Hymns in the Hills

Chapter 1
Fully Trusting

    Taking her carpet bag from the conductor and thanking him for taking such good care of her, the young girl looked about. It was a tiny station, not much more than a platform with a shack on one side and a bench next to it. Her lone trunk stood rather forlornly by itself. No one was in sight except a man who she thought must be the station master, for he was inside the shack sitting at a desk and was not paying any attention. The girl, about ten years old, moved slowly over to the bench, though she didn’t sit down, and watched as the train picked up speed and, with a parting whistle, hurried off down into the valley.
    “Oh, what a lovely view,” the girl exclaimed, looking all around her. Across the tracks stretched rolling hills, piled one behind the other as far as she could see, some carpeted with nothing but grass and flowers while others wore a heavy blanket of trees. There seemed to be a path winding down through the meadows and disappearing into the trees, but she wouldn’t have thought to call it a road. To her left, the girl found only trees which blocked her view, so she turned at once to the other side. Here, around the corner of the station she discovered a road and several houses or buildings beyond. “I wonder if that is the town.”
    For several minutes she watched the comings and goings and wished she thought it right to go down and look about. “But it might not be proper for a young girl like me to go down there alone when I don’t know anyone. It would be different if I had been living here and knew folks.” A tear slipped from her eye and rolled unbidden down her cheek.
    Straightening, the girl tipped up her chin and winked back the mate to the first tear. “I won’t cry. It would be a shame for Aunt and Uncle to see me for the first time with red eyes. I will sit on the bench and look at the beautiful view and wait.”
    Resolutely she turned away from the action of the town and perched precariously on the bench which sloped slightly to one side. As lovely as the view was, it felt hard for the active child to remain in one place without someone to talk to for very long. After wondering where her uncle could be, the child began to sing. Her voice, pure and clear, though a trifle shaky at first, grew steadily stronger as the song went on.

“All my doubts I give to Jesus!
I’ve His gracious promise heard
‘I shall never be confounded’
I am trusting in that word.

I am trusting, fully trusting,
Sweetly trusting in His word.
I am trusting, fully trusting,
Sweetly trusting in His word.

All my fears I give to Jesus!
Rests my weary soul on Him;
Thou’ my way be hid in darkness,
Never can His light grow dim.”

    As she finished the line of verse, her voice quivered suspiciously, but bravely she kept going into the chorus.

“I am trusting, fully trusting,
Sweetly trusting in His word.”

    When the song was ended, the child, still humming the tune, swung her feet and looked up into the clear blue sky.
    “Where did ye come from, miss?” a gruff, but not unkind, voice asked.
    Turning her head, the girl smiled up into the face of the station master. “I came on the train, sir, but you seemed busy so I didn’t bother you.”
    “Humph. What’s yer name? And what’er yer waitin’ fer?”
    “My name is Belle Standish, and I’m waiting for my uncle to come for me. His name is Benjamin Russum. If I knew the way to his house, I might be able to walk there and save him the trouble of coming for me. I’m a good walker, but I don’t know what I’d do about my trunk.”
    “It’ll be safe enough here till it’s sent fer. Russum, did ya say yer uncle’s name is?”
    “Yes, sir. And Auntie’s name is Lillian. Isn’t that such a lovely name? Do you know where they live?”
    “Reckon I do,” was the answer, but the man looked queer. “It’s a might too far fer ye ta be walkin’ that ways alone. But I might could fetch one a yer cousins to go ‘long with ye.”
    At that, Belle looked astonished. “Cousins? I have cousins? Why, I didn’t know that! How many have I got, please?”
    The station master gave a shrug of his shoulders. “Ain’t fer shore, never was able ta keep count. Reckon ye can can ask yer cousin. He oughter know.”
    “Oh, yes, that would be good.”
    Giving a slight nod, though his face still wore an expression Belle didn’t understand, the man turned away and limped down the road.
    “Cousins. Maybe my visit won’t be so hard after all.” And Belle, clasping her carpetbag with both hands, let it swing with her feet as she sang, “I am trusting, fully trusting, Sweetly trusting in His word.”
    She had sung her song twice through before the heavy tramp of feet was heard, and Belle looked around eagerly.
    The station master came around the corner of the station, a young man beside him. The youth had brown hair, much the same color as Belle’s own, but his looked like it hadn’t seen a hairbrush for a week. His clothes were too small for him, and his boots needed polished more than any pair Belle had ever seen. As Belle’s eyes moved to the new face, she smiled; the young man’s eyes seemed kind, and if she had felt any dismay at the first sight of him, it vanished. Standing up, she held out her hand with a pretty air and a sweet smile. “Oh, are you one of my cousins?”
    “Dunno’s I am,” was the low reply, and a hand, dirty and hard, briefly touched the small one held out.
    “This here’s Ezra–” began the station master.
    “I ain’t neither,” broke in the youth with a growl. “I’m Zeke.”
    The station master threw up his hands. “How’m I supposed ta know which a ye was comin’. Ye both look so much alike–” His grumbling dropped to a mere mutter.
    “Ya could a asked.” Zeke didn’t say another word.
    Belle was looking from one man to the other, evidently confused. “Are you going to take me home, Zeke?”
    For the first time, the young man actually looked at the slip of a girl before him. “I reckon. Once Ez gets here.”
    “Is he a cousin too?”
    The station master grunted and disappeared into the tiny shack.
    “Will he be along soon or would you like to sit down on the bench with me and wait for him?”
    Instead of answering, Zeke looked back in the direction of town, then sat down on the edge of the platform.
    For a very brief moment, Belle hesitated, but then, setting her carpetbag on the platform, she sat down next to her cousin. “I didn’t know I had any cousins,” she began. “I’m glad to know I do. It will be so nice to have other children to play with. How many are there, please?”
    Zeke scratched his chin and then started mumbling and counting on his fingers. When he started on his other hand, Belle’s eyes widened, and it was all she could do to keep back her astonishment. Finally, Zeke shook he head. “I calculated there might be ten a us, but I reckon it’s jest as easy I could’a forgot one er two. Ez!” His shout was to another fellow, striding up the road. “How many young’uns we got over’t the house?”
    The young man addressed look so much like Zeke that Belle wondered if they were twins. She studied their faces carefully as this newcomer stuffed his hands in his pockets and wrinkled his brow in thought over the question. There was a bit of a difference in their features, but the difference was so subtle that a person would have to be on the lookout to notice it at all.
    In a slow drawl, Ez at last replied, “Reckon there’s ‘bout a dozen or so all told.”
    “I have twelve cousins?” Had Belle not been sitting down, the astonishment would have made her feel faint. “Are . . . are they all truly my cousins?” She appealed to Zeke. “All of them?”
    Zeke nodded solemnly. “Yep. Least ways if’n yer our cousin. Ez, this here’s another cousin.”
    Ez stepped closer and looked over the girl without offering his hand. “What’s ‘er name?”
    “Oh,” Belle cried, standing up quickly. “The station master didn’t finish introducing us, did he? He told me your name, Zeke, but didn’t tell you mine. I’m Isabelle Standish, but everyone calls me Belle.” She smiled brightly, offering her hand to Ez, who shook it with a little more feeling than Zeke had earlier. “There, now we know each other. Is it very far to the house? And what shall we do about my trunk?” She looked back at it with a puzzled face.
    “Reckon we’ll tote it along.” And Zeke rose.
    “It’s awfully heavy,” protested Belle, hurrying to take her carpetbag. Her cousins made no answer but each took one end and, with a grunt from one and an echoing grunt from the other, she watched the trunk lifted to the shoulders of her new kin.
    “Come on,” Zeke said, and they started off across the tracks and down the little path Belle had seen before.
    They hadn’t gone many steps before Belle broke the silence. “How old are you, please?”
    “Both of you?”
    “Then you must be twins, and, of course, Mama didn’t know anything about you or any of my cousins because she . . . she married Papa seventeen years ago.” There was suspicious quiver to her voice as she talked. “I’m sure she wished she could have come to visit–with me.” The break in her voice was more noticeable this time.
    Still matching strides with Zeke, who was in the lead, Ez glanced down at the girl and watched her shoulders straighten and her chin tip up. At that moment a feeling of compassion came over him for this young unknown cousin. “Le’me take that there bag fer ya.” He held out his hand.
    “I can carry it,” Belle said, smiling, though a few tears clung to her lashes and sparkled in the sunlight. “You are already carrying the trunk, and I don’t want to make it harder for you.”
    Zeke grunted.
    Without a word, Ez reached out and took the carpetbag. His steps never faltered and he didn’t look at her.
    “Thank you.” Those words were some of the sweetest that young man had ever heard.
    In silence the strange party continued on their way; the sunny slopes were behind them and the path now led through the woods and the ground became more rocky. Belle didn’t talk anymore, she hadn’t the breath to do so, for trying to keep up with her cousins’ long strides was proving more difficult as the terrain became more rough. How thankful she was that she didn’t have to carry her carpetbag!
    At last Zeke came to a halt, the trunk was lowered and the carpetbag set on top. Sinking to the ground, Belle drew in several long breaths. When she felt like she could speak again, she looked up. Both cousins were watching her. “Are we about there?”
    “Got ‘bout half an hour left ta go,” Zeke replied.
    “I’m glad you were both in town and could take me back with you. I know I would have gotten lost long before now if I had tried it on my own. Were you in town because you knew I was coming?”
    Belle frowned thoughtfully. “I wonder why Uncle Benjamin didn’t come for me then? Mama wrote and said what train I would be arriving on. I hope the letter didn’t get misplaced.” There was genuine concern in the child’s voice and she looked from one cousin to the other. “What will I do if there is no room for me? Mama didn’t know about all the cousins.”
    “One more head won’t matter none,” Ez reassured. “Can’t never keep track of ‘em all anyhow.”
    “Let’s git.” Zeke took the carpetbag this time and, with grunts from both, the trunk was again lifted.
    Feeling only partly refreshed, Belle rose and followed. The path led downhill until it reached a bubbling stream at the bottom. Here, Belle paused in dismay. There was no bridge and no stones to cross over on. It didn’t look very deep, but still she hesitated.
    “Wait there.” Belle wasn’t sure which brother had given the directions, but she waited, watching as the sturdy boots splashed through the water.
    Once the brothers had crossed the stream, the trunk was set down, and Ez strode back across, lifted his cousin, and carried her safely across the water. Again he heard those sweet words, “Thank you,” but he said nothing.
    Belle hoped there would be no other streams to cross before the home of her aunt and uncle was reached. As she trudged on, she tried to distract her mind from thinking how her feet were beginning to ache and about how tired she was, by thinking of what the house would be like. Her mother had told her it was small. “But they must have added onto it with all those children,” thought Belle. “Oh, I wonder how much farther I can go!”
    The quiet of the woods was broken by her soft voice singing.

“All my fears I give to Jesus!
Rests my weary soul on Him;
Tho’ my way be hid in darkness,
Never can His light grow dim.

The voice grew stronger, more confident, as Belle reached the chorus.

“I am trusting, fully trusting,
Sweetly trusting in His word,
I am trusting, fully trusting,
Sweetly trusting in His word.

All my joys I give to Jesus!
He is all I want of bliss:
He of all the worlds is Master
He has all I need in this.”

    Then once again the air rang with the chorus of trust.
    As the final words died away, Belle fell silent, her spirit was refreshed, and her joy, which had begun to grow dim, was renewed.
    “Home’s jest a piece ahead,” Zeke volunteered presently.
    Belle made no reply, but tried to quicken her pace so as not to lag behind her cousins. The woods had been growing darker, and she had wondered if they would reach home before darkness completely overtook them. Then a new thought struck her. Soon she would be meeting not just her aunt and uncle, but more cousins than she had ever known anyone to have. Her heart beat faster, and unconsciously she slipped her hand into the work hardened one of Ez.
    Suddenly up ahead was a clearing, a large one, and to one side stood a house. But it wasn’t like anything Belle had imagined it would be. Made of logs, the building looked rough and dirty. A stone chimney on one end of the structure was sending smoke drifting heavenward. There were windows, but the panes of glass didn’t gleam in the setting sun.
    Shouts and cries sounded as the three cousins emerged from the shelter of the woods and began to climb the hill towards the house. They had not gone more than a few yards before the door was flung open and out rushed a horde of children of all ages. In sudden shyness Belle pressed close to Ez, thankful for the sheltering form of Zeke before her.
    “What’s that ye’s got?”
    “What’cha so late fer?”
    “What’s in the bag, Zeke?”
    “Hey, who’d ya bring with ya?”
    “Ez, do take Mattie. She’s been cryin’ and frettin’ so’s Ma’s jest fed up.”
    Belle felt her cousin’s hand on hers tighten a little and heard him say, “Can’t. Tote’er ‘long ta the house ‘n I’ll take her then.” She stole a glance at the girl luging along a crying tot and wished she was acquainted enough to take the child herself, for she had always borrowed the babies of their neighbors as often as she could.
    “Kade, Rome, quit yer pickin’ fights with the young’uns. Git up ta the house. An’ the rest a ya’ll quit yer hollarin’.” Zeke issued his orders with a tone of command that left no doubt that he meant what he said. “Jess, Pa home?”
    Zeke said no more, but his few words were obeyed and Belle, wondering more and more what her stay with her aunt and uncle was going to be like, kept close to Ez.
    The children all reached the house before the newcomers and were all babbling at once. As Belle stepped up onto the wide porch she heard a sharp voice. “All a you’s git over there, si’down and stop talkin’. I don’t care if’n yer brothers brung home the president a the United States, nor a tiger from the circus, I can’t stand more a yer goin’s on!”
    There was almost instant silence as Zeke and Ez stepped through the doors and lowered the trunk to the floor. Zeke set the carpetbag on top while Ez nudged Belle forward, saying in his quiet tones, “We brung Aunt Lynn’s girl with us, Ma.”
    For a moment Belle hesitated. This wasn’t the introduction she had been expecting. The woman, standing by the fireplace, turned and looked from one of her tall sons to the other, and then her gaze rested on Belle. Instantly Belle forgot her shyness, for there was something in the woman’s face, though it was tired and old, that reminded her of her mother. “Oh, Aunt Lillian, I’m so glad I’m finally here!” cried the girl, rushing across the room to give her aunt a hug and kiss. “I’m Belle, and Mama was quite relieved to know you would let me come visit while–” The child’s voice broke suddenly and she drew a deep breath.
    “What are you talking about, Child?” Aunt Lillian held the girl off at arm’s length and looked at her. “You’re Lynn’s daughter all right, I can see that in yer face, but I ain’t never told yer mother we’d take ya.”
    “Oh, but you didn’t say I couldn’t come. And that’s what Mama wrote. She said to let her know if I couldn’t come, and there was never any word, so, of course, I came.” And Belle smiled brightly.
    Without answering, her aunt gave a tired smile. “Reckon yer hungry. Jest sit down at the table. Git ta the table, boys. I kept yer supper hot. Jess, Ali, serve it up. Riss, get Mattie, so’s Ez can eat.”
    Belle looked at her tall cousin. The little one, Mattie, they had called her, had nestled her head on her brother’s shoulder, her thumb in her mouth. The other arm was around his neck and she looked sleepy. It seemed a shame to wake her.
    “I’ll keep ‘er, Riss,” Ez said quietly, sitting down on the chair at the head of the table while Zeke sat on the bench opposite Belle. “I kin eat one handed, Ma.”
    When no word of protest came, Belle assumed her aunt had agreed. One of the girls, she wasn’t sure which one, set a steaming bowl before her. “Thank you,” she whispered with a smile. It smelled appetizing, and she was hungry after her long journey and the unexpected walk to the house. She noticed that Zeke and Ez had both begun eating right away. “Perhaps they forgot to give thanks,” she thought, bowing her own head for a brief moment.
    A low murmur was coming from the line of younger cousins, and Belle looked at them all. They all looked much alike, differing only in size, and length and color of hair. Most heads were covered with sandy colored locks, but a few bore darker tresses like Zeke and Ez. Some of them stared at the newcomer, and Belle smiled. It was going to be enjoyable getting to know them all.
    Aunt Lillian sank down into a rocking chair, and a little fellow ran to her, begging to sit in her lap. That seemed to be the move needed to release the other children, and they began to scatter about the large room. Belle, focused on her meal, wondered if she would be introduced to each one of her cousins later. Perhaps they were waiting for Uncle Benjamin to arrive.
    Her thoughts were startled by Zeke’s voice. “Kade, Rome, keep yer hands off what ain’t yers. Move along and leave yer cousin’s things be.”
    The two younger boys backed away from Belle’s luggage, glancing at their older brother.
    Zeke kept his eyes on them until they were on the other side of the room, before returning to his supper.
    “Zeke, Ez, when yer both finished, ye can set Belle’s things in the girls’ room. I reckon it’ll be a might smaller’n she’s used ta, but we ain’t got anywheres else.”
    “Oh, Aunt Lillian,” Belle exclaimed, dropping her fork in her excitement. “Do you really mean I can share a room with the girls? I have always wished I could share a room with someone.” The light of her eyes was unmistakable and, giving a little bounce of delight, she quickly finished the last of her supper.

    The evening passed in a succession of new things for Belle. She watched her older cousins take her trunk and bag through a door she hadn’t noticed before. The sun was nearly gone when Aunt Lillian said it was time for bed. There were no family prayers, and again Belle wondered if that was because her uncle wasn’t home. She hoped he was all right. Kissing her aunt good night, Belle whispered, “I just know I’m going to love being here, Auntie!”
    In her room with the other girls, Belle smiled. “You all know who I am, but I don’t know who anyone is. Except Mattie.”
    After tucking the covers over Mattie who was sound asleep, one of the girls offered a shy smile. “I’m Jess. That’s Riss and Tabby.” She pointed to the girl who had been carrying Mattie earlier, who was now engaged in helping get a very sleepy young one ready for bed. “Tabby’s jest four. This one here is Sade. She and Si is twins.”
    Sade stuck a finger in her mouth and clung to her sister’s skirt.
    Crouching down, Belle asked softly, with her most winning smile, “How old are you, Sade?”
    For answer, the little one looked up at Jess.
    “Reckon she’s ‘bout five.”
    “Five years old? You must be such a help with the little ones.” Sade gave no answer, but Belle didn’t expect one and stood back up. There was only one other girl in the room
    “That’s Ali,” Jess nodded. “She’s ten, an’ the two a ya kin share a bed.”
    None of the girls said another word as they prepared for bed. But when Jess would have blown out the lamp, Belle said, “Can’t we leave it on just a little longer, please? I haven’t gotten to read my verse yet.”
    At that, Ali sat up in bed. “Kin ya really read?”
    “Yes. Can’t you?”
    Ali shook her head. “Ain’t none a us kin read, ‘cept Ma a little an’ Pa. But he don’t like the idea of us trampin’ all the way ter town jest ta learn some letters an’ numbers. Said it’s too far fer the young’uns an’ Ma’s got too much ta do ‘thout us ta help out.”
    “Well, maybe if we have time, I can help you,” offered Belle, feeling that this visit was not going to be anything like she had envisioned. She opened her small Bible and read a verse aloud in a soft voice. Then, without taking time to think about what her cousins would say, she knelt down beside the bed and prayed as she had at her mother’s knee.
    After the light was put out and the house was still, Belle heard a soft whisper near her ear.
    “Belle, are ye awake?”
    “I’m glad ya came.”
    “So am I, Ali.” Belle hesitated a moment and then added honestly, “I wasn’t sure I wanted to come at first, but Mama and Papa thought it was best, so I had to trust that Jesus knew what was best for me.”

Chapter 2
To the Work!

    When Belle opened her eyes in the morning, she couldn’t remember where she was at first. There were strange sounds in the next room, and then she felt a small hand pat her face. Quickly glancing over, the memory of yesterday’s experiences returned at the sight of a baby face staring into her own.
    “Oh, Mattie,” Belle whispered, sitting up and reaching out her hands. The little one went right to her, and Belle, with a sigh of delight, pulled her into her lap. “I’m going to love having you around.”
    The soft light of early morning drifted in through the curtains of the two windows, allowing Belle to notice that Jess and Riss were no longer in the room and that Ali and the others still slept. “I wonder if you are used to waking Ali up,” Belle murmured in Mattie’s ear. Then she frowned. “I don’t think you got a bath yesterday, Baby. You’re rather dirty. Perhaps there wasn’t time. Do you want to listen while I read my morning verse?”
    Mattie stuck her thumb in her mouth and leaned back against Belle’s shoulder for answer.
    Opening the little book which sat on her trunk, Belle read the next verse, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”
    “That is a good verse for today, I think, Baby. I don’t know anything about life here, but I’m sure I can find things to do, and I am supposed to do them with my might because that will please Jesus.” Still talking to the little tot, Belle continued her musings. “We must ask Him to help us though, because His might is stronger than ours.” Bowing her head, she prayed for strength to do what she found to do that day.
    It took but a few minutes for Belle to complete her own toilet while Mattie, still silent and with her thumb in her mouth, sat on the bed and watched. When she was finished and her hair braided in its usual braid, Belle turned her attention to the baby again. “I know I could get you dressed,” she whispered, “but perhaps you are supposed to get a bath first. What shall we do, Baby?”
    Right then the door to the room opened and Jess stepped in. “C’mon girls, get–” She paused at the sight of Belle and Mattie. “Did she wake ya?”
    Belle shook her head. “No, and I would have gotten her dressed, but I didn’t know if she was supposed to get a bath first, since she didn’t have one last night.”
    “If we have time today she kin have a bath, like as not, if someone wants ta mess with it,” Jess answered shortly, tossing the baby’s clothes to Belle. “If’n ya want ta get her dressed, go ‘head.” Without waiting for a reply, Jess crossed the room and pushed open the curtains, letting the morning sun stream in. “C’mon,” she urged the little ones, pulling back the blankets and slipping nightgowns over tousled heads as the younger two sat up sleepily. “Ma an’ Riss ‘bout have breakfast ready, and Pa an’ the boys have ta git t’the fields ‘fore it gits hot.”
    Belle listened to this talk with only one ear as she quickly dressed the little one, whispering her verse over and over. Mattie, contrary to Jess’s expectation, gave no trouble but allowed the new hands to fasten her into clean clothes. “There,” Belle said, kissing the little face involuntarily, “now I think you’re ready.”
    The call to breakfast was heard from the other room, and, leaving the beds unmade and clothes lying about, much to Belle’s dismay, the girls hurried to the table.
    The boys were already there, and at the head, where Ez had eaten the night before, sat a tall, lean man. His shoulders were broad and his face unsmiling. There were some grey hairs about his temples, but the rest was brown, and he was clean shaven. Belle went up to him at once and greeted him with a kiss.
    “Good morning, Uncle Benjamin. I’m Belle, and I’m so glad you made it home safely last night. I was a bit worried when you didn’t come before bed time, but I prayed for you.” She smiled brightly up into his face.
    A bit of a smile crossed the man’s face as he looked at the bright faced girl beside him. “You slept well?”
    “Oh, yes, sir! I didn’t wake up once until this morning.”
    “Good. Sit there,” Uncle Benjamin motioned to an empty place on the bench beside Ali, “an’ we’ll eat.”
    Almost as soon as the last bowl of porridge was set on the table, the clatter of spoons began.
    But Belle looked around puzzled.
    “Don’t ya like porridge?” Uncle Benjamin asked her.
    “Yes, sir, but we forgot to thank the Lord for our food.”
    “Supposin’ we ain’t never learned how?”
    Belle lifted a shocked face, “But . . . but . . . then I could thank Him.”
    Silence had fallen about the table at Belle’s first words. Into the hush came the sound of a giggle.
    “Kade, ya want ta go outside?” asked the head of the family sternly.
    Giving a quick shake of his head, Kade looked down at the table.
    Uncle Benjamin turned back to his niece. “If’n yer wantin’ ta say grace, go ‘head.”
    To Belle, who was not timid, the thought of talking to her Savior before others was no trial. Hadn’t she done it often enough in prayer meeting? Her prayer was simple, thanking the Lord for the food and asking that He give them strength for the work of the day. When it was over, the interrupted meal commenced again, in silence.
    Only when it was over did Uncle Benjamin speak. “Zeke, Ez, let’s go. We got work ta do in the fields.”
    “Kin Rome an’ me go too, Pa?” asked Kade.
    “Ye kin come up with our lunch an’ I’ll see then.”
    With that the younger boys had to be content. Aunt Lillian sent them out to feed the chickens and gather the eggs while the girls set about clearing away the dishes and washing things up. Belle, eager to help, coaxed Sade and Tabby into their room and helped them make the beds and hang up their clothes. As she often did at home, Belle soon broke into song.

“To the work! to the work! we are servants of God,
Let us follow the path that our Master has trod;
With the balm of His counsel our strength to renew,
Let us do with our might what our hands find to do.”

    The morning passed quickly for Belle; each thing was novel to her, and she found it all interesting. Two-year-old Benny was the hardest of the young ones to make friends with, for he clung to Jess or his mother’s skirts until Belle was almost in despair.
    “Offer ta take him outside,” Ali whispered.
    To Belle’s great delight, the little boy went right to her at that offer, and she received permission from Aunt Lillian to take the children out.
    “Go ‘long with her, Ali,” Aunt Lillian instructed. “Belle ain’t used ta things ‘round here yet, an’ I don’t reckon she’ll find it as easy as she thinks ta keep an eye on ‘em all.”
    Belle soon found that her aunt had been right, for once outside, the children scattered like dandelion seeds when they are blown. It took all of her ingenuity to gather them about her on the sunny slope and teach them a simple game. The younger twins, Si and Sade, refused to join in.
    “Si ain’t what folks call real friendly,” confided Ali when all Belle’s coaxing and smiles to the little fellow had been in vain. “He’s shy when he don’t know someone an’ likes ta stay away. An’ ‘course Sade, she goes with ‘im. Ye ain’t likely ta see one ‘thout the other ‘cept at night.”
    There was some difficulty with Kade and Rome, for both boys seemed more inclined to stir up trouble than to play the game. Finally Ali grabbed Kade’s arm and said, “Kade Russum, if’n ya don’t quit yer trouble makin’, I’m goin’ ta head up ta the fields and fetch home Pa er Zeke.” She turned to the younger boy. “Same goes fer you too, Rome.”
    Neither boy gave answer in words, but they settled down and played the game with the little ones, though they were both sulky and refused to talk to their sister.

    After lunch, when Kade and Rome had departed to the upper fields with food for their father and brothers, and the youngest ones had been put down for naps, Aunt Lillian sank wearily into her rocking chair and picked up her mending.
    “Auntie,” Belle said, going over and sitting in a nearby chair, “you look so tired. Won’t you go lie down and take a rest? We’ll keep the house quiet. Do Auntie. Mama does often when–” She swallowed hard and then went on with only a slight catch in her voice. “When she’s tired.”
    “Do, Ma,” Jess encouraged. “Ya know Kade and Rome’ll be gone fer hours, an’ the little ones are sleepin’. Ya ain’t had a rest fer so long.”
    Aunt Lillian looked about, and then down at the mending. “I reckon I kin this once. I am a might more tired’n usual today.”
    For several minutes the older girls sat in silence, the sisters glancing at each other and wondering how to entertain their cousin from the city. Suddenly Belle whispered, “Isn’t there something that Auntie would like to have done but hasn’t had time to do? Maybe something she used to do about the house?”
    Jess, Riss and Ali exchanged blank looks. At last Riss replied slowly, “She used to wash the windows every week, but she ain’t done that since Sade an’ Si were born. Now they only get washed once a year, if we get to it then.”
    Clapping her hands softly, Belle exclaimed in whispered tones, “Let’s wash the windows then! At least the ones in here. There are four of us, so two can work inside and two outside. Unless,” her face fell slightly, “there are other things we need to do instead.”
    Jess shook her head. “No, we ain’t got ta do other things, ‘less it’s the mendin’, but I reckon Ma’d like the windows clean more’n she would the mendin’ done. An’,” she added, looking critically down at the basket, “there ain’t much mendin’ neither.”
    Soon Ali and Belle were outside with rags and a pail of water while Jess and Riss took up their places inside. Under their willing hands the windowpanes soon began to glisten in the afternoon sun.
    Unable to keep back the song she had been humming all day, Belle broke into singing.

“To the work! to the work! there is labor for all,
For the kingdom of darkness and error shall fall;
And the name of Jehovah exalted shall be
In the loud swelling chorus, ‘Salvation is free!’”

Scrubbing the windows in time to her song, she launched into the chorus.

“Toiling on, toiling on,
Toiling on, toiling on,
Let us hope, and trust,
Let us watch, and pray,
And labor till the Master comes.”

    The windows shone as all four girls stepped down off the porch to look at them. “They’ll catch the setting sun now,” Belle remarked. “And they’ll shine like gold. Don’t you just love the way the sun sparkles on the glass? It always reminded Mama–” Belle’s voice broke, and it was some time before she could go on. “It reminded Mama about the streets of gold in Heaven, when the sun was making windows shine like gold. Maybe that’s why Auntie liked having them so clean. Perhaps they reminded her of that too.”
    When none of her cousins replied, Belle suggested they go inside and not say a word about what they had done. “How long do you think it will be before she notices?”
    “Ain’t sure,” Ali replied with a giggle, starting up the porch steps.
    Aunt Lillian, looking more rested, came from her room shortly after the girls had sat down with the mending. “Ya ain’t got very far on them clothes if’n that’s the only thing ya’ll’s done. Kade an’ Rome come back yet?”
    “No, Ma.”
    Stepping over to the windows, Aunt Lillian looked out, then took a step back and eyed the windows. Belle hid a smile behind her hand.
    “Well, I reckon I’d rather have them windows cleaned than that mendin’ done,” was all the comment she made, but Jess’s nod told Belle her aunt was pleased. She knew it for herself later in the evening when, on pretense of “watchin’ for the boys,” her aunt went out into the yard. She did more looking at the windows than watching the slopes, Belle noticed with a satisfied feeling.

    The supper table that evening was the liveliest Belle had ever been a part of. Ali, Kade, Rome and Tabby all vied over who could talk the most and the loudest. To her astonishment, no one even seemed to try and curb the chatter, but they all went on with their meal, answering a few questions or making their own comments. To Belle, the commotion was bewildering, and she longed for a few moments of peace and quiet. “It will come after supper,” she thought. “Then Uncle will have family prayers.”
    All at once a new thought disturbed this happy idea. “But Uncle Benjamin doesn’t even thank the Lord for the food. Maybe he doesn’t have family prayers either.” Her face grew sober and she lowered her eyes to her almost finished meal. She didn’t feel hungry any more. An ache which had been pushed down and buried in the excitement of a new place and new family, almost choked her. How she longed to hear her beloved father pray or her mother’s gentle voice sing.
    A low voice beside her whispered, “Ain’t ya hungry?”
    Belle glanced over at Kade, who was looking from her unfinished meal to her and then back at the food. “No, you may have it,” she replied in equally low tones, giving her plate a little push toward her younger cousin.
    Kade wasted no time in switching plates, and Belle wondered if anyone noticed, for in moments the food which had choked her, had vanished.
    “Ma,” Ez broke into the lull of talk as plates were scraped clean, “I saw ya got them windows washed.”
    Leaning back in her chair, Aunt Lillian shook her head. “I didn’t do any such thing, Ez. They were washed while I was takin’ a rest.”
    Ez glanced at Jess but said nothing, and the silence lengthened.
    At last Aunt Lillian stood up saying, “Well, girls, let’s get these dishes washed; they ain’t goin’ ta do it themselves.”
    Feeling relieved to do something, Belle rose with the others and began to clear the table. It had never been a favorite chore at home, but she was grateful to wash a stack of dirty dishes now because it helped push down the homesick feeling.
    “Sing that song ya sang this mornin’, Belle,” Ali begged. “I ain’t never heard it ‘fore today.”
    Still fighting the lump in her throat, Belle shook hear head. “I don’t think I can sing right now,” she replied in whispered tones.
    “Try it, please?”
    “Ali,” Jess scolded, “Belle ain’t required ta sing. Leave her be.”
    Belle caught the slight quiver of her cousin’s chin at the rebuke. “I can try, Ali,” she whispered. “I like to sing while I work. It’s just that I was–” Somehow she couldn’t bring herself to admit that she was homesick. Breathing a quick prayer for help, she began.

“To the work! to the work! we are servants of God,
Let us follow the path that our Master has trod;
With the balm of His counsel our strength to renew,
Let us do with our might what our hands find to do.”

As she sang, her courage flowed back and she smiled. She could work and hope because this was where her Master had sent her.

“To the work! to the work! let the hungry be fed;”
Well, there had certainly been plenty of hungry mouths that evening!

“To the fountain of Life let the weary be led;
In the cross and its banner our glory shall be,
While we herald the tidings, ‘Salvation is free!’

Toiling on, Toiling on,
Toiling on, Toiling on,
Let us hope, and trust,
Let us watch, and pray,
And labor till the Master comes.”

    With each verse her voice grew firmer and stronger until the entire room was hushed as everyone listened to the sweet voice of the singer washing the dishes. Three times she sang the hymn through before the last dish was dried and put away in the cupboard. Only then did she notice the quietness of the room and turn to look.
    Aunt Lillian, with Benny in her lap, was rocking in her chair while Sade and Si sat on their father’s knees, leaning back against his shoulders. Standing by the open doorway where the breeze was fresh, Zeke leaned against the doorpost with folded arms staring out into the gathering dusk. Seated in a nearby chair, Ez held Mattie in his arms as she happily played with her rag doll. The other children, silent and subdued, sat as though mesmerized by the tune and the singer.
    The first wave of self-consciousness Belle could ever remember feeling swept over her, and she colored. “I . . . I’m sorry if I was too loud,” she murmured, looking from her aunt to her uncle. “I forget myself when I’m singing.”
    “Ya weren’t too loud at all, Child,” Uncle Benjamin said, giving her a nod. “It ain’t often we get ta hear singin’, an’ it were right nice.”
    Thus assured, Belle regained her usual self-possession and, going up to her uncle, asked, “What time do we need to leave for church in the morning?”
    Blinking in surprise, Uncle Benjamin stared at his niece. “Church? Tomorrow?” He repeated blankly.
    “Yes, sir. Tomorrow is Sunday, though I know it must be hard to remember when you live so far from town and can’t go over to prayer meeting during the week. Sometimes the weeks were so busy back home that even Papa had a hard time realizing what day it really was. But what time, please?”
    Instead of answering, her uncle looked across the room at her aunt. Neither one said a word, though Aunt Lillian gave a slight nod. Only Baby Mattie’s jabber broke the breathless hush of the room as everyone waited to hear the answer. At last Uncle Benjamin cleared his throat. “Well, seein’ as we live so far outside a town,” he began, “we ain’t never went ta church regular like. Sometimes the roads are too muddy, or it’s rainin’ or some such thing.”
    “But it was really sunny today, Uncle, and I heard Zeke say it looked like it would be sunny tomorrow.” Belle had never missed church on Sunday except when she was sick and couldn’t go. The thought of not going when she was perfectly well and the sun was shining made the homesick feeling rise again. She bit her lower lip and blinked back the tears which burned in her eyes.
    “Well, I reckon if’n ya can talk Ez or Zeke ta hitch up the wagon an’ take ya, ye might could go.”
    “Oh, thank you, Uncle!” And Belle, unmindful of those watching, threw her arms around her uncle’s neck and kissed him.
    Looking slightly pleased, Uncle Benjamin raised an eyebrow. “Don’t ya go ta thankin’ me yet,” he said. “Like as not Zeke an’ Ez’ll be wantin’ a day a rest at home.”
    Turning at once to her older cousins, Belle asked if they would take her to church in the morning.
    There was but a moment of hesitation as the two young men exchanged glances before Zeke gave a nod and said, “Yep, we’ll take ya.”
    “Thank you!” Belle’s radiant smile seemed to light up the darkening room.
    “Pa, can I go too,” Ali asked.
    “Ask yer brothers. If’n they don’t mind, I shore ‘nough don’t care who goes ta church tomorrow.”
    Instantly the room was filled with pleas to Zeke and Ez to take them too, for a trip to town for whatever reason, was an adventure not to be overlooked. Finally Aunt Lillian ordered everyone to be quiet. “Give yer brothers a chance ta talk. They kin say who all kin go n’ who can’t.” She looked at Zeke.
    “Any that want’a go an’ are ready when we leave, can come ‘long. Sade, Si, ya want to go ta church with us in the mornin’?” Zeke had left his post by the door and moved beside his father’s chair. Two little blond heads were shaken. “Then I ‘spect we’ll be takin’ Rome, Kade an’ the girls.”
    “Kin ya manage all the young’uns without us, Ma?” asked Jess.
    Aunt Lillian gave a smile. “Since yer pa’ll be here, I kin manage.”
    Belle, who had been thinking since Zeke told her she could go, now turned once more to her uncle. “Uncle, don’t you and Auntie want to come to church too?”
    But Uncle Benjamin shook his head. “No, Child, you go ‘long with yer cousins tomorrow an’ another time maybe we’ll go too.”
    With this Belle had to be content, for she had never learned how to argue and wouldn’t have considered doing it now.
    Putting Benny down from her lap, Aunt Lillian stood up. “Any who are thinkin’ a goin’ ta church in the mornin’ ain’t goin’ dirty. Ez, fetch the tub, an’ Zeke, take yer brothers out ta the barn. Use the old trough an’ make sure the young’uns git clean. I ain’t sendin’ my young’uns ta church with more’n a week’s dirt on ‘em. Pa, will ya start pumpin’ water? Jess fetch clean nightshirts fer the boys, an’ make sure ya get ‘em fer Si and Benny too. I know they ain’t goin’, but that don’t mean they can’t get cleaned up too.”

    By the time Belle was in the room she shared with her cousins, she was more tired than she ever remembered feeling. Mattie and Tabby were both asleep, worn out with crying through their baths. In silence the older girls prepared for bed.
    “Are ya still goin’ ta read yer Bible?” whispered Ali, when Belle reached for the book.
    Belle nodded.
    “But aren’t ya tired?”
    “Yes,” admitted Belle, “but I know I will rest better if I have a sweet promise of Jesus to rest upon.” A smile broke over her face as she saw the next verses. Softly she read them aloud. “For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul. Upon this I awaked, and beheld; and my sleep was sweet unto me.”
    Jess’s voice sounded from across the room. “What does that word ‘satiated’ mean? I ain’t never heard it before.”
    “I asked Papa that once and he said it meant to satisfy so much that the satisfying spilled over in abundance. That’s how Jesus satisfies; He does until it overflows. But sometimes I don’t let Him satisfy.” She heaved a little sigh. “I want something more, something else, when all I need is Him.” There was a long pause before Belle added, “But when we let Him satisfy, our sleep will be sweet.” Gently shutting the Bible, Belle knelt in prayer. She had a promise to rest on. Though she was weary and tired, He would satisfy her and make her sleep sweet. All she had to do was accept.
    Rising from her knees, she blew out the candle and slipped into bed beside Ali with a sigh of contentment.
    “Belle, when will ya teach me ta read?”
    “Soon, Ali, soon.”

Chapter 3
My Song Shall be of Jesus

    The sun was barely up when Zeke came to the door of the cabin and looked in. “If’n we’re goin’ ta make it ta church ‘fore it’s over, we’d best git a move on.”
    Two last bites were shoveled by Kade into his mouth while Rome swallowed his milk so hastily that he choked and started coughing. Jess, Riss and Ali, all suddenly looking unsure, smoothed their best dresses and hurried out to the wagon.
    Excited but somewhat nervous, Belle slipped from the girls’ room where she had gone to fetch her Bible. Her dress was neat and clean, her hair smooth. Though she didn’t know it, the contrast between her and her cousins was observed by both her aunt and uncle.
    Uncle Ben followed the others and stood on the porch beside Aunt Lillian. “Good bye, Auntie,” Belle was saying as she waited to be helped up into the wagon. “I do hope that you and Uncle will be able to come with us next time.”
    “Zeke,” Uncle Ben called before that young man sprang up to take his seat in the front beside his cousin who had been given the seat of honor next to Jess on the broad seat. “Make sure ya tie Coon Dog right, er ya might all be walkin’ home.”
    “Yep.” Zeke nodded and clucked to the dark horse. With a creak, the wagon started forward over the hard packed trail.
    “Zeke, did Uncle say this horse’s name is Coon Dog?” Belle asked with doubt in her voice as the house disappeared behind the trees.
    “Why would a horse have that name?”
    When Zeke didn’t offer an explanation, Ali volunteered the answer from the back of the wagon where she sat with the others. “It was a few years ago an’ the boys’d been wantin’ ta get a coon dog ta help ‘em hunt. Pa goes off one day an’ says he’s goin’ ta look fer one, but he comes home with this horse. There jest weren’t no coon dogs ta be had. Least ways not where Pa looked.”
    “So you named the horse for the dog he couldn’t get,” Belle chuckled softly. “I do like the name, now that I know the story. Did you ever get your dog, Zeke?” She hadn’t seen any around, but Belle wondered if it could be somewhere else.
    Inwardly relieved, Belle didn’t reply. One thing she had always been afraid of was dogs, but she didn’t want to admit it. At least not then.
    Besides the creaking of the wagon wheels as they jolted over rocks and across holes, and the steady plodding of Coon Dog’s hoofs, the travelers were quiet. The morning songs of the birds in the trees could be heard, and the sky, when they could see it, became streaked with pink and orange as the sun came up higher.

“My song shall be of Jesus,
His mercy crowns my days,
He fills my cup with blessings,
And tunes my heart to praise;
My song shall be of Jesus,
The precious Lamb of God,
Who gave Himself my ransom,
And bought me with His blood.”

    Belle’s voice seemed to blend in with the morning sounds, as though it were part of the woods and the sunrise, the light wind and the birds. It had not been her intention to sing; in fact, she scarcely noticed her voice had taken up the song she had read earlier that morning. Something in the woods, the colors of the flowers, and the early morning light streaming through the trees had awakened the melody in her heart and she had to sing.

“My song shall be of Jesus,
When sitting at His feet,
I call to mind His goodness,
In meditation sweet.”

    The steady plodding of Coon Dog’s hooves quickened a little as though to mark the time of the music.

“And when my soul shall enter
The gate of Eden fair,
A song of praise to Jesus
I’ll sing forever there.”

    Belle felt a light tap on her arm when the song was ended. Turning, she saw Ris looking up at her.
    “Sing it again.” The pleading was in the girl’s eyes, for her words, if they had really been spoken aloud, were lost in the creaking of the wagon as it jostled over a particularly rough part of road.
    At once Belle began the song again. It was one of her favorites and she had sung it often at home. This time, when she reached the last lines, she said, “Now all of you try and sing it with me.”
    A grunt came from Zeke, but Belle thought it might have been a cough.
    Slowly she began the first verse.

“My song shall be of Jesus,
His mercy crowns my days.”

    Timidly, Ali and Jess joined in. Twice through the first verse Belle’s strong, young voice led the others before she ventured into the second verse. By the time the town was reached, the song had been well learned. Belle wasn’t sure if Zeke and Ez had sung at all, for she never heard them. But the others had. Even Kade’s off key warbling hadn’t clashed with the others.
    A hush fell over the wagon as it drew near the outskirts of town. Belle wondered when the younger ones had last been to town, for a remark from Ali last night made her think going to town was a rare occurrence. Hardly a soul was to be seen as the wagon, its occupants quiet, rumbled and creaked up the hill to the church. There Zeke skillfully drove to a place near the clapboard building where other rough wagons and a few buggies already stood, and with a low “whoa” brought Coon Dog to a halt. Springing out, he lifted first his cousin down and then his sister. “I’ll tie up Coon Dog,” was all he said.
    Ez gave an answering nod, dropped over the side in one easy motion and then reached up to help Riss and Ali. Kade and Rome, disdaining a helping hand, jumped out and then stood still as though suddenly unsure and nervous, their eyes wide in wonder.
    The bell was ringing and a few folks hurried past the Russums, scarcely giving them a nod before quickly moving inside.
    “They must not know Uncle Benjamin’s family,” Belle thought, remembering the friendly greetings she and her parents always received around town. “If they don’t come to town much–”
    “Ya wantin’ ta go in?” Zeke’s question brought Belle’s mind back from its wanderings, and she nodded quickly.
    The bell was still sounding its melodic call when Zeke pulled open the door and Belle stepped through followed by her cousins. The room was bare, no carpeted floors or gas lights, but the windows were clean and the sun shone in brightly. Hesitating, Belle glanced around. Where were they to sit? Always before she had followed her father to their accustomed seat near the front, but he wasn’t here and there was no accustomed pew. Where did her uncle’s family sit when they did come to church? Stealing a glance at Ez, she could read nothing on his face. All the back rows were full and Belle, with a sudden shyness stealing over her, as heads began turning and dozens of strange eyes swept over her and her cousins, felt strangely out of place. She almost wished she hadn’t suggested they come, but she couldn’t bear the thought of not attending church when she was perfectly well and could go.
    Before her courage failed her completely, a line of the song she had been singing all morning came to her aid. “My song shall be of Jesus, When sitting at His feet.” She hadn’t come to church just because, she had come to sit at the feet of Jesus. With a soft smile, she lifted her head and met the gaze of the pastor up front. He was looking right at her with a kind smile and made a quiet motion of his hand to the empty rows near the front. Though her heart beat fast, Belle Standish, her Bible clutched in one hand while Ali clung to the other, marched up the aisle and slid into an empty pew.
    The bell stopped tolling, and a small boy began to pump the air for the organ while a pretty young lady played a few notes. Belle gave a soft gasp of pleasure and her smile grew wider. Stealing a glance at the faces of her cousins, she saw no recognition until the pastor began to sing.
“My song shall be of Jesus . . .”

    After church, Belle lingered with her cousins until most of the congregation had left the church. No one had come up and welcomed them, though a few nods of greeting were exchanged between Zeke and Ez and a few of the men.
    “Belle,” Ali whispered as they finally started down the aisle, “are folks allowed ta talk ta others after church?”
    “Yes. Why?”
    “Jest wonderin’ why no one talked ta us.”
    Belle had been wondering the same thing. “Perhaps they don’t know us and feel shy.”
    “Reckon they know Zeke and Ez,” Jess murmured behind them.
    To this Belle had no answer. It was strange that no one had welcomed them or even seemed glad they had come. They neared the door, and the pastor, who was waiting on the porch, turned to them with a smile. “Hello, I don’t remember seeing you here before. I’m Philip Williamson.” He held out his hand to Zeke.
    “Zeke Russum.”
    “I’m mighty glad you came out, Zeke. Do you live around here?”
    “Back in the hills a fair piece.”
    The pastor, hardly looking much older than the young man he was talking to, smiled again. “It must be beautiful out there this time of year.” His eyes wandered towards the rolling hills before them, for the church, situated on top of a rise, commanded a lovely view of hills, valley and sky. Turning back to Zeke he glanced at the others waiting around him. “These must be related to you. Siblings?”
    At that Belle stepped forward and offered her hand. “I’m Belle Standish, their cousin.”
    “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Belle.” The minister’s eyes were warm and his smile contagious. “Do you live back in the hills too?”
    Belle realized that her dress, though plain and simple, was made in a more current style than those of Jess, Riss and Ali. “For a time. I only arrived on Friday.”
    “I see,” said the minister. “I’m glad you came. You helped with the singing immensely this morning. You all did.” His smile included the others.
    Ali, blunt and honest, said, “Only ‘cause Belle taught us the song on the way over. We ain’t never heard it ‘fore she sung it in the wagon.”
    “Then you have a fine teacher in your cousin, Miss–”
    “I’m Ali.”
    Mr. Williamson shook hands with her. “It’s a pleasure, Miss Ali.”
    One by one he greeted the others, shaking hands and treating each of them with as much respect and attention as Belle was used to in the city. As he stood talking to Zeke and Ez, the young woman who had played the organ came up on the porch with a winning smile. Turning to her, the minister said, “Chrissy, I’d like you to meet the Russums and their cousin, Belle Standish.” And then he proceeded to name each cousin with only a slight hesitation when he came to Kade and Rome.
    “Why, it took me all day to learn everyone’s name,” exclaimed Belle.
    The young woman laughed brightly. “My husband’s gift of learning names and faces often astonishes people. Do you all live here in town?”
    “No’m, we live back in the hills.” Zeke looked out in the direction they had come.
    “I do hope you will be able to make it each week. Why, Philip,” Mrs. Williamson added, turning to her husband and seizing his arm, “we could start a Sunday School.” She looked at the others. “We have wanted to start one, but there never seem to be enough children and young people who will come. Could you come and help us each week, do you think?”
    Belle looked eagerly from Zeke to Ez. She wanted to say they would come but wasn’t sure Uncle Benjamin would let them go or if Zeke and Ez would be willing to bring them. “Do you think we could?” she whispered, looking up at Ez.
    He shrugged.
    “We’ll have ta check with Pa,” Zeke finally said. “He ain’t home every Sunday an’ Ma’d get too tired with all the young’uns.”
    Mrs. Williamson opened her eyes wider. “Are there more of you than the seven right here?”
    “Reckon so,” Ali replied. “There’s Sade and Si, Tabby, Benny and Mattie.”
    “Couldn’t they come along too? We’d be glad to have all of you.”
    There was no immediate reply, and the silence began to grow uncomfortable until the minister said, “You don’t have to give any answer now. Chrissy is always ready to start something right away. But tell me, Zeke, just where do you live in the hills?”
    In a few short sentences, Zeke gave Mr. Williamson directions, adding, “It ain’t as easy as it seems. Now we’d best be goin’.” He looked around. “Where’s Kade an’ Rome?”
    Ez jerked his head in the direction of the sunny slope. There were the two younger boys, rolling down the hills, unmindful of their clean clothes.
    “Ain’t Ma goin’ ta give ‘em what fer,” Ali whispered to Belle as the girls, after saying good bye to the minister and his wife, walked over to the wagon.
    “Kade! Rome!” Zeke’s strong voice rang out on the quiet afternoon air. “If’n ya don’t aim ta walk back, ye’d best get ta the wagon.”

    They were halfway home before anyone broke the silence. “Belle,” Ali asked, “are all minister’s like that one?”
    Rubbing a thumb gently over the cover of her Bible, Belle shook her head. “No, they are all different. Like everyone is. Did you like him?”
    “Uh huh. Zeke, ya think he’ll come see us?”
    “Huh uh.”
    “But he asked fer directions.”
    Zeke shrugged.
    “I think he will.” Jess’s quiet voice interrupted anything Ali might have said.
    “Why ‘ud he want ta come ta our house fer?” demanded Kade.
    “Because ministers like to visit people.” Belle wasn’t sure why exactly, but she knew their minister back home visited folks.
    The wagon rumbled and creaked over a few holes before Ali said, “Reckon he’d be comin’ ta see if’n you an’ Rome ken behave at home like ya did in church. If’n ya can’t he–”
    “Ali–” Ez began.
    “Quit tryin’ ta pick a fight,” finished Zeke. “Kade an’ Rome did good taday.”
    Nothing else was said, but Belle could feel the pleasant mood had changed, leaving tension and ill will behind. Was there something she could say? No, but she could sing. Hoping that the others would join her, Belle began her song of the morning.

“My song shall be of Jesus,
His mercy crowns my days,
He fills my cup with blessings,
And tunes my heart to praise.”

    The late afternoon sun was filtering down through the leaves of the trees. Evening was coming, but for now all seemed hushed and still, as though nature had taken a repose in preparation for their evening concert. Up on a rock, in the shade of a great oak, sat Belle, silent. It was the first hour she had spent alone since her arrival two days ago. With a soft sigh, she leaned back against the tree and looked up. “I suppose I will get used to it,” she murmured to herself. “I wonder what Mama would say if she could see this place. It is lovely, the colors of the flowers, the different shapes of the tree leaves, and the hills and the sky. It’s all so quiet here when the children are somewhere else.” Her thoughts drifted to her absent parents. “I hope you can rest today, Mama,” she whispered. “But why couldn’t I have gone with you and Papa? I could have helped. Oh, Papa!” She sniffed and blinked rapidly, trying to keep back the tears. She wouldn’t cry. She had promised she would be brave.
    Softly she began to hum and after a few minutes her tears went back to their place.

“My song shall be of Jesus,
Whatever ill betide;
I’ll sing the grace that saves me,
And keeps me at His side.”

    Into the hush that followed her song, came the sound of shouting children. Turning her head, Belle saw her younger cousins racing about the yard after one another. Kade and Rome were waving sticks and soon Si and Benny had some too. The girls, seemingly oblivious to the sword fighting going on, raced here and there. Pulling her feet up, Belle clasped her hands around her knees and watched. There appeared to be children everywhere, and surely there were more than eight of them!
    For a time no one noticed Belle in her secluded place under the tree. She could watch the others in peace. But it didn’t last long. Ali soon caught a glimpse of her, and with Mattie slung on her hip, she tramped up the hillside.
    “Kin me’n Mattie join ya?”
    “Of course.” Belle scooted over to share the rock with her cousins. “What is everyone else doing?”
    Ali shrugged. “Don’t know. Pa’s gone an’ so are Ez an’ Zeke. I reckon Jess an’ Riss’ll be helpin’ Ma fix supper soon.”
    For a moment Belle was silent, watching the youngsters below them. “Should we help somewhere? I didn’t know what to do and it didn’t look like I was needed, so I just came out here. I’ve never been in a family this large before, but maybe I should have stayed to help . . .” her voice trailed off.
    Ali jumped off the rock and brought Mattie back from her wanderings, offering her a small branch with a few green leaves to play with. “Ain’t any need fer ya ta help all the time. Weren’t nothin’ fer ya to do anyhow with the young’uns all sleepin’. Say, Belle, what’s yer home like, back in the city? I ain’t never been anywhere’s bigger’n the town. Is the city much bigger? Zeke said it is, but I kain’t see how he knows since he ain’t never been there.”
    “Oh, yes, the city is much bigger than the town. Why, there are hundreds of houses and streets. The main streets are busy with trolly cars and buggies. Some of the shops are so big that you could take all the children there and lose them in five minutes if you didn’t keep your eyes on them.” She laughed at the thought.
    “Ya ain’t joshin’ are ya?”
    “Not the least bit.” Then she began to describe the house she had lived in all her life; the green lawns around it, the flower gardens which had been her special care, and the shady trees. “We didn’t have as many trees as you have here though. And there weren’t as many hills either.”
    “Why did Aunt Lynn move away from here, I wonder,” Ali spoke quietly.
    “I don’t know for sure. I think she fell in love with Papa. But I don’t know where they met. I wish now I had asked her all about it. But you see I didn’t know I was going to be coming out here until just last week.”
    “Didn’t ya?”
    Belle shook her head. “No, Papa had been sick now and then, and the doctor said he needed a change. But he couldn’t leave his business right away, and they thought it best if I was somewhere else where they wouldn’t have to worry about me. Mama had written Aunt Lillian to see if I could come here, and I only found out when it was time to pack. It was all so sudden. You see, Papa got worse, and the doctor said he must leave even if his business wasn’t ready. So Uncle Archie said he’d take care of the business, I was packed off here, and Mama and Papa were to leave on the very next train.”
    “Do you miss ‘em?”
    Not trusting herself to speak, Belle only nodded.
    “I ain’t never been away from my family fer more’n a few hours,” confessed Ali. “An’ then it were jest at our cousins.”
    “There are more cousins?” Belle forgot her homesickness and stared.
    “Yep. Didn’t Aunt Lynn tell ya about Uncle Nate an’ Aunt Claire?”
    With a doubtful shake of the head, Belle replied slowly, “She talked about Uncle Nathan, but he wasn’t married.”
    Ali laughed merrily. “Maybe he weren’t married when she left, but he shore is now. Why they got most as many young’uns as we got. Only they ain’t got the older ones ta help. Sometimes Jess, Riss an’ me take turns goin’ over ta help Aunt Claire. I reckon I’ll ask Ma if’n we kain’t go over an’ see ‘em soon.”
    Dumbfounded by this news, Belle could only stare at Ali in silence. More cousins. And an aunt she knew nothing about. She wondered if her mama had known of Aunt Claire and had just forgotten to tell her. But then she hadn’t known about all the cousins either. She would certainly have a lot to write her parents about. Suddenly she frowned. “Ali, how do folks mail letters out here? Is there a postoffice?”
    “I ‘spect there’s one in town.”
    “Does anyone go to town very often?”
    Ali shrugged. “Sometimes Zeke an’ Ez go ‘cause they kin git work there, but it ain’t close enough fer the rest of us ta go much.”
    Belle could understand why.
    A shadow fell across the girls and they looked up. Zeke was standing there. “Ain’t ya comin’ ta supper?”
    “Ain’t no one said it were time,” Ali retorted, lifting Mattie and holding her out to her brother.
    “Humph,” Zeke grunted, swinging the little one to his broad shoulders. “Jess called ya twice.”
    Startled by this piece of news, the two girls scrambled to their feet and hurried down the sunny slope to the house with Zeke behind them.
    The rest of the family was already seated at the table when they entered, and Belle thought she caught a glare from Kade’s expressive eyes. “I’m so sorry we are late, Aunt Lillian, Uncle Benjamin,” she began. “Ali and I were talking and we didn’t hear a thing.”
    “I reckon once ain’t goin’ ta hurt, but pay more attention next time er ya might have ta eat when the food’s cold. If’n there’s any left.” Uncle Benjamin nodded to the empty places. “Ya still wantin’ ta say grace?” he asked Belle.
    “I will if you don’t want to, Uncle.”
    Uncle Benjamin motioned her to proceed and Belle did.
    Part way through the meal, Ali turned to her father. “Pa, Belle learned us a new song on the way ta church this mornin’.”
    “Did she?”
    “Yep. Learned us all. Then we sung it in church an’ the minister said we did fine.”
    “Well, I reckon we can listen to it after we eat an’ the dishes are cleaned up.”
    Ali took a few more bites before looking up again. “An’ Ma, kin Belle an’ me go over ta Aunt Claire’s this week? Belle said she ain’t known Uncle Nate were married.”
    “Aw, he’s always been married,” Kade protested. “I betcha she were jest makin’ it up.”
    “No, I wasn’t, Kade, really,” Belle insisted. “I don’t know if my mama knew Uncle Nathan had gotten married. If she did, she never mentioned it to me. I didn’t even know about all of you until I arrived.”
    Kade turned and eyed his cousin skeptically. “Honest?”
    Belle nodded. Then her eyes began to sparkle and a smile spread across her face. “I’m going to have such a lot to tell her and Papa in my letter.”

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