Mrs. Nevins face showed signs of grief and care, but her smile toward her children was cheery, as she placed the meager supper of potatoes, bread, pre-serves, and tea upon the table. "I'll put some bigger sticks upon the fire," she said. "Our woodpile is al-most gone but I sent William down to Mr. Johnson's coal yard to order some coal, though we cannot pay for it yet."
Just then the door flew open and stalwart William, her twelve-year-old, rushed into the room, "Mr. Johnson's the meanest man that ever was!" he exclaimed.
"He wouldn't trust us for even a pound of coal. He told me I was big enough to pick up all the wood we needed along the road."
"He never lost money by this family, and never will," quietly remarked Mrs. Nevins. "I would have paid him right away, only the doctor's and under-taker's bills were large, and we had to have potatoes and flour. However, I am sure that the Lord will provide; so we must not worry."
When all were seated at the table, they bowed their heads while the mother asked a blessing. They then fell to with a will; and the portions, small for the children's appetites, soon disappeared. The mother's portion was smaller than the others were, but she took fully as long to eat.
"It's a cold night, and we want a pleasant even-ing," she said. "William, please go to the shed and get some wood. Ruth will do the dishes and I'll play with Mary and John, as their father used to do, before they go to bed."
In a few moments William returned and threw a large armful of wood into the box. "There are only two or three more such piles out there," he said. "We haven't enough wood to last us two days."
"Well, then maybe we'd better not burn anymore tonight. I'll put the little ones to bed, and we can sit by what fire we have until it goes out," said Mrs. Nevins.
At last William blurted out: "He told me to pick chips along the road. I know where I can find some pretty big chips, enough to keep us warm all winter."
"Why, William, what do you mean?" his mother asked.
"I mean his old rail fences by the canal basin. There's no moon this week, and they won't be missed until spring. And by that time nobody can tell where our wood ashes came from. Oh, that's a great idea!"
"No, William," said his mother sternly. "That is not a great idea. That's a poor idea. Your father was an honest man. You remember that the day before he died he commended us all to God's care and said that God would take care of us. No, no, you must not think of such a thing." And Mrs. Nevins buried her face in her hands and burst into sobs.
"Well, Mother, I don't want to be a thief; but we'll have to get wood somewhere or we'll freeze to death before the winter is over."
"We might better freeze than steal," said the mother. "But I believe God will take care of us, and we have tomorrow to plan what to do."
"To pick up chips along the road," added Ruth with a smile.
"Well, children, Jesus said, 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.' We cannot do anything tonight and worry does us no good. Suppose you get your Sunday School books and study your lesson for next Sunday."
After a few minutes with her book, Ruth exclaim-ed: "See, Mother dear, how our Bible story matches our case. It's about the poor widow who asked Elisha what she should do to pay her debts. He told her to borrow vessels and pour oil into them; and she kept on pouring until she had enough to buy everything she needed. Isn't that wonderful?"
"That's just like the Bible," said William; "but such things don't happen nowadays."
Soon Ruth spoke again. "Here it tells about the Israelites. When they needed food in the wilderness, God sent a great wind that brought quails that fell around the camp, and everybody had all the meat he could eat."
After a moment Ruth turned her head toward the window, listening. "Why, the wind is rising now. Just hear how it moans in such a queer way over the canal," she cried.
"It'll take a pretty big wind to blow us coal or wood," remarked the skeptical William.
After the lessons were learned, the mother offered prayer commending herself and family to their father's God; and the three left the chilly kitchen for the warmth of their beds.
While the children slept, the listening mother heard the bleak wind whistling around the little cottage. But she never thought that, as the wind of old was the hand of God to bring food to His children, so now in her day the wind would again be God's hand to bring the means of warmth to their very door.
William, who, since his father's death, had felt the responsibilities of his position, was up to build the morning fire. "I won't be able to do this many more days," he muttered as he opened the kitchen door.
"Why, oh why, what's this?" he called. "Wood sticks, big and little, piled up all along the bank by the door. And the canal is full of logs clear down to the turn! I never saw anything like this in my life before!"
"Mother! Ruth! All of you come down here quick-ly," he called. "Just look at this!"
In a moment the whole family, clad in their night robes and wrapped in blankets, were crowded at the kitchen door. As far as their eyes could see, the canal was full of driftwood, which in places the wind had pressed upon the bank. There was fuel at their door to last them the entire season.
"The wind is again the hand of God," said Mrs. Nevins, sinking on her knees. "Children, get dressed as quickly as you can. Get the garden rakes and clothes poles and pull the wood to land."
How they worked! Even baby John did his little best to drag the logs onto shore. Breakfast was forgotten in the pressure of more important busi-ness. By the middle of the forenoon, the wood-house was full, and the surplus of big and little sticks piled up against the southern side of the cottage. There was no need now to pay a high price for coal; for an abundant supply of wood would keep them warm and cheerful not only for Christmas, but for all winter.
When the dinner hour came, the kitchen stove was red hot, and an awe-stricken group of children listened to their mother's broken prayer of thanks-giving.
The children, grown, are now heads in their own homes. And the son, William, has never forgotten that faith learned on the December morning of long ago.
- Burning Bush
"The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger:
but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing ."
" Oh how great is thy goodness,
which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee;
which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!"