Or, Thirty Years on the Bowery
Introduction by Rev. A. F. Schauffler, D. D.
This story of my life is dedicated to
DR. A. F. SCHAUFFLER
Who stuck by me through thick and thin
Honest endeavor is ne'er thrown away; God gathers the failures day by day, And weaves them into His perfect plan In ways that are not for us to scan.
—Lucy Whittemore Myrick, 1876.
The autobiography which this book contains is that of a man who through the wonderful dealings of Providence has had a most remarkable experience. I have known the writer for about seventeen years, and always most favorably. For a number of years past he has been Bowery Missionary for the New York City Mission and Tract Society, and has shown himself faithful, capable and conscientious. His story simply illustrates how the gospel of the grace of God can go down as far as man can fall, and can uplift, purify, and beautify that which was degraded and "well nigh unto cursing."
As a testimony as to what God can work, and how He can transform a man from being a curse to himself and to the world into being a blessing, the story is certainly fascinating, and ought to encourage any who have lost hope to turn to Him who alone is able to save. It ought also to encourage all workers for the downfallen to realize that God is able to save unto the uttermost all who come to Him through Jesus Christ, the all-sufficient Saviour.
With confidence I recommend this book to those who are interested in the rescue of the fallen, knowing that they will praise God for what has been wrought and will trust Him for future wonderful redemptions.
A. F. SCHAUFFLER.
New York City.
I. BOYHOOD DAYS II. FIRST STEPS IN CRIME III. INTO THE DEPTHS IV. "SAVED BY GRACE" V. ON THE UP GRADE VI. PROMOTED VII. THE MISSION IN CHINATOWN VIII. BOWERY WORK IX. PRODIGAL SONS
"Let me live in a house by the side of the road, Where the race of men go by. Men that are good and men that are bad, as good and as bad as I. I would not sit in the scorner's seat, Nor hurl the cynic's ban. Let me live in a house by the side of the road And be a friend to man."
I have often been asked the question, "Why don't you write a book?" And I have said, "What is the use? What good will it do?" I have thought about it time and time again, and have come to the conclusion to write a story of my life, the good and the bad, and if the story will be a help, and check some one that's just going wrong, set him thinking, and point him on the right road, praise God!
I was born in Hudson City, N. J., over forty years ago, when there were not as many houses in that town as there are now. I was born in old Dutch Row, now called Beacon Avenue, in a two-story frame house. In those days there was an Irish Row and a Dutch Row. The Irish lived by themselves, and the Dutch by themselves.
Quite frequently the boys of the two colonies would have a battle royal, and there would be things doing. Sometimes the Dutch would win out, sometimes the Irish, and many's the time there was a cut head and other bruises. Sometimes a prisoner would be taken, and then we would play Indian with him, and do everything with him except burn him. We were all boys born in America, but if we lived in Dutch Row, why, we had to be Dutch; but if, on the other hand, we happened to live in Irish Row, we had to be Irish. I remember moving one time to Irish Row, and I wondered what would happen when I went to play with the old crowd. They said, "Go and stay with the Irish." I did not know what to do. I would not fight my old comrades, so I was neutral and fought with neither.
We had a good many ring battles in those days, and many's the fight we had without gloves, and many's the black eye I got, and also gave a few. I believe nothing does a boy or girl so much good as lots of play in the open air. I never had a serious sickness in my life except the measles, and that was easy, for I was up before the doctor said I ought to get out of bed. Those were happy days, and little did I think then that I would become the hard man I turned out to be.
I had a good Christian mother, one who loved her boy and thought there was nothing too good for him, and I could always jolly her into getting me anything I wanted. God bless the mothers! How true the saying is, "A boy's best friend is his mother." My father I won't say so much about. He was a rough man who loved his cups, and died, as you might say, a young man through his own waywardness. I did love my mother, and would give anything now to have her here with me as I am writing this story. She has gone to heaven, and I was the means of sending her to an early grave through my wrong-doings. She did not live to see her boy saved. Many's the time I would promise her to lead a different life, and I meant it too, but after all I could not give up my evil ways.
THE FIRST TASTE FOR DRINK
I remember when I first acquired the taste for drink. My grandfather lived with us, and he liked his mixed ale and would send me for a pint two or three times a day. In those days the beer was weighed so many pounds to the quart. Every time I went for the beer I used to take a swallow before I came back, and sometimes two, and after a while I really began to enjoy it. Do you know, I was laying the foundation right there and then for being what I turned out to be—a drunkard. I remember one time—yes, lots of times—that I was under the influence of the vile stuff when I was not more than ten years of age.
I received a public school education. My school-days were grand good days. I had all the sport that comes to any boy going to school. I would rather play ball than go home to dinner. In those days the game was different from what it is at the present time. I was up in all athletic sports when I was a boy. I could jump three quick jumps and go twenty-eight and a half feet; that was considered great for a schoolboy.
There was one game I really did enjoy; the name of it was "How many miles?" It is played something like this: You choose sides, and it doesn't matter how many there are on a side. Of course each side would be eager to get the quickest and fastest runner on their side. How I did like that game! We then tossed to see who would be the outs and who would chase the outs, and many's the mile we boys would run. We would be late for school and would be kept in after three o'clock; that would break my heart, but I would forget all about it the next day and do the same thing again.
Our teacher, J. W. Wakeman—God bless him!—is living yet, and I hope he will live a good many years more. A boy doesn't always like his teacher, and I was no exception; I did not like him very much. He gave me more whippings than any other boy in the school. All the learning I received was, you might say, pounded into me. He used to say to me, "David, why don't you be good and study your lessons? There is the making of a man in you, but if you don't study you will be fit for nothing else than the pick and shovel." How those words rang in my ears many a time in after years when they came true, when I had to use the pick and shovel! I am not saying anything against that sort of labor; it has its place. We must fill in somewhere, in some groove, but that was not mine.
How I did enjoy in after years, when I was roaming over the world, thinking of my old schoolmates! I could name over a dozen who were filling positions of trust in their own city; lawyers, surrogates, judges, and some in business for themselves, making a name and doing something, while I was no earthly use to myself or to any one else. Some people say, "Such is life; as you make your bed so you must lie." How true it was in my case! I made my bed and had to lie on it, but I can truthfully say I did not enjoy it.
There are many men that are down and out now who had a chance to be splendid men. They are now on the Bowery "carrying the banner"—which means walking the streets without a place to call home—without food or shelter, but they could, if they looked back to their early life, see that they were making their beds then, or as the Bible reads, sowing the seed. Listen, young people, and take heed. Don't believe the saying, "A fellow must sow his wild oats." The truth is just this: as you sow so shall you reap. I was sowing when I was drinking out of the pail of beer, and I surely did reap the drunkard's portion—misery.
I was a great hand at playing hookey—that is, staying away from school and not telling your parents. I would start for school in the morning, but instead of going would meet a couple of boys and we would hide our books until closing-time. If any boy was sent to my home with a note, I would see that boy and tell him if he went he knew what he would get. He knew it meant a good punching, and he would not go. I would write a note so that the boy could take it back to the teacher saying that I was sick and would be at school when I got better.
I remember how I was found out one time. We met as usual—the hookey-players, I mean—and started down to the Hackensack River to have a good day. Little did I know what would happen before the day was over. One of the boys with us went out beyond his depth and was drowned. I can still hear his cries and see his face as he sank for the last lime. We all could swim a little, and we tried our best to save him, but his time had come.
That wound up his hookey-playing, and you would think it would make me stop too; but no, I went right along sowing the seed, and planting it good and deep for the Devil.
I recollect the first time I went away from home. It happened this way: The teacher got tired of receiving notes saying I was sick, and she determined to see for herself—for I had a lady for teacher in that class—what the trouble was.
One afternoon whom should I see coming in the gate but my teacher, and now I was in a fix for fair. I knew if she saw mother it was all up with me, so I ran and met her and told her mother was out and would not be back until late. She asked me how I was getting on. I said I was better and would be at school in the morning. She said, "I am glad of that."
When she turned to go I could have flung my cap in the air and shouted. I thought I had fooled her and could go on playing hookey, but you know the old adage, "There's many a slip." Just at this time my mother looked out of the window and asked who was there and what she wanted. Well, mother came down, and things were made straight as far as she and the teacher were concerned; but I was in for it; I knew that by the way mother looked at me. The jig was up, I was found out, and I knew things would happen; and I did not want to be around when mother said, "You just wait!" I knew what that meant, so I determined to go out into the world and make my own way.
I was a little over thirteen years of age, and you know a boy does not know much at that age, but I thought I did. I went over the fence with mother after me. If dad had been home I guess he could have caught me, that is if he had been sober. Mother could not run very fast, so I got clear of the whip for that time at least. I got a good distance from the house and then I sat down to think. I knew if I went home a whipping was waiting for me, and that I could do without.
There was a boy just a little older than myself, Mike ——, that was "on the bum," as we used to say. The boys would give him some of the lunch they had brought to school, and I thought I would join forces with and be his pal. I saw Mike and told him all about the licking, and Mike said, "Don't go home; you are a fool if you do." We went around, and I was getting hungry, when we thought of a plan by which we could get something to eat. Mother ran a book in a grocery store, and Mike said, "Go to the store and get a few things, and say you don't have the book but will bring it when you come again." I went to the store and got a ham, a pound of butter, two loaves of bread and one box of sardines.
[Footnote 1: Where proper names are left blank they refer to real persons or places.]
Some people will ask how I can remember so many years back. I remember my first night away from home as though it was yesterday, and I'll never forget it as long as I live. After I got the things the grocer said, "Where is the book?" I told him mother had mislaid it, and he said, "Bring it the next time." We built a fire and cooked the ham and had lots to eat.
Up to this time it had all been smooth sailing; it was warm and we had a good time in general. We had a swim with some other boys, and after telling them not to say that they saw me, we left them. I asked Mike where we were going to sleep, and he said, "I'll show you when it's time."
After a while Mike said, "I guess we had better go to bed." Off we started across the lots until we came to a big haystack, and Mike stooped down and began to pull hay out of the stack and work his way inside. Remember I was green at the business; I had never been away from home before; and Mike, though only a little older, was used to this kind of life. Well, I pulled out hay enough, as I thought, and crawled in, but there was no sleep for me. I kept thinking and thinking. I would call Mike and ask him if he was asleep, and he would say, "Oh, shut up and let a fellow sleep!"
I am no coward, never was, but I was scared that night for fair. About midnight I must have dozed off to sleep when something seemed to be pushing at my feet. I was wide awake now, and shook Mike, but he only turned over and seemed to sleep all the sounder. I could hear the grunting and pushing outside all the time. My head was under and my feet covered with the hay, when something took hold of my foot and began to chew. My hair stood on end, and I gave a yell that would have awakened "The Seven Sleepers." It woke Mike, and the last I heard of him that night he was laughing as though he would split his sides, and all he could shout was, "Pigs, pigs!" as I went flying toward home. I got there as soon as my feet would carry me. I found the house up and mother and sister crying, while father was trying to make them stop. When I shook the door it opened and I was home again, and I was mighty glad.
The reason for the crying was that when it got late and the folks began to look for me, one of the boys said that the last time he saw me I was swimming with Mike ——. When I did not come home they thought surely I was drowned, but I was born for a different fate. Sometimes in my years of roaming afterwards I wished I had been drowned as they thought. They were so glad to see me again that there was no whipping, and I went to school next morning promising to be a better boy.
A BASEBALL GAME
I was fast becoming initiated in the ways of the Devil. There was nothing that I would not do. I remember one time when mother thought I was going to school but found out I was "on the hook." She decided to punish me, and that night after I had gone to sleep she came into my room and took all my clothes except my shirt. I certainly was in a fix. I had to catch for my team and I would not miss that game of ball for anything in the world; I simply had to go. In looking around the room I found a skirt belonging to my sister that I thought would answer my purpose. I had my shirt on and I put the skirt on over my head. Then I ripped the skirt up the center and tied it around each leg with a piece of cord—anything for that game!—and there I was with a pair of trousers manufactured out of a girl's skirt. But I had to catch that game of ball that day at any cost. Getting to the ground was easy. I opened the window and let myself down as far as I could and then dropped. I arrived all right, a little shaken up, but what is that to a boy who has a ball game in his head!
I got to the game all right and some of the boys fixed me up. I don't remember which side won that game, but when it was finished I went home and met mother, and the interview was not a pleasant one, though she did not give me a whipping.
I used to read novels, any number of them, in those days—all about Indians, pirates, and all those blood-and-thunder tales—lies. You can not get any good out of them, and they do corrupt your mind. I would advise the young people who read these lines, and older folks also, if this is your style of reading, to stop right where you are. Get some good books—there are plenty of them—and don't fill your mind with stuff that only unfits you for the real life of the years to come.
FIRST STEPS IN CRIME
I was getting tired of school and wanted to go to work. I had a good Christian man for my Sunday-school teacher, Mr. M., a fairly rich man, and I did think a good deal of him. I liked to go to Sunday-school and was often the first in my class. The teacher would put up a prize for the one that was there first. Sometimes it would be a baseball bat, skates, book, or knife. I would let myself out then and would be first and get the prize.
I asked Mr. M. to get me work in an office. After a few weeks he called and told my mother he had got me a job in Jersey City, in the office of a civil engineer, at $3 a week. I was a happy boy as I started in on my first day's work. It was easy; all I had to do was to open up and dust the office at 8 A. M., and close at 5 P. M. I used to run errands and draw a little. But after a few weeks the newness of work wore off and I wished I was back at school again, where I could play hookey and have fun with the other fellows.
THE FIRST THEFTS
I had lots of time on my hands, and you know the saying, "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do." He certainly found plenty for me. The boss was a great smoker and bought his cigars by the box. He asked me if I smoked, and I said no, for I had not begun to smoke as yet. Well, he left the box of cigars around, always open, so I thought I would try one, and I took a couple out of the box. See how the Devil works with a fellow. He seemed to say, "Now if you take them from the top he will miss them," so he showed me how to take them from the bottom. I took out the cigars that were on top, and when I got to the bottom of the box I crossed a couple and took the cigars, and you could not tell that any had been taken out. That was the beginning of my stealing. The cigars were not missed, and I thought how easy it was, but this beginning proved to be just a stepping-stone to what followed.
I did not smoke the cigars then, but waited until I got home. After supper I went out and met Mike ——, and gave him one of them, and I started in to smoke my first cigar. Mike could smoke and not get sick, but there never was a sicker boy than I was. I thought I was going to die then and there and I said, "No more cigars for me." I recovered, however, and as usual forgot my good resolutions. That turned out to be the beginning of my smoking habit, and I was a good judge of a cigar when I was but fourteen years of age. I went on stealing them until the boss tumbled that some one was taking them and locked them up for safe keeping. I never smoked a cigarette in all my life. I know it takes away a young fellow's brains and I really class cigarettes next to drink and would warn boys never to smoke them.
I had been in the office now about three months. At the end of each month I received a check for $12. It seemed a fortune to me and I hated to give it in at the house. The third month I received the check as usual, made out to bearer. Well, I went home and gave the check to mother, and she said I was a good boy and gave me fifty cents to spend.
I watched my mother and saw her put the check in an unused pitcher in the closet on the top shelf. It seemed as though some one was beside me all the time telling me to take it and have a good time. It belonged to me and no one else had a right to it, Satan seemed to say. And what a good time I could have with it! They would never suspect me of taking it, and I could have it cashed and no one would ever know.
So I got up in the middle of the night and started right there and then to be a burglar. I went on tiptoe as softly as I could, and was right in the middle of the kitchen floor when I stumbled over a little stool and it made a noise. It was not much of a noise, but to me it seemed like the shot out of a cannon. I thought it would wake up the whole house, but nobody but mother woke, and she said, "Who's there?" I said nothing, only stood still and waited for her to fall asleep again. As I stood there a voice—and surely it was the voice of God—seemed to say, "Go back to bed and leave the check alone. It is not yours: it belongs to your mother. She is feeding and keeping you, and you are doing wrong." I think if the Devil had not butted in I would have gone to bed, but he said, "Now you are here no one sees you, and what a good time you can have with that check!" That settled all good thoughts and I went up to the closet, put my hand in the pitcher, took the check and went back to bed. That was my first burglary.
Did I sleep? Well, I guess not! I rolled and tossed all the balance of the night. I knew I had done wrong. But you see the Devil was there, and I really think he owned me from the time I stole the cigars—"that little beginning."
I got up the next morning, ate my breakfast and went to work. I still had the check, and all I had to do was to go to the bank and get it cashed. But I was afraid, and how I wished that the check was safe in the old pitcher. I worried all that day, and I think if I had gotten a chance that night after I got home, I would have put the check back. But the old Devil was there saying, "You fool, keep it! It is not missed, and even if it is no one will accuse you of stealing your own money." I tell you, the Devil had me hand and foot, and there seemed to be no getting away. Oh! if I could have had some person to tell me plainly what to do at this time, it might have been the turning-point in my life! Anyway, the check didn't get back to the pitcher. I had it and the Devil had me.
Next day I disguised myself somewhat. I made my face dirty and put on a cap. I had been wearing a hat before, so I thought the teller at the bank would not know me. I had been there often with checks for my boss. Well, the teller just looked at the check, gave me a glance, and passed out the $12. It did not take me long to get out of the bank. I knew I had done wrong, and I felt it, and would have given anything if I could have undone it; but it was too late, and my old companion, the Devil, said, "What a nice time you can have, and wasn't it easy!"
When I went home the first question was, "Did you see your check?" My dear mother asked me that, never thinking that her boy had taken it. Oh! if I had had the courage to tell her then and there, how much misery and trouble it would have saved me in after life! But I was a moral coward, and I said, "No, mother; where did you put it?" I had her guessing whether she really put it in the pitcher or not.
There was a regular hunt for that check, and I hunted as much as any one, but it could not be found. Mother did not know much about banks in those days, but some one told her about a week after that she ought to go to the bank and stop payment on the check. That sounded good to mother, and she said, "Dave, you and I will go to the bank and stop payment on that check." I was in it for fair this time. The only chance I had was in the teller not recognizing me.
We went to the bank, and mother told the teller about the lost—stolen—check, and for him to see that it wasn't paid. He said, "All right, madam, I'll not pay it if it is not already paid." He looked over the books and brought back the lost check. I had stood in the background all this time. Then my mother asked him whom he paid it to. He said it was hard for him to recall just then, "But I think I paid it to a boy," he said. "Yes, it was a boy, for I recollect that he had as dirty a face and hands as ever I saw." Mother pulled me up in front of him and told him to look at me and see if I was the boy. He looked at me for a minute or so—it seemed to me like an hour—then said, "No, that is not the boy that cashed the check, nothing like him. I am sure I should know that boy." In after years, when I was lined up in front of detectives for identification for some crime, identified or not, I always thought of a dirty face being a good disguise.
On the way home from the bank mother asked me all sorts of questions about boys I knew; if they had dirty faces and so on, but I did not know any such boys, so the check business died out. She little thought that her own boy was the thief, and she blamed my cousin, who was boarding with us at the time.
My grandfather was still with us, and he had quite a sum of money saved. He wanted some money, and he and I went to the bank and he drew out fifty dollars in gold. There was a premium on gold at that time, and he received two twenty-dollar gold-pieces and one ten. Well, that night he lost one of the twenty-dollar gold-pieces and never found it. There was a hot time the next morning, for he was sure he had it when he went to bed. My father was blamed for that, so you see the innocent suffer for the guilty.
I had quite a time with the money while it lasted, went out to the old Bowery Theatre, and had a good time in general. I little thought then that in after years I would be sitting on the old Bowery steps, down and out, without a cent in my pocket and without a friend in the world.
LOSING A POSITION
I was a boy of fourteen at this time, working in a civil engineer's office for three dollars per week, but I knew, young as I was, that as a profession engineering was not for me. I knew that to take it up I needed a good education, and that I did not have. I didn't like the trade, anyway, and didn't care whether I worked or not. That is the reason I lost my job.
One afternoon my employer sent me up Newark Avenue for a suit of clothes that had been made to order. He told me to get them and bring them back as soon as I could. I must say right here that my employer was a good man, and he took quite a liking to me. Many a time he told me he would make a great engineer out of me. I often look back and ask myself the question, "Did I miss my vocation?" And then there comes a voice, which I recognize as God's, saying, "You had to go through all this in order to help others with the same temptations and the same sins," and I say, "Amen."
After getting the clothes I went back to the building where I worked—No. 9 Exchange Place, Jersey City—and found the door locked. I waited around for a while, for I thought my employer wanted his clothes or he would not have sent me for them. Finally I got tired of waiting, and after trying the door once more and finding it still locked, I said to myself, "I'll just put these clothes in the furniture store next door and I'll get them to-morrow morning." I left them and told the man I would call for them in the morning, and started for home.
I was in bed dreaming of Indians and other things, when mother wakened me, shouting, "Where's the man's clothes?" I couldn't make out at first what all the racket was about. Then I heard men's voices talking in the yard, and recognized Mr. M., my Sunday-school teacher, and my employer, the man that was going to make a great engineer out of me. I went out on the porch and told him what I had done with the clothes, and he nearly collapsed. He was very angry, and drove off, saying, "You come to the office and get what's due you in the morning." I went the next morning, got my money, and bade him good-by. That was the last of my becoming one of the great engineers of the day.
I was glad, and I went back to school determined to study real hard, and I did remain in school for a year. Then the old craze for work came on me again. Father had died in the meantime, and mother was left to do the best she could, and I got a job with the determination to be a help to her.
AT WORK AGAIN
I got a position as office boy at 40 Broadway, then one of New York's largest buildings. The man I worked for was a commission merchant, a Hebrew, and one of the finest men I ever met in my life. He took me into his private office and we had a long talk, a sort of fatherly talk, as he had sons and daughters of his own. I loved that man. I had been brought up among the Dutch and Irish, and had never associated with the Jews, and I supposed from what I had heard that they were put on earth for us to get the best of, fire stones at, and treat as meanly as we could. That was my idea of a Jew—my boy idea. Yet here was a man, a Jew, one of the whitest men I ever met, who by his life changed completely my opinion of the Jews, and I put them down from that day as being pretty good people.
My mother did some work for his wife, and when he heard that I wanted to go to work he told her to send me over to his place of business, and that is how I got my second position in this big world.
I went to work with the determination to make a man of myself, and mother said:
"Now, Dave, be a good boy, and one of these days you will be a big merchant and I shall be proud of you." That was what I might have been if I had had the grace of God to make my life true. I am acquainted with some men to-day that started about the same time I did. They were boys that looked ahead, studied and went up step by step, and are to-day some of the best-known bankers in America.
They say "Hell is paved with good intentions," and I believe it is. We start out in life with the best intentions, but before we know it we are up against some temptation, and unless we have God with us we are sure to fall, and when we fall, why, it's the hardest thing in the world to get back where we tumbled from. I only wish I had taken the Saviour as my helper years ago. Oh! what a change He did make in my life after I did accept Him, seventeen years ago!
I started in to work at four dollars a week, and, as I said, I intended to be a great merchant. I meant well, if that was any consolation. My duties were to go to the postoffice and bring the mail, copy the letters, and run errands, and I was happy.
I was out one day on an errand, when whom should I meet but my old friend Mike ——, my chum of the pig incident. He said, "Hello, Dave, where are you working?" He had a job in a factory in Maiden Lane, at the same wages I was getting. I hadn't seen much of Mike lately, and to tell the truth I didn't care so much about meeting him. I am not superstitious by any means, but I really thought he was my Jonah. We talked a while, and we promised to meet and go home together. Like a foolish boy, I met him that night and many a time after.
TOUCH NOT, TASTE NOT
Mike was just learning to play pool, and one evening we had to go in and play a game. That night I had the first glass of beer I ever took in a saloon. Mike was getting to be quite a tippler, and he said, "Let's have a drink." I said I didn't want any, and I didn't. But he said—I really think the Devil was using Mike to make me drink—"Oh, be a man! One glass won't hurt you; it will do you good." And he talked to me about mother's apron-strings, and finally I took my first drink outside of what I drank when grandfather used to send me for beer.
Do you know, as I stood there before the bar, with that beer in my hand, I heard a voice just as plain as I ever heard anything, saying, "Don't take that stuff; it's no good, and will bring you to shame and misery. It will spoil your future, and you will never become the great merchant you started out to be. Put it down and don't drink it." That was twenty-five years ago, and many a time I have heard that voice since. How I wish now that I had listened to that voice and never taken that first drink! It is not the second or the one hundred and second drink that makes a man a drunkard, but the first.
I started to put the glass down, and with that Mike began to laugh, and his laugh brought the other fellows around. Of course Mike told them I was a milk-and-water boy. I could not stand it to be laughed at, so I put the glass of beer to my lips, swallowed it, and never made a face about it. Then the fellows said, "You're all right! You are initiated now and you're a man!"
I didn't feel very much like a man. I felt as though I was some fellow without a single spark of manhood in my whole make-up. I thought of mother; what would she say if she knew I had broken my promise to her? I had promised her when father died never to take a drink in all my life. I knelt at her dear side, with her hands upon my head, and she prayed that God would bless her boy and keep him from drink. I had honestly intended to keep that promise, but you see how the Devil popped in and once more made me do what I knew was wrong—drink that first cursed glass of beer.
I went home, walking all the way, and trying to get the smell out of my mouth. I could not face my dear mother, so I went to my room without supper. I thought that all she had to do was to look in my face and she would know that I had broken my promise, and I was ashamed. She came up later and asked me what was the matter, and I said I had a headache. If I had had the courage to tell her then, things might have been different! She brought me a cup of tea and bade me good-night.
The next night the Devil steered me into the same saloon. I drank again and again, till finally I could drink as much as any man, and it would take a good deal to knock me out.
I was still working for the merchant on Broadway, and my prospects were of the brightest. They all liked me and gave me a raise in salary, so I was now getting five dollars a week. But, you see, I was spending money on pool and drink, and five dollars didn't go so very far, so I began to steal. I had charge of the stamps—the firm used a great many—-and I had the mailing of all the letters. I would take out fifty cents from the money and balance the account by letters mailed. I began in a small way, and the Devil in me said, "How easy! You're all right." So I went on until I was stealing on an average of $1.50 per day. I still kept on drinking and playing cards. I had by this time blossomed out as quite a poker player and could do as many tricks as the best of them. I used to stay out quite late, and would tell mother that I was kept at the office, and little did she think that her only son was a gambler!
The Bible says, "Be sure your sin will find you out," and it proved true in my case. One night I was out gambling, and had had quite some luck. The fellows got to drinking, and in fact I got drunk, and when I started for home I could hardly walk. I fell down several times, when who should come along but mother and sister, and when they saw me staggering along they were astonished. I heard my mother say, "Oh! my God, my boy, my only son, oh! what happened to you?" Mother knew without asking what the matter was. She had often seen father reeling home under the influence of drink. But here was something she could not understand. Here was her only son beastly drunk, and she cried bitter tears. She took hold of one arm and my sister the other, and we finally reached home. I was getting pretty well sobered up by this time, and knew I was in for a lecture. My mother hadn't whipped me of late, but I dreaded her talk, and then I wished I had never met Mike ——.
Mother didn't say anything until we got home. She put me to bed, brushed my clothes, and told me to go to sleep. About two o'clock I woke up. There was mother kneeling by my bedside, praying God to save her boy and keep him from following in his father's footsteps. I lay there and listened and said amen to everything she asked God to do. Finally I could stand it no longer; I jumped out of bed and knelt beside my mother and asked God to forgive me. I threw my arms around mother's neck and asked her to forgive her boy, which she did. I determined right then and there to do better and never to drink any more.
I really meant to start all over again, but I didn't take Jesus with me—in fact, I think the Devil owned me for fair. I was pretty good for about a month, kept away from Mike and the other fellows, and mother was delighted. But this did not continue long; I met Mike again, and fell into the same groove, and was even worse than before.
Barnum was running his circus in New York then, and Mike and I decided to see the show and took a day off to go. I had not got leave of absence from work, so on our way home we planned what we could tell our bosses when we went to work the next morning.
When my employer came in that morning I told him I was sick the day before and not able to get out of bed. He just stood there and looked at me, and said, "What a liar you are! You were seen at the circus yesterday! Now, why didn't you tell me the truth, and I would have overlooked it? I can't have any one in my employ that I can't trust." So I had to look for another job. I was sorry, but it was my own fault. There I was, without a job and without a recommendation. What was I going to do? Surely "the way of the transgressor is hard."
I tell the men in the Mission night after night that I would rather deal with a thief than a liar, because you can protect yourself against a thief, but a liar—what can't a liar do? If I had only told the truth to my employer that day, why, as mother said afterwards, he would have given me a lecture, and it would have been all over.
DEEPER IN THE MIRE
Now what was I to tell my mother? You see, if you tell one lie you are bound to tell others, and after you have lied once, how easy it is! My side partner, the Devil, was there by my side to help me, and he said, "Don't tell your mother." So I said nothing, and took my carfare and lunch money every day, went out as if I were going to work, and hoped that something would turn up. That's the way with the sinners; they are always hoping and never doing. So it was with me, always hoping, and the Devil always saying, "Don't worry; it will be all right."
I used to dread going home at night and meeting my mother, and when she would say, "How have you got on to-day?" I was always ready with another lie, telling her I was doing finely, that the boss said he was going to give me a raise soon. He had—he had raised me right out of the place!
I was getting deeper and deeper into difficulty and could not see my way out. Oh! if I had only told my mother the truth, how different my life might have been! Saturday night was coming, and I did not have any money to bring home, and I did not know what to do. I thought of everything, but could not see my way out, when the thought came to me, "Steal!" My sister was saving up some money to buy a suit, and I knew where she kept it and determined to get it. That night I entered her room and took all the money she had saved. No one saw me but God, but the Devil was there with me, and said, "Isn't it easy? Don't be a coward! God doesn't care." I knew right down in my heart that He did care, and in after years when I was wandering all over the States I found out how much He really cared, and I said, "Praise His name!"
INTO THE DEPTHS
After I had taken this money from my sister I knew that I was suspected. I was accused of taking it, but I was getting hardened; I had lost my job through lying; I was getting tired of home; I didn't care very much how things went.
About this time my elder sister was married and moved to New York. Her husband was a mechanic and made good money. He liked me, and when the theft was discovered I went and put up with him, staying there until I made money enough to leave, then I got out. All this time I was going from bad to worse, my associates being thieves and crooks and gamblers.
I shall never forget the first time I was arrested. I was with a hardened crook, and we had made a haul of some hundred dollars. But as luck would have it we were caught and sent away for nine months on a "technicality." If we had received our just dues the lowest term would have been five years each. I thought my time in prison would never come to an end, but it did at last, and I was free. But where was I to go? My mother had moved to New York to be near my sister, so I went and called on them. Mother asked me where I had been. I made some kind of an excuse, but I could see by mother's eye that she did not take much stock in it.
I remained at home, and finally got work in a fruit house on Washington Street, at eight dollars a week. I was quite steady for a while, and mother still had hopes of her boy. But through the same old company and drink I lost that job.
About this time I ran across a girl who I thought would make a good wife, and we were married. I was then in the crockery business in a small way, and if I had stuck to business I should be worth something now. I'll never forget the day of the wedding. The saying is, "Happy is the bride the sun shines on," but there was no sunshine that day. It rained, it simply poured. Mother tried to get the girl to throw me over; she told her I would never make her a good husband; and I guess Mary was sorry afterward that she did not take her advice.
The night of the wedding we had quite a blowout, and I was as drunk as I could be. I'd ring in right here a bit of advice to my girl readers: Don't ever try to convert a man—I mean one who drinks—by marrying him, for in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred you won't succeed. In my case I was young and did not care how the wind blew. I stayed out nights and neglected my home, but I must say, bad as I was, I never hit my wife. I think any man that raises his hand to hit a woman is worse than a cur, and that he will certainly be punished in some way for it.
Things went from bad to worse, and one day I came home to the store and there was no wife. She had gone. Married and deserted in two months! I felt sore, and all I thought about was to get even with my wife. I sold out the business, got a couple hundred dollars together, and started after her. I found out that she had gone to Oswego, and I sent her a telegram and was met at the station by her brother. It did not take me long to get next to him. In a very short time I had him thinking there was no one like Ranney. Mary and I made up and I promised never to drink again, and we started for New York. My promises were easily broken, for before we got to Syracuse both her brother and I were pretty drunk.
After reaching New York we went to mother's house and stayed there until we got rooms, which we did in a few days. Mary's brother got work in a lumberyard. I hunted as usual for a job, praying I wouldn't get it. I went hustling lumber and worked two days, leaving because it took the skin off my hands. Finally I could not pay the rent, was dispossessed, and then went to live in "Hell's Kitchen," in Thirty-ninth Street, where my son was born. Our friends thought the baby would bring Mary and me closer together, as it sometimes does. But what did I care for a baby!
I got work on Jake Sharp's Twenty-third Street cars, and Mary would bring me my dinner and do everything she could for me. But when drink is the idol—and it was mine—what does one care for love? Nothing. I certainly led Mary a hard life. At last I came home one night and she and the kid were gone. The baby was then two months old, and I never saw him again until he was a boy of nine. I was not sorry at their going. I wasn't any good in those days. I imagined I was "done dirty," as they say, but I knew the girl couldn't do anything else for herself and baby. I sold out the little furniture the rooms contained, got a few dollars, and jumped the town.
I started out with every one's hand against me and mine against every one's. I struck Marathon, N. Y., and had quite a time there. I worked in Dumphy's tannery, got a few weeks' pay and a few other articles, and jumped out for fear of being arrested. I reached Syracuse and struck a job in McChesney's lumberyard, at $1.35 per day.
I stayed in Syracuse quite a while and learned a little of the lumber business. I had quite a few adventures while there. I had struck up an acquaintance with a New York boy, and one evening after work we were sitting on the grass in front of one of the hotels, and seeing the patrol wagon passing, I made the remark, "Some poor bum is going to get a ride," when it pulled up in front of us and we were told to get in. I tried to argue the point with the captain, but it was of no use. We were taken to the station, and the others were sent below while I was kept up for examination. They put me through a light "third degree," measuring me and noting the color of hair and eyes, size of feet, etc.
Finally they stopped measuring and asking questions, and I waited. I saw my friend come up and go out of the door; he did not take time to bid me good-by. I asked the captain if he was through with me, and he did not know what to say. He apologized, and explained that I had been arrested because I looked like a man that had escaped from Auburn.
I felt rather sorry for the captain, not because I was not the escaped prisoner, but because he was so nervous. I could not leave him without a jolly, so I said, "Captain, if you'll come up to the corner I'll treat," patting my pocket in which I had a few pennies. He thanked me and said, "No." I met the captain every night taking his men as far as Salina Street, and we always saluted one another.
My new pal couldn't be got up on Main Street to the postoffice again for anything, and as soon as he earned money enough he took the train for "little old New York." I've met him on the Bowery since I became a missionary there, and we did smile about that ride in the "hurry-up wagon" in Syracuse.
Finally I came back to New York, after being away quite a time, got work in a carpet factory, and was quite steady for a while.
My poor dear mother was sick, sometimes up and oftentimes in bed. I can still see her and hear her say, "David, my poor boy, I do wish you would stop your drinking. I've prayed for you, and will pray until I die. Oh, Dave! I'd die so happy if my only son would stop and be a man!" But that cursed appetite, what a hold it had on me! It seemed as if I couldn't stop if I had been given all the money in the world.
I did love my mother dearly; I didn't care for any one in the world but her. Still, one of the meanest acts I ever did was to my mother. And such a good mother she was; there are not many like her!
She was in bed and had only a few weeks to live. One day she called me to her bedside and said, "Dave, I am going to leave you, never to see you again on this earth, but oh! how I wish you were going to meet me on the other side. Now, Dave, won't you promise me you will?" I said, "Yes, mother, sure I will." And she made me promise then and there that when she was dead, and waiting burial, I would not get drunk, at least while her body was in the house. I went down on my knees and promised her that I'd meet her in heaven.
She died, and the undertaker had been gone but a short time when I began drinking, and the day of the funeral I was pretty drunk. That was one of the meanest things I ever did. But I am sure that sometimes my dear mother looks over the portals of heaven, and sees her boy—a man now, a Christian—and forgives me. And some day, when my time comes, I am going to join her there.
I went from bad to worse, wandering all over, not caring what happened. I took a great many chances. Sometimes I had plenty of money, and at other times I wouldn't have a nickel I could jingle against a tombstone. I boated on the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, then up on the Lakes. I was always wandering, but never at rest, sometimes in prison, and sometimes miles away from human habitation, often remorseful, always wondering what the end would be.
I recollect, after being eighty-two days on the river to New Orleans, being paid off with over $125. I left the steamer at Pittsburg, and the first thing I did was to go and get a jug of beer. Before I got anywhere near drunk I was before Judge White, and was fined $8.40, and discharged. I wasn't free half an hour before I was arrested again, brought before Judge White, and again fined $8.40. After being free for about fifteen minutes, I was again brought before Judge White, who looked at me this time and said, "Can't you keep sober?" I said, "Your Honor, I haven't had a drink since the first time." And I hadn't. But he said, "Five days," and I was shut up for that time, and I was in hell there five days if ever a man was.
Out of jail, I drifted with the tide. I was arrested for a trick that, if I had got my just dues, would have put me in prison for ten years, but I got off with three years, and came out after doing two years and nine months.
When a person is cooped up he has lots of time to think. It's think, think, think, and hope. Many's the time I said, "Oh, if I only get out and still have my health, what a change there will be!" And I meant it.
Isn't it queer how people will say, "I can't stop drinking," but when they're in jail they have to! The prison is a sanitarium for drunkards. They don't drink while on a visit there. Then why not stop it while one has a free foot? I thought of all these things while I was locked up, and I decided that when I was free I would hunt up my wife and baby and be a man.
Prison at best isn't a pleasant place, but you can get the best in it if you behave. There's no coaxing you to be good. They won't say, "If you don't behave I'll send you home." It isn't like school. You have to behave or it's worse for you, for they certainly put you through some pretty tough things. Many's the time I got on my knees and told God all about it. If a man is crossing the street, sees a car coming, and is sure it will hit him, the first thing he says is, "Oh, God, save me!" The car misses him by a foot, and he forgets how much he owes. He simply says, "Thank you, God; when I'm in danger I'll call on You again." It was so with me. Out in the world again, I forgot all about all the promises I made in prison.
"SAVED BY GRACE"
Twelve years later, after a life spent on the road and in prison, I found myself on the Bowery, in the fall of 1892, without a friend, "down and out." After spending my last dollar in ——'s saloon, I was sitting down in the back room of that place, wondering if I dared ask —— for a drink, when in he walked. He looked at me, and said, "Now, Danny, I think you had better get a move on! Get out and hustle. You are broke, and you know I am not running this place for fun."
I took it kind of hard, but looked at him and said, "All right." I got up from the chair where I'd been sitting and walked out, not caring what I did, but bound to get some money. Now, —— was a good fellow in his way; they all are if you have the price; but saloon-keepers are not running their places for the benefit of others, and when a man's money's gone they don't want him around. I had spent all I had, about twenty dollars, and now I was turned out, and it served me right.
Now there's something in rum that fascinates, something we can't understand. I wanted whiskey, and was ready to do anything to get it. The appetite in me was fierce. No one knows the terrible pangs, the great longing, but one who has been up against it. And nothing can satisfy the awful craving but whiskey.
Many's the time I've stood on the Bowery and cursed God and the day I was born, and wished that I was dead. But here I was! Nobody cared for me, and why should they, for I did not care for myself. I did not even think God cared much or He would have done something. I imagined the Devil thought he had me for keeps, and so he did not exert himself very much either. I was out of the saloon, on the street, and little as I imagined such a thing would ever happen, I never entered ——'s saloon again. All unknown to me the turning-point in my life had come.
Sizing up the situation, I knew I must have a drink, but how was I to get it? Up to this time I'd done everything on the calendar except murder, and I don't know how I missed that. I've seen men killed, have been in a few shoot-ups myself, and bear some scars, but I know at this writing that God and a mother's prayers saved me from this awful crime.
Among the many accomplishments suited to the life I was leading was that of a "strong-arm man," and I determined to put it into use now, for I was desperate.
The rule in this dastardly work is always to select a man smaller and weaker than one's self. As I looked about I saw a man coming up the Bowery who seemed to answer to the requirements, and I said to myself, "This is my man!" I walked up to him and touched him on the shoulder, but as he straightened up I saw that he was as big as myself, and I hesitated. I would have taken the chances even then, but he started back and asked what I wanted. I said I was hungry, thinking that he would put his hand in his pocket, and then, having only one hand, I could put the "strangle hold" on him. But he was equal to the situation. He told me afterward that I looked dangerous.
I asked him if he was ever hungry. He said, "Many's the time." I told him I was starving. "Come with me," said he, and we went over to Chatham Square, to a place called "Beefsteak John's."
We went in and sat down, and he said, "Now order what you want." On the Bowery in those days you could get a pretty good meal for fifteen cents—all you wanted to eat. The waiter was there to take my order. I knew him and winked to him to go away, and he went. He thought I was going to work the young fellow for his money.
The young fellow said, "Why don't you call for something? I thought you were starving."
Now here I was up against it. I'd panned this man for something to eat, and he was willing to pay for anything I wanted, and for the life of me I could not swallow any food. When a man is drinking he doesn't care to eat at a table. Give him a square meal, and he doesn't enjoy it. I know men to-day who spend every dollar they earn for drink, and eat nothing but free lunches, handed out with their drinks. That was what was the matter with me. All I wanted was drink. The young man had called my bluff, and I had nothing to show but lies. I sat there wondering how I was going to get out of this hole. I was looking at the man and he at me, when the little good that was in me cropped out, and looking him square in the eye I said, "Young fellow, I've lied to you. I could not eat the first mouthful." I told him I'd gone up to him thinking he would dig down in his pocket and give me a little change. I did not mention the fact that I intended to "put him up in the air" and rob him. Then I sat back in my chair and waited for the "come-back." Finally he said, "Have some coffee and sinkers"—rolls. But I could not go even that!
We got to talking, and he asked me where I was living. I smiled at the idea of my living! I wasn't even existing! I told him I lived any place where I hung up my hat: that I didn't put up at the Astor House very often; sometimes at the Delevan, or the Windsor, or in fact, any of the hotels on the Bowery were good enough for me—that is, if I had the price, fifteen cents. You can get a bed in a lodging-house for ten cents, or if you have only seven cents you can get a "flop." You can sit in some joint all night if you have a nickel, but if you haven't you can do the next best thing in line, and that is "carry the banner." Think of walking the streets all night and being obliged to keep moving!
The man took a fifty-cent piece out of his pocket, held it in his hand, and asked me if I would meet him at the Broome Street Tabernacle the next morning at ten-thirty. Now I wanted that half-dollar, I wanted it badly! It meant ten drinks to me at five per. I would have promised to meet the Devil in hell for drink, and fearing the young man might put the money in his pocket again, I said I'd be there. He gave me the half-dollar, we shook hands, and I never expected to see that man again.
I didn't go back to ——'s, but to —— Bowery—another place that has put more men on the down-grade than any place I know. It's out of business now, and as I pass there every day I pray that all the saloons may go. I drank the half-dollar up in quick time, for with the Bowery element it's divy even with drinks.
BROOME STREET TABERNACLE
Morning came, and I wondered what I should do for the day. How I loved to stand and smell the liquor, even when not drinking! But now I hate it! Oh, what a change when Christ comes into a man's heart! I had stood there all night in that saloon and didn't feel a bit tired. I went out to "do" some one else, when I thought of the fellow of last night. I thought I had sized him up and that he was easy, so I started for the meeting-place, the Tabernacle. I went there to see if I could work him for a dollar, or perhaps two.
I got to the church and looked for a side door and found a bell which I rang. I did not have to wait long before the young fellow himself opened the door. Out went his hand, and he gave me such a shake that one would have thought he had known me all my life. There's a lot in a handshake! "I'm glad to see you!" he said. "I knew you would keep your promise. I knew you would come."
That took me back a little. Here was a man I had never seen till the night before taking me at my word. I wondered who he was. We went into the church. He was talking to make me feel at home. Finally he looked me over from head to feet and said, "Are those the best clothes you have?" I said, "These are the best and only clothes I have." I had my trunk on my back, and the whole kit, shoes and all, wasn't worth fifty cents. The way of the drunkard is hard. I had helped put diamonds on the saloon-keeper and rags on myself, but if there are any diamonds now I'll put them on my own little wife and not the saloon-keeper's. The young man said, "I've a nice suit that will fit you. Will you let me give it to you?"
Here was a situation that puzzled me. I was an old offender, had "been up" many times and was well known to the police. My record was bad, and whenever there was a robbery or hold-up the police would round up all the ex-convicts and line us up at headquarters for identification. Give a dog a bad name and it sticks. I was suspicious; a man that has "done time" always is; and when the young man said he had clothes for me, I put him down as one of the "stool pigeons" working in with the police. Since I'd graduated to the Bowery doing crooked work I imagined every one was against me. It was a case of "doing" others or they would "do" me. And I wondered why this man took such an interest in me. The more I thought the more puzzled I got.
I looked about me. I was in a church; why should he do me any harm? Then I thought that if I put on the clothes he might slip an Ingersoll watch into the pocket, let me get on the street, and then shout "Stop, thief!" I'd be arrested and then it would be away up the river for a good long bit. However, I'm a pretty good judge of human nature, and I thought I'd take a chance. It was a fine suit; and I could just see myself putting it in pawn, so I said I'd take it. But "there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and lip," and there was a strange slip in my case.
The young fellow said, "Don't you think you had better have a bath?" Well, I did need a bath for fair. A man sleeping in one bed one night and a different one the next, walking the streets and sitting around on park benches, gets things on him, and they are grandparents in a couple of nights. Of course I needed a bath! I was a walking menagerie! He gave me some money, and I went out and had a bath and came back with the change. He showed me where I could change my clothes, and there was a whole outfit laid out for me, underwear and all.
I thought the man was crazy. I could not understand. At last I got into the clothes, and I felt fine. I got a look at myself in the glass, and I looked like a full-fledged Bowery politician. I said as I looked, "Is this me or some other fellow?" I weighed one hundred and ninety pounds and was five feet ten inches tall.
I went into the young man's study and sat down. I did not know what was coming next, perhaps money. I was ready for anything, for I took him for a millionaire's son.
Up to this time he had said nothing to me about God. Finally he opened up and asked my name. I told him Dave Ranney, but I had a few others to use in a pinch. And I told him the truth; kindness had won.
He said, "Dave, why are you leading such a life? Don't you know you were cut out for a far better one?" I was no fool; I knew all about that. I had learned it in Sunday-school, and how often mother had told me the same thing. I knew I was put into the world to get the best, and glorify God; and I was getting the worst, and it was all my own fault. Here I was. I felt that no one wanted anything to do with me, no one would trust me, because I was a jail-bird. But I have found out since there are people that are willing to help a man if they see he is on the level.
"Why," I said, "a man that has no backing has no show in 'little old New York.' You even have to have a pull to get a job shoveling snow, and then you have to buy your own shovel! What does any one care? The politicians have all they want and are only looking for more graft. They need you just twice a year to register and vote. I know I'm crooked, and it's my own fault, I admit, but who's going to give me a chance? Oh, for a chance!"
The young fellow listened, then said, "Dave, there's One that will help."
I did not catch on to his meaning, but said I was glad and thanked him for what he had done. I thought he meant himself. "Not I," he said; "I mean God. Why don't you give Him a chance? Talk about men giving you a chance—why, God is waiting for a chance to help you!"
Just then my old friend the Devil came in; he always does when he thinks he is going to lose a convert; and he said in his own fine way, "Oh, what rot! Why didn't God help you before this? Don't bother about it; you have a nice suit; get out of this place and sell the duds and have a good time. I'll help you. I'll be your friend." He's sly, but I put him behind me that time.
It was easy enough for this man to talk about God giving me a chance, but he didn't know me—a hard, wicked sinner, who if half the crimes I had committed were known I'd be put in prison for life. Would God help such a one? I knew I was clean and had a good suit of clothes on, but, oh! how I wished God would give me another chance! But I felt as if He had no use for me.
The man put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I want to be your friend; will you let me?" I said I'd be proud of such a friend. "Now, Dave," he said, "there's One better than I who will stick to you closer than a brother; will you let Him be your friend?" I said I would, though I doubted if He wanted any part of me, but I was going to make a try; and the young man and myself knelt down in the Tabernacle, corner of Broome Street and Centre Market Place, on the 16th of September, 1892, and I asked God to have mercy on me, cut the drink out of my life, and make a man of me, if such a thing could be done, for Christ's sake. I kept praying that over and over again, the man still kneeling with me, when all of a sudden I heard a voice say, "I will, Dave; only trust Me and have faith." I heard those words just as sure as I am living, and writing this book. None but a Christian can understand this voice; others would say we are crazy who say such things; but it's true: only have faith, and all things are yours. I've proved it!
A NEW MAN IN CHRIST JESUS
I rose from my knees a changed man. I can't explain it, but I felt as I hadn't felt in years—lighter, happier, with a peace that was great in my heart. I thought of mother and only wished she could see me then, but she did all right.
"What will your friends say?" there was the old Devil saying. "Get out of this place, and don't be a fool; be a man."
I stood there listening to the tempter, when the young fellow said, "Dave, what are you going to do now that you have taken Jesus?"
I said, "I've knelt here and asked God for Christ's sake to make me a sober man, and I fully believe that He will. Drink has brought me down, and I'll die before I'll take another drink." And at this writing I'm over seventeen years off the stuff.
I asked the young fellow what his name was, and found that he was Alexander Irvine, lodging-house missionary to the Bowery under the New York City Mission of which Dr. Schauffler is the head. We shook hands, and before we parted we made a compact that we would be pals.
Isn't it wonderful what God can do? I don't believe there's a man or woman, no matter how wicked, no matter what sin they've done, but God can and will save, the only conditions being: Come, believe, and trust. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."—John 3:16. But you have to have some sand of your own.
ON THE UP GRADE
Mr. Irvine paid for my lodging and meals for a week at 105 Bowery. I thought he was great; I'd never run up against anything like him. He said, "We must get you a job of some kind, and that quick. Will you work?" Well, what do you think of that! Would I work? It struck me as funny. Work and I had fallen out long ago. I could lie down beside work and watch the other fellow do it. I had reached the point where, like a good many others, I felt the world owed me a living, and I was bound to get it. I had toiled hard and faithfully for the Devil, and taken a great many chances, and I never thought of that as work. And I got the wages the Devil always pays—cuts, shot, prison: I was paid good and plenty. Here I was up against another proposition—work—and I hated it!
Irvine said, "You must have something to occupy your mind and time, for you know the Devil finds mischief for idlers." I said I'd tackle anything; I'd work all right. A few days later he told me he had a job for me. "Good," I said. I wondered what kind of work it was. I knew it was not a position of great trust, not a cashier in a bank; that would have to come later on. Well, the job was tending a furnace—get up steam at 5 A. M., do the chores, and make myself generally useful; wages $12.00 per month and my breakfast!
I did not like this for a starter, and I told Mr. Irvine so, and he had to do some tall talking. He finally got angry and said, "Ranney, you started out to let God help you. Well, you know God helps the man that helps himself." That was so. I had asked God to help me, and here I was at the start refusing to give Him a chance. That clinched it, and I took the first honest job I had had in a good many years. I thank God I did take it, for it was a stepping-stone.
FISHING FOR A DINNER
I started in working and was getting on fine, but I always felt I wasn't getting money enough. I tried in my leisure time for another job, but in all the places I was asked the same question: "Where did you work last?" I could not tell them, "In prison and on the road," and that queered me. So I stuck to the furnace, was always on time, and was pretty well liked by the people. I had been there about two weeks, and seen the cook every day and smelled the steak, etc., about noontime and at supper, but the cook never asked me if I had a mouth on me. She was a good-natured outspoken Irish woman with a good big heart, and I thought about this time that I'd jolly her a little and get my dinner. One day I came up from the cellar carrying a hod of coal in each hand, and going into the kitchen I tried in every way to attract her attention, but she was busy broiling a steak and never looked around. Finally I got tired and said, "Cook, where will I put this coal?" Well, well, I'll never forget that moment in years! She turned and looked at me and began, "I want you to understand my name is Mrs. Cunningham. I'm none of your cooks, and if you dare call me cook again while you're in this house I'll have you sacked—discharged!" I thought I had been hit with a steam car. I did not answer her back, and she kept right on: "I'm a lady, and I'll be treated as such or I'll know why!" I never saw a person so mad in all my life, and I couldn't understand why. There she was cooking, and yet she was no cook! I thought to myself, "I guess she doesn't like her job." I didn't blame her, because I didn't like mine either.
My heart went down into my boots. Here I had made a play for a dinner and got left. About a week after this I was doing a little job in the laundry when I ran across the cook, and she said, "Young man, would you like a little bite to eat?" I answered quickly, "Yes, thank you, Mrs. Cunningham," just as sweet as anything. No more "cook" for mine. I'll never call people by their occupation again as long as I live. I'd had my lesson; but I had won out on my dinner too. A short time after she asked me if I could read, and would I read the news to her while she was peeling potatoes. I answered very sweetly, "Yes, Mrs. Cunningham," and I got my supper.
I would see Irvine once in a while, and I was always ready to give up my job, but he would say, "Stay six months, get a recommend, and then you can get something better. Just let God take care of you, and you'll come out away on top of the heap. God is going to use you in His work. Just keep on trusting and don't get discouraged." He always had a word of cheer, and I thank God that I did trust, and things came out better than I even thought.
You readers who are just starting out in the Christian life, just let God have His way. Don't think you know it all. Go right ahead, have a little sand, and trust Him. He will never leave you, and you will have the best in this life and in the life to come. It's an everlasting joy, and isn't it worth working for, boys?
PRAYERS IN A LODGING-HOUSE
I remember, when I knelt down in 105 Bowery beside my cot to ask God's blessing and guidance, how a laugh used to go around the dormitory. There were about seventy beds in the place, and it was something unusual to see a man on his knees praying. But when I started out to be a man I meant business, and I said I would say my prayers every night. I don't think God can think much of a man who says his prayers lying on his back, unless he's sick. I believe God expects us to get on our knees, for if a thing is worth getting it's worth thanks. I didn't mind the laugh so much, but I did some: it was sort of cutting. I'm no coward physically, and can handle myself fairly well at the present time, but when it came to getting on my knees I was a rank coward.
A lodging-house is a queer affair. Men of all nations sleep there—some drunk, some dreaming aloud, others snoring. The cots are about two feet apart—just room for you to pass between them. It takes a lot of grit and plenty of God's grace to live a Christian life in a lodging-house. I go in them every day now to look after the other fellow: if he is sick or wants to go to the hospital I'll see to that; but I never can forget the time when I was one of those, inmates.
One night I had just got on my knees when boots, shoes, and pillows came sailing at me; one boot hit me, and it did hurt for fair. Then a whiskey flask hit me, and that hurt. I was boiling with rage. I got up, but I didn't say anything; no one would have answered me if I had; they were all asleep, by the way. We call such business hazing, but it's mean and dirty.
I went to work as usual the next day, and thought and planned all day how to catch one of those fellows. I figured out the following plan: I did not go to bed that night until quite late; the gas was turned down low, and I made noise enough for them to hear me. When I was ready for bed I knelt down and turned my head as quick as a flash to catch the throwers, for I knew they would throw again. Just as I turned I caught the fellow in the act of throwing a bottle. It seemed as though the Devil had got me for fair again, for I made a rush for that fellow, got him by the throat, pulled him out of bed and jumped on him, and I think if it hadn't been for the watchman I would have killed him; but he said, "Dan, for God's sake don't kill him!" I let up, and, standing upon that dormitory floor, beds all around, every one awake, about 11 P. M., I gave my first testimony, which was something like this: "Men, I've quit drinking—been off the stuff about two weeks, a thing I have not done in years unless locked up. I've knelt and asked God to keep me sober and have thanked Him for His kindness to me. Now if you men don't let me alone in the future I'll lick you or you will me."
I went to my cot and knelt down, but I was so stirred up I couldn't pray. I wondered if there was going to be any more throwing, but that night finished it. I went up in the opinion of those men one hundred per cent. I lived there until the place burned down, and was one of the fortunate ones that got out alive when so many lost their lives, and I always said my prayers and was respected by the men. I was making lots of friends and attending Sunday-school, prayer-meeting, and mission services.
THE STORY OF AN OVERCOAT
One Thanksgiving-time I was hired to carry dinners to the poor families by the New York City Mission. Mrs. Lucy Bainbridge was the superintendent. God bless her, for she was and is one good woman! I didn't have any overcoat and it was cold; but I didn't mind, as I was moving about carrying the dinners. This was about two months after I had decided to follow Christ, and I still had the furnace job when I met Mrs. Bainbridge.
She knew me by sight and asked me how I was getting on, and where was my overcoat? I told her I was getting along all right, but I had no overcoat. She said, "That's too bad! Come with me and we will see if there's one in the Dorcas Room"—a place where clothes are kept that good people send in for the poor who haven't so much. There were quite a few coats there, any one of which would have suited me, but they didn't please Mrs. Bainbridge. She said, "David, come into the office." She gave me a letter to Rogers, Peet & Co., and told me to take it down there and wait for an answer.
I went down and gave the letter to a clerk, and it was great to see him eye me up. I didn't know then how the letter read, but have since learned that the contents were as follows: "Give this man about the best overcoat you have in the store." No wonder he looked me over!
We began trying on coats, found one that suited us, and he said, "You might as well wear it home." "Not on your natural!" I said. "Put it in paper or a box." I didn't think that coat was for me, for it was fifty dollars if a cent. Picture me with twelve dollars per month and three meals, and a fifty-dollar overcoat!
I went back to Mrs. Bainbridge, and she told me to try the coat on, which I did. Then she said, "David, that coat is for you, but listen, David; that coat is mine. Now I wouldn't go into a saloon, and I want you to promise me that you will never enter a saloon while you wear it." I promised, and that coat never went into a saloon, and I wore it for five years. Then I sent it to old Ireland, to my wife's father, and perhaps he is still wearing it. I often see Mrs. Bainbridge, and she is always the same kind friend, God bless her! I have entry to the Dorcas Room when I need anything to help a man that I'm trying to put on his feet, and that's often.
DELIVERING TELEPHONE BOOKS
It was coming spring and I was no longer needed at the furnace. I left with a recommendation for six months and a standing invitation from the cook for my meals, and she never went back on me. I don't know where she is now, but if she reads this book I want her to know that I appreciated all she did for me when I started this new life and I am sure she will be delighted to know that she helped a little.
I got another job delivering telephone books. When you see a poor seedy-looking man delivering these books, give him a kind word, for there's many a good man at that job to-day hoping for something better. This job was a hard one and you had to hustle to make a dollar a day, but I did not mind the hustling: I was strong, the drink had gone out of me, and I felt good. I was anxious to get a job as porter in some wholesale house, and delivering these books gave me a good chance to ask, and ask I did in nearly every store where I delivered a book. I always got the same reply, "No one wanted." I stayed at this about three months, and was getting discouraged. It looked as though I'd never get a steady position.
I had only a few more days of work, and was just finishing my deliveries one afternoon. I had Twenty-second Street and North River as my last delivery, which took me into the lumber district and into the office of John McC——. I asked the young man in charge of the office if they wanted a young fellow to work. He asked me what I could do, and I said, "Anything." Now it's an old saying, "A man that can do everything can't do much of anything."
We went down into the yard and he asked me the different qualities of lumber and their names. I'll never forget the first question he asked me, which was, "What's the name of that piece of timber?" I said, "Oak," and I was right. After testing me on the other piles he asked me if I could measure, and could I tally? I told him I could, and he said, "I'll give you $9.00. Is that enough?" I said that would do for a starter, and he told me to be on hand at seven o'clock in the morning.
I delivered the few books I had left, drew my money, got a shave, bought a leather apron, and went to bed. I was up and at John McC——'s yard at 6:30.
He was Police Commissioner then, and one of the whitest men I ever ran up against.
I started in at my third job since I had been converted. I was at home in the lumber yard, as I had learned the business While roughing it in Tonawanda, Troy, Syracuse, Buffalo, and on the Lakes. And when a man learns anything, if he isn't a fool he can always work at it again. Here I was at a business few could tell me much about.
TESTIFYING IN A LUMBER YARD
The lumber-handlers as a rule are a free and easy set, nearly all drinking men. It's warm work, and when a man is piling all day, pulling up plank after plank, he thinks a pint of beer does him good. They rush the can—first the piler, then the stager, and then the ground man, then the piler again, and so on. I've counted as many as twenty pints in one day among one gang. I soon got the run of the yard and made friends with all the men; but if ever I was up against temptation it was there in that yard, where I worked a long time. They would ask me to have a drink, but I told them time and time again that I did not care about it; I was off the stuff.
Often when I was sweating after pushing down a load of lumber from the pile and keeping tally at the same time, the Devil would whisper to me, "Oh, have a glass of beer; it won't hurt you; it will do you good," and I was tempted to join with the men and drink. I had to keep praying hard and fast, for I was sorely tempted. But, thank God, I've yet to take my first drink since 1892!
God was always near me, and He often said, "Tell the men all about it, how you have asked Me to help you, and they won't ask you to drink any more." I wondered what the men would say if I told them. I was a little timid about doing it. I had testified once or twice in a meeting, but that was easy compared with this. But after a while I got up courage and told the men why I did not drink. I said, "I have been a hard man and loved drink so much that it separated me from family and friends, put me in prison, and took my manhood away. One year ago I took Jesus as my helper and asked Him to take away this love for drink, and He did. I would rather lose my right arm than go back again, and with God's help I'll win out and never drink again." I often talked with them about it, told them it was a good way to live, and to think it over. I found out in a little while that the men thought better of me, and respected me more than before. I have heard some of them say, "I wish I could give up the drink," and some did, and are living good lives without the cursed stuff.
I've met some of these men on the Bowery, "down and out," and I've stood by them and tried to point them in the right direction. There's one man, a fine noble fellow, who used to work with me in my lumber days, who is on the Bowery at the present time, unable to give up the drink. He is always glad to see me and says, "God bless you, Dan, and keep you away from the stuff. I wish I could!" I tell him to ask God and have faith, and then I slip him a meal ticket and give him a God bless you!
I had never lost sight of my friend Irvine. We used to see each other often and have a good chat about things in general. He said he was going to take charge of the Sea and Land Church and wanted me to come and be the sexton. It would give me $30.00 per month, rooms, coal and gas. He thought it would be a good thing for me to become reunited to my wife Mary, and I thought so too, but she had to give her consent. We had been separated for a number of years, and though I had been calling on her for over a year she never took any stock in my conversion. Here I was fifteen months a redeemed man, trying to get my wife to live with me again. I prayed often, but I never thought she would consent.
CHURCH OF SEA AND LAND
I was married young, and she was only a girl, and though she loved me she could not forget the misery and hardships she went through. I never hit her in my life, but I wouldn't support her: I'd rather support the rumseller and his family, all for that cursed drink. And I didn't blame her for being afraid to chance it again. "A burnt child dreads the fire." I had made her life very hard, and she was afraid. She was glad to know that I had given up drink, but doubted my remaining sober. Finally she agreed to live with me again if I remained sober for three years. I was put on probation—the Methodist way. Now I had been on the level for fifteen months, and I had twenty-one months more to go. She was strong-minded and would stick to her word, so I did not see how I could take the job as sexton.
I told Mr. Irvine that was the way things stood and for him to get some one else. He said, "Pretty slim chances, but we will pray about it." He and I went up to Sixty-seventh Street, where Mrs. Ranney was working as laundress, and after a little talk we came to the point. I was a go-ahead man, and tried every way to get her to promise to come down, but she wouldn't say yes. I'll never forget that night in the laundry if I live a hundred years; she took no stock in me at all. I was giving it up as a bad job; she wouldn't come, and that settled it. We got up to go when Mr. Irvine asked if she would object to a word of prayer. She said, "No," and we had a little prayer-meeting right there. We bade Mrs. Ranney good-night and left.
The next night she came down and we showed her all over the church. The sexton who had been living there hadn't kept the living apartments clean, and she did not like them very much, but when she went away she said, "If I only could be sure you would keep sober I would go with you, but I can't depend on you. Fifteen months isn't long enough; you will have to go three years. I don't think I'll come." I said, "That settles it! But listen: whether you come or not, I am not going back to the old life." The next day I received a telegram from Mary saying,
"COME UP FOR MY THINGS."
I jumped on a single truck, drove up to Sixty-seventh Street, and got all my wife's things, trunks, band-boxes and everything, and it did not take me long to get down to the church. Mary was already there, and I took charge of the Church of the Sea and Land at Market and Henry Streets, where I remained as sexton for ten years. I would not take $10,000 for the character I received from the trustees when I resigned. I always look back with pleasure to those good old days at the church, the many friends we made, and the many blessings I received while there.
It did not take us long to get the run of the place. We sent for our boy, who was in Ireland with his mother's folks. When he came I didn't know him, as I hadn't seen him since he was a little baby. What a surprise it was when at my sister's house, after supper, she went into the front room, leaving me alone in the kitchen, when a manly little fellow came in and looked me over and said, "Hello, father, I'm your son Willie. How are you?"
I looked at him, but couldn't say a word, for I had almost forgotten that I had a son. I opened my arms and the boy came with a rush, threw his arms around my neck, and said, "I love you, dad."
I want to say here that this boy has never given me any trouble and we have been companions ever since that night. He married a good Christian girl and is in his own home to-day.
I heard a little laugh, and there were my sister and Mary taking it all in. I could see then that it was a put-up job, this getting me to go up to my sister's house.
Time passed and we were doing finely. One day we heard the boy playing the piano, and we got him a teacher. In a short time he was able to play for the smaller classes, the juniors. Then my friend Mrs. Bainbridge got him a better teacher. He improved rapidly, and now he is organist in the Fifty-seventh Street Presbyterian Church.
I tell you it pays to be a Christian and on the level. If I hadn't done anything else but give that boy a musical education, it would have paid. I'm proud of him.
MY FIRST SERMON
I remember the first meeting I ever led. It came about like this: I had been sexton of Sea and Land Church about four years, was growing in grace and getting on finely. One Wednesday night the minister asked me if I would lead the prayer-meeting the following week, as he was going away. I told him I did not know how to lead a meeting and I was afraid to undertake it, as I couldn't preach a sermon. "Oh, that's all right," he said. "I'll write out something, and all you will have to do is to study it a little, read it over once or twice, then get up and read it off." I told him I'd try. I'd do the best I could. So he wrote about ten sheets of foolscap paper, all about sinners. I remember there was a story about a man going over the falls in a boat, and lots of other interesting things as I thought. I took the paper home and studied as hard as I could to get it into my head.
The night came on which I was to take the meeting—that eventful night in my life. I got on the platform, took the papers out of my pocket, and opened the big Bible at the chapter I was going to read, and laid out the talk just as I thought a minister might do. I read the chapter, then we had a song, then it was up to me.
Do you know I made the greatest mistake of my life that night! I went on that platform trusting in my own strength and not asking God's help. I got a swelled head and imagined I was the real thing. But God in His own way showed me where I was standing and brought me up with a short turn.
I began reading the article written, and was getting on well, as I thought, taking all the credit myself and not giving God any. I read three pages all right, when some one opened the window. It was a March night, very windy, and when the window was opened something happened, and I thank God that it did.
The wind came directly toward me and took the sermon I was preaching and scattered it all over the room. I didn't know what to say or do. I forgot everything that was written on the papers, and I knew if I tried to get them back I would make a fool of myself.
There was a smile on every face in the congregation. There I stood, wishing the floor would open and let me through. I certainly was in a box!
Just at this moment God spoke to me and said, "David, I did that, and I did it for your own good. Now listen to me. You were not cut out for a minister. Just get up and tell these people how God for Christ's sake saved you, and I'll be with you."
I listened to the voice, bowed my head in prayer, and it seemed as though the Lord put the words in my mouth. I told that roomful of people of my past life and how God saved and had blessed me for four years. We had a grand meeting and a number were saved that night, and, above all, I received one of the greatest blessings of my life.
On his return the minister said, "I hear you had a great meeting. How did the reading go!" I told him what had happened, and he was astonished, but saw God's hand in it, and said so.
From that night on I never wrote up anything to read to my audience, and I have spoken all over within a circle of fifty miles of New York, and even farther away, including Boston, Philadelphia, Albany, and Troy. I tell the Bowery boys I'm what is called an extemporaneous talker. I don't know the first word I'm going to say when I get on my feet, but God never leaves me: I just open my mouth and He fills it. Praise His name!
It was a lesson to me and I have never forgotten it.
THE TESTIMONY OF A GAMBLER
While I was sexton of the old Sea and Land Church I met among other men one who came to be a great friend. We called ourselves pals and loved each other dearly, and yet I have never been able to bring him to Christ. When I told him I was writing the story of my life he said he wanted to add a few lines to tell, he said, what I could not. This is what he wrote:
"'Lead, Kindly Light,' was the song; I'll never forget it. I heard it on the Bowery fifteen years ago. I was passing a Mission, and hearing it I went in—I don't know why to this day. After the singing some one prayed, and I started to go out when the leader of the meeting called for testimonies for Christ. I waited and listened, and I heard a voice that made me sit down again. I shall never forget the man that was speaking. What he said sounded like the truth. It was the greatest sermon I ever listened to. He was telling how much God had done for him, saved him from drink and made a Christian man of him. I knew it was the truth. I went home that night to wife and children, and told my wife where I had been. She laughed and said, 'Dan, you are getting daffy.' From that night on I have been a better husband and father.
"I left home one night about six o'clock and went down Cherry Street to a saloon where the gang hang out. I had been telling the boys about the things I had heard at the Mission. A young man said, 'Sullivan, there was a young preacher down at my house and asked me to come to a young people's meeting at the Sea and Land Church. I promised I would go, but I haven't got the courage.' In a moment I got churchy. I had never been in a church in New York. I said, 'Come on,' and we went to that meeting. I am glad I did. That night I met my friend Ranney. As I was passing out of the meeting he greeted me—he was the sexton—with a handshake and a 'Good-night, old pal; come again!' There is something in a handshake, and as we shook I felt I had made another friend. I'll never forget that night. We became fast friends. There is no one that knows Ranney better than Sullivan. I have watched him in his climb to the top step by step to be in the grand position he fills, that of Lodging House Missionary to the Bowery under the New York City Mission and Tract Society.