10: GOD SAID, "WAIT"
"Bruce?" Jesse's whisper pierced the darkness. Groaning, Bruce turned over. "Huh? Why don't you go to sleep?"
"'Cause I can't. Where we goin' to stay tomorrow night in Centerville?"
"We won't be able to sleep at the hotel, but Pa has a friend with a hayloft."
"Boy, it sure makes me feel big when Pa'll let us go all by ourselves."
Bruce sighed. "Well, go to sleep, or you won't wake up early. We've got to leave before daybreak, and we'll have to harness the horse and load the wagon."
"And make some lunch."
"Trust you to think of that."
Jesse sank into silence, but he couldn't sleep. Always before, Pa'd driven to the mill in the valley to get the cornmeal ground, but this time he'd told the boys they could go alone. Bruce had ridden with Pa before, but Jesse had rarely been to Centerville, and never without Pa. It was too far to make a round trip in a day, so they'd stay overnight and start back next morning-a golden opportunity. for two teenage boys to explore the marvels of the town.
Neighbors were few and far between, and not many travelers passed their hilltop cabin. Once in a while one would spend the night, and the boys would listen in wonder to tales of the world outside their peaceful valley.
Bruce needn't have feared that Jesse would sleep in that morning. A good two hours before dawn he found himself in a tug-of-war for his warm quilts. Jesse won, probably because his brother was still half asleep, and Bruce now found himself shivering in the chill morning air. "Jesse!" he scolded. "Haven't you got any sense? Can't you let a fellow sleep?"
"Who needs to sleep on a morning like this? Get up and get your clothes on. We're goin' to the mill today!"
With a sigh Bruce got up. No use trying to sleep now anyway. The two boys pulled on their clothes and climbed down the ladder from their loft bedroom.
Jesse peered through the gloom at Pa's bunk. It was empty. "Where's Pa?" he demanded in a whisper.
"Prayin' in the storeroom."
"You mean he gets up this early every morning?"
"Yup. I don't often wake up in time to see it, but I never knew it to fail. Any time I get up real early, he's prayin' in the storeroom."
"I guess I never got up that early before."
Bruce laughed. "That's for sure. Usually I have to drag you out, or you'd sleep through breakfast. Now will you get busy and make us some lunch while I get old Gray hitched up? Then we can load on the barrels of corn."
The boys went to work with a will. The first scouting rays of the sun had not yet climbed the horizon when they finished loading the wagon.
"I sure wish Pa'd come out so we could say goodbye to him before we leave," Bruce remarked.
"Don't you think we'd better knock on the door and tell him we're leavin'?" Jesse couldn't think of going without a word to Pa. And at that moment Pa appeared beside them in the darkness.
"Boys," he said, "you'd better unload the wagon. You can't go till tomorrow."
The two boys stared at him in horrified unbelief. "But, Pa -" they began together.
"I know it's hard on you boys, but it's just going to have to be that way." Pa's voice left no room for argument. They reluctantly climbed down.
"What made you change your mind, Pa?" Jesse ventured.
"I really don't know, Son, but the Lord told me you've got to wait till tomorrow."
"Did you hear a voice?" Bruce asked, sounding awed.
"No, just this real strong feeling. I never felt anything like it before."
"Well, come on,' Jesse. Quit standin' there and help me unload. We might as well get a day of work in the cornfield. We'll go to bed early and get a good start tomorrow."
Shaking his head, Jesse followed his brother. They unloaded the wagon, ate their breakfast, and headed for the cornfields. The hot sun beat down on the boys as they wielded the hoes. Jesse said little, but his heart burned with disappointed resentment. It seemed so farfetched that God might have spoken to Pa. Surely it must be his imagination. All those hours of praying before daylight must have unsettled his brain.
He chopped at a large clod with undue violence. Was all that praying really necessary? He didn't do much of it, himself, though he could remember praying by his bedside before Mamma died. She used to help him say his prayers every night. Thinking of her made him get all choked up inside. After all those years it still hurt.
Why did God let Mamma die when he needed her so much, anyway? It made him feel guilty to think such things, but he thought them still. He hoed and chopped on and on, his throat tight and his eyes blurred with tears.
At last the hard work erased the bad feelings and made him comfortably tired at the end of the day. He and Bruce went to bed soon after the sun set, and he fell asleep immediately.
This time Bruce shook him in the early hours of the morning. The realization dawned slowly that the big day had actually arrived. Again they packed their lunch and loaded the wagon. Pa took time from his work to see them off.
Later, as they came around the bend and looked across the valley in the first rays of the sun, their hearts nearly stopped. Columns of smoke rose as far as they could see. The boys pulled up the horse and just sat there without speaking. It looked as if every cabin in the valley was burning.
"I guess it was the Indians," said Jesse when he could swallow the lump in his throat enough to speak.
"I bet they murdered just about every settler in the valley," Bruce whispered. "Wiped Centerville clear out," Jesse added.
"If we had gone down there yesterday, we would have been there last night."
Jesse put his arm across his eyes and sobbed without shame. "And I thought Pa was crazy to pray so much and to think God spoke to him. If he hadn't prayed—"
Bruce wiped his own eyes with the back of his hand. "What say we make an agreement to get up every morning and pray too."
Jesse held out his hand to his brother. "Shake on it," he said.