Three In A Row
She looks awful white today, and thin,” said Hiram, dejectedly, at the same time cleverly tying a knot in a broken suspender. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with her. She’ll die, maybe,” and the boy stopped with a sudden gulp.
Nettie’s blue eyes grew large and pathetic under her pink sunbonnet. “She’s hungry, I guess,” she remarked sagely. “Sick folks can’t eat such coarse food as we have. She told me one day”—here her voice dropped to a whisper and she glanced half guiltily toward the door of the little cabin—“that she wanted a piece of rich cream toast dreadfully; said she dreamed about it. But she wouldn’t ask Pa to get her cream. ’Twould only make him feel bad because he couldn’t, she said. He can hardly get us enough to eat, anyway, and cream costs a lot. But seems as if Mother ought to have it.”
Little Tony said nothing, only dug his toes into the gray dust. He was only six, and small for his age.
The three children were sitting near a small hut, or cabin, which clung to the side of one of the great mountains looking down upon the mining town of Silver Plume, Colorado. Half a mile from them on one side was a mine, where their father toiled from morning till night. In the other direction lay the town and the church and Sabbath School. Above and around them were the rocky, towering mountains. Beyond these boundaries their knowledge of life was very small.
“Hiram!” called a tremulous voice from somewhere within the cabin. “Children!”
The three rose and looked at one another.
“She wants us,” said Tony, “Come on.”
“Once more—sing that once more,” she called faintly, and they sang again, “There’ll be no dark valley when Jesus comes,” while the tears rolled down over the white face.
“Well, good-bye, Mother,” said Hiram later, cheerfully putting his head in at the bedroom door again. “It’s almost train time. We’ll try to get some pennies, and we won’t stay long. Don’t you be lonesome till we get back. Perhaps,” he added hesitatingly, “you can go to sleep.”
Outside, the trio halted, holding their wooden boxes filled with minerals—“speciments” they called them—doubtfully in their hands.
“ ’Tain’t a bit of use,” said Hiram mournfully; “there’s too many selling, and folks have got enough of them anyway. But just to satisfy Mother . . .”
“Say, Hi,” broke in Nettie, speaking slowly, as if in surprise at her own thought, “you don’t suppose we could sing for the train folks? Mother likes to hear us; perhaps they would too.”
The boy turned sharply about and stared at his sister with a kind of startled admiration. “You’re the greatest!” he exclaimed. “How’d you think of it? They have to sit in that car and wait two hours, some of them. Can’t get out and walk, it makes them puff so. We’ll try it this very morning just as we do for Mother, you know. We’d better stand in a row,” he mused, “Net in the middle, and we’ll sing about three songs. Tony, will you sing up good and loud to the car folks? Maybe they will give you a penny.”
Up through Clear Creek Canyon puffed the “Gulf” train, with two observation cars full of passengers. There was a mixed company, composed mostly of sightseers for the day, who would return with the train after two hours’ halt in Silver Plume. There was a gentleman from Boston and two lively girls from Texas, and a number of young couples, evidently belonging in Colorado, who were out for a little excursion. But different from the others, and most noticeable of them all, were two, a gentleman and a lady, who sat near each other and looked alike—he pale and sick, and she pale and sad. They were brother and sister—Mr. and Miss Lawrence, from somewhere in the East. He was looking for health in the mountains, and she, in spite of deadly homesickness, would not leave him alone among strangers.
The train ran up to the mine, passed the switch, and then moved back again to the station. Here the engine and some of the passengers abandoned the cars, leaving those who objected to the high altitude to wait in patience. Among the latter were the Lawrences. The invalid was tired, and tried to rest with his head on his sister’s shawl in spite of the shrill call of “Speciments!” which seemed to come from all sides of the train. After a while, the noisy little venders grew tired, or discouraged, and quieted down; then, suddenly, Miss Lawrence started and listened intently. The little song was wonderfully sweet and fresh and true, something about . . . “A robin one morning in May.”
And the voices might have been those of the birds themselves. Everybody turned to the windows and waited expectantly. This time it was a quaint old hymn for children:
“God made my life a little song
“That comforteth the sad.
“That helpeth others to be strong
“And makes the singer glad.”
Miss Lawrence looked out the window and saw Hiram, Nettie, and Tony standing “three in a row,” the blue eyes and the brown looking up wistfully, half-pleadingly, at the faces above them. A minute’s pause, and then pennies, nickels, and even dimes rained upon them. There was an ecstatic shout from Tony and a hasty scramble on the part of all three for the money. Their hearts beating fast with excitement and gratitude, the children drew into line again, and with a word from Hiram began their sweetest song, “Anywhere with Jesus.”
Something in the words and the surroundings went straight to the heart of the stranger lady just above them, and when there came the refrain, “Anywhere with Jesus will be home sweet home,” her eyes brimmed over, and she turned hastily away that her brother might not see.
“The lady wants to speak to you, Nettie; go on,” said Hiram, pushing his sister before him, like the coward he was.
“I was so pleased to hear you sing,” said Miss Lawrence, smiling down into the eyes under the pink sunbonnet. “Won’t you tell me where you live and what you are going to do with so much money?”
Nettie looked up shyly, but searchingly, into this “different” face from any of her acquaintances, then bent her eyes to the ground and told the whole story of their need and experiment. Miss Lawrence listened in surprise, and looked over to the tiny cabin on the side of the mountain.
Looking over to the tiny cabin on the side of the mountain, Miss Lawrence whispered a few words to her brother, and then went out to Hiram.
“My boy,” she said earnestly, “I should like to see your mother and do some little thing for her. Will you let your sister and the little boy take me to her, and will you go somewhere and get the cream and some other things, which I’ll mark down?”
She sat down on a stone and wrote a brief note, folded it, and gave it to him.
“Bring the things I’ve marked,” she said, “and tell the grocer to send the others. Take this money,” she told him, as she handed him a bill. Hiram looked at her with a brief questioning look in his eyes, as she continued, “Pay what he asks, and bring back the rest. Go to the best place you know, and hurry.”
“Mother,” said Nettie, softly, “a lady’s come to see you. She came off the train. Shall I bring her in?”
“A lady?” repeated the poor woman, mechanically. “I don’t know . . . yes, get a chair, Nettie.”
Miss Lawrence paused to whisper to the little girl. “Can you make a bright fire in the cookstove? We’ll fix something tempting to eat when your brother gets back.” Then she went in to see Nettie’s mother.
The little girl busied herself about the fire, trying to clean up a little for the lady, while Tony sat in awestricken silence, swinging his short legs from his father’s chair, and all the time the children could hear the sweet, low tones of the stranger lady as she talked to their sick mother. Nettie often wondered afterwards what she could have said to make her mother refer to her as “that angel.” But when Hiram came back, bringing the delicacies for his mother, and when the lady prepared an appetizing lunch such as the children had never even imagined, and when presently the market boy appeared with his arms full of additional bundles, then Nettie, Hiram, and Tony whispered together and wondered whether God sent Miss Lawrence or whether she only came because she was good and self-denying.
Just then the stranger pulled out a wonderful, little, gold watch and uttered an exclamation. “I must go at once! The train leaves in ten minutes!” One moment she spent in taking the address of the market man, another in saying good-bye in the little bedroom, and then she was flitting away down the path to the station, from which the children presently saw the train moving down the canyon.
The little group in the cabin never saw Miss Lawrence again, but many pleasant reminders of her came to them by way of the market man, and they dated their happier life from the day when, “three in a row,” they sang their first song to the passengers on the tourist train.
“Why, Amy,” said Miss Lawrence’s brother, when the young lady stepped into the car, “where have you been? You look more like yourself than I have seen you since we came to Denver. I don’t believe you are homesick today.”
“No, and I won’t be anymore,” his sister replied, with a mysterious smile.
The singers had found their mission, and she had found hers, and undreamed-of blessings had come to all in the finding.