Clock Struck Ten
A cup of water is not much in itself but can be as large as the ocean to a man dying of thirst. A few candles can only produce a small amount of light for a very short time, but with a few pieces of fire-wood they were to one man a matter of life or death.
Before the new England area found electricity coming into the area, a certain precious mother and wife was dying. John had spent practically all of his time beside her bed. Too much time, it became apparent, when his daughter gave her alarming, before breakfast announcement.
“Daddy, we don’t have enough wood to last through today and tonight. All we’ve got for candles are these three half-burned ones. How will we keep Mamma warm?”
“Yea, Pop,” Little John added, “how’ll we see to take care of her?”
Without replying, he sat at his crude wooden dining table thinking about how he had lost all his savings—the money he had set aside so that he wouldn’t have to work while his wife was dying—as well as what little he had in his checking account. He had always trusted his next-door neighbor explicitly. So much of a friend was he that John did not even give it a second thought when he asked him to co-sign a note at the bank with him. He remembered that staggering statement of the banker, ”John I’m sorry, we’ll have to take your funds to pay off the note.”
The self-pity vanished the moment he heard his wife give out one of those painful coughs that were coming more and more frequently.
John rose from the table, smiled at his two bewildered and heavily burdened children, patted each of them on the top of the head, and made his way slowly into his bedroom.
Just as John knelt down on the old rug his wife had made for him so he could have something warm to stand on when he got up in the morning to heat the house, the clock softly sounded ten notes.
“Lord God in heaven,” John said with tears making their way down his cheeks, you know what I’m faced with right now. My dear wife’s sick and soon to die. My kids need the warmth of the fireplace, too. The wood’s almost completely gone and there are only three little pieces of candles left. We do have a meal or two left in the cupboard. I’m thankful for what we do have, Lord, and I’m not complaining about the situation. ‘Cause it’s my own doings or lack of doings that’s the cause of it all. Please help me now to at least get these things we need so badly. Please help me to get them today.”
John remained on his knees after finishing praying. He was trying to think of where he could get some work for just that day. His mind pictured farmer after farmer and store after store. He thought of the mill, too. He believed that God would get the wood and candles for him by showing him where to work.
All that day he trudged through the few inches of snow that had gently fallen the night before. He went to every farmer he could find, walking miles between farm houses. But to no avail. All of them had more hands than they could use during the slack of winter.
The stores did not need any help, even for one days hard labor. Each and every place he went seeking help, he found sympathy but not work. John never told any of the people that he was completely broke. He just could not seem to bring himself to ask for wood or candles when he had no way of paying them back. Maybe his pride also had a little to do with his not letting anyone know that he was penniless.
When all hope seemed to be gone. John turned back towards home. He dreaded desperately telling the kids that he had failed. With his heart already half-broken with the burden of seeing his precious wife getting worse and worse with each passing day, he just did not know how he would face those trusting eyes of his innocent children. But he had to go home.
It looked like there was still more than an hour or an hour and a half of sunlight left in the sky as he made his way up the narrow path. Little John must have shoveled off the snow out to the front gate. His heavy heart ached as he got closer to the gate. He was unable to hold up his head as he swung open the old, rusty and noisy gate that signaled to his son and daughter that he had arrived.
When little John darted out of the house, John looked up, hating to have to break the bad news to the energetic and enthusiastic lad. And as he looked up to face his son, he was dumbfounded to see that right in front of the porch was a huge pile of wood!
John was clapping his hands for joy as he shouted, “Pa we’ve got the wood.”
“And a big package of candles, too,” his daughter exclaimed, jumping off the porch and running towards her dad.
Speechless and stunned, he just looked at the clean short logs stacked so neatly in a large pile. Finally, he was able to muster enough strength to ask, “Children, where did this come from?”
Before either of them could answer, he said, “This’s a mistake. Somebody’s made a big mistake.”
“Oh, no, Pa,” John said confidently, “nobody made a mistake. A man came to the house and knocked on the front door with the handle of his whip. When I opened it, he asked if you lived here. I told him that you sure did. Then he said, ‘Here are some candles, and I’ve got a load of wood for him, too.’
“I asked him if you had sent them and he told me that he didn’t think you knew anything about it. When I asked him who did send it, he said, ‘Oh, I can’t tell. But you tell your pa that they’re a gift.’”
After going into the house to check on his wife, he asked both of the little ones if they had seen the man before. Neither of them recognized him. All during their meager meal, the bewildered father did not say more than two or three words. He just could not figure out who had sent the supplies they needed so badly. He recalled all the words to the people he asked for work. He had not said anything to any of them of their desperation.
“Little John, you and your sister, please clean off the table and wash the dishes. I’m going to go back into town and see if I can find out who sent us the wood and candles. Look after your Mom, Okay?”
“Okay,” they said in unison.
As John reached the door, he stopped, turned, and said, “You know I never asked you what kind of a wagon the man had.”
“It was a big one, Pa,” Little John said, describing everything about it as a young boy would.
John knew right then and there whose wagon it was. “Son, that sounds like old Mr. Graff’s wagon. There’s not another one like it anywhere around here.”
“But, Pa,” his daughter said, Mr. Graff makes and sell liquor!”
“Besides that,” John said, he doesn’t like you, does he pa?”
“Well,” the father answered, “you know that I’ve been speaking to church groups and town hall meetings about the dangers of alcohol, don’t you?”
Both children nodded in agreement.
“Since Mr. Graff makes the stuff, and since he sells quite a great deal of it to a lot of folks all over the country, he would go out of business if everyone paid attention to the Temperance Society and quit drinking liquor.”
“So he doesn’t like you ‘cause you could cause him to lose a lot of money. ” John said.
“Yes, Son, I guess he hates me quite a lot. I’ve spoken to him every time I’ve seen him so he’d know that I’ve got no ill feelings towards him personally, but he won’t even look at me, much less speak. You two watch after Momma. I won’t be gone long.”
It was somewhat of a surprise when Mr. Graff looked up and nodded when John entered his office in the rear of the distillery. For the first time in a long time, there did not seem to be any tension between the two of them.
“Mr. Graff,” John said, “I want to ask you if you sent a load of wood and some candles out to my house today.”
“Before I answer,” Graff said, “Tell me if they were needed or not.”
“Oh, they were needed, all right, they were surely needed,” John replied, trying to hold back the tears. Did you send them?”
“Yes, I did,” he answered as he pulled up a chair for John to sit in. “And I want to tell you why I sent those things. This morning as I was busy at work a voice seemed to say to me. ‘Send John the temperance man some wood. ‘I couldn’t figure out that one, for sure, so I laughed at such a ridiculous thought and kept on working.
“A few minutes later, I got an impression that you needed some wood badly. This impression created some real mixed emotions within me. First, I wondered if I was losing my mind by hearing things. And then, second, I thought that the last person in the world I’d send wood to was you.
Over and over, the impression came to me. Each time I got more and more troubled. You know, John, you and I were raised in the church where we heard about such things happening to Christian people. This perplexed me more than words can describe. I tried to make myself believe that this was a mere fantasy of my mind. I even convinced myself that I had been working too hard and would take time off some time later in the year.
“More and more, the voice came to me impressing me to send some wood out to your place. It became an urgent sensation that I do this. So, in order to have peace of mind and some sanity, I ordered my worker to take a load of the best cord-wood out to your place.
“Then, I had no longer done this foolish thing before a voice told me to ‘send a package of candles too!’ This was too much. I knew that I was definitely not going to give in to this extraordinary impulse. With no one around, I said out loud, ‘This is too absurd. I’m not going to gratify this whim!’
“But, John, as you suspect by now, I grew so self-tormented and distressed that I handed the driver a large package of big, round candles that we use here.”
John was on the edge of his seat as Mr. Graff continued. “John, I want you to know that I’ve been tormented even worse since I did this. I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. When the driver came back and said that there were only the kids out at your place when he dropped off the wood and gave the candles to a little boy. I began to wonder if maybe I was beginning to have some freaks of insanity. But then, that impression was so strong, so unexpected, and so solemn and powerful that ever since I sent those things out to your place. I have also felt that it might really be supernatural.”
John stood to his feet, walked around the desk and looked into the baffled eyes of his old friend. “Let me tell you something that’ll prove to you that you weren’t losing your mind. You see, this morning my daughter came to me and told me that we were almost out of wood and candles. I haven’t told anyone about this, but not only is my wife dying, but we lost every cent we had when the bank foreclosed on the note I signed with my neighbor farmer friend.”
“That’s too bad,” Graff said, “I had no idea."
“Well,” John continued, “when I realized that I had been spending so much time caring for my wife at her bedside that I had neglected to provide enough food, wood, and candles for my family. I had to act quickly. So, I went into my bedroom this morning all by myself and asked God to help me get the wood and candles. We had some food on hand, not much, but enough to last a few days. And when I left the house after praying like that. I felt that God was going to give me the wood and the candles by giving me work today. So, my friend, when you got the impression to send those things out to my house, not knowing anything about my situation, it was indeed supernatural. It was the doings of ‘Him who is wonderful in working.’”
The distiller stood to his feet, reached over and grasped John’s hand, not in a way of saying good-bye, but held it. “Now, John, we both know what has happened. I’m dying inside to know what time it was when you went into your room to pray. You see, it was shortly after ten o’clock when I first heard the voice in your behalf.”
“Graff,” John said, giving his hand an even firmer hold, “just as I knelt down on the rug beside my bed, the clock struck ten times."