“Go outside and play,” the hired girl said. “You know your mother needs to rest.” So Leta, Sina, Nilla, and Clyde followed the flagstone path out the back door and past the pretty tulips. The gate led to the field, and at one end of the field was a big root cellar. The parts of the cellar that were not filled with potatoes or other root crops were like a playhouse for the four children.
“Let’s get ready for dinner,” Leta said in a special voice that meant she was pretending to be Mother. “Sina, help me tie my apron.” She pretended to pull an apron out of a drawer and put her head through the part that went over the shoulders.
Sina pretended to make a bow in the back, hurrying to finish so she could play the part of big sister. “I will set the table,” she said, turning over a wooden crate and draping it with an old dish towel that they had used in their playhouse before.
“Nilla,” Leta ordered again, “you go back to the house and find us some food to eat.”
Nilla was happy to have an important part to play in this game. She was almost back to the house before she remembered that the hired girl had sent them away and might not let her go into the house again. She looked around carefully until she saw the girl talking to a boy who had ridden up on a horse.
Nilla went to the kitchen. The cupboard doors were open, but they smelled of cleaning soap and nothing was inside. Boxes and bottles of various sizes and shapes were on the table and chairs.
One bottle with a worn, red-and-white label caught Nilla’s eye. She did not know that the picture of the skull and crossbones on it meant “poison.” The label was loose, so she tore it off and threw it down on the floor. Then she proudly took the bottle back to her sisters and brother, who were waiting in the playhouse.
Leta opened the bottle and looked at the white crystals inside it. “Yes, this looks very good,” she said, closing it up again. “It will take a little while for dinner to be ready, so don’t sit up to the table yet.”
Leta pretended to be busy cooking over the stove, then sweeping the floor. She scolded the children from time to time when they were impatient waiting for their food. Finally she announced that it was time for dinner.
When the children took their places at the table, Leta poured a little pile of the crystals in front of each of them. Clyde licked his finger, ready to eat right away, but Leta stopped him. “No food until after the prayer. And I will say it.”
This time, she reminded everyone of their father as she prayed. “Our Father who art in heaven,” she began, “we thank Thee for this food, and for …” Her voice rose and fell as she prayed on and on, and her words were mumbled much of the time so that no one was quite sure what all she had said. The others did hear her say, “Bless this food to our use” and “Bless the missionaries in the field.” Just when Sina, Nilla, and Clyde thought that the prayer would end and the feast would start, Leta thought of the name of a ward member she could mention in the prayer and the prayer continued.
In the house, Mother, sick and weak, awoke with such a feeling of concern for her children that she found herself standing beside her bed even before she was fully awake. Making her way slowly out of the bedroom, she saw the hired girl asleep on the couch.
The kitchen was spotlessly clean, except for a faded red label that startled her as a breeze blew it across the floor. A picture of a skull and crossbones was on it, and the word strychnine. Mother hurried outside as fast as she was able. She saw no sign of her children in the yard, so she went straight to their playhouse in the cellar.
Leta had just said, “amen,” and each child was raising a freshly licked finger in the air over the “food” to pick up the powder and eat it, when Mother’s shadow appeared in the doorway.
Mother had found the children in time! In her heart, she said her own prayer of thanks for the lives of her little children. She did not doubt for a moment that the Spirit of the Lord had awakened her and led her to the children who were in danger.
That evening at suppertime, the children waited patiently through the rising and falling tones of their father’s long blessing on the food. It wasn’t hard to remember their own blessing on the play “food” they had almost eaten in the root cellar.
While they were eating, Nilla whispered to Leta, “Heavenly Father really does hear and understand each prayer, doesn’t He?”
“Yes, He really does,” Leta whispered back.