Did you know that some wild beasts will not attack a person who is singing? That is really a fact, as you will find by reading this true story. The story tells how God heard the prayer of two little girls, and protected them from a panther when they were walking home through the woods one evening in Pennsylvania.
Near the summit of a mountain in Pennsylvania was a small place called Honeyville. It consisted of two log houses, two shanties, a rickety old barn, and a small shed, surrounded by a few acres of cleared land. In one of these houses lived a family of seven—father, mother, three boys, and two girls. The mother and her two little girls, Nina and Dot, were Christians, and their voices were often lifted in praise to God as they sang from an old hymn book which they dearly loved.
One morning in the late autumn, the mother sent Nina and Dot on an errand to their sister’s home three and one-half miles away. The first two miles took them through dense woods, while the rest of the way led past houses and through small clearings. She told them to start on their return home in time to arrive before dark, as many wild beasts—bears, catamounts [mountain lions/cougars], and sometimes even panthers—were prowling around. These animals were hungry at this time of the year, for they were getting ready to “hole up,” or lie down in some cozy cave or hole for their long winter’s nap.
The girls started off, merrily chasing each other along the way. They arrived at their sister’s in good time, and had a jolly romp with the baby. After dinner, the sister was so busy and the children were so happy in their play that the time passed unheeded until the clock struck four. Then the girls hurriedly started for home, in the hope that they might arrive there before it became very dark. The older sister watched until they disappeared up the road, anxiously wishing someone were there to go with them.
The girls made good time until they entered the long stretch of woods.
“Oh, I know where there is such a large patch of wintergreen berries, right by the road!” said Nina. “Let’s pick some for mamma.” So they climbed over a few stones and logs, and, sure enough, the berries were plentiful. They picked and talked, sometimes playing hide and seek among the bushes.
When they started on again, the sun was sinking low in the west, and the trees were casting long, heavy shadows over the road. When about half the distance was covered, Dot began to feel tired and afraid. Nina tried to cheer her.
“Over one more long hill, and we shall be home,” she said.
But now they could see the sun shining only on the tops of the trees on the hill, and in the woods it was already twilight. …
Suddenly a large panther stepped out of the bushes. He turned his head first one way and then another. Then, as if seeing the girls for the first time, he crouched down, and, crawling, sneaking along, like a cat after a bird, he moved toward them. The girls stopped and looked at each other. Then Dot began to cry.
“O Nina! Let’s run!” she said, in a half-smothered whisper.
But Nina thought of the long, dark, lonely road behind, and knew that running was useless. Then she thought of what she had heard her father say about showing fear.
“No, let’s pass it,” she said as she seized her little sister’s hand, “God will help us.” And she started up the road toward the panther.
When the children moved, the panther stopped, straightened himself up, then crouching again, he moved slowly, uneasily, toward them. When they had nearly reached him, and Nina, who was nearer, saw his body almost rising for the spring, there flashed through her mind the memory of hearing it said that a wild beast would not attack anyone who was singing. What should she sing? In vain she tried to recall some song. Her mind seemed a blank. In despair, she looked up and breathed a little prayer for help. Then she caught a glimpse of the last rays of the setting sun touching the tops of the trees on the hill, and she began to sing:
“There is sunlight on the hilltop,
There is sunlight on the sea.”
Her sister joined in. At last their voices were faint and trembling, but by the time the children were opposite the panther, the words of the song rang out sweet and clear on the evening air.
The panther stopped, and straightened himself to his full height. His tail, which had been lashing and switching, became quiet, as he seemed to listen. The girls passed on, hand in hand, never looking behind them.
“Oh, the sunlight! beautiful sunlight!
Oh, the sunlight in the heart!”
How sweet the words sounded as they echoed and reechoed through the woods. As the children neared the top of the hill, the rumbling of a wagon fell upon their ears, so they knew that help was near. But still they sang. When they had reached the top, there was the wagon. Then for the first time they turned and looked back just in time to catch a last glimpse of the panther as he disappeared into the woods.
The mother had looked often and anxiously down the road, and each time was disappointed in not seeing the children coming. Finally she could wait no longer, and started to meet them. When about halfway there, she heard the music:
“Oh, the sunlight! beautiful sunlight!
Oh, the sunlight in the heart!
Jesus’ smile can banish sadness;
It is sunlight in the heart.”
At first, a happy smile of relief passed over her face; but it faded as she listened. There was such an unearthly sweetness in the song, so strong and clear, that it seemed like the music of angels instead of her own little girls. The song stopped, and the children appeared over the hill. She saw their white faces, and hurried toward them. When they saw her, how their little feet flew! But it was some time before they could tell her what had happened.
What a joyful season of worship they had that night! and what a meaning that dear old hymn has had to them ever since!
The memory of that thrilling experience will never fade from the memory of the writer, who was one of the children.
True Education Reader, Fourth Grade, Nina Case Baierle (adapted), 281–286.