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other texts that say almost the same; and he told us we were always to ask Jesus when we wanted any good thing, and He'd be sure to give it to us, if it was really good for us and we only believed that He would; and so, mother, I was thinking hadn't we better ask Him to give father a new heart for a new-year's gift?"
"I'd be glad enough to ask, if I thought it would do any good," said his mother, "but I've so often prayed for it and there seemed no answer."
"But, mother," persisted William, "you've always told me that Jesus was good; and if He is, He couldn't say what He didn't mean, could He? And He's strong too, mother; don't you remember how He cast the devil out of men when He lived on earth?"
"Yes, He did that," said Mrs. Murray, a look of fresh hope coming into her face. "Oh, William, I think the Lord has sent me a message through you! I'll pray again, and I'll try to believe."
William said nothing, but went quietly into the little closet where he slept, and, kneeling down, he asked the kind Saviour to come into their home and bless his poor father, and give him a new heart, that mother might have a happy new year. And in the child's heart there was a child's faith in the certainty of an answer. Sarah Murray, too, in the kitchen, spread her case before God, pleading that He, whose power the devils themselves could not withstand, would cast out this strong demon of love of drink from her husband's heart; and ringing in her ears all the time, with a most encouraging sound, were the words which William had just quoted, "If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it."
It was easier after that to begin her household work cheerfully easier, when the besotted-looking husband came downstairs an hour afterwards, to speak to him gently and almost brightly, and wish him-though the words seemed almost mockery-" a happy new year."
"A happy fiddlestick!" was his answer, as he sat down in
front of the fire and surveyed the breakfast-table, which was placed near it in readiness for him. "This isn't the kind of breakfast to make a man feel very happy," he said, in an injured tone.
"It's all I can afford, James," said his wife; "it would please me well to get you better food, if you'd give me more money; but you know I'd only three shillings from you last week, and that just paid the rent, and we've had to live on Will's earnings, and, poor fellow, it goes against me to take his wage when he needs it so much for clothes; his jacket's very near through at the elbows."
Sarah Murray almost wondered at her own boldness in saying so much. It was seldom now that she ventured any remonstrance to her husband; but there was a kinder look on his face than usual as he listened; and, as William just then entered the kitchen, he called him to his chair, and, turning him round, he looked with some interest at the neatly-patched, but shabby suit. "It ain't over and above smart," he remarked; and then, with a momentary flash of right feeling, he added, "and Will's our only bairn, and a good lad too; we ought to keep him decent."
William felt a strange choking sensation at words of such unwonted kindness from his father; and Sarah Murray wondered whether the answer to prayer had already come! But both mother and son were doomed to a sore disappointment when, five minutes afterwards, James Murray rose from the table, and putting on his hat, said he "would take a look outside." They knew well enough what that meant, but the eager words of entreaty that he would stay at home just for this once, that rose to William's lips, were checked by his mother's look of utter hopelessness.
"Oh, mother, don't look like that!" he said, beseechingly, when the door closed after his father. "You have asked Jesus to bless him, and you'll see he will. You'll get your new year's gift after all."
Oh, William! he seemed so much quieter and more like what he used to be !" was Sarah's only reply; and when
William left the house to go on an errand, the troubled look remained on her face. Was her prayer indeed to avail nothing? But there was not time for many thoughts before the door was reopened, and James Murray came in with a white, scared face, and sat down once more in the chair near the fire, shivering as he did so, as much from fear as from cold. Sarah did not venture to question him, but she went to the fire and stirred it into a brighter glow, as if in welcome of his return.
"Jim Larkins 's dead!" he said at last, in a dreamy tone. as if speaking to himself.
"Jim Larkins!" exclaimed his wife; "however has that happened, James ?"
"It's given me quite a turn over," he went on, speaking in the same tone; "I met them just now as I went out of the house, carrying him home dead; and it was only last night that I left him sitting at the 'Swan,' as likely for life as any one."
"Then how has it happened?" asked his wife again, more eagerly.
Nobody knows exactly," he said; "he was pretty fresh, they say, when he left the 'Swan' about twelve o'clock, and nobody saw him any more till this morning, and he was found lying on the snow, stiff and cold."
"Poor Mary Larkins !" said Sarah, shuddering; "whatever will she do with all those little bairns to bring up ?"
"As well without him as with him; better, may-be," said her husband, bitterly; "she'll get more nor three shillings a week from the parish, and that's all you say you get from me; and I'm sure he's spent as much in drink as I have." And then he fell into a moody silence; and Sarah, thankful that a spark of reflection had been kindled, though by an awful occurrence, in her husband's mind, went on praying as she moved quietly about the kitchen, making the poorlyfurnished room look as bright and comfortable as possible. William had not returned; and every moment she dreaded that her husband would throw off the effects of the shock
he had received from his comrade's death, and go out to seek the terrible destroyer which had that morning made poor Mary Larkins a widow, and her children fatherless. She wishes she had even a newspaper to engage her husband's attention, and make the time hang less heavily. But just then there was a knock at the door, and, opening it, she saw Miss Stewart, the daughter of a lady at whose house she occasionally worked; Miss Stewart's brother also was William's teacher at the Sunday school, so the trials and privations of Sarah Murray were well known to the whole family; and that morning at breakfast, amidst their own enjoyment of new-year's blessings, they had planned a little treat for that desolate home.
"Good morning, Sarah," said Miss Stewart. "I have come to wish you a happy new year, and to bring you a little gift if you will accept it ;" and opening a basket she carried, she playfully let Sarah peep at the treasures within.
"Please come in, miss, do," said Sarah, with a brightening face; it was so seldom that a new-year's gift came to her door.
James Murray was still sitting in an absorbed way, with his back to the door, and did not turn or appear to notice the visitor; and she, a little timid at first at sight of him, went up to the table, and, again lifting the lid of the basket, began to spread out its contents. First there was a nice new book, sent by Mr. Stewart to William, as a reward for good behaviour at school. Then some numbers of the "Cottager," with their large, pleasant pictures.
"I thought Mr. Murray would like these," Miss Stewart said, and crossing the room she offered them to him with a gentle grace which a rougher man than he would have found it difficult to resist. He took them with a gruff “Thank ye,” and began at once to look at the pictures, whilst Miss Stewart returned to her unpacking. A small Christmas cake came next, then a packet of tea, three mince pies, and a few oranges and apples.
But though the basket was now emptied, the pleasant
surprise was not over.
Miss Stewart had a parcel as well as the basket, and opening it she produced a warm woollen shawl, as a present from her mother to Mrs. Murray; and lastly, from an envelope in her pocket, she took out two square pieces of cardboard, and laid them on the table.
"These are tickets for the temperance tea-meeting tonight," she said. "I thought you and your husband would like to go. William will be at the school tea, so you will There will be very interest
not have to leave him at home. ing speaking after tea. Mr. Murray," she continued, turning again to the silent figure by the fire, "I shall be so pleased to see you there, for I am sure you would enjoy it, and enjoyment of that kind leaves no sting behind."
Still there was only a muttered response; and Mrs. Murray, whose heart was brimming over with thankfulness at the young lady's kindness, felt sadly pained that his conduct should appear so uncivil. Still she hoped that it was not really so, for she saw in his face signs of unusual emotion, and as soon as Miss Stewart took her leave, and he turned to the light, there were traces of tears having been roughly wiped away, and his lip quivered as he spoke.
"I'd do a good deal to please a nice-spoken young lass like that," he said. "I expected she'd have given me a fine dressing down for going to the public-house, and if she had I ha' given her as good again. People has no business to come into other folks' houses and go meddling with their concerns. But she called me Mr. Murray-maybe she don't know I only gave you three shillings last week. I didn't feel as if I exactly deserved to be called Mister, for I haven't been quite as respectable as I might be; but I don't see why I mightn't hold up my head with any of the men, if only I could give up the drink."
"And will you go to the meeting to-night, James ?" asked his wife, almost trembling with joy, for she had heard no words like those from his lips for years past.
"Well, I don't know. It'll make me look small enough to go and sit down amongst all the decent folks with this