A Thrilling Christmas Time on the Frontier
My husband was away much of the time, traveling from one district to another. Our boys were well, but little Ruth was ailing, and at best none of us were decently clothed. I patched and repatched, with spirits sinking to the lowest ebb. The water gave out in the well, and the wind blew through cracks in the floor.
The people in the parish were kind, and generous, too; but the settlement was new, and each family was struggling for itself. Little by little, at the time I needed it most, my faith began to waver.
Early in life I was taught to take God at His word, and I thought my lesson was well learned. I had lived upon the promises in dark times, until I knew, as David did, “my fortress, and my deliverer.” Now a daily prayer for forgiveness was all that I could offer.
My husband’s overcoat was hardly thick enough for October, and he was often obliged to ride miles to attend some meeting or funeral. Many times our breakfast was Indian cake, (Corn bread) and a cup of tea without sugar.
Christmas was coming; the children always expected their presents. I remember the ice was thick and smooth, and the boys were each craving a pair of skates. Ruth, in some unaccountable way, had taken a fancy that the dolls I had made were no longer suitable; she wanted a nice large one, and insisted on praying for it.
I knew it seemed impossible; but oh! I wanted to give each child its present. It seemed as if God had deserted us, but I did not tell my husband all this. He worked so earnestly and heartily. I supposed him to be as hopeful as ever. I kept the sitting room cheerful with an open fire, and I tried to serve our scanty meals as invitingly as I could.
The morning before Christmas, James was called to see a sick man. I put up a piece of bread for his lunch — it was the best I could do — wrapped my plaid shawl around his neck, and then tried to whisper a promise as I often had, but the words died away upon my lips. I let him go without it.
That was a dark, hopeless day. I coaxed the children to bed early, for I could not bear their talk. When Ruth went to bed, I listened to her prayer. She asked for the last time most explicitly for her doll, and for skates for her brothers. Her bright face looked so lovely when she whispered to me, “You know I think they’ll be here early tomorrow morning, Mamma.” If I thought I could move heaven and earth to save her from disappointment. I sat down alone, and gave way to the most bitter tears.
Before long James returned, chilled and exhausted. He drew off his boots; the thin stockings slipped off with them, and his feet were red with cold. “I wouldn’t treat a dog that way; let alone a faithful servant,” I said. Then as I glanced up and saw the hard lines in his face and the look of despair, it flashed across my mind, James had let go too.
I brought him a cup of tea, feeling sick and dizzy at the very thought. He took my hand and we sat for an hour without a word. I wanted to die and meet God, and tell Him His promises weren’t true; my soul was so full of rebellious despair.
There came a sound of bells, a quick stop, and a loud knock at the door. James sprang up to open it. There stood Deacon White. “A box came by express just before dark. I brought it around as soon as I could get away. Reckon it might be for Christmas. ‘At any rate,’ I said, ‘they shall have it tonight.’ Here is a turkey my wife asked me to fetch along, and these other things I believe belong to you.
”There was a basket of potatoes and a bag of flour. Talking all the time, he hurried in the box, and then, with a hearty good-night he rode away.
Still, without speaking, James found a chisel and opened the box. He drew out first a thick red blanket, and we saw that beneath it was full of clothing. It seemed at that moment as if Christ fastened upon me a look of reproach. James sat down and covered his face with his hands. “I can’t touch them,” he exclaimed, “I haven’t been true, just when God was trying me to see if I could hold out. Do you think I could not see how you were suffering? And I had no word of comfort to offer. I know now how to preach the awfulness of turning away from God.”
“James,” I said, clinging to him, “don’t take it to heart like this, I am to blame, I ought to have helped you. We will ask Him together to forgive us.”“Wait a moment, dear, I can’t talk now,” he said. Then he went into another room. I knelt down, and my heart broke; in an instant all the darkness, all the stubbornness rolled away. Jesus came again and stood before me, but with the loving word, “Daughter!”
Sweet promises of tenderness and joy flooded my soul. I was so lost in praise and gratitude that I forgot everything else. I don’t know how long it was before James came back, but I knew he, too, had found peace.
“Now, my dear wife,” he said, “let us thank God together,” and he then poured out words of praise, Bible words, for nothing else could express our thanksgiving.
It was 11 o’clock, the fire was low, and there was the great box, and nothing touched but the warm blanket we needed. We piled on some fresh logs, lighted two candles, and began to examine our treasure.
We drew out an overcoat; I made James try it on; just the right size, and I danced around him; for all my lightheartedness had returned. Then there was a cloak, and he insisted on seeing me in it. My spirits always affected him, and we both laughed like foolish children.
There was a warm suit of clothes also, and three pairs of woolen hose. There was a dress for me, and yards of flannel, a pair of arctic overshoes for each of us, and in mine was a slip of paper. I have it now, and mean to hand it down to my children. It was Jacob’s blessing to Asher: “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.” In the gloves, evidently for James, the same dear hand had written: “I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.”
It was a wonderful box, and packed with thoughtful care. There was a suit of clothes for each of the boys, and a little red gown for Ruth. There were mittens, scarfs, and hoods: and down in the center, a box. We opened it and there was a great doll. I burst into tears again; James wept with me for joy. It was too much; and then we both exclaimed again, for close behind it came two pairs of skates. There were books for us to read; some of them I had wished to see; stories for the children to read, aprons and underclothing, knots of ribbon, a lovely photograph, needles, buttons and thread, and an envelope containing a ten-dollar bill.
At last we cried over everything we took up. It was past midnight, and we were faint and exhausted even with happiness. I made a cup of tea, cut a fresh loaf of bread, and James boiled some eggs. We drew up the table before the fire; how we enjoyed our supper! And then we sat talking over our life, and how sure a help God always proved.
You should have seen the children the next morning; the boys raised a shout at the sight of their skates. Ruth caught up her doll, and hugged it tightly without a word; then she went into her room and knelt by her bed.
When she came back she whispered to me: “I knew it would be there, Mamma, but I wanted to thank God just the same, you know.”
“Look here, dear, see the difference.”
We went to the window and there were the boys out of the house already, and skating on the ice with all their might. My husband and I both tried to return thanks to the church in the East that sent us the box and have tried to return thanks unto God every day since.
Hard times have come again and again, but we have trusted in Him, dreading nothing so much as a doubt of His protecting care. Over and over again we have proved that, “They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.”