5: THE DARK CLOUD
Paula paused for a moment in the shade of the maple tree. Already the morning sun fell with breathless warmth across the little Minnesota farm. Dust rose from the hooves of a neighbor's horse bearing his master on some early errand. Beyond the road to the north and east lay Benson Lake, its waters catching the blue of the cloudless heaven.
That is, it had been cloudless only moments before. Now a dark swirling mass like smoke boiled over the eastern horizon. The girl froze, puzzled, fear tickling her spine. She spun around and dashed for the house, the eggs in her basket clattering dangerously.
"Mamma, Papa, something's coming! Come look, quick! Something's coming!"
Two small boys tumbled through the doorway, nearly tripping her. She set the egg basket on the table and caught Mother's thin hand in her own.
"Come on, Mamma. I don't know what it is!"
Mother left her biscuit making to follow Paula outside. There the four of them stood watching the growing, swirling cloud that shadowed the landscape like an omen of doom.
Father appeared behind them in the doorway, leaning on his cane. His eyes narrowed as he surveyed the scene before him and spoke one word: "Grasshoppers!"
How long they stood there Paula didn't know. For once even six-year-old Roger didn't ask questions. The young ones, too, seemed to sense the threat that hung over them. Finally Father called them in, and they shut the doors and windows. It was hot inside, but the heat was better than sharing their home with thousands of grasshoppers.
The biscuits lay unbaked and dry on the table. No one felt like breakfast anymore. Roger and Carl stood by the front window. Father sat in the old wooden rocker.
"Come to worship," he told them, his voice sounding husky.
The boys reluctantly abandoned their observation post, and Mother surrendered her attempt to rescue the meal. They gathered with solemn faces around the table on which Father's Bible lay.
"What will grasshoppers do, Papa?" Carl asked. "They'll lay eggs, Son. Millions of 'em. I reckon they'll eat about everything in sight. And when the eggs hatch in the spring ..." his voice trailed off. He seemed to be looking at something a long way off.
"But, Papa, can't we kill 'em? I mean if everybody around here—if we all help. Can't we do something?"
"Oh, we will. Everybody who can, will fight 'em. But I reckon there are more of 'em than anybody can kill. I never saw it so bad."
Father opened the big Bible to one of his favorite chapters, the ninety-first Psalm. "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."
Paula's lips formed the comforting words as Father's choked voice continued to read: "I will say of the Lord, he is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust."
Now his voice gained power. "Surely he shall deliver thee . . ." Paula watched the worry-wrinkles smoothing on his brow. He might be old and ill, but her heart glowed with pride. Papa wasn't afraid.
When he closed the Bible and they knelt to pray, it was as if he seized hold of the gates of glory and wouldn't let go. "Thou art our God!" he exclaimed. "All Thy promises are ours. We have no fear, for Thou wilt protect us. We are helpless, but we belong to Thee."
The strength of that prayer warmed Paula's heart over the
months that followed. All that Father said about the grasshoppers
was true, and fear haunted the little community. The war they
waged on the invaders seemed to make scarcely a dent in their
numbers. Prospects for the spring looked bleak indeed.
The long cold winter melted into spring. Food supplies dwindled. Buds burst in the trees, and all nature rejoiced. But out of the ground crawled a myriad of insects. The earth moved with them. To plant seemed useless. But Father Christopherson hired a neighbor to plow the garden plot. The neighbor muttered about wasted effort as he worked, but he turned the soil, took his pay, and left.
Early the next morning Father called the family together. "It's plantin' time," he announced cheerfully. Before they went to their task, they knelt together and prayed. Then, pushing aside the hopping, crawling pests, they hid the precious seed in the earth. Without a crop they might well starve. And only a miracle could save the crop.
Each morning Paula inspected the garden. She stood and watched the grasshoppers and waited for the first green shoots. Hope and fear battled in her heart. The day the first sprouts appeared was a day she would never forget. She stood for a moment at her usual spot, and then with a shriek of delight, turned and fled to the house.
"Papa, God has answered! God has answered! Come and see!" The whole family hurried to view the garden, then stood transfixed by the sight. The tiny green shoots thrust up from the ground. And while all around the garden the grasshoppers crawled as thick as ever, inside it they saw none. An invisible wall—a barrier the insects could not penetrate seemed to restrain them.
All that spring Paula loved to walk in the garden. It seemed like holy ground. She tiptoed down the rows and touched each growing thing with gentle reverence. Never had their garden looked more beautiful, while for miles around, on every side, devastation reigned.
As the grasshoppers matured and grew their wings they flew in swirling clouds, making a sound like fast-falling hail. And where they settled, they lay in great heaps on every side. For miles around scarcely a green thing survived. Trees lifted arms as bare as winter, and fields lay deserted. Those who passed on the road stopped to gaze in wonder at the little oasis of fruitful beauty on the Christopherson farm.
As harvest came the earth yielded her bounty from the little garden plot: from a small patch, fifty bushels of beets; eighty-three large squashes from three vines; and much more. Paula and the boys carried in mountains of produce. It had never been such a happy task before.
Joyfully they filled the cellar with food for the winter months and sent basketfuls to the neighbors. But on a morning of late August something occurred that greatly impressed Paula.
As they sat at the breakfast table a loud knock boomed through the little house. "Someone else to buy food," Father thought as he rose to answer.
"Come in, come in, Orville." He ushered in a black-bearded neighbor.
"I reckon, Norris, that ye might have some food I could buy. Ye know we ain't got a thing after them grasshoppers got done with us. We'd a starved, I guess, if I hadn't a had a little money put away."
Father's face looked sober. "The good Lord musta known we hadn't any put away," he said. "It's only the mercy o' God that we've food to eat. And He's given us all we need and some for sharin'."
Orville Nelson stood silent for a moment, his face working in a strange way. "I never took much stock in God adoin' anythin' fer us here and now," he said. "But I never seed nothin' like that garden o' yours afore. I reckon the whole neighborhood's convinced we got us a miracle here. Seems like I heard a preacher read somethin' like this afore—about rebukin' the devourer—Malachi, I think it was. Do you folks give a tithe to God?"
Mr. Christopherson looked a little puzzled. He went and got the big Bible and put it in Mr. Nelson's hands. "Can ya show me what it says?" he asked. "I been payin' tithe fer about a year now 'cause I saw it in the Word, but I never saw what yer talkin' about."
Mr. Nelson turned the big pages awkwardly, looking back and forth. With some difficulty he located Malachi. Then his face lit up. "Here it is in Malachi 3:10-12. Listen to this: 'Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse . and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts. I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground.... And all nations shall call you blessed.'
For a long time Father stood without speaking. He opened and closed his mouth twice. Finally he took out his handkerchief and blew his nose. "Well, I never," he said. "I shore never saw that. Neighbor Nelson, won't you, stay and worship with us? I think we better thank God all over again."