The Circuit Rider

The Circuit Rider

Molly stood beside her mother in the open doorway of their log cabin and watched her father dismount from his horse. His face looked tired and worn, but as his wife and daughter walked out to greet him, a warm smile lighted his lean face.

"It's good to be home again," he said simply, putting his arms about the girl and her mother.

"It's good to have you home, Stephen," said Elizabeth Clark, helping her husband carry his saddlebags into the small house.

"We're having a delicious supper tonight, Father," said Molly eagerly, her blue eyes shining. "When Mother said she thought you would be home today, we made some cornbread dodgers. We're having them with pork, and honey for sweetening. I went out this morning and picked some wild greens, too, and they're boiling in a kettle in the fireplace right now."

"That all sounds very good to me, Molly," said her father, "The people have had a long, hard winter, so food has been scarce. They gave me what they could, but," he smiled at her, "nothing as good as you have promised."

"Was it a hard trip, Stephen?" asked his wife sympathetically.

"Yes, it was, Elizabeth, but I think everyone was glad to see me. Neighbors are so far apart here on the Illinois prairie that they have to provide everything for themselves except religion and news, and it is up to me to provide that."

Molly sat down at her father's knees, listening to him talk. Her father had been gone for almost three months, and she and her mother had missed him very much. He was a traveling preacher, or circuit rider. He rode his horse through the muddy roads from cabin to cabin, preaching, giving out the latest news, marrying young people, saying burial words for the dead, and starting Sunday schools. Sometimes he even had to settle disputes. He stayed for his meals and lodging at the various cabins he visited.

It just did not seem fair that her father should have to be gone so much, thought Molly, a bit rebelliously, as she helped her mother prepare their simple evening meal. Work was hard, for Molly and her mother had to cut their own firewood to burn in the small fireplace that provided the cabin's heat, and they plowed the loose forest earth for their garden. Clothes had to be carried for washing to a little creek about a mile from the house, and the soap used to wash the clothes had been made by Molly and her mother. They raised everything they ate, and spun their own wool for their clothes, even the heavy black suits that the Rev. Mr. Clark wore.

"Are you going to stay home this time, Father?" asked Molly. Stephen Clark looked at his daughter and then at his wife, who was listening for his answer, too.

"I thought I would wait until tomorrow to tell you," he replied, "but since you have asked—I have to leave again the day after tomorrow."

Molly jumped up from her hardwood bench and ran to her father's side, "Oh, please, Father," she pleaded, "can't you stay at home with us all the time? We need you just as much as those other people do!"

Stephen Clark's face was grave as he gazed down at the small girl whose cinnamon-colored braids touched the shoulders of her faded blue dress. He put a comforting arm around her.

"There's nothing I would like better than to stay at home with you and your mother, Molly, but I'm afraid these people do need me more than you do. They need someone to preach the Word of God to them, and to tell them of Jesus' teachings and his wondrous miracles. It is their faith in God and his word that helps them to bear the rigorous prairie winters and the hardships they must undergo to make a living. They depend on me and I cannot fait them."

"I'm sorry, Father. I'm afraid I sounded very selfish."

Molly's father smiled at her. "You are not selfish, Molly. Actually you and your mother are being very unselfish to carry on alone like this most of the time so that I can help my people. I understand that you would like to have me home with you, and perhaps one of these days things may be as you wish. The people of Grand Detour are planning to erect a church very soon—the first in this part of the country—and one of the reasons I am leaving so soon is so that I can talk to all my friends and try to enlist their help in building the church. When the church is built the people will come to me instead of my having to go to them. When that happens I shall be able to be home with you more often."

Molly smiled at her father and mother, happy to know that they soon would be a real family, but proud, too, of her father, for she realized now what an important part he played in the lives of the people of Illinois. Even though it meant that she and her mother would have a lonely, hard life for a while longer, it was satisfying to know that they were doing their part in carrying on God's work in the world.—Dorothy Nelson Anstett, in Juniors

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