Martin put his bare feet down through the thick dust of the country road. It was warm summer, and he was used to going barefoot, even to Sunday-school, from which he was now returning. Over the hot, dry grass of the fields there swayed at frequent intervals the heads of California wild oats. One such stem grew near the road, and Martin, with a quick sweep of his hand, pulled off the wild oat heads and went on through the dusty road, scattering the oats as he walked. Martin was thinking.
“Teacher doesn’t know how ’tis,” he said. “I have to carry ’round milk mornings and nights, and I have to go down to the barn to hunt eggs, and I have to help pa about the stage horses, and sometimes I have to ride the horses back to be shod, and I have to walk a mile to day-school and back, and learn my lessons, and I’d like to know how teacher thinks I’ve got much time to read the Bible some every day. There’s lots of days I don’t believe pa reads any in the Bible. He’s too busy driving the stage and ‘tending to the horses. And ma doesn’t read it, because she has to cook for the teamster boarders. It’s a real pretty book teacher’s given me, though.”
Martin felt inside his jacket, and brought out a little New Testament. It was only a ten-cent Testament, for Miss Bruce, his Sunday-school teacher, did not have money enough to buy Bibles for her class of thirteen boys. She had felt that she must do something, however, for the boys were destitute of Bibles of their own.
The best she could do was to buy small Testaments with red covers, and she had cut a piece of bright red, inch-wide ribbon into thirteen lengths, had raveled out the ends so as to make fringe, and had put a piece of this fringed ribbon into each boy’s New Testament for a book-mark. The boys thought a great deal of the pieces of ribbon, they were so bright and pretty. Miss Bruce had written some special little message to each boy in the front of his Testament. The general purport of each message was that the book was given with the teacher’s prayer that the boy might learn to love the Bible and might become a real Christian. Some of the boys let the others read what was written in the Testaments, and some boys did not.
Miss Bruce had given them the Testaments to-day, and had said that she hoped each boy would read a little, daily, in his Testament, even if it were only two or three verses.
“I wonder if teacher’ll ask me next Sunday whether I’ve read any?” Martin questioned himself now, as he admiringly eyed his piece of red ribbon. “It’ll be a shame if I have to tell her, the first Sunday, that I’ve forgot it! I’d better read one verse now, so I can say I read that, anyway, if I forget the rest of the week.”
Martin sat down beside the road. He was not a very good reader. This was the first piece of the Bible Martin had ever owned. There was an old, unused family Bible at home. A red Testament, was much more attractive to Martin.
“Where’ll I read?” Martin asked himself now. “I want an easy verse. Some of them look too hard.”
He began and dropped several verses, because of their difficulty. Finally he settled on one, because of its shortness. He read its seven words haltingly but carefully.
“‘L-e-s-t’–I don’t know that word–‘c-o-m-i-n-g’–coming–‘s-u-d-d-e-n-l-y–he find you s-l-e-e-p-i-n-g.’ ‘Lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.'”
Of the connection of the verse, and its spiritual significance, Martin knew nothing. The word “l-e-s-t” puzzled him. He would ask somebody about it.
When he helped his father with the horses at the barn that evening, Martin questioned his father about the word “l-e-s-t.”