Footprints of Providence

6: THE RAVEN AND THE RING

Dobry hesitated, his hand on the latch. He leaned his head against the door, bracing himself for Cara's reaction. With a deep breath he pushed it open.

Cara stood bending over the little cradle. The sound made her turn. "Dobry, did he ..."His face was answer enough. With a cry she crumpled on the bed. He closed the door and sat beside her. Helplessness smothered him like a blanket. When he tried to soothe her, she pushed him away, burying her sobs in the bedclothes.

A pale child climbed on the bed and tugged at her mother's blouse. Dobry caught her up and held her to his heart. "It's all right, Mandy, he said, soothing her fright.

Cara raised her head. "All right?" she flared. "It's not all right. How can it be? What will we do tomorrow? Where will we go? What will happen to the babies?" And she buried her head once more.

Dobry stood up and paced the floor. What would they do, indeed? What were landlords made of anyhow? Did they have hearts of stone? Dobry and his wife had no one to turn to-no one. He groaned aloud. If he could only find work-if only they had some money. But they had none, and the landlord would have no mercy. He covered his face with his hands. No one to turn to-or was there? Hope crept into his heart.

"Cara!" Dobry lifted his wife's tear-stained face. "Cara, we can pray. Maybe God will help us."

She looked at him doubtfully. They knew little of praying. But he knelt and pulled her down beside him. With one arm around little Mandy, he closed his eyes and searched for words. Words never came easily to Dobry, and he hadn't prayed for many years, but love and concern for his family lent him a simple eloquence. When he had finished, he and Cara both remained, unmoving and silent, busy with their own thoughts.

"I was just remembering," Dobry began, "a song my mother sang. It always made me feel safe and warm." And he began singing softly:

"Give to the winds thy fears; Hope and be undismayed;
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears, God shall lift up thy head.
"Through waves and clouds and storms He gently clears thy way;
Wait thou His time; so shall this night Soon end in joyous day."

Before he finished, Cara was humming too. A spark of hope lighted her face. Suddenly a rapping at the window caught their attention.

"Ingram," Cara sighed and opened the sash. A great black raven strutted through the opening and flew to the table. There he walked back and forth muttering over something he held in his beak. Dobry looked at the raven's prize curiously, then with growing excitement. He took the object from the bird's grasp and held it up to the light for Cara to see. She caught her breath in a gasp.

"Oh, it's beautiful!" The rays of the setting sun caught the many facets of glittering jewels on a magnificent ring. "God has answered our prayers." Cara fairly shrieked with delight. "That ring is worth lots and lots of money. We can sell it and never worry anymore. God really does hear our prayers!"

His face clouded. "But, Cara, the ring isn't ours. I don't know whose it is, but we should try to find out."

Her eyes exploding anger, Cara faced him. "How can you say such a horrible thing? Do you want our children out in the snow? What if our babies die? It would be all your fault. God sent us help, and you want to give it away!"

Dobry closed his eyes to shut out the picture of her angry face. For a moment he stood unmoving as a rock in a storm. Then he picked up his coat and walked out into the gathering night. A cold wind whipped around him. He pulled on his coat and walked along the road, struggling with the burden within.

Had God sent the ring? Was that the answer to his prayer? But would God want him to keep something that belonged to someone else? Wasn't that stealing? Poor he might be, but a thief he was not. Of course he hadn't' stolen the ring; his raven had. But if he kept it, wasn't it the same thing?

The snow crunched under his feet as he walked, recalling his fears for the morrow. Would Cara and the babies really be out in the snow with nowhere to go? He had heard of it happening to others. Oh, why couldn't he find work? What could he do for them? Would God really help them? Did God expect him to be honest even if it meant his family must suffer? On the other hand, if he kept the ring, how could God bless a thief?

His thoughts whirled round and round in agonizing circles. How long he walked he really didn't know, but by the time his feet crunched up the path' to his own cottage, he had made his decision. With a long sigh he opened the door. Cara and the children were asleep. That was good. It would be a relief not to have to explain to her just yet. He slipped into bed, thankful for the peace in his heart at last, and soon he slept.

Next morning the sun had scarcely slipped over the eastern horizon and lighted the roofs of Warsaw before Dobry trudged into the city. He had determined to take the ring to his pastor. Sir Giles would surely know what he should do with it. So he stamped the snow from his feet on the steps of the rectory and lifted the great brass knocker. A servant opened the heavy oaken door and invited him in.

"Sir Giles will be out in a little while. Could you wait, — please?"

Dobry found himself in a beautiful room, furnished with lovely, old pieces. Looking for a place to sit, he decided the chairs were too delicate for the likes of him. So he stood by the great window and marveled at the clear glass, the velvet drapes, and the view of the city below. He started at the voice behind him.

"Yes. Dobry, isn't it? What can I do for you?"

The feeling of being out of place left him as he turned and looked into Sir Giles' kind eyes. He drew out the ring and held it out on the palm of his hand. It glistened with a thousand fires in the sunlight from the window. Sir Giles' eyes widened. Picking it up, he looked at it carefully.

"Wherever did this come from, Dobry? Won't you tell me all about it?"

Something so understanding in his manner caused Dobry to pour out the whole story. Tears stood in his eyes as he told of the struggle of the night before. "But I knew God couldn't bless a thief," he finished. "And I need His blessing more than I need the ring. I thought you might have some idea where Ingram could have gotten it."

Sir Giles hesitated for a long moment. "I think I do. I could be wrong, but it looks like one I saw King Stanislaus wear. There are not many men who could afford it. It's just as well you didn't try to sell it. Someone could have recognized it. Dobry, you're an honest man. God will reward you. I'm sure He won't allow your family to suffer."

The reassurance of those words sounded in Dobry's ears as he walked toward home. Whatever God was going to do, He'd better do it soon. Even now the landlord might be on his way to put them out.

Cara waited for him, having gotten over her anger. Now she clung to him, still weeping. She didn't understand, and her faith was too weak to see any hope. Dobry could find no words to explain to her the peace in his own heart. God seemed far more real than He ever had before.

About two hours had passed in anxious waiting when a heavy knock sounded on the door. The time had come. The landlord was there, hardfaced, unyielding. He had brought two men with him. "Carry everything out," he told them. Cara started to scream. Mandy let out a long wail of fear and clung to her father, but Dobry didn't move. He watched with mingled hope and despair as the men began to move their few possessions out into the street.

The sound of pounding hooves interrupted them. A man in the livery of the king dismounted and strode up the footpath.

"I have a message for one Dobry," he said.

Dobry stepped forward. "I'm Dobry," he answered simply.

"The king wants to see you immediately."

"I'll come at once."

The messenger swung around, mounted, and rode away, and the landlord gazed after him in wonderment. Dobry turned to him. He couldn't believe the change on the man's face. The hard lines had relaxed. The landlord actually smiled.

"Now you men put Dobry's things back. He must go at once to see the king; so we won't delay him. We can settle our business later. I'm sure we'll work something out." Dobry stared at the man in disbelief. But he hadn't time to respond. Squeezing Cara's hand, he hurried off down the road toward the city.

He had never been to the palace before. Of course, he knew where it was-one could see its spires from a great distance. But as he neared the imposing gates he became suddenly conscious of his ragged clothing. The guards looked dubious, but when he gave his name, they let him pass.

At the majestic portals another guard called a servant. "Dobry?" the servant questioned. "Oh, yes, the king left orders to bring you in." Tall and thin, with black hair and piercing dark eyes, he wore the same green and gold livery the messenger had worn.

Dobry followed him down majestic hallways past great arching doors. He caught breathtaking glimpses through the openings—glimpses of a world beyond his dreams.

They passed another guard. Suddenly Dobry found himself standing on the plush velvet carpet of the king's inner apartment. The great room, obviously a sleeping chamber, was furnished in deep shades of red and purple.

At the far end stood the king. Dobry recognized him from glimpses he had caught as the royal coach passed in the streets. King Stanislaus stood before a mirror. The royal tailor was fitting him with a magnificent suit. For the moment they seemed oblivious to the entry of Dobry and his guide.

"It's just a bit tight across the shoulders," the king remarked. "And it should be a trifle longer. All in all, I think it's quite becoming. Don't forget, it must be finished by tonight."

Turning, he caught sight of Dobry and the servant standing inside the door. "What is it, Vladimir?"

"Your Majesty, this is Dobry." The servant pushed Dobry forward and whispered, "Go near and kneel."

Dobry found himself walking toward the king. It relieved him to collapse on his knees. His legs surely wouldn't have carried him much farther.

The king looked him over carefully. Although Dobry felt his gaze, he couldn't raise his eyes. "So this is the man who would let his family be put out in the snow rather than keep a ring of mine."

Dobry felt a blush warm his cheeks and neck. So Sir Giles had told the king everything. The king laughed aloud. "You blush, my man. But you have no cause for shame. I wish I had more subjects like you. Now look here, I have something for you." Dobry lifted his eyes. The king held out a bag. From its weight, it must be gold.

Taking the bag, Dobry stammered his thanks, but his heart was glowing with a strange new fire. God really did care and had answered his prayers. He was thankful he hadn't kept the ring.

Yes, God touched Dobry's life, providing for his pressing need. The bag of gold was only the beginning. The king gave him cattle from his own herds, and when the winter ended, he built him a home of his own. It is said that if you go to Warsaw today you may still see the house that King Stanislaus built for Dobry. Over the door is an iron tablet with a raven holding a ring in its mouth. Engraved below is another stanza of the song Dobry sang on his knees that bleak winter night:

"All means always possessing,
Invincible in might;
Thy doings are all blessing,
Thy goings are all light."