Published January 28, 2008 by
The silence was broken at last by Lizzie. She had looked up once or twice with a quick, wavering look, like one who has an eager question which either hesitates to let itself be asked, or does not know how to get itself into right shape. She wanted to ask about Uncle Bob's father.
'Did your father die in London, Unc1e Bob? ˜She said at last.Yes, little one, he did. It is a rather long, strange story; but it does show how the Good Father works for us all in very mysterious ways. His hand was very plain in father's death. You must know I did not know where he was for several years. Very soon after I came to London he disappeared from the village and no one knew where he had gone. It seems he fell lower and lower in drunkenness. And at last lost his place-he was a carpenter-and as the neighbors had long looked down upon him for his treatment of mother and me, he evidently couldn't bear his disgrace any longer, and vanished away. It was long before I felt any care for him, because at first the remembrance of his cruelty was so strong on me; but God softened my heart, little one, especially as I prayed. I then began to think of him as I thought my mother would be thinking of him, as a poor sinner miserable in his sin, and I wondered if ever I should be able to find him and help him. And so after awhile, you see, I grew into the feeling of longing to save him, and I prayed God earnestly to give me the chance. I had a long time to wait, but it is wonderful how the Good Father listens to us. It is always safe to trust Him, little one. I did find my father. One evening, as I was hobbling along through a street not far distant, I saw a man come reeling out of a public house. He looked wild with drink and very angry because they were turning him out; but I knew him, and I stood quite overcome, and unable to say a word. He lurched past me, and I turned to follow; but he could move on much quicker than I, and I soon lost sight of him when he doubled down some cross streets. I had cried out just once" Father," but the old fear came into my heart after I had said it, so that I durst not say it again; whether he heard me I could not tell. He made a kind of effort to pull up and listen, as if he were startled; but then he went on quicker than before, and so I lost him. He told me afterwards that he did hear me in a drunken man's confused way, but that the word seemed to be from some devil who wanted to terrify him. Wasn't that strange?This chance meeting altered all my life at once. That is, I could now think of nothing but my father-where he might be, what he might be doing: how could I find him? How could I save him from his drunkenness? And such-like questions. I took it that God was going to answer my prayers to the full, and that this sight of poor father was the beginning of the answer. Don't you think I was right, little one?''Yes, Unc1e Bob; but what happened next?What did you do?'Well, dear, I thought of the public house out of which I had seen him come, and I went and called on the landlady. I didn't tell her who I was, but only asked her if she knew where the man lived whom they had turned out the night before, because I knew him and should like to find him. "No, she didn't know-he was almost a stranger; and she didn't want to know either, for he was a bad un: he couldn't take his sup 0' drink without getting nasty and quarrelling with everybody. However," she went on, "I'll ask, and I dare say they can tell me summat about him, but I shouldn't think he's got many friends."
'Nor had he. All she could learn was that he lived somewhere in the neighborhood, but hadn't been long in it; and with this much I had to be content. They all evidently thought he was a man not worth any trouble.
What should I do? "God help me to find my poor father!" I said in my heart, for it began to be a pain to me that he was in such a bad, lonely way. Surely it was possible to change and save him! How glad mother would be! My heart filled with longing which never let me rest. I got thinking what a man he might be even yet, if only he would turn to Christ and give up the drink. I am sure it was God moving in my heart, for as I went on thinking I grew full of courage. I found myself going along the way he had taken the night I saw him, but how to set about seeking for him I did not know. However, after I had gone some way, I asked a boy if there were a carpenter's shop anywhere near. He wasn't a very polite boy, for, pretending deafness, he shouted, "What is it you want, old Crookey? A carpenter to straighten you out? It can't be done, I tell yer, for any money." I only smiled, and said, "I know that, my lad: so be kind to a poor cripple, and tell me." He wasn't bad: he only wanted his joke. When he had grinned a little at me, he said, â€œI think there is a joiner's shop somewhere's about, and as I've nowt to do, I'll honor you by my company."
'He really did prove kind, and after various inquiries and a journey to right and left down a street or two, we turned into a yard and found the shop. Still, I had to pay for his kindness. He was a boy who must have his joke and put himself forward. "Hillo!" he shouted at the door, pushing in his head and taking a good look at three or four men who were at work. "Hillo! Whereâ€™s the guv'nor? I've brought him an apprentice-a tip-topper,-and I want you to gie me summut for recommending him. It ought to be at least five bob."
Thereupon he threw open the door, and ran out of the yard into the street. I t wasn't a very good introduction, was it? And when the foreman came to the door, he was red and angry, and was going to say something sharp; but when he saw poor me, he knew I couldn't help it, and he only said, "Where's that ragamuffin? What is it you want?" "I don't know the boy," I said, "but what I want is to ask if you have a man working here called George Deane?'"
'Was that your father's name, Uncle Bob?' inquired his absorbed listener.
It was, little woman; but I had little hope he had used it. I thought it most likely he would be going under some other name.
"We've had a man called George; but that's all I know," answered the foreman." Here, Tom," he called out, "what was that fellow George's other name? A drunken fellow," he added; "he left us to go on spree last week."
Tom came to the door, and said, "Smith, that's what he called his'sen; but I don't believe it was his right name. Leastways, he seemed not to know it at times."
"Was he about fifty?" I said.
"Summut like it," was the answer, very shortly spoken.
"Was he from the country?" I ventured to ask again.
"I should think so; but what do you want with him?" This was said as if the man was suspicious of me, and I thought it best to tell them who I was.
"I am George Deane's son," I said, "and I want to find him, because I am afraid he's in a bad way."
It cleared the man's face at once, and he said, "I don't know whether he's George Deane or not; but I should say, if being in a bad way is any clue, then it's likely enough. He hasn't been here for a week-he's on spree; but he was lodging inDame Lane
a while ago, and for aught I know he may be there yet."
"Well, then," I said, "I must go toDame Lane
. Is it far from here?"
The man looked at me, and then came a little sympathy or something into his look as he answered me, "It's not far as t' crow flies, but it's a goodish bit with the turnings for such as thee." I dare say I did look tired;
I felt tired, and I had to get back as I came, for there were no trams or omnibuses in the neighborhood.
"Look here," he said; "tell us where you live, and go your ways home, and when he turns up again sober, we'll let you know."
It did seem the best thing, for I couldn't do more walking. Nor did I like to ask to sit down and rest, for then I should have had to talk about my father, and I felt I couldn't. So I thanked them kindly, and bidding them good morning, went out of the yard to go home. I can hardly say how I felt. There seemed, indeed, a little light. The man might be my father; but yet the thought arose, if I find him, what shall I do, what can I do? His drunkenness filled my heart with dread. He would be so unreasonable, and I should be so helpless. Supposing he came to me only for money with which to go on drinking? Supposing he should come home in one of his wild, mad fits of drunkenness and kill me? It almost tore me in two, the longing to save him and the fear of him.
And yet, little woman, do you know that when I stood in the street again and just lifted up my heart to the Good Father for help, it came strong upon me to go on and finish what I had begun.
'As I looked up and down the street, I saw the boy who had led me to the shop peeping round the corner. He seemed on the look-out for me, and as I had rather taken to him, in spite of his joking, I put up my finger to call him to me. Down he came, but not without a cautious air as he neared the entrance to the yard.
What's up now, guv'nor?" he whispered, as if in fear.
"Do you knowDame Lane
?" I said, "and will you go and find out for me if a man called George Smith lives in it? If you will, I will give you two pence. I must have something to eat, for I'm done up, and need a rest, and I shall take it as very good of you if you will help me, for, as you see, I'm a cripple." I said this advisedly, because I wanted to make friends with him, and I thought the best way would be to throw myself on his sympathy. I t is not ail loss, little one, to be a cripple. A cripple may prevail where a strong man could not.
No doubt the offer of the "tup-pence" made him more willing to listen to me. Anyhow, he saw me safe into a pork-pie shop, where I said I would wait until he came back to me.
Then I rested, whilst I eat some bread and cheese; and I watched the people as they came in and went out of the shop. It was now the noon hour, and there were a good many customers. They seemed mostly boys and girls and broken-down men who had no home, or women who had to make up a hasty meal between times. It was a sad sight. The young folks were cheerful and playful enough, though in rags, as young folks mostly are if they have anything to eat; but the" grown-ups," especially the women, had sad faces; in their eyes were sad looks which went to my heart. It brought before me my poor mother as fresh as if she were with me in the old home at Banham. Her eyes had just such looks in them, and I knew the reason of their sadness. Could it be the same with these? Was it drink, and cruelty, and neglect? There may be hard life where there is no drunkenness, but I always fear that rags and sorrow mean drink and cruelty at home. Home! The drunkard's home is no home. It is only a wild beasts' den. Oh, why, why is not something done to alter things? And why are men such senseless fools as to be worse than brutes? Home, little one; how different home might be to hundreds of thousands, to whom it is only a haunt of fear and misery, even if they did suffer want from time to time, if only they had good hearts full of love to one another! But the drink-curse is on them all, and our nation wills to have it so, and one day we shall have to pay bitterly for our thoughtless neglect.
And then I thought how easy it is to become brutal and debased-how the little ones are born into it; and the pity of it all seized me strongly, so that I could almost have shed tears. And with this the thought of my father came upon me, and my heart went out to him as a poor victim who needed some one to love him in his lostness. How could he be saved if I didn't love him and seek him? Wasn't that a right thought, little one? Don't you think Jesus felt so when He left heaven for us?
I hadn't more than half an hour to wait for the boy, and I was feeling strong and eager from the rest and the thought of pity in my heart, when he came in. His first words were, however, rather strange.
"I say," says he, "do you care very much for the chap you sent me after?"
At this question my heart gave a jump.
Did it mean he had found my father, and that there was something wrong? He had found a George Smith-the George Smith of the shop -but he was in a bad way.
â€œThe neighbors," he said, "were trying to hold him down. He was raging mad with drink. He's got the blue devils, they say."
It was terrible news. I dare say I turned white, for the lad looked scared for a moment; but I said to him, "I believe it is my poor father; take me where he is," and we set off together.
It was a good distance for me to go, but at last we reached the entrance to a court In Dame Lane, and as we went into it we saw women talking excitedly together, and then we heard a man's voice shouting loud and wild. The lad said, "That's him; shall you go?"
"Yes," I said; "I must." I felt I must know for certain whether it was my father. So I spoke to two women, and told them I wanted to see George Smith, the sick man, because I thought he was an old friend of mine.
"Oh, but he's mad," they cried, "and so violent. There are four men just now holding him down, and he's almost too much for them; but come, I'll show you the way to the place. He was taken bad last night."
'The bedroom in which he was - was on the ground-floor, so that I had no steps to go either up or down, and I soon got into the room. But between me and the face I wanted to look on there was quite a number of people, and I had to work round to the left side of the room to get a view. And what a sight met my gaze! It was my father on a low bedstead, in the hands of four men, who had to put forth all their strength to keep him down. As I caught sight of his wild, awful face, the eyes vacant of reason, but full of fear, my heart sickened in me. He had ceased to struggle just as I entered the room, as if he had heard something in the tap of my crutches along the passage.
"What-what-" he gasped, in prolonged utterance; "what is that? It's coming, it's coming!" He shrieked, still with listening look, like a man in a wild beast's lair, who sees the entrance darken and hope pass away. "Hark! Hark!" He whispered, and then his eyes turned and saw me, and such a shriek of fear broke from him as turns my blood cold even to remember. "The devil! There! There! The devil! I knew it was he coming. Tap, tap, tap! Let me go! Let me go!" he shrieked, "let me go!" The veins on his forehead and on his arms seemed to swell out, and the fight to keep him down was dreadful to behold. And this was what drink and unbelief had brought him to!
I seemed to excite and madden him. He could not really know who I was; but there was some subtle link of memory touched by my presence, for his eyes fastened themselves in terror on me alone, and he kept muttering, "The devil! Oh, the devil! Take him away."
And so I had to leave the room; and what should I do next? What could I do next? What I did was to think how God had led me, and to trust Him for the rest. But by this time I was wearied out, and I felt I must get away home, or I should be ill. I cannot tell you how kind and good that street-boy proved in this time of trial. "Jem," I said, for he had told me his name, "you see how it is with me. The man is my father, and yet I can do nothing, being a cripple. Will you help me a little?"
"Yes," said he; "I will if I can. What can I do?"
"Well," I said, "first take me the nearest way to a cab-stand, for I cannot walk home, and as we go I will tell you what I want.
"You see," I continued, "nothing can be done, except to get him to a hospital, and I want you to keep watch and bring me word if anything is done in that way, or of any change for the better or worse. The women of the court will tell you, and you can tell them about me if you need to do so to get them to tell you. I live at Blacksmith Court in Wilkins Street. My name is Robert Deane, and so to-morrow bring me news, and I think I can muster sixpence for you.
And with these instructions, as soon as we found a cab I left him, and so got home, feeling very low. How I did pray to God that He would keep me from being ill and help and bless my poor father!
'You may be sure I waited very anxiously for news all next day. It was beyond my power to go out and seek for any. My back ached terribly with the over-exertion of the day before. But I did try to get near my Good Father, and to feel His love, and I talked a good deal with Jesus, and told Him all about it.'
'But, Uncle Bob,' said the child, 'you cannot see Jesus, and he doesn't speak to you. How can you talk to Him? I wish I knew.'
'You will learn, little woman. It is no matter we don't see Him; He sees us, and He hears us-yes, hears our very thoughts as plainly as you hear my voice now; and so I talk to Jesus, and He talks to me in His own way.'
'But what way, Uncle Bob?'
He makes me feel He is near, and then He seems to calm me and give me strength; and often I know how to think about something which otherwise would have made me restless or anxious. Oh, itâ€™s very real talking which Jesus talks-not word-talk, but feeling-talk, heart talk.'
'I see-at least, I think I see,' murmured the child, looking up into Uncle Bob's earnest face with trustful gaze. 'I wish I did see like you.'
What she saw was that his experience was blessed fact to him, and she felt a longing to share it with him. His influence was the sort of influence everyone feels who comes in contact with a really changed heart, which has tasted that the Lord is good, and shows it in a sweet, natural way.
But I must get on, little woman, or I shall never finish my story, and I would like to do so now I have begun it. It is getting very near the end.
Jesus seemed to tell me just to trust in Him and be quiet. That beautiful verse came into my mind, "0 rest in the Lord; wait patiently for Him, and He shall give thee thy heart's desire," What I desired was that my poor father's heart might be turned to the Good Father, and so the verse just seemed the very voice of Jesus telling me it was all right-that I could rest, for He was working.
'Thus the anxiety passed away, and the sorrow began to lighten, and I waited "patiently" for the coming of news. Two days after, about eleven o'clock, Jem turned up. Something important had happened, I could see by his face.
"What is the matter, Jem? Do tell me.
Is he gone to the hospital?" I began to be afraid he had died before he could be got there.
"Oh yes, he's gone to the 'orspital, sure enough. That's what I came for to tell you," he said; but his manner made it plain that there was something more he didn't like to tell me.
"Well, that's all right, Jem, isn't it?" I answered, not liking to probe further, just because I feared there was something more.
"Oh yes, 'twould 'a been all right if he'd gone all right; but when a mad cove breaks away and runs wild along the street, and tumbles down a cellar and breaks his leg, he gets to the 'orspital sure enough, but it don't quite seem all right, do it?"
So the kind-hearted lad broke the sad tale as best he could, in his own rough way.
"And I went to the 'orspital," he added. â€œI told a young sawbones that I knew the wild chap's son-and was he a bad case? I asked. He said it was looked on as a very bad case on account of the drink in him, and so you had better go and see him as soon as you can. He is getting more hisself now, the young chap said."
"Jem," I said, very much touched, partly because it was a great relief to know that all the uncertainty of father being properly cared for was now over-" Jem, you've been a good friend to me in this dreadful time. You've been as good as gold. I don't know what I should have done without you."
For a moment the words seemed to puzzle him, as if it were quite an unusual thing for him to get any praise, and then when he took them in he spoke very funnily.
"Eh? What did you say? Do you know you make a cove blush?"
"Blush away, Jem, as much as you like,' I replied; "but it's just as I've said. I hope you'll often come and see me. Perhaps I can help you to a good thing, some day."
'Is Jem a good boy now, Uncle Bob?' asked the child. She evidently thought that any boy Uncle Bob praised was bound to turn out well.
Well, little one, you shall judge for yourself.
He will be here tomorrow night. I got him a nice place as errand boy in a large toy-shop, and he is quite a different fellow from when I first saw him. But you will see him.
My father, Jem told me, was in St. Thomas' Hospital,
"What is it?" he asked, and then he heard the fix I was in, and of course he saw that I couldn't possibly get up the stairs. A look of compassion came into his eyes. "Well," he muttered, "I've got an old mother here myself, and a little help's worth a deal 0' pity. Look here, pardner, will you let me carry you? I think I can manage it."
"I felt oh so grateful. What a number of kind folks there are in the world, and none kinder than the poor! That I've found out from being a cripple. But a thought flashed through my mind, which for one second made me hesitate. The young man observed it, and he said, a little coldly,-
"Are you afraid 0' me?"
"Oh no!" I cried; "that isn't it at all; but if you take me up, how can I get down?"
"Just so," he replied, and nodded thoughtfully, adding, in a musing tone, "That's so." And then he said, "Look here, pardner, I'm going to see my old mother, and if you like to wait till I call for you, I'll carry you down too. It's no good doing things by halves, is it, gents? "And he looked round with a smile, adding, "I'm Juggling Joe: that's my name."
Well, he took me ever so carefully In his arms, and carried me up nearly a hundred stairs, whilst I clung to my crutches, ordering them as deftly as I could, so as not to catch in the bannisters. A nurse on one of the landings told us how to find No. 27 ward, and said my father was very bad, and not likely to live; and there at the door he placed me down, and steadied me with my crutches, and then, smiling and nodding at me with most benevolent air, he assured me he would not forget to fetch me when he'd seen his old mother.
So I went in, my heart a good deal sinking, because I half expected my entrance would excite my father's frenzy. But all things were mercifully ordered. He wasn't quite asleep, but very drowsy, and so I was able, after I had whispered with the nurse of the ward, and told her my errand, to get to his locker and seat myself on it, between his bed and another, before he was at all aroused to take notice. His face was towards me, and I had time to take a good look at it, and compare it with his face of a dozen years before; and oh, little woman, it was so changed, so much older. His sin didn't seem to have given him a good time. No! The way of the transgressor is hard. Drunkards, at least, find that to be true. My look, which was no doubt very intense, seemed to disturb him. He became restless, and at last opened his eyes quite wide and gazed upon me, at first without much expression, but soon with a look in them of uneasiness, deepening into fear.
"What is it?" he gasped. "Who are you? I have seen you somewhere."
You see, little one, I had become a man since he really saw me twelve years before, and so he didn't know me; but there must have been some impression made on him by my face in his delirium; or it may have been, as he afterwards told me, that from the moment he got to London I had been constantly coming into his mind, and that he was always expecting he would see me. This he had dreaded, because of the way in which his conscience stung him whenever he thought of mother and me. There are some things we never forget, and God alone can take away the misery memory brings.
I hardly knew what to say, but I thought I wouldn't tell him all at once who I was, lest it should excite him too much; and so I answered, "They told me you were here very poorly, and so I thought I would come and see you. Is there anything I can get for you?" I talked on, if possible to turn away his thoughts from me. But he kept looking into my face, and he only whispered, "Who are you?"
"Don't you know me?" I said. "I want us to be friends, so that I can come and see you as often as the doctor will let me."
'But no, he wouldn't be put aside; he still asked, in a low, hollow whisper, "Who are you? You are like my wife. Are you Bob?"
"Yes, father," I answered, "I am Bob; and oh, I am so glad you know me, and that we've found each other, and that I can look after you a little now, while you are ill."
His face took on a hard, stony look, and he closed his eyes and kept silence; and so I went on: "I'm so sorry, father, you've had this bad accident. You must be very quiet, and perhaps you'll soon be better; and then I've got a home for you to come and live with me and be comfortable."
Still he kept that expressionless face, or tried to; for I thought I saw his mouth twitch once and his throat work as if he were swallowing something down. So I went on as well as I could, for I felt ready to break down, and it made my voice tremble a little.
"It's all right, father. You'll be glad to see what a nice little home I've got, in a quiet back-yard, all to myself, and, please God; we'll have many a happy day together yet. Mother is glad, I am sure, that we've found each other."
But at the mention of mother he slowly bent his head under the clothes, and covered his face quite over. He was hiding himself away, and the action was very pitiful. I felt like putting my hand on his head to talk to him by dumb motion, as somehow more appropriate than words for such misery as his; but I thought it better not, lest he should be still hardening himself, and resent any such approach of affection. F or it is a strange thing about wrong-doing, little one that it is most often the wrong-doer who is hardest to win. He refuses love as long as he can, because he knows love pleads for repentance and confession, and the impenitent heart cannot bear the thought of either. And so impenitence often refuses love, and won't hear of forgiveness. To be forgiven means to allow that wrong has been done, and pride hardens itself, and won't yield. But yet love is the only power which can make it yield. Only love must be both wise and patient-patient to wait for its chance, wise to see it and seize upon it.
It was as if something kept my hand back and bade me wait; but I felt all the while that God would make love win, if only I could love enough. But what do you think I heard him say beneath the bed-clothes?
"Go away!" he said; "go away! I can't - I can't - oh, why are you come to torment me? Go away."
It was hard to bear; but even as he spoke 1 could understand a little, and it is plain to me WJW. My presence had roused his conscience, and it was hurting him as he remembered the wicked past.
"Oh, father," I could only say, "don't speak so-don't speak so!"
He went on as if he had not heard me: "Go away! I'm soon going to die, and death pays all, does it not? Yes, it will pay all, all, all-mother, and you, and all. I can but die for it."
He said all this in a broken way which was very pitiable, still keeping his head under the bed-clothes.
"Father," I said, "listen to me. Do believe me. I have not come to torment you, but only to tell you that I want you to get better, and come and live with me. God in His love forgives everything, if we really want Him to do so."
He caught at the last word "forgive."
Before he could take any comfort from me he must find peace with God.
"Forgive!" he said; "how can there be forgiveness?" He seemed to speak to himself, as if his thoughts passed away from me. "Forgiveness! The wife's dead, and I killed her; the lad's dead, I should think, or a cripple for life, and I did it, and I must pay for it. I am paying for it. I've been in hell any time this twenty year. Did you say forgiveness? Say 'devil and damnation.' That's more like it."
I could scarcely speak; it got very, very hard to speak, but I managed to cry out, "No, no! It is not 'devil and damnation,' but if you will it is God and forgiveness. Father," I cried, "listen, oh, listen!â€™Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.' That is what God says. He says, 'God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven you.' Oh, do listen! Look up. God wants to forgive you all. Yes, all," I went on, for I scarcely dared stop, lest he should fall back; "all, all; mother and me-He will forgive you all."
'There I stopped, breathless, and he moved a little, bringing his eyes above the clothes, and looking at me long and earnestly, and then, freeing his mouth, still with steadfast look, he said, "Forgiveness! Do you say there's forgiveness for me?"
"Yes, I do, father;" and I put my hand a little way on to the bed. "I am as certain as that I am here that God is ready to forgive you, and to take all away-every bit of it; all the sin. Now won't you ask Him?"
"I cannot believe it," he said; but his voice was not the same-it was not so hard and despairing. "I cannot believe it. How can you say it, sitting there with your broken back and chalky face, and your mother in her grave? "
And then he sobbed out, in such a heartbroken way, my mother's name, and I guessed that he had said it in the same way over and over again in lonely nights of despair: "Oh, Mary, Mary, poor murdered Mary!"
"I can say it," I answered firmly; "I can say it truly. Nay, I can prove it. Father, dear father, my mother forgave you all before she died; she always prayed for you that you might come to God; and I-let me tell you-oh, I am so glad to tell you, I quite forgive you, I fully forgive you. And this makes me sure that God will forgive you too, because it is God that put it into my heart to forgive you.
"You forgive me?" he said slowly; "mother, too, forgave me? Is it so?"
"Yes, it is so," I repeated, "and God put it into our hearts, and if He put it into our hearts, you may be sure He has it in His own heart all ready as soon as you ask him."
"You forgive me?" he said again, as if that were a thing deep, strange, incomprehensible. "Mother forgives me, and I killed her; and you say you both forgive, and God put it into your hearts?"
He closed his eyes as if in deep thought, and there was a silence in the ward which seemed long, but felt blessed.
At length his right hand began to move, and when I looked at his closed eyes I saw two big tears slowly forming under the eyelids, and ready to trickle down his wasted cheeks. I took out my handkerchief and wiped them away, and whilst I was doing so his hand came out of the bed and took hold of mine in a pressure that was wonderfully strong and spoke volumes. But we neither of us uttered a word. It was enough to hold each other's hand, to return each other's pressure, and to wait.
At length he said your mother forgave me, did she?"
"Yes, father," I answered.
"And you forgive me?" he went on, after a pause.
"Yes. Father," I answered again.
Then he replied, if you two forgive me, mayhap God will. Tell me about Him. He must be different to what I have thought."
That was a task, little one: the time was so short now, and he a dying man, and so much hanging on my poor words. But I asked God to help me, and I am sure He did. Words came easy.
''Father,'' I said, "God is the Good One, and He wants His children to be good; nay, He must have them good, and if they want to be bad, He is obliged in His very love to make it hard for them. But whilst it is hard, and they continue to want to be bad, they think as you have felt that God is hard. But just take it in that God is good, and wants us to be good, and that explains all the misery of sin, and sets us in the way to get out of it. F or, you see bad children must change in their feeling if it is to be all right with them. They must repent of the badness and come back to God and say, 'Take me in, Father; forgive me and make me good.' Do you see this, father? That God wants you to be His good child, and that to be good you must come back to Him?"
"Yes," father answered, "I think I do; but it seems impossible for me ever to be good; and how to go back, or how to find Him, I cannot see."
"Impossible to be good! Don't talk so. God can do anything, father, in that way. He has made some of the worst sinners good. And I can tell you the way to Him. I know it. It is a way of his own providing. It is through Jesus, His Son, who is our Savior. He came to call us back home out of our sins, and He does it from the cross, where He died for us. He cries, 'My Father loves poor sinners, and he has sent me to bear your sins, that you may go free. Only come to Him through me, and God for My sake will forgive you fully.' And now He lives, and by His Spirit pleads with us to seek and find forgiveness. Yes, Jesus died for all of us, and calls us home to God, and so Jesus is 'the way' to God. We go to His cross, and we find God waiting there in love, ready to take us in, and forgive us, and begin in us the new life of a good child."
And what did your father say, Unc1e Bob?' murmured Lizzie, who had scarcely stirred the last few minutes, she was so interested. â€˜Was he not glad?'
Ah! Little one, when people have gone on for a long time doing wrong, they find it hard to believe God. Sin seems to fill them with blindness and despair. And yet what father said had something right in it: he was groping his way to repentance.
"But what I've done," he said, "cannot be undone. I can never call your poor mother back, who loved me so. I can never even tell her I am sorry, and would make it all up to her if I could. No, never. And I cannot straighten your body, and make you strong; but I would if I could, my lad-I would if I could. So what's the use of repentance? All I can do is to die and pay for it. I don't deserve to be forgiven."
"Father, father," I said, "you do repent. You would make it all right if you could. You are sorry for all the wrong. Oh, just come and tell God so. He is the Good Father who pities us most when we find out we cannot undo what we have done, and cannot deserve to be forgiven. You don't know how good He is. He's by the cross this moment, waiting for you. Come to Him."
I would have given all I had to have been able to slip down on to my knees and take my father's hand in both mine whilst I prayed; but as I couldn't, I just kept his hand in mine, and I lifted up my voice whilst all in the room kept silence. " 0 Good Father," I cried, "tell my poor father here, on his dying bed, that Thy love is ready, waiting to take him in. It is all ready in Jesus. Tell him that Thou art glad to have him come just as he is that there is no case too bad for Thee; the worse we are, the more Thy love seeks us. Thou art so good! Oh, tell him just to leave mother and me in Thy hands, and that now it is all for the best as it is. We are quite content, Good Father, to be with Thee. Tell him to be content too, and lead him to thyself."
And even as I prayed, God sent help, and I heard my father begin to speak. "I will, Lord," he said; "I will come. Forgive a poor miserable sinner, if it be possible. I've been a bad husband and a cruel father, but oh, forgive me, if it be possible! Are you sure you and mother forgive me?" he broke off; "are you quite sure?"
'I fairly cried for joy. "Dear father," I said, "it is quite sure. Doubt no more. Just take the wrong as all past and done with. I forgive you, mother forgives you, and God forgives you. And listen: Come this moment to Jesus. You feel wrong and bad, and He is just the One to come to; come like a sick man sends for the doctor, like a child runs to its mother because it has fallen and hurt itself. Jesus loves to be kind to us and to cure us. He's just a perfect Friend. I've found Him so, and so will you. Only come; don't think about anything else except His love and your need; come straight in the faith that He died for you. Begin life over again with Him, and let Him do all He wants with you. He will do more than you can even think now, and He will give you peace."
I said these things, little one, not all at once, but slowly, to let them sink into his dull brain-bit by bit, as if my arms were round about his soul. F or it is a terrible struggle to get truth into a dying man. The odds are so terribly against him, as a rule. How many have such pain they cannot attend to anything that is said 1 how many become unconscious, and never know their danger! And in how many the habit of unbelief is so fixed and ingrained that they find it impossible to comprehend what sin is as death, and what Christ is as Savior! Still, when the heart has turned penitently to God, when the mind does realize the danger, the hour of death may ripen rapidly the life of faith in the believing soul, as was the case with the penitent thief. You see, the eye is fixed on eternity; the very senses feel it near. The world is behind, and hope has left it, and sin has become terrible from its deadly effect. And so there is a tremendous difference between listening to the Gospel then and listening to it carelessly in church. Then it is like water to the thirsty. At least, it seemed so to my poor father after he yielded his heart, and I had the joy of seeing him penitent. But, oh, I shudder still when I think how nearly he missed it!'
'But, Uncle Bob, you had prayed for him, and God heard you.'
Yes, yes; it is wonderful-past understanding. Poor father! It wasn't all joy to him. I saw the tears rolling down his cheeks, and when I whispered, "What is it, father?" he was silent, but I heard him saying to himself very mournfully, "Mary! Oh, Mary, Mary!"
'At last he looked up at me through his tears, and said, "Do you think your mother knows?" I said, "Yes," and I meant it, because I have the idea firmly in my mind that Jesus tells His dear ones in the spirit-land as much as He wants them to know of what is going on down here, and I felt that father's repentance was just the kind of thing He would tell dear mother. It would make her so glad; it would repay her for all her sorrow.
And so I said, "Yes, father, I think Jesus has told her all."
It seemed to comfort him, and he said, "Then she'll know that I do care for her, I do love her. But, oh, lad, I'd give the world if only I could tell her so!"
"Father," I said, "you are trusting Jesus; leave it with Him. He will do what you can't do: He will tell her. It will be a real joy to him to say, 'Mary, I have just heard your husband wish he could tell you that he loves you, and is truly sorry for all the past.' And then He will perhaps say, 'I know he means it-he is quite sincere; and one day soon he will come up here and tell you so himself.' "
Whilst I was speaking the door opened, and I saw the young fellow look in who had so kindly carried me upstairs. He nodded to me, meaning that he was waiting, and I took my father's hand in mine. I felt it might be for the last time. Indeed, he looked very bad, for it had been a very trying visit, and so I pressed his hand very lovingly and only said, "I must go: my time is up. Think of Jesus; look straight to Him if you feel low or bad; and don't forget that all is forgiven. Good-bye, dear father, good-bye. I will come again as soon as ever I can."
"Do! Do, my lad!" he moaned. "I shall be so glad, and we can talk a little more about Jesus. It seems wonderful I should want to, but I do. God bless thee for a good lad! I couldn't have thought it! Love and forgiveness for one like me!"
And so I went away, never to see him alive again; but that I did not know at the time. All had been so far beyond my expectation that I was full of gladness about him as well as sorrow. He was eased in soul if not in body, and perhaps he might even rally a little and be with me for a while, I thought. But that was not to be, and I can see now it was all for the best.
'Another man, who was also dying from drink, once said to me, "No, I don't want to get better; I don't want to be able to go out into the temptation again. I feel I might fall again. I have become so weak of will in my long sin that I am better here on my sick-bed, and I am quite willing to go when God shall call for me." It may have been my poor father's condition, and God knew it.
'My poor father died next day, and as no one knew who his friends were, they buried him soon. But the nurse told me his last words were, "They forgive me; Jesus forgives me. Poor Mary! Poor Bob!"
And so, little one, I hope he is in heaven; but it would have been nice to have had him here to take care of for a little while, wouldn't it?
Oh, we would have been so kind to him, Uncle Bob. We would have made him feel that Jesus loved him,' she replied. Lizzie had learnt her lesson; and Uncle Bob looked at her as if her little speech fully repaid him.
'The Good Father,' he said, 'likes to hear you say that, Lizzie. But Jesus, you may be sure, has made him feel it more than we could have done. All the same, He loves you for it, little woman.
'But see, the tree is finished as well as the story, and so now we'll shut up for 'the night, and go to bed.'Â Â