At the cry from her youngest, Marty turned quickly from the biscuits she was shaping toward the kitchen doorway. She knew by the tone of her daughters voice that there was some kind of troubleBelindas cry trembled in the air between them as she stood before her mother. A chill gripped Martys heart. What is wrong? Is Belinda hurt?
Her eyes quickly traveled over the slight body of young Belinda, expecting to see blood someplace. Belindas dress, which had been clean and neatly pressed when she had gone out just a short time before, was rumpled and dirty. One of her long, carefully plaited braids had come loose from its ribbon and hung in disarray about her shoulders. Her face was smudged and tear- streaked. But to her mothers practiced eye, she seemed whole and unharmed. Marty, unconscious of the small sigh of relief that escaped her, gazed into the blue, troubled, and tear-filled eyes.
Look! Belinda cried again in a choked voice.
Martys eyes went to Belindas outstretched hand. In it lay a small sparrow, its feathers ruffled and wet, its head dipping awkwardly to the side. Even as Marty watched, she saw the small body quiver, and Marty shivered in sympathy.
Why Belinda? mourned the mother-heart. Why did she of all people have to find the bird? Marty knew the tender heart of her daughter. She would sorrow over the bird all day long.
Marty wiped floury hands on her apron and reached out to draw Belinda close. She made no comment on the dirty dress or the messy hair.
Where did ya find im? she asked instead, her voice full of sympathy.
The mother cat had it! Belinda wailed. I had to chase her all over the barn and then ... then ...
She could not go on. Tears fell uncontrollably, and the small girl buried her head against Marty and let the sobs shake her.
Marty just held her until the crying subsided. Then Belinda turned those large blue eyes to her mothers face.
Its gonna die, isnt it? she quavered. She looked back at the tiny bird still held carefully in her hand.
Well, I ... I dont know, stammered Marty and took another look at the injured bird. Yes ... it would die. Barring a miracle, it would die. But it was difficult for her to say those words to Belinda. Besides, she had seen miracles before. Oh, God, she inwardly prayed, I know its jest a sparrow, but ya said that ya see each sparrow thet falls. If yer heart is as heavy as Belindas over this one, then could ya please make it well again?
We need to make it warm, Belinda was saying hopefully.
Theres an empty basket on my closet shelf. Ill get a flannel rag from the ragbag, Marty responded.
Belinda hurried off to get the little basket, and Marty went to her pantry, where she kept the supply of old garments and sheets for cleaning purposes. She found a soft piece of flannel and returned to the kitchen just as Belinda ran back into the room.
Together they made a warm bed, and Belinda carefully deposited the tiny bird. It was in even worse shape than Marty had feared. Its little head flopped uncontrollably as it was moved, and except for a slight tremble, there was little sign of life. Belindas tears began to flow again.
Can we take it to Luke? she pleaded.
Oh my, thought Marty. A trip to town for a dying sparrow. How many of Belindas casualties had Luke doctored over the years? Yet he was always so patient, doing all in his power to save each tiny animal. But this one ... this one is beyond his help, Marty was sure. But she didnt say so to Belinda. Instead, she said, Well ask yer pa. Hell be in soon.
Martys attention returned to her biscuits. Clark would be in soon, and hed be hungry and looking for his supper. She went to wash her hands so she could get the biscuits into the oven.
Belinda took the basket with its injured sparrow and settled into her favorite corner by the kitchen stove. Marty noticed the little girls tears had stopped, but her eyes were still red and shadowed with the horror of it all. Why do cats have to kill birds? Marty wondered silently as she slid the biscuits into the oven. She knew it was a foolish question, but her heart ached over her daughters sorrow. Actually, Marty knew Belinda loved the farmyard cats, too. She would have fought just as hard to save the life of one of themand had at times, along with big brother Lukes help. But they did insist on hunting the little birds.
It just isnt fair, Ma! Belindas voice burst out as her finger gently traced the curve of the feathers on the small body. It no longer even trembled.
The outer door opened and banged shut, and Marty knew before she heard the voice that Clare and Kates oldest child was on her way in.
Gramma? Amy Jo called before she even entered the kitchen. Gramma, do you know where Lindy is?
Amy Jo was the only one who called Belinda Lindy. In fact, Marty was quite sure Amy Jo was the only one who could have gotten away with it. Belinda was always very careful to pronounce her own name in full, but the laughing, teasing Amy Jo disregarded such personal preferences and called Belinda after her own whim.
Shes right there by the stove, answered Marty without turning from the pot she was stirring.
Marty could hear little gasps for breath as Amy Jo entered the room. She had been running again, but Amy Jo always ran.
Do you want... ? began Amy Jo as she approached Belindas favorite corner. Then she hesitated. Whatcha got now? she asked without too much interest. Another mouse?
Its a bird, replied Belinda, her voice taut with sorrow.
The mother cat.
Is it hurt bad?
How come ya didnt take it to Uncle Luke? Amy Jo was well aware of the usual procedure when Belinda found an injured creature.
Were waitin for Pa.
Belinda moved her hand slightly so Amy Jo could get a look at her newest casualty. For a moment Amy Jos violet eyes widened with dismay. It was so tiny, so helpless, so ... so crumpled.
I ... I think its already dead, she whispered, now in genuine sympathy.
Belinda was about to burst into tears again when the small bird shuddered once more.
Is not, she argued fervently. See!
Marty checked on the biscuits in the oven, disturbed Belinda and her precious burden for a moment to add more wood to the fire, then turned back to set the table just as the farm dog announced that Clark was on his way in. Martys eyes swung to the clock on the shelf. She was behind schedule, but Clark was a bit earlier than she had expected.
Grandpa, Amy Jo called to Clark from the door, but before he could even greet her, she burst out, Lindys got a hurt thing again.
Concern was evident in Clarks expression as he entered the room. His gaze traveled quickly over the kitchen to the young girl crouched in her corner by the stove, holding the basket tightly in her hands. His eyes went on to meet Martys. What now? he silently asked. Is it serious? And Marty answered with just a slight movement of her head back and forth. It wont make it. Its hurt bad.
At the sight of her father, Belindas eyes had filled with tears again. Its a sparrow, Pa, she answered his unasked question. The mother cat had im.
Belindas disheveled appearance made clear shed had quite a chase to retrieve the small bird, which no doubt told Clark as well as anything what shape the bird must be in. He hung his jacket on the hook and crossed to the two girls crouching over the basket.
Clark began to reach for the bird, but he stopped and said instead in a soft voice, Its hurt real bad, aint it?
Clarks hand changed directions and went instead to their youngest daughter. He smoothed her tangled hair, then gently brushed a smudge of dust from her cheek.
I dunno, he said hesitantly. I think anything thet we try to do fer this little bird will only bring it more pain.
Fresh tears began to course down Belindas cheeks. But Luke
Yer brother would do all he couldyou know thet an I know thet.
The door banged open again. This time Dan, another of Clares children, burst into the house. He was breathing hard from running and called before he was even into the kitchen, Amy! Ma wants ya home. Its suppertime.
Amy Jo stood slowly to her feet, obviously loathe to leave the little drama and probably hoping that if a quick trip were to be made to Dr. Lukes office, she would be asked to go along.
Are ya goin to town, Grandpa? she asked quickly.
Clark shook his head. I dont rightly know. Well need to talk bout it. Im afraid ...
Whats wrong? asked Dan, who had by now crossed to squat beside his grandfather and peer into the small basket.
Oh! A dead bird, he said, not waiting for an answer.
Its not dead, cried Belinda. Its just hurt.
Dans eyes moved from Belindas face to Clarks. Had he said something wrong? Was the bird... ?
Clark reached out a hand and laid it on the boys shoulder.
Its hurt pretty bad, he said, but its still hangin on.
Marty checked her biscuits, which were browning nicely. Supper would soon be ready, yet she could hardly get near her stove. Four people huddled thereall in sympathy over the injured sparrow. Marty felt sympathy herself. She did not like to see a small creature hurt and suffering. But it was, after all, the way of nature. Animals killed and were killed. It was a fact of life. Natures food chain required it. The mother cat has babies to feed, Marty reminded herself. She needs
But any further thoughts on the matter were interrupted.
Are ya gonna take it to Uncle Luke? asked Dan, his eyes round and questioning.
Clark slowly shook his head, but before he could speak, Dan commented, Bet he could fix it.
Yer uncle Luke is a good doctor, Im not denyin thet none, said Clark in a low voice, but even good doctors have their limits. This here little bird is hurt bad. I dont think
Luke says thet ya never, never give up, broke in Belinda passionately. He says as long as theres still life, then ya fight to save it.
To be sure, agreed Clark. To be sure.
Then we can go? pleaded Belinda.
Across the heads of the youngsters, Clarks eyes met Martys.
Surely yer not gonna... ? Martys expression asked, but Clarks shoulders shrugged slightly. What else can I do?
Marty looked at her husbandweary, she knew, after spending a full day in the fields. True, it was easier for him now, easier with the artificial limb Luke had insisted on getting for him. But even so, planting was hard work for any man. He still had chores ahead of him, and here he was about to make a trip into town for a dying sparrow. It made no senseno sense at all.
Marty looked back at Belinda. Surely the youngster should be able to understand reason. A girl of eleven should know by now that nature provided for its own by allowing death. But noBelinda didnt understand. She fought death with every ounce in her tiny body, and her main ally was her older brother LukeLuke the doctor, Luke the compassionate. Luke fought death, too. If anyone would understand a trip to town to save a sparrow, it would be Luke.
Ill git the team, Clark was saying.
But ... but yer supper, put in Marty. Yer
Itll wait, answered Clark, and his eyes asked Marty to understand.
She did understand. It was not for the small bird that Clark would take the trip to town. It was for the child whose heart was breaking.
Im sorry ... sorry to make ya the extry work, Clark murmured. Dont fuss none. Ill help myself when I git back.
It wasnt the work that concerned Marty. It was Clark. He needed supper. He needed the rest. And yet
Once again the door banged opened and four-year-old Dack bustled into the kitchen, his red hair bright and standing in disarray as usual. He was the youngest member of Clares household and a favorite with everyone. His chubby, freckled face crinkled into a big grin as he spied his grandfather shrugging into the jacket he had removed just a short time before.
Dacks round little arms wrapped around the legs of the tall man, and he grinned impishly up at him. One small fist began pounding on Clarks leg.
Knock, knock! he cried playfully. Knock, knock on wood.
Clark could not resist the small boy. He reached down and lifted him up into his arms.
Whos knockin on my wood? With mock seriousness he asked the question expected of him in their little game.
Its me. Its Dack, he announced gleefully.
Dack who? his grandfather responded next, on cue.
The little boy paused a moment to get the words right. Dack be nimble, Dack be quick, Dack ... Dack jumped over the candlestick! he finished in a triumphant shout.
They both laughed together as Dacks pudgy arms squeezed Clarks neck.
And what is Dack doin at my house? inquired Clark.
Dacks eyes immediately turned serious. He squirmed to get down.
Mama sent me, he said. Im posta git Amy an Dan fer supper.
Clark looked at the two, who were still peering into Belindas basket.
Youd better all git, he said. Iffen yer pa has to come fetch the three of ya, he might not be too happy.
The three gotAmy Jo, taking the hand of her little brother after one last glance at her grandpa in case she might be invited to go along.
Clark turned back to Belinda. Ill be ready in a minute, he informed her. Better grab a coat. Then he was gone.
With a sigh, Marty turned to remove the biscuits from the oven. They were crispy brown and piping hot, just the way Clark loved them. But Clark wouldnt be eating them the way he liked them. By the time he returned, the biscuits would be cold.
Just as Marty finished taking the biscuits from the pan, Belinda gave a little cry. Marty whirled to see what new calamity had befallen.
I think its already dead, she said in a sobbing whisper. Look! Its gittin stiff.
Marty looked. Belinda was right. The sparrow was already past the help of even Dr. Luke.
Belinda burst into fresh tears, and Marty put her arms around her to comfort her.
I need to catch yer pa before he hooks up the team, she murmured, more to herself than to the weeping girl, but grief-stricken Belinda nodded her head.
Marty took the nod as consent and hurried to the barn for Clark, sighing deeply as she walked. She was glad Clark was spared the trip to town. She was glad the injured little bird was no longer in pain. But she was sorry that Belinda had to suffer so deeply every time some little creature suffered. It was good and noble for her daughter to be compassionatebut Belinda really took it too far. In many ways she was so much like her big brother Luke. So much! Yet she was even more tenderhearted than Luke. Life is going to be so painful for Belinda, Marty lamented. How many hurtsdeep hurtslay down the road for their youngest child? She trembled at the thought.
Clark was just leading the first horse from the stall.
Its too late, said Marty. The birds already dead. Ya can have yer supper now.
Concern rather than the relief one could have expected was in Clarks face.
Shell git over it, Marty assured him. Shell cry for a while. Then shell have her little buryin and put the sparrow to rest in the garden with her other little creatures. By tomorra shell be herself again.
They both knew the truth of it. Belinda would feel the pain of the loss for a time, but she would soon bounce back. They had seen it happen before. While Marty returned to the house, Clark took King back to his stall, the horse no doubt relieved that his supper would not be delayed either.* * *
As Clark removed the harness, hung it on the peg and started for the house, he realized just how hungry and tired he was. But his walk was even and steady with hardly the trace of a limp. Again, Clark had a moment of thankfulness for the wooden limb that functioned almost as well as his own leg had. It was good to have his hands free. It was good to be able to throw aside his crutch. But he did get weary and sore. Right now the whole side of his body protested against the pressure of the artificial limb against the stub of leg remaining. He was anxious to take it off and stand it in a corner for the night.
But he wouldntnot for a while. He still had chores to do. He wouldnt remove it even when the chores were all done. He knew Marty watched him carefully for signs of pain or weariness. To remove the leg before bedtime would tell Marty he was in pain. Marty worried enough about his well-being without adding this to her concern. Hed rest the leg a bit while he had his supper. By the time he went to chore, perhaps it would be feeling better.
Clark sure was glad he would not have to make the long trip into townwith a sparrow. He smiled slightly as he thought of the many times he had wished he could rid the whole world of sparrows. Such pesky little nuisances they were, even when Belinda wasnt fussing over one! And yet ... they were Gods creatures, too, and Clark would have cheerfully aided Belinda in the fight to save one little life.
Love's Unfolding Dream (Love Comes Softly, Book 6) by Janette Oke
Copyright © 2004
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.