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Alone Yet Not Alone
By Tracy Leininger Craven, Kim Childress
ZONDERKIDZCopyright © 2012 Tracy Leininger Craven
All rights reserved.
END OF A PERFECT DAY
Barbara Leininger shielded her blue eyes from the sun as she looked up at the tall cornstalks that stretched high above her. Though she was tall for a twelve-year-old, Barbara felt far too short as she stood on her tiptoes to grab one last ear of corn. The sun began to sink low on the horizon, casting its rays on her golden hair.
"There!" she said to Regina, her nine-year-old sister, who stood with a half-filled apron. "Now we can head home and help Mama with dinner. And I'll even let you carry this juicy ear of corn." She placed the prized ear in her sister's homespun apron.
Regina's eyes sparkled with pleasure, and a mischievous smile played around her deep-pink lips. "Thank you kindly, sister," she said with a slight curtsy. Then, without a second's warning, Regina dashed through the field toward their cabin. "I'll race you back," she cried merrily over her shoulder.
Barbara, who always loved a challenge, was off in a flash. It didn't take long for her to catch up to Regina, but she held back, allowing her younger sister the pleasure of winning. They both arrived home breathless but laughing gaily, their eyes shiny and their cheeks rosy.
Their mother stood in the doorway of their little log cabin and greeted her daughters in German. "I see my girls have been hard at work today!"
As she picked the corn from their aprons, her kind eyes and loving smile warmed Barbara's heart.
"Run along now, and see if you can help your father."
Barbara took Regina's hand and led her around to the woodpile, where her father was chopping wood. With a determined blow, he split one last log. Then, burying the sharp ax in the old tree stump, he bent down to pat their German shepherd, Luther. In return, the dog wagged his tail furiously and licked his master's hand.
Barbara stooped down to gather small pieces of wood for kindling, but Regina stood with her eyes fixed on the horizon. Looking up, Barbara followed her gaze. John, their nineteen-year-old brother, emerged from the woods at the far end of the field. His musket was flung over his shoulder, and even from this distance, Barbara could see the wide grin on his face. When Barbara saw Christian, their oldest brother, who was twenty, she knew immediately why John was grinning. Two plump geese hung over his shoulder. Luther ran to meet them, barking loudly and jumping up to lick their faces.
"Thank heaven!" Mother Leininger cried. "They have returned home safely." The worry lines on her brow disappeared. "We will have meat with our dinner too!" She whispered a prayer of thanksgiving. The Lord had blessed another day's labor. Mother Leininger smiled and hurried back inside their cabin and to the hearth to finish dinner.
Soon the last glimmer of sun had faded beyond the western horizon, and the frontier family was serene in the comfort of their snug cabin. The light from the hearth cast a warm glow about them, softening each face. They shared the kind of family unity that comes from working together with one goal—not just survival in this sometimes hostile land, but of serving their Heavenly Master by walking in genuine love.
After their hearty supper, Barbara helped her mother clear the table. Regina snuggled between her two big brothers, listening intently as they told of their hunting adventures.
Barbara noticed Father look up from the old leather harness he was repairing with a gratified smile and look lovingly at each of his children, lingering a moment longer on Regina. Barbara knew Regina, the baby of the family, held a special place in all their hearts. Her childlike love for life, wild imagination, and animated personality both amused and endeared her to all of them. She was her mother's namesake and could not have been named better with her same chestnut brown hair and eyes as true a blue as the sea on a sunny day. Father always said Regina's eyes sparkled like the ocean just like her mama's eyes.
Barbara overheard bits and pieces of John's story as she scraped the leftovers into a dish for Luther, who lay at the hearth, wagging his tail and licking his jaws.
"I was sneaking through a thickly wooded riverbank," said John, "when, suddenly, I saw two—"
"John." Regina shook his arm frantically and her eyes grew wide in alarm. "What about the Indians? If you were in the woods all alone, an Indian might get you with his tomahawk." Silence filled the cabin. Even Luther cocked his head to the side and whimpered.
Barbara had heard the rumors. Unrest was growing between the French and the English over their western borders. Some said many Indian nations would ally with the French.
"Regina, Regina! My! What ideas your little head comes up with." John tousled his sister's hair affectionately. "You know the Indians are our friends. They sold us this land. Besides, there has not been an Indian raid in Pennsylvania since the colony first saw settlers over seventy years ago."
Despite John's reassuring words, Barbara noticed Mother glancing at Father with a concerned look. He paused, thinking deeply before he spoke. "Regina, do you remember why your mother and I decided to come to this land?"
"Yes, sir," Regina said smiling. "Because here we are slave to no man and are free to live as God sees best."
"That is right, my little one," Father said and then took Mother's hand in his. "When your mother and I decided to leave Germany to come to this land, we knew there would be dangers and hardships, but we also knew it was the price we must pay for freedom. Even if the Indians were to attack and take our lives, we would still be free. What could be more wonderful than to go from our beautiful valley straight to heaven?"
Christian, who had been deep in thought over the whole matter, added gravely, "Papa's right, Regina. I remember what it was like to till the count's land in Germany. We broke our backs working the fields, only to nearly starve during the long winters." He took a deep breath. "I would give my life any day to be here as a free man. Even though I cannot imagine it, heaven will be even more glorious than this."
"Regina, I think it is time for you to help your sister with the dishes," said Mother. Regina, who was never worried about anything for more than a moment, jumped up from her seat and skipped over next to Barbara at the washbasin.
As Barbara dried the last of the dishes, she could hear her father making plans for the following morning. Even though he sounded perfectly at peace, he was taking extra precautions.
"John," Father said, "your mother is going to the mill tomorrow to grind the harvested corn into meal, and as you know, it is a good day's journey." Looking squarely into John's face, conveying through his eyes more than he spoke, Father continued. "I will need Christian's help in the fields and I want you to go with your mother to the mill."
Father turned to Barbara just as she dried the last dish. Though he tried to hide his concern, Barbara saw the forced smile. "Come, my golden-haired princess, let us read the Scriptures."
Barbara blushed with delight at the compliment of being called her father's princess. Rushing to the old German trunk, which had traveled with them all the way across the ocean, she opened it and carefully lifted out the large Bible.
Father waited until the ladies had situated themselves about the table before opening the black cover with its beautiful gold lettering shining by the firelight. Then in his deep and caring voice, he began to read the words that melted away all the fears and cares of the day.
Barbara listened carefully to every word. She could tell Regina, who sat next to her, was trying her best to sit still. But her eyes darted about the room, her hands toyed with the tucks in her dress, and her foot kicked Barbara's leg in rhythm as if she were keeping time with the dog's wagging tail. It was evident that her mind had drifted far away into one of the lands where her vivid imagination often traveled.
Barbara nudged her little sister. Regina jumped in alarm and glanced at Father with repentant yet playful eyes and joined them in reciting their daily memory passage, Deuteronomy 8:2.
"'And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.'" Father again looked lovingly around the snug room and whispered thanks to his Heavenly Father for the blessings that had been bestowed on them.
After a few thought-filled moments, he looked at Barbara and asked, "Do you know what that Scripture means when it talks about the Lord's taking his people through the wilderness?"
"Yes, Father." Barbara was pleased to know the answer. "It's talking about the children of Israel, after they left Egypt."
"That's right, my little princess." Father smiled approvingly. "But did you know that God led me through a similar wilderness?"
Everyone eagerly turned toward Father. They loved to hear him speak of the past, for he could tell stories better than anyone else.
"Yes, it too was a test of about forty years. It was to see if my heart would remain faithful to the Lord. You see, when I was a young man in Germany—about your age, John—I heard of a faraway promised land with fertile soil and rich with wild game. Unlike the count's crowded valley, which my family had farmed for generations, a man could live on his own land, make a living, and even have an inheritance to pass on to his children." Father stared into the dying embers in the hearth with a faraway look in his eyes.
"Naturally, I wanted to pack up and leave Germany right away, but God had other plans. No, before I could leave Germany, I needed to walk through some trials and tests. God knew the lessons I needed to learn before my faith was ready for this promised land." Father chuckled and shook his head. His hand ran over the dry, brittle leather of the harness he had been repairing. "At times the challenges were so difficult that I thought I would never make it. But now that I am here—in this wonderful place God promised—I can see it was the trials that prepared me for the blessings God had for us in this new country."
He looked gravely at his children and then with tender earnestness he went on. "Each of you will have times of testing in your life. But you must always remember—no matter how difficult the trial or how dense the wilderness —God will never leave you. If your hearts remain true, God promises endless blessings."
His words stirred Barbara's heart. The silence that followed was only interrupted by an occasional snap from the slowly vanishing embers. Mother began softly humming the tune of an old German hymn. Soon the whole family joined in, and they sang the comforting and rich words to "Alone, Yet Not All Alone."
Regina's voice carried above the others. She loved singing; mother always called her their little songbird. But of all the hymns, this was her favorite. Barbara smiled at her little sister as they sang verse after verse.
Alone yet not all alone am I
Though in this solitude so drear
I feel my Savior always nigh;
He comes the weary hours to cheer
I am with Him and He with me
I therefore cannot lonely be.
Father asked Christian to close with prayer, and then Mother suggested it was time for Barbara and Regina to be off to bed. Barbara let down the curtain that separated their sleeping area from the rest of the cabin and quickly changed into her long, woolen nightgown. The room was cold away from the hearth, so she could not wait to jump into bed with Regina. She was glad to share a bed, especially on cold nights. When they were ready, Mother pulled back the curtain and sat on the edge of their straw-ticked mattress. She pulled the covers up around Barbara's chin and bestowed a tender kiss on her forehead. Barbara yawned.
"Oh, please, Mother," whispered Regina with childlike affection, "will you sing my song once more?"
"Ah, but you must get to sleep, my little one. I can already see your eyelids are heavy. How will you grow tall and strong like Barbara if you never let them rest?"
"Yes, Mother, but I always dream sweetly when I fall asleep listening to the sound of your voice."
Mother laughed and then placed a kiss on Regina's forehead. Her melodious voice filled the cabin with its soothing tones. Barbara watched as the last glow of firelight flickered across her mother's pretty face. Her expression was so full of love and joy that Barbara's heart filled with an unexplainable peace. The dangers that lay in the forest beyond now seemed far away. Slowly, she drifted into sleep.
* * *
Outside, the tall figure, who just hours before had stood still as a statue watching the family, had long since sneaked back into the slumbering forest just as quietly as he had come. He now sat in front of his own campfire, his eyes burning as bright as the light that flickered before him. His face did not soften in the gleam, but instead the dancing reflection highlighted his hardened features and accentuated the furrows in his brow. Soon his companions joined him, engaging in deep and agitated conversation until, at last, all was settled and they too fell asleep. Only, their dreams were of a different sort than Barbara's; they were not of peace and tranquility.
Barbara awoke and dressed hurriedly as the earliest shades of morning stole across the eastern horizon. Darkness still surrounded their cabin and the morning star hung steadfastly in the sky, twinkling as if happy to be the only star still shining from the heavens. She shook Regina, who was still snuggled deeply under the warm patchwork quilt Mother had brought from Germany. It was a treasured wedding gift. "Hurry, Mother and John are leaving."
Regina rubbed her eyes and stretched. With a start, she sat straight up in bed. "Mother's leaving?"
"Yes, for the mill, remember?" Barbara laughed at her drowsy sister.
Regina bounded out of bed.
Their mother and John, already prepared for their day's journey, quietly bid the family good-bye as if they didn't want to break the tranquility of the morning.
Regina, however, made up for the quiet. "Good-bye, my dear mother," she said, throwing her arms around her neck. Barbara wondered if she ever intended to let go. Finally, Regina bounded off toward John and bid him a similar farewell.
Mother looked down at Barbara and brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. "Take good care of Father and Christian while I'm gone. I've left some salt pork in the cupboard for stew." Mother smiled and hugged her daughter affectionately. "And if you can, see to it that Regina practices the spelling and arithmetic lessons on her slate while your father is in the field."
"I'll take good care of her, Mother." Barbara was delighted that her Mother treated her as if she were one of the grown-ups.
Having already bid them farewell, Father and Christian were headed for the barn to see to the livestock while Mother and John climbed into the wagon. Barbara held Regina's hand as the wagon, followed by Luther, who was merrily wagging his tail, headed down the trail. They watched until it blended in with the dim light of the morning.
Regina shivered and huddled closer to Barbara. With Mother gone, Barbara now took her place.
"Has the chill of the morning air nipped you?" Barbara asked, putting her arm around her little sister. "Don't worry. Our morning chores shall drive it away."
"It's not that I'm cold," answered Regina more to herself than to Barbara. "I was just thinking how I do not like good-byes." She gripped Barbara's hand tightly. "How awful it would be if I never saw Mother again."
"Regina, there goes your imagination again. Don't be silly! Besides, it's dreadful to dwell on such things. Mother and John will be home by lunch tomorrow." But Barbara shifted uneasily. She had already had the same thought as she watched the wagon disappear into the woods.
"Come," said Barbara. "Christian has promised to take us to the LeRoys' cabin after lunch if we complete all our chores this morning."
The LeRoys were a Swiss family that lived halfway across the valley. They were the Leiningers' nearest neighbors and shared the same faith and convictions. It was not uncommon for the two families to help with each other's workloads, especially during the harvest season. The girls looked forward to these visits because the LeRoys' only daughter, Marie, was about Barbara's age.
Delighted at the thought of visiting their neighbors, Regina was soon happily singing as she smoothed the bed quilts and swept the floor.
... He comes the weary hours to cheer I am with Him and He with me I therefore cannot lonely be ...
Barbara looked up from the corn she was shucking and watched Regina sing and dance around the cornhusk broom. "The hearth will never be clean at this rate." Barbara tried to hide the growing smile that threatened to encourage her sister's daydreamy behavior. "Do hurry, Regina. It's almost time to start preparing lunch, and we still need to shuck and scrape all the corn we gathered yesterday."
Excerpted from Alone Yet Not Alone by Tracy Leininger Craven. Copyright © 2012 by Tracy Leininger Craven. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERKIDZ.
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