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The Verse Martin Read by Mary E. Bamford

 

Martin put his bare feet down through the thick dust of the country road. It was warm summer, and he was used to going barefoot, even to Sunday-school, from which he was now returning. Over the hot, dry grass of the fields there swayed at frequent intervals the heads of California wild oats. One such stem grew near the road, and Martin, with a quick sweep of his hand, pulled off the wild oat heads and went on through the dusty road, scattering the oats as he walked. Martin was thinking.

"Teacher doesn't know how 'tis," he said. "I have to carry 'round milk mornings and nights, and I have to go down to the barn to hunt eggs, and I have to help pa about the stage horses, and sometimes I have to ride the horses back to be shod, and I have to walk a mile to day-school and back, and learn my lessons, and I'd like to know how teacher thinks I've got much time to read the Bible some every day. There's lots of days I don't believe pa reads any in the Bible. He's too busy driving the stage and 'tending to the horses. And ma doesn't read it, because she has to cook for the teamster boarders. It's a real pretty book teacher's given me, though."

Martin felt inside his jacket, and brought out a little New Testament. It was only a ten-cent Testament, for Miss Bruce, his Sunday-school teacher, did not have money enough to buy Bibles for her class of thirteen boys. She had felt that she must do something, however, for the boys were destitute of Bibles of their own.

The best she could do was to buy small Testaments with red covers, and she had cut a piece of bright red, inch-wide ribbon into thirteen lengths, had raveled out the ends so as to make fringe, and had put a piece of this fringed ribbon into each boy's New Testament for a book-mark. The boys thought a great deal of the pieces of ribbon, they were so bright and pretty. Miss Bruce had written some special little message to each boy in the front of his Testament. The general purport of each message was that the book was given with the teacher's prayer that the boy might learn to love the Bible and might become a real Christian. Some of the boys let the others read what was written in the Testaments, and some boys did not.

Miss Bruce had given them the Testaments to-day, and had said that she hoped each boy would read a little, daily, in his Testament, even if it were only two or three verses.

"I wonder if teacher'll ask me next Sunday whether I've read any?" Martin questioned himself now, as he admiringly eyed his piece of red ribbon. "It'll be a shame if I have to tell her, the first Sunday, that I've forgot it! I'd better read one verse now, so I can say I read that, anyway, if I forget the rest of the week."

Martin sat down beside the road. He was not a very good reader. This was the first piece of the Bible Martin had ever owned. There was an old, unused family Bible at home. A red Testament, was much more attractive to Martin.

"Where'll I read?" Martin asked himself now. "I want an easy verse. Some of them look too hard."

He began and dropped several verses, because of their difficulty. Finally he settled on one, because of its shortness. He read its seven words haltingly but carefully.

" 'L-e-s-t'--I don't know that word--'c-o-m-i-n-g'--coming--'s-u-d- d-e-n-l-y--he find you s-l-e-e-p-i-n-g.' 'Lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.' "

Of the connection of the verse, and its spiritual significance, Martin knew nothing. The word "l-e-s-t" puzzled him. He would ask somebody about it.

When he helped his father with the horses at the barn that evening, Martin questioned his father about the word "l-e-s-t."

"Haven't you spelled it wrong?" asked his father. "I guess it's 'l- e-a-s-t'--'least'--smallest."

"It's in my new red book," answered Martin, perching on the watering trough. "I'll find the place."

Martin did not know much about New Testament books or chapters, but he knew that verse was on the eighty-second page. Martin had noted the little numbers at the bottom of the pages.

"Here 'tis!" triumphantly exclaimed Martin.

His father took the book. Martin's eager finger pointed to the verse.

"Lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping."

The words faced the stage-driver. Well did he know their meaning. Years ago in his mother's home he had been taught from the Bible. His eyes now ran over the preceding_verses. He caught parts of them. "The Son of man is as a man taking a far journey." "Watch ye therefore." "Ye know not when the master of the house cometh." "Lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping."

"Don't you know what 'l-e-s-t' means?" asked Martin, eager for the explanation.

"Oh--why, yes," responded his father. "It means 'For fear' he should come suddenly."

"Who?" asked Martin.

"The Lord," returned his father gravely.

"Why shouldn't they be sleeping?" asked Martin.

"Who?" said his father, turning to attend to the horses.

"I don't know," said Martin. "I mean my verse."

"Martin," stated the stage-driver, "I'm no hand at explaining. Don't ask any more questions."

Every Sunday after this Miss Bruce persisted in asking whether the boys read in their Testaments.

"It's mean the way some of the boys don't read any, after her giving us all nice red Testaments," Martin told his father. "I don't read much, but I ought to read some, after her fringing that red ribbon! Most verses I read are short, like 'Lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.' "

The stage-driver moved uneasily at the words.

"He hasn't forgot that verse after all these weeks?" thought the man.

"I know what that verse means now," went on Martin. "Miss Bruce told me. She says some folks forget they've got to die, and they ought to be ready for that. A good many folks don't become Christians, and Miss Bruce says she's afraid they'll be like that verse, 'Lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.' You and I won't be that way, will we, father? I'm going to try to be ready. Ain't you? Miss Bruce says folks ought to always be."

His father's eyes were on the harness he was buckling.

"I hope you'll be ready, Martin," answered the father, "even if I ain't."

The place where Martin lived was a small settlement distant from town. Martin's father, Mr. Colver, not only three days in the week drove the stage, but other days acted as a sort of expressman, bringing freight in a large wagon over the miles from town. One night about nine o'clock, Mr. Colver was on the long, lonely road coming toward home. He had a very heavy load on his wagon. The wheels scraped on the wagon bottom, and the team went with a heavy, dragging sound.

As the heavy wagon came opposite a clump of white blossoming buckeye trees, one of the fore wheels of the dragging wagon suddenly gave way and fell off. Mr. Colver was thrown violently from the wagon's high seat into the road, among the tumbling heavy boxes and barrels. The sharp corner of one box struck Mr. Colver's head near the temple.

The weary horses waited to be urged forward again. They did not know that their driver lay insensible in the road.

It was early gray morning before one of the teamsters who boarded at the Colvers' found Mr. Colver lying still insensible, and brought him home. The blow on the head had been a very dangerous one. Martin gazed awestruck at his father's shut eyes and unconscious face.

"I wonder if pa's going to die?" the boy anxiously thought. "I wonder if pa's ready?"

The sorrowful hours came and went. Mr. Colver regained consciousness, but for weeks he felt the effects of the blow that might have smitten him never to rise.

One night when Martin was going to his room, his father called weakly to the boy.

Martin turned back. He found his mother sitting beside his father.

"Martin," said his father with grave earnestness, "your mother's been reading to me from your Testament. We've been talking about Bible things that we haven't paid much attention to. We were both brought up better, Martin. The Lord's had mercy upon me. He might have taken me suddenly that night, but he knew I wasn't ready, and he had mercy on me. And now, lad, your mother and I thought we would just kneel right down here to-night, and ask the Lord to take each of us, and make us his own. You want to, don't you, my son?"

Martin nodded, and for the first time the stage-driver's family knelt together. They whose souls had been sleeping were awake.