Cast Adrift by T.S. Arthur
So the morning found them fast asleep. The man awoke first and felt the child against his bosom, soft and warm. It was some moments ere he understood what it meant. It seemed as if the wretched life he had been leading was all a horrible dream out of which he had awakened, and that the child sleeping in his bosom was his own tenderly-loved baby. But the sweet illusions faded away, and the hard, sorrowful truth stood out sternly before him.
Then Andy's eyes opened and looked into his face. There was nothing scared in the look-hardly an expression of surprise. But the man saw a mute appeal and a tender confidence that made his heart swell and yearn toward the homeless little one.
"Had a nice sleep?" he asked, in a tone of friendly encouragement.
Andy nodded his head, and then gazed curiously about the room.
"Want some breakfast?"
The hungry face lit up with a flash of pleasure.
"Of course you do, little one."
The man was on his feet by this time, with his hand in his pocket, from which he drew a number of pennies. These he counted over carefully twice. The number was just ten. If there had been only himself to provide for, it would not have taken long to settle the question of expenditure. Five cents at an eating-shop where the caterer supplied himself from the hodge-podge of beggars' baskets would have given him a breakfast fit for a dog or pig, while the remaining five cents would have gone for fiery liquor to quench a burning thirst.
But another mouth had too be fed. All at once this poor degraded man had risen to a sense of responsibility, and was practicing the virtue of self-denial. A little child was leading him.
He had no toilette to make, no ablutions to practice. There was neither pail nor wash-basin in his miserable kennel. So, without any delay of preparation, he caught up the broken mug and went out, as forlorn a looking wretch as was to be seen in all that region. Almost every house that he passed was a grog-shop, and his nerves were all unstrung and his mouth and throat dry from a night's abstinence. But he was able to go by without a pause. In a few minutes he returned with a loaf of bread, a pint of milk and a single dried sausage.
What a good breakfast the two made. Not for a long time had the man so enjoyed a meal. The sight of little Andy, as he ate with the fine relish of a hungry child, made his dry bread and sausage taste sweeter than anything that had passed his lips for weeks.
Something more than the food he had taken steadied the man's nerves and allayed his thirst. Love was beating back into his heart--love for this homeless wanderer, whose coming had supplied the lost links in the chain which bound him to the past and called up memories that had slept almost the sleep of death for years. Good resolutions began forming in his mind.
"It may be," he said to himself as new and better impressions than he had known for a long time began to crowd upon him, "that God has led this baby here."
The thought sent a strange thrill to his soul. He trembled with excess of feeling. He had once been a religious man; and with the old instinct of dependence on God, he clasped his hands together with a sudden, desperate energy, and looking up, cried, in a half-despairing, half-trustful voice,
"Lord, help me!"
No earnest cry like that ever goes up without an instant answer in the gift of divine strength. The man felt it in a stronger purpose and a quickening hope. He was conscious of a new power in himself.
"God being my helper," he said in the silence of his heart, "I will be a man again."
There was a long distance between him and a true manhood. The way back was over very rough and difficult places, and through dangers and temptations almost impossible to resist. Who would have faith in him? Who would help him in his great extremity? How was he to live? Not any longer by begging or petty theft. He must do honest work. There was no hope in anything else. If God were to be his helper, he must be honest, and work. To this conviction he had come.
But what was to be done with Andy while he was away trying to earn something? The child might get hurt in the street or wander off in his absence and never find his way back. The care he felt for the little one was pleasure compared to the thought of losing him.
As for Andy, the comfort of a good breakfast and the feeling that he had a home, mean as it was, and somebody to care for him, made his heart light and set his lips to music.
When before had the dreary walls of that poor hovel echoed to the happy voice of a light-hearted child? But there was another echo to the voice, and from walls as long a stranger to such sounds as these--the walls in the chambers of that poor man's memory. A wellnigh lost and ruined soul was listening to the far-off voices of children. Sunny-haired little ones were thronging about him; he was looking into their tender eyes; their soft arms were clinging to his neck; he was holding them tightly clasped to his bosom.
"Baby," he said. It was the word that came most naturally to his lips.
Andy, who was sitting where a few sunbeams came in through a rent in the wall, with the warm light on his head, turned and looked into the bleared but friendly eyes gazing at him so earnestly.
"I'm going out, baby. Will you stay here till I come back?"
"Yes," answered the child, "I'll stay."
"I won't be gone very long, and I'll bring you an apple and something good for dinner."
Andy's face lit up and his eyes danced.
"Don't go out until I come back. Somebody might carry you off, and then I couldn't give you the nice red apple."
"I'll stay right here," said Andy, in a positive tone.
"And won't go into the street till I come back?"
"No, I won't." Andy knit his brows and closed his lips firmly.
"All right, little one," answered the man, in a cheery sort of voice that was so strange to his own ears that it seemed like the voice of somebody else.
Still, he could not feel satisfied. He was living in the midst of thieves to whom the most insignificant thing upon which they could lay their hands was booty. Children who had learned to be hard and cruel thronged the court, and he feared, if he left Andy alone in the hovel, that it would not only be robbed of its meagre furniture, but the child subjected to ill-treatment. He had always fastened the door on going out, but hesitated now about locking Andy in.
All things considered, it was safest, he felt, to lock the door. There was nothing in the room that could bring harm to the child--no fire or matches, no stairs to climb or windows out of which he could fall.
"I guess I'd better lock the door, hadn't I, so that nobody can carry off my little boy?" he asked of Andy.
Andy made no objections. He was ready for anything his kind friend might propose.
"And you mustn't cry or make a noise. The police might break in if you did."
"All right," said Andy, with the self-assertion of a boy of ten.
The man stroked the child's head and ran his fingers through his hair in a fond way; then, as one who tore himself from an object of attraction, went hastily out and locked the door.
And now was to begin a new life. Friendless, debased, repulsive in appearance, everything about him denoting the abandoned drunkard, this man started forth to get honest bread. Where should he go? What could he do? Who would give employment to an object like him? The odds were fearfully against him--no, not that, either. In outward respects, fearful enough were the odds, but on the other side agencies invisible to mortal sight were organizing for his safety. In to his purpose to lead a new life and help a poor homeless child God's strength was flowing. Angels were drawing near to a miserable wreck of humanity with hands outstretched to save. All heaven was coming to the rescue.
He was shuffling along in the direction of a market-house, hoping to earn a little by carrying home baskets, when he came face to face with an old friend of his better days, a man with whom he had once held close business relations.
"Mr. Hall!" exclaimed this man in a tone of sorrowful surprise, stopping and looking at him with an expression of deepest pity on his countenance. "This is dreadful!"
"You may well say that, Mr. Graham. It dreadful enough. No one knows that better than I do," was answered, with a bitterness that his old friend felt to be genuine.
"Why, then, lead this terrible life a day longer?" asked the friend.
"I shall not lead it a day longer if God will help me," was replied, with a genuineness of purpose that was felt by Mr. Graham.
"Give me your hand on that, Andrew Hall," he exclaimed. Two hands closed in a tight grip.
"Where are you going now?" inquired the friend.
"I'm in search of something to do--something that will give me honest bread. Look at my hand."
He held it up.
"It shakes, you see. I have not tasted liquor this morning. I could have bought it, but I did not."
"I said, 'God being my helper, I will be a man again,' and I am trying."
"Andrew Hall," said his old friend, solemnly, as he laid his hand on his shoulder, "if you are really in earnest--if you do mean, in the help of God, to try--all will be well. But in his help alone is there any hope. Have you seen Mr. Paulding?"
"He has no faith in me. I have deceived him too often."
"What ground of faith is there now?" asked Mr. Graham.
"This," was the firm but hastily spoken answer. "Last night as I sat in the gloom of my dreary hovel, feeling so wretched that I wished I could die, a little child came in--a poor, motherless, homeless wanderer, almost a baby--and crept down to my heart, and he is lying there still, Mr. Graham, soft, and warm and precious, a sweet burden to bear. I bought him a supper and a breakfast of bread and milk with the money, I had saved for drink, and now, both for his sake and mine, I am out seeking for work. I have locked him in, so that no one can harm or carry him away while I earn enough to buy him his dinner, and maybe something better to wear, poor little homeless thing!"
There was a genuine earnestness and pathos about the man that could not be mistaken.
"I think," said Mr. Graham, his voice not quite steady, "that God brought us together this morning. I know Mr. Paulding. Let us go first to the mission, and have some talk with him. You must have a bath and better, and cleaner clothes before you are in a condition to get employment."
The bath and a suit of partly-worn but good clean clothes were supplied at the mission house.
"Now come with me, and I will find you something to do," said the old friend.
But Andrew Hall stood hesitating.
"The little child--I told him I'd come back soon. He's locked up all alone, poor baby!"
He spoke with a quiver in his voice.
"Oh, true, true!" answered Mr. Graham; "the baby must be looked after;" and he explained to the missionary.
"I will go round with you and get the child," said Mr. Paulding. "My wife will take care of him while you are away with Mr. Graham."
They found little Andy sitting patiently on the floor. He did not know the friend who had given him a home and food and loving words, and looked at him half scared and doubting. But his voice made the child spring to his feet with a bound, and flushed his thin-face with the joy of a glad recognition.
Mrs. Paulding received him with a true motherly kindness, and soon a bath and clean clothing wrought as great a change in the child as they had done in the man.
"I want your help in saving him," said Mr. Graham, aside, to the missionary. "He was once among our most respectable citizens, a good church-member, a good husband and father, a man of ability and large influence. Society lost much when it lost him. He is well worth saving, and we must do it if possible. God sent him this little child to touch his heart and flood it with old memories, and then he led me to come down here that I might meet and help him just when his good purposes made help needful and salvation possible. It is all of his loving care and wise providence of his tender mercy, which is over the poorest and weakest and most degraded of his children. Will you give him your special care?"
"It is the work I am here to do," answered the missionary. "The Master came to seek and to save that which was lost, and I am his humble follower."
"The child will have to be provided for," said Mr. Graham. "It cannot, of course, be left with him. It needs a woman's care."
"It will not do to separate them," returned the missionary. "As you remarked just now, God sent him this little child to touch his heart and lead him back from the wilderness in which he has strayed. His safety depends on the touch of that hand. So long as he feels its clasp and its pull, he will walk in the new way wherein God is setting his feet. No, no; the child must be left with him--at least for the present. We will take care of it while he is at work during the day, and at night it can sleep in his arms, a protecting angel."
"What kind of a place does he live in?" asked Mr. Graham.
"A dog might dwell there in comfort, but not a man," replied the missionary.
Mr. Graham gave him money: "Provide a decent room. If more is required, let me know."
He then went away, taking Mr. Hall with him.
"You will find the little one here when you come back," said Mr. Paulding as he saw the anxious, questioning look that was cast toward Andy.
Clothed and in his right mind, but in no condition for work, was Andrew Hall. Mr. Graham soon noticed, as he walked by his side, that he was in a very nervous condition.
"What had you for breakfast this morning" he asked, the right thought coming into his mind.
"Not much. Some bread and a dried sausage."
"Oh dear! that will never do! You must have something more nutritious--a good beefsteak and a cup of coffee to steady your nerves. Come."
And in a few minutes they were in an eating-house. When they came out, Hall was a different man. Mr. Graham then took him to his store and set him to work to arrange and file a number of letters and papers, which occupied him for several hours. He saw that he had a good dinner and at five o'clock gave him a couple of dollars for his day's work, aid after many kind words of advice and assurance told him to come back in the morning, and he would find something else for him to do.
Swiftly as his feet would carry him, Andrew Hall made his way to the Briar street mission. He did not at first know the clean, handsome child that lifted his large brown eyes to his face as he came in, nor did the child know him until he spoke. Then a cry of pleasure broke from the baby's lips, and he ran to the arms reached out to clasp him.
"We'll go home now," he said, as if anxious to regain possession of the child.
"Not back to Grubb's court," was answered by Mr. Paulding. "If you are going to be a new man, you must have a new and better home, and I've found one for you just a little way from here. It's a nice clean room, and I'll take you there. The rent is six dollars a month, but you can easily pay that when you get fairly to work."
The room was in the second story of a small house, better kept than most of its neighbors, and contained a comfortable bed, with other needed furniture, scanty, but clean and good. It was to Mr. Hall like the chamber of a prince compared with what he had known for a long time; and as he looked around him and comprehended something of the blessed change that was coming over his life, tears filled his eyes.
"Bring Andy around in the morning," said the missionary as he turned to go. "Mrs. Paulding will take good care of him."
That night, after undressing the child and putting on him the clean night-gown which good Mrs. Paulding had not forgotten, he said,
"And now Andy will say his prayers."
Andy looked at him with wide-open, questioning eyes. Mr. Hall saw that he was not understood.
"You know, 'Now I lay me'?" he said.
"No, don't know it," replied Andy.
"'Our Father,' then?"
The child knit his brow. It was plain that he did not understand what his good friend meant.
"You've said your prayers?"
Andy shook his head in a bewildered way.
"Never said your prayers!" exclaimed Mr. Hall, in a voice so full of surprise and pain that Andy grew half frightened.
"Poor baby!" was said, pityingly, a moment after. Then the question, "Wouldn't you like to say your prayers?" brought the quick answer, "Yes."
"Kneel down, then, right here." Andy knelt, looking up almost wonderingly into the face that bent over him.
"We have a good Father in heaven," said Mr. Hall, with tender reverence in his tone, pointing upward as he spoke, "He loves us and takes care of us. He brought you to me, and told me to love you and take care of you for him, and I'm going to do it. Now, I want you to say a little prayer to this good and kind Father before you go to bed. Will you?"
"Yes, I will," came the ready answer.
"Say it over after me. 'Now I lay me down to sleep.'"
Andy repeated the words, his little hands clasped together, and followed through the verse which thousands of little children in thousands of Christian homes were saying at the very same hour.
There was a subdued expression on the child's face as he rose from his knees; and when Mr. Hall lifted him from the floor to lay him in bed, he drew his arms about his neck and hugged him tightly.
How beautiful the child looked as he lay with shut eyes, the long brown lashes fringing his flushed cheeks, that seemed already to have gained a healthy roundness! The soft breath came through his parted lips, about which still lingered the smile of peace that rested there after his first prayer was said; his little hands lay upon his breast.
As Mr. Hall sat gazing at this picture there came a rap on his door. Then the missionary entered. Neither of the men spoke for some moments. Mr. Paulding comprehended the scene, and felt its sweet and holy influence.
"Blessed childhood!" he said, breaking the silence. "Innocent childhood! The nearer we come to it, the nearer we get to heaven." Then, after a pause, he added, "And heaven is our only hope, Mr. Hall."
"I have no hope but in God's strength," was answered, in a tone of solemn earnestness.
"God is our refuge, our rock of defence, our hiding-place, our sure protector. If we trust in him, we shall dwell in safety," said the mission. "I am glad to hear you speak of hoping in God. He will give you strength if you lean upon him, and there is not power enough in all hell to drag you down if you put forth this God-given strength. But remember, my friend, that you must use it as if it were your own. You must resist. God's strength outside of our will and effort is of no use to any of us in temptation. But looking to our Lord and Saviour in humble yet earnest prayer for help in the hour of trial and need if we put forth our strength in resistance of evil, small though it be, then into our weak efforts will come an influx of divine power that shall surely give us the victory. Have you a Bible?"
Mr. Hall shook his head.
"I have brought you one;" and the missionary drew a small Bible from his pocket. "No man is safe without a Bible."
"Oh, I am glad! I was just wishing for a Bible," said Hall as he reached out his hand to receive the precious book.
"If you read it every night and morning--if you treasure its holy precepts in your memory, and call them up in times of trial, or when evil enticements are in your way--God can come near to your soul to succor and to save, for the words of the holy book are his words, and he is present in them. If we take them into our thoughts, reverently seeking to obey them, we make a dwelling-place for the Lord, so that he can abide with us; and in his presence there is safety."
"And nowhere else," responded Hall, speaking from a deep sense of personal helplessness.
"Nowhere else," echoed the missionary. "And herein lies the hope or the despair of men. It is pitiful, it is heart-aching, to see the vain but wild and earnest efforts made by the slaves of intemperance to get free from their cruel bondage. Thousands rend their fetters every year after some desperate struggle, and escape. But, alas! how many are captured and taken back into slavery! Appetite springs upon them in some unguarded moment, and in their weakness there is none to succor. They do not go to the Strong for strength, but trust in themselves, and are cast down. Few are ever redeemed from the slavery of intemperance but those who pray to God and humbly seek his aid. And so long as they depend on him, they are safe. He will be as a wall of fire about them."
As the missionary talked, the face of Mr. Hall underwent a remarkable change. It grew solemn and very thoughtful. His hands drew together and the fingers clasped. At the last words of Mr. Paulding a deep groan came from his heart; and lifting his gaze upward, he cried out,
"Lord, save me, or I perish!"
"Let us pray," said the missionary, and the two men knelt together, one with bowed head and crouching body, the other with face uplifted, tenderly talking to Him who had come down to the lowliest and the vilest that he might make them pure as the angels, about the poor prodigal now coming back to his Father's house.
After the prayer, Mr. paulding read a chapter from the Bible aloud, and then, after words of hope and comfort, went away.