"Let's go camping up on Bean Mountain! While we're up there, we can keep an eye on Mrs. Parker's ranch. Maybe we'll discover something!"
"Like what?" laughed Willie. "Are you expecting Horace to steal another calf right when we're watching? That doesn't seem very likely!"
"You never know!" retorted Grace, "and besides, do you have a better idea?"
"Actually, I don't have any idea at all, and it would be fun to go camping. Zak, would you come with us? I don't think our parents would let us camp without a grown-up," Willie responded.
Zak chuckled. "I don't know how "grown-up" I am, but if it's ok with your parents, it's ok with me!"
That weekend found Willie, Grace, Jasmine and Zak trudging up the Mount Bean trail to a campsite about half-way up. They asked the park ranger if any mountain lions had been seen lately, and he replied that he hadn't had any reports of mountain lions for several weeks. He did caution the young people to be careful, and to stay together in a group.
The first night of camp, Grace suggested they hike down to the Parker Ranch and take a look around. "You never know what we might see!" she explained cheerfully.
The group hiked back down the trail to Mrs. Parker's ranch, which, as you will remember, was at the foot of Mount Bean. It was very dark! But through the gloom, Willie spotted an old trucked parked near the gate.
"I never saw that truck before. I don't think it's Mrs. Parker's," Jasmine whispered. "Think it belongs to Horace?"
"Let's get a little closer!" Grace urged. "Be quiet, now!"
The four young people crept silently to the battered truck. As they approached, they heard a sound. They stopped abruptly, and listened carefully.
"It's coming from the truck!" Willie whispered. "What's it saying?"
"Mooo? There's a calf in the truck! I wonder if Mrs. Parker knows about this?" Zak asked. "Let's take a peek."
The back of the truck didn't have a roof, so Zak was able to boost Grace up on his shoulders, and she looked in. And there she saw a sad looking cow, who mooed pitifully at her.
"Hmmmm...." Zack pondered. "Should we call the police or talk to Mrs. Parker... That's the decision we have to make. I think we should talk to Mrs. Parker first. For all we know, there may be a perfectly honest reason for this cow to be in this truck, although I admit it looks pretty fishy!"
"Moooooo," bellowed the cow.
"Ok, let's go knock on her door!" said Jasmine bravely. "But let's pray, first!"
"Dear Lord," began Grace, "give us wisdom and courage. And please keep us safe!"
"NOW she thinks to pray for wisdom," muttered Willie. "Ok, gang. Let's go!"
But as they were walking up the path to the Parker house, they saw Mrs. Parker coming down the path towards them. She looked upset.
"What are you kids doing out here in the dark? And where is that moo-ing coming from?" she asked worriedly.
"Where's your brother Horace, Mrs. Parker?" asked Zak in a stern voice.
"Horace is in the house, watching football. Why do you ask?"
"Is this his truck?" continued Zak.
"I suppose so... Is that moo-ing I've been hearing coming from that truck?"
Zak opened the back of the truck so Mrs. Parker could see inside. "Blanche!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing in the back of that truck!?"
Zak looked at Mrs. Parker. "Ma'am, have you ever considered the possibility that it's been Horace, not mountain lions, that have been stealing your calves?"
Mrs. Parker began to cry softly. "yes-s-s, I did think about it, but I just couldn't believe my own brother would steal my calves. And I didn't have any proof! And there were lion tracks around the barn the morning after the calves were missing. Both times!"
Grace handed Mrs. Parker a kleenex and put her arms around her. "This must be awful for you, Mrs. Parker. But we need to call the police."
"I know," sniffed the old lady. "I know."
Grace and Jasmine waited with Mrs. Parker while Zak and Willie hiked back up the mountain to the ranger station to call the police. They thought it might be too dangerous to use the phone in Mrs. Parker's house.
While the boys were gone, Grace and Jasmine prayed with Mrs. Parker, who shared with them that she had gone to church as a little girl, but hadn't been in a long, long time. Grace and Jasmine invited her to church the next Sunday, and she tearfully said she'd come.
It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and Zak, Willie, Grace and Jasmine were sitting in Grace's cozy living room, munching popcorn and talking.
"My mom invited Mrs. Parker to our house for Thanksgiving," announced Willie. "She's feeling kinda sad. Mom thought we could sort of adopt her as our friend... see to it that she gets to church and all."
"That's wonderful!" said Zak, who was also invited to Willie's house for Thanksgiving. "Too bad Horace will be spending Thanksgiving in the Bean County Jail!"
"We've got to remember to keep him in our prayers," Grace reminded everyone. Let's pray for him now:
Dear Lord, we are so thankful for all the good things you've given us. We are thankful that Mrs. Parker is turning back to You. And now Lord, we ask that you keep Your eye on Horace, that he might also come to know You. Lord, please keep Horace safe in jail and let no harm come to him. In Jesus' name, Amen."