Cast Thy Bread Upon the Waters
by Ruth Hammond Barrus
Rag's fierce, deep-throated growls caused Father Hale to call loudly from the barn, "Quiet, Rags!" But Rags -- a large, brown and yellow St. Bernard dog, so called because as a pup he tore to rags anything he got hold of - was not his usual obedient self; and he continued to emit frightening growls. Father Hale hastened to the front gate to determine the trouble, for seldom had rages failed to obey his command for quiet. There he discovered a man so soaked with fear that he even appeared pale through the grime of a summer of campfire smoke and dirt from constant tramp over dusty trails adjoining the railroads.
Mister, I was scared to run away, cause I knew he 'ud take after me, and I daren't come in either. I'm sure glad you come! Could you fill this with some coffee?" and a grimy hand thrust a tin can toward Father Hale. The hand matched the face for filth, as did the knees which protruded through large holes in the trousers. A buttonless, elbowless coat was held together by a frayed rope. As the tramp noted Father Hale's observance, he removed a ragged cap, revealing hair matted with soot, grease and filth.
"We have no coffee in our home, but we have food which we shall be glad to share with you, if you will please follow me to the house," unflinchingly offered Father Hale.
The tramp put his hand in the gate to enter the Hale yard, but Rags, who had never ceased his growls, merely lowered them, sprang as if to grab him with his huge haws. Father Hale was forced to take hold of Rags' collar to quite him.
As they proceeded toward the house he felt rebellious at the great depression which was sweeping the country and forcing so many men and boys to the roads to beg for a pitiful existence. This was the sixth tramp that had come to their home today, and seldom did a day pass that tramps didn't come begging for food. Sarah said she knew their house was marked, but he had told her that it didn't matter. "We've got a lot of our boys out in the mission field traveling without purse or script," he had told her and his daughters; and if we feed all the people coming to our door asking for food, i am sure the Lord will see that our boys don't go hungry."
Thank goodness, he thought, they are not all as dirty as this one. I won't dare invite him in. Sarah will have to put something in a sack for him. I'm sure glad we could help that old man who came asking for a place to sleep in the hay last night. Had to almost make him eat supper with us last night, and him being without food all day. I hope that big lunch Sarah put up for him will last him 'til he gets to his son's place in Montana. Imagine him chopping all that wood before we got up!
On reaching the porch, Father Hale invited the tramp onto it, and he and Rags entered the house to get Sarah to prepare some food. It was not long until Sarah, whose pantry was never empty, had packaged a generous supper and handed it to the man, and noted that his expression was as evil as his appearance was dirty.
"How can mankind get so low?" remarked Mother Hale when the tramp had gone and Rags had ceased his disturbance. "Alma, I don't like people like that coming to the house."
"I know it's hard, Sarah, but I know the Lord will bless our boys away from home if we are generous here, and I feel we must continue to be generous!"
Mother Hale smiled agreement, and changing the subject remarked, "I hope Retta and Viola won't have trouble with the cows today. I didn't worry about them so when they herded the cows on Crow Mountain, but I don't like them herding down by the railroad tracks. Hilliards herd their cows down there sometimes too, and their bull is mean. Retta and Viola are frightened of it."
"If they stay on Button, they'll be all right. They should be coming home soon," comforted Father Hale. If he had seen his two little daughters at that moment, he wouldn't have felt so reassured.
Retta and Viola had had the grassy fields by the railroad tracks all to themselves that day, and being free from the worry of Hilliard's bull, they had gotten off of Button to play along the tracks. As evening approached Retta noted the appearance of the Hilliard herd in the distance. The girls were anxious to get their cows in their lane, which bordered the tracks, so the herds would not get mixed. Viola ran on foot the shorter distance to round up some of the cows, and Retta, on Button, hastened to round up those farther away. The Hilliard cows ran to meet the Hale cows, the bull well in advance. The bull, noting the running figure of Viola, ran toward her, his ugly head lowered fiercely. She screamed, attracting the attention of Retta who hastily spurred Button toward her. The distance was too great between them, and both knew the bull would reach Viola first. The frightened screams and sobs of the girls only seemed to make the bull come faster. Despair was overcoming Viola's speed and she began stumbling.
At that moment a ragged figure came bounding over the tracks, a coat waving above his head. This figure came between the enraged bull and the girl and courageously waved his ragged coat almost at the very head of the bull. The bull became distracted and then himself frightened. He turned and ran away in the opposite direction. The tramp picked up the sobbing girl from the dirt and placed her on Button beside her equally upset sister. He then assisted them in getting their cows started down the lane towards home and waved them a parting goodbye with his ragged coat.
"Mama, he was dirty and ugly, but he was nice!" Retta cried to her mother later. As Mother Hale comforted her girls she silently thanked the Lord for blessing them with such a friend this day.