an old beat-up jalopy. It smoked, jerked, popped, and sputtered as it slowly disappeared down the street. “I wish I knew some way to help them,” he added sadly.

 

“What did he say his name was?” asked Bessie.

 

“I think he said ‘O’Banion,’ but I can’t be too sure. I believe he called his wife ‘Alice’. Well, I guess they are gone out of our lives forever. How tragic!”

 

The next afternoon Bessie was still busily engaged in house cleaning when the children came home from school She decided to let them help.

 

“Tell me all about the funeral, Bessie,” Sue chatted as she worked. “Were there lots of people there?”

 

“No, Dear. In fact, there were only six in attendance. They were very poor people. The man’s trousers were patched and faded, and both he and his mother, who also attended the funeral, looked undernourished. I have not been able to get them off my mind. Bless their hearts! I wish I knew some way to help them.”

 

“Do you know their name and where they live?” Mary, who had been listening to the conversation, asked her.

 

“Uncle Jack said he thought the man’s name was O’Banion. He might know where they live. I didn’t ask.”

 

“Let’s pray for them, Bessie,” Mary suggested. “Maybe God will save them.”

 

“Yes, Mary, I’ve been praying. I just can’t forget them.”

 

After the supper dishes were cleared away that evening, the family gathered together for family devotions. Daddy read from the Bible and then each took a turn to pray. Mary seemed especially burdened as she prayed, “Dear Jesus, help the O’Banions. Help them to get saved and give them some food and clothes.”

 

When they arose from their knees, Daddy asked, “Mary, who are the O’Banions? That name sounds very familiar, but I just can’t seem to remember where I’ve heard it. O’Banion!” he repeated with a puzzled look on his face.

 

Mary related what Bessie had told them about the funeral and the deceased baby’s relatives. Daddy’s look changed to one of amazement.

 

“Oh yes,” he exclaimed as if something had just dawned on him, “That’s who Alice married, an O’Banion. Did Bessie tell you where they live?”

 

“She didn’t know, Daddy, but maybe Uncle Jack does. Why don’t you go over and ask him?”

 

“That’s a good idea, Mary. I think I will. You children will be all right with Jimmie ‘til I get back.”

 

Though darkness had already settled, Jim made his way to the parsonage. Rev. Delaney was quite surprised when he opened the door a little later.

 

“Why Jim, what’s wrong?” he questioned.

 

Jim quickly related the children’s conversation. “My niece married an O’Banion. I’ve been praying for them and have asked God to please help me locate them. Did he say where they lived?” Jim asked.

 

“Only that they lived about twenty-five or thirty miles out of town in a little community called Goldonna.”

 

“Then, Lord willing, I will go to Goldonna and try to locate them,” Jim told him. “The poor girl doesn’t have any family except us, and I’d sure like to get in touch with her again. She lived with my family for a few months once. My children loved her like a sister. Poor Alice,” he sighed.

 

“Alice! That’s her name, Alice,” Uncle Jack cried excitedly. “The man spoke of his wife’ mostly as ‘my old lady,’ but once he said something about ‘Alice,’ I’m quite sure.”

 

“Then it must be my niece and her husband,” Jim exclaimed.

 

As always, Rev. Delaney offered his assistance. Jim, gratefully accepted. So they planned to start their search early Saturday morning. Jim did not have to work on Saturdays.

 

When the children heard of the plans, they begged to be allowed to go along. They talked incessantly of the surprise it would be to Alice, and imagined the happy reunion.

 

“Maybe Alton would like to go along,” Sue suggested. “We haven’t seen him in a long time. He never comes to see us anymore.”

 

“Alton has left town, Sue,” Daddy informed her.

 

“Why?”

 

“He just felt it was best. His parents are very sad about it. They love Alton and depend on him so much. I’m glad Rachal is home with them now. That helps.”

 

“Daddy, do you like Rachal?” asked Mary.

 

Daddy smiled. “She’s a very sweet lady, Mary. I enjoy her company.”

 

Uncle Jack arrived at seven on Saturday morning to pick up the Reids, and they were soon on their way to Goldonna with high aspirations. Maybe they would find their dear cousin, Alice, at last. They had never seen her since the day she left with John.

 

After traveling about twenty miles toward Goldonna, they caught sight of a little log cabin off the side of the road a ways. A lady was outside milking a cow. Uncle Jack stopped the car and got out. He was greeted by a barking dog.

 

“Shut up, Lepp,” the lady yelled as she stopped milking. She picked up a stick and threw it at the dog. “Git back ta the house and shet your mouth,” she scolded him.

 

The dog tucked his tail between his legs and slunk away.

 

“Say, can you tell us where Goldonna is?” Uncle Jack stated his reason for stopping.

 

“ ‘Bout three miles up the road,’ she answered, wiping the milk off her hands on her already dirty apron. ‘You folks mus’ be strangers in these here parts.’ “

 

“We live in Batesville,” Uncle Jack replied.

 

“Oh, I see! City folks, eh?” She started toward the car. “Who do ya be huntin’ at Goldonna?” she queried. “I know ‘bout everybody who lives there. It ain’t a big place.”

 

“We’re trying to locate some people by the name of O’Banion. Do you know them, by any chance?”

 

“Do I know them?” Her mouth gaped open and her eyes flashed as she put her hands on her hips and stopped in her tracks. “Who don’t know that sorry piece of humanity? Why the way he drinks and carries on disturbin’ ever’body in the country is a disgrace. I tell ya he beats up on his pore ole lady ‘til it’s a wonder she’s living.’ No wonder that baby died. Miz Slater said she heard that pore ole woman hollering way up to her house a week before that thar baby wuz born. When that brute gits drunk, he is crazy as a bessie Bug. He oughta be arrested, but nobody wants to mess with him. If we git him on outs with us, no tellin’—”.

 

“Thanks for your information, Ma’am,” Uncle Jack said politely. “We’ll be on our way now.”

 

“Ya ain’t apt to find a welcome,” she warned them as Uncle Jack turned the ignition switch to start the car. His face was pale and his hands trembled noticeably.

 

Jim sat silent for a few minutes, not trusting himself to speak. When he did speak, he quoted a well-known Scripture. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” This was his pay day for his part in that marriage. He knew John was no-good when he brought him home with him and got him interested in Alice. Well, all he could do now was pray that God would help them some way.

 

Seeing another house, Uncle Jack very reluctantly pulled over and got out. Walking to the door, he knocked, and a man opened the door.

 

“Sir, can you please tell me where the O’Banions live?”

 

“Go on up this road about one-half mile, turn to your left and go another mile. There’s only one house on that little lane so you can’t miss it.”

 

“Thank you kindly, Sir,” he said, turning to leave.

 

“Are you the sheriff, Sir?” the man asked following down the steps.

 

“No, Sir, I’m a minister.”

 

“A minister? You don’t say!” The man looked shocked.

 

“Surely there must be some good in that man,” Uncle Jack said as he got back into the car. “May God help us to find it.”

 

The car soon stopped in front of a run-down shack that they concluded must belong to the O’Banions.

 

“Hello,” Uncle Jack called as he walked upon the porch. A moment later, a lady, whom Uncle Jack recognized as Mr. O’Banion’s mother, appeared in the doorway.

 

“Good morning, Mrs. O’Banion. Remember me?” Uncle Jack greeted her with a smile.

 

“Yes, I remember you,” she answered coldly. “Whata ya want?”

 

“I—I—brought someone to see your daughter-in-law, Mrs. O’Banion. I think it will be a pleasant surprise for her.”

 

“I don’t think Alice needs no surprises, Sir. The girl’s had anuff of ‘em in her life.” She was backing up with her hand on the door trying to close it.

 

“But Mrs. O’Banion, I’m sure Alice will like this sur—”

 

“She ain’t able fer no company.” The door closed in his face.

 

Uncle Jack turned and walked slowly back to the car.

 

“Now what?” His face revealed the hopelessness of the situation.

 

“Let me try,” Jim offered and got out of the car. Walking to the door he called, “Alice, it’s your Uncle Jim. May I come in?” When no one answered, he continued, “Mrs. O’Banion, will you please let me come in and talk to you? I’ve been wondering about Alice’s whereabouts for years. Now, that I’ve found her, won’t you let me visit with her?”

 

“Look, Sir, John don’t ‘low no visitors, so you’d betta leave.” Mrs. O’Banion informed him from inside the house.

 

“But I’m Alice’s uncle. You probably remember Jim Reid, don’t you? We once lived in the same neighborhood.”

 

She opened the door a crack and with a scornful voice, she said, “Yes, Jim Reid, I certainly do remember you. You’re the one who drug my boy John off and drunk wid him and neglected yore pore family and let ‘em ‘bout starve to death. Yes, I remember ya well, Jim Reid.”

 

“I’m sorry I was such a poor influence on your son, Mrs. O’Banion. I’ve changed now. God has forgiven my past life and cleaned me up. Will you please let me see Alice for just a few minutes? I promise I won’t tire her.”

 

“Never would I do it, Jim Reid,” she said as she opened the door wide enough for him to enter, “but I fear she’s dying’ and I don’t wanta have that on my hands. Come on in, but make it short and sweet ‘fore John gits back. He’ll be fit to be tied if he finds out we ‘lowed visitors.”

 

Jim entered the little shack and looked around the darkened room which was sealed with cardboard and newspapers, and blackened by the smoke from the tin heater. As his eyes grew accustomed to the dimness, he saw the bed in the corner, propped up on one end with bricks. Walking toward the bed, a ghastly sight met his gaze. Could there still be life in such a poor, decrepit looking being? There lay Alice. Her hollow eyes were sunk back in their sockets, the thin cheeks were drained of all color, and her stringy hair reminded him of the pine needles under the trees in the yard. Her bony arms lay limply beside her on the dirty sheet. Jim felt nauseated as he looked down at the pitiful sight. She reminded him of Lola the night he came home and found her on her deathbed. The memories overwhelmed him until for a few moments he was unable to speak. Laying a shaky hand on Alice’s thin hand, he said in a husky voice, “Alice, this is your Uncle Jim.”

 

She opened her eyes and stared up at him, looking very frightened.

 

“Alice, God has saved me and changed my life. I no longer drink and neglect my family. I want to ask your forgiveness for helping to push you into a marriage that you weren’t ready for. Will you forgive me, Alice?”

 

She did not answer, but only stared in that frightened manner.

 

“I want to pray for you, Alice. Jesus has power to touch and heal you.”

 

Without waiting for permission, he led out in prayer. “Lord, I’m asking You in Jesus’ name to come into this home, lay a healing hand upon our dear Alice and restore her to health. Touch her husband with conviction and touch Mrs. O’Banion as she ministers to her. We’re trusting You for needed help. Amen.”

 

Since Alice still did not speak, he leaned over and kissed her forehead and turned to go. As he passed Mrs. O’Banion, he extended his hand to shake hands with her. Very reluctantly she shook hands, saying as she did, “Ya’d betta hurry and git outta here. John’s due any minute and if he ketches ya here, it’ll be too bad.”

 

Following him outside, she glanced toward the woods and exclaimed in dismay, “Look, here he comes. Ya’d betta hurry and git gone. Oh—h—,” she moaned in dismay, “no tellin’ what he’s gonna do ta me and Alice.”

 

“I’ll just wait and see him, Mrs. O’Banion,” Jim told her.

 

“Ya’ll rue this day,” she warned him.

 

As John approached them, Mrs. O’Banion was visibly shaken. What would he do? To her amazement, he grinned and stuck out his hand to Uncle Jack who stood by the car.

 

“Well, if it ain’t the preacha. What brings ya here, Sir?”

 

“I brought Alice’s Uncle Jim to see her. Mr. O’Banion meet Jim Reid.”

 

“I know him, Sir. Hello, Jim. Why, I can’t b’lieve it. How’ve ya been? Come in, come in and see how pore folks live.” He slapped Jim on the back and guffawed loudly.

 

“Guess we’d better be going, John,” Jim answered. “I’ve already gone in and spoke to Alice and she’s not strong enough for company.”

 

Reluctantly Jim and Uncle Jack followed John into the house. Jim instructed the children to remain in the car.

 

“I neva ‘spected ta see ya with a preacha, Jim,” John continued the conversation. “Are ya still on the bottle?”

 

“No, John. The Lord has saved me and delivered me from the bottle. It really had me shackled down for years but I’m free at last. I had bought a bottle just before God got to my heart, and after He saved me, I took my hammer and shattered it into hundreds of pieces. I no longer care for the kind of life I was living when I was running with you.”

 

“Izzat so? Why, who’d eva thought ole Jim Reid would git religion. Maybe ther’s hope fer me.” He threw back his head and laughed loudly.

 

“John.” It was Alice.

 

“Well, whatta ya know? I b’lieve she kin talk. Hit’s ‘bout time ya wuz gittin’ betta,” he told her as he walked over to her bedside. “Whatta ya want?” He asked in a stern voice.

 

Alice was speechless as he loomed over her. She closed her eyes and did not answer.

 

“Answer me, woman,” he demanded. “Whatta ya want?”

 

When she still did not answer, he doubled his fist as if to strike her. “Speak up, Woman.” he demanded. “Whatta ya want?”

 

When she still did not answer, he doubled his fist as if to strike her. “Speak up, Woman.”

 

“Please, John, please. Not that again. Can’t ya see she’s turibly sick?” his mother pleaded with him .

 

Jim stood to his feet. “Wait a minute, John, that’s my niece and she’s very ill. Don’t you lay a hand on her.”

 

“Sez who?” John’s lip curled in a sarcastic gesture. “Git outta here and take this here preacha and all that bunch of trash in the car wid ya. Nobody asked ya ta come here and butt into my business.” He lunged at Jim, swinging his fist, but Jim ducked and he missed. Furiously, he reached for his gun.

 

“Please, please, John, not that,” his mother begged, catching hold of his arm. “They ain’t did no harm. Please don’t shoot. Ya’ll be strung up fer murder.”

 

“Shut up,” he hissed at her, shoving her backwards with his elbow. Pointing the gun at Jim, he demanded, “Well, are ya leavin’?”

 

“Yes, John, we’ll leave, but remember my prayers will be with you.”

 

Trembling from head to foot, they hurried to the car as John followed with the gun pointed in their direction. At the sight of the gun and the frightened men; the children became hysterical.

 

“Shut up, ya idiots and git gone as fast as ya can ‘fore I lose my temper.” John had stuck the gun nozzle in the window of the car and was acting like a wild man.

 

Uncle Jack’s hand was trembling until he had to make several attempts to get the key in the ignition switch. Starting the car, he backed up to turn around, leaving John brandishing the gun. Before they could get to the end of the lane, they heard a shot. Looking back, they saw that he had shot up in the air. As they sped down the road, Jim commented, “You can’t tell what a drunk man will do. He had such a wild look on his face.”

 

The wide-eyed children fired a dozen questions at them until Jim told them that they did not want to discuss it any further at the present time. His heart was so heavy that he did not care to talk anymore.

 

Sometime later, Uncle Jack stopped his car at the Reid’s. Extending his hand to Jim, he tried to console him. “Don’t be discouraged, Jim. God will help us some way. He never has failed one of His children. As has been already proven, prayer changes things. If the devil tries to ride you over all this, just remind him how God helped you to find your children. Besides that, He has helped you find Alice, and I believe He will keep His hand on her and work everything out for His good and glory. Let’s exercise our faith in God regardless of the unfavorable circumstances.”

 

Jim smiled sadly. “Thanks for everything, Brother Jack. I deeply appreciate all you’ve meant to me and my family. We will keep praying. Surely God will work in our behalf.” Reaching in his pocket, he pulled out a bill. “Here, Brother Jack, take this for your gas.”

 

“Thanks, Jim, but you don’t owe me anything. I delight in helping people.”

 

“I know that, Brother Jack, but I insist you take this money.” He stuffed it in his shirt pocket.

 

“Good-bye, Jim.”

 

“Good-bye, Brother Jack.”

 

The remainder of the day was spent doing only the necessary chores. Gloominess permeated the atmosphere. Poor Alice was in everybody’s thoughts. Would she get better? Or was she going to die in her awful condition with no hope of a better hereafter? Did she even want to live? What did John do to her after they left? Would he dare to beat her, and her so sick? No doubt he would vent his hostility on somebody. These and other thoughts tortured Jim throughout the day. He tried to follow Jack’s admonition and resist the devil’s suggestions, but he was in a very discouraged state of mind by the time the children went to bed that night. He sat alone by the window, thinking of his drinking bouts with John and remembering how he had encouraged him to make a play for Alice. He could visualize her yet on her wedding day as she hung on to Lola and cried before she left with John.

 

“All I could think of was that there would be one less mouth to feed,” he condemned himself. “Oh, what a sorry, no-good man I was. I wonder how God ever showed mercy to someone like me. He could have let me drop off into hell and been justified.”

 

Dropping to his knees, he began to pray brokenly, “Dear Lord, I want to tell You again how sorry I am for my past life. I’m so sorry for my part in this mess that Alice has to put up with. Oh God, please hold onto her some way. Don’t let her die and go to hell after such a wretched life on earth. Will You heal her completely for Your glory alone? Oh God, it seems I will never be able to forgive myself if she dies. Have mercy on her soul. And get to John’s heart some way, Lord. Thou art a God of the impossible.”

 

He was completely overcome once again as the devil tormented his mind about his past failures. “Oh God,” he moaned, “Will I ever be able to forgive myself? I’m so sorry that I ever brought John into my house and encouraged that marriage. How could I ever have been so heartless? But Lord, You can overrule all the wrong that’s been done and somehow get glory out of it all from here on out. Deal with their souls. Deal with poor old Mrs. O’Banion. Surely she has some good in her, the way she pleaded for Alice and for us. Dear God, wilt Thou call them from darkness into Thy marvelous light? Thy mercy is from everlasting unto everlasting. Hold onto them. Don’t let a one slip off into hell. Oh God, deal with each one this very night. Let them feel awful conviction settle down on their souls. I’m believing You, Lord, to do the impossible.”

 

Hour after hour he groaned and prayed to God. Finally, around three A.M. the burden lifted, and he dressed for bed and was soon asleep.

 

Chapter 13

 

Prayer Prevails

 

On Monday morning as Rev. Delaney was reading the newspaper, he was interrupted by a knock at the door. Upon opening it, to his utter amazement, John O’Banion was standing there.

 

“Alice,” he gasped, “is she—?”

 

“She’s all right, Preacha. Can ya tell me whar her uncle is?”

 

“He’s working now, Mr. O’Banion, but he should be home around four-thirty this afternoon.”

 

“Well, I’ve gotta git back home, but will ya tell him somethin’ fer me?”

 

“Sure. I’ll be glad to.” Holding the door open, he said, “Come in, Son.”

 

Taking his cap off, John entered at Rev. Delaney’s invitation. With bowed head, he stated his reason for coming.

 

“I reckon I ain’t neva said I wuz sorry fer nuttin’ in my life, but I ain’t been ta sleep fer two nights. Alice is lots betta, and she said it wuz becuz her uncle prayed fer her. I neva have been much on religion, Preacha, but I got sense anuff to know when somebody’s a dyin’ and then out of the clear blue, they go to mendin’, I love Alice.” He was crying now. “Oh, I know ya don’t b’lieve it nor would her uncle, but I do love her. I wuz jes’ a-showin’ out when ya wuz thar. Tryin’ ta prove how tough I wuz. I know I ain’t neva been no good fer I’ve beat ‘er up a-plenty, but I ain’t neva stooped so low as to strike ‘er when she wuz sick in bed. But I pretended lack I wuz gonna hit ‘er when ya wuz thar so her uncle could see how bad I wuz.” His frame shook with sobs as he added, “That’s what I’m here fer, to apologize fer the way I acted. Will ya tell her uncle fer me?”

 

Sure, Mr. O’Banion, I’ll be glad to.”

 

“Jes’ call me John.” Looking into Rev. Delaney’s eyes, he confessed, “I’m mizurable, Preacha. All night long Saturday night, I tossed and rolled. I couldn’t git a wink of sleep. All day yistiddy I felt lack the devil or somethin’ wuz after me. I’ve neva felt so awful in my life. It jus’ seems lack I’m the meanest man in the whole world. Last night I went to bed, bone tard from lack of rest. Finally, I dozed off, and then suddenly I woke up wide awake. Seemed lack somebody wuz in the room wid me. I couldn’t see nobody, but I felt a strange presence. I raised up in bed and looked around but couldn’t see nobody, so I laid back down. A voice seemed ta speak ta my heart. I can’t explain it fer I didn’t hear it wid my ears, but yet it wuz spoke plain ta me. ‘John, ye need ta change yer way of livin’, the voice said. I started ta laugh and say, ‘I don’t wanta change,’ but somehow I didn’t feel lack laughin’. I felt more lack cryin’. I laid still ‘cause I didn’t wanta disturb Alice. Again I heard the voice speak ta me, ‘John, ya need ta change.’ It wuz such a sweet voice. I can’t explain it.” He bowed his head in his hands and cried brokenly. Regaining his composure, he continued, “I said, not out loud but in my heart, ‘What do ya mean? How can I change? I guess I do need ta change.’ Then the voice said, ‘the preacha.’ That’s all it said, ‘the preacha.’ I ain’t slept another wink. All night long these words rung in my ears, ‘the preacha, the preacha,’ and ‘ya need ta change, ta change, ta change. Hit seems lack I’m losin’ my mind. I feel so wicked. Can ya help me, Preacha?”

 

“God can help you, John. Do you want to pray? God is trying to get to your heart.”

 

“Will prayin’ hep, Preacha?”

 

“Earnest prayer always helps, John. What you need is salvation. The presence you felt was the sweet Holy Spirit. The voice you heard was the Spirit whispering to your heart. Jesus is trying to get to your heart and save you and make a new man out of you. He can forgive all your sins and give you peace and joy within.”

 

“Ya have no idie how wicked I am, Preacha. Could Jesus hep somebody lack me?” The tears streamed down his haggard cheeks as he talked.

 

Rev. Delaney opened his Bible and read one of his favorite Scriptures in dealing with sinners. Isaiah 1:18. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

 

“John, no matter what you’ve done or how wicked you are, Jesus will forgive you if you will repent. He can wash you as white as snow in His own precious blood.”

 

“I’ll repent, Preacha, whatever that means. I’ll do anything to git relief. My heart feels lack it’s bustin’ wide open.”

 

Rev. Delaney instructed him to get on his knees and he knelt beside him.

 

“Just confess your sins to Jesus, John. Don’t hold back a thing. Tell Him how mean you are and that you’re sorry and want His forgiveness.”

 

“Jesus,” John started out, “I’m the meanest man in the whole world. I’m a drunkard, a thief, and a gambler. I beat up on my old lady. I lie and I cheat. I swindle ever’body I can. I pick fights. I don’t pay my debts. I cuss and chase ever’body off that comes to see us. I chase after other woman. I don’t pervide fer my old lady and my ma lack I oughta. I’m wicked, Jesus. I’m hateful and stubborn and mean. Will ya have mercy on me? I feel lack the devil’s got ahold of me and is draggin’ me down ta perdition. Please have mercy, Jesus, and fergive me fer all my sins. I’m so sorry fer the way I’ve lived. I’ll do my best ta live betta, Jesus, if ya’ll save me. I’ll quit the bottle lack Jim did. I’ll quit cussin’. I’ll quit all my sins, Jesus. I promise I will. I’m honest to ya, Jesus. I really mean what I’m tellin’ ya.”

 

Glancing at the penitent John, Rev. Delaney took notice of the perspiration standing out on his forehead as he labored in prayer. The tears were streaming down his cheeks and on his countenance was a look of agony.

 

“God’s here to defeat the devil and give you victory, John. Keep praying and confessing. God wants to save you.”

 

Again John began confessing. Finally, he stopped and looked at the preacher through tear-blinded eyes. “I musta told Jesus ever’thing on myself thar is ta tell for I can’t think of nuttin’ else ta tell.”

 

“God promised in His Word that if we would confess, He would forgive, John. If you’ve confessed everything and are willing to give up your sinning for Jesus’ sake, then He is faithful and just to forgive. He does forgive right now, John. Do you believe that?”

 

“If Jesus sez He fergives me, then I b’lieve it,” he said humbly.

 

“Repeat after me, John. ‘I believe Jesus forgives my sins right now,’ “ Rev. Delaney instructed.

 

“I b’lieve Jesus fergives my sins right now,” he repeated. A heavenly glow lit up his face as he exclaimed, “He’s done it, Preacha. He’s fergiven me. I feel it inside and that makes me so happy.” He grabbed Rev. Delaney in a bear hug.

 

“Praise God,” Rev. Delaney cried joyfully. “Jesus has never turned one away yet who has come to Him in true repentance. Oh, praise His name! This is wonderful. His blood has never lost its power. I’m so thrilled, John. I can hardly wait to tell Jim. He’ll be about the happiest man in the world. Praise God forever! It’s wonderful, wonderful!” He was beside himself with joy.

 

“I mus’ go now, Preacha,” John told him. “Tell Jim I’m sorry fer how I acted when he wuz thar and tell him ta come see me. I can’t wait ta tell Alice and my pore old ma what Jesus has done fer me.” He was all smiles as he departed.

 

Rev. Delaney was waiting in his car when Jim got off from work. “Come on, Jim, I’ll drive you home.”

 

“Why, Brother Jack, is anything wrong?” he asked as he opened the car door. Hesitating, he added, “I hate to get in your car with these dirty clothes.”

 

“Get on in here, man. I’m about to burst to tell you some news.”

 

“It must be good news by the way you’re grinning,” Jim said as he slid in beside Rev. Delaney.

 

Jim was elated with the news the preacher had to relate. He knew when God had lifted the burden Sunday morning at three A.M., that He had taken the situation in hand, but this was exceedingly above all he could ask or think.

 

“Now God can use John to get to Alice,” he told Rev. Delaney joyfully.

 

“We will unite in prayer for her,” he assured Jim.

 

“Jim,” Rev. Delaney addressed him later before he left for home, and they were alone on the porch, “I have something on my heart and have been wanting to talk to you for some time now. I want you to know I’m not prying into your business, but—I—,” he hesitated.

 

“What’s on your mind, Brother Jack?” Jim gave him a quizzical look.

 

“It’s about Bessie. You love her, don’t you, Jim?” When Jim gave him a peculiar look, he added, “She told me once that you had expressed your love for her.”

 

“That’s right, Brother Jack. Bessie seemed to fit my ideals for a wife. She’s wonderful with the children and I felt it was meant for us to be together. At the time I expressed my love for her, I did love her very dearly, but she did not care for me in the same way. She was quite frank with me, and I appreciated it though it hurt me deeply.”

 

“I know, Jim, she had lost her head over Alton, but he is out of the picture now. The thing I’m trying to say is—uh—” He cleared his throat, then went on hesitantly. “Bessie is very lonely. I believe if you would give her a chance, she would feel differently toward you now.”

 

Jim placed his hand on Rev. Delaney’s shoulder. “Brother Jack, I appreciate your interest but believe me, it just won’t work. You see, after Bessie rejected my love, I prayed earnestly about it, asking God to either change Bessie’s feelings toward me, or if it was not His will, to take the love I had for her out of my heart. It took awhile for me to get over her, but I no longer love Bessie in the way I did then. Oh, I appreciate her very much and am very fond of her in a brotherly way, but I don’t care for her as I did at first.”

 

Rev. Delaney looked embarrassed as he said, “Jim, I hope you do not feel bad at me, for I was only doing what I thought was best. Well, I must be going.”

 

“Wait, Brother Jack, I have something to tell you. Do you happen to know a lady by the name of Rachal Greene?” He smiled, anticipating Jack’s favorable reaction.

 

“So that’s it?”

 

“Yes, Brother Jack. What would you think if I told you I planned to ask her to marry me?”

 

“Well, I guess I have been as blind as a bat as far as you and Miss Greene are concerned. I guess I just didn’t think. I’ve noticed you two talking together at church, time and again, but never once thought anything about it. Well, God’s blessings be upon you, Jim. She’s a sweet young woman and a genuine Christian. She’s meant business with God from the very start.”

 

“Thank you, Brother Jack. I can’t explain my feelings toward her, but there’s something genuine between us. I feel a sense of satisfaction when I’m with her, a sense of belonging. I feel it’s the kind of love that will endure the storms of life together. I believe we belong together, and I plan to ask her to marry me right away. Will you perform the ceremony?”

 

“Why yes, Jim, but what if she turns you down?”

 

“Well, I think I know her better than that. And I believe she needs me as much as I need her. She was hurt pretty badly a few years back, I understand, and she needs someone she can trust.”

 

Jack started as if something had just dawned on him. “Then you know—I mean—uh-did she tell—uh—I mean—,” he was groping for words.

 

“Oh, she’s never mentioned to me about being hurt. It was Alton who told me that she had an unfortunate romance which had soured her on men. I’m thankful that she has been able to overcome her misfortune for I feel sure she loves me the way I love her.”

 

“I trust everything works out for you, Jim. I—uh—trust you don’t—uh—get hurt again.

 

Before Jim could ask any questions, Rev. Delaney changed the subject. “How are the boys making out in their schooling?”

 

“Fine. Well, as you know, Jimmie’s through with all he’s going to take, but Jacky is doing great. The tutor still comes twice a week and I’m very pleased at his progress. But Brother Jack,” he added sadly, “I’m concerned about their spiritual state. I wish you would help me pray for them.”

 

“Sure, Jim. Your sons are fine boys. I’ve never seen better workers. Ben tells me that Jimmie worked like a grown man when he lived with them. Incidentally, Ben and Sarah really appreciate you allowing the children to work for them when they need them. Ben just doesn’t feel up to mowing the grass and the other yard work. He’s been ailing quite a bit lately. And Sarah loves for the girls to help her. I think they use their work as an excuse to get them to come see them. They dearly love those children.” Patting Jim on the shoulder, he said, “I’ll surely help you pray for the boys. We don’t want them to go astray.”

 

Jim dropped his eyes and then his head. “I’m afraid Jimmie has already gone astray. He is just not the same as he once was, and the sweet fellowship we had together is lacking. It’s not only his soul I’m concerned about, but also his influence on Jacky. As you know, they’ve always been close-knit, being the only boys in the family. I am greatly burdened for them, especially Jimmie.”

 

“You can count on me to share your burden, Jim.” Extending his hand, he added, “It’s been profitable talking to you, my friend. If I was out of order in talking to you about Bessie, I humbly ask your forgiveness. I meant it for good.”

 

“I love and appreciate you as much as ever, Brother Jack, and feel that whatever you say to me comes from a heart of love and concern. Don’t worry about Bessie. I don’t think she’s over Alton yet, but just give her time. Any young man would be fortunate to get her.”

 

“Yes, I know, but I was thinking of your children. Do you think Rachal will—uh—make out all right with the children?”

 

“Rachal adores my children, Brother Jack, especially Mary. Of course, she’s like Bessie with them, but she gets along nicely with them and they like her. God will work everything out.”

 

“Goodnight, Jim.”

 

“Goodnight, Brother Jack.”

 

Chapter 14

 

A Burdened Heart

 

Mary stood just inside the screen door with her hand on the latch. What would Daddy think of her? Her heart pounded wildly as his words resounded in her ears. “I’m afraid Jimmie has already gone astray. He is just not the same as he once was.” Mary had suspected this for a while; but in hopes of being wrong, she had never mentioned it to anyone, not even her daddy, with whom she shared all her secrets. Jimmie was such a wonderful person and such a sweet and considerate brother that she could hardly believe he had failed, and yet he could not deliberately go against the teachings of the Bible and keep victory in his soul.

 

Breathing heavily, Mary eased the door open, walked across the porch, and dropped onto the steps beside Daddy. He glanced at her questioningly. Neither spoke for a few moments, each being engrossed in deep thought. Daddy broke the silence.

 

“What’s on your mind, Girlie? Surely you wouldn’t want to sit out here and fight these mosquitoes unless you wanted to talk to your Daddy about something.”

 

Meekly, she stated her reason for joining him. “Daddy, I don’t want you to think I have been eavesdropping on you and Uncle Jack. I was going outside to feed the cat when I overheard you say that Jimmie had gone astray. I have been worried about Jimmie, too, but I didn’t want to mention it to anyone. Do you think Margaret is the cause of his trouble?”

 

Daddy glanced at the solemn little face turned toward him. “Child, you amaze me. Most little girls eleven years old would be too busy playing with dolls to be concerned about anything else, but you are more concerned over souls. I suppose I should scold you, but since you heard the conversation accidentally, I’ll let you off this time.” He sighed deeply. “Maybe God intended for you to hear that particular part of our conversation so we can share a mutual burden.” He placed his arm companionably about his little girl’s shoulders.

 

“Yes, Mary, I suppose most of Jimmie’s present trouble is Margaret. But actually, it started before he ever met her. It began when he started slacking up on his private devotions and finally dropped them altogether That was the thing that caused the failure. He wanted to sleep later in the mornings, and the more he slept, the less he prayed. As a result, he started going out at nights with his friend he works with. The places he went were not pleasing to God, so you see he was in trouble before Margaret came along. So we can’t put the blame on her. The blame, rightfully belongs on Jimmie. He is the one who is walking against light. No doubt, Margaret has never known the way of salvation. We must pray for her just as we do for Jimmie and the others.”

 

“Yes, Daddy, you are right. As we pray, maybe Jesus will save her. Or maybe He will get to Jimmie’s heart and help him to give her up. Jesus sure helped Bessie and though it has been hard on her this past year, I think she loves Jesus more than ever. I just love to hear her testify and sing. When the tears fall down her cheeks, it makes everybody cry for happiness.”

 

“That’s true, Mary. Perhaps God gives her special help because of her obedience to Him. If we want God more than anything else in the world, He will give us grace to obey Him in every detail of our life. But if we persist in trifling with God as Jimmie is doing, He will let us have our own way, but at the cost of our soul. I have tried to talk to Jimmie on several occasions. At first, he was very humble and seemed to do better, but of late, things are different. All I can do is pray unless God definitely tells me to speak to him again.”

 

Mary blinked back the tears as she thought of her beloved brother erring from the path of righteousness. She purposed to speak to him about his need if God would help her and give her an opportunity.

 

Daddy spoke again. “In spite of our burdens, Mary, we have much to rejoice over. Isn’t it miraculous how God got to John’s heart? Why, when we saw him last, there seemed to be no hope at all. Sometimes we limit God’s power, because a case seems too hard to us.”

 

Mary wiped away her tears with the back of her hand and smiled. “It’s wonderful, Daddy. I wonder what Alice will think of John now.”

 

“She should be very happy, Girlie. Let us just keep praying for Jimmie. God loves him in spite of his failures, just as much as He loved John and the rest of us. He will do everything in His power to get us all to Heaven, for it is not His will that any should perish.”

 

He stood to his feet. “Come on, Girlie, let’s go inside. I haven’t eaten my supper yet, and I’m tired. I had a hard day at work.”

 

She smiled at him through her tears as hand in hand they entered the house.

 

Several days passed before Mary had the opportunity to share with Jimmie the burden of her heart. Looking out the window one late afternoon, she saw him alone, leaning against a tree in the yard. He had a solemn look on his face, and his hands were stuck deep into his pockets. She walked outside and approached him shyly. Breathing a prayer for help, she spoke, “How’s everything going with you, Jimmie?”

 

His tender smile caused fresh pain to pierce her heart.

 

“Fine, Sis, how are you?”

 

“Not too good right now, Jimmie. You see I have something that I want to talk to you about.”

 

Seeming to sense her burden, Jimmie’s smile faded and his eyes dropped as he kicked at a pebble on the ground.

 

“Go ahead, Sis. Feel free to speak what’s on your mind. Every girl ought to be able to have a heart-to-heart talk with her big brother once in a while.”

 

Dear understanding Jimmie! Without realizing it, he had made it even harder for her to unburden her heart to him. With quivering voice, she asked, “Jimmie, do you still love Jesus?”

 

Jimmie raised his eyes and looked into her clear solemnones for a fleeting second. “Why do you ask, Mary?” There was a tremor in his voice.

 

Mary could no longer control her tears as she caught Jimmie’s hand in hers.

 

‘Jimmie, I—uh—I hardly know. You’re so good and so kind to me and Sue and all of us.” She couldn’t go on for a moment. Jimmie shuffled from one foot to the other, waiting patiently for her to finish.

 

“I’ll never forget how you took care of all of us when Mamma died and Daddy left us,” she continued. “I’ve thought about how hungry and cold you must have been sometimes, but you didn’t grumble. But Jimmie—”, She couldn’t seem to find the right words to express what was on her heart.

 

“Aw, Sis, cheer up. I’m all right. Don’t worry your pretty little head about your big brother. I know how to take care of myself, don’t you think?”

 

But his strained voice seemed unreal to Mary and did not bring any comfort to her heart. Trying to regain her composure, she spoke again.

 

“I hate to bring this up again, Jimmie, ‘cause you stopped me before when I mentioned it, but will you tell me something?’ “

 

“What is it, Mary?” Jimmie asked uneasily.

 

“Does Margaret have anything to do with you not loving Jesus as you once did?”

 

Jimmie stiffened and withdrew his hand from Mary’s.

 

“Now listen, Mary. It’s best you don’t bring Margaret into this. It’s true she doesn’t see things like you and Daddy and the others do, but deep down inside she’s really a wonderful girl.”

 

“I know, Jimmie. She’s sweet but she’s not a Christian. “

 

“Well, perhaps she isn’t, but I happen to love her very much. And as soon as I get a little older and can save enough money, I intend to marry her. She is going to be your sister-in-law so you might just as well get used to the idea and try to learn to love her just a little.”

 

“But Jimmie, I do love Margaret,” Mary answered brokenly. “I pray for her every day. But if she keeps you from loving Jesus, I don’t think you should marry her.”

 

“Why do you think she keeps me from loving Jesus, Mary?” Jimmie raised his voice as he asked the question. “Don’t I still attend church regularly? She lives her life and I live mine. Just because I love her is no sign I have to give up my religion.”

 

“But Jimmie, what does the Bible say? I can’t say it like the Bible does, but Bessie told it to me one day. It’s something about God not wanting a Christian to marry someone who isn’t a Christian. It’s something about being yoked together with unbelievers.”

 

Her words seemed to hit him forcibly. He again shifted from one foot to the other and kicked at a stick. With a forced smile he spoke, “I guess I might just as well admit I’m in the same category as Margaret. As you have guessed, Mary, I’ve been backslidden for weeks now, or maybe I should say, for months.” He bowed his head and, with his usual tenderness, he continued, “I know you won’t be able to understand, Sis, but I just can’t give Margaret up now. She means more to me than anything else in the world.”

 

“Even Jesus?”

 

“Let’s not put it that way, Sis. I’ll admit Jesus has certainly been faithful to me. His Spirit has followed me every step. He has dealt with my heart trying to call me back to Himself before I ever started dating Margaret, but I’m sorry to say, I’ve just been going farther and farther from God.” He stooped to pick a blade of grass, then stuck it between his teeth and began to chew on it.

 

“Sis,” he continued, “There’s something about Margaret that touches my heart very deeply. She reminds me so much of Mamma. You probably can’t remember, but Mamma had such a hard life and she depended on me so much. Margaret, too, has had it rough. Her parents are divorced and she’s been shuffled around from pillar to post. She tells me that I have brought her happiness that she’s never known before. She depends on me like dear Mamma did. I’ve never told you, Sis, but I thought I would never get over grieving after Mamma died. We were so close. I loved her dearly and miss her yet today. Margaret partially fills that vacancy that’s been in my heart ever since Mamma died. Oh, I don’t expect anyone to understand, but I just can’t give Margaret up. At one time I made an earnest attempt to get back on the right track, but I must confess I lacked the will-power.” He dropped his head and Mary noticed him wiping his eyes with his finger tips. “Last Sunday,” he continued, “God spoke to me again.” His voice was husky. “But I knew what I would have to do if I obeyed Him so I closed my heart to His wooings.”

 

“Oh, Jimmie, Daddy has always said that Jesus would not ask you to do something that He would not help you to do. Let’s go inside and let Daddy help me pray with you.”

 

“Thanks, Mary, but it’s no use. I’ve struggled and struggled over this.” He placed his hand on her shoulder. “Will you let your big brother give you a bit of advice?”

 

She nodded her head wordlessly.

 

“Never neglect your soul. Don’t ever get too busy or too lazy to pray and read your Bible and keep in daily contact with God. The devil will surely get you if you do. That was my downfall. Margaret came into my life after I had already lost out with God.” With a pitiful look, he added, “If the pages of time could be turned back, things would be different, but as the situation stands now” His voice trailed off.

 

“Jimmie, please come back to Jesus before it’s too late,” Mary pleaded with tears streaming down her cheeks. “Think of Jacky. He loves you so much and needs your help. If you don’t serve Jesus, he might fail, too.”

 

Jimmie was visibly shaken. It was evident that God was giving him another opportunity.

 

“I’m sorry, Sis. I don’t want to influence anyone for wrong, especially Jacky.” His voice trembled, “I intend to get back to God but not today.”

 

“But Jimmie, what if God quits talking to you? Daddy says that when God speaks, that’s the time to come to Him.”

 

“I know, Mary, but let us hope I don’t wait too late.” His sad eyes looked deep into hers. “I don’t know why I’ve opened my heart to you as I have. I guess it’s because of your concern. I appreciate your prayers, Sis, though they make me miserable. Keep praying for your big brother. I confess I’m scared to die and go to hell.”

 

It was fast growing dark as Jimmie turned quickly and walked toward the house. Mary slumped to the ground and sobbed her heart out to God. Dear Jimmie! Her precious brother who had stood by them through thick and thin. She could not bear the thought of him missing Heaven.

 

“Oh God,” she prayed desperately, “deal with his heart. Please Jesus, don’t let my brother go to hell.”

 

Chapter 15

 

Happy Commitments

 

The blustery March winds were causing the leaves on the silverleaf maple tree to glisten like diamonds as they danced in the bright sunlight. Katie sat on the steps, her arms folded together as if to protect herself from the cool wind. Mary and Sue were playing hopscotch in the yard when they heard a rumbling sound coming down the street. Glancing up, they saw a car approaching them. It stopped and Daddy and Jacky got out.

 

“Well, kiddos, how do you like it?” Daddy asked as they crowded around.

 

“Is it ours?” Katie asked.

 

“Yes, Katie, it’s ours,” Daddy answered with a pleased expression.

 

“It’s very pretty, Daddy,” Mary commented.

 

“It sure runs good,” Jacky announced proudly. “I don’t believe a brand new one would sound any better.”

 

“It’s good enough for me,” Daddy said gratefully. “I’m so thankful the Lord made a way for us to get it. If it had not been for your help, Jacky, and Jimmie’s, it would have taken me a lot longer to be able to get one. You have sacrificed to save your money toward the purchase of this car. I want you to know, Son, I deeply appreciate it.”

 

“I’m glad me and Jimmie were able to help, Daddy. We were only trying to repay you for all you’ve done for us. Anyway, Daddy, I will be benefited by it as well as you and the girls. And I know Jimmie will be proud of it. I’ll be glad when he gets home from work so he can see our car.”

 

“Just think,” Mary exclaimed, “We will be able to go visiting without having to ride a bus or borrow Uncle Jack’s car. We can visit John and Alice now, can’t we, Daddy?”

 

“Sure we can, Girlie. I’m anxious to go right away. It’s wonderful what God has done for them. Alice said that when she saw how God had changed me so drastically, she became hungry to be saved like her Uncle Jim. Then when John came home that day with such a ringing testimony and cried and hugged her and asked forgiveness for all his meanness, she was quite overcome.”

 

“Then Alice asked John to pray for her and he said he didn’t know much about praying, for it was all new to him,” Sue joined him in relating the happenings that meant so much to them.

 

“Tell us again, Daddy, how John helped Alice to get saved.”

 

“I can’t, children,” Daddy teased; “for I can’t talk like John.”

 

“Why does John talk differently from us, Daddy?” Mary asked.

 

Daddy smiled as he answered, “Well, Mary, John is uneducated, as were his parents. His parents talked that way before him, so that’s all he’s ever learned.” Lovingly he added, “John’s just an old country hillbilly. But he’s a good one since God saved him.”

 

“Tell us just one more time about Alice getting saved.”

 

“You children never get tired of hearing it, do you? Let me get a drink of water and sit down and I’ll tell you one more time.”

 

Sue ran to get the water for him while the others found places to sit near him on the porch.

 

“Well, as Sue said, John told Alice that he didn’t know much about praying; but he told her, ‘Alice, the preacher read something in the Bible about Jesus washing you white as snow. I reckon that’s pretty white, but I believe my heart is just that white. The preacher said to confess your sins and Jesus would forgive you if you were really sorry. That’s what I did, Alice. I told Jesus every mean thing I ever did, and then He just washed my heart clean. Alice, you’ve never been mean like me, but I reckon you still have to tell Jesus all about your sins. He’ll forgive you because He said He would, and I know He forgave me.’ “

 

“Then John got on his knees but said all he could do was bawl. Alice confessed her sins the best she knew how and asked Jesus to forgive her. Because she had done what John told her she was supposed to do, she just believed that Jesus saved her and He did. She was so happy that she just raised herself right up in bed. It was amazing how her strength returned and she was soon well again.”

 

“Oh, Daddy, I’m so happy for all God has done for us,” Mary declared. “I’m glad we have given our hearts to Him.”

 

“So am I, Girlie.” Standing to his feet, he said, “Come on, Kiddos, let’s go for a ride.”

 

“Let’s go to Mrs. Greene’s,” Sue suggested. “Maybe we can hear from Alton. I miss him so much since he moved away.”

 

“Rachal will be surprised about our car,” Mary commented as they walked toward it.

 

Later, upon hearing a car honk, Mrs. Greene looked out the window, but did not recognize the car. She straightened her hair a little, smoothed her apron, and opened the door.

 

“Why, Jim, what a pleasant surprise! I couldn’t imagine who was coming to see us in that strange car. Whose car have you borrowed today? It doesn’t look like the preacher’s.”

 

“It’s mine, Mrs. Greene. The Lord helped us to get a good deal. Well, may I come in?” he teased.

 

“Sure, Jim. Forgive me for not asking. I was carried away with your car. Well, here are the children. Come on in, my dears. My, how they are growing! I guess I will have to stop calling them children and call them young ladies and gentlemen. “

 

She asked them to be seated and then spoke again, “This is the second surprise for me today.”

 

“What’s the other?” Mary asked.

 

“I will show you,” she answered as she turned toward the kitchen. “Come here, Alton.”

 

They gasped as he came into the living room followed by Rachal. Mary flew over to him and he clasped her in his arms. Then holding her at arm’s length, he said, “You’re getting to be a young lady. I guess I will have to quit hugging you. My, it’s great to see all of you again. I didn’t realize I had been gone so long.”

 

“We’re so glad you’re back,” Mary exclaimed. “We’ve missed you terribly. Your return makes us so very happy.”

 

Wait until you hear my good news and then you will be happy.” he told her with a big grin.

 

“Tell us,” she begged.

 

“Let me greet the others first.” Shaking hands with Jim, he asked, “How are you, Jim? You’re looking great. It’s so good to be home again. How are all the other Reids? My, how you’ve grown up! You look wonderful.”

 

“You, too, Alton,” Jim replied. “What’s happened to you?”

 

“I am no longer an alien from God and home; I am like the prodigal. But I have not only come home to Father’s house, but to Mother’s as well,” he laughed. “God has gloriously saved my unworthy soul, and I am in a state of ecstasy over it. Praise His name!” Tears trickled down his cheeks as he continued, “I’m free at last. Free from the shackles of sin that have held me a prisoner for so many years. It is wonderful. Thank the Lord! I cannot understand why I was so rebellious and stubborn and gave up the sweetest girl in the world for my own selfish way, but I intend to spend the rest of my life making it up to God.”

 

Jim’s face was radiant as he sat listening to Alton’s testimony. He wiped tears from his eyes as he said, “This is wonderful, Alton. You will never regret your decision to follow Christ.” Then he asked, “Have you seen Bessie?”

 

“No, I’m ashamed to go see her after the way I’ve acted. Besides I’ve been away so long, she’s probably forgotten about me.”

 

“You silly fellow. If I’m any judge of the matter, I’d say Bessie still cares for you, Alton. I’m guessing she’ll be the happiest person in the world to find out about your conversion. She’s never stopped praying for you.”

 

“She’s never quit missing you, either,” Mary chimed in, “cause I asked her one day and she said she still missed you but that God’s ways were best.”

 

“I agree with that one hundred percent now,” said Alton. Looking at Jim, he asked, “Do you really think she would want to see me?” Hope shone in his eyes.

 

“I’d take my chances and find out if I were you,” he declared. “Here, Alton, are my car keys. I didn’t notice your car outside when we drove up. Drop the children off by our house and go see Bessie. I will stay and visit your mother and Rachal a while.”

 

“Thanks, Jim, you are a real friend. My car is broken down about thirty miles from here. Maybe you can help me tow it in.”

 

“I will be glad to, Alton.”

 

“Wait a minute, Alton,” his mother stopped him. “I need to go visit cousin Ruby. Would you mind dropping me off by her house?”

 

“I’ll be glad to, Mother.”

 

Alton was all smiles as he left.

 

“God bless him,” Jim said as he watched him until he was out of sight. He noticed tears in Rachal’s eyes as he turned back to her.

 

Across town, Bessie was sitting on the porch trying to keep her mind on the book she was reading. She was lonely and, as she did often, she closed the book and started to pray.

 

“Dear Lord, I love Thee and love to follow Thy leadership,” she prayed audibly. “Thy ways are best and I have no regrets in my decision concerning Alton. But, Lord, I yet miss him terribly and love him more than I like to admit, even to myself. I do not want to question Thee, Lord, as to why Thou dost not take away this ache within my breast, but if it can possibly be Thy will, please dull this pain or give me more grace to bear it. Deal with Alton wherever he is. Get glory to Thy name through all this heartache.

 

“Now, Jesus, help me to get Alton off my mind so that I can pray for others. I thank Thee for saving John and Alice. Help them to grow in grace and the knowledge of the truth. Help them to be a living witness for Thee. Deal with John’s mother’s heart. Help her to be hungry for Thee. And there’s dear Jimmie, Lord. Wilt Thou help him to be obedient to Thy leadings, Lord? Somehow hold onto him. Get to his heart anyway you can. I’m thankful he raised his hand for prayer Sunday. Surely Thou art dealing.”

 

Her prayer was interrupted by a strange car driving into her driveway. Who could it be? The car door opened and a man got out.

 

“Alton!” she gasped.

 

He came up the walk with long strides, up the steps two at a time, and onto the porch. A broad smile lit up his face as he stood before her. That same familiar smile that always caused her heart to beat faster. Why, oh why, did he come back? Would she have the will power to resist his charms once again?

 

“How are you, Bessie?” he greeted her. “My, you’re looking wonderful.” He caught her hand in his and sought her eyes, but she kept her face averted, praying silently for strength.

 

“I’ve missed you terribly, Bessie,” Alton told her.

 

“I’ve missed you too, Alton.”

 

He had not let go her hand but held it in both of his. She pulled it away and motioned toward a chair.

 

“Sit down, Alton. Tell me all about yourself. Aunt and Uncle are out calling, but they will be back shortly.”

 

“Then you’re alone?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I’m glad, Bessie, for I need to talk to you.” He pulled his chair close to hers and reached for her hand again. This time she made no attempt to pull it away.

 

“Bessie,” he spoke again, “I guess you’re not surprised to know that I am still very much in love with you.”

 

Bessie swallowed hard and looked away without commenting. Only God knew how much she loved him, but she did not want to tell him so.

 

“My dear Bessie, I’m so glad you took your stand the day I asked you to marry me. As you told me, it would not have worked, but at the time it broke my heart because you turned me down. I loved you so very much and still do, my dearest. I have come back to ask you again to marry me.”

 

“But Alton, I—” she began.

 

“Sh-h, Don’t give me your answer now. Let me tell you a secret first. When I left you that day, my heart was crushed. You were the only one I had ever loved, and you had refused my proposal. I tried my best to forget you in every way I could, but it was impossible. I would park down the street and watch you as you walked to work, for my heart longed after you. That’s why I left, Bessie. I thought if I could just get away, I could forget you, but it didn’t work. Out of despair, I started attending a little church and the Lord convicted me of my sins and saved my unworthy soul.”

 

“Oh, thank the Lord,” Bessie exclaimed as a heavenly radiance lit up her face.

 

“But that’s not all. God has called me to preach. I felt so unfit and so inadequate that I had a tremendous struggle over it. But a week ago I settled it for time and eternity. Ever since then it seems I have had a pull back to Batesville. I can’t understand it.” She lifted her eyes to meet his teasing smile. Reassured he went on. “Do you suppose God has led me back here to take a wife? How about it, dearest darling, do you reckon you could be a preacher’s wife?”

 

With glowing face, she said, “Alton, remember you told me the last time you saw me that maybe a preacher would come along and marry me? Well, it looks like he’s here.”

 

“Are you going to accept his proposal, Bessie?”

 

“I guess I’d better. It may be my last chance.”

 

“Or maybe the last chance you want to take,” he teased, smiling affectionately. “You have made me the happiest man in the world, my dear Bessie,” he added tenderly .

 

It was a sacred moment. God had led through much sorrow, loneliness, and heartache to get a home started on a solid foundation.

 

Back at the Greenes, Jim had sat down beside Rachal on the couch.

 

“Tell me about yourself, Rachal,” he opened the conversation. “There’s so much I’d like to know.”

 

“Like what, Jim?”

 

“Like why you have never married. A lady as lovely as you are has surely had lots of opportunities.”

 

Rachal blushed slightly. “No, Jim, I haven’t had lots of opportunities. I was desperately in love once, but things didn’t work out for me.”

 

“Why?” he asked simply.

 

“Well, I—uh—he—uh-” she stammered.

 

“You don’t have to tell me, Rachal, if you don’t want to.” He reached over and took her hand in his. She made no attempt to withdraw it. There was silence between them for a few moments.

 

“Jim, Rachal broke the silence, “I suppose you should know some things about me.” She sighed and then began.

 

“Alton told me that you already know all about the tragedy with Bud. Well, Jim, during the time they were drinking and carousing around, they nearly drove all of us crazy. My parents thought it would be better for me if I went to live with my aunt at Cypress Hills a while. My aunt lived alone and was glad to have me come. Since I was able to secure a good job as a receptionist at a clinic, I just stayed on. I regret I didn’t come back after the tragedy, but my parents insisted I stay on with Auntie. They are such dears, Jim, and wanted to spare me all they could.”

 

“I agree, Rachal, you have a wonderful family. Had it not been for them, I don’t know where I’d be today. I only wish we could interest your parents in going to church.”

 

“Keep praying, Jim. Mother was really touched after hearing Alton’s testimony. Dear Alton! I wonder how he and Bessie are making it?”

 

“Knowing how Bessie has fought to forget him, I think I can answer that, Rachal. They’re making it fine. But let’s get back to you. You haven’t told me about yourself yet.”

 

“Oh, Jim, why don’t we forget it?”

 

“Because I really want to know, if you don’t mind telling me.” He squeezed her hand reassuringly.

 

“Well, it was during the time I was staying with Auntie that I met this guy. He came into the clinic often because he was having problems with his back. I never had paid much attention to guys, but I took a liking to Glenn. He was always teasing me and doing little things for me. He wasn’t the most handsome guy in the world, but something about him captured my heart. We dated for several months, but he never wanted to go any place. Always he preferred to just stay at Auntie’s on our dates. The few times that I got him to take me out, I noticed that he was nervous, but I trusted him completely. I loved him very much, and he claimed to feel the same toward me. I would have married him in a minute, but he never asked me. Well, Jim, to make a long story short, we were in a cafe once and this buddy of his walked up to the table and started talking to Glenn. He was visibly shaken.

 

“ ‘Meet my sister,’ he introduced me. “

 

“ ‘Your sister?’ I blurted out.”

 

“ ‘Now, Rachal, don’t put on your clown act,’ he said to me in a stern voice. ‘You’ll make Bert think things about me.’ “

 

“I was completely speechless, and as soon as we could get away, I demanded an explanation.”

 

“ ‘Aw, Rachal, can’t you take a joke? Didn’t you know I was only kidding? Bert knew I was joking. We’re always teasing each other. You shouldn’t be so touchy.’ “

 

“‘Glenn, I’m no fool,’ I told him. ‘You’re hiding something from me. You may as well come clean. What is it?’ I demanded.

 

“He saw I wasn’t going to be put off, so he confessed he was married. It nearly killed me when I learned the truth. And then to make matters worse, I—uh—I—” She turned a crimson red as she stammered around trying to finish.

 

Jim waited with sympathetic understanding but did not speak.

 

“I discovered after I had broken off with Glenn,” she said sadly, “That I was going to have his child.” She pulled her hand from Jim’s and stood up. Walking over to the window, she pulled the blinds and looked out. With her back toward him, she continued, “Only God knows what I went through, as well as my dear family. My poor, dear parents! I don’t see how they have lived through it all. We have put them through enough to kill them.” Turning around again to face Jim, she said, “You see, Jim, why I’ve never married. I never could trust another guy after that.”

 

“Do you trust me, Rachal?” he asked simply.

 

With a forced laugh, she answered, “I guess I knew everything there was to know about you, Jim, before I ever saw you. Mother wrote me all about you.” In serious tones, she said, “Oh, Jim, I’m so sorry and ashamed of my past. No one here knows about it but my folks and Rev. Delaney and his wife. I confided in them when I was saved. I know you probably think I was a tramp—but—but—it really wasn’t that way.” She fought to hold back the tears that had filled her eyes.

 

Jim stood to his feet and walked over to her.

 

“What happened to the baby?” he asked.

 

“She’s with my aunt. She’s seven years old and my aunt adores her.”

 

“How about you? Do you adore her, too?”

 

The tears that she had been trying to hold back, coursed down her cheeks as she answered, “Oh Jim, she’s the sweetest little angel in the world. Your little Mary reminds me of her though Mary’s a little older. It’s so hard to stay away from her, but I didn’t want to bring any more disgrace on my dear parents by bringing her home.”

 

“If you had a home of your own and a husband, would you keep her with you then?”

 

“Oh, I guess I would, Jim. I don’t know—uh—I’d love to, but what would people think of me?”

 

Again Jim took her hand in his. “Rachal, my dear, you are going to have to forget what people will think. Your little girl belongs to you and deserves a home with at least one parent. I want to offer you that home and offer that little girl a daddy. I love you very much, Rachal. Will you marry me?”

 

‘Jim, you mean after knowing all about me, you still—”. She was completely overcome.

 

“Rachal, we have both made mistakes in our lives, and sinned against God. I was a no-good drunk. But Christ has forgiven us and wiped our slates clean, so can’t we forgive one another and start over from here?”

 

“Oh Jim,” she was crying softly, “You can’t imagine what this means to me.”

 

He gazed at her adoringly and squeezed her hand slightly. “Dear Rachal, you didn’t answer my question. Will you be my wife?”

 

“Yes, Jim, there’s nothing I would like better than to become your wife. I love you so dearly.”

 

“There’s one problem, Rachal—the children. It might be hard for you to adjust to being a mother to so many.”

 

“I love your children, Jim. They are such well-behaved children. We will get along fine. And little Jane will love Mary. I can hardly wait to tell her about her new home and brothers and sisters.

 

“And Daddy,” Jim teased as he tilted her chin so that he could look into her radiant face ..

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Georgia Davenport McCain

 

Mrs. McCain died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident at age 87 on December 9, 2013. She maintained her Christian commitment and ministry, as well as her writing skills, until the time of her unfortunate death.

 

At the time of her death, many of her books were out of print. To preserve the books and allow many new readers to enjoy, the books are being converted to e-books by her family. To increase relevancy and impact to a more contemporary and international audience, minor edits to the original text have been made to some of the books.

 

The following article was published in the Cenla Focus in October 2012 prior to Mrs. McCain’s death, and provides a synopsis of Mrs. McCain’s life as an author. It was authored by Holly Jo Linzay

 

Georgia McCain, an author of 10 published books, recalls the day she felt the Lord Jesus lead her to start writing. “I was standing in the kitchen, and God asked me, ‘What is that in your hand?’ “ McCain remembers, and answered, “ ‘Only a pen, Lord.’ Then He asked me if I would use the pen for his honor and glory, and I said, ‘Yes, Lord, as you direct me, I will write for the glory and honor of God.’ “

 

That very night, her first short novel unfolded completely from beginning to end. “The Lord gave me the name of the book and just opened up the story for me from the first page to the last,” notes McCain about her first book, Through Troubled Waters, which was published more than 40 years ago. Her first book is a work of fiction interwoven with Biblical truths. McCain has sold thousands of copies, and has received letters from people all over the world expressing how the book touched their hearts. “I never dreamed about writing a book, let alone getting one published,” McCain notes.

 

As a child, McCain wrote poems and made up short stories. In the ninth grade, as her teacher was passing out Christmas gifts to the class, she called McCain to the front of the classroom. She told the class that Georgia had a gift for all her classmates. Stunned, McCain realized her teacher had made copies of a story she had written and shared it with the class. From time to time, she would write another short story. Later, she was asked by a preacher to write a story that would continue and develop in a religious paper. “I told him that I couldn’t just sit down and write a story. God had to give me the thoughts”, McCain recalls, remembering it was later that night that she heard God question her about writing. When her son, Danny, came home from college, he read her story, Through Troubled Waters, and encouraged McCain to get it published. “Everything I write, I want it to honor God,” McCain says with conviction.

 

The 84-year-old author is a woman of prayer, and has lived a life in pursuit of holiness. Growing up as one of 14 children in the rural community of Rigolette, McCain graduated from Tioga High School. At 19 years old, she met and started dating a young man named Carl McCain. He worked as a lineman for South Central Bell, and she was working as a telephone operator. After a whirlwind courtship, the two were married on July 1, 1946.

 

The young couple made their home in Rigolette and raised their seven children—Ronald, Danny, Kenny, Randy, Barry, Donna and Jackie. The family attended Tioga Wesleyan Methodist Church, where Georgia and Carl served in every ministry they could. They have 19 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The two were married for 62 years before Carl passed away. Her home is a testament to a close-knit family with photographs vying for space on shelves stocked full with mementoes from the grandchildren. A legacy of love is showcased with framed drawings from the kids alongside epic poems written by McCain about her family.

 

In between her serving at her church and raising seven children, McCain found time to write more books. Her second book, Trials and Triumphs, is non-fiction and relates many of her personal experiences, including the loss of her four-month-old grandson, Nathaniel, to meningitis. Her third book, a fictional novel, Shattered Shackles, deals with alcoholism and its affect on a family. “My daddy was an alcoholic, who would say he was tapering off when he was trying to quit. Later, he did sober up,” McCain says, adding that her real-life experience probably played a role in the book.

 

Another of her books, God’s Little Lambs, is a compilation of stories written for children that can be read as bedtime stories or for family devotions. At one time, McCain says she felt impressed to write a novel about some twins. In Straight Paths, the story of fiery-tempered “Connie Slocum” unwinds as she struggles with heartaches, persecution, separation and loneliness. In the book’s sequel, Plucked Out of the Net, Connie’s twin brother, “Donnie Slocum,” is featured in a story of redemption.

 

Three of McCain’s books have dealt with prayer and answers to “prevailing” prayer. “It is absolutely amazing that God has spoken to me over and over, and keeps giving me books to write. He has faithfully led me all the way,” notes McCain. In all, she has written 10 books, and family and friends are after her to write a book of poems. She has written long poems with clever rhymes marking nearly every milestone in her and her family’s life.

 

It does not take long to get caught up reading one of McCain’s books, and believing the incredible stories of faith in the non-fiction books. Written in such honest prose, her words flow from her heart and from a life seeking after holiness. If her books inspire and encourage or cause someone to “seek the Lord,” then McCain says the books have served their purpose. “God deserves all the glory for anything accomplished through the writing or reading of these books,” she emphasizes.

 

A woman of faith, McCain has taught Sunday School and Bible studies in just about every ministry at her church. In addition, for the last 34 years, she has taught three different Bible study groups at three different nursing homes. McCain has been honored and received numerous awards for her volunteer service from Ball Senior Citizens Center and various nursing homes. In 2001, she was named the Volunteer of the Year of Tioga Manor and named “Most Faithful” volunteer at two other nursing homes.

 

When her husband Carl served for a number of years on the Rapides Parish Police Jury, McCain supported him by participating in a variety of ways in the community. Known as a great cook by her family and friends, her daughter, Donna, presented her with a cookbook of the family recipes on her 50th wedding anniversary. Besides serving the Lord, McCain says her most important role in life has been as a wife and mother. She said all her children are “successful and love the Lord,” and that they never gave her a “lick of trouble” beceuse she kept them in church and a “switch on their behinds”, if needed. Her son, Danny, who is a missionary in Nigeria, even calls her every day.

 

McCain says she is “blessed beyond measure by the Lord” with family and friends. Some have called her a “prayer warrior,” in seeking God’s will in her life. One piece of advice she freely gives out to all who will listen is the same encouragement she offers in her last book, Walking with God for Over 50 Years, “Sometimes when we can’t seem to pray our way through, we can often times praise our way through to God. Try it.”

 

Books by Georgia McCain

 

Trials and Triumphs

Shattered Shackles

In Straight Paths

Plucked Out of the Net

Through Troubled Waters

Remarkable Incidents & Answers to Prayers

Amazing Answers to Prevailing Prayers

God’s Little Lambs

Walking With God for Over 50 Years

Celebration of Life, Family, and Faith – Collection of Poems, Tributes, and Stories

In addition, many of her family recipes are provided in the following book, compiled by her daughter, Donna McCain Wilson, on the occasion of her 60^th^ wedding anniversary:

Still Cooking After Sixty Years

Plans are to make all available via ebooks. Stay tuned.

 

Letters from Readers of Georgia McCain Books

 

The following are excerpts from some of the many letters I have received from my readers from different parts of the country from as far away as Alaska. Also, God has seen fit to place my books in several foreign countries, namely Haiti, the Bahamas, Republic of South Africa, New Guinea, Nigeria, Ghana, Taiwan, England, and South America. I have been encouraged time and again upon receiving letters from people relating how God used one of my books to help them spiritually. Some have been saved, some sanctified, some edified, strengthened, and encouraged. Again, I say, “all glory to Jesus!” He, it is, that gives me a nudge when it’s time to write another book. And though I’m a very busy person in the work of the Lord, plus all my other duties as a housewife, when I feel God leading, I let many things go undone and busy myself with my writing, which I enjoy as God helps. I’ve often thought that if only one person would walk up to me in Heaven and say “It was your book that helped me to turn to Jesus and helped to enlighten my way to Heaven,” it would be worth all the time and effort put forth in writing them. One soul is worth everything.

 

I have a son who is a missionary to Africa. A few years back, he visited a man in jail named Olusegun Obasanjo, and gave him one of my books entitled, Amazing Answers to Prevailing Prayer. Later Mr. Obasanjo got saved, straightened out his life, and ran for president of Nigeria and was elected. Whether or not my book had anything at all to do with Mr. Obasanjo’s salvation, I know not, but later after he became president, my son visited him, and he told my son that his mother’s book was very inspirational. Later, the president wrote a book entitled Women of Virtue: Stories of Outstanding Women in the Bible, and my son brought me a copy on one of his trips home. So one never knows how far their works for Christ will reach when we put it in God’s hands and take our hands off. It will take eternity to tell any good my writing for God’s Glory alone has accomplished.

 

Trust you enjoy the following letters from my readers:

 

I have just become a Christian and your books have helped me so much. I have four and am wondering if you have written anymore. I really like In Straight Paths and Through Troubled Waters. Will you pray for me? I need more help spiritually.

 

Your six books arrived for the Stephen D. Herron Memorial Library, and we feel honored to place them in the memorial room. I trust that the people who use the room for study and prayer will profit greatly from reading them. You have always been a great blessing to each of us.

 

I cried most of the time while reading your book Shattered Shackles because many happenings had been a reality in my life. I’ve had lots of heartaches.

 

I am a young person who likes to read but am quite selective in what I read. So many of these so-called Christian novels are so aimless and mushy, it’s disgusting, but I would recommend your books to anyone. The explanation of holiness is very good.

 

I am so happy to know we have dedicated writers such as you who are willing to do the hard work of hammering out a good clean book for people to read. May God bless you as you use your talent for Him. We may never write best sellers but as long as we keep His smile upon our work, it is a best seller. Keep up the good work. (From another writer)

 

A note to say thanks for the books. Couldn’t put them down. Now that’s what I call talent. They were really enlightening. Thanks a million.

 

I read your book, which was a great inspiration to me. I never dreamed anyone could even imagine or dream up so much adversity and heartache as I have been through. Your book lifted my spirits in a very dark and lonely period of my life.

 

I’ve read two of your books in two days, as I couldn’t lay them down after I started. I will pass them around and I’m sure others will enjoy them, too.

 

I was happy when I came across your book entitled Through Troubled Waters. I read part of it, but the owner took it away before I finished it. My troubles are so great that at times I feel it may be I have sinned. I do not know what to do. The portion of your book I read inspired me greatly. Could you send me a copy and any other that will help me solve my problems. (This came from Ghana, West Africa, and I sent him a copy)

 

I just finished reading your book, Trials and Triumphs. and felt real impressed to write and tell you how much it encouraged me. I have been asking the Lord to give me more faith and this book helped me so much. Thank you so much for writing it,

 

A dear sister gave me two of your books, and I really enjoyed both of them. I feel they have helped me spiritually. I really crave good reading that will draw me closer to God.

 

Just finished your book, In Straight Paths, and it was such an inspiration to me. I was encouraged and excited when I finished reading it. I received your book at church as a Mother’s Day gift for being the youngest mother. It’s a real life book where I really feel like I can see me at times. It is indeed wonderful and makes me feel that God will help me, as I need it. Pray for me! God bless you.

 

Your book answers a need out in the public for explaining what real heart holiness is. There is much confusion at this point.

 

Have read your book, Through Troubled Waters, over and over. Very good.

 

I believe your book, Through Troubled Waters, is the best book I’ve ever read and the most spiritual for religious fiction. Keep writing books as they help many people.

 

Thank God for the old-fashioned way of salvation and holiness and for people like you who can write beautiful stories that holds high its banner. May God richly bless you.

 

Thanks so very much for your books. I read In Straight Paths once again and am now reading the sequel, Plucked out of the Net. I enjoy them so much. Praise God for blessing you with this gift! I pray it will always glorify Him.

 

I am writing to you in regards to your books I purchased in Findley, Ohio. I gave one to a lady who wasn’t saved. I later sent the other book, Shattered Shackles, to her. She has read them, and they have been a help to her. She has gotten saved and doing her best to walk in the light.

 

Hope you will write more books. I really appreciate how the Lord has helped you to entwine the gospel in your stories.

 

Enclosed is a money order for your book, Plucked out of the Net. Sure appreciate your writings. So good and stay close to holiness emphasis. So much today that is called Christian fiction isn’t Christian at all. May the Lord bless you is our prayer.

 

I’m happy to have the opportunity to receive another book of yours. They have all been excellent and wife and I have read and reread them during the long winter evenings.

 

I’ve enjoyed your books much and have shared them with others. In fact, they are all out now. I would like to order your latest one. We need more good Christian books for our young people. Also, us older ones enjoy them.

 

A friend of mine loaned me two of your books. I enjoyed them so much that I would like to send them to my brother who is in jail in North Carolina. One of the books reminds me of him.

 

I am so happy to have your books where interested and hungry souls can get them. I’m sure your writings are blessing many. The book Through Troubled Waters has been mentioned several times at church illustrating truths of the message given.

 

I thought you might like to hear of one incident where a young man was kept home from church because of illness in his family. Someone had loaned him your book, Through Troubled Waters, and he read it. The next week, he testified how God had mightily dealt with his heart. The church prayed for him until he felt a clear witness.

 

I’m writing to see if you have written another book. I just read one and think it is wonderful. It has been a real blessing to me. I praise God for people like you that can write such a book, especially the teaching on holiness. If you have written another book, let me know.

 

The book, Through Troubled Waters, has been such a help to me in many ways. I wish I had what the nurse in the story had. I would gladly give all I had. She is so pure and good. Would that this old world had more like her. Wish I could talk to someone like the nurse but I’m afraid it’s too late. I’m not young anymore. I’m 37 and 1/2. (Thank God, there’s help for anyone who truly wants God in their life. I contacted the lady and did my best to help her. Author.)

 

Your book came yesterday. I read the inside information but haven’t read the contents yet, but will and also, will let others read it. Your talent came from your sixth grade teacher. ha (He was my sixth grade teacher.) I’m sending a contribution to help with your good work. Keep in touch!

 

God sure did inspire you as you wrote the book, Through Troubled Waters. Everything that you tucked away here and there as you wrote was amazing. How anyone could think of so much to fit into a story!! I was very much pleased with the way God helped you to use the Scriptures to teach sanctification. There are many who will read it in your book that never would study along that line any other way. I feel that this was the main reason God helped you to get this needful book out. I feel that souls will make it to Heaven because of it—souls that you would never have come into contact with, otherwise.

 

It usually takes me a week or ten days before I finish a book but finished yours in three evenings. The clear guidance into sanctification is the best I’ve ever read and helped me a lot. The story is so true to life. It holds you completely in suspense all the time. Thank you very much for the book.

 

We never dreamed we would get to see the author of that wonderful book, Through Troubled Waters. I have wanted to get a copy to send to a real good friend in South America and now I have it. So your good book will perhaps go around the globe.

 

My family and I have really enjoyed your first four books.

 

Your book, Shattered Shackles, is so touching. After reading some in your book this morning, I was so moved on by the Spirit to pray for those that are so shackled by drink or drugs. God can surely move on their heart to bring them to Christ.

 

I am fifteen years old and am writing to compliment you on your book, Through Troubled Waters. I am reading it the second time. I’m going to write a book report on it for school. I’m sure your book has helped many people.

 

I think you are brave to address the divorce and remarriage issue in your book, Plucked out of the Net. Our young people need that. Lots of people are getting awfully lenient about it. My husband and daughter read the book and really liked it. I think we all agree that it is the best yet. The message is real good.

 

We wanted to thank you for the privilege of reading your lovely little book. Our youngest daughter in California has just read hers and found it very profitable reading. We did, too. Of course, unless you truly loved the Saviour, you couldn’t have done such a book.

 

I praise the Lord for giving you such a beautiful gift of writing and for your willingness to share it.

 

I sat right down and read your book and I truly enjoyed it. We all have our problems and I am no exception. Your book came to me at a time when I was depressed and so unhappy. I received a real blessing from it. You have a wonderful talent in telling of God’s love through stories of life as we live it every day. Thanks!

 

I would like to tell the world what God and your book has done for me. Praise the Lord! It made me stop and realize there is a God and He truly loves me, regardless of the sins I had committed and the wrong I had done. God was calling me for one of His children. Before I read the book, I had so much hatred and bitterness in my heart. At times I even hated myself. Just as I put the book down, I had a strong urge to fall on my knees and ask the Lord to forgive my sins and to take the hatred and bitterness out of my heart. Praise the Lord! He immediately answered my prayer.

 

Believe the Lord has ordained the writing of this book for his people who are in troubled waters.

 

Enjoyed your book thoroughly. I want five more copies.

 

We all have our problems and I am no exception. Your book came to me at a time when I was so depressed and so unhappy. I received a real blessing from it.

 

Surprised and happy to receive your book. The Lord certainly used you in writing it. It is interesting, emotional and evangelistic, very well written, and I’m sure it is a blessing to all who read it. I am interested in ordering some more copies. .

 

We agreed to use your book for a part of our yearly youth Reading Course. Each year we recommend four or five books for the spiritual edification of our youth and sell them as a package to each youth society. I am heartily recommending it to our youth for two reasons, one is the danger of not obtaining holiness of heart and the other is the need of more personal workers on a one-to-one basis. The book is well written and I’m sure will continue to bless many lives.

 

Finished reading your fine book. It has an evangelistic message that is up to date and practical. Its message is desperately needed by thousands today.

 

The story is so true to life. It holds you in suspense all the time. I really enjoyed reading it. The clear guidance into sanctification is the best I’ve ever read and helped me a lot. My copy will be passed on to others as the Lord guides, and pray with me that many will be brought to a better understanding and to the blessing of sanctification.

 

I read your beautiful book and was truly blessed by it.

 

Magnificent! It really inspired my mind as well as my heart.Thank you! I will pass this wonderful book on, for truly it’s a soul winner.

 

If possible, we sure could use more books in this place.

 

A wonderful message for both young and old. Sure it will be a blessing to many people.

 

My grandmother taught me you could live above sin in this life. Your book has enlightened me in this matter

 

Have read your book and found it very enlightening.

 

May God continue to bless you. (This letter is from the Louisiana State Prison at Angola. I sent more books.)

 

May God bless those who have taken time to write to me over the years concerning my books. I deeply appreciate it. There are more, but we will sign off for this time. (Author)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shattered Shackles

The lives of Jim Reid and his drinking buddy, John O'Banion, hit “rock bottom” in their marriages. Both started drinking at an early age. Jim was a habitual drunkard, poor provider, and often an absentee husband and father of 6 children. The oldest, Billy, disappeared and was never found. Jim was often unemployed and often slept in box cars, under bridges, in the back of saloons, or wherever he could find a place. When his wife Lola died, Jim stayed with the children for awhile but eventually alcoholism took its hold and Jim left his children on their own. While searching for the “man in black” who presided over the funeral of Lola, the children were discovered and went to live with Ben and Sarah Barton. It turned out that the “man in black” was actually the uncle of Sarah, Rev. Jack Delaney (“Uncle Jack”). He and wife, Mae, had raised Sarah and her sister, Bessie, after their parents were killed in an automobile accident. This led to the re-discovery of the children's father Jim, his conversion to Christianity after a young man handed him a tract containing Rev. Delaney's name, and the happy re-uniting with the children. Meanwhile, John was a terrible, mean husband to Alice, one of Jim's nieces. He had beat up his wife on occasion and had even pulled a gun on Alice's mother and “acted like a wild man”. John was re-united with his old drinking buddy, Jim, after John came to Rev. Delaney to preside over the funeral of the death of his newborn child. This eventually led to John seeking to have his “shackles” of alcoholism “shattered” through his pursuit of Christianity. Another family that incurred the “shackles” of alcoholism was the Greene family. Alton Greene discovered Jim passed out drunk in in alley, which led to Jim's hospitalization and dangerous illness for several days. Alton had serious alcoholism issues that eventually led to his commitment to a mental institution for 11 months. He and his twin brother, Bud, became hopeless alcoholics at barely 20 years old. Alton was devastated when Bud was killed when struck by an automobile, and even contemplated suicide. Their sister, Rachal, had an unfortunate romance unknowingly to a married man and had a child out of wedlock. Alton fell in love with Sarah's sister and a niece of Rev. Delaney, Bessie, and had several dates. He had initially seen her singing on the street about the love of God. Bessie was much younger than Alton and their romance was adversely impacted by Alton's alcoholism and the fact that he was not a Christian. Jim, meanwhile fell in love with Alton's sister, Rachal, but had to deal with the fact that, even though she was now a Christian, she had been an unwed mother. This religious novel explores the unusual juxtaposition of the lives of members of several Southern families, the “shackles” of alcoholism, and its extremely adverse impact on family and romantic relationships. It also demonstrates the power of prayer, coupled with acts of faith and coincidental events, in “shattering the shackles” of alcohol through Christian conversion, restoring damaged relationships, and changing lives forever.

  • ISBN: 9781370492985
  • Author: Georgia McCain
  • Published: 2016-12-07 14:35:23
  • Words: 55900
Shattered Shackles Shattered Shackles