IN SEARCH OF A SONG
by Carol L. Jacobsen a good book for mature teens, those dealing with first love, disappointment, and learning to wait on God. Has some depth to it and adults will benefit also. 159 pages
"And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and SHE SHALL SING THERE, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt." Hosea 2:15
Real people have been used to carry the message of this book. As many of them are still alive today, a few events have been altered and names and places changed, protecting the privacy of those involved and connecting the passage of years. The memories of many years have been condensed into a short span of time, and to avoid confusion, a composite of two persons has been used in a few places. However, most of the experiences happened just as they are told here. The Lord's actual workings in hearts and lives has been related as accurately as possible, as seen by the author and by those who have contributed their thoughts and memories to the story. I wish to thank the many who helped in preparing this book, and am particularly indebted to three brothers in the Lord who contributed the outlines and thoughts on Scripture, including the editing of the conversations with Aunt Sarah. C.L.J. 1981
To the memory of
Aunt Sarah and Uncle Robert
who led the way
"Whose faith follow, considering the end
of their conversation. Jesus Christ the
same yesterday, and today, and forever."
Hebrews 13:7, 8
In the dead of winter, Peter Benton moved his wife Mae and their three daughters from sunny California to a remote town in New Hampshire called Jaffrey Center.
For Mr. Benton, the move was a happy, fulfilling experience in his Christian pathway, but for his daughters it was a devastating experience which they found almost impossible to accept.
Jennie, at seventeen, the oldest of the three girls, felt not only the loss of her home and friends the most, but realized the responsibility that was hers to be an example to Kara, fourteen, and her little sister Lisa, only six. But that realization did not come easily.
In Search of a Song is the story of how the Lord turned Jennie's rebellion and resentment into a song. Through two older couples in Jaffrey, the Adams and the Marshalls, the Lord began a slow but steady work in Jennie's life that was eventually to bring her far greater happiness than she could have known had she remained in the place of her own choosing.
When Stephen and Julia Marshall, the nephew and niece of the Marshalls in Jaffrey, came to stay, life changed abruptly. Erasing their gnawing homesickness, the close ties of friendship brought many treasured experiences.
In Search of a Song is also the story of a young girl growing into womanhood, seeking the fulfillment of a happy Christian marriage and learning to accept God's will for her life.
Two little words
From sacred scroll unrolled;
But what a wondrous thought
The words unfold!
What mines of wealth,
What treasure?mint of gold?
Jennie stood under the night sky, looking up into the darkness at the spot of airplane that was quickly disappearing from view. The lights were blinking, blinking; as the plane vanished into the light cloud cover.
From below, she could hear the drone of the airplane as it disappeared? The fading drone blended with the sounds of earth. The night air was filled with the chirping of katydids in the heavy foliage of summer trees and the endless croaking of frogs in a nearby stream.
What a strange feeling it was to stand down here on the ground and see the plane fading into the night, knowing that Stephen was going farther and farther away. Her heart seemed to stand still in the darkness as she listened, watching until suddenly there were no more lights, no more sound? He was gone.
She turned and walked toward the house. Loneliness crept over her. She knew her long struggle to accept life in the village of Jaffrey had been eased in a large measure by Stephen's friendship. It wouldn't be the same at all now, without him. She felt an emptiness.
The giant elms surrounded her on either side, the summer wind rustling through their expanse of green leaves. As she passed the window, she could see the lamps aglow in the living room, shining out through the heavy curtains with a friendly welcome. She could observe her father sitting on one side of the fireplace, reading; her mother doing handiwork on the opposite side, facing him in her comfortable chair. There was no fire tonight. The warm evenings of summer were upon them. As she came up the walk outside, she could recognize the large text over the fireplace and the familiar family photos hanging on the wall. Looking in from the outside as a visitor might observe the scene, Jennie realized in the midst of her disappointment the blessings of her home.
Climbing the steps to the long, narrow porch, she entered the front hallway. Everything was quiet. If she moved to the living-room doorway, her father would motion for her to come in to visit with him. She knew that would be what he wanted. She preferred, however, to be alone. She climbed the long, winding stairway, convinced it had been Stephen's plane soaring overhead. Standing there a long, long while in the darkness, she had watched the time on her wristwatch. It coincided perfectly with the flight takeoff time. It had to have been his plane.
"If only I could stop time, if only I could control what is happening in my life," she reflected, as she continued silently up the stairs. It was a sinking feeling. She realized that this was part of being a Christian, this very inability to control her life. It was in the hands of One who loved her and was planning for her more wisely than she could ever plan for herself. But the struggle was not that easy.
She was filled with dread that Stephen, as she knew him now, would never return.
Kara was probably still awake in her bedroom. Reaching the top of the long, winding staircase, Jennie chose not to enter Kara's room, but walked the narrow hallway to her own bedroom at the far end and sat looking out the window. The moonlight outlined the large woodpile in back, casting shadows across the green and white latticed wallpaper.
She switched on the light and found her Bible. Returning to the window, Jennie looked out over the dark trees and in the soft glow began to read, "To know the love of Christ." It filled her heart in this moment as she tried to grasp the real meaning of having a Savior whose love passes knowledge. There were times like this when all she could do was to simply trust in that love, not understanding why the disappointment had been allowed.
Climbing into bed, sleep eluded her as the procession of recent memories tumbled across her mind.
It was all vivid in her memory: the move to Jaffrey in the dead of winter from sunny California, the intense loneliness for her good friends back home. When summer finally arrived, things were no better. A never-ending succession of company descended on the Bentons, meaning hard work and long hours of sitting quietly while the adults visited, in contrast to the fun times she had loved back home. And now Stephen was gone too. Thinking back over what the past months had brought her, she lay there, remembering......
It was an early June morning as the sun began to rise in the sky, promising another scorching day in Jaffrey. Another day of sameness, of dull routine.
A bit irritably, Jennie let the screen door go with a bang as she hurried out into the back yard with her heavy load of wash. As usual it was her turn to do the chores. She plunked the basket down on a bench beneath the clothesline as Muffin, her gray and white puppy, scampered about the yard, chasing a squirrel from the woods in back of the house.
Beyond the hedges bordering their yard, the neighborhood was beginning to stir. Birds filled the air with song, as she stood at the end of the winding brick path. Summer, with all its bright promise was arriving, but there was no song in her heart.
It would require more dedication than she felt she had at the moment to be a housemaid all summer long, although that was really what she was becoming. At seventeen, in the height of her growing-up years, her parents had moved the family from San Francisco and expected her to adjust to life in this sleepy town?this way stop! A fifteen minute walk in any direction would exhaust the town's possibilities. Beyond that... nothing!
She turned and looked around the yard. The curving brick path, filled with clumps of moss that had been growing for years, led to the neatly trimmed hedge which in turn bordered the garden. There in spring, a burst of pink blossoms appeared on the lovely dogwood trees and bright tulips popped up here and there among the flower beds.
But that was small comfort! Even though Jennie enjoyed the beauty of a garden, it didn't make up for all the hard work this large house was going to bring.
The Bentons did not attend a church, rather they were gathered in simplicity to the name of the Lord Jesus alone. In San Francisco this included a large circle of young friends, but in Jaffrey this meant only a small gathering made up of older people, which only added to Jennie's aloneness. As Mr. Benton traveled, he visited many gatherings elsewhere, inviting various families to come to Jaffrey.
For this reason, the Bentons purposely settled on this seemingly enormous, older home, so they would have ample room for the Christian friends they anticipated entertaining all summer long. In fact, Mr. Benton felt one reason the Lord had brought them here in the first place was so they could open their home to others.
Clearly, there was no escape for Jennie. It was obvious they would be keeping visitors for days-on-end all summer long. She looked disdainfully at the pile of wash sitting on the bench. She had known from the beginning that it would mean a lot of work for her.
In addition to herself, there was her younger sister Kara, who had just turned fourteen and seemed to always escape her end of the load, and her little sister Lisa, who was only six. As far as she was concerned, Kara was just plain lazy and Lisa tended to be spoiled!
Her mother was a hard, untiring worker, but she couldn't handle this responsibility alone and with her father busy at his office all day, who did that leave? Herself, of course! Rebellion welled-up within her.
"Jennie!" It was her mother calling again. "Hurry with the wash so we can get started on the pies."
She picked up a sheet and swung it over the line, catching it with a clothespin on one end, then on the other; picking up the towels, another sheet, the washcloths, thinking all the while about the beds to make, floors to clean, pies to bake. With a sigh, she thought how the days and nights of her young years were beginning to pass into an endless blur of meaningless housework.
The sunlight caught her long brown hair, making it almost golden in the brightness. Jennie often wondered why she couldn't have been pretty and dainty with her mother's fine features, instead of inheriting her father's everyday looks and his sort of ruggedness. In spite of being a small man, he was strong and sturdy, an avid mountain climber in his younger years. Jennie knew she took after him. Well, what did it matter if she wasn't pretty? There were only old people here anyway.
In the beauty of this early morning she would have much preferred using her energy to bicycle along the creek to Peterborough, stopping for a picnic lunch along the way, coming home just in time for supper. Oh, to be carefree like she used to be in California!
Jennie's thoughts were interrupted by the clear chimes sounding from the town hall up on the knoll. That was the only thing she really liked here, those chimes ringing out the hour in the awful stillness around her. But sometimes they reminded her, too, that time was passing, passing, and here she was-stuck in Jaffrey.
Shaking off her wistful thinking, Jennie returned to the task before her. Now was not the time for daydreaming. She gathered the remaining clothespins, tossing them into the empty basket. She passed the trellis of roses just beginning to bloom and dashed into the house, banging the door behind her.
"Jennie!" her mother called out, "Do you always have to slam the door? Can't you be thoughtful and learn to close it quietly?" Her mother was distressed by the change in Jennie's personality since the move to Jaffrey, and Jennie knew it.
She hurried through the living room to the adjoining screened-in porch and piled the dirty dishes onto a tray with a clatter. She hadn't been able to clear up from breakfast until now. Carrying the dishes into the kitchen, she sat down with a sigh at the table across from her mother and began peeling apples.
This was the afternoon the Clemens would be arriving from Walnut Creek, a suburb of San Francisco. They would be weary after many days of travel. In spite of being good friends of her parents, a family with six small children would mean a lot of work. Reluctantly, she filled the pie crusts with carefully sliced apples, stopping now and then to stuff a slice or two into her mouth, anticipating the delicious pies that would soon be bubbling away in the oven.
Jennie knew her mother shared her father's desire to be hospitable, yet having young children around was exhausting for her. Studying her mother, Jennie could see the weariness in her eyes already. Perhaps she, too, was anticipating the days ahead.
For this reason, though reluctantly, she was willing to help. She loved her mother, even if she resented all the work that was being piled on her. Her conscience reminded her that she wasn't acting the way a Christian girl should act.
The fact that she was a Christian certainly was one thing she wouldn't want changed. She never regretted accepting Christ as her Savior. How wonderful it was to finally have peace. Back home she had felt a close relationship with the Lord, thinking of Him as her Friend. She had taken her struggles to Him, with the confidence that He heard and cared.
However, since coming to Jaffrey, the rebellion in her heart had taken over, and she found it difficult to feel close to the Lord. At times she didn't even pray, knowing her prayers would be selfish, only demanding what she wanted. A comment made in a meeting kept coming back to her. The speaker had remarked that happiness is a state of soul, not a question of circumstances. She didn't want to remember, because she knew perfectly well that for her it was a question of circumstances.
Today everything was dull, uninteresting, nothing the way she would have chosen it, and she wasn't content. But back in San Francisco, things were different. As she remembered her friends getting together down by the ocean for a sing, she reflected that she could be happy in those circumstances.
Recalling the sinking rays of sun falling across the water, her thoughts returned to the closeness she felt for each friend back "home."
She remembered one evening when she arrived late. Walking along the ridge above the ocean, she heard singing in the distance as a stranger might hear it. She stood there listening to the happy voices below, her heart overflowing. The joy of belonging to the Lord seemed to flood the night air as the familiar chorus reached her ears: "Oh happy day, that fixed my choice On Thee, my Savior and my God! Well may this glowing heart rejoice, And tell its raptures all abroad."
One of the young fellows usually stepped forward to preach the gospel, praying that some listener would realize their need as a sinner and accept the Lord Jesus as their Savior. The good times she was missing were not entirely selfish. As a group, the young people there wanted to please the Lord and be a testimony to others. Now, so far removed from it all, she could hardly believe something so beautiful had been taken from her.
Now the buzz of a fly jolted her back to reality. As she finished making the pies, Jennie heard her mother answer the telephone. Mrs. Adams wanted Jennie to run over and pick up some fresh rolls she was baking to help prepare for tonight's company. She would have to go over there again. Oh, no!
Picking up a broom, she swept the downstairs porch for her mother, trying to work out a bit of her frustration as she swept vigorously back and forth. She took the broom and with a sudden motion pushed it hard against the wall, then dusted the table and chairs with a vengeance. She didn't want to accept this. If there was any way, any chance in the world to go back, she would do whatever was necessary on her part to make it possible.
Her friends were probably already out on the tennis courts in San Francisco. She remembered the thrill of tossing the ball high into the air, seeing the blue sky beyond it as she reached up with her racket and pounded it across the court. The laughter and good times they shared as they raced against one another, made tennis a lot more fun. Of course she could play here... with Kara, but that wasn't the same at all.
She could laugh now over the time one of her tennis partners took her sailing on a nearby lake. She could still remember the soft wind, the big, white sail bending with the breeze, their feet dangling over into the water, and the easy conversation. An awful fright came over her though, as they reached the middle of the deep lake and she discovered that her friend knew very little about sailing. A strong wind had come up, making it almost impossible for him to control the boat.
Overwhelmed with the realization that they could easily capsize, and with the full knowledge that she was not a strong swimmer, she had tried not to panic. She concealed much of her fright, but not all of it; for later he told her that he was much more frightened than she, certain the boat was going to go over. But even that would seem tempting here in Jaffrey. Even now, at the thought of it, a lump filled her throat. Why should she have to miss those good times, to come and live in this place? She reached for the broom again and started up the stairs.
Maybe if she had been raised here from the beginning or even had come from another small town, the adjustment wouldn't seem so hard. Maybe if she didn't have the memories of the past years with such good friends, she could accept this way of life. She was about fourteen when she started seeing the young people through different eyes. From that point until now had been three years of never-ending busyness and activity.
The friend who nearly drowned her on the sailboat ride was part of a family she was close to. Several times when her parents went away on a long trip, she had stayed with his sister. Something was always going on in their home: potluck dinners out on the long porch, a baseball game to join, or just a quiet evening of indoor games around the crackling fire, with hot chocolate and marshmallows.
The extreme contrast between San Francisco and Jaffrey seemed ridiculous. San Francisco was a large, bustling, modern city?Jaffrey hardly bigger than a whistle stop! The entire population of Jaffrey Center was only one hundred. Maybe now they made it one hundred and five!
But it wasn't just the size. In San Francisco, she loved the foggy mornings when she would wake to see the bay a fuzzy blending of mist and seagulls, with ferry boats dimly visible, crossing into the harbor. That view was always changing. On a clear night, the city lights sparkled. How many evenings she sat by the window, talking with Kara, watching those lights twinkling in the darkness. And then to come to Jaffrey!
She remembered one weekend back home when the young people met on the beach for a clam dig. The best spot was a couple of hours away. They wanted to begin by 5 a.m., so most of them went to bed early the night before. How hard it was, dragging herself out of bed that morning!
It was cold and damp and foggy down on the beach, just the way she liked it best. Nothing could be seen through the morning fog save an occasional seagull swooping gracefully to the sand. Only the sound of the ocean, endlessly tossing its breakers to shore, convinced Jennie it was actually close by. Gradually the fog began to lift and the ocean became visible.
Half the fun was trying to outguess the breakers, to wait for the tide to roll out, dash for a clam hole and begin digging. In spite of the difficulty, the buckets filled up fast.
She never cared for clams and thought digging them was a pretty soggy mess, but the ocean itself was invigorating and being a part of the group made it worth missing most of a night's sleep, besides getting wet. It was fun after taking their shoes and socks off, to walk barefoot on the damp sand. They enjoyed the sensation of waves lapping over their feet and then, pulling back to the ocean, the sand sliding through their toes. Later, there was volleyball, a picnic lunch and some jogging along the beach.
No wonder Jaffrey was such a shock to her and Kara. She started up the winding staircase with its polished banisters that led to the upstairs rooms. She could have almost liked this house if it had been in California. But then California didn't usually have this kind of house. It reminded her of a book she read where the main character lived in an enormous old house with an assortment of cubbyholes and a mysterious attic. It was picturesque with climbing vines and winding brick paths. Even if the house was a bit shabby, it did have those unexpected nooks and crannies.
Having a room upstairs was a new experience for Jennie. She liked climbing the stairs at night, having her own room at the end of the long hallway with its latticed wallpaper and view of the back gardens. She slept in a cozy poster bed beside an old, mirrored dresser that came with the house. Many snapshots of her favorite friends and places hung on the walls. Somehow, in that room she always felt at home.
Across the hall, Kara and Lisa shared a larger room at the front of the house. It was a restful room.
Andrew and Sarah Adams were one of the older couples gathered to the Lord's name in Jaffrey. It wasn't that the other couples hadn't been equally as kind to the Bentons, but the Adams lived nearby. Most of the families lived farther out into the country. By contrast, it was just a short bicycle ride over to their house. Jennie leaned her bicycle against the garage, then dashed up the steps to the front porch.
Her father insisted she make friends with at least this one older couple. She was trying hard to think of them now as people and not merely as old folks. But it wasn't easy. What could a couple of older people give her to make up for friends her own age?
Jennie knew perfectly well that if they were free to go to one of the large churches several miles down the road toward Boston, there would be plenty of young people and activity. In San Francisco, being gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus alone meant being in a gathering with dozens of people. There was no reproach connected with that, so she had not questioned whether it was the right place. But here, being in such a small group, with no one but Kara anywhere near her age, she was faced with the reality of what it meant to meet in this way.
Back home, remembering the Lord in His death was precious to her. There was an undefinable beauty, as she felt the Spirit of God lead and guide what was said and done. One brother in the Lord would give out a hymn, another pray, another read a portion from the Bible. Everything was done in quietness and order.
Now she was having to separate in her mind what being gathered to the Lord's name meant, from the fact that here in Jaffrey there happened to be just a few older people. Actually, the number of people had nothing to do with whether it was the right place or not. She had never, ever doubted back home, so why should she doubt here?
Maybe this was what her father had meant once, when he told her that the Lord brings each one to a time of testing in their lives, when they have to prove whether or not what they are following is real.
She would never forget that first night when she walked into the meeting room in Jaffrey and saw them all staring back at her. She looked beyond their friendly smiles and genuine warmth, convinced they were just staring. Looking about the circle, she felt despair. These were to be her friends? How could she be friends with people years and years older than herself? As soon as she was able to return to the privacy of her own room, she flung herself against her pillow and cried long into the night. It wasn't the people themselves that upset her; it was because they were too old to be her friends. It was the realization that there just weren't any young people.
Now, as she reached the front porch, she spotted Mr. Adams up in the apple tree, pruning some of the branches.
"Hi, Jennie!" he called down to her in his bright way.
She followed Mrs. Adams into their cozy kitchen with its big red rocker. Her Bible, as always, was lying open on the table. Jennie walked past it hurriedly, toward the basket of fresh rolls and two loaves of homemade bread that were sitting on the counter waiting to go to the Benton home. She felt guilty for even taking them, her resentment toward living here, toward the Adams and everyone else having been so intense all morning. But she couldn't resist!
Walking up to the table, she sampled one of the fresh rolls that seemed to be waiting there for her. She observed Mrs. Adams for a moment. She was like a little grandmother, a bit plump, quite short, her dark hair with only a few strands of gray, pulled back into a small knot. Her eyes were brown and warm, and quick to reflect joy or sadness sometimes even fire! She wore a print dress with a small brooch at the neckline. Mrs. Adams had the vitality about her normally associated with youth, but it didn't make her young. Jennie watched her as she worked about the spotless kitchen, disappointed when Mrs. Adams suggested they go out on the porch swing and visit awhile. This day especially, she so wanted to just pick up the rolls and return home right away.
Later, as they sat on the porch, they watched Mr. Adams. He was still up in the apple tree, pruning branches. There was hardly a visit when he hadn't gone down to the corner bakery and brought back a delicious pie for Jennie, or some other treat. After a time he climbed down from the tree, glad for a break from his work and offered to bring them both something to eat. He was always so happy to wait on them, never complaining, serving them with his cheerful smile.
Jennie watched as he shook the loose dirt from himself and walked slowly into the kitchen. He was short, like his wife, with white, curly hair and a quiet manner.
He never joined them in their visits unless it was lunch time. Then, seated around the table, he would tell Jennie how he built this house with his own hands. At first it was just a small cottage, then as the children came, he added two upstairs bedrooms under the eaves. He also built the big stone fireplace at the end of the living room.
Mrs. Adams loved her little home. It was simple, but complete. Jennie knew a baby boy had once died in this home. Mrs. Adams mentioned how her husband at that time took their three little girls shopping and bought them each a new coat, surprising their mother.
Mr. Adams brought the round tray out with cookies set carefully on starched napkins.
Mrs. Adams raised sad, hurt eyes up to Jennie, "When I talked to your mother on the phone this morning, she was very discouraged."
Jennie knew what was coming. She had been giving her mother a bad time, blaming her for the move, and begging her to let her go back home for the summer.
"She needs you here so much, Jennie," the older woman counseled.
Jennie fumbled with the napkin on her lap. "I know Mother needs me. She can't manage alone and Kara isn't that much help. Lisa is sometimes more trouble than anything else with her mischievous ways, always getting herself into something. Still, I don't see why Kara couldn't watch over Lisa this summer," she concluded.
She remembered a few days before, when she asked Lisa if she didn't ever feel sad and lonely in this place. Lisa's eyes twinkled and in childish simplicity she answered, "Why, of course not! As long as I have Mommy and Daddy and you and Kara and the Lord Jesus, I'm happy!"
Mrs. Adams was opening her Bible, turning to Romans, chapter 12. Jennie squirmed as she began reading. If only she could escape! Soon these words filled the air: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
"Reasonable service," Mrs. Adams pointed out, "sounds almost like it is the least that can be expected of us."
Jennie turned away, feeling the resentment rise inside. She watched Mr. Adams raking up the smaller branches he had pruned off the apple tree. She didn't want to be preached at. Wasn't it enough to come for the baked rolls and bread? Now someone was telling her she should be a living sacrifice!
Her mind raced back to San Francisco again and all the fun her friends were probably having even now. She could picture them running along the beach, and if the day was warm, swimming a bit in the breakers, now and then one or the other getting a good dunking. And where was she? Sitting on the Adams' porch swing, trying politely to listen to advice she didn't want to hear at all. But just what was Mrs. Adams trying to tell her?
"You could go back to San Francisco," Mrs. Adams was continuing, "but the Lord hasn't placed you there. He brought you here. Don't you see that, Jennie? You can only be happy in the path He has chosen for you." She paused. "Did you ever think that maybe He chose you out of all the others so you could reap a very special blessing?" She looked at her steadily, her dark eyes becoming serious. "You can be certain, Jennie, that the Lord has brought you here as part of His plan for your life!"
Jennie was not alone in the emotional struggle a move to Jaffrey could bring. Back in Peoria, Illinois, another young person was resisting with all his vigor the proposed move to this small village.
Stephen Marshall picked up his stack of school books and Walked slowly up the brick path leading from the high school to the bus stop. He was not particularly interested in taking the bus today, as there was a lot on his mind and he preferred walking. Stephen was a striking boy of medium build, rugged in a way, with sandy-colored hair and deep-blue serious eyes that softened when he smiled.
He was a good violinist and the favorite choice of the young people for playing the piano at their hymn sings. Not that it was his ambition to be a musician! Not at all! Still, he had to admit to himself that he did pretty well. He had a way of seeing poetry in the most ordinary things; but when it came to accomplishing something important, he was certain he could give up his dreams if necessary, to reach a more practical goal.
He turned up the street, wending his way through the crowd of high school students waiting for the bus. He could catch a bus later, or walk. He was craving a hamburger, some French fries and a shake. There was a lot to mull over in his mind this afternoon. McDonald's might be the best place to sit and think.
Sitting down in a far corner of the restaurant, he spent some time deep in thought, trying to come to a decision. At last he gathered up his books and walked on, the fresh green of springtime about him. He liked Peoria and was content to stay here.
"Hi, Steve!" a friend called to him as he crossed the square. Stephen flashed his winning smile. The year he was top athlete at school won him many friends. This year he gave up sports at his father's insistence. He wasn't certain in his own mind, but it had pleased his father. There were always so many things for a person to decide. Sometimes he thought he deserved a bit more freedom than he had. He wanted to sail to the wind, to climb the highest mountain peak, to explore-to reach out and grow. A fellow was only young once.
As he turned down Baker Street and cut across an empty lot, he felt a need to get away from it all, the way he had last summer when he made that visit to Oregon.
How exhilarated he felt backpacking for several days on the rocky ridges above timberline. Looking up to those higher, ice-covered peaks, he dreamed of the day when he would conquer them with an ice-ax, cutting out his steps when the going got rough, painstakingly maintaining perfect balance in the steepest parts. There would be fear, of course. No honest man would deny fear in a circumstance like that! But overcoming the fear would be one big reason for wanting to tackle the climb in the first place. Then when he was up on that mountain alone, he could say, "This belongs to me. It's all mine?my experience! There's nothing to hinder me but my own limitations!" Up there, far away from Peoria, he rather enjoyed a sense of being free from his responsibilities.
As he continued walking toward home, he remembered a late afternoon hike he took through dense forest. He had been enjoying the sound of a nearby mountain stream and the freshness of saplings breaking as he walked through the Lacey undergrowth, when to his pleasant surprise, he came upon a clearing. There below him lay a beautiful lake, shimmering in the sunlight like a cluster of diamonds.
Kicking up a cloud of dust, he scurried down the steep, rocky bank with his heavy stick to keep him from slipping on the rocks. Almost running down the steep incline, he came to a sandy beach covered with large rocks.
Weary with the afternoon's exertions, he cleared the rocks from a spot to prepare a bed for himself. Slipping off his backpack and setting it down beside him, he laid down on the soft sand and promptly fell asleep. Now and then he stirred to the sound of the wind in the trees, lulled back quietly to sleep by the gentle lap, lap, lapping of the waves against the rocks. He was awakened by a coming storm, the wind sounding like the fierce roar of an oncoming train.
He had yet to learn that an experienced backpacker, no matter how tired, will make some preparation against unexpected rain. He did not have time to unpack and get his tarp up, the storm was coming in so rapidly. He fled to a small grove of young trees to protect himself from the rain, and huddled there for nearly three hours. Watching from his shelter, he saw the storm approach the lake, shaking the vine maples in a sudden burst of violence, the sky growing strangely dark. Thunder began to roll; lightning flashed about him. He was in his element, relishing this opportunity to battle against the elements of nature.
His backpack had everything he needed: warm clothes, an aluminum pan and plate, matches and plenty of dehydrated food. Later, when he attempted to build a fire in the dampness, he learned one of his first important lessons as a mountain climber. Next time he would set up his pup tent before the storm rolled in, keeping his backpack protected with a plastic covering. There was plenty of unfamiliar ground he wanted to cover. That trip was just a beginning.
Sauntering down the street in Peoria, Stephen shook himself from his pleasant reverie. A new problem faced him now and he was going to have to settle it. His father wanted him to move with the family to an isolated spot in New Hampshire called Jaffrey Center, where his aunt and uncle lived.
Tonight he would have to discuss this with his parents. If they wanted to go, he certainly couldn't stop them; but it would be his chance to move on. He was eighteen now, soon to be a high-school graduate. He would enroll in one of the colleges in Oregon and continue his education to become a schoolteacher. His parents wouldn't have to worry about him anymore. He certainly wasn't going to move East at this exciting point in his life!
"Steve, Steve!" He turned to see Julia, his sister, catching up to him. Having graduated a year ahead of him, she was working in one of the high school offices.
"I saw you cutting across the empty lot, so I left the bus stop and hurried over to walk with you. Do you mind?" Julia was a tall, serious girl of nineteen with dark curly hair and brown eyes.
"That's okay," he answered absentmindedly. "I want to do some thinking, but I'm glad to have your company." He looked affectionately at his sister. If he was allowed to remain behind, he would miss her. She was a friend to him. It was Julia who listened to his problems. It was she who hurried into his bedroom after he left for school, and tidied it for him so it would please their mother. She was the one who helped him late at night with his school assignments. Julia was the brain of the family, but she could be fun, too. They had ridden horseback in the summers, bicycled in the lazy afternoons, and taken long walks in the evening, discussing a variety of subjects. "By the way," he asked suddenly, "what do you think of our moving East?"
Her face fell. "Stephen," she said with intense feeling, "I don't want to go at all. I can't understand the folks doing this to us. I enjoy our Christian friends here, our hymn sings, the good times we have together. I feel like we belong here. It's home." She paused and kicked at a pebble along the path. She was trying to accept what she knew couldn't be changed. She looked up at her brother as he spoke.
"Julia, remember our visit there to Uncle David's a few years back? Jaffrey is the loneliest place I've ever been to."
Julia, of course, remembered, but recalled the warmth with which their aunt and uncle welcomed them. With their own children married and living elsewhere, they missed having young people around. Julia also recalled the gathering there in Jaffrey.
As if reading her thoughts, Stephen continued speaking, "I suppose I could get used to Jaffrey itself, since I would be busy at the college nearby, but...." His mind went back to the memory of that small gathering of old people. "Julia, if we go there, I'm not going to have any friends. I like the guys here. Friends sometimes take years to make. I'm used to this way of life. It isn't anything all that great, but it's home. I enjoy our hymn sings, too," he added, "especially if the speaker doesn't talk too long!"
Julia smiled. "Someone said a new family moved to Jaffrey last winter with three girls." She shifted her books. "They are gathered to the Lord's name there."
"Girls!" Stephen exploded, "that won't do me any good! I want to stay here; if I can't do that, then I want to move on to Oregon. I've got college ahead of me and years before I'm ready to be tied to a girl." Wordlessly, he reached for the stack of work Julia was bringing home from the office. How could she possibly think that a family of girls would make up for all he would have to leave behind? Why couldn't she understand his feelings? He looked at Julia with disgust. That last remark had removed all doubt from his mind. "Julia, if Mother and Dad go, I'm not going."
"You're not going?" she exclaimed in unbelief. "You wouldn't go?"
A few weeks later Julia was packing with her mother, preparing for the move to Jaffrey. "I'm sorry you and Stephen have to go ahead of us," Mrs. Marshall was saying, "but selling the house is taking longer than we expected. Your going early will give Stephen a chance to get settled in college." Mrs. Marshall was thankful the past weeks were over. Stephen had finally agreed to move with the family to Jaffrey?the understanding being that when he turned twenty, his father would let him move elsewhere. She would never forget how he had hurried down the basement steps to his room with its knotty-pine walls. He felt he might as well start packing up his things right then, take his room apart. It was like taking apart his life.
Now Mrs. Marshall looked over at her daughter, "Do you think you'll be looking for a job right away, Julia?" She realized the move was going to be hard on them all.
"Not if I have to go on typing swear words day after day," Julia responded with sudden annoyance. "It's getting me down!" Mrs. Marshall looked surprised at the turn the conversation was taking, as Julia continued to explain. "My boss invariably dictates letters full of swear words. He expects me to type them, but I just can't do it!"
"What have you done, then?" her mother asked.
"Well, it has taken a lot of nerve," Julia replied, "but I've substituted another word whenever he has put them in. He laughs at me, but at least so far he hasn't made me change them back. Just listening to them gets me down, as it is." Julia reached for another empty box and a stack of her picture albums. "Another thing is that he asks me to lie for him. But he has come to realize I won't do that, either. He's been reasonable about it, but I'm just plain tired of it all!" She stacked several books into the remaining space in the box.
"The Lord has rewarded you, Julia," Mrs. Marshall reflected. "You've been faithful to Him and He has seen you through. If we had a large family like some of our friends in various parts of the country, I could give you plenty of work to do at home."
Julia replied thoughtfully, "The girls would sure think it strange to hear me say this, but I've thought how nice it would be to stay home with several younger brothers and sisters and help with the housework. But Mother, I guess you'd never stand for me taking over your work!"
Julia finished taping the last box, thinking all the while about the problems a young girl faced in finding suitable work. She felt a strong burden not to be lazy, yet she dreaded once again leaving the security of her home to face the world with all its cold, harsh, often disturbing ways. She loved the shelter of her parents' home, the protection she felt there, yet life must be faced in a realistic way. She wondered where the answer lay, and what she would find when she moved to Jaffrey. "I've worked in an office long enough!" she concluded, looking up at her mother. "I just couldn't take another job like this one!"
Jennie stood looking down over the garden from her bedroom window. Even though the morning had only begun, Lisa was already out on the brick patio, skipping rope. She seemed filled with boundless energy, bouncing up and down, eager to meet the new day. Jennie herself was longing for an adventure, something to offset the monotony, the sameness of each day. But what adventure would ever turn up in Jaffrey?
An idea came to her slowly as she watched Lisa below. It would soon be her mother's birthday. Jennie knew how much she was wanting an extra set of dishes for their large company dinners. She figured Kara wouldn't want to go, but if she could get Lisa to come along to Peterborough, maybe they could visit some second-hand shops and find just the thing that would be suitable. At least it was worth a try and just might be an interesting break in the dull routine.
Jennie and Lisa drove along the winding road that followed the creek to Peterborough. The trees were in their full summer leaf. This was Jennie's favorite bicycle path, today she would drive to save time.
Having called ahead for an appointment, Jennie knew that a Mr. Greene had two small white houses filled with antiques and second-hand furniture. She would find them sitting back on a hillside, looking over the river as it rippled through Peterborough.
A rather strange woman met them at the door. Even though the weather was warm she was wrapped in a heavy sweater with a scarf on her head and boots on her feet. She was almost rude to them when they mentioned their appointment. "That don't mean nothin' to me," she said crossly. Just then a cheerful, balding man came into the room and ushered them inside, motioning his housekeeper aside.
The girls found themselves in the center of a room where a long, oval mirror was placed, reflecting more mirrors and an endless array of furniture and bric-a-brac. They viewed the prize pieces of silverware and other valuables locked in large glass cases and the numerous quaint pictures hanging on the walls.
It all looked rather old and worn to Jennie. She looked over at Lisa who was finding interest in a picture book suited to her age. Two cups of hot chocolate were sitting on the desk. Mr. Greene sat down, finished the first and began on the second, leaving them to explore casually about the room.
Jennie explained that she wanted to buy a set of dishes for her mother. He was still gulping down the last of the hot chocolate as he led them through a maze of what appeared to be "junk", up a creaky stairway to a darkened room. As they stood waiting in anticipation, he lifted the shades, revealing masses of cobwebs and scattering dust in every direction. In the brighter light they could see his collection of toy trains, a multitude of old dressers and chairs, and an accumulation of books, the latter being the only thing of real interest to Jennie.
Apparently, he brought them upstairs in hopes they'd find something else that would interest them. Jennie explained again that she only wanted to look at dishes. He listened, his bright eyes suggesting that he already had something in mind. He was a shrewd businessman. She sensed that in a moment.
As the girls followed him back down the stairway, Jennie was doubtful if in all this mess there could possibly be anything she would consider right for her mother. Nevertheless, she cast a furtive glance at the odds and ends she was passing by as they entered the larger room at the front of the house.
Noticing a picture 'on the wall, she stopped for a moment. Mr. Greene walked back to her and pointed out that it was his wife and their large family of children. Jennie noted how sweet she looked and wondered to herself if she were a Christian.
"How large a set did you say you need?" he asked, obviously thinking quickly through his inventory of china.
"Oh, at least twelve place settings," Jennie answered readily. "You see, we do a great deal of entertaining for our church."
As soon as she said the word "church", she knew it was a mistake. She shouldn't call the gathering a church when it really wasn't. It was a coward's way of getting around the truth.
"What church do you go to?" he questioned.
Now she felt cornered. In spite of the fact that she was well-instructed by her father and her grandfather; in spite of the fact that she had continual exposure to sound teaching at the weekly meetings, she found herself at a loss to adequately explain the basis for their meetings. How could a teenage girl explain all this to an older man?
She attempted by saying they were gathered unto the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and were not a denomination, but the words seemed to hang suspended in the air.
Sensing that he was more than politely interested, she wondered if he were a Christian himself. Just as she was trying without success to get up the courage to ask him, he turned to her with the question, "Are you a Christian? I am a minister," he said, taking her quite by surprise, "and a Christian. The two don't always go together anymore," he added with a brief finality. "I want you to know that my ministry is far more important to me than these antiques. My real life is serving the Lord and loving my small congregation."
He paused again. "I'm a real old-fashioned minister!" he added. "I don't go along with the modern-day way of things. I like it the old way." He asked her more about the gathering.
"In the breaking of bread meeting," she said without hesitation now, "someone will give out a hymn, another pray, another read a portion of Scripture; but our primary purpose is to be in the presence of the Lord to remember Him in His death." She could sense he was confused and disagreeing. With a burst of sudden courage she added, "Of course there is also a Sunday school, the gospel meeting, a reading meeting and the prayer meeting."
As she listened to herself talking with Mr. Greene, the real meaning of it all swept over her, leaving a happiness that removed the doubts she had recently experienced. Somehow the simplicity of being gathered unto the name of the Lord alone had never been so precious to her as in these moments while coming to its defense. For these few moments she grew from a young girl to an adult.
Jennie was intent in her thoughts as he replied, "You sound almost like us, but of course we have a minister." He was thoughtful as he moved about the shop, pulling things out from under the counters. "Do you folks believe that Christ was born of a virgin, that He could not sin, that His precious blood atones for our sins?"
Jennie wished her father were along. He could make a wiser reply than she to all these questions. But she smiled, quickly nodding in agreement.
As he talked, he pulled out a set of dishes. She wasn't at all sure that her mother would like them, but before she could say no, he had started wrapping them, talking faster than he could work. She found it impossible to interrupt.
He grew silent, set down the dish he was wrapping and looked at her questioningly, as if he had just thought of something. "You surely don't believe in eternal security, do you?"
Her heart seemed to stop for a moment. What a terrible disappointment to find an earnest Christian and then learn that he did not believe one of the important truths of Scripture.
She found herself speaking up with a confidence she was not aware she possessed. "I surely do. Why, I wouldn't be able to go to sleep at night if I didn't. If I thought every time I sinned I would lose my salvation, I'd never have peace. Having peace with God is a most wonderful thing about being saved. I'm so glad my salvation depends upon what the Lord Jesus did for me and not what I can do myself."
"That's where you're wrong," he stated, leaving no room for argument. "You don't mean to tell me all those Christians in the theaters, and the ones on drugs, and the ones living in sin... you don't mean to tell me they will go to heaven when the Lord comes?"
Jennie fumbled with her car keys. She was in a difficult position. She had no desire to argue with the minister of a church, and yet knew he was wrong. Once a person accepts the Lord as their Savior, they can never be lost. Her father always reminded her of John 10:27, 28: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand."
She could remember one time in Sunday school when he illustrated it for the children. He took one hand and closed it, showing how a Christian is safe in the Lord's hand, then covered it with his other hand and quoted the end of the passage: "My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one." Her father smiled at the sea of little faces looking up at him. They simply believed, content that they were doubly safe! But how could she ever show Mr. Greene?
"Would you like to talk with my father some evening?" she asked at last. "He could really explain this much better than I."
He continued wrapping the large set of dishes, one by one. He nodded in agreement, saying that he might be able to find a free evening. Then, not wishing to argue with a good customer, he changed the subject.
When the bulky carton of dishes was finally packed, he offered to carry it out to the car for her. As she told him good-bye, he smiled warmly, "It's so nice to meet a true Christian," he finished, "but I'll never understand how you got that part about eternal security." Shaking his head, he started back to his shop.
A few days later, they headed for upstate New York on a short trip to visit relatives Jennie had never met. She was still thinking about her conversation with Mr. Greene.
"When someone says a Christian can just go on sinning without it mattering, I never know quite what to say," she told her father. He quoted Gal. 6:7: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
"That should stem the argument many give that a Christian can go on carelessly, just because he's saved. That is not true. A Christian who doesn't live to please the Lord will never be truly happy. If their walk becomes careless, they shall reap the sad results. The Lord, who loves them as sons, will chasten them. If they do not respond to the Lord's chastening, He may take them away in death. He never leaves us alone if we go on in sin."
Driving through New York State, the girls were surprised to find that it was not all like busy, bustling, dirty New York City. Instead, they were seeing a panorama of rolling green hills, captivating farms, and fields bursting with wild flowers. Earlier that morning, they stopped at one of the smallest gatherings in the East to remember the Lord in His death. The small circle of people made even the gathering in Jaffrey large by comparison. A family there prepared for guests, rarely knowing if any might come. This so impressed Mrs. Benton that, turning to her husband, she asked incredulously, "Do you suppose they do that week after week?"
As they came closer to the old homestead where Uncle John Benton and his family waited for them, they looked across rolling fields of wild flowers. "So this is New York State!" Jennie's mother said with surprise. "No wonder Grandpa loved this so much. I can just picture him here, living out his last days in this peace and quiet. This countryside seems just like your father, Peter."
They all liked the area leading to the homestead immediately. It was home to them even before they reached the Benton house.
"At last we'll be with young people," Kara blurted out, "not just old people!" She said the two words "old people" with a disdain that her father did not appreciate.
He spoke with feeling, "Kara, what we did this morning in going to that small gathering, we did as unto the Lord. It was certainly refreshing, and an example to me of the verse 'given to hospitality.' Imagine those folks preparing a meal every Lord's day in hopes that someone will come through. I'm sure that most of the time no visitor ever comes."
He was quiet as he drove, quite obviously disappointed in his daughters. When he spoke again, his voice was filled with emotion, "I want you girls to always remember that each of the Lord's people, old or young, is someone special in His sight and loved by Him. Someday you will understand that old people are people just as much as you young ones are. Let's learn to be thoughtful of those who are lonely. Of all people, you girls ought to feel compassion for them!"
"I like everybody," Lisa interrupted with a sudden brightness. Kara put her finger to her lips, quieting Lisa as her father finished. They drove on in silence, each of the girls a bit ashamed.
As they came to the sign bearing the familiar Benton name and saw the family running out to meet the car, they could no longer contain their excitement. The large stone house, built piece by piece by Uncle John himself, stood before them. Cheerful red pots of geraniums brightened the house with its small, square-paned windows.
As they walked toward the house, all talking at once, Jennie noticed the grass surrounding the home swaying in the breeze and the old silver pitcher with blue cornflowers placed on the porch. She never had liked pretentious things. She felt at home here.
With Uncle John leading the way through the narrow hall, they walked into the main room where a boy of medium height with dark hair and a pleasant smile met them. This was Mark. He and his younger brother Tommy were clearly sizing up their cousins! After a few attempts at conversation, Kara and Tommy rushed out to the horse stables to see Mark's horse, while Mark offered Jennie a seat.
She was barely seated when he asked, "Would you like a tour of the place? After we eat, it will be too dark." She nodded, following him back outside as the two mothers moved into the kitchen to prepare supper.
"I can see why Grandpa loved this place," Jennie exclaimed as they hurried down the narrow hallway once more, through the screen door and out into the front yard. 'Why everywhere you look there are scenes for him to have captured in his paintings."
Surprised by her comment, Mark studied his cousin. A moment later he inquired, "Are you an artist, too?"
"Oh, somewhat, Mark. I like to sketch and doodle a bit, but when it comes to painting, I get lost. I've tried a few without much success. How about you?"
He smiled. "I'll show you some of my work later if you'd like to see it." They walked to the edge of the hillside and looked down over the white fields of Queen Anne's lace. The summer wind blew Jennie's long hair as she stood in this hushed spot, absorbing the fact that her grandfather had no doubt stood here many, many times.
Mark spoke again, "I suppose we both got our interest from Grandpa. I used to stand behind his chair as a small boy and watch him working here with his canvas and paints. Though he was out preaching much of the time, there were days when he wanted to relax. That was when he'd sit here and paint. I can still see him huddled over the canvas, that funny old hat on his head to protect him from the sun, with his paints and brushes lined up carefully on a small table beside him. When he was painting like that, he never wanted to be disturbed, so I kept very quiet and still."
"I didn't really know Grandpa," Jennie acknowledged. "I do have one funny memory of him, though. When I was about thirteen, a little before Grandma died and he moved here, he came to visit us in California. It was his last trip to see us. I had worked hard on a painting, hoping it would please him. The painting portrayed my dream of having six children."
"Six children!" Mark interrupted in a shocked voice. "You want six children, Jennie?"
"Oh yes," she answered, without flinching, "at least six. Anyway, I imagined what each of them would look like and captured this on canvas as best I could. I could hardly wait until Grandpa arrived. I did them in oils, making each face different, painting the mouths and eyes and expressions so carefully. He barely arrived when I brought out my masterpiece to show him," she mused. "The canvas was so large!" She giggled at the memory.
Mark's dark eyes were questioning as he asked, "Did he like it?"
She paused, looking down at the parched grasses underneath her feet. "No," she answered simply, remembering her keen disappointment, "he looked at it for awhile without saying anything-just looked. I felt scared to death of him. All of a sudden he said, 'It's nice, but if I had done it, I would have spent as much time on each person as you did on the whole."'
Mark looked surprised. "I'm sorry," he said kindly.
"It doesn't matter now," she admitted, "but do you know what I did at the time? I took it and threw it in the garbage can. Now I wish I had kept it."
"To show your six children?" he teased. As they walked around the old place together, he pointed to the upstairs bedroom. "That's my room up there.
I'm giving it to you and Kara tonight. See all the plants? I like to raise them."
Later, at the dinner table, conversations flew in every direction. They belonged here. Once again the warmth settled over Jennie of at last belonging, of having relatives around her. She didn't want to ever go back to Jaffrey now. If only they could have moved to New York instead.
The love and memories they shared concerning Grandpa Benton brought the two families together in an even stronger bond. Each one had a story to tell about this most unusual man who was part artist, part preacher.
"He took so much of my mother's time," Mark said, remembering. "He was sick for two long years. One day just before he died he put his hand on my head and said, 'Son, I'm sorry to have caused you so much trouble.' After that," Mark continued, "I never felt resentful toward him. In fact, I guess I even learned to love him."
On the other side of the table, Uncle John burst into a peal of hearty laughter. "Peter, do you remember the joke he had with his india ink? Well, he would do this when he was at someone's home for dinner who had obviously made an effort to make things nice for him. Usually during the conversation in a home where there was a spotless, white linen tablecloth, he would pull out a bottle of ink, explaining how permanent it was and ideal for the texts he made. About that time he would exclaim, `Oh, look what I've done.' The lady of the house would come rushing out of the kitchen to find a pool of india ink on her table cloth, with his ink bottle standing beside it. He would remain serious as she sought to console him, adding that it didn't really matter. Then at the last moment, he would lift the pool of ink from the table, which was only a rubber dummy, and wait for the reaction."
Jennie's mother shook her head. She always felt that Mr. Benton, as a preacher, should have been more serious-minded. But he was a man who just couldn't hold down his sense of humor.
Uncle John was beginning another story. "Just before he was bed-ridden," he began, "he stayed with friends of ours in Pittsburgh. They took him out for dinner one evening while he was there. He was pretty old and feeble by then. They guided him gently by the arm, ever so slowly to the table where the waitress waited.
"As he passed the many people in the restaurant who were watching him, he heard one of them say, `Look at that feeble old man.' Slowly he turned around, faced them and without cracking a smile said, 'I may be feeble, but I'm not deaf!"'
That night Jennie and Mark sat out on the front steps talking after coming home from gospel meeting. Mark mentioned how he wanted to saddle-up his horse and take her for a gallop before they left in the morning.
"It's funny, Mark," Jennie commented as they sat there looking over the valley, "I never really knew Grandpa, and you never knew Grandma. She was an unusual person, too. She had such a struggle in their poverty."
Mark interrupted, "Grandpa told us how terribly poor they were."
"Yes, one year Grandma had to go all winter without a coat," Jennie went on, "and in Oregon that wasn't easy. It rains most of the time, so it's very damp and chilly, though not the awful cold we've found here in the East. She often gave what little they did have to others in greater need. She loved to entertain the Lord's people and in faith would invite a crowd over, not knowing what to make a meal from. More than once she had to go to neighbors to borrow food for her company. And more often than not, my father had to use his paper-route money to help pay the grocery bills."
The full moon that had earlier risen in the cloudless sky was now slowly disappearing from view. They felt a strong breeze begin to stir as they sat talking.
Mark was thinking of his own mother, as Jennie spoke of their grandmother. His mother was a woman whose Christian spirit shone through her dark eyes and radiant smile. There was a beauty about her from within. Mark told Jennie of the untiring service she had given their grandfather during the years he had lain sick in bed. Without complaining, she had unselfishly and lovingly cared for him. Recently she spent days typing his term papers and he was still trying to think of some way to thank her, something he could do for her that she would really enjoy. He turned to Jennie, "The most beautiful thing about my mother," he added thoughtfully, "is that she doesn't know how beautiful she is!"
They hurried inside and sat down beside the big stone fireplace as a light rain pattered against the windowpanes. By contrast, the house was pleasantly warm, the living room cozy with the mellow light from the twin lamps over the mantle. Mark disappeared into a back room, looking for some of his sketches. While Jennie waited for him in the stillness, she thought the compliment he gave his mother was surely the nicest a son could give.
Much later she stood in the bedroom window upstairs, looking over the rolling hills. Kara was asleep in the bed nearby. The house that a few hours before had overflowed with talk and laughter was quiet now. She and Mark had stayed up much later than the others, but now he, too, was probably curled up asleep in the living room. Once again she was alone with her thoughts, struggling with her feeling of rebellion.
Mark was so happy here. At the meeting that night she had met a friendly group of young people. Before this trip, she felt she could only be happy in San Francisco. To her surprise she now wondered if she could be just as happy here in New York. At least there would be young people and activities to adjust to. There would be more than the awful emptiness of Jaffrey. Why then hadn't the Lord brought them here?
She turned away from the window and looked about the humble little room. In the soft light of the amber lamp sitting on the worn, antique chest, she could make out the words of a neatly-framed text hanging directly above. No doubt Mark made that himself. There was a comfortable chair next to a bookcase against the far wall and then the old brass bed where Kara was curled up, sound asleep, completely oblivious to Jennie's presence in the room.
Walking over to the chair with her Bible, she turned to Joshua, chapter 1. Her eyes skimmed the page until she came to verse 9: "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." Looking back a few verses, she read: "As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee."
These verses would always lead her back through the years to the time of her salvation. For so long she had wanted to be saved, and yet she could not find peace. How many times she wondered what the problem was. Over and over again her father had said to her, "Jennie, it's so easy. Simply see yourself as a lost sinner and believe that the Lord Jesus died on the cross to wash away your sins. Tell the Lord you are a sinner, that you believe Him, and thank Him for dying to save you."
But for many long months, the struggle continued. She could not feel saved. How could she trust someone she didn't know? Then Kara became seriously ill and Jennie, perhaps for the first time, truly needed the comfort no one could give her.
Day after day that early summer she left the house and took off on her bicycle. She prayed with all her heart for Kara's recovery, as she rode through the lonely, sun-drenched streets. It seemed there was only herself and the Lord. There was no one who could tell her Kara would get better. There was no one who could make Kara better, but the Lord Himself. As she prayed during those long hours and days, she realized that she was coming to know the Lord as she longed to know Him. She believed in Him and learned to trust Him. She knew now that she also truly loved Him. He was becoming her Friend, as she poured out her heart to Him about Kara and other things in her life. From that time on, she never doubted her salvation.
The Lord healed Kara. It was only a short time later that Jennie began to appreciate the verse on her dresser?for so long she hadn't really noticed it. It was the one she had just turned to here in Mark's room: "I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee." That day, so long ago, as she read this verse she was impressed with a sense that the Lord was going to ask her to go through something difficult, but she felt that He was giving her a special promise that He would be with her all the way. Now that time had come!
A warmth swept over her as she turned off the light. She had almost forgotten that verse. And now she was in a difficult situation. Why did the Lord bring them to New York when it only made things harder? Now she could see that perhaps He brought them here to show her how He could just as well have moved them to New York as to Jaffrey. Because He didn't, there must be a reason?a good reason.
For the first time since leaving California, she began to feel a suggestion of peace in her heart, to feel a sense, however small, of being in the path the Lord had chosen for her. It was not her choosing certainly, but His. Could it be that He was carefully planning even all these hurts to bring blessing to her? Could it be Mrs. Adams was right when she suggested that the Lord was giving her a privilege by letting her go through this hard time?
Her thoughts returned to the stop at the gathering between home and upstate New York. She thought of the family who in their loneliness was faithfully preparing a company meal, week after week, hoping and no doubt praying that the Lord would send a visitor. How she had resented having to go to that gathering! Now she felt a warmth about her heart, realizing the Lord had used the Benton family to bring cheer and a blessing to those people. Maybe that was what their move to Jaffrey was all about!
She felt secure in these moments, almost experiencing a sense of joy. If only that joy could be sustained in her heart as they returned to Jaffrey. She resolved to remind herself that the Lord was there with her, desiring to light her pathway and bring a song to her heart.
An invitation to the Marshall home for dinner helped ease the let-down of returning from New York. In spite of Jennie's resolve, she was in a slump again. David and Ruth Marshall, a part of the gathering in Jaffrey, also lived on Main Street. With news of the coming of Stephen and Julia from Peoria, they could hardly contain their excitement until the Benton's return.
Jennie always admired the large brick house set back in the trees. Surprisingly for its size, there was a coziness about the home. There was usually a glowing fire in the fireplace set in the far wall of the living room. A small painting over the mantel, and a corner cupboard filled with a small collection of cups and saucers, added to the homeyness. Whenever they were invited for dinner, the delicious smell of roast beef or occasionally a stuffed turkey, would greet them. A quick glance into the kitchen usually revealed a couple of mouth-watering pies on the small table.
Ruth Marshall was a vivacious woman who did not betray her years. With amazing energy, she could work circles around someone half her age. Her husband David was a happy man who walked close to the Lord. This was, no doubt, the reason he could remain calm and unruffled, cheerful in spite of annoying problems that came his way.
As the Bentons arrived for the evening, Mr. Marshall spoke up in his crisp voice, a merry twinkle in his eyes, "At last you girls will have some young friends here in the gathering. I'm so happy for you, and for us, too!" A slow, warm smile crossed his face as he watched the girls' reaction. They couldn't imagine what he was talking about and could hardly believe what they heard, as he continued to explain that his nephew and niece from Peoria, Stephen and Julia, would soon be moving to Jaffrey! Could this really be possible?!
On this warm night, a soft breeze drifted in across the screened porch where they visited. As they moved into the dining room, everyone was talking about the change soon to take place in Jaffrey. The surprise was so overwhelming and unbelievable, Jennie could scarcely take it in. Turning to her sister, she whispered with delight, "Kara! At last we'll have friends our own age!"
Her mind was spinning a hundred miles an hour as she tried to visualize what they would be like. It was an effort to listen to her father who was recounting more stories about Grandpa Benton to David Marshall, the recent trip still fresh in his mind.
Her mind, too, returned to New York and the moments she spent at the window of Mark's room, watching the rain come down. Was there a lesson to be learned here? She had, if only in a small measure, come to some acceptance there concerning her loneliness in Jaffrey. All along the Lord had been planning this for her. She tried to follow her father's conversation, but it was impossible to subdue the excitement that was getting hold of her.
"My father believed in the power of prayer, not just in big things, but in the little things of life, too," he began. "One winter in the mountains with his family, miles from help, he found the car engine wouldn't run. He didn't know what to do. He checked the gas tank, the carburetor and the spark plugs. Everything seemed fine."
"That must have been a distressing situation!" David Marshall remarked, following the account with interest.
Jennie's father nodded and went on, "He cranked and cranked the old car until his arm was weary, with still no sign of life. After perhaps an hour of this, he said to my mother, 'You know, we haven't prayed about it.' So there in the cold, they bowed their heads and asked the Lord to help them. He gave the crank another spin and the motor started right off. It never gave them any more trouble."
As the lively talk continued between the adults, Jennie and Kara kept nudging each other, anticipating how before long they, too, would have friends to visit with, instead of having to sit in the background listening politely to the adults. They heard Mr. Marshall as he carried on in his crisp voice, and tried again to concentrate.
"You know, Peter," he smiled, "sometimes I feel the Lord's presence more where just a few are gathered like this. It is very sweet to me to remember the Lord here."
Last Lord's day's meeting had been special. It was the first meeting since their return home from New York. Instead of finding it dull, as she expected, in contrast to the larger gathering they had visited, Jennie was touched by Mr. Marshall's talk. He spoke after the breaking of bread on 1 Peter 1:19 concerning "the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot."
He looked at them all now, remembering the subject he enjoyed so much. "His offering shall be of fine flour," he smiled, looking at Kara as he spoke. "When I was a lad, my mother did a lot of baking, Kara. She had a barrel of flour from which she would take out several scoops at a time. In those days it had rough particles in it, so she would allow me to sift out the rough particles, using a flour-sifter. This required two or three siftings. Finally all that remained was fine flour.
"I liked to run my hand through the smooth, fine flour which had no gritty particles," Mr. Marshall continued. "This reminds me of the perfection of Christ, so essential for that great sacrifice. He never spoke a word out of place. He never sinned in word, thought or deed, and in Him was no sin. Nevertheless, He could weep with those in deep sorrow."
Listening to Mr. Marshall, Jennie felt a closeness to the Lord like she remembered having back in California. He spoke with such sincerity and love for the Lord that her resentment disappeared for a time. She was glad now that even before she heard about Stephen and Julia coming, she experienced a small measure of acceptance concerning their move to Jaffrey. If there was a purpose to it all... well, it would be worth the loneliness. She certainly had not expected this happy surprise, but now she believed life would not go on day after day in the dull, changeless way it had during the past lonely months.
When the evening was over, the Marshalls promised to let the Benton girls know just as soon as Stephen and Julia arrived. They were driving with no particular schedule, so when they would actually arrive remained uncertain.
The moment came Wednesday night, which for Jennie distinctly divided the past from a new beginning. Through all the years ahead she would never forget it.
She and Kara bicycled over to the lake, heading home as daylight faded over the rolling hills. As they passed the Marshall's house, they noticed an unfamiliar car with an Illinois license plate.
Kara and Jennie exchanged glances with a knowing look that said: "Stephen and Julia have arrived!" What would they be like? Would it take long to get acquainted? Would Stephen be a boy who would just disappear, not wanting to be with the girls? All these questions were passing through Jennie's mind.
Darkness had fallen as the girls pulled up to the sidewalk with their bicycles. They saw, in the dim light of the porch lantern, strangers standing on the Benton porch, talking to their parents. David Marshall's cheerful voice echoed through the night as Julia walked down the steps toward them and came forward with her friendly smile. She was tall and thin like her uncle, with his slight build.
Stephen, too, stepped out of the shadows. He was several inches taller than Jennie, a sturdy fellow. She could see at a glance that he had character. When he smiled, it was easy to sense his gentleness and kind manner. Jennie knew that for her, life in Jaffrey would never be the same again.
It was early morning, a calm, cloudless summer morning. Jennie climbed out of bed and tiptoed into her sisters' room, finding them still asleep. Lisa lay with her face resting on one arm and her long, golden hair flowing out over her small shoulders. Kara, on the other hand, was doubled up, her face pressed into the pillow and her dark hair tousled, unaware in her sound sleep that morning had arrived.
Crossing to the window, Jennie watched the early sunlight filter through the branches in a soft pattern of light and shadow. Looking down, she spotted Stephen at the edge of the grass, surveying the garden. He did not look up, nor did he sense she was there.
In the stillness, she was hesitant to move lest her movement startle him. It would never do for him to see her there in the window. She wanted to always be careful around Stephen, never to appear forward.
She had given the matter a lot of thought since his arrival. She would feel terrible if she pushed him away from them all by acting foolishly around him. She wanted more than anything else to treat him as a friend, knowing a lot depended upon her ability to make this clear to him. Kara was young enough that she would not present a problem to Stephen's mind. But he would, no doubt, be sensitive to the fact that Jennie was close to his own age.
Kara was talking with her just last evening about all the things the four of them could do together. They had waited a long time for companionship. They both realized that Stephen would have to be an unusual boy to take the constant company of three girls.
Looking down now and seeing him there, she observed that he, too, loved the beauty of nature, that he was an early riser, not wanting to waste the day in sleep. They would have this in common. Nothing in Jaffrey had seemed interesting up until now, but with Stephen and Julia, everything would be different. There was so much beauty in and around Jaffrey, if a person had an eye for that kind of thing. They could bicycle to the lake or walk home together along Main Street during the summer twilight when the lanterns came on at the close of the week-night meetings. The four of them could pack picnic lunches and explore some of the scenic spots in the country that she had heard about.
Stephen turned slowly and walked up Main Street with that peculiar gait she noticed on their first meeting. She turned away from the window as she heard the sound of his footsteps fading away in the early morning freshness.
A few evenings later, Stephen and Julia asked if the Benton girls would like to go with them as they explored Jaffrey. Without a moment's hesitation, they accepted. Walking through the last rays of sunlight, the chimes rang out, echoing over the hills. They were getting along well together.
Just as Jennie had hoped, Stephen was proving to be the kind of boy who could accept having girls around him and still be relaxed. Some boys might have become shy and hard to talk to?spoiling it. He just treated them all as sisters.
Lisa ran along, joining in whenever she felt inclined. "I'm just amazed you girls haven't walked this far beyond Jaffrey," Stephen remarked, as he sauntered along a bit ahead of them all. "I came up this way a couple of days ago on one of my morning walks." Jennie well remembered, but would never tell him how she looked out the window that bright morning and watched him go up the street.
Turning from the paved road, they followed a narrow path which led through the trees. "I wonder what we'll find down here?" Julia questioned.
"Probably just more trees," Kara groaned, feigning boredom. She didn't have much hope of finding anything the least bit unusual or exciting around Jaffrey, but she was thoroughly enjoying the time together, anyway.
At that moment Stephen spotted an old graveyard beyond an intriguing stone fence. He led the way, and the others followed. It was grown over with tangled vines, one along the fence had a few summer roses still blooming. Jennie picked a soft pink one and tucked it loosely in her pocket as they went through the gate.
She wasn't particularly interested in graveyards. Her mind still returned to the fun times in California. Her friends there would never let her hear the end of this! But then? This was Jaffrey. Doing anything with Stephen and Julia would be preferable to being alone, so she tried to follow with enthusiasm as Stephen led them through the well-kept grounds.
Jennie tried to imagine what it was going to be like to hear the shout and be with the Lord's own who rose up from these graves. It will actually happen someday, Jennie thought.
As they followed the path through the many old gravestones, some were dated back into the 1800's, a few even as far back as the late 1700's. Stephen turned to her. "I doubt very much that this place is used anymore," he commented. "It's just too old. You know what fascinates me is that most of the people must have been Christians. Look at all the verses on the gravestones."
Lisa began running from one to the other. "Lisa," Jennie called out, "be very careful! We don't want to step on a gravestone. See that you stay on the grass and even then, be very careful."
Lisa ran back and reached for Jennie's rose. "Can I put it on the one that says 'BABY'?" she asked. Jennie rather reluctantly parted with the rose, then smiled at Lisa as she ran off with so much joy in her face and laid the small pink flower down. She was just learning to read, and "baby" was one of the first words she had learned.
Stephen called the girls over to two of the largest gravestones in sight. Towering over most of the others nearby, they were old-fashioned and quaint in design. Standing in the fading light, he read with a clear voice:
"Sacred to the memory of Amos Fortune
Who was born free in Africa,
A slave in America, he purchased liberty,
Professed Christianity, lived reputably
And died hopefully. Nov. 17, 1801, 91 years."
Beside it was his wife's grave, which read:
"Sacred to the memory of Violate
By sale the slave of Amos Fortune.
By marriage his wife,
By her fidelity his friend and solace,
She died his widow. Sept. 13, 1802. Age 73."
"Just think of the story this tells without any further words!" Stephen commented. "Obviously, they were both born in Africa where they were free. They probably were shipped over here to America, surviving the horrors of the slave ships, sold as slaves, then married to spend a life together as they earned their way to freedom. Even though life must have been hard, it is plain from the inscriptions they were happy together. Isn't that beautiful, Jennie?" He looked beyond, absorbed in thought.
Jennie was watching him as he looked toward the Lacey trees beyond the stone fence. She could easily perceive the deep feeling within this new friend. At first, she felt amused at the way he became so serious over the gravestones, but already she realized this was Stephen: perceptive, sympathetic, understanding. She watched him intently, trying to figure out what it was that made him so special. It was all those characteristics and more. In the few hours they had spent together since his arrival in Jaffrey, it was obvious Stephen was a unique person, different from any boy she ever met before. Just knowing him would make their dull life more interesting.
He turned back to her. "Think of how little those slaves had and yet they were happy. Notice how soon after his death she died, even though she was so many years younger. It almost seems that when he was gone, life was over for her, too."
Kara was calling to them now. "Come and see this one," she said with enthusiasm. They all walked over to where she stood.
"For 35 years a servant of Christ, I have kept the faith. Nov. 29, 1859 to Jan. 4, 1920." "For certain that person was saved!" Kara called back over her shoulder, hurrying on. The little group followed her to the edge of the enclosure and found another gate which opened onto a trail going deeper into the forest. All the night sounds were about them: the never-ending chirp of the katydids in the trees, the evening song of birds, the sound of a small stream running along close by. Darkness was falling. In the distance, they could see the twinkling lanterns coming on along Main Street.
Following the path in the darkness they were unafraid with Stephen there to guide them. After walking about a mile, he remarked this must be the trail leading up the small mountain at the edge of town. "Someday we'll have to pack a picnic lunch and try this climb." He looked at Julia with a bit of amusement. "Julia, our friends back home would sure laugh at me?calling this a mountain!" He was remembering the majestic mountains in the West that he climbed the summer before and how he had done a bit of bragging about them to his friends in Peoria. "Why, this is hardly more than a... hillside," he added, with emphasis. The comparison seemed ridiculous!
Julia twinkled, following her brother's train of thought. "Why don't we call it the Hillside?"
Stephen suggested they turn back toward home and do more exploring some Saturday in the daylight.
As they returned to Jaffrey, passing through the graveyard once more, Stephen spoke up, his voice filled with emotion. "Isn't it wonderful to be saved!" he exclaimed, "to know that if we were to die, we would be safe for eternity?"
They stood in a little group, knit together in the bonds of Christian love and understanding. It was wonderful being saved and belonging to the Lord Jesus. Indeed it was the most wonderful thing on earth. Nothing could compare with it.
"Jennie, you've been neglecting your old friend." It was Mrs. Adams talking as the two of them sat out on the porch swing. The past weeks had been busy for Jennie. She was preoccupied with Stephen and Julia's coming, as well as helping out at home with another batch of company.
"Why don't you just call me Aunt Sarah from now on? It would make me happy," Mrs. Adams smiled. She reached out a hand and put it on Jennie's arm, lovingly. "It's wonderful you have friends now, but please don't forget us. We need you, too."
Mr. Adams, with a trowel in his hand and a big grin on his face, came up the walk. "Sarah, shall I run down to the store and get some of that fresh strawberry pie?" Jennie's face brightened. She watched him turn and walk into the garage, back the spotlessly clean car out and head onto the main road.
The flower beds were at their peak of beauty now at the end of August, a mass of color. It seemed only yesterday, at the beginning of summer, that she had bicycled over to get the rolls and noticed the flowers freshly planted. How fast the seasons were rolling by! Now trees were giving their summer shade and in the back yard the vegetable garden was overloaded with produce. Jennie must take a large sack home to her mother. The Adams could never use it all.
The two friends settled into the porch swing. They visited in the delightful summer air as they waited for Mr. Adams to return.
"How do you like the new young people?" Mrs. Adams asked with a twinkle in her eye.
"Very much," Jennie answered thoughtfully. "It makes all the difference, having friends my own age." She was beginning to see that the Lord did have a purpose in bringing her to Jaffrey. For some reason not yet known to her, He had brought Stephen and Julia here as a part of that plan.
"Do you like him?" Aunt Sarah ventured. "Stephen, I mean."
Jennie smiled. "I felt right at home with him from the start. He seemed like someone I had known for a long time, and I think he felt the same way. It's so easy for us to talk and share our experiences and the homesickness we both feel for the friends we left behind. He loves the beauty of nature, the roar of the ocean, and the relaxation of gardening, just as I do. You'd almost think we came from the same family," she concluded.
Aunt Sarah smiled at Jennie. "The Lord brought Stephen here for a purpose, Jennie. How would you feel if you knew that the whole reason for your corning here was to meet Stephen?" Aunt Sarah was always so much to the point. Jennie felt that this time she was jumping to conclusions too quickly!
Stephen was certainly not an ordinary young man. When he entered a room, everything changed. There was something about him that charmed young and old alike. His slow easy walk suggested that nothing ever bothered him. Yet there was also an inner strength which contrasted with that easy-going impression. Jennie thought of his obvious fondness for his cocker spaniel Charlie and the gentleness with which he cared for his dog. She felt that she would never really know Stephen, even if she knew him for an entire lifetime. It was this very mystery that appealed to her.
Jennie turned from her reverie to Aunt Sarah. "I like Stephen very much," she continued, "but what means the most to me right now, is having him for a friend. I realize that if I don't keep our relationship that way, it could ruin everything. All of us here in Jaffrey need each other so much. I trust I will have enough sense not to spoil it."
"I've been so hoping you'd see it that way, Jennie. I've been praying about you and Stephen, knowing how important it would be to you."
Recalling their visit to the graveyard, Jennie related to Aunt Sarah how Stephen accepted it all so naturally. She was proud of him because she herself never enjoyed going through a graveyard. It only intensified her fear of death.
"You do fear death, don't you?" Aunt Sarah recognized.
Jennie squirmed, "I fear it terribly. Not the after part, because I know all of us who love the Lord will be with Him. That isn't what bothers me. It's the dying part and the thought of being put into the ground!"
Aunt Sarah gave a little shudder. "Jennie, that's just not the way to think of it at all. A Christian who has died is immediately with the Lord."
Just then, Mr. Adams came up the walk with the pie. Aunt Sarah turned to Jennie with a whisper. "We'll talk more about this later, Jennie. I would like to see you have a better attitude about death. I know many young people feel as you do, but it's important to learn that Christ has conquered death and removed its sting for the Christian. To depart from this life to be with Christ can be looked forward to without fear?rather, with great joy. In fact, not until we are in His presence will our joy be full."
Later as they sat eating strawberry pie, the conversation returned to Stephen.
Aunt Sarah began, "You don't realize what a wonderful opportunity you have to get to know Stephen in a casual way. Waiting on the Lord and going slowly can make all the difference." She frowned, adding, "There is so much nonsense that goes on between young people. Many couples get married when they don't even know one another. They've been blinded by the glamor of dating."
She looked intently at Jennie. "When you marry, it's a whole lifetime you're committing yourself to and the glamor can wear off pretty fast. When the babies and the bills and the everyday sameness of life come on a young person, it's then that the marriage is tested. If the Lord has blessed it, there will be strength to face the stresses and strains. But if not, there will be rough sailing for a good many years."
She looked off into the distance, lost in her thoughts. "I can't understand how a person can rush into marriage without realizing all the years they will be living together, sitting at the same table day after day, having this person as the father or mother of their children. Some young people seem to get married with no more thought than if they were buying a car or planning a vacation trip. The thrill of a wedding and new home and all the gifts coming in doesn't last very long."
She frowned again, "You know, Jennie, if a fellow has some traits that irritate you before marriage, you can be certain it will be worse afterward. Sometimes things that seem attractive at first are the very things that are hard to live with later on. Things like being thoughtless, self-centered, a showoff, or a spendthrift!'
She turned to Jennie with concern. "It's so important for even a young person to be thoughtful of others, to show kindness. It's important to establish the habit of reading God's Word each day. You can tell a lot about a person by whether they attend the meetings regularly, too. A formula for marriage isn't something you can put down on paper. A couple should really love each other and have peace that the Lord has brought their lives together before they get married. But all of these other things are important to consider as well."
Aunt Sarah looked at Jennie. "There are many worse circumstances than not being married. One of those things is being married to someone you wish you weren't married to. Believe me, I've seen it happen over and over again."
She was quiet a moment, then spoke again. "I know of a young couple who just wouldn't wait on the Lord. The parents of the boy felt very definitely they should warn their son. They clearly sensed danger ahead and had no peace about the situation. He refused to accept their advice to wait, even though they pleaded earnestly with him."
She picked up her Bible and turned to Psa. 69. "When the Lord places a hindrance in our way, we should always wait. Verse six here says, 'Let not them that wait on Thee, 0 Lord God of hosts, be ashamed...' You know, if a person according to the will of God is waiting, the waiting won't hurt. Nothing can frustrate His counsels. In Isa. 43:13 we read: 'Yea, before the day was I am He; and there is none that can deliver out of My hand: I will work, and who shall let it?'
"Girls don't have to be afraid of losing what the Lord has for them. There is much more to fear in rushing ahead of Him! This young couple I referred to had two children and then the wife lost interest in following the Lord, became involved with someone else, and eventually sought a divorce." She shook her head sadly. "Those poor children! If only he had listened to his parents' advice, the Lord would have shown him before the marriage took place."
She turned to Jennie and smiled affectionately. Jennie felt her love and concern. What a dear friend the Lord had sent her! Aunt Sarah cared about her. She wasn't just taking her relationship to Stephen lightly. It was almost as important to her as it was to Jennie. She wasn't preaching at her; she wanted to help, to make her see things through the eyes of someone who long ago walked the same path.
"I'll be praying for you every day. I want you to know that," she finished. "I'm praying the Lord will bless your friendship with Stephen, help you to get to know each other, and in the end make the path of His choosing clear to you."
It was a mild winter, free of severe storms and cold, the pleasant days punctuated by an interim of new-fallen snow. The four young people, often with Lisa, enjoyed sleigh rides and evenings around the fire, eating popcorn and playing games. Often on a clear, starry night they would walk as a group home together from the meeting room, the snow soft beneath their feet as the lanterns twinkled down Main Street. Stephen usually led the way, with Lisa trailing behind the older girls. Occasionally he would fall in line beside Jennie and the two of them would become engrossed in conversation.
Although some days were bleak and cold, darkened by the thickly falling snow, before long a burst of sunlight would return, causing the snow to begin melting from rooftops or dropping in chunks from the branches of the trees. The red cardinals here and there added a spot of color that delighted Jennie and Stephen as they sketched the winter scenes.
Julia was spending the night at the Bentons. The girls gathered around the fire, with Muffin curled up on the hearth, enjoying the warmth. Mrs. Benton carried in a large bowl filled with popcorn and sat down in her favorite chair. Kara laced the popcorn with melted butter and reached for the salt, carefully stirring it into the popcorn.
Kara sighed, "Lectures, lectures?nothing but lectures!" There were a good many times when she and her father disagreed on the subject of which clothes are modest and which are not. She was referring to the reading meeting earlier that night when the subject of women's dress had come up. Mr. Marshall read the verse at meeting: "Ye are our epistle... known and read of all men" (2 Cor. 3:2), likening it to the testimony a woman can be through her appearance.
Mr. Benton turned to Kara as she was taking a mouthful of popcorn, "There are many times when a woman might not have the courage to speak out," he now suggested, "but she can still be a good example of a Christian by the clothes she wears and the way she does her hair." Recognizing her mood, Mr. Benton settled back in his chair and said with a smile, "If you girls think you have problems with your clothes, let me tell you what happened to me when I was a boy!
"We were very poor. One day my father bought me a pair of yellow high-button shoes. It was obvious they were girls' shoes, but he wouldn't admit it. I remember him saying, Now Peter, I want you to wear these shoes. We can't afford to buy another pair for you."'
"Did you have to wear them, Dad?" Kara asked, finding it hard to believe.
"Yes!" he answered, breaking into a grin. "One night after I had worn them for some weeks, I took them off and set them by the fire. When my father saw the shoes sitting there, he thought they should be put away. And so, forgetting they were mine, he turned to your Aunt Betty and said, 'Betty, put your shoes away."'
The girls laughed along with him. "That finished it for me," he continued. "If even your grandpa thought they were Betty's shoes, there was no use pretending that I was fooling any of the boys at school. A few days later I walked through the marsh with them on and completely ruined them. Grandpa must have understood, because he didn't punish me that time. And girls, believe me, I got plenty of spankings. I got spanked when I was naughty, and I got spanked when I felt I did not deserve it. Sometimes my sisters would put the blame on me for things they were responsible for. It wasn't easy having four sisters," he remarked.
The girls wanted to hear more stories. Mr. Benton, always a ready storyteller, leaned back in his chair, his mind traveling through the past years. "Did I ever tell you about how I derailed the streetcar?" he asked.
Mrs. Benton sighed, "Oh Peter, I've heard it so many times. I'm sure the girls have, too."
They couldn't remember, however, so he began: "When I was about twelve years old, I was fascinated with the streetcars that ran in front of our house. My father was away much of the time, preaching, and your poor grandma was left to carry the burden of managing us children. We were pretty unruly at times, and having no man in the house, I tended to be off with my boyfriends whenever possible.
"The kind of mischief we got involved in during those days wasn't the bad things some boys do now. We didn't get mixed-up with drugs, or steal, or smoke. It was what a lot of you would consider just good, clean fun; but it was hard on your grandma, and I'm sure many times it wasn't pleasing to the Lord. I'm sorry for a lot of those things now as I look back."
Jennie tried to visualize her father as a small boy growing up in that home. Sometimes she could see the way he must have been, with his inherited sense of humor and ready laughter.
"There was one time when Grandma caught me packing my suitcase. I was going to run away from home," he remembered. "I missed not having a father around, so I thought the best thing for me to do would be to just pack up and leave. Your grandmother found me in the middle of it! Instead of scolding me, she just said, 'Peter, would you like me to help you pack?"' He smiled at his daughters. "Of course that took all the pleasure out of it and I quickly unpacked, thankful inside to have such a wise and loving mother.
"But this other time I started to tell you about was a little different. I decided one day I would derail the streetcar, imagining how much fun it would be to see it run off the tracks. I could envision all the excitement and everyone standing around wondering how such a thing could have happened. But when that car came down the tracks and actually derailed and all the people gathered 'round, I got frightened and disappeared. It occurred to me then that if anyone started looking for the culprit, they might realize that I was the guilty one, so I just hid far away.
"That night when I returned home, your grandma said to me, 'Peter, did you do that to the streetcar?' She knew by my face that I was the guilty one. Grandma figured out that any other time I would have been the first one there to enjoy all the excitement. She went to the authorities and reported me, her own son!"
He looked solemnly at Lisa. "Lisa," he said, "do you think I ever did something like that again?"
Spring was emerging across the land once more with a freshness and beauty unique to New England.
It seemed that overnight the tall, dark, leafless trees were filling with a soft puff of green. A symphony of birds could be heard returning from their winter habitat. Strolling leisurely down the street, Jennie noticed brightly colored crocuses popping through the soil. Soon the dogwoods would be blooming. Their lovely, delicate, pink and white blossoms made them her favorite tree.
She raised her face to the blue, cloudless sky, the song of birds filling the air about her. Her favorite time of year lay ahead-several months of warm weather with the privilege of nearly "living" outdoors. And maybe this summer, Stephen would take them all to the ocean. Her father had never let them go that far alone, but things were different with a young man to accompany them! This summer just might be the best of all her growing-up years, after all!
Jennie's first spring project was making a nature garden at the back of the house. She had wanted to do this for a long time. Now, with the woods full of violets and ferns, her opportunity had arrived.
Last fall she carefully planted tulip and hyacinth bulbs. To her delight, a few weeks ago they worked their way up through the soil.
Early one morning she walked to the thicket behind the meeting room and gathered fresh wild violets and forget-me-nots. They grew in profusion there. Lisa came with her, carrying a pretty wicker basket on her arm.
Muffin, her little dog, was racing back and forth through the woods, trying to chase a squirrel up a tree. She called to him every few minutes, keeping him close by. As she dug each delicate plant carefully, she lifted it, firming up the loose dirt around it and placed it in Lisa's basket. The small girl looked pretty as a picture, skipping down the street with the basket of flowers over her arm. One of the neighbors stopped and commented, taking an interest in Jennie's garden.
For two days she worked on the project: dragging parts of fallen logs from the woods and placing them around the border of flower beds, troweling up the soil around her bright, exquisite tulips, and transplanting ferns.
To complete it, she made a colorful carpet around the area in purple violets and blue forget-me-nots. Discovering some old bricks down the way, she and Kara brought them home in a wheelbarrow, with the intention of making a small path through the center of the garden. Maybe there would be a bit of charm in Jaffrey after all!
Stephen usually spent Saturday with his aunt and uncle, and now as she passed the Marshall home, Charlie, his cocker, ran out to meet her, following Muffin down the street. The creaky wheelbarrow added to the excitement. Stephen finally had to call Charlie back, as Jennie pushed her heavy load the last few feet to the Benton home.
That afternoon Jennie could not resist admiring her efforts from upstairs. She put down her dust rag and stood daydreaming out the window, admittedly a bit proud over her accomplishment. How pretty the flowers looked far below, scattered among the ferns and the brick work she and Kara had designed. At first she did not notice Stephen standing there in the shade of the large trees, also admiring her garden. His hands were thrust into his pockets, his eyes intent on the pattern of the garden, taking it all in. It reminded her of the morning after he first arrived in Jaffrey, when she had accidently looked down from Kara's window and saw him scanning the garden.
She was excited that he, too, enjoyed gardening. His mother was delighted with the charming arrangements he was making for her this springtime. Going deep into the woods further down by the lake, he gathered moist moss and formed hanging baskets from it, using the moss as a lining, then filling the delicate baskets with colorful begonias. She knew, even now, that her attempts at gardening did not begin to compare with his. Still, as she walked away from the window, a contented smile crossed her face. Stephen was obviously delighted with her garden!
In the last bit of falling light that evening, Jennie returned to her garden, pulling a few weeds she hadn't noticed before and straightening the bricks here and there. She turned, noticing out of the corner of her eye with surprise that Stephen was standing there, holding something in his arms. It was a large pot filled with a lavender-colored wild geranium. Holding it out to her with his warm smile, he exclaimed, "For your garden!"
She was overwhelmed at the thoughtfulness of his gift. As they stood in the darkness talking, he told her how he had driven far out into the woods to a place where he knew these flowers grew, and found several for his mother. But this one he saved for her.
Spring was such a special time. One evening Jennie walked across town with her father to say good-bye to Billy, a Christian boy Mr. Benton was befriending. Billy's father was a preacher. Soon the family would be moving to another area. In the past, many opportunities had arisen to share with Billy, in an effort to draw the lonely twelve-year-old out. Now Billy wanted Mr. Benton to come for one last visit.
Together, Jennie and her father walked to the edge of town, cutting through the back streets until they came to the old home. As they climbed the steps to the back porch covered with tangled vines, Billy stepped out to meet them. His usual bright smile was replaced with a look of sadness.
"I so wanted you to meet my parents," he commented dismally, "but they're gone." He sighed, "They're always gone."
It appeared to Jennie that he was fighting back tears as he led the two of them into the large unlighted kitchen, now utterly deserted. His big blue eyes met Mr. Benton's as the older man put a hand on his shoulder. "I know it's important for my parents to do things for the Lord. I'm sure that's how it's meant to be. But shouldn't they have time for me, too?" He swallowed hard, trying to be brave.
Later, as they walked toward home, Mr. Benton was in a somber mood. "You know, Jennie, it doesn't just happen to preachers, but a lot of people are like this. They see how important it is to use their time for the Lord, but unfortunately their children are left out. It is wonderful to include our children as we seek to serve the Lord. The love we give them is one of the greatest privileges a parent has." He smiled down at Jennie. She walked contentedly beside him, thankful to the Lord for the loving father He had given her!
One Saturday, Stephen suggested the five of them take a drive into Vermont. Being the end of May, the weather was perfect.
Jennie's puppy Muffin, which was really no longer a puppy, and Stephen's cocker Charlie, came along, both of them sitting at the open window, their soft fur blowing in the breeze. They happily anticipated the coming summer as they headed down the road toward Weston.
Stephen wondered if some warm day Jennie might like to bicycle with him to the lake and do some sketching. Even though he was by far the better artist, Jennie had just enough ability to work along with him. Several winter evenings they had done this, comparing ideas as they worked by the warm fire.
On this bright May afternoon she detected no change in Stephen as they all roamed through the country shops in Weston. She admitted to herself that with Stephen and Julia along, she could almost feel drawn to the simple, uncomplicated way of life in New England. She knew that back home in San Francisco her friends would probably laugh and think it rather boring to be browsing through a bookstore, munching on a treat from the old bakery, or walking along Main Street and actually enjoying it!
She smiled to herself at the big sign, "Main Street". It seemed there was one in each town in the countryside. Main Street in Weston, Vermont, beckoned to them with its many interesting shops. One in particular, with an ice cream cone painted on the window, especially appealed to them. Stephen led the way and soon Lisa was licking her favorite, chocolate-mint, while he handed cones around to the others. The girls were content to wander through the stores while Jennie and Stephen hurried down the street to a specialty shop where he needed to make a purchase.
Main Street curved where the row of shops ended, rising over a knoll where several homes were nestled under tall shade trees. Typical of a small town, one place even housed a horse and a flock of chickens behind its sturdy fence.
As they continued walking over the knoll Jennie was intrigued by a quaint, cream-colored cottage with a wide porch. Sitting there on a swing, an old, white-haired lady watched them as they climbed the grassy knoll. Apparently she ran the small store inside, with many of her "wares" displayed in the window. Rocking back and forth in the falling dusk of early spring, she eyed them with interest as they came toward her.
Stephen felt a strong compulsion within him to step onto the porch and give the lady a gospel tract, but instead he turned to Jennie and suggested, "Let's wait until we come back. There's probably some item under a dollar in there I could take home to Mother. I'd rather hurry on first to the store, stopping here on our way back."
Jennie knew that Stephen was basically shy about handing out tracts, but she had heard him speak faithfully under favorable circumstances.
She eased her conscience, reasonably certain they would stop and have a brief chat with the woman later. Pulling her sweater about her shoulders in the slight chill of early evening she followed Stephen. And then it happened!
His expression remained unchanged as he turned to her. "Jennie, my parents have agreed to let me go to Oregon for most of the summer. I can't wait to go back and do more mountain climbing. This year I hope to tackle rock climbing, not just backpacking!"
His face was glowing. There was silence. One sentence dissolved her entire summer, erased all her dreams. So, he was choosing to leave! He just wasn't looking forward to the long summer, like she had been.
Entering the specialty shop, Stephen went to the counter and spoke with the owner. Jennie stood back, watching him. His solid build, his gentleness, his easy way with strangers were now all so familiar to her. He was adventuresome, filled with a desire to get away and explore. She knew he would never stop exploring, learning, trying to climb to new heights. He looked back at her for a moment and flashed that winning smile of his, then turned to continue his conversation with the shop owner.
Her father once said that Stephen's special qualities could be mightily used of God if he would truly give his life over to Him. Peter Benton loved Stephen and had already been able to have some good talks with him.
As they walked back toward the knoll and Main Street where the other girls waited, she wondered if after making new friends and being where a larger group was gathered, he would ever be content to return to Jaffrey.
They approached the rise once again where the old woman had been sitting. Jennie had forgotten all about the tract. In fact, she had lost heart for doing much of anything. With both a sense of loss and a sense of relief she noted that the woman was now inside, her "open" sign gone. Stephen wouldn't be able to give her the tract after all.
A swirl of smoke was rising from the chimney, from the fire the old lady had no doubt just lit inside. The opportunity to speak with her would never return.
It passeth knowledge! That dear love of Thine,
My Jesus! Savior! Yet this soul of mine
Would of Thy love, in all its breath and length,
Its height, and depth, and everlasting strength,
Know more and more.
It passeth praises! That deat Love of Thine,
My Jesus! Savior! Yet this heart of mine
Would sing a love so rich?so full?so free,
Which brought a tebel sinner, such as me,
Nigh unto God.
But the’ I cannot tell or sing or know
The fullness of Thy love, while here below,
My empty vessel I may freely bring?
Oh Thou, Who art of Love the living spring,
My vessel fill.
As Jennie stood watching Stephen's plane fly off into the night, she felt terribly downcast. Every victory of the past months seemed lost in the face of this empty moment. Life would be different. She just knew it had to be different with Stephen gone. She never appreciated until now how much of her acceptance of Jaffrey was due to his presence.
She marveled that she could so vividly recall each detail of the past months. It was like a huge panorama slowly passing by her. Now it was the present that bothered her. She was already thinking of Stephen in relation to the many young people he would be with, the mountain climbing, and other activities.
Would he be thinking of her as she stayed behind in Jaffrey, in the same old rut she was in before he came to the village?
Back in her room, the sleep she had been fighting finally overcame her.
When she wakened in the morning, there was no ready victory, but an even deeper depression settled over her. She was feeling quite sorry for herself.
Should she visit Aunt Sarah? Reluctantly, Jennie could at last admit that her attitude toward Mrs. Adams was changing. She no longer regarded her as an old person who couldn't possibly understand her needs, but thought of her now as a very real friend in whom she could confide.
Aunt Sarah was so solid, whereas Jennie felt her emotions were like a ye-ye. Yes, she must go to see Aunt Sarah. She could not conceal things from her anyway.
Later, as she rang the bell, the door opened promptly and the Adams, with their usual warm welcome, ushered her inside. Mr. Adams hurried into the kitchen to set out a plate of pastries, while Jennie told of her bitter disappointment. The entire summer was ruined, lost. Jennie was sitting slumped in a chair, completely absorbed with her own problems.
Mr. Adams smiled at Jennie with a twinkle in his eye, as he set down the pastries. "How hard it seems for you young girls," he said, surprising her with his understanding of the situation.
"After all," Jennie thought, "it must seem rather unimportant to an older man!"
Aunt Sarah looked at her with a questioning look in her dark eyes, "Jennie, would you truly want Stephen if the Lord didn't want you to have him?"
Jennie was unable to answer. She wasn't completely sure, deep down inside. There was a struggle because of her deep desire to want... really want God to work His will in her life. She felt the secret nagging that perhaps His will might be different from hers after all. Everything could be so simple if she would just yield herself to Him....
Jennie was lost in her thoughts when Mr. Adams suggested they move in by the small fire he had built for them. A soft summer rain was falling and it felt a bit chilly. "Sit down, Jennie," he said with a smile, pulling a chair close to the fire for her. Both of the Adams continually made her feel so welcome. She was glad there was a place she could go to with people she could confide in when she didn't feel like telling her parents all that was on her mind.
Mr. Adams excused himself and disappeared to his workshop in the basement. Reaching for her Bible which was always close at hand, Aunt Sarah looked at Jennie with her dark eyes. "As a Christian," she said, "you have every reason to be happy at all times. That is the way it should be. But I know it isn't that way for you and it isn't that way for me, even though I'm years and years older than you are. We're all weak creatures. But we shouldn't ever be cast down or in despair, and we won't be, according to the measure in which we learn to fully trust the Lord, to truly believe that He is working for our good." She smiled lovingly at Jennie. "Do you realize what that means, Jennie? The Lord has ordered something hard for you in His love, knowing it is best for you."
Jennie thought again of the verse she enjoyed in the quiet of her room, "To know the love of Christ."
She knew and understood very little of that love.
Aunt Sarah rose to add another stick to the fire, then sat down at the far end of the sofa. "Someday, Jennie," she continued, "perhaps sooner than you think, someone will need comfort, probably for a far different reason than you are needing it today. The things you learn through this experience will make you a richer person inside, strengthened in the Lord to be able to help others. That is just one reason the Lord sends us trials. In a way its like climbing. As we climb upward a step or two, we may bring a weaker brother or sister along through the comfort we have received from the Lord. If life were just full of fun and good times, then we would remain weak. We wouldn't grow in our Christian life."
She turned to Jennie again with a twinkle in her eye, "I have a feeling that you may be surprised at what this summer is going to bring. It may be far better than you think!"
Aunt Sarah was right. Maybe she had an inkling of what was coming. Jennie couldn't be certain, and she didn't feel free to ask her. But shortly after Stephen's departure, a letter came from her father's sister, telling them that her son Alec might come and settle down nearby for a year or so. He knew their home was a place where he could come and go as he pleased. But he preferred something simple for himself.
Jennie had never met this cousin, so she spent some days wondering just what kind of an addition he would be to their lives and to the gathering. He was older-twenty-six, and a bachelor. At eighteen, that seemed awfully old to her. He probably wouldn't even act like a young person. Most of the fellows his age were already married and had a couple of children. Why hadn't he married? She pondered many questions over in her mind and looked for his arrival with mixed emotions.
Alec was to arrive in two weeks. It was decided that he would live in the countryside a few miles down the way, in a deserted barn. The owner had converted a portion of the barn into living quarters.
It stood in a field of yellowing grasses, square, stolid and empty. Jennie almost fell inside, the first time she pushed the heavy door open and found herself standing in an immense hallway. It seemed to suggest real possibilities as she and her father looked about the empty hallway and followed the creaking steps to the upper level. Shafts of sunlight filled the large central area with its two enormous rooms. Anything could be done with those rooms!
When they got to the small apartment it appeared rather hopeless-looking. But having been a young man once himself, Peter Benton felt assured that Alec could make a home out of the place. He and Jennie walked back and forth through the rooms. Jennie liked the view from the windows which formed a sort of fanlight over the large doors, looking out on the farms nearby. From the top of the stairs, she could see clearly through the high window. It would be a definite challenge to make this place comfortable.
Alec came driving up on the appointed day, his car piled high with his belongings. He could hardly see out the back window as he drove along and his trunk was completely full, too!
Seated at the Benton supper table that night on the screened-in porch, he was enjoying his hearty welcome to their home. "Hey, Cuz, pass me some more of that roast beef, would ya please?" He looked at Kara with a big grin, as Jennie studied her cousin.
He looked like pictures of his father, tall and lean with strength of character in his face, a long nose and a cleft in his chin. His mop of dark hair was combed down over his forehead, but kept trimmed neatly at the back. He was thin in a way, but had strong, muscular arms and an attitude of expectation that said he could meet whatever difficulties came his way.
But what Jennie appreciated most about Alec was his simplicity. He was just what he was. He didn't put on airs. She knew they were going to like him a lot!
As the summer days passed, Alec came often to the Benton home. Early one morning, Jennie was sitting in the wicker rocker, watching a few cars going by on their way to work and thinking about his visit the evening before. Muffin was stretching himself in the sun on the long porch. The rays of morning sunlight were casting shadows across the old boards, forming shadows from the trees as they swayed in the summer wind. Bouquets of flowers spilled out of the window boxes. It was such a treat to be free from school, to have all these summer days stretching before her. Before she knew it, her thoughts turned to Stephen. Where was he? What was he doing now? There had been no word from him. She missed him, yet someone had come along to fill the summer days, as Aunt Sarah had predicted. Alec certainly brought with him a definite blessing.
He was not only her cousin, but he was becoming her friend. Just as it had been with her cousin Mark up in New York, there was a freedom to talk and share, without any concern that the other party would take some romantic implication from it all. That was the great thing about cousins. In fact, it was almost like having a brother!
Alec's arrival was doing a lot for Kara, too. At fifteen, she was just beginning to grow into a young lady. She missed her friends back home. At times Kara felt that her sister was getting in on all the special friendships. Now Kara was taking a liking to Alec, and he enjoyed teasing her. The two of them shared a fondness for each other. He was the big brother Kara always wanted.
Alec hinted to Jennie that there once had been a special girl in his life. Breaking off the friendship had been a traumatic experience to him. Just the night before, sitting out on the porch sharing, he had said with solemnity as he remembered, "But you know, a few verses came to me in such a stabilizing way, I could picture the Lord taking me in His arms and saying, 'You're still special to Me."' Alec went on to say that it was one of those unique times in his life when he felt the Lord was beside him, showing Himself to His poor, wandering lamb.
Alec continued to explain by relating a story to Jennie. "A speaker once told the story of an experience he had with his small son. Like the other boys his age, the little fellow wanted a train set. They passed one in a store window and the youthful expectation of owning such a set started him begging. His father said, 'No!', not 'Maybe sometime in the future', and not 'Maybe another kind of set'?just 'No'. It was hard for the young boy to accept, but his elation knew no bounds when on his next birthday the gift he received was a train set far bigger and better than the one he so wanted! The speaker likened this to the Lord's ways with us in our lives."
Jennie could see that, having found it difficult to accept his heartache, Alec had taken the story as comfort for himself. He could be assured that in His own time the Lord would send the right girl.
Alec recalled one evening back home when he and a friend had been talking about this. The friend said to Alec, "'But what if the Lord sent someone into your path that you did not love enough to marry, yet circumstances were leading you to feel perhaps it was the Lord's will that you marry her?'
"I thought of how the Church was given to Christ. We were not something to be desired, yet He loved us and died for us and redeemed us." Alec suggested if such a predicament came into his life, he would just have to leave it with the Lord. "I'm willing to change," he said, "willing to wait and see?to follow where He leads. I'm in no hurry."
Jennie felt a bit ashamed. She knew that if she were in a similar situation, up until now at least, she would have said "no". How wonderful to be sensitive to the Lord's will like Alec, to be willing to change and not close one's heart against what might be the Lord's will!
Jennie pulled herself out of her own thoughts as Alec reached for his Bible. He turned to Gen. 24 where the servant chose a wife for Isaac. Starting with verse 63, he read: "And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming." He went on to verse 66, "And the servant told Isaac all things that he had done. And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her."
Alec reflected, "I take it that the servant was a type of the Holy Spirit leading. He continued, thoughtfully. "One day an older friend was talking with me about this and he said, 'Have you ever thought that you owe it to your wife to love her as she would desire to be loved? Not to marry someone you can't love?' How important it is to wait on the Lord until you are clear," Alec concluded.
Leaving the warmth of the Benton household and starting off into the night toward his lonely old barn, Alec called over his shoulder, "Love ya, Cuz!"
Jennie stood deep in thought as he disappeared in the darkness. Surely someday the Lord would send him the right one. And could she apply the lessons of tonight to herself? Could she learn to accept the Lord's will in her life-concerning Stephen?
The summer was passing quickly. During the next weeks more company arrived from the West. This meant a lot of hard work, but these were times of refreshing. Jennie found that she was beginning to feel a happiness within her that replaced the old resentment, a sense of having done something worthwhile for the Lord. She began to see housework as a service for Him, and not as the drudgery she once felt it to be.
Alec continued to be a frequent visitor and more and more like one of the family. Mrs. Benton said one evening at the dinner table that she never realized until now what she missed in not having a son. She was growing fond of Alec and hoped that he would stay in Jaffrey indefinitely. What once seemed like a lost summer, was turning into a full and happy one.
Alec enjoyed bicycle riding as much as his cousins did. He knew how to fix all the broken parts on their bicycles, so often he was busy out in the driveway with his tools, repairing the bikes. Packing a lunch, they would drive down to the lake-shore. They often sat chatting, never seeming to run out of conversation. Alec was always coming up with something surprising.
One pleasant afternoon, the three of them sat down by the lake while they watched the ducks swimming slowly back and forth, tossing them bits of the crumbs from their sandwiches. Alec told them a touching story about his mother. He looked sad as he expressed the overwhelming thoughts of his heart.
"It was a humiliating thing to me, girls," he began. "My mother never complains, you know. She just goes on with the hard work and pressures that come and go in her life. I take her for granted. But one day I opened the upstairs door to the basement and there on the top step sat my mother, silent... but weeping. Do you know what something like that does to a fellow?" He shook his head, still unable to believe that he could have been so calloused to his mother's needs.
"Seeing Mother in distress made me think about another thing in connection with that. It concerns widows." Alec often jumped swiftly from one subject to another, leaving Jennie to catch up with his train of thought. He leaned against the trunk of a tree, looking out over the calm lake, the ducks swimming back and forth past them.
"You know, Kara, we all weep at a graveside, don't we? It seems only proper that we do so there. But then afterward we come back to normal living, back to the gathering where we all put on our smiles. The widow puts on her smile and no one ever knows the crying that goes on at home and in the heart."
He paused as Jennie related how more than once she had seen a widow out West trying to hide her tears in the privacy of one of the back rooms at meeting. Alec looked down and blinked away tears from his own eyes.
Jennie sat pondering the deep thoughts and extraordinary perception Alec seemed to have. Family love was strong within his heart. But he possessed something even deeper. She saw in him a closeness to the Lord almost akin to the trust of a small child in its parent. "We should all have trust like that," she thought to herself.
It was evening and the house was silent. Jennie sat alone in the living room, trying to finish a piece of handwork she was making for a gift. She became restless, thinking of Stephen. She rose from her chair and stood a long while at the window, looking out. She wondered where he was, what he was doing, whether he was safe. She missed him.
Jennie thought of the impact Alec's coming had made on her own heart. How she wished Stephen could be here and become a friend to Alec as well. It had taken someone a little older coming to Jaffrey and taking a strong stand for the truth, to encourage them. Hearing of his experiences, of his simple trust in the Lord, had strengthened both Jennie and Kara's faith. She had never been aware before what a positive influence one person could have upon another.
Stephen Marshall looked down at his watch. It was nearing five o'clock and he had just two days left to be in the mountains. Then he would have to return to Jaffrey for the few remaining weeks of summer. How swiftly this brief vacation had gone. It seemed like only yesterday he had arrived, and already it was nearing time to pack up and return to New England. He had absolutely no desire to return.
Looking up at those mountains he felt complete fulfillment in the anticipation of the challenge before him. More than anything else, this was what he liked to do. This was what he had dreamed of for so long, the high point of his trip. He couldn't bear to even think of the busy school months ahead when he would be caught up again in his studies. He preferred the aloneness, the closeness to nature he found in the mountains. Wanting to experience a bit of rock climbing, it had been necessary to take one of the boys from the West Coast with him these last few days. His friend was a quiet sort and the two of them blended together harmoniously.
His knapsack was on his back with food, water, a first aid kit, and climbing gear?carabiners, pitons, and chocks attached to plastic slings. Over his shoulders hung his new Swiss climbing rope. It set him back more than $100, but he wanted the best in the event he slipped. Then the rope would be the only thing keeping him on the rock wall.
As the fellows started out, Stephen changed to his climbing shoes with soft rubber soles which would cling and mold to the rock niches. He had saved for this luxury for a long while.
Stephen took the lead, while his friend followed. Climbing this mountain tested his endurance to the limit. It was a great relief when they reached the summit. With a sense of total accomplishment, he stood on this needle-point of rock. Yet, after he was down, Stephen found that he was already beginning to dream of tackling an even tougher climb. He wasn't satisfied with his latest accomplishment, but wanted to push on to an even higher level.
As he sat resting at the foot of the mountain, he recalled that his father once warned him that a fellow could get so caught up in mountain climbing to the point where it excluded all else. It was good advice. He felt the pull to go on, and on, and on, recognizing that this was what his father had warned against.
He lifted the knapsack from his back and thought with pleasure how this summer had been his own. After next year, he just might move away from Jaffrey. Then he wouldn't be tied to those soft feelings that were such a part of him. Maybe they shouldn't be part of a man.
And yet, he never would stop loving his family. He was bound by that love and it would follow him as long as he lived. He knew deep down inside, as much as he wanted to be free, to take off into the unknown, he would always be bound by the responsibilities he felt toward those he loved.
He enjoyed moments like this when he sat in the silence of the forest, watching a chipmunk scamper across the ground with a bit of food in its mouth, then scurry quickly up the thick bark of a nearby tree trunk. He watched it reach its perch on one of the branches, then sit there staring back at him. This, to Stephen, was freedom.
As long as he had his mountains, enough food to satisfy his hunger, a pad and pencil for sketching?he could go on living like this indefinitely.
By contrast, he well knew the hot, muggy summer would still be miserable in New England. He could hardly be himself there in Jaffrey.
Well, he would return, spend at least another year there in school, then consider moving on. He would return to the way of life in Jaffrey, so precise, so planned. If Jennie and Kara and Julia could manage, he would manage, too.
Stephen's return home was followed by a sadness he did not anticipate during his absence. His beloved cocker spaniel Charlie dashed out into the street and was killed by a passing car. The family did not tell Stephen until his return. He was so disturbed, he went to bed without eating supper, not wanting to talk to anyone.
Mrs. Benton received a phone call from Stephen's mother the next day. "I can only guess how he felt during the night," she said sorrowfully. "When I saw him this morning, his eyes were swollen and red. He loved that dog a great deal."
Jennie wondered now just how she would greet Stephen. She knew exactly how she would be feeling if Muffin had been run over. She was certain that Stephen didn't want to talk about Charlie. He'd just want to be left alone.
That evening Ruth Marshall called Jennie to ask if she would like to come over and see the drawing Stephen left there a short while before. She led her down to the basement, to the spare room that belonged to Stephen whenever he stayed with them. The room was empty, but on the door was pinned a drawing?a likeness so real of Charlie, it could have been a photograph. Mrs. Marshall explained that Stephen spent the entire day doing the drawing, trying to overcome his grief. He had asked if he might keep it at their house.
When Jennie did see Stephen the next evening outside the meeting room, she knew better than to mention Charlie. But she was confident Stephen knew and understood how badly she felt for him. As she saw him for the first time after all those weeks, he appeared to have changed. Was he really taller? His face was deeply tanned and she sensed a new independence about him. It was almost as if he had grown from a boy to a man in those few weeks. Would things ever be quite the same between them again?
Summer was almost over. For Stephen it had passed too quickly; perfectly, with the exception of the loss of his dog. But for Jennie, in spite of Alec's companionship, the summer had stretched into a lingering time of waiting for Stephen to return. He was different, and now the question would be whether that difference would lessen the closeness that had grown between them before he left. That carefree, happy day in Weston, Vermont, seemed almost a lifetime ago.
August drew to a close, then September. October began with the last warm days of summer becoming slowly tinged with a bit of crispness. The Benton announced they were going to have an apple-cider press.
Stephen and Alec spent a few evenings in Alec's old pick-up truck, scouring the neighborhood for apples going to waste. There were many deserted orchards, as well as a few neighbors in the area who were glad to have the boys load-up their apples, rather than letting them rot. The fellows promised a jug of fresh cider to each family, in appreciation.
Mrs. Benton remarked teasingly that she could see why so many apples had been donated. For the most part, they were in pretty sad shape, yet ideal for cider. The back yard was full of crisp, bright leaves which rustled beneath their feet as they made a path to the cider press. Stephen offered to do the squeezing, while Alec ran back and forth to the Benton shed, collecting good-sized buckets and utensils for the job. Alec reached behind him and grabbed an apple, tossing it to Kara as he burst into a grin.
Jennie stood watching them, cherishing these last hours before the pressure of studies and the cold of winter would bring an end to the carefree days. She saw Stephen putting all his strength into cranking, his strong arms pressing the apples through as he turned the heavy wheel; Alec dashing back and forth, assigning various jobs to the girls; her father taking on the task of pouring the fresh cider carefully into the narrow-topped jugs. She ran into the house for her camera, wanting to capture each of these moments for her scrapbook.
Before long there were a surprising number of jugs sitting in a row on the picnic table. Jennie's mother was in the house getting ready for supper, as one by one the older couples arrived to join the potluck. They ate out under the trees before an early darkness fell. As evening settled around them and the chill increased, Mr. Benton built a bonfire. They all gathered round to roast marshmallows and wieners on the long sticks Alec supplied.
Later that evening Alec arranged a hayride for everybody, young and old alike. They all gathered at the old barn, where Alec hooked a very old and creaky wagon onto the tractor. "All aboard!" he called, making a last minute check on everything. Pulling off into the night under the bright moonlight, they circled the fields of ripened crops, passing beneath the trees silhouetted against the night sky. The older folks enjoyed the ride every bit as much as the younger ones.
A week later, Stephen, Jennie, Kara and Julia drove down to the ocean. It was one of those crisp, bright October days when summer seems to have returned for a few hours. The golden sun of Indian Summer cast its rays across the land. It was easy to spot a deserted beach where they could walk for miles in the bright sunlight, the waves crashing against the shore. Jennie felt it was even more beautiful than the Pacific Ocean.
Standing on the bluff, the close-knit group looked down over the beach and ocean below, the sand dunes around them and the snow fences making a pattern of sunlight and shadow along the hillside behind them. Far off in the distance, gray, weathered cottages with white trim stood facing the sparkling blue waters. They walked down the steep, wooden stairway to the ocean below. Jennie was intrigued by the charm of walking past sand dunes and snow fences above; then coming to this winding stairway that descended to the ocean itself. For miles the sand stretched ahead of them, reaching to the horizon, it seemed.
As they reached the shore Stephen lagged behind them, stooping down now and then to collect another interesting shell. At last the girls stopped by the water's edge and stretched out on the warm sand, the breakers rolling in at their feet. Above, they watched fluffy white clouds cross a blue sky. What a perfect day! In the distance, a boat could be detected, the rays of sun making it sparkle like a tiny light across the water. In unison they began to sing: "What a friend we have in Jesus All our sins and griefs to bear What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer."
Their voices rose with intensity as they began another chorus: "In My Father's house are many mansions If it were not so, I would have told you In My Father's house are many mansions I go to prepare a place for you."
Stephen came toward them in his slow, easy, relaxed manner, his hands overflowing with shells. There were dozens of them tossed up on the damp sand. Some were a brilliant gold, others a soft orange, almost coral. He sat down, dumping a handful of the bright ones beside Jennie. Then he pulled from his pocket one long, thin, white shell with a delicate coral lining.
"Would you like to add it to the collection you have at home?" he asked. She took it in her hands, awed by the exquisite design.
The girls began unpacking the lunch: carefully packaged sandwiches, a bag of potato chips, a bowl of fruit salad and a large watermelon. Kara passed around the paper plates and silverware. How hungry the salt air made them!
Stephen picked up the jug of water and poured Jennie a cup, then reached for more cups and filled each, passing them around the small circle. Much of the summer had been lost, but this day almost made up for it.
Soon the chill would be too great to eat out on the screened porch. The Benton were going to continue doing so, though, just as long as practical.
They pulled their chairs up to the table as the chimes rang out, six long peals echoing through the soft autumn air. Alec was eating with them, telling them a story about some tractor trouble he once experienced back home on the farm.
"You know," he began in his cheerful voice, "I believe the Lord plans every detail in our lives. I don't think things happen by accident at all. One day I was working out in the field with Dad's tractor and some small troubles began to develop. Of course, I always feel exasperated to have to come in from the field and start repairing things, but I thought I'd better get it over with. I did the repairs back at the shop and was starting to leave when a hydraulic hose on the disc burst, sending fluid sky-high. Had it broken on the road or in the field, it would have been a major problem for me. But instead it happened right in the yard."
It was a small incident, but typical of the many lessons Alec was passing on to the family these days. It set them all to thinking of the many ways in which the Lord went before them.
Jennie's father leaned back in his chair and began reminiscing. He recalled a business trip he took during World War II when he actually missed three airplanes in a row. "The first of those planes crashed! When I arrived at the airport hoping to make the next flight, the attendant told me I had the choice of two different flights. For no apparent reason I made my decision, then later learned that the other plane?the one I might so easily have taken?had been destroyed in a fatal accident. On the same trip, I waited, stranded in an out-of-the-way town, hoping to get a particular flight. During those war years it was difficult to get a reservation. Because the likelihood of finding available space was so small, the agent suggested I take a train instead. Once again, I learned that the plane I had hoped to get had crashed."
Mr. Benton was resigned that no one would believe him. Nevertheless, it was true. Reflecting on the experience brought a renewed sense of the Lord's love and careful planning in our Christian lives?down to the very last detail. He also felt his story was an example to others who have a fear of flying. "How carefully the Lord preserves His own," he finished.
Mrs. Benton smiled at Alec. "Do you see why I sometimes become anxious when my husband leaves on a trip?" In spite of her own faith in the Lord and her husband's comforting remarks about His care, she could not conceal the anxiety she felt when he left for several weeks at a time. It often seemed that every trip brought some sort of crisis or narrow escape.
Her husband smiled and continued, understanding his wife's thoughts. "Like the time I became a victim of serious food poisoning in Los Angeles," he remarked. "Unable to remain on my feet, I sat down on the curb, wondering if I were about to die. Most of the men who passed by assumed I was a drunken bum sitting there." He looked around at his audience with that characteristic twinkle in his eye. "But one perceptive man noted I was sick, dressed in a business suit, far different from the poor drunkards roaming about the area. He got me into a hotel lobby and called for a doctor without hesitation. No doubt he saved my life."
Peter Benton smiled at them all. "And there was still another time when I was waiting in the same city for a bus to come. Standing alone against the wall of a building, several rough-looking men walked up to me and demanded my wallet. I was surrounded."
Alec thought how it must have looked to those men, seeing Uncle Peter, such a short man, alone on that street corner, obviously nicely dressed, and probably carrying money in his pocket.
"Just as they surrounded me," he continued, "a bus appeared. 'Excuse me, fellows,' I said, 'this is my bus.' Breaking away with a rush, I flagged it down and boarded it, thankful to the Lord for preserving me from those rough characters at just the right moment."
It was too chilly now to eat out on the porch. They had begun the night before and ended up carrying in their dishes and plates of food. It was hard to admit that summer was over, but the changing of the seasons must go on. Tonight they lit candles in the dining room and sat listening to a letter Mr. Benton was reading.
"You just won't believe this," he said with a smile. "I know it seems incredible that anyone else would move to Jaffrey. But someone is coming!"
The new addition, Robert Carter, would be arriving in a few weeks for the winter. "I've known him for many years," Mr. Benton continued. "He's a fine man. Those who know him well have valued his friendship all their lives. This seems to be true of friends he knew as a young man, as well as those he made in later years. What a hard life he's known! The world would say that fate dealt him one terrible blow upon another, but Robert Carter does not believe in fate. He has taken his hardships from the Lord and been thankful for his blessings?a rare spirit!"
"But why would he come to Jaffrey, Dad?" Kara asked. Her father set the letter down. "He writes that he is coming to live with his grandchildren here in town. He spends his summer on his farm where his son and daughter-in-law and their children now live, his winters elsewhere. Aren't you glad he's decided to take his turn here?"
"Tell us more about him," Jennie mused.
"In spite of the fact that his life has been hard, when he smiles there is a merriment in his eyes that suggests all has not been sorrow. The expression of compassion on his face exceeds any I know. That man has lost more than, perhaps, ten average men might lose in a lifetime. Because he has been hurt so often, he usually keeps his own counsel. He doesn't readily share his emotions, yet you can feel love and tenderness beneath his reserve. He has also kept himself from gossiping and is ill-equipped to meddle in other people's affairs. I wish more of us could be that way!"
"Tell us more about him," Jennie asked with anticipation.
Her father thought a moment, then replied, "I'm sure he'll tell us many stories when he comes. But just briefly: he lost his beloved wife many years ago and has gone on alone; his home was burned to the ground; he has known hard times and endured severe illness within his family.
"He calls himself uneducated, and yet I consider him one of the most enlightened men I know in the ways of life and in the school of God. From a natural standpoint, he has been a farmer all his life and is close to the land. He knows every bird, every tree, every flower you might discover."
Jennie sensed in the family a great deal of excitement over his coming, and she knew she was going to like this old gentleman.
Her father continued, "I think you will all love him, as I once learned to, and I look forward to renewing our friendship. We have lost track of one another for many years, but the moment I see him, I know that all the memories will return. It seems strange to me that the Lord is sending him here at this time. It must be part of an overall plan in our lives."
The telephone was ringing. Jennie was writing letters at her pine desk upstairs. She set her pen down and dashed through the hall to her parents' room, which had the closest telephone.
It was Mrs. Marshall. Knowing that Jennie's parents and Lisa were away for a few days on a business trip, she wondered if the two girls would like to join them for dinner. "Mr. Carter will be there," she added, almost as an afterthought.
Jennie was thrilled to have this opportunity to meet him ahead of the family. The moment she entered the Marshall's house and saw him, she knew her father had been right. Mr. Carter was a man whose sorrow and suffering were apparent. Yet, just when this emotion seemed to predominate, he would smile and merriment would fill his eyes. He looked old and very weary, the lines on his face perhaps accentuated by the long, tiring trip to Jaffrey.
Smiling at Jennie, he said kindly, "So you are Jennie. I knew your grandfather well." He spoke with a soft southern accent. "When I was young, their home was my home."
A cozy fire was ablaze in the Marshall living room, taking the nip out of the chilly evening. David Marshall settled down in his comfortable chair, making conversation with his honored guest. Jennie knew she should help Mrs. Marshall in the kitchen, but she let Kara go alone, not wanting to miss a minute of Mr. Carter's interesting discussion. For some reason, she felt like she had known him all her life.
Later, as they lingered around the dinner table in friendly talk, Mr. Carter told his first story. Smiling mischievously at Jennie, he asked, "Would you people like to hear a story about my life on the farm in South Carolina?"
She could tell it was going to be a humorous story, so popped a few nuts in her mouth and settled back in her chair to listen. He was such a kind man, just like her father had described him. When he was serious, he seemed old and tired. But when he chuckled over something, the years just rolled away. Jennie was certain he would be a friend to the young people in Jaffrey. No wonder his grandchildren loved him so!
"Well," he began in his slow, southern accent, "one day my wife asked me to carry a heavy item down to the basement. As I opened the door and started toward the landing, I noticed a saddle there. I picked up the saddle with my free hand. When I picked it up, a snake ran out from under it, slithering down the short remaining stairway into the basement."
Jennie was charmed by the way he talked. He took his time, as if he had all night to finish the story, embellishing it with a bit of laughter and that warm smile.
"Well, now, what's goin' to happen?" he asked. "I thought about that snake coming back upstairs into the house."
David Marshall was chuckling already in anticipation. The happiness of their being together with this new friend filled the room. It was easy to see all of them were thoroughly enjoying the time.
"So I went down and I looked... and I looked!"
"Poisonous?" Mr. Marshall asked, as his guest paused for a moment. Mr. Marshall's voice, by contrast, was crisp and direct.
Catching the thread of his story once more, Mr. Carter answered, "No. A hateful-looking thing, but not poisonous. We had some fireplace wood," he continued, "down by the side of the basement next to the door, so I shut the door and told everybody, `now be sure that door is shut, 'cause we don't want that snake upstairs."'
Mr. Marshall chuckled again, anticipating what was going to happen. "Well," Mr. Carter continued, "a day or two after, I was in a hurry to get something out of the basement... don't know what it was... and I ran down the steps and shoved the door open. When I pushed the door open..."
He stopped in the middle of his story and looked around at them all. His weary eyes were now filled with excitement and laughter.
"About half of that snake... the head part... was inside the fireplace wood! About eighteen inches or more was sticking out!" His enthusiasm spread to his audience.
Unexpectedly he stood up. "Oh boy! Here's where I get him!" he pantomimed, as he pretended to be holding a club in his hand. "Clonk!" He swung the imaginary club toward the floor and burst into hearty laughter.
"Suddenly the head-end of the snake came out quickly and went up my pants leg." Now Mr. Marshall was laughing so hard, the rest could hardly hear what Mr. Carter was saying. At last they caught the words: "And then when I raised my right foot he kept going up my pants leg and that snake, I couldn't budge him, not one inch! I'd step harder on him and try to pull up if I could and get my foot a little more on him, but if I raised it, then he would climb further up my leg."
He looked around at them all, with his hearty grin. "Now what am I going to do?" His soft, gentle laughter filled the room. "I guess by my stepping on him he let loose and then... whang!"
Mr. Carter stood up again and pretended to club the snake with all his massive strength. He was a sturdy man, well-built for the years of heavy farm work. Jennie could imagine the force in those arms as they came down on the snake.
"I got his head and about that time my granddaughter yelled out, 'Grandpa, what are you doing down there?"'
His story finished, he put his head back and laughed. Mrs. Marshall suggested they move into the living room by the fireplace. Jennie was anxious to ask Mr. Carter about the time his house burned down, but she knew there would be many questions to ask him in the coming months, so would let them wait for a time when he was visiting with her parents.
It was Mr. Carter's first Lord's day with the Benton. They knew he would enjoy seeing the back gardens, even in the dead of winter. So before their meal, the family showed him the backyard. He carefully observed each small detail from the brick path of Jennie's garden to the carefully trimmed hedges. It was not hard for him to picture how it would all look in springtime when the tulips began poking their heads through the soil once more. Jennie explained where she had planted everything, describing the bright colors soon to appear when the long winter ended.
They lingered in the garden as he spoke of the farm that would always be home to him. He told them of the blue morning glories that climbed the lamp post each summer and the bright patch of zinnias his daughter-in-law planted near the kitchen window.
The family noted that he was still a handsome man, with his head of snowy-white hair and his expressive brown eyes. Having been a farmer all his life, he was still rugged and strong, with capable big hands and wide shoulders.
Soon they were all sitting at the round table in the dining room.
After dinner they sat in front of the fire and Mr. Carter spoke, "Peter, whenever there was a spare moment in the summer time, and all winter long besides, I was out chopping wood for our many fireplaces." They were remembering the old days on the farm, and Peter's visit there as a young boy.
"What I remember best," Peter Benton recalled, "was that strange bathroom you had upstairs with all the doors in it. Four doors, wasn't it?"
Robert Carter laughed heartily, "Yes, that was some bathroom. And you know, now and then my sister-in-law, who was a bookworm, would take it upon herself to try to store her books in that tub! Of course, we'd have to get them out quickly! She had so many books that when all available space in her bedroom was filled up, she'd try to put a few in the tub?no doubt thinking to make space for them before the day was done. But how many times we'd find them stacked there!"
He sat back in his chair, remembering all those years and recalling how that same sister-in-law had such a love for little children. "She would take them out at night on the lawn and they'd all sit there, looking up at the stars," he explained. "She knew the name of nearly every star that was ever given a name. The children just loved her!"
Someone once told the Benton of their own experience at the Carter farm, commenting, "They just couldn't do enough for us! They were so hospitable and kind." People often came and stayed, sometimes for weeks at a time. Even during the hard depression, their home was a haven to many and a place of blessing through the passing years.
"Your dear parents, Peter," he continued in his southern way, "were so good to me over the years." There was evidence of his great affection for them. "They took me in when I was a young man and gave me a home away from home. And, of course, you know that eventually your mother and my wife became the very best of friends."
"Mr. Carter," Jennie interrupted, "would you mind telling us about the fire?"
He looked at her a long moment, his eyes that had sparkled with happiness the moment before now filled with an overwhelming sorrow. The hurt expressed could almost pierce into a person's heart.
"How long did it take you to get over the fire, Mr. Carter?" queried Jennie.
He looked at her again, unable to comprehend her question. At last he spoke, slowly, as if it had all just happened yesterday. "One never gets over a thing like that, Jennie." He spoke gently, but his voice was firm.
Jennie wondered if she should have asked. She felt a great admiration for this man, but mingled with it was a bit of fear. There was a dignity and reserve about him that made her a bit reluctant to draw closer.
He was thoughtful a moment before he started speaking about the fire. "It was a meeting night," he said quietly. "We had all gone to the reading meeting. As we came home, we saw the flames from up the road. I just knew it was our house on fire." He looked at them again as he remembered. "You can't imagine a moment like that, to come home from the reading meeting and see your house in flames."
"What did you do, Mr. Carter?" Jennie asked with awe.
He smiled gently at her. "What could I do?" he asked seriously. "I ran toward the house, hoping to rescue something from the flames, but it was too late. I got into one room, grabbed a photograph album and some silverware and just as I ran out, the walls collapsed where I had been standing the moment before." He felt deeply thankful simply to have had his life preserved.
Shifting his position by the fire, he began to describe the lovely old home. "The house was constructed entirely of wood," he began. "It was a big, rambling, two-story house. The inside walls were all groove and tongue, and there was no insulation. Being decades old, it burned like kindling."
He paused, "There were some priceless antiques in there, pieces that had been handed down from generation to generation. They were things with many memories attached to them. A lot of people who visited us were fascinated with the age and uniqueness of furnishings from so long ago.
"It was a mercy," he went on, "that no one was in the house that night. No one was harmed or burned. No lives lost." The family was listening, engrossed in the story.
"You see, the old homestead," he explained, "was in the family a long time. The property came into the family just after the Civil War. My father-in-law farmed there many years, then turned the farm over to me.
"The Lord's people were so good to us. There was no insurance to cover the loss. One by one, letters came with checks enclosed, until we received $12,000, which was enough in those days to build a nice little ranch house. My wife was getting older and it was difficult for her to care for the big two-story house. It was hard for her to climb the steps. So in this way the fire may have been a blessing. We built the new, smaller house with all the windows facing in the same direction as before. All that remained of the old house was the foundation and we built on that."
Peter Benton asked, "Did you ever find the cause of the fire?"
Mr. Carter gazed at him for a moment, his eyes troubled. "Yes," he answered, "that was the hard thing about it all. The electric company wired our electricity in a faulty way. It was this that started the fire. Although proven beyond a doubt, they never gave us a penny?not one penny." He was quiet a moment; then remembering, he said with intense feeling, "I don't know what we would have done without the love and care of the Lord's people to us. It was amazing."
Something was added to the two week-night meetings in Jaffrey. Mr. Carter never missed a meeting. As they drove up to the meeting room one evening for prayer meeting, Peter Benton commented, "He's such a bright spot!"
They watched him walk slowly across the snow-covered lawn to the meeting room, his white head bent a little, his Bible carefully tucked under the sleeve of his coat. He waited in the entry hall for them, greeting them warmly. "Why don't you people just call me Uncle Robert," he suggested with a smile. "I'd like it that way."
"How do you like your old barn now, Alec?" It was his Uncle Peter speaking. The family was seated about the dinner table again, a small fire crackling in the living-room fireplace to take the chill off the winter evening. Alec smiled as he reached for another helping of the delicious casserole.
"You know," he said, "not to ignore your question, but I never realized how much work it is for a woman to fix a meal until I began living alone. I really appreciate coming here," he added with his mischievous grin. "I'm beginning to learn what a woman's work is like and I appreciate having a day off. In fact," he continued, grinning at Kara, "I'll even be glad to help Kara with the dishes tonight when we're all finished.
"But to get back to your question, I like it. I like living there by myself. For a few weeks it seemed lonely in the morning, so to break the monotony I'd shout, 'Hey Mom, what's for breakfast?' It made things a little more lively." They all chuckled. "It kind of bothered me," he continued, "for awhile."
"I started to see that I was having to think as the woman of the house would think." Jennie and Lisa laughed at his unique humor. Smiling down at Lisa, he said, "You see, I found that first thing every morning I had to think: 'What can I prepare for my lunch today? What should I take out of the freezer for dinner tonight? What can I fix for breakfast?"'
Then he shook his head as if to dismiss the thought. "It's just something I have to do. It doesn't bother me anymore."
"Alec," questioned Peter Benton, "do you ever feel badly about not being married? I guess that isn't a very fair question, is it, because I can see that you have been able to accept the Lord's will!" The family enjoyed teasing him about this subject, but tonight Mr. Benton was serious.
Alec smiled. "Yes," he answered, "I have. You see, I've just settled in my heart that I'm not going to get married, and then if I do, it will be a nice surprise. You might say I've accepted it.
"One day I told myself," he went on, "that I could either be gloomy and melancholy about this, or I could be happy, seeking to be friendly and helpful to others. So I thought, 'Okay, I'm going to accept it and not struggle. Since I have to live with myself, I'd rather live with myself being kind and cheerful than mean and ugly."'He grinned at them all. There was no one who could express it quite like Alec.
Alec continued, "And then I read a book that helped me, too. It brought out that for Christians to ruin their lives because they aren't married is a terrible waste." Alec reached for the bowl of mashed potatoes, heaping them up again on his plate. Like a typical bachelor, he also took an added helping of roast beef, pouring the tasty gravy generously over everything.
Jennie was amazed. Here was this acceptable, nice-looking young man who could no doubt have chosen from several girls, but the right one just hadn't come along. She sensed how much he wanted a home of his own, a wife and children, yet he was accepting the Lord's will that this might never be for him. Whether it was to be single or married, Jennie felt Alec wanted the Lord's will for his life.
Alec took a few ample bites and then concluded. "If a person finds himself continuing on in a single life, he has two choices. He can either grieve over it, pout, be unhappy, making himself and everyone else miserable, or he can accept it with a sense of fulfillment, seeking to live for the Lord's glory."
After dinner they moved in by the fire, and Peter Benton got out a new puzzle. He really enjoyed puzzles and sometimes found it helped ease conversation, having something to work at as he visited. But, of course, there was no strain with Alec. Nevertheless, he opened the box, dumping the pieces onto the folding table by the fire. As they sat around, turning the pieces over, making a space for the finished picture, Jennie looked at Alec in a quizzical way, asking him, "Alec, could you tell me what a young man looks for in a wife? If you were to make a list, what would be on it?"
Alec paused, thoughtful. "I don't have a 'list', he answered. "I don't really know just how to answer your question. Let me think about it awhile." He was serious as he bent over the puzzle, trying to fit a few of the border pieces together with their straight edges.
Suddenly he looked up, grinning, "I hate it when I shake hands with a girl and bump into all kinds of bracelets."
Jennie laughed. "Oh Alec, that's not what I mean. But I suppose you have a point."
He became serious again. "Sometimes I ask myself, am I the kind of fellow that the kind of girl I'm looking for would be looking for? Maybe that's putting it in a strange way. But you know, it's rather like stepping out of myself and looking at me! Sometimes I think, 'This girl is a godly girl; I had better change something in me if I want her approval."'
Alec had such a sense of humor, he just couldn't keep it down, yet Jennie knew he was serious, too, in what he was saying. He fit another piece of the puzzle in, then added thoughtfully, "The Lord has had a tremendous influence in my life, but He has also used some godly girls in the process. I esteem them and would desire to be accepted in their company.
"I've seen a lot of young men get interested in a girl and take more root in their spiritual lives to try to win her. They begin praying and reading the Word more. Sometimes I feel they are really hoping the Lord will bless them in these efforts and work this thing out for them. It's good to be exercised, but maybe the motive for it isn't right."
He continued, "Rather than think of who might meet my requirements, I would rather be able to fit someone else's requirements. The ideal, I think, would be when two young people, maybe from different corners of the country, are not looking for someone who fits their 'list', but waiting for the Lord to fit them together."
"Would you say that the Lord has the time and place and the person all planned, that it's our responsibility to wait for that?" Peter Benton questioned.
Alec didn't seem to hear him. He was fitting a difficult piece of the puzzle into place. He studied it, looked at it, turned it this way and that, then looked up. "Why, yes," he answered, "that's just it. We don't have to be out running around the country, tearing off to every conference, hoping to find the right person. The Lord can bring them to our doorstep, if that is His will." Smiling, he added, "Of course a conference is a nice place to meet other young people, and I want to be there whenever I can. I think that's important. But I wouldn't go to a conference just in the hopes of finding a girl to marry. How do I know who the right one is?"
Jennie was quiet a long moment. For the first time she was thinking hard about these things. What Alec said made sense. How awful it would be to miss the Lord's will, to marry the wrong one simply because she couldn't wait for His perfect timing. She shuddered at the thought. How humiliating it would be to rush ahead, take the first person that seemed to show an interest in her and then have years of sorrow because she couldn't wait to discern whether or not it was the Lord's will. She was beginning to see that the Lord did have a plan for her, an individual plan that would unfold step by step as she was willing to follow where He led her.
Alec looked into the fire with its glowing flames, deep in thought. He was quiet, then he spoke again, "I think there are three areas where a young person should take his or her place before marriage.
"First, of course, is the step that can only be experienced once as a lost, guilty, hell-deserving sinner where I take my place before a gracious and loving Savior. This will happen only once in a lifetime.
"The next," he continued, "is to take my place at the Lord's table, to remember Him in His death. This should be settled before marriage and basically only happens once, but of course circumstances could change it so this privilege could be lost and later recovered.
"The third," Alec continued, "is really something to do the rest of your life. The challenge of 'finding your place' in the Scriptures can be made interesting by pursuing that path with purpose."
Alec leaned back in his chair. Looking up at the faces watching him, he remarked, "For a man, it would be nice if he started taking the yoke a little bit. He would naturally, then, look for a girl who was an encouragement to him along that line. I believe a man should take root and start acting like a man before he is married. He needs to start carrying a few of the responsibilities and burdens of the gathering; and to start acting like a gentleman at home. If he goes on before he is married without too much care for the assembly, he may marry a girl who won't encourage him to go on in that vein; and if he doesn't act like a man at home around his family, he'll be little different (probably worse) with his wife!
"For a woman," Alec proceeded, "her life really centers around the home. I think this is the biggest challenge of all, to want the family to go on for the Lord. And with a woman, the whole outward adorning, if overdone, is distasteful to me. That's another way she can please the Lord."
Mr. Benton spoke up. "One evening last winter the girls and I were reading concerning that in 1 Peter, Alec. We read the verse that says: 'Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.' “He turned to Alec, waiting for him to speak.
"You know, something else about women comes in here," Alec added, "that my mother taught me by her own example. Actually, it was an example to us all through our lives, to the girls and boys. A lot of parents want their children to be winners, excelling in everything, always coming out ahead. Mother has impressed it upon us that we don't have to be winners. In fact, I would say this has characterized her whole life. She has encouraged us to try to help others, but for us to stay out of the foreground.
"Pride in being a winner is not a deep and lasting happiness," he warned. "There is a tendency to become proud and hard to live with. Mother taught us that the hardest time to help others become a winner is when you don't even have a chance yourself. It's hardest when you've no chance to get in the limelight, and yet you're back there helping others, encouraging them; knowing there's little chance your name will ever be mentioned."
Alec stretched, realizing he had lost his train of thought. "Just to finish this other thought of mine," he said intently, "if the young lady involved has determined to take the three steps I mentioned, she won't be looking around to find someone who is going to fit her 'list'. She's living under the Lord's eye, desiring to live before Him, not worrying about what the boy may be thinking about her, but seeking rather the Lord's pleasure in her ways, knowing He will work it all out."
This was a new thought to Jennie, but it was seeping in. She didn't have to try to win the boy of her choice. She didn't have to become clever or do her best to look charming. Instead, it was a matter of walking peacefully before the Lord, as she knew He would want her to walk, trusting Him to do what was best for her.
A few days later, Jennie related Alec's thoughts to Julia. "I don't agree at all," Julia protested, "about not having a `list'! Maybe it's just that I shouldn't call it that, but I certainly do have my priorities in mind."
The two were sitting eating lunch together at a small cafe in town, before doing a bit of shopping. The waitress set down the large salads they had ordered.
Jennie waited until she walked away. "What do you have in mind, Julia?" she asked.
Julia hesitated, obviously thinking this through. "I want someone who can help me in spiritual things," she said firmly. "someone I can learn from and look up to." She swallowed a bite of fruit and continued talking, as Jennie delved into her chicken salad. "I want someone who won't try to bring attention to himself. A sense of humor is important to me, too. It makes life a bit easier when you can find humor in difficult situations. Oh, and I do feel more comfortable around a quiet person." She stopped to take a few more bites.
"Would you say that if you met the right person, the 'list' might disappear?" Jennie inquired.
Julia was thoughtful. "In a way, yes. But I feel that my first priority?that is, desiring a spiritual person, would stand. No matter what other qualities he had, if he did not have a strong desire to please the Lord, I wouldn't want to go with him."
"That reminds me of something my father told me quite some time ago," Jennie commented. "He said if I never once went out on that first date with an unsaved fellow, I'd never end up marrying one!"
Julia smiled in agreement, "That's good."
"What would you do," Jennie wondered, "if a fellow from the gathering asked you out, and you just didn't care for him? Would you go?"
Julia again was definite. "No, if I felt certain I couldn't ever care for him, I wouldn't go. In turning him down, it would hurt. But, you know, it would hurt a lot more if I led him to believe I could care, and then didn't after all. It is a serious thing to play with a person's affections."
The two talked on, almost interrupting each other; there was so much to share. It was Julia who ended the conversation as they finished the last of their salads. "Mother was telling me last week about a lady she knows who is over eighty years old and never married. As a girl, she knew there were young men interested in her, but she did not feel led of the Lord to marry any of them. She particularly refused the attentions of those who were not the Lord's. At last, Mother said, she finally came to the point of accepting a life alone, though she really did not actually live alone. She cared first for her mother, then an aunt, then a cousin. Through the years, she was a favorite with her nieces and nephews. She found happiness in their friendships, and at the same time, was a real encouragement to them."
Julia paused, becoming serious. "Jennie, it isn't what I would choose, and I know it isn't what you would choose, but Mother was saying that there are a lot worse things than not being married. One is a life of misery with the wrong person. The point about this lady is that she accepted what the Lord clearly chose for her. Mother believes that in private as well as in public, this lady is content and happy. Isn't that a victory!"
As often as possible, Uncle Robert was invited to the Benton home on Lord's day afternoons. Sometimes the Marshalls joined them. They all loved to hear him tell stories of his life on the farm, of his family, and the way in which the Lord cared for them all. They grew to love him more and more, and were already dreading the day in March when he would be leaving for his farm in South Carolina. "I'll be back," he would affirm with a smile. "I'm just going away for the summer."
It was Jennie who would sit talking with him by the hour, while her mother was busy in the kitchen and her father slept in his chair, the younger girls off somewhere else. This particular day she sat in a chair opposite him, as he told her how his son Thomas had lost his wife, leaving behind three small girls to raise. He and his wife Molly helped raise those children for Thomas through the years. The girls really became their second family and they loved them as their own. Now he had remarried.
"Our house was always filled with people," he reminisced.
"Did you like that?" Jennie asked.
"I preferred it that way. We loved it. People would come and stay for days at a time, and then of course there were some permanent guests living with us from time to time, like my sister-in-law." He burst into hearty laughter, remembering the varied experiences.
Jennie always liked to hear him laugh. She had never heard anyone laugh quite the way he did, so forcefully, yet so gently. She could sense he was about to tell her a story.
"One Lord's day we had a large crowd in our home. When we finished dinner, the young girls carried the plates to the kitchen, a few at a time, stacking them on the counter in a rather careless fashion, as young girls are apt to do. Now there was a swinging door into the kitchen...." Pausing, he looked over at Jennie with a merry twinkle in his eye. "Well, the stack of plates grew higher and higher. As the girls ran back and forth through the swinging door, chasing one another, 'Crash!'-the dishes lost their balance and fell to the floor, the entire set in pieces!"
"What did you do?" Jennie asked in astonishment.
Resolutely he said, "I just got a broom and carefully swept it all up. Molly was out in the living room with the guests and never knew, until everyone was gone, what had happened."
It was so like him. That patient, practical, courteous way he had of just accepting what happened, cleaning up, not making a fuss?though, no doubt, the girls received a sound scolding before the day was over.
Many times Jennie heard him say: "We must never question the Lord. The Lord always knows best." His voice would be deep with feeling, perhaps remembering all the hard things he had come to accept during his lifetime.
"What are your happiest memories, Uncle Robert?" she asked him another afternoon.
He paused and looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, thinking back. "Oh," he said, "I suppose my happiest memories are of the days when our children were young. We would finish supper, make a fire in the living-room fireplace, and sit around it together. We didn't have a car, so we couldn't go rushing about in those days. We would read a chapter from the Bible together and discuss it. Each night we read to the children from some book they particularly liked, after which they would be tucked into bed, ready to settle down for the night. But later on, it was hard to make ends meet. The farm wasn't doing well at all. Sometimes we would trade what crops we had for sugar or fabric or the other things we needed.
"When the big depression came," he offered with a bit of humor, "I had a little money I saved in the bank?not very much, mind you, but a little. This one morning we heard the banks were going to close. So another friend and I hurried over to the bank, hoping to get there in time to withdraw what belonged to us.As we stood in the line waiting, we were relieved to see the people ahead of us coming away with money in their pockets. At last there were just two people ahead of us. All of a sudden, the bank teller shut the window! The bank closed down and we lost all we had saved."
How different life was in Jaffrey since Uncle Robert arrived. In addition, there were the cherished times with Stephen and Julia and the continuing visits to the Adams' home. Occasionally Aunt Sarah would say softly to Jennie, "Don't forget us old folks, will you?" With this in mind, in spite of the severe cold, Jennie hurried over one afternoon to their home for a visit.
A fire was glowing in the hearth of the Adams' old stone fireplace. It was Mr. Adams who greeted her. "Why hello, Jennie, what a nice surprise! Sarah is in the bedroom, straightening her hair. She just got up from a nap. She'll be with you in a minute. Come on in." Jennie slipped her coat off, handing it to him, walking to the fireside where they sat down together, waiting for Aunt Sarah.
Mr. Adams, looking beyond her through the freshly-starched white curtains, exclaimed, "Look, Jennie, snowflakes! It's starting to come down again! I just heard the afternoon weather report. We're going to be in for a real bad storm this evening."
Jennie smiled. It was good to know she was safe and warm. Just as soon as the weather turned really bad, she knew she could run home and be there in five or ten minutes.
A few moments later, familiar footsteps entered the room. "And whose voice is that I hear?" It was Aunt Sarah. She greeted Jennie with a hug. "How nice you would come today. I have been especially thinking of you."
Mr. Adams rose and went outside to prepare for the storm. He turned and nodded to Jennie, "Nice to have you here!"
Sitting by the fire, Jennie rose from habit and added a log, watching it burst into flame, sending a rush of warmth into the rather chilly room. They had talked a short while when she looked out the window and said reluctantly, "I probably should go, Aunt Sarah."
"Andrew can drive you home, if necessary," the older woman suggested. At that very moment, Mr. Adams came in from the porch, stomping snow off his feet. "It's going to be bad," he warned them. "The latest news report says one of the worst storms in the history of this part of the country is coming our way. By nightfall, they expect hundreds of cars to be stranded. There appears to be no let-up in sight, and the temperature is rapidly dropping. They suggest a possibility of sixty degrees below zero with the chill factor, because of the high winds expected."
"Jennie," he said, agreeing with his wife, "hurry out to the car and I'll quickly drive you home before it gets so bad I can't make it."
She was in her coat and out to the car in no time, relieved at the prospect of soon being safely back home with her family. Her father had come home early from work, so they all sat together in the living room, trying to make the best of the cold that was seeping in through the many cracks in the old house. Mr. Benton had built a roaring fire, hoping to lessen the chill.
"There wouldn't be much chance of survival for someone who was walking any distance in this storm!" he exclaimed. "Listen to that wind howl."
Jennie remembered opening the door when she came home, and nearly being blown into the house with the terrific force of the wind.
"There seems to be a special danger with this cold front coming," her father was saying. "The authorities feel that the gas lines could freeze. If that happens, and the pilot lights go out, it will take weeks to restore heat to the area and we'll be mighty cold. We may even have to live somewhere else, temporarily."
Shelters were already being set up for the elderly. One woman was found frozen in her home, earlier that record week. Everyone was to be off the streets as early as possible. An urgent request had gone out that everyone turn their heat down as low as was feasible, to conserve the remaining fuel. The supply was rapidly dwindling.
Now they moved as close as they could to the warm fire, wondering how Alec was doing in his rather chilly barn. Hopefully he was all right.
The light of day was fading quickly into evening. The neighbors' cars went by, pulling into their driveways up and down the street at an early hour. There was an eerie feeling in the atmosphere, as if something vicious were about to strike.
"I'm so thankful we're all here," Mr. Benton said once more. "Why don't we give the Marshalls a call and see how they're doing. I know Stephen and Julia were to stay over there these next few days while their parents are away."
Ruth Marshall answered the phone, and immediately they knew something was wrong. "Julia's here, but not Stephen! He left before the storm came, to walk through the woods and watch the snow fall," she explained. "He didn't realize how cold it was going to get. Neither did we! He's been missing the mountains again, so decided to climb the small one at the edge of Jaffrey-the one we call the Hillside. It takes about an hour and a half to reach the top. He's been gone long enough now to have made it up and back!"
They were all anxious for Stephen now. Jennie could just imagine him trying to do something foolish in this storm. It would give him a real sense of accomplishment to be able to weather the storm and fierce cold alone, taking shelter in some grove of trees. She knew, however, that no human being could weather this cold for long.
Her mind traveled to the small mountain Stephen was climbing, remembering the time they had walked through the graveyard together. The path Stephen was following today led from the cemetery grounds over some rolling countryside, then up a steep trail all the way to the top. They had climbed it in the summertime in an hour and a half. That had been ideal climbing-weather. The snow, even without the storm, would make it slower. By now he should have returned, and yet there was still no sign of him. Stephen had been out in the severe cold far too long. A lot would depend on how he was dressed.
The phone rang again. Jennie dashed for it. It was Mrs. Marshall, almost beside herself with anxiety.
In the end, it was decided that both David Marshall and Jennie's father would bundle up as best they could and try to rescue Stephen. There were two routes he might have taken up the mountain. Both started at least a mile up the road from home. He could never walk that mile on top of the exposure he, undoubtedly, had already experienced.
David Marshall drove carefully to the Benton home. Just walking up to their porch from the car chilled him. He wore a heavy, black fur cap and a warm overcoat, under which were two sweaters. He stomped the snow off his feet, his brows knit in deep concern.
Soon he and Peter Benton were following one another through the falling snow, the headlights of the two cars shining through the night. They would each take a different route further up. With prayer in their hearts, knowing that the small group back home was praying as well, they separated and continued on. There really was no choice, but to go on. Each block of the way they hoped they might see Stephen, but not a soul ventured out into the storm. There was not even another car to be seen. It seemed that the entire world about them was taking shelter in their warm homes, locking themselves in against the elements.
It was Jennie's father who took the road from the graveyard that led up to the beginning of the trail. As he came to the end, wondering what to do next, he sensed a movement in the darkness. He drove closer. Peering through the falling snow, he saw that it was Stephen! He was walking with great difficulty. Mr. Benton fairly leaped from the car and ran to his side, the damp snow sticking to him as he pushed against the fierce wind.
"Stephen, Stephen!" he shouted, his voice choking with tears. Stephen barely responded. He was completely exhausted, a frightful sight-and as they discovered later, with his toes painfully frostbitten. Mr. Benton took his arm and though walking was painful, led him to the car.
A week later, the storm now a thing of the past, Stephen was back to normal with the exception of his painful feet. Jennie was sitting by the fire, remembering that afternoon. He was going to have trouble with his feet for sometime. She knew that the experience had been more frightening than he would admit. The entire incident seemed embarrassing to Stephen. He would only laugh nervously and refer to it all as nothing, when anyone brought it up.
She heard a knock at the door. It was Alec. He was there despite the remaining deep snow. Grinning, as he stomped the snow off his boots, he exclaimed, "It's just too cold and too lonely in that barn tonight. I hope you don't mind my coming over!"
Just then Kara came running down the stairs and her parents seemingly appeared from nowhere, all welcoming him to the warmth of their fireside. Lisa pulled her small rocker up to the fire, as Jennie's father stepped onto the back porch and carried in a fresh load of wood. Alec sat down in the chair nearest the fire, putting his feet up on a nearby footstool.
"Ah," he said, sighing with satisfaction, "this reminds me of a night I spent a few years back."
Kara giggled, "Sounds like another story's coming, doesn't it, Jennie?"
Mrs. Benton had gone off to the kitchen. She soon returned with a plate of cookies and some fresh milk. She knew Alec loved to eat.
"Ummmmm, very good!" he commented, as he ate his first one. "And Kara, I suppose you baked these."
Kara blushed. "No, Mom made them this time. But thanks for the compliment. Here, let me pour you some milk and then let's hear that story." She reached for the pitcher and filled his glass to the brim.
They all enjoyed Alec. He seemed to fit in as one of the family as they were all gathered around the fire.
"It was several winters ago," he began, "that I undertook a gospel effort with some Christian friends. I deeply admire the man I was helping. I'm sure he thought more of me than I really was inside and I soon found myself thinking that I was much like Samuel.
"Remember," Alec asked, "where it said that Samuel didn't yet know the Lord? Well, of course I knew the Lord, but in this sense I didn't. I just wasn't prepared for this kind of work.
"The burden grew heavier, until I could hardly contain it. I felt like I was such a failure. I remember how the Apostle Paul said he was free from the blood of all men, and began to feel under bondage about preaching the gospel. I thought it meant that I was to give a tract to everyone I met. I was so overcome by this that I dreaded going into a store. I would do everything I could to avoid even having to buy gasoline at a station. These thoughts were swallowing me up."
Alec stretched, then smiled, remembering, "One night a friend, who was also helping in the area, joined me by the fire. I put my feet up on the hearth just like I'm doing now, and poured out my heart to him. We talked a long, long while. I guess it wasn't what he said to me; it was more the fact that he was willing to listen."
Mrs. Benton added, "I've often felt that to be true. Sometimes if we can just unburden ourselves to someone, we find the answers ourselves. Often, we even realize how foolish our fears have been."
"But did you get deliverance from this?" Mr. Benton asked, returning to Alec's problem.
"Well, I just began to see that the Lord didn't want me under all this bondage. My being so miserable, afraid to even live a normal life, wasn't right. He wanted my soul established with joy, which at that time was more important than giving out tracts. Of course, what He really wants is all three: the joy, the freedom from bondage, and the desire in our hearts to tell others about His love."
"Have you decided yet whether or not you're going to stay on through the summer," Mr. Benton asked as Alec finished talking. Kara slipped out into the kitchen and filled another plate with cookies. Alec was eating almost continuously as he talked with them.
"Well, Mother really misses me; I can tell by her letters. And my dad needs me on the farm, too. I have really enjoyed the experience of being here; and I'll sure miss you all, but I am planning to leave sometime in the early spring." Each in the family expressed their disappointment.
Alec changed the subject. He was following his own train of thought, speaking of Christians being each uniquely different, prepared for a different work. "If we were all alike, we'd be doing the same things. We shouldn't try to copy someone else," he added.
His Uncle Peter spoke up, "I was thinking about the differences in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-and then Joseph, too. All were completely different men, each one with a definite service from God."
Alec listened, then spoke in agreement, "Yes, what if one of them had tried to copy the other? Well, it wouldn't have worked." Turning to his Uncle Peter, he asked, "What were your thoughts?"
Mr. Benton opened his Bible, turning to Gen. 25. "God's gracious ways with men of questionable character are seen in that story. Remember when his famished brother asked for food, how Jacob first demanded Esau sell him his birthright?. That was pretty mean. Then he deceived his father in getting the birthright from him. In spite of this, God made promises concerning him, and vowed to fulfill them. Jacob, always wanting his own way, only delayed the blessings."
Alec leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head as his uncle continued. "Fleeing from home, Jacob's first encounter with God was in a dream, seeing a ladder reaching to heaven with angels ascending and descending. It seems to me this is a picture of the Lord descending to earth to bring salvation; then, having triumphed over death, ascending back into heaven. Don't you think so, too?"
Alec nodded in agreement, as Peter Benton continued, "In his dream a voice said: 'I am the God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac.' This was followed by seven promises of good. Instead of thanking Him for these assurances, he seemed to raise a challenge. 'If God will be with me and will keep me' was his response, when God had just promised that He would!"
Mr. Benton was engrossed in his subject. He really lived through the Old Testament stories. "Finally, reaching Haran," he went on, "he met Rachel, with whom he fell in love and whom he desired to marry. But he found her father as great a schemer as he was himself, and was tricked into marrying her sister Leah first. He ended up having to serve a total of fourteen years for Rachel." Alec smiled. You could tell he was trying to imagine how Jacob must have felt.
"At the end of twenty years," Peter Benton continued, "Jacob listened to the Lord's call and returned to Canaan, where he arrived with his family of twelve sons and one daughter. As He had promised Abraham, so God promised Jacob, who had been a scheming and and rebellious man, that He would make of him a great nation. For his twelve sons became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel."
Mr. Benton closed his Bible, finishing his thoughts, "Before his death, Jacob owned God's hand in preserving him and made a touching confession of his unworthiness. I wonder if we can't see some of Jacob's ways in our own lives!"
Once again, a long winter was over. Near the edge of the woods where the slope began toward the meeting room, a large patch of wild violets was blooming. Jennie reflected how the last year had brought the coming of Alec, who was about to leave; the coming of Uncle Robert, who had returned to his farm; and the nagging fear that Aunt Sarah was slipping away from them. Jennie couldn't put her finger on it exactly; but Aunt Sarah seemed older, and to tire more quickly. She just wasn't herself.
A few weeks before, Uncle Robert had bid them farewell, leaving Jennie a box of chocolates for her birthday. She wondered how he ever guessed it was her birthday. She would always remember him walking out to the car, his silver hair shining in the moonlight, the surprise package tucked under his arm.
That last evening he told them the story of the bull that chased his son Thomas around the field one afternoon. Being alone, all he could do was run, but the bull was gaining on him. But unknown to Thomas, the Lord was going to preserve his life through his dog Boxer.
"But what could a dog do?" Jennie asked, incredulously.
"You just wait now!" Uncle Robert responded. "You'd be mighty surprised what that dog did." He laughed, and then told how the dog darted up to the bull, grabbed his tail, and held on so tightly that the bull forgot all about Thomas! The bull started to turn around and try to get the dog! But Boxer wouldn't let go?as long as the bull was turning, he was turning, too. Boxer kept it up until he saw his master was safely over the fence, and then, letting go, he, too, ran for his life!"
As she walked along Main Street, her arms full of apple blossoms for Alec's farewell party, Jennie was remembering the beautiful text she made for Uncle Robert. She added flowers all around the edges with her oil paints and on the back printed, "With much love from us all." Each one in the Benton family signed it. He was so pleased.
That evening the entire gathering was coming over for Alec's farewell dinner. She felt his leaving keenly, but was trying to be thankful he had come at all.
She walked to the garden and picked a few more branches of apple blossoms to add to the bunch she had gathered earlier in the woods. Strawberries were appearing in the stores, so she had bought some to add to the homemade ice cream. That would be a special treat for everyone, but for Alec in particular.
If they wore sweaters, they could use the screened-in porch tonight. It would be pleasant sitting outside, where they could hear the chimes ringing and feel the softness of spring about them. She set the apple blossoms out on a table and noticed their fragrance. For tonight, they would push all the small tables together to make one long table.
She was working, setting up the tables, when the chimes rang out the four o'clock hour. Looking up, she saw Stephen coming down the street toward their home.
He saw her, too, and waved. Soon they were talking together as she finished her work. While they waited for the others to arrive, she walked into the house to play the piano. Joining her, Stephen picked up his violin; through the rest of the afternoon, they played and sang together.
Gradually, the guests arrived. All from the gathering came, except the Adams.
Jennie heard Ruth Marshall remark to her mother, "Sarah is pretty sick. They won't be able to come. It doesn't sound very good to me." There was a note of something Jennie couldn't quite catch. In the commotion of the evening, she set it aside, but still it lingered in the back of her mind.
Stephen chose to sit beside Jennie at the table. There was an easy, relaxed friendship growing between them. She was grateful for it, as they sat talking. How many times, in the quiet of her room, she had prayed concerning their friendship.
Clouds began to gather in the sky. Stephen was concerned that it would soon start raining on them all. A sudden wind rustled through the trees. The group all sensed the coming storm. In spite of the weather, Alec was enjoying the strawberry ice cream Jennie made especially for him, passing it around, hoping he would get the last dishful, which he did! About then, they heard the first drops of rain beating against the screen.
Hurriedly, everyone picked up their plates and rushed off the porch into the living room. Darkness fell rapidly, as the clouds increased and the rain fell softly against the windowpanes. Inside, the close-knit group sat around the room, opening their Bibles to study the Word of God. Jennie felt that she could not have known happier moments even in California. This, at last, was home.
And is it so, I shall be like Thy Son?
Is this the grace which He for me has won?
Father of glory, thought beyond all thought
In glory, to His own blest likeness brought.
O Jesus, Lord, who loved me like to Thee?
First of thy work, with Thee, too, there to see,
Thy glory, Lord, while endless ages roll,
Myself the prize and travail of Thy soul
Nor I alone, Thy Loved ones all, complete,
In glory round Thee there with joy shall meet.
All like Thee, for Thy glory like thee, Lord,
Object supreme of all, by all adored
J. N. D.
Jennie was startled by the sound of a car in the driveway. Looking out through the window she could see Mr. Adams pulling up. He walked quickly up to the porch. As she opened the door it was evident that he was troubled. Breathlessly, he asked if she could come right away to see Aunt Sarah. With no further delay Jennie went to the closet for her light coat. She knew how quickly the weather could change in this early springtime.
"She's awfully sick, Jennie!" he confided. `The doctor wants her to have surgery."
"Mr. Adams," she inquired as they drove along, "when did all this happen?"
"Well, it's been coming a long time now," he answered sadly. "Aunt Sarah hasn't felt like herself for over a year."
Jennie thought so, too, in retrospect. She remembered now all the times she had watched her, wondering. Hurrying up the porch steps, she found Aunt Sarah waiting for her. Although bravely carrying on, her face looked troubled, ill, and sad. The brown dress she wore took away what color was left in her face. This time it was Jennie who was trying to be strong for her.
"I've known it a long time Jennie, but I didn't want to go to the doctor. I was afraid he'd operate." Aunt Sarah had a strong aversion when it came to going to doctors. She would do everything in her power to avoid them. All through her life she managed, committing her illnesses to the Lord, trusting Him to bring her through. She knew He could do this, regardless of the seriousness of her problem, but she also realized that this case was different. This was an alarming illness. She admitted that perhaps she owed it to her family to seek a doctor's care.
She asked Jennie to pray with her. Together they walked down the familiar hallway to the small bedroom at the back of the house. The twin beds fit against opposite walls of the room with a dressing table between them. The two of them knelt on the bare floor by one of the beds. The entire experience seemed unreal, like a dream that they would surely waken from.
Praying for Aunt Sarah, in front of her, was a great deal different than praying alone in the privacy of her room at home. As much as she wanted to pray a long, beautiful prayer with a lot of conviction in it, her mouth seemed stopped. As she knelt there in the quiet, the certainty of Aunt Sarah's death seemed inevitable to her.
She felt herself unable to pray for her healing, even though there was nothing she wanted more. As they knelt side by side, Jennie could only pray for strength, grace, and comfort?that if it were the Lord's will He would raise her up again.
Later, they sat in the kitchen. There were so many memories in that kitchen with the cozy red rocker. So many months and even years of sharing echoed from the walls. Was it all going to end overnight?
A day or two later Jennie returned for another visit. Mr. Adams had made his decision. The operation would be carried out. It seemed to be the only hope for his wife's recovery. Everyone felt he was making the right choice. Without it, there would be no hope. Now, they would just have to wait.
Life would never be the same without Aunt Sarah. And to think that once she resented having to spend time with her. Now in this spring so full of changes, everything was doubly-dear to her heart. Why hadn't she come over more often during the past months?
They sat together on the porch swing. Aunt Sarah would go into the hospital tomorrow. She appeared little and afraid and so pale, sitting there beside Jennie.
Looking across at Jennie searchingly, with those big sad brown eyes, she asked, "Will you be strong for me?"
Even with Aunt Sarah's great faith, Jennie could sense she was being tried to the utmost. Her overwhelming fear of doctors and hospitals was hard for her. Talking with Jennie, she stressed her belief that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." She talked for a long while about faith and prayer in relation to this sickness. When she finished, Jennie felt she had been given an important mission to carry out. It almost seemed that it would be up to her in the coming days to pray so effectually that Aunt Sarah would get well.
"I asked the Lord for seventy good years," she told Jennie, "and He gave them to me. But I'd really like to stick around longer. I'm just seventy-three now." She looked at Jennie again with a half smile, half pathos on her face. She had always been strong and well, her life busy and filled with doing for others. This probable sudden end was coming as a terrible shock.
"I really don't want the surgery," she added, "but everyone says I must have it." She said this in a sad, resigned voice.
Before the operation, Jennie and Mrs. Marshall went to visit Aunt Sarah at the hospital. Mrs. Marshall seemed so strong and well, compared with Aunt Sarah. They entered those long hospital corridors with sickness, suffering and death on every side. Jennie felt the old fears come back, and wanted to turn and run away.
Their footsteps echoed along the hallway and then they came to her room number. Walking in, they found her sitting up in bed, wearing the pink robe Mr. Adams had bought for her. Maybe it was the pink of the robe, but her cheeks were rosy again and it was hard to believe she was even sick. She greeted them just as she would have in her own home, her eyes sparkling, a smile crossing her face.
Before they left, she turned to Jennie and said, "I won't be able to pray during the crucial hours of the operation, nor the time afterward. Will you remember to do it for me?"
Now Jennie knew how Alec felt when he carried his big burden of trying to bring souls to the Lord. Aunt Sarah would not intentionally put a heavy burden on Jennie?she loved her too much. But without meaning to, she left the impression that the entire outcome of the operation would depend upon Jennie's strength?her ability to pray hard enough, long enough.
Turning to Mrs. Marshall, she said with tears in her eyes, "Jennie has been a daughter to me."
Mr. Adams called Jennie a few days later and asked if she would come and see his wife. "Already?" Jennie asked. "Is she ready for me this soon?" She was dreading the visit and tried desperately to put it off a bit longer.
"Yes," Mr. Adams said resignedly. "Aunt Sarah is ready to see you." Following him along the hospital corridor, her steps seemed rooted to the floor. She dreaded seeing her as she must be now. Her old terror of death made her want to flee from the presence of suffering. She hated hospitals, especially this one with its ugly green corridors. Mr. Adams led the way as he walked along so alert and well and strong. His face did not betray his reluctance to acknowledge how little hope was left.
As she approached the room, Jennie was remembering the day her father said to her, "We pray 'if it is Thy will,' because we don't know if it is the Lord's will for Mrs. Adams to live or not. She is in her seventies. If she were a much younger person, it would be different. It is, in a sense, a natural span of life for her."
Her father's words seemed cruel to Jennie. What difference did it make how old she was? She was still her dearest friend. But her father had persisted.
"The Lord wouldn't have you wearing yourself out like this, almost begging," he continued. He opened his Bible and turned to Phil. 4 and read verses 6 and 7: "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
She had looked up at her father that day with tears in her eyes. "I have hardly stopped praying an hour since she went into the hospital, all day long and through wakeful hours in the night."
One look at Jennie confirmed this. Her father felt distressed because his daughter was not praying in such a manner as to know the peace of God, a peace which could pass all understanding. She was not really praying, but rather insisting upon her own will; not willing to persevere in prayer, then calmly wait upon God for His way to unfold.
The short visit with Aunt Sarah only intensified her fears. She was a very sick woman and little hope was held out for her recovery. All Aunt Sarah's sparkle and bounce had disappeared.
With relief Jennie learned that some time ago the Lord had evidently directed her father to make reservations at a small cottage near the ocean for these very days, never dreaming that Aunt Sarah would be so sick. Now, in view of Jennie's exhaustion and the strain she was going through, he insisted they go ahead with their plans for the short family vacation. He felt there would be plenty of time to visit with Aunt Sarah when they returned. In addition, the Adams' own daughter was arriving for a two-week stay. So Jennie really wouldn't be needed.
As they drove over the familiar highway to the cottage, much of the weight of the last days dropped away. Even though Jennie continued in prayer, she found the complete change of scenery was a remedy.
They settled into a simple cottage that night, the owner having left a silver pitcher filled with a large bouquet of the wild roses that grew in profusion through the area. Later they came across the roses everywhere?sometimes banks of them growing midst the yellow summer grass that covered the acres of beach. They would look up from the beautiful flowers that surrounded them to see white seagulls soaring, swooping, bending against the blue sky above. It was refreshing, revitalizing. The salt air was a tonic for them all.
Two days later, an early summer storm came through. Jennie, Kara and Mr. Benton were exploring the area when the sunny sky turned to gray?then to an angry turquoise?and waves began crashing in to shore. With very little warning, the storm hit.
It began by whipping everything in sight out of place: little scraps of paper swirling in the air, a garbage can lid rolling along the sidewalk above the beach, someone's hat racing down the sandy stretch. Along the path leading toward the ocean, tall hedges of honeysuckle vines were thrashing in the wind. Struggling, those on the beach found it difficult to walk against the force of the gale. Car doors quickly slammed shut as relieved occupants hurried into shelter.
Mr. Benton, however, was not about to seek shelter. He filled the air with laughter as the wind tossed his hair. The three Bentons inched their way against the violent gusts, barely able to stand against them.
They might have withstood the gale, except for the sand being whipped up into their eyes. Mr. Benton spotted a snow fence and suggested they retreat there. Such a fragile-looking snow fence with little strength in its slender slats, yet behind it they found complete calm?a haven from the blast of the storm. They huddled there together, amazed that by stepping just a few inches beyond, they would once again be at the mercy of the winds and blowing sand. Kara tried it once, but quickly returned to their refuge.
Jennie thought how she, too, was in the midst of a storm. She now saw how she needed just such a refuge as the Lord, in His love, could provide in the face of Aunt Sarah's death. A verse came to her mind which she found later in the Old Testament. "And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." (Isa. 32:2) It described the afternoon experience perfectly, a lesson she would not soon forget.
When the storm abated, they drove into the small town to pick up some freshly baked bread to add to the supper Mrs. Benton was preparing back at the cottage. They found everyone excited. The shop owners were about the only ones left, most people having taken shelter in their homes or rented cottages.
When they returned, sunshine was streaming into the room through the frilly white curtains. There was a chicken baking in the oven and Lisa was curled up on the floor playing with Muffin. It felt good to be back at last.
The closest gathering was in a large city some distance away. The next night they drove in for the reading meeting. Mr. Benton felt this was the most important part of the trip, knowing how much of an encouragement their visit would be to his friend, John Mackey, one of only two brothers in the gathering there, the second a kindly older gentleman. An older lady who came faithfully all through the years completed their small group of three.
The meeting room was in a rather poor section of the large city. As they drove through the streets, they locked their car doors. It was a neighborhood where a lot of mischief could take place. This was further borne out by the heavy iron gratings on shop windows.
At last they came to the old brown building where John Mackey sat alone, waiting for the meeting to begin. His face broke into a radiant smile as the five of them entered the room. Their efforts to come were already rewarded.
The evening being warm, the door was left open with a fan going. Outside, the katydids beckoned with their constant chirp, chirp, chirp. In the distance, the voices of children could be heard. They sounded happy, in spite of their poverty. Perhaps they did not know how little they had in life.
Jennie felt a closeness in this small group. In the midst of the heat, the hum of the katydids and the laughter of the children, John Mackey's happy voice rang out as he spoke of his joy in having the privilege of being part of this small testimony for the Lord. The gathering in Jaffrey had seemed so small, but now she acknowledged in her heart, with thankfulness, how much fellowship they did have to enjoy there.
John Mackey was speaking: "Even two or three people can give expression to the truth, going back to that which never changes. Two or three can enjoy what was enjoyed at the time of Pentecost when there were some 3,000 added. In Acts 2:41, 42 we read, 'they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."'
His faith seemed so bright that the girls found themselves listening with eagerness. Abruptly he stopped in the middle of a sentence when he noticed a small child standing in the doorway. His face broke into a tender smile as he called out to him, "Not tonight, dear; come another time." The little boy hurried away into the darkness, apparently having wanted one of the candy bars that Mr. Mackey often kept on hand for the Sunday school children. Children were one of his delights and his large, happy Sunday school attested to how much they loved him in return.
John Mackey had never married, but chose instead to care for his widowed mother whom he dearly loved. He found his contentment in nephews and nieces, in being part of the testimony, and in his love for the many children who, through his efforts, came faithfully week after week to hear the way of salvation.
Mr. Benton and Mr. Mackey enjoyed discussing the portion of scripture for the evening. After the meeting John Mackey came over to them, his face aglow. "Thank you so much for coming," he said over and over again. "We're so few here, it means more than I can express."
Jennie recalled their trip to New York, seemingly so long ago now, and the resentment she had felt at having to go to that little gathering on the way.
Now there was a change within her, for her heart was filled with joy at the thought that their coming brought a measure of happiness to Mr. Mackey.
Mr. Mackey interrupted Jennie's thoughts as he spoke. "I want to tell you girls a story about your grandfather," he said with a bright smile. "Many years ago when your grandfather still lived in Oregon, I made a visit there and spent time in several gatherings. All the people and the fellowship seemed so wonderful to me, in contrast to the loneliness here." The girls could readily understand how he felt.
"A good many encouraged me to move there and make a new home for myself. I was quite excited over it. When I. returned home, I wrote a letter to your grandfather and told him my exercises."
The girls were surprised to hear that he knew their grandfather. Memories of their trip to New York filled their minds immediately.
"He wrote back to me," John Mackey continued, "and counseled, 'John, I cannot tell you what course to take. Only the Lord can do that. But if He has given you some sense of a work to do for Him where you are now, do not leave until He makes it clear that you should do so."' He smiled. All these years he had stayed. "I remain here!" he finished simply, with a joy that far overcame his lonely circumstances.
Jennie walked over to the Adams' the first morning they were back. Aunt Sarah was home from the hospital. Jennie no longer prayed with insistence that Aunt Sarah recover.
Mr. Adams greeted her at the door, cheerful and comforted that at least his wife was home. As Jennie entered the bedroom, she could hardly believe it was Aunt Sarah lying there so helpless in the twin bed. Not having seen her for several days, the change was upsetting.
Mr. Adams stood in front of the mirror, straightening his tie. How healthy and rugged he looked in comparison to the frail, delicate lady in the narrow bed. His silver hair, his ruddy cheeks, were such a contrast to her appearance. Their daughter was with them now. This in itself was an encouragement to both the Adams.
"Father has been a brick," the daughter remarked to Jennie. "He's done everything he possibly could for her. He's been so good to her." Mr. Adams smiled now, aware of the compliment and excused himself.
Jennie moved toward the bed and told Aunt Sarah of her trip, assuring her she was still praying. How hard it was to find the right words. She felt incapable of saying what was needed. There was a shyness and a strangeness within her she could not overcome as she bid her good-bye.
She rose to go. Reaching the doorway, she turned around to see Aunt Sarah, with some of her old spirit, lift her hand out of the covers and half playfully, half in earnest, shake her fist at her. "Why did you leave me?" she asked, referring to Jennie's brief vacation, her big sad eyes filled with hurt.
Hearing those words, Jennie raced back to the bed and threw her arms tightly about her friend, squeezing her hard, telling her how much she loved her. A bit of color came to the dying woman's face. Smiling her old familiar smile, she said, "Now that's more like it!"
Before long, Aunt Sarah returned to the hospital. On this last visit, Jennie found it difficult to even recognize her. She wondered if she had come to the wrong room!
"Here I am," Aunt Sarah called out in a weak voice.
As Jennie hurried to her, it seemed her heart would break. How quickly Aunt Sarah was fading. Sitting beside her, Jennie read a letter of comfort from a friend. "Read it over," Aunt Sarah requested, "I want to hear it again."
Jennie read it through once more. Aunt Sarah looked at her lovingly. Jennie felt she was not being the comfort she desired to be to her friend. But Aunt Sarah graciously settled the matter by remarking, "When you come, you make me feel so much better."
By Lord's day she was gone from their midst, present with her Savior. Now, visiting the funeral home, Jennie found that her fear of death was not conquered. She simply could not comprehend the real meaning of it, only aware that this dear loved one would be laid into the ground. Walking sadly to the coffin, she stood looking at Aunt Sarah with her brown hair combed back neatly. She wore a soft blue dress, the expression on her face so free of suffering. She was one who truly looked like she was only asleep and perhaps any moment would surely open her eyes and smile again. Nothing had ever hurt Jennie quite this much before.
As she fled from the room in tears, her father tried to comfort her by quoting the familiar verses: "The dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together." But she didn't want to hear, she would not accept consolation.
There were strangers at the funeral, many people unknown to those from the gathering. They all wondered who they were until someone explained, "These are the People Sarah has led to the Lord. These are the people she has comforted through the years."
What a tribute to her, far more than any spoken word. Many told of her love and faithfulness, of how they had come to know the Lord Jesus through a gospel tract she had given them or her conversations with them. Jennie learned that often Aunt Sarah had dressed in old clothes like a poor woman and had gone down to the poor sections of town, giving out tracts and talking with those in distress. Mr. Adams found a copy of a letter she once wrote to her dentist, suggesting that he put a Bible verse on his wall so that the fearful patients would have some comfort as they waited their turn!
It was evident that through the years Aunt Sarah had been a busy woman, giving of herself and of her time to the Lord. Someone else told of the patient in the hospital bed next to hers who had recognized Aunt Sarah. This woman had been brought to know the Lord as her Savior years before through her faithfulness. How amazing at the end they should be side by side in a hospital room. Jennie reflected how only the Lord could have planned this wonderful surprise, bringing them together under such unusual circumstances. The many tributes to Aunt Sarah were beautiful to Jennie. She would never forget that she, too, had been given the privilege of knowing her love.
One day, Mr. Adams called Jennie and Kara over to the house. He wanted them to come and take his wife's plants and the food that was left in the freezer. Soon he would lock up the house and leave for a long visit at his daughter's.
The pink petunias were growing nicely in the window boxes. Aunt Sarah had planted them early that spring. As Jennie came up the walk, Mr. Adams was waiting on the porch swing, just as his wife used to do.
They walked to the back garden where vegetables were growing in profusion and the big apple tree was loaded with ripening apples. It made her think of the day last fall when she helped Aunt Sarah rake all the fallen leaves. How much fun and laughter they shared as the wind broke up and whisked away their little piles almost as rapidly as they gathered them.
Inside, the plants were ready for them to take. They had been Aunt Sarah's pride and joy. Following Mr. Adams to the basement, Jennie waited while he opened the big freezer. "She saved everything!" he said, showing a trace of amusement through his sorrow. "Look at this, Jennie." He showed her some little dabs of leftover soup. "I think I'll just keep them. Maybe I can mix them up together and have a big hearty bowl before I leave. But take these rolls. She made them herself. I know you people will enjoy them. And look at this! Ugh!" He made a face. "Chicken livers. It seems she saved everything!" It was a bittersweet time-sad and amusing all in one. "I'm going to take them out and bury them in the back yard," he said disgustedly.
"But Muffin would enjoy them," Jennie suggested.
"If you want them, you take them," he said without emotion. "And please take all of this chicken. I can't use it for a long while. Your mother might as well cook it up."
He walked with them in the waning sunshine to the car. They were loaded down with food and plants. There was an especially large plant that he set ever so carefully in the back seat so as not to break the delicate leaves. "Give them the same loving care she did, and they'll all be fine," he exclaimed.
Jennie tried to do as he said, but eventually every one of the plants died.
A few days later, Jennie walked past the Adams' empty house. Mr. Adams had locked it up tight and left, not to return until winter set in. She recalled how happy Aunt Sarah had once been in this little cottage with its pink petunias. Now it was empty. Alec was gone. Stephen was working all summer. She saw little of him other than at the meetings. Julia was working in town, so she was gone from early morning until evening. She had finally found acceptable work in a small office. With school over for Jennie, she, too, was facing the dilemma of where to find suitable employment. It was good having the summer free, but she knew she needed to be busy through each day, and wouldn't be content to go on this way day after day. She wondered if Uncle Robert would come back after all. Life was so full of changes.
As long as Mr. Adams was away, she couldn't do for him the little services that had helped ease her loss. Before their daughter returned home after the funeral, she had asked Jennie if for a time she could do the few things that might be hard for her father and check in on him from time to time. It had been almost like doing something for Aunt Sarah, but now he was away and she preferred not to even pass the empty house.
She often climbed the long stairway to her bedroom to read, write letters, and jot down memories of Aunt Sarah in her diary. She didn't want to ever forget the understanding advice that had been given her. Those times meant so much to her now.
When the Adams' daughter left, she had said, "Now go and give the love you had for Mother to some other old person who needs it." Jennie thought that a generous, unselfish thing for her to say. But she had already decided she wasn't going to let herself love anyone that much again. Then she wouldn't have to bear the hurt.
The summer crops were ready for harvest. They lay in the fields around Jaffrey in the last rays of summer sun. At home she gathered tomatoes for her mother from the garden. After picking fresh ears of corn at suppertime, she popped them into the steaming kettle. As she passed her nature garden, the springtime when Stephen brought her the wild geranium seemed years away. It was reseeding itself this summer and several of its offshoots were blooming in other parts of the garden.
One Saturday, Stephen led the girls up the Hillside where he had been stranded in the snowstorm. It was good to be together again. The day began bright and sunny, with a cool breeze. There was something about getting deep into the woods that was so refreshing. The pine needles beneath their feet, the colorful wildflowers, the saplings springing up and bringing new life to the forest, all blended into a beauty each of them especially enjoyed.
At last they came to a spot where wildflowers grew like a carpet across the gently sloping hillside.
This would be a perfect place to stop and eat their lunch. Kara was carrying the sandwiches and fruit in a knapsack on her back. She slid it off now, glad for the chance to rest and catch her breath, as the trail was steep. Stephen thanked the Lord for the food, then filled their cups with water. Everything tasted so good.
At the end of the climb, they came to a clearing overlooking the small village below. How insignificant it seemed, lying there in miniature from their vantage point. It was exhilarating to be up here on top of the "mountain". Jennie, still used to the splendor of magnificent mountains in the West, was always amused at the use of the word "mountain" for these mere foothills. She and Stephen climbed onto a large, fallen tree trunk and sat down together, looking over the valley below.
Stephen was looking forward to this college year and he spoke of it with enthusiasm. Turning to Jennie with his warm smile, he was the same Stephen she had always known. Yet, ever since his return the year before from Oregon, she sensed a restlessness in him.
It was only to be expected that he would have to work all summer. She understood there would probably never again be a carefree time filled with long, lazy, sharing days, like she once hoped. When Stephen returned to college, she knew he would be caught up in college life, while she remained in Jaffrey.
"Jennie," he suggested with sincerity, "you ought to go to college."
She was not academically inclined and had never had any real desire to go on with more schooling. But she wanted to be where Stephen was. Here he was suggesting she go to college, too. Was she foolish to feel happy at the thought?
She sat by him on the log, looking down on the valley. Conflict filled her heart. While her father never wanted her to go on to college, he hadn't actually forbidden it. She felt certain that if she had chosen to be a nurse or something of that nature, requiring further schooling, that he might have consented. She was convinced as she sat on the log with Stephen that her not going was going to make the difference in their relationship. Up to now, nothing had really changed between them. There was nothing she wanted more than to be by his side. Should she make this decision simply to win Stephen? Could she when she knew so well her father's wishes for her to remain in Jaffrey?
A soft breeze rustled in the trees around them. Stephen reached for a delicate fern. Deep in thought, he began tearing off the Lacey bits of green one by one, dropping them onto the carpet of pine needles covering the ground. Neither of them spoke, each lost in their own thoughts. There had been so much sharing between them in the brief two years since his arrival in Jaffrey. There was a warmth of friendship between them that couldn't be denied.
Watching Stephen as he bent over the fern absorbed in his own thoughts, Jennie knew that she would always think of him as a dear brother. During the last few weeks especially, she had been praying he might become more than that. Her mind traveled back to the struggle she had experienced a few days before when she had bicycled alone to the lake.
It had been a sunny, warm afternoon. Parking along the path, her steps led her down to the shore where she found a sheltered spot to sit under one of the many trees. Her thoughts were of Stephen.
She wondered what made her sense that their paths were soon going to separate. He had gone to college the year before, so that couldn't be the only reason. There was a certain detachment, an affectionate, almost sad way in which he looked at her now. Whatever it was, whether she could explain it or not, she knew it was there-a silent parting that could not be put into words, the end of a stage of life. Sometimes a girl just knew, and in the knowing she felt pain.
She pulled her small Bible from her jacket pocket. This calm, quiet place was so meaningful to her, her own little "sanctuary". She didn't think she could count the hours she had quietly prayed here about this matter. Often she would become aware that she was only praying for her own will, for what she wanted. Then she would try to change that prayer, asking for the Lord's will and for the grace to accept it... with joy!
Even in these shining moments of victory she sometimes found here by the lake, she was aware that overwhelming doubts would again overtake her. She wondered if boys suffered inside the way girls suffered, if boys could possibly hurt in this same way.
How thankful she was for the Lord Jesus and for the closeness she could feel with Him. She remembered back when Kara had been so sick and she first learned to know the Lord as her Friend. Whatever would she do without Him?
Aunt Sarah had only strengthened this within her, leading her on to realize how she could take every problem to Him. There was something so valuable and precious to her heart to be able to come to this little "sanctuary" at the lake and sit for as long as necessary, pouring her heart out to Him, knowing that He heard and that He cared. It made all the difference.
Another vivid memory took her back to an afternoon many months before. It portrayed Stephen's love for young children. A family was visiting the Benton home with a charming three-year-old girl. Dropping in as he often did on his way home from school, Stephen had taken the small child on his knee and read her a story. It all flashed before her again; the three-year-old with her blond ringlets and starched pinafore bending over the book as Stephen carefully and patiently explained the story and pictures to her. Then, abruptly he had picked the little girl up in his strong arms, carried her across the room and set her on Jennie's lap along with the book, continuing on homeward.
Yes, that was Stephen! Now opening her Bible to Isaiah, she scanned a page until she came to the verse she wanted, Isa. 46:10: "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure... yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it." Yes, she knew that the Lord's counsel would stand. His will in this matter would be brought to pass.
But today, sitting on the log beside Stephen, enjoying together all the beauty of nature, she knew she could easily be swayed to turn and run after him. It was as if for this moment alone nothing was changed, that treasured relationship of the past years still remaining. The moment of decision was passing.
She watched Stephen now as he stood up and walked to the edge of the clearing, looking down over Jaffrey. If only she knew what he was really thinking. If only he could tell her, how much easier it would be. There it was again, what she had observed so often of late, that blending of tenderness and sadness in his smile as he looked over at her.
What a strength it was to her in these moments of wondering, to know that the God who held the universe in check was planning her life. If He chose to take Stephen away from her, did she have any right to suggest the possibility she knew a better solution? That was an enormous question and one which searched her heart. To even suggest she knew a better way was simply doubting God's love and wisdom. When she looked at it like that, a good deal of the conflict began to lose its grip.
It would be the Lord who would put love in Stephen's heart for her, not her following him into his college life. She felt peace about following her father's wishes to remain in Jaffrey.
Stephen walked toward her with his old smile, Kara, Julia and Lisa having started home long before. Jennie climbed over the fallen log and together they took the path back down the mountain.
Stephen was busy at college; Julia drove each day into town to work, while Kara and Lisa started off to school every morning. Jennie almost envied Lisa who was too young to have experienced the ups and downs she was passing through. Each day as she watched Lisa hurry down the steps with her lunch pail in hand and her two neatly-combed pigtails bobbing in the air, she found that her bright smile and quick good-bye lingered long after she was gone.
Jennie was finishing changing her bed upstairs, then gathering up her stack of letters to mail to friends back in California when she heard voices outside. She rushed through the hall to the top landing to see who had come into the large entryway downstairs. It was Uncle Robert!
She fairly flew down the stairs two at a time. He was standing there talking to her mother. He had returned! Uncle Robert looked up as Jennie came bounding into the room. How good he looked: strong, tanned, and healthy.
When Aunt Sarah died, Jennie decided she would not let herself love anyone in the same way again, for fear of losing them. But as she watched Uncle Robert, she felt certain it would be a long, long time before he would be taken from them. He seemed so strong, so whole. Maybe it would be safe to let Uncle Robert into her heart.
Strong was the word that best described him as he briefly told of the hours they spent planting crops on his farm, tending them, then at last canning the ripened fruit and vegetables for the long winter ahead.
Mrs. Benton returned to the kitchen to prepare supper, while Jennie suggested to Uncle Robert that she and Lisa venture out with him in the softly falling rain and take a walk. They left Kara doing her homework in the dining room as they closed the front door behind them. Noticing how polished and shiny his shoes were, she wondered if she had made a mistake in asking him to walk in the rain. But he didn't seem to mind. The golden color of the fallen leaves was accentuated by the dampness, adding to their brilliant luster.
As they walked along, Jennie told him of Aunt Sarah's death, of how hard it was to see her slowly die. "It's so good to see you looking healthy and strong," she said, as they watched the gold leaves falling from the trees. "I couldn't bear to see someone else suffer like that." He was silent for awhile.
By the time they returned to the house, bright lights were welcoming them. A cheery fire burned in the fireplace as they entered. Muffin came running to Uncle Robert as if to welcome him back, while Mrs. Benton carried a steaming dish of chicken onto the supper table. Home seemed complete again.
Jennie finally took a job in a small store in Peterborough, doing secretarial work. It meant leaving early in the morning and returning home late each night. As the days grew colder, the mornings were often wet and rainy. She disliked standing out in the darkness under the trees in the cold, waiting for the bus to appear. But once busy at the office, she found she was enjoying keeping busy and the challenge of working.
The New England rain could seem unending, saturating everything with its chill and its interminable drip. The trees surrounding the Benton home were leafless now, the wind blowing the bare branches back and forth in sudden bursts of fury. Soon would be the time of snow, and slick, icy streets. How far away summer seemed, with its gardening, hay rides, and outings at the ocean.
Jennie was content with her secluded job, enjoying her work. Her desk was upstairs, over the shop, where she worked with an older woman. Her boss, a kindly, older man, sometimes reminded her of Uncle Robert with his sturdy build and head of white hair.
Just as she anticipated, she saw little of Stephen. The day they had climbed the Hillside was the last they were really together. Stephen started college the next week, so was engrossed in his studies most of the time. Occasionally they still walked home from the meetings or now and then saw each other at dinner time when two or three of the families were eating together. Then he would excuse himself and disappear with his books into some far corner of the house. She tried at first to make excuses for him, to persuade herself that it was only the busyness of his work, that nothing was really changed. But he was absorbed in a way of life she knew nothing about.
Even though they remained good friends, she could feel there was a difference now-an invisible barrier which she could no longer cross. She wondered if Stephen might be his old self again when summer returned.
The brick house was a blaze of light in the darkness. Through the tall narrow windows, the girls could see Mr. Marshall sitting in the big chair by the fireplace as they came up the walk and stepped onto the front porch.
Entering the hallway, they caught a whiff of the stuffed turkey Mrs. Marshall was roasting for them. She had just lifted it out of the oven and onto her chopping block, the dark, rich juices splattering with a delicious aroma. She had prepared a sweet potato casserole with a marshmallow topping, a molded salad, special homemade rolls, along with two green vegetables which were still cooking on the stove. The Marshalls' was not only a second home to Stephen and Julia, but was becoming a second home to Jennie and Kara as well.
Mr. Marshall walked into the kitchen, wearing his good suit and a spotless white shirt with an attractive tie. He slipped his jacket off, turned and grinned at them with his merry twinkle and picked up the carving knife. He was an expert at this. Jennie watched carefully, fascinated as he skillfully carved the turkey: delicately slicing the white meat, laying it neatly on the platter, visiting with them all the while. He was certainly a master carver.
Stephen and Julia arrived moments later. Stephen, as usual, brought his pile of school work. After dinner, he would spend the evening studying. Jennie was happy they could be together during the dinner hour at least. She seldom saw him anymore.
When they finished, Mr. Marshall reached for his large, brown Bible. Through the window behind him, Jennie could see snow beginning to fall swiftly in the night. They could expect the streets to be covered by morning. There was something cozy about being warm inside, and looking out at the failing snow, watching the familiar landmarks being concealed by a white blanket.
Mr. Marshall read the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar from Genesis. He spoke so earnestly on the Scriptures that Jennie could not help but listen, even though her thoughts were troubled over Stephen.
David Marshall commented that Abraham had received some wonderful promises from the Lord; one of which is in the 15th chapter of Genesis and verse 1: "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward."
"That was a grand promise and assurance that, when problems came, he would always have the help of the Lord to protect him from the enemy." Mr. Marshall compared the promise to Abraham with the invitation to the Lord's people today in Eph. 6:16: "Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked." He stressed that we need to apply this personally in our own lives.
It was good to be here at the Marshalls'. Mr. Marshall's optimism and courage rubbed off on Jennie. She liked thoughts on scripture that were direct and to the point. It was easy to understand what he was saying and apply it to herself. Looking over at Stephen across the table, she wondered if he also was listening. She could see his mind elsewhere tonight and she felt curious.
Mr. Marshall looked down at his Bible as he continued. "Another promise was that Abraham would be the head of a nation, as numerous as the dust of the earth, as abundant as the stars in the heavens. These words were a real encouragement to Abraham and he had never forgotten them. God did not forget them either," Mr. Marshall reminded the young people, "although he permitted Abraham's faith to be tried for more than twenty years.
"Sarah, however, became discouraged because she couldn't see the Lord's promises taking place. The delay was hard for her to endure and so she set about to bring an heir into the family in her own way. But, oh, what sorrows she could have avoided, had she been content to leave it with God! In the end, her self-will brought sorrow not to herself alone, but to the others involved at the time, as well as to future generations."
He paused, looking kindly at the young people who were listening with interest. "Abraham was a man of deep faith. Yet the faith of one person will not do for another. It is strictly a personal thing. There are many like Sarah in Christian circles today. They live under the influence of godly homes or are closely tied to believers, yet they themselves are lacking in faith in the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior. One will say: 'I have been brought up in a Christian home'; another, 'My father was a gospel preacher'; still another, 'I attend services regularly.' They think these things will get them to heaven. But, alas, how many of these dear people cannot say: 'Faith has made Him my personal Savior.' Those who have no true faith themselves cannot rely on the faith of another."
Jennie knew she was coming to just such a time in her life. She could no longer lean on Aunt Sarah and while Uncle Robert was a source of strength to her, she could not tell him her personal problems in the same way.
Mr. Marshall went on, bringing out the point that not only was Sarah lacking in faith at this time, but her failure brought Abraham down to her level, rather than his faith lifting her up.
Mr. Marshall remarked how sad it was that Sarah arranged for Abraham to have a child through Hagar the Egyptian slave and, worse yet, to think that he agreed to it. "This would never have happened," he explained "if Abraham and Sarah had not gone down into Egypt (which is a type of the world) and brought this slave girl back with them. The Christian has so much more promised to him than the world can possibly offer. How important that we find our friendships among the Lord's people," he finished, "and not turn to the world for companionship."
Jennie and Julia were spending the night at the Marshalls'. After they climbed the stairs to the guest room, they compared notes on their jobs. Jennie said in many ways her's was dull, and yet she was happier having something to do. Maybe later on it would work into something she preferred more. It wasn't easy on those cold mornings to stand shivering as she waited for the bus. Sometimes she thought it would never come, but then strong lights shining down at the end of Main Street would appear, offering shelter from the cold for the ride into Peterborough.
Julia remarked that someone once asked her why she didn't just take an apartment in town. "It doesn't hurt me to be under my parents' authority," she commented. "I'm so glad that I am! The more I get away from the circle of my home, the more I change. It's good to have a father and mother there to tell me I'm going in the wrong direction once in a while." She reached for her brush and ran it through her long hair, as she prepared for the night.
"I know a lot of girls don't feel this way. They want to get out on their own," she continued. "But I'm so glad I have a home with parents who love me and care for me. I feel a sense of security and contentment in the warmth of home."
Julia's quick perception was standing her in good stead in a job that had a lot of detail and required concentration, but once five o'clock arrived, she wanted to return to Jaffrey and home. She had never faced the struggle to be satisfied with things as they were in her home. It was Jennie and Stephen who fought so hard against accepting life in Jaffrey.
Jennie switched off the light, both of them ready to call it a day. But Julia clearly had something on her mind.
"Jennie, she said at last, "Stephen is taking a girl at school out quite a bit. Her name is Laurie."
Shock swept over Jennie, leaving her like a stone. "There it is," she thought, "out in the open. I have never let myself believe it could happen this way, but now it has." In one moment of time, everything was changed. All those hours of prayer stood behind her as a bulwark in the face of this moment, but it still was not easy. Just now, she could not remember the lessons she had learned in those quiet times, could not find the comfort she needed. She hardly heard Julia's words as she continued.
"She's a Christian, Jennie. He met her last year at school. I don't think he thought much about her then, but this year they got onto a school project together and working so closely, they've come to know each other well."
There would be little sleep for Jennie that night.
As soon as she could return home the next day, she walked to her maple dresser, needing to find comfort. Pinned there was the last birthday card Aunt Sarah had sent Jennie. She took it down now, knowing the message that was written inside by heart, but needing to read it over and over again.
"Dear Jennie: "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." Rom. 8:28.
"God had a purpose in bringing you into this world which no one else can fulfill. Our life is like a puzzle we cannot solve. But God knows the purpose He wants you to achieve.
"He has all the pieces. He knows what the picture will look like when it's finished. He and He alone can fit the pieces together-if we will only let Him. Some of those pieces may try our patience. But all the pieces (the 'all things') are necessary to complete the purpose He has planned for your life. Some may seem to you to be just the opposite of what you would choose. But none can be omitted."
Beside Aunt Sarah's message, the card itself read:
My life is but a weaving
Between my Lord and me,
I cannot choose the colors
He worketh steadily.
Oft times He weaveth sorrow
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I, the underside.
Not till the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver's skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
Jennie set the card down and remembered that she had once told Aunt Sarah she felt a secret nagging that perhaps His will might be different from hers after all! Now she was face to face with just exactly that. How many times over the last days she forcefully repeated Aunt Sarah's question to herself, "Would you really want Stephen, if the Lord didn't want you to have him?" That was a heart-searching question. As much as she wanted to give the right answer, it was slow in coming. Her mind went back to that hour of struggle on the Hillside. Aunt Sarah had left her so much wisdom and comfort, but in these hard hours she was now alone and peace would only come after she finally submitted to His perfect will. How hard it was to just let go of what she wanted.
The struggle, so agonizing in itself, worsened when Julia had mentioned that Stephen wanted Laurie to spend the night with her when he brought her down some weekend in the early spring! She honestly didn't know if she could find a place in her heart for Laurie at all. And now to have to share a room with her! Why couldn't Stephen understand?
Jennie well knew that the measure of her acceptance of anything hard in her life, would be directly related to the measure of her trust in God.
The cold of winter was upon him as Stephen Marshall walked along the Boston harbor. There were a number of ships anchored in the bay nearby, bobbing up and down in the brisk wind. Pulling his warm, fur-lined jacket close about him, he bent to the wind, stuffing his hands into his pockets and continuing his slow, thoughtful pace along the dock, watching the variety of boats tied up to the old piers.
In warm weather, he enjoyed coming here to watch the faces of the people as they passed by him: from the happy child holding his mother's hand, to the old, hunched-over, weathered man with only a few years left of a lonely, wasted life. Faces provided a study all of their own.
Tonight Stephen himself made a study, his face intent, head bent against the wind. As darkness began to descend and the old lanterns softened the night, he sat down for a few moments on a nearby bench.
From the docks came a loud whistle. He turned to watch a fairly good-sized boat pull out of the mouth of the harbor, out into the night?its lights shining in the inky darkness, leaving a trail of foam from its rudder. How long he sat there deep in thought, he couldn't be certain, but at last he rose and continued walking. Passing the many shops, he came at last to an old section of town, dense with beautifully preserved townhouses standing side by side as they had for so many years. Their miniature gardens intrigued him, along with their friendly porches-all displaying the charm of the past.
As much as he had once fought leaving the mid-west and coming to New England, he had to confess that, much like Jennie, he now felt at home in this quaint atmosphere. Many of the windows were covered with crisp white curtains and he recalled how in the summer the contrast of bright geraniums against the white background captured his artistic eye. Now he could see beyond to the warm interiors, where families gathered for the evening. He felt alone? Shut out.
Holding his head high against his loneliness, he turned back to the dock area, thinking it might be less disturbing to sit awhile on one of the benches.
So many decisions were facing him. His life was rapidly changing. He needed to stop time for an evening.
He remembered how he first fought against coming to Jaffrey. Then, on his backpacking trip, he resolved to return for only one more year. His father once promised him that eventually he could return to Peoria or Oregon. But now his college life was so busy and full, that the longing to leave had disappeared. His strong love for his family urged him to stay. And something else was making a difference.
He felt a ready smile cross his face as he thought of Laurie. She was becoming such a good friend and while it might seem hasty to some, it really wasn't. For over a year now, they had been friends.
The strange thing about it all was how much Laurie and Jennie were alike. While Laurie was naturally different in many ways, yet there was something about her that made her seem like she could be Jennie's older sister?the same blue eyes, a similar kind of smile, the talkative way Jennie always shared with him. All this was Laurie, too.
Yet, he reflected, it was the difference in Laurie that drew him to her. He was impressed by the fact that she was ready to try the unusual, to venture out in a profession he admired. She was right there behind him, encouraging him in the projects that interested him, where Jennie tended to hold him back. He could even picture Laurie climbing those needle points of rock that were such a thrill to him. Yes, she would be right beside him on those mountain peaks, wanting to reach the top as much as he did.
His thoughts softened as he thought of Jennie. She still meant a great deal to him. She was special to him and would always be. She was the girl he grew up with, almost more like a dear sister than a friend. No, he never intended to hurt her. How would she accept this new friendship? He was convinced she would understand. He was always open and sincere with her. It just wasn't in him to lead a girl on intentionally and then hurt her. There was too much gentleness in him for that. Jennie had shared so much with him. Those growing-up years could never be forgotten. She understood when he lost Charlie his cocker and she was there praying for him when he got caught in the storm.
But as dear as Jennie was to him, the way he felt about Laurie was different. It was a total matching of personalities and ambitions. His growing-up years were behind him now.
Peter Benton escorted Uncle Robert to the car where Jennie waited for them. The day before, he had decided to take time from work to drive Jennie and Uncle Robert to an old inn up in Vermont for lunch. He knew there was nothing either of them would enjoy more and understood that more than any other friend, Uncle Robert would be the most comfort to Jennie at this time. His courage, so apparent, his gentleness and strength combined with his strong faith in God were making an enduring impression on Jennie. These attributes added to his disarming sense of humor would help her through this difficult time.
The early morning sunlight was streaming in the windows as Uncle Robert climbed into the front seat of the car. They drove along enjoying the brilliant sunshine as it began to melt the snow from trees, sending small rivulets running down the sides of the streets. Her father was discussing a difficulty he once faced in the past. With sincerity Uncle Robert turned to them, speaking in his southern accent.
"Peter, the hardest thing to do is to hear something said about yourself that isn't true and not try to correct it." After pausing a long moment, he turned and looked at Jennie, no doubt remembering something in the past. Then he continued, "I've been over that road many a time." He seemed to have such deep, strong understanding. He hesitated a moment, then added, "Each of us has his own way of showing courage."
Jennie thought about that as they drove on. To stand in the face of criticism when you knew you had done your best and not let it destroy the peace in your soul would take character, a closeness to the Lord. She reflected that for her, courage was sometimes going to the meetings with a smile on her face, as if nothing were wrong. How hard it could be to just go on as if everything were normal, and not show that her heart was breaking.
At last they arrived at the inn? A yellow, ivy-covered building sitting back from the road. It had a bright red door which extended a cheery welcome as they came up the path. Attractive lanterns on either side of the brick walk would cast a subdued light as darkness fell. The dead vines stood stark and flowerless; that is, they seemed dead. In just a few more weeks, they would be slowly coming to life. That was one thing which was certain. There would always be another spring, another summer, a promise of resurrection. If only she could apply that to the dark times in her life, knowing the Lord would bring her joy again when He saw the time was right.
Looking up, they could see the guest rooms with their many tiny-paned windows, the sheer, white curtains letting in the sunlight. They climbed out of the car and walked along the brick walk to the entrance.
Just as they had expected, Uncle Robert was charmed with the old inn. Entering the large hallway, they spotted a fire crackling in the fireplace of the main room. A graceful, curving stairway with dark, polished banisters led to the guest rooms upstairs, while a bright carpet completed the cozy entryway. The three were deeply engrossed in conversation when a waiter escorted them to the dining room beyond.
Jennie and her father stepped back, insisting Uncle Robert lead the way to the table. Jennie had seldom seen him so happy, and realized there was no better way to forget her own troubles, than to be doing for someone else.
The crackling fire added a warmth to the inn. She didn't think it could possibly snow on this bright day, but as they sat at a small round table, she looked beyond Uncle Robert to see snow falling! For a few moments she reflected on what a delightful experience it would be to be stranded here for the night. There were plenty of guest rooms upstairs. She pictured her father and Uncle Robert sitting around that bright fire, with a blizzard blowing outside, telling stories, and at last each of them walking up the old, creaking stairway to a guest room.
As if he could read her thoughts, Uncle Robert burst into a grin, "I don't think you need to worry about the snow, Jennie. This isn't going to stick!"
As they waited for their lunch to be served, he took a deep breath and a big smile crossed his face. Something on the menu reminded him of how much his brother-in-law disliked goat. "You have to be very careful," he said intently, "when dressing a goat. Otherwise you get that bad taste in the meat." His mind was going back through the years to those happy days on the farm when his wife Molly was still alive.
Someone had told Jennie that when the Carters were entertaining, all the plates would often be set by Uncle Robert. Carefully he would carve the meat, placing a slice on each plate, passing one to each guest.
He was continuing his story, "If goat is done properly, it can be very tasty. I remember a time on the farm when we didn't have much lamb, there wasn't enough to go around. My brother-in-law simply couldn't bear to eat goat." His eyes sparkled, remembering.
"Well, what do you think we did?" he asked. "Having no choice, we killed a goat and dressed it painstakingly. I was determined that for a few moments at least that goat was going to pass for lamb. We carved it and set out two platters. I passed the platter of goat to him, saying nothing."
Just then the waitress came with the large pewter plates of steaming seafood and set them down in front of them. After she left, Uncle Robert added, "He ate that goat and never knew the difference."
"Did you ever tell him?" Jennie questioned.
"Oh yes, of course I told him. He could hardly believe it."
In spite of hard times, his sense of humor must have been a factor in making life more bearable. As a family, the Carter's also enjoyed the rewarding times of giving shelter and hospitality to the Lord's people. Jennie felt an inner conviction that a great deal of those years he wouldn't have changed. Her thoughts were back at his farm, forming a picture of it in her mind. How she would love to go there... just once!
Later during the meal, he said thoughtfully, "Today would have been our fifty-first wedding anniversary, if Molly were alive." He seemed sad.
"Tell us about your wedding and how you started life together," Jennie suggested, genuinely interested.
"We were married very simply," he began. "We really didn't want a big wedding. You see, before the wedding, after we became engaged, Molly's father asked me if I would like to farm the old place. I was thrilled. So I came to the farm six months in advance to learn how to run it. During that time, I built a small apartment onto the house for Molly and myself to live in after we were married."
He paused, thinking back through those long years. "There was a nice fireplace to keep us warm, so I stacked up a large supply of wood. Then one week we just decided not to wait any longer to get married. We had, of course, been engaged several months by then. The meetings were held in the old farmhouse, and very few came out during the week. We decided that we wouldn't say a word about the wedding and whoever happened to come to the meeting, would have the privilege of coming to the wedding afterward."
Jennie was overcome. How many young people today would think of being married like that! She couldn't imagine it that way and yet something about it was tastefully simple, so sweet.
"Did your wife have a wedding dress?" she asked, having given much thought to the one she hoped to wear someday at her own wedding.
He smiled, remembering. "Yes, Molly wore a lovely dress for the wedding. It was blue, pale blue. Her sister made it for her and she wore it with a veil.
"After the meeting was over, we announced there was going to be a wedding. The news was startling. You can be sure a lot of folks who hadn't come out that night were going to be disappointed. When the wedding was over, we took the horse and carriage and drove off to a small town nearby, where we had a short stay and then returned to our own apartment to begin married life."
He turned from them, gazing out the window. It was no longer snowing. Even though lunch was finished, he seemed to want to linger and talk, each of them aware that soon their paths would part again.
"Did you ever get to take any trips?" Jennie asked.
He was thoughtful a moment, returning in memory through the years. "Yes," he said slowly, "yes, we did. There were three small gatherings fairly close to one another and we visited back and forth. Many times we went up to a farm in Virginia where the Putnams lived."
They leaned back in their chairs, following with interest the reminiscences. "The Putnams," he explained, "were a family of eleven, with nine children. How we enjoyed going there and eating out on the large sun porch where they ate, summer or winter."
"Wasn't it cold in winter?" Jennie interrupted.
"No," Uncle Robert answered, "there was a coal stove in the corner and it kept the porch warm. Mrs. Putnam served two large meals each day, at noon and in the evening." He looked intently at Jennie. "You were there on the dot of twelve noon or there was trouble," he explained, a serious note in his voice.
"They kept those children in order, every one of them. When they were very young, their mother would spank their legs with a small switch. Most of the little tots learned to obey at such an early age, they can hardly recall having to be disciplined. And in addition to the faithfulness, there was a great deal of love between the parents and the children."
Chuckling, he recalled that one of the humorous things about mealtime was the fact that the floor was slanted on the porch. If one of the children spilled a glass of water, which often happened, the ones sitting on the low side would jump up to escape a sudden shower.
"They had an old grain bin," he continued. "The Putnam children enjoyed taking our children out there, climbing up into the wheat, then sliding down. They loved to go into the haymow looking for eggs, where hens stole away and made their nests."
"Did they have a large house with lots of room for company?" Jennie asked, thinking of her parents' large home.
"Yes, four bedrooms upstairs and a couple downstairs. The guests always slept downstairs. At night, we adults would sit around a large wood stove in the kitchen and talk after the children went to bed. We weren't aware of the fact that upstairs they were lying across the floor, their ears to the grate that let warmth up from the stove, listening to our conversations. More than once they went away in tears, as they heard us express our concern over the troubles they were having."
He seemed lost now in numerous memories. These friends kept a special missionary box and encouraged the children to drop in a few pennies whenever they could. They spent one night a week as a family, mailing out tracts.
The waitress came and removed their plates. They walked into the lobby, standing a few moments by the bright fire. He looked lovingly at them both with tenderness in his smile. "You folks will never know," he told them, "what your love and care for me has meant through this long winter. I appreciate it so much."
Spring was arriving and Stephen was bringing Laurie home with him for the weekend. Julia knew this had been a long, hard struggle for Jennie, who agreed to keep her overnight. Sitting on the front steps with Jennie, Julia sought to find just the right word of encouragement. She decided to tell Jennie about an experience that had been very hard for her.
"When we lived back in Peoria," she began, "I had a close relationship with someone, much as you have had with Stephen. I know that he was very much aware of how much he meant to me. He led me to believe that I was more than a friend to him." Jennie had not known of this. It seemed that Julia was always full of surprises.
"One night my best friend came to spend the night with me. After she arrived, this friend of mine came over to take her out for the evening. I couldn't believe they could be this rude." She looked at Jennie with hurt still in her eyes.
"What did you do?" Jennie asked.
"It was awful. I had to greet him, see them off, and then see them again when they returned. It was terribly hard. After they left, I spent the evening in tears, and I must say I had a very strained relationship with the girl when she came back." She looked off down the street, remembering how it was. "It's hard, Jennie. But you get over it? finally."
They talked more about Stephen. Julia spoke up. "I would really prefer that a fellow come to me first and tell me what has happened, than shock me that way. Sometimes young men don't realize how badly they can hurt a girl. Just because there hasn't been a commitment between them, doesn't mean that two people haven't shared a lot through the years. I know that's how it has been with you and Stephen." She looked at Jennie. "I feel that no matter how much it hurts, it still is best if the fellow is manly enough to come and let the girl know before she finds it out some other way. Even a phone call would be better than nothing, if he feels he just can't face her. In the end, she'd think a lot more of him, and it might make for better relations between them later on. It could make all the difference in being able to remain friends."
Jennie thought awhile. She would certainly have liked to talk this out with Stephen, but she knew that was asking too much. She turned to Julia, "It seems that so much of the unresolved hurt would lessen if you just heard a few last words to help you understand why, and maybe too, if you could be assured that you could go on as good friends. It wouldn't be quite so hard to accept then."
"Being rejected is an awful thing! But, Jennie, I think that most of us have to go through this at one time or another," Julia replied, remembering her own painful experience. "I know that all weekend you'll be wondering why he chose Laurie instead of you. But I don't think even he would know the real answer to that."
That afternoon, Jennie took her Bible down to the woods. "What are you doing?" Lisa asked, as she stood in the doorway, watching her.
"I'm going over to the woods to read and pray," she explained. A sheltered spot beneath the trees, with a mossy undergrowth, had become Jennie's favorite spot when she needed to be alone and didn't have time to bicycle to the lake. There was the short walk up Main Street and then where the road separated, she took off into the thicket of trees that lay behind the meeting room. She often went there with her Bible tucked under her arm, sometimes with a pad of paper and pencil to take notes.
Lisa exclaimed with the simplicity of a small child, "How pretty!" Jennie smiled over the fact that to Lisa, praying and reading in the woods was a "pretty" thing to do.
"Want to come along?" she asked, half-hoping she wouldn't. As much as she loved Lisa, she didn't need her childish prattle following her today. In the end, it was Kara who came with her, Muffin at their heels.
Jennie sat under the trees, the wind blowing her long, dark hair. Kara wandered off alone, picking wild flowers.
Jennie pulled a letter that had arrived from Uncle Robert from the inside cover of her Bible, where she was protecting it from the wind, and looked at the careful handwriting. As she took it out of the envelope, a few sprigs of pressed flowers fell out and the breeze almost swept them away.
Her thoughts were so far away, she almost let the flowers go; then, realizing with sudden awareness they were from her friend, she reached out just in time and caught them, then began reading.
Uncle Robert was back in South Carolina now. He wrote that he had gone out very early one morning to the barn and found a patch of spring flowers growing fresh and new along the path. He pressed them for her, knowing how much she loved flowers. She could picture him there in his overalls, all the family still asleep, leaving by the side door and walking across the pathway to the barn. It was a thoughtful gift and to think she almost let the wind carry them away!
She read on. He wrote about the spring conference he went to, the meetings and how many dear Christian friends had attended. He also told her of the work on the farm, the hours of painting he was enjoying and the summer crops his son Thomas and daughter-in-law Heather were planting. He was so happy to be back to his gardening.
Casually he mentioned, "The hummingbirds came on Wednesday." She smiled. It was so like him to have remembered the very day they arrived. He had once told her about these hummingbirds and the feeder he put out for them by the living-room window. It was easy to picture him now, sitting there with his snowy-white hair, absorbed in the delightful birds. His letter coming the very day she was facing such a trying time was one more instance of the Lord's perfect timing in the smallest details.
Kara dashed back to her, clutching a handful of violets and forget-me-nots. Knowing Jennie had something very pressing on her mind, Kara wanted to show she understood. Sitting down beside Jennie, she listened to the end of the letter.
"You know I haven't had many roses in my pathway," he wrote, "but I learned many years ago as a boy to take everything, big and little, to the Lord. He will answer prayer."
Jennie folded the letter and thought how Uncle Robert knew the Lord Jesus as a Friend. Jennie longed to know Him more in this way. Opening her Bible, she turned to Isa. 30:29 and read: "Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord."
It was a beautiful verse, but could she take it for herself? She appreciated Kara sitting beside her, the gift of flowers on her lap, and the letter from her dear friend which brought back so many cherished memories. But a song? How could there be a song?
As she finished reading the verse a second time, the trill of a bird in a nearby treetop filled the air. It was a comfort sent from the Lord, an assurance that indeed He would fill her heart with a song of joy.
Later that afternoon, Stephen arrived with Laurie. In spite of herself, Jennie was drawn to her immediately. The family agreed the two girls could well have been sisters. The resemblance was definitely there.
That night, Jennie lay in bed unable to sleep, waiting for Laurie to return from her evening out with Stephen. It was so much like Julia's experience except that Jennie was prepared. It was a time of mixed feelings, but she knew she must be a friend to Laurie. There was nothing to gain in letting it be otherwise. Laurie didn't know of her fondness for Stephen and she would never tell her.
As she lay there, she recalled their walks down Main Street with its twinkling lanterns when they shared their separate, growing-up experiences, their struggle to accept this small gathering with its limited fellowship, and the fact that in the end they both were coming to think of it as home and to enjoy it in spite of the limitations. How many hours had they talked together? She could never even try to guess.
She would never forget the long winter evenings spent around the fire working on puzzles and sketching scenes together. Nor would she forget the times she played the piano with Stephen beside her, playing his violin. Often a group would gather around the piano, singing in harmony with their duet.
But especially she would remember that spring afternoon of Alec's farewell dinner-Stephen walking to the porch, smiling, calling to her through the screen as she arranged the apple blossoms for a centerpiece on the table. Sometimes the simplest memory had a way of becoming the most dear.
There was a knock on the door. It was Laurie who soon joined her in the warm bed, bubbling over with talk and laughter, telling Jennie some of her memories-all so recent, so new. She knew nothing of the struggles in Jennie's heart.
"One of the things I appreciate most about Stephen," Laurie said, "is his thoughtfulness."
Yes, Jennie knew of that, too. Whatever memories Laurie cherished, Jennie had hers as well.
"You know," Laurie chuckled, bubbling over again with her new happiness, "every time he comes to see me, he brings me flowers. Sometimes it's just one rose from the florist, other times it's a whole bouquet. But the other day he was late, and with no money in his pocket, he just stopped along the path and picked a handful of forget-me-nots. Somehow that was what I liked best of all!"
But Jennie was remembering the wild geranium which had taken him so much effort to locate in the woods and the spring evening she turned in her garden to see Stephen standing there, smiling, holding the gift out to her.
The changing of the seasons brought a surprise. Mr. Benton was being sent to South Carolina on a business trip. With Kara and Lisa finishing the school term, Jennie would be the one who could accompany her father. Her boss was lenient in giving her time off. That meant only one thing to Jennie?they would be able to visit Uncle Robert! She remembered the day, now so long ago, when she had commented to Uncle Robert, wondering if she would ever see his farm.
Her father wrote him, asking if they could come for a visit. He wrote back, pleading that they "stay as long as possible" and assuring them that his son Thomas and daughter-in-law Heather were happy to open their home to them. However, a short time before leaving they learned that Uncle Robert was in the hospital, seriously ill. The family suspected hepatitis and insisted they continue with their plans. "It will mean more to him now than ever," they reassured them.
The heat of summer was beating down in full strength when they arrived in South Carolina. The days were hot and muggy, the trees lush with green foilage, woodbine climbing around the trunks. Nights were an endless blanket of hot, sticky heat.
Uncle Robert was settled comfortably in a small-town hospital which lacked the busy, cold efficiency of many city hospitals. There was a homey atmosphere as they walked in. The nurses were friendly and kind. Jennie was delighted to find Uncle Robert sitting in a chair in the corner of his room, rising to greet them. He had lost weight and looked weary, but his happy smile soon erased that first impression. As they visited, he would alternate between sitting in the big red chair in the corner when he felt strong, and sitting up in bed in his weaker moments.
On that first visit, Uncle Robert asked Jennie to go into his bedroom on the farm and take out a picture she had long wanted from his dresser drawer. Then he wanted her to walk to the end of the room where his small collection of glassware and odds and ends of memories from the years was displayed on a shelf and take for herself a small blue jug. "It's been yours, Jennie, for a long time," he said kindly.
Leaving the hospital, they headed directly for the farm. Jennie was excited at the prospect of seeing Uncle Robert's place. He had described it so often on Lord's day afternoons when he had entertained them with his stories from the past. She only wished that he were in the car with them. It was hard to leave him behind, alone in the hospital, when he had so wanted to show them the farm himself.
As they climbed out of the car, the Carters were unaware that they had arrived. So they took a few moments to look around the farm.
In spite of the fact that the house was only about twenty years old, it fit naturally into the setting of the original homestead that had years before burned to the ground. The latticed porch remained as it was before the fire, now a useful part of the new house. The tall massive oaks which graced the farm rose toward the sky, having remained all these years.
To one side of the house stood a large mimosa tree with pink blossoms. Coming from the North, and before that, from the West, Jennie had never seen this kind of tree. Looking up at it, she felt awed over being on the farm, the thrill of being in the South, and a sense of the Lord's love for her in bringing her here at this specific time. It was like a miracle unfolding, as her father had never had business in this section of the country before. Reaching up to a branch of the tree, she picked a pink blossom and dropped it into her dress pocket. When she returned to the hospital, she would take it to Uncle Robert and ask him what it was. Maybe it would please him to see something from his farm.
Walking to the back of the house, the weathered barn caught her eye. She was intrigued with it. The surrounding fields of corn were over five feet tall. Green grapes ripened on vines, and would later turn to a deep purple. Following down the dirt road, they found Thomas mowing the back lawn. He looked so much like his father! When he smiled and spoke to them, Jennie was convinced she could now visualize what Uncle Robert had been like in his younger years.
Thomas' wife Heather came out with the children to welcome them. Already it was like coming home. It seemed like they had always known these kind people. Heather led her to Uncle Robert's bedroom. She smiled warmly at Jennie, "Papa wants you to have his room. You can sleep here while you're staying with us. "
Much later, she sat alone in Uncle Robert's large bedroom. It almost seemed like a small apartment. She knew this room meant a great deal to him. He had described it to her back in Jaffrey, telling her about all the memories he found in that room. She could see clearly how this was "home" to him.
Along one wall was his prized collection of books. She recognized some as being the same ones her father owned. Others he had picked up at library sales for a few coins, collecting them through the years until now he owned a small library himself. How she would love to have just one of the books!
Across from the bookcase stood his dresser. She smiled as she noticed the text to one side which she had painted for him two years before with the border of flowers. To the other side of the dresser hung the wedding picture taken fifty-one years before! That day at the inn he had told them about the wedding. Now his words came back to her and the picture seemed to come alive.
Over Uncle Robert's bed were more photos on a shelf. She was especially interested in the small pictures of him and his wife Molly, taken just before they were married. How young they were then, unaware of what the years would bring.
Passing a comfortable rocker, she walked to the end of the long room which held much of his present life, as well as many memories. He had requested that she see all of this and take his gift. Otherwise, she would have felt like an intruder. He would want her to come back to the hospital and tell him about each detail she had noticed.
He later explained that the drop-leaf table sitting beneath the built-in shelves holding the pitcher and creamer sets and other mementos from past years, was the one on which he and his wife had entertained so many guests. At one end of the shelf stood the lovely blue jug he wanted her to have. She reached for it carefully, taking it from its niche, knowing it would have a place of honor on her pine desk back home.
Beside these shelves was an open closet, not having a door. As she passed by, she couldn't help but observe the well-worn coveralls hanging on a peg. The knees were bent, as if Uncle Robert had just stepped out of them. They appeared to be awaiting his return. She wondered if he would ever be well enough to put them on again and walk out to his garden, bending over the soil, listening to the sound of the birds he so loved.
She felt herself choking up, so quickly moved to the other end of the room, stopping by his desk. It sat in front of a window which was framed with soft, yellow curtains, making the afternoon sunlight a mellow, golden color. It was here he often sat in the early-morning hours as dawn was breaking, writing letters to those he loved. She could so easily picture him with his white hair, bent over the desk, writing slowly as the first rays of sunlight began to fill the room. An assortment of pens and pencils was stacked neatly in a leather pencil box, other odds and ends were carefully in place just where he left them when he was rushed to the hospital.
Just beyond was his private side door, leading out through the latticed porch onto the dirt road. It was easy to picture him in the early-morning hours going out that door to greet the dawn. He often had said to her, "I never could see a person wasting their time sleeping!"
When Jennie returned later to the hospital, she pulled the mimosa bloom from her pocket. It was crushed and withered, but he readily identified it for her. She sat talking with him, when a nurse came in, placing a beautifully-sliced tomato on his dinner plate. As she left the room through the swinging door, he commented, "Jennie, she took that tomato from her own garden. She knows that fresh garden vegetables taste the best to me." He paused, "I knew her when she was just a little girl."
It was soon evident he was a favorite with the nurses. When he rested, one of them talked with Jennie. After that, she began to suspect he was a lot sicker than he was letting on.
"We all love him so," the nurse said plainly.
On Lord's day afternoon, Jennie and her father brought Catherine Williams, Uncle Robert's oldest daughter, in to the hospital. She sat by her father's bed in the warm sunshine, visiting with him as the Bentons joined in from the background. When Catherine rose to go, Jennie walked down the corridor with her. Reaching the front entrance, she stopped in the bright sunshine and looked Jennie in the eye. Tears were close.
"Papa has cancer. He has only a few weeks to live," she said simply, beginning to cry.
It was such a shock that Jennie, too, found unexpected tears streaming down her face. She could hardly speak. Once again her life was turned upside down.
"Cancer?" she managed to ask. He would face the same death as her dear Aunt Sarah? These two people, who had come to mean so much to her in life, would die the same death? This man who weeks before walked vigorously beside them that day at the inn, looking forward to spring and the summer months of hard work ahead?he was going to live only a few more weeks? She found it almost impossible to believe.
Catherine explained he had not felt well for many months, ever since his return to Jaffrey last September.
Then he had known all that time? Jennie's mind raced back to those hours. How like him to have kept it to himself. She recalled immediately that walk they had taken last fall in the damp autumn leaves. It was then she had told him how happy she was that he was returning well and strong? A whole man. He had known even then. She recalled now how silent he had become when she spoke those words, how he had walked on for some time without speaking.
"You must dry your tears and go back to him with a smile. Don't let on that I've told you," Catherine added.
But Jennie stood alone in the sunshine a long while, waiting, unable to regain the calmness she knew she needed while with Uncle Robert.
Mr. Benton was speaking at the gospel meeting that night and thoughtfully suggested that Jennie spend the time with. Uncle Robert. Thomas, wanting to see his father for a few moments also, offered to drive her to the hospital. As she climbed into the car beside him, she watched his wife Heather waving from the porch, the darling granddaughter Uncle Robert loved so much clinging to her skirts. The home disappeared through the long avenue of trees bordering the dirt road leading from the farm.
Soon they were on the open country road with cattle grazing under sheltering shade trees, twilight falling about them, lights appearing in the white farmhouses. Thomas spoke, "Papa has cancer, Jennie. He only has a short time to live."
How thankful she was Catherine had told her earlier. Only her knowing before made it possible to keep her composure now, as she rode along with Thomas. "Papa is ready to go," he said slowly. They both knew that he would want to be in the presence of his Lord and Savior. Thinking of the many dear ones already with the Lord, Thomas continued, "So many that he loves have gone on before him." Pausing for a moment, he added, "Your visit has meant so much to him, Jennie. We're so glad you could come now before he gets worse."
Once more, Jennie marveled at the Lord's perfect timing. A few more weeks and it would have been too late. Not only that, but the Lord was removing her terrible fear of sickness. She no longer dreaded seeing him there in the hospital. Rather than flee (as she would have done in the past), the only thing that filled her thoughts now was to in some way lessen his suffering.
They rode on in silence, both of them trying to absorb the realization that this one so dear to them would soon be taken from them. Jennie was grateful to the Lord that Uncle Robert had these loving children to care for him. Thomas told her how they wanted to carry out his wishes these last, hard days, to make things as easy for him as they possibly could. Thomas' deep love for his father did not have to be put into words; his devoted care in these hours was proof enough. Uncle Robert had written that there had not been many roses along his pathway. Jennie recalled the day she had read that letter in the woods behind the meeting room. She was sure Thomas' love for his father was one of the brightest roses across his pathway.
Dropping her off at the hospital, Thomas hurried in for a brief "hello", then left them to visit. Uncle Robert asked Jennie if she would read a few verses from Psa. 34. She gladly complied as she sat in the big chair by his bed.
She began reading: "I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. 0 magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together. I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto Him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles."
When she came to the next verse it was too hard to continue. Tears were welling up in her eyes. She thought she had shed them all that afternoon in the cornfield on his farm. Not wanting Thomas and Heather to see her cry, she had fled to those sheltering cornstalks as she absorbed the words Catherine had told her earlier. And now the tears were returning. It was impossible to go on reading and hold them back.
"Just close it," he soothed her in his kind way, understanding. "I'll read it later." They sat in silence for a long while, then he spoke up at last, "It was good of you and your father to come all this way." Again there was silence. "I'll never see you folks again."
She felt it was his way of bringing his death out in the open, perhaps wanting to find out if she knew yet. Almost without hesitation she answered brightly, aware that it was the Lord who gave her these words in reply. She told him of their farewell back in Jaffrey to Billy, the young boy whose parents so often left him alone. "When he told us good-bye," she said, "he told us, 'I may never see you again on earth... but guaranteed in heaven!"
Uncle Robert broke into a happy smile. Her answer had been enough.
It was evident that the Lord's perfect will was enough for Uncle Robert. As they sat together talking, the sound of cicadas chirping in the heavy foilage came through the open window. There was no struggle?peace filled the room. Uncle Robert knew he would have to suffer, that he had so little time left on this earth; yet he was able to smile and speak freely of the Lord's love for him.
Jennie thought of how many times she had wanted to submit to the Lord in her life. What had been wrong? The answer came to her in the silence of this hospital room. She had accepted the Lord's will with reluctance, not with joy. That must be the secret of victory. Always, underneath, she felt she deserved some credit for taking her disappointments. Now, in the face of this hour, she knew she deserved no credit at all. She was ashamed of herself.
The Lord was exchanging Jennie's fear for the peace so evident in Uncle Robert. It was the peace that passeth understanding. Uncle Robert was not thinking of dying; rather, he was anticipating with joy the knowledge that he would soon be in the presence of the Lord he had loved so many years, and his sufferings would be over. He knew that he would be satisfied in the Lord's presence. Even in his weakness, she sensed that he was, with expectation, awaiting that time.
The following morning, Jennie and her father dropped in to say a last good-bye. Uncle Robert took Mr. Benton's hand in his. "Thank you for coming," he said with great feeling. "Thank you for bringing Jennie. You'll never know what it's meant to me."
The strain of the farewell was taking its toll. The evening before, when for an hour or so he had appeared so much stronger, now seemed like another miracle to Jennie. She would always be grateful to the Lord for those cherished moments in which her own faith was strengthened. Moments in which she heard him relate the memories of the past with such joy; memories of the years tumbling out in a thankfulness to the Lord for all the way He had led him.
Turning to Jennie, Uncle Robert pretended not to see her tears. He could not smile as he bid her farewell. "Jennie," he instructed, "I want you to go back to my room on the farm and take one of the books from my library. I want you to have it as a gift from me."
Her heart welled up with appreciation. He looked at her for the last time. "You've been like one of my own children!" he said at last, and then with emphasis added as he looked upward, "Remember, if I don't see you again HERE, you know I'll see you... THERE!"
They hurried one last time through the hospital corridor and stepped into the brilliant sunlight. It was almost blinding, in contrast to the darkness inside. As her tears flowed freely at last, her father led her to the car. She stopped for a moment, wanting to stand here in this spot, looking up at the trees, the narrow lanes, this small town which had been home for so many years to her dear friend.
After returning to the farm, Jennie disappeared out the side door alone, walking along the winding path past the climbing morning glories, beside the grapevines and at last circled the old barn. A large bucket of water stood there for the cows to drink from. Passing beyond it, she came upon a narrow path almost completely covered with bramble. Uncle Robert especially wanted her to see the pond before she left. Thinking this path might lead to it, she pushed her way through the bramble. She noticed a tall stand of trees beyond. In the clearing that preceded it, she found the pond. It was surrounded by roses?wild roses growing on vines so close to the ground, she needed to bend low to get through. From here she could look back to the old barn that was part of the original homestead. The massive trees protecting it, attested to its age, almost as if the barn had been built to accommodate them.
As she sat there under the blue sky, watching this peaceful scene, she wondered how many of Uncle Robert's little girls and granddaughters had once played beneath the rose vines, running across the paths, circling the barn. His life had been a long one, some seventy-six years. She wondered why she was given the privilege of coming in at its close. What a cherished gift the Lord was giving to her through this experience.
Her mind wandered back to Jaffrey. Soon she would be returning. Seemingly it would be the same as when she had first moved there. But the three who had grown to mean so much to her had been taken away: first Aunt Sarah, then Stephen, now Uncle Robert. It was as though they were loaned to her for a time-a time when the Lord knew she needed them most. With wonder, she felt afresh how carefully He was planning her life, down to the very last detail. His timing was so perfect. How could she feel despair in the awareness of His love for her?
Gripping her, this knowledge gave her a fresh sense of courage. She wasn't holding the reins of her life; the Lord Himself was, and she didn't want it any other way. The more she trusted Him, the greater would be her rest.
As she thought about what it meant to give up these three loved ones, a verse from a recent meeting returned to her mind with new meaning. "And the Lord said... it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go." (Judg. 7:4)
She could be assured that He would bring those people He wanted for her, those He was choosing to be a part of her life. They were a gift from Himself, and if He chose to take them away, then that, too, was part of His perfect ways and of His love! She could trust through days of sorrow, knowing?all must be well. Her search for a SONG was ended.
Through the love of God our Savior,
All, will be well;
Free and changeless is His favor,
All, all is well.
Precious is the blood that healed us,
Perfect is the grace that sealed us,
All must be well.
Though we pass through tribulation,
All will be well;
Ours is such a full salvation
All, all is well.
Happy still in God confiding;
Fruitful, if in Christ abiding
Holy, through the Sprit’s guiding
All must be well.
We expect a bright tomorrow,
All will be well;
Faith can sing through days of sorrow,
All, all is well.
Jesus every need supplying;
Or in living, or in dying,
All must be well.
The sun was rising in the sky, promising another warm day. Jennie hurried into the backyard with her heavy load of wash, remembering how, many years before when in Jaffrey, she had done this same chore with frustration and resentment! Now she was experiencing the happiness of being a wife and mother. The Lord had sent His choice to Jennie, a young man from the West. Now in her own home, she was doing the same housework she had once done in Jaffrey. She was the same Jennie. Yet, in another sense, she no longer was that Jennie. Her rebellion and bitterness were now replaced with appreciation for what the Lord had planned for her. She was a recipient of His blessing; He had done for her something far greater than what the mere scope of her own dreams would have brought her, the Lord having said, "This shall go with thee." As the years unfolded, Jennie became more and more aware of the privilege the Lord had given her through the move her family made to Jaffrey. Looking back, she cherished those years as much as any in her life. The continued affection of the Marshalls, the memories of Aunt Sarah and Uncle Robert-each remained a source of strength to her as she faced the problems a wife and mother encounters. Jennie had no regrets as she looked back on her friendship with Stephen. It was a friendship she would always cherish. She was satisfied that the Lord, in His wisdom, had chosen a different path for her. Most of all, she found the same Friend was with her in every circumstance, regardless of where she was living. Picking up the empty basket with a song of thankfulness to Him for all His goodness to her, she found her heart could echo without a moment of doubt..."He hath done all things well."
courtesy Bible Truth Publishers