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It was a hot day in early summer when the big black Labrador retriever appeared. They saw him trotting along the riverbank. Brad stopped eating his lunch. He glanced quickly at Kevin and Tom and Jill sitting in the shade of the maple tree near him. They were all staring at the dog too. Even baby Kristy was watching him.

“Come on, boy,” Brad coaxed softly. This time he was sure Heavenly Father had answered their prayers. The dog started down the path toward them. He came slowly, a few steps at a time, then hesitated before venturing closer. Brad glanced toward the house. He could hear the clink of jars from the kitchen. Mother was still busy making jam. The dog had gained another ten feet when Brad looked back at him. He wagged his long tail uncertainly.

“Here, boy,” Jill whispered. She raised her arm with a sandwich in her hand.

“Don’t throw it!” Brad warned quietly. “You’ll scare him.” Jill dropped her arm.

The dog trembled as he came closer, his eyes bright and eager and friendly. Brad got to his feet and held out his half-eaten sandwich. The dog sat down and swept the path with his wagging tail. Brad moved closer to the dog and dropped the sandwich in front of him. The dog wolfed it down and looked for more. Quickly three more half-eaten sandwiches landed in front of him. He gulped them down and licked his chops.

Little Kristy toddled over and stuck her sandwich under his nose. Brad held his breath. The dog was hungry—he could bite Kristy’s hand as well as the sandwich! But before Brad could move, the dog reached out and daintily took a corner of the bread between his teeth. He waited until Kristy let go, then swallowed the sandwich whole.

Kristy clapped her hands and laughed. Then she threw her arms around the dog’s neck. They all surrounded the dog and petted his dull, rough coat. Brad squatted beside Kristy and stroked the dog’s head and ears. The dog stood quietly for a few moments, then trotted off into the tall grass and brought back a stick. He dropped it at Brad’s feet and wagged his tail expectantly.

“He wants to play!” Brad said as he tossed the stick down the path. The dog raced after it and brought it back.

“It’s my turn!” Jill shouted. She snatched up the stick and threw it without taking aim. The stick landed in the river.

“Now we have to find another one,” Kevin said disgustedly.

But the dog was already leaping from the bank into the swiftly flowing water. His jaws closed over the stick, and he swam back against the current. He climbed up the bank and shook himself off. Then he trotted over to Jill and dropped the stick at her feet.

“Did you see that?” Jill cried.

The screen door slammed, and the children looked up to see their mother coming toward them. She stopped a safe distance away with her hands on her hips. “So that’s what all the noise is about. Where did that dog come from?” she asked.

Brad shrugged. “We don’t know. He just came to us.”

“He was hungry,” Tom added.

“And I suppose you fed him your sandwiches,” Mother said with a sigh. They all hung their heads and nodded. “Well now that he’s full, chase him away.”

“Can’t we keep him?” Kevin pleaded. “He isn’t wearing a license, and we’ve been praying to Heavenly Father for a dog for a long time.”

“He’s gentle too,” Jill added. “Please, Mom.”

“We’ll keep him outside,” Brad offered eagerly, “so he won’t track up the house.”

Mother shook her head. “I’ve been praying to Heavenly Father, too—but for help, not a dog.” She clapped her hands and shouted, “Shoo!” The dog streaked away along the riverbank and disappeared around the bend. Mother’s face softened. “You know we can’t afford to feed an animal with the new baby coming and your father out of work. Now hurry and pick that flat of strawberries for Mrs. Linden. She’ll be here soon. Jill, you help the boys while I take Kristy in for her nap and get started on the sewing for Mrs. Fredricks.” She picked up the baby and went back into the house.

The four youngsters picked up their berry carriers and started for the strawberry patch.

“I hope Dad gets that job today,” Tom said. “Then we can have a dog.”

Jill sighed. “No, we can’t. Mom is afraid of dogs,” she confided. “Grandma once told me that Mom was bitten by a dog when she was a little girl. She’s been afraid of dogs ever since.”

“Now we’ll never get a dog,” Kevin wailed.

“I guess we’d better get the strawberries picked,” Brad said.

Their carriers were half full when they heard Mother shout. They left the berries in the field and ran for the house.

“What’s the matter?” Brad called when they saw Mother hurrying down the path to the river.

“It’s Kristy,” Mother sobbed. “I was on the phone when I looked out the window and saw her heading straight toward the river. By the time I got outside, she had disappeared.”

They all ran to the riverbank.

“I don’t see her anywhere,” Brad said. He searched the swiftly moving water, hoping to catch sight of Kristy’s blue overalls.

“Maybe she’s already been carried around the bend,” Tom suggested.

“I’ll go look,” Brad said. He turned to run, then stopped and listened. “Did you hear something?” he asked.

From the bushes on the riverbank came a muffled, angry sob. The big black dog backed slowly out of the bushes, tugging a dry, struggling Kristy by the back of her overalls. When she was free of the branches, he let go of the little girl and nudged her toward her mother.

“No! Water!” Kristy cried and started off again before Mother could catch her. But the dog blocked her path.

Mother laughed and picked her up. “Heavenly Father works in mysterious ways,” she said. “I prayed for help, and you all prayed for a dog. We all got what we wanted when He sent us this ‘angel.’” She reached out and patted the dog.

“Angel?” they all asked, staring at her in disbelief.

Mother smiled. “Yes, because he must be a guardian angel,” she explained. “I’m not afraid of him, and Kristy certainly needs one. She might have drowned in the river!”

Kevin and Brad and Tom and Jill watched Mother walk back to the house with the dog padding along beside her. Then they turned back to look at each other.

“We’ve got a dog!” Brad whooped.

They skipped and laughed all the way back to the strawberry patch.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Mike Rogan