Thief In The Night
"Can we? Oh, can we, Dad?" I begged as I hopped around Dad’s chair.
"Calm down, sis. Let Dad think," my brother Hall commanded.
"We-e-ell," dad thoughtfully remarked after several more minutes of figuring. "I think we can swing it this spring."
I pranced about the room while Mother and my older sister, Lucile, bent their heads eagerly over the new spring catalog.
Dad had just said that we could order some new clothes! What a thrill it was! For this was at the close of the Depression, when new things in our home were as rare as rags in a millionaire's palace.
"Mom, may I help pick the color of my new skirt?" I asked. "I want blue."
"Here are overalls like the ones I want," Hall said briefly.
After a great deal of rehashing, rejecting, and rejoicing, the order was ready for the mail. Never were days so long or so slow to pass as were those of the following week.
"Isn't it wonderful that the crops are doing so well that we can get new clothes?" I confided to our faithful collie, Pepper.
Day after day I raced to the mailbox only to turn back disappointed.
"Quit being so impatient!" Hall grumbled. "If you keep watching, it won't come."
Finally the package arrived! We gathered about it like children around a Christmas tree. With quivering fingers Lucile untied the endless knots. It was like having Christmas and all our birthdays combined, an ecstatic day indeed.
The following Monday morning Mom prepared to wash with the old hand washer. Tubs of water were bubbling on the stove, and the "knuckle-knocker" scrubbing board was resting at the edge of the washer.
Mom sorted the dirty clothes. Today there weren't only ragged and worn clothes, but many new things being washed for the first time.
"This is one day I'm glad to have a large washing," Mom mused as she carried the steaming water to the tubs.
"Ida, will you help hang up the clothes?" Mom asked. "You may hang these stockings on the low line next to the spirea bushes."
As I hung the stockings, drops of rain began to fall, presenting us with quite a problem! In those days dryers were unheard-of, and there were too many clothes to dry in the dining room on crisscross lines around the barrel-shaped stove.
"Martin, what shall I do?" Mom asked Dad. "Should I leave the clothes outdoors overnight, hoping they'll dry tomorrow, or what?"
"I think it'll be all right," Dad said. And so Mom left the laundry on the lines. With the lulling lullaby of rain we soon went wearily to bed.
Mom was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by a noise outside. "Martin! Martin! I hear something! Wake up! Pepper's growling! Hurry!" whispered Mom.
Quickly Dad looked out all the windows and even went onto the kitchen steps and peered over the starless landscape, but he saw nothing unusual.
"You must have been dreaming," he said to her as he crawled back into bed.
The next morning, kerosene lantern in hand, Dad and Hall sloshed through the mud to the barn. The mud caked on the cows made the chores a lengthy and tiresome process. But just as the sun began to filter through the porous sides of the barn, Hall threw the last forkful of hay into the manger.
"Done for another morning! And I'm sure glad, because I must fix fences today," Dad said as he picked up two pails of milk and started for the house. "Hey, Hall! Where are all the clothes Mom washed yesterday? She hasn't taken them down yet, has she?"
Hall ran as rapidly as possible through the deep mud to the kitchen. "Mom! Mom! Where are all the clothes you washed?"
"Where I left them, of course'right on the line!"
"No, they aren't!"
"They have to be!"
We all ran out the kitchen door to view in shocked horror a scene of recent battle. There had definitely been a fight. Clothespins were thrown helter-skelter, and there were muddy tracks on the wet grass and clothes in bunches all over the ground.
"But, Mama," I whimpered, "these are only our old clothes on the ground. Where are the new ones?"
"I think we'll find them somewhere around here if we look," Dad said.
After looking in the hollyhocks, under the spirea bushes, and around the windmill, Mom concluded, "Evidently someone took our new clothes. Someone who knew we had them. Someone who knew I had left them out too. It looks as though Pepper tried to stop them, but didn't succeed. Well, come on in, and we'll have morning worship."
Dad admitted that Mom must be right as we dragged ourselves up the steps into the kitchen. Each one of us felt a special burden while offering our prayers through tear-choked voices. We asked the Lord to help us find our clothes and get them back.
In a stupor Hall and Lucile departed for school, Dad went to feed the chickens, and I left to play in the yard. I could hear Mom singing while she rolled out the dough for a batch of cookies.
All morning we tried to solve the mystery. Where had our clothes disappeared to? Did someone take them? How could we find them?
Meanwhile Dad finished feeding and watering the chickens and went to the barn. It was time to turn the cows out to pasture.
"H'mmmm, that looks peculiar. I never saw a track like that before," he mumbled as he neared the barn.
Later, after turning the cows out to pasture, Dad's curiosity got the better of him, and he decided to follow the strange-looking tracks. They led to a deep dark spot under the barn that Pepper and her five puppies were calling home.
"Flossie! Flossie! Come quick!" Dad called.
Flying to the kitchen door, I yelled, "Mama! Mama! Daddy wants you right away. Quick!"
"What is it? What's the matter?" Mom came out of the door, wiping her flour-covered hands.
Already Dad was at the barnyard gate calling, "Come on out here with me a minute."
Dad began leading Mom toward the barn. I trailed behind like a puppy dog.
"What's wrong? Is the new cow sick?"
"No, the cow is all right, but I have some tracks to show you. See, there's an odd track in the mud. What would you say made it?"
"It looks as if Pepper has been dragging her puppies. Is that all you wanted me to see?"
"Much more than that!" Dad proclaimed. "Look closer!" He stepped forward, still grinning smugly. He pointed to a large man's bootprint near the clothesline, then another, and still another human track.
"Do you think Pepper had a fight with a man?" Mom asked.
"Yes. There must have been quite a struggle."
"Where's Pepper now?"
"Let's follow these dragging marks," suggested Dad, "and we'll see where they lead."
As they progressed, Pepper bounded from under the barn with a yelp, enthusiastically wagging her tail and looking up as though to say, "Don't you think I'm pretty good?"
"There," continued Dad. "Look at that thing protruding from under the barn."
Gingerly Mom bent over and reached for the muddy something. "Oh! Oh-h-h! " she gasped. "It's one of our new pillowcases! How did it get here? Are the rest of the clothes with it?"
"Yes, they're all here, all covered with mud. You can thank Pepper for saving them. She must have chased the thief away during the night. Perhaps afterward she brought the clothes out here as a safety precaution."
Bending over, Dad pulled out more and more clothes, and we joyfully gathered them into our arms.
Never had Pepper received such praise as we gave her then. And reaching the house, we knelt again and thanked God that we'd have our new clothes after all.
Once more the washtubs were filled. And this time I could hardly hear the swishy squeak of the old wringer, Mom was singing so loudly.