When We Keep Our Word
When Keep Our Word
One hot morning in July, Jim and Jane were picking blackberries for Grandmother along the meadow fence. Huge white clouds were raising their heads in the west. There was a distant roll of thunder. The air was very still; not a leaf stirred. Except for the drone of the busy bees in the meadow clover and the song of the mockingbirds, the whole countryside seemed to be waiting for the approaching storm.
“Whee,” sighed Jane, as she wiped her face with the skirt of her dress. “I wish that my bucket was full or that a cloud would come over the sun. It is too hot to pick berries this morning.”
“Yes,” agreed Jim. “We could go back and tell Grandmother that we have them all. She never comes down here and should never know the difference.”
“But I wouldn’t feel right about that,” Jane said doubtfully. “Grandmother would never try to fool us; so maybe we shouldn’t try to fool her. When we get our buckets full we’ll have a good excuse to go to the house.”
Suddenly Jim lifted his head. “Listen!” he said. “I thought I heard something like a lamb crying.”
The both stood very still. Sure enough, there was a low cry and it seemed to come from the direction of the fence. Quickly the twins set their buckets down and made their way through the briers to the fence. “Oh,” said Jane with pity in her voice, “It’s a lamb. She’s caught in the barbed wire and she’s hurt. I think we’d better call Grandfather. I don’t believe we can get it loose.”
“Wait,” said Jim. “I think I can loosen the barbed wire if you will hold the lamb to keep her from jumping, so that she won’t hurt herself more.”
Very carefully the twins worked, and soon the lamb lay quivering in the grass, torn and bleeding.
“We’ll take her to the house,” Jane said, “and let Grandmother doctor her. She’ll know what to do. She always makes everything well.”
Forgetting their buckets and berries, they carried the lamb carefully to the house. Soon it was cared for as only Grandmother could care for the hurts of animals or children. Then they carried it carefully to a cool corner in the back yard, and from that day Penny became their special care and pet. Every day Jim cut clover for her to eat and every day Jane measured out milk in a bottle and held it while Penny drank. For quite a while the lamb did not move around, and Grandfather seemed uncertain whether she would every really get well or not. One afternoon when Jane and Jim came in from helping Grandfather in the hayfield, they found Penny walking slowly around the yard and they knew that she was getting well. Soon she could play and jump and she wanted to follow them wherever they went.
“I feel the way Mary must have felt about her lamb,” laughed Jane as she let Penny follow her into the orchard and the garden.
Grandfather and Grandmother let the children keep their pet in the yard until Penny learned to nibble Grandmother’s flowers and to climb up on the porch and upset the pots. That was too much, and Grandmother began to suggest that perhaps Penny would be happier in the pasture with the others, even though she still insisted on drinking milk from a bottle when Jane prepared it for her.
Finally, one day after Penny had upset Grandmother’s prize fern, breaking the pot, Jane agreed that the lamb did not belong in the yard. So she took her to the pasture and put her through the gate.
The next afternoon Jim and David went fishing and Jane went to her favorite spot under the big walnut tree to write a letter to her mother. As she got up to go into the house she noticed that a man had stopped his car in the lane and was talking to Grandfather. They seemed to be looking at the sheep.
“I hope that Grandfather won’t sell Penny,” Jane said anxiously to Grandmother when she went into the house. “I don’t mind having her in the pasture but I don’t want her to be sold.”
“Oh, I’m sure he wouldn’t do that,” Grandmother assured her. “He will let you keep your pet sheep. I am glad that you decided to take her into the pasture. Since she is well and growing so fast she will be happier to play with the others.”
Soon Grandfather came in. He looked worried.
“What was the man doing with the sheep?” Jane asked quickly. “You didn’t sell Penny, did you?”
Grandfather dropped down on a chair and took off his hat. He looked anxiously at Jane and spoke slowly. “I am very sorry for what happened. I had no intention of selling Penny but I am afraid that I did.”
“But, Grandfather,” objected Jane, “you couldn’t sell our pet lamb! The man will take her to the butcher shop and I don’t want anyone to eat Penny.”
“I know that you don’t, Jane, and you don’t need to worry about that. This man is buying the sheep to Keep and he promised that he wouldn’t sell Penny. I tried to get him to consent to leave her here but he wouldn’t agree. You see, this was the way it happened. He looked at the lambs and made an offer for the best ones. I didn’t think it was enough and I told him what I would take his offer if he would take them all at that price. He took me up and when I told him that I want to reserve the lamb with the black spot because she was a pet he said that I had given my word that he could have them all at that price, and since Penny was one of the better lambs, he was depending on her to make up for some that are not so good.”
There were tears in Jane’s eyes. “But, Grandfather, you didn’t have to stick to what you said at first. You could have told the man that you had changed your mind. I think you’re mean to sell my pet lamb.” And Jane began to cry in earnest.
“I am very sorry about it, Jane.” said Grandfather, “but you are wrong when you say that I could have changed my mind. I had given my word, and a Brethren’s word is as good as his bond.”
As Grandfather finished speaking, Jim was standing in the doorway, his face shining because he had caught two fish. As soon as he saw Jane’s tear-stained face he forgot about the fish, “What’s the trouble?” he asked.
“Oh, Grandfather sold our lamb. He sold Penny,” sobbed Jane.
“What did he do that for?” demanded Jim.
“Something about a word as good as a bond. I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Jane said. “I don’t think he had to do it. We’ll never have a pet lamb like Penny again.”
Jim began to look as if he were ready to cry too; so Grandfather again explained what had happened, and this time Grandmother decided to try to help Jim and Jane understand. She could see that Grandfather was very sad because Jim and Jane were unhappy.
“You see, children,” she said gently, “there is a practice among the Brethren. All through the years everyone has said that a Brethren’s word is as good as his bond. Grandfather gave his word and that means that it was the same thing as if he had signed a paper saying what he would do. It is like a law.
When you say you will do a thing you mean it and everyone knows that you mean it. I think that this man who bought the sheep knew Grandfather well enough to be sure that he would do what he said.”
“Well, I think the man was mean,” stated Jim as he threw his hat into a corner. “I think people ought to tell the truth and be honest but I don’t think you have to sell anything unless you want to.”
“No,” agreed Grandfather, “I didn’t need to. The thing I forgot to do was to tell Mr. Green in the beginning that Penny was not for sale. But I forgot to do that and since the mistake was mine and I told him that he could have the sheep at the price he set, I gave my word and I’ll have to keep it.” With that Grandfather picked up his hat and slowly left the room. Jim and Jane went out on the front porch and sat down on the swing. Jane was crying softly. Jim rubbed his fists to his eyes and bit his lips keep from crying. They had never been this unhappy since they had come to stay with Grandfather and Grandmother for the summer.
Suddenly Jane lifted her head. “We’ll have to think of something to do, Jim,” she said. “We just must keep Penny.”
“Do you think,” asked Jim “that if we would write to Mr. Green and explain about Penny being a pet and about Grandfather’s word and all that, he would let us buy her back?”
Jane wiped her tears and looked hopeful. “I think we can try,” she said. “I’ll go in and ask Grandmother what his name and address are, and you can write the letter.”
Soon the letter was written. They took it to the mailbox yet that evening for the postman to take the next morning. Two days later a truck came for the lambs. Jane ran to her room when she saw it. They had not heard a word from the letter and she was afraid that it wouldn’t do any good. She just couldn’t watch them put Penny on that truck.
Soon Jane heard strange sounds on the stairs and along the hall to the door of her room. Then Jim opened the door and came in with Penny at his heels. There was a broad grin on his face.
“Mr. Green got the letter,” he said. “After he read it he changed his mind about Penny and told Grandfather that he likes to do a man a favor when he knows that he can depend on his word the way he can on Grandfather’s.”
Jane was hugging Penny. “Oh, I’m so glad,” she said. “Maybe it pays to do things Grandfather’s way after all.”
Learning the Brethren Way with Jim and Jane
Book by Dessie R. Miller, illustrated by Harry Durkee
Elgin, Illinois: Brethren Publishing House, 1951.