A ragged little girl watched from her hiding place in the darkness as the fire in the hearth finally began wane. She had long since gone numb from the cold wind but she still longed for the warmth inside.
Sarah Ann dare not sneak into the stranger’s root cellar until she was certain they were all sleeping soundly. Just remembering the night the Father almost caught her would send her heart to beating wildly.
She waited silently, imagining what life was like for the two children inside warm in their feather beds with a hard working Papa and a loving Ma to look after them.
Far from the family life she and Sam had experienced. Their mom had passed from influenza and Pa always angry, finally running off. He had let them know often enough no one would ever care for them, they must take care of themselves any way they could.
It’s time, thought Sarah Ann, forcing herself out of pretending. She again climbed under the porch and squeezed her small nine year old frame into the tiny opening under the floor into the dark cellar. She only took enough flour, salt pork, and sweet potatoes to supply them for a few days. Never enough so the family would notice.
Tying the treasure in her tattered muddy apron Sarah Ann left without making a sound. She was warmed now, partly with guilt, partly with excitement as she scurried back into the woods.
Mr. James Smith watched from his perch in a tree behind the house. He was an excellent tracker. The girl never knew he was following close behind her.
It was much as he had suspected for weeks. But decided it was time to be sure just who the little raiders were who had been regularly taking small portions of his families’ blessings.
Compassion filled his eyes as he watched her enter the shanty, add twigs to a smoldering fire, and began preparing a meager meal for her sleeping brother still without sleep herself. Not much of a Christmas for them, he thought, she couldn’t be more than eight or nine. Where were their folks?
James wanted to scoop the children up in his arms and carry them back to the farm right then, but he was well aware of the pride instilled young in the mountain people.
They might not have a lot this winter but he and his wife Jayne had already discussed matters. The good Lord would mean for them to share, whatever the situation required.
Mr. Smith returned to his little farm house and slid his cold feet in bed next to his wife. Jayne was still awake and wondering.
“What is it James? A hungry hunter?” she asked hopeful.
“No, two little ones it looks like, a young girl and even younger boy. They don’t have near enough shelter, blankets, or wood. Nothin’ really. They won’t survive much longer. We need to get ‘em in with us before Christmas.”
Jayne had already been prayin’ and she knew what to do. The next day she got to work preparing a basket to leave the little welcomed scavenger when she came again. By Christmas Eve it was ready. A blanket, some fried chicken, apples, and two special dolls made of yarn and flour sack patches.
The family put the basket under the porch and lowered the lights hoping the young girl would return before dawn. At last they saw her small frame emerging from the shadows.
Sarah Ann bent to climb under the porch and stopped short. She stood up holding the dolls. In the moonlight she could see one was a mother with arms wrapped around a little girl, the other a Father hugging a small boy.
Tears began to come down her cheeks as her heart rose to hope for the meaning of such precious gifts. The family she had seen only from her hiding place came out on the porch to greet her. Jayne held out her arms to welcome an embrace and Sarah Ann ran sobbing into them.
Without words or hesitation the family set out through the woods to the little shack. Sarah Ann clung tightly to the dolls that meant the gift of a new life and family would be theirs this Christmas.
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