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Full text of Little Nellie
Several years ago, I was asked to preach to the convicts in the state prison in Michigan City. I sat on the platform while the prisoners marched in, 700 men, young and old. They marched in lockstep, every man’s hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him. At the word of command they sat down. Among them there were seventy-six “lifers,” men who had life sentences for murder.
After the singing I stood up to preach, but I could hardly speak for weeping. Disregarding all the rules of the prison, I left the platform and walked down the aisle among the men, taking one and then another by the hand and praying for him. At the end of the row of lifers sat a man who, more than the others, seemed hardened by his sins. His face was seamed with scars and marks of vice and sin. He looked as though he might be a demon incarnate, if once aroused to anger. I placed my hand on his shoulder and wept and prayed with him and for him.
When the service was over, the governor said to me, “Well, Kain, do you know you have broken the rules of the prison by leaving the platform?”
“Yes, governor, but I never can keep any rule while preaching. And I wanted to get close to those lonely men and pray for them and tell them of the love of Jesus the Saviour. He came ‘to seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19:10). ‘This man [Jesus] receiveth sinners and eateth with them’ (Luke 15:2).”
“Do you remember,” asked the governor, “the man at the end of the line in the lifers’ row? Would you like to hear his history?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Well, here it is in brief. Tom Galson was sent here about eight years ago for murder. He was, without doubt, one of the most desperate and vicious characters we had ever received, and, as was expected, gave us a great deal of trouble.
“About six years ago, duty compelled me to spend the night at the prison, instead of at home as I had anticipated. Early in the morning I left the prison for my home, my pockets full of presents for my little girl. It was a bitter cold morning, and I buttoned up my coat to protect myself from the cutting wind that swept in from the lake. As I hurried along, I thought I saw somebody hiding in the shadow of the prison wall. I stopped and looked a little more closely, and then I saw a little girl, scarcely clothed in a thin dress, her bare feet thrust into a pair of worn-out shoes. In her hand she clasped tightly a small paper parcel. Wondering who she was and why she was out so early in the morning, and yet too tired to be interested, I hurried on. Hearing someone following, I stopped, turned around, and saw the same neglected-looking child.
“‘What do you want?’ I asked sharply.
“‘Are you the governor of the prison, sir?’
“‘Yes. Who are you, and why are you not at home?’
“‘Please, sir, I have no home. Mamma died in the poorhouse two weeks ago, an’ she told me just before she died that papa, that is Tom Galson, was in prison, an’ she thought that maybe he would like to see his little girl, now that mamma is dead. Please can’t you let me see my papa? I want to give him a present.’
“‘No,’ I replied gruffly. ‘You will have to wait until visitors’ day,’ and I started on.
I had not gone many steps when I felt a pull at my coat, and a pleading voice said, ‘Please, don’t go.’ I stopped once more and looked into the thin, beseeching face before me. Big tears were in her eyes, while her chin quivered with emotion.
“‘Mister,’ she said, ‘if your little girl was me, and your little girl’s mamma had died in the poorhouse, an’ her papa was in the prison, an’ she had no place to go an’ no one to love her, don’t you think she would like to see her papa? If your little girl came to me, if I was governor of the prison, an’ asked me to please let her see her papa to give him a present, don’t you—don’t you think I would say, Yes?’
“By this time a big lump was in my throat, and my eyes were swimming in tears. I answered, ‘Yes, my little girl, I think you would, and you shall see your papa.’ Taking her hand, I hurried back to the prison, thinking of my own fair-haired little girl at home. Arriving in my office, I told her to come near the warm stove, while I sent a guard to bring Tom Galson from his cell. As soon as he came into the office, he saw the little girl. His face clouded with an angry frown, and in a gruff, savage tone he snapped out, ‘Nellie, what are you doing here? What do you want? Go back to your mother.’
“‘Please papa,’ sobbed the little girl, ‘mamma’s dead. She died two weeks ago in the poorhouse, an’ before she died she told me to take care of little Jimmie, ’cause you loved him so, an’ told me to tell you she loved you, too— but, papa,’ and her voice broke in sobs and tears, ‘Jimmie died, too, last week, an’ now I am alone, papa, an’—an’ I thought, maybe as you loved Jimmie, you would like a little present from him.’
“Here she unrolled the little bundle she held in her hand, until she came to a little package of tissue paper, from which she took a little fair curl and put it in her father’s hand, saying, as she did so, ‘I cut it from dear little Jimmie’s head, papa, just afore they buried him.’
“Galson by this time was sobbing like a child, and so was I. Stooping down, he picked up his little girl, pressed her convulsively to his breast while his big frame shook with suppressed emotion.
“The scene was too sacred for me to look upon, so I softly opened the door and left them alone. In about an hour I returned. Galson sat near the stove, with his little daughter on his knee. He looked at me sheepishly for a moment, and then he said, ‘Governor, I haven’t any money.’ Then suddenly stripping off his prison jacket, he said, ‘Don’t let my little girl go out on this bitter cold day with that thin dress. Let me give her this coat. I’ll work early and late; I’ll do anything. I’ll be a man. Please, governor, let me cover her with this coat.’ Tears were streaming down the face of the hardened man.
“‘No, Galson,’ I said, ‘keep your coat; your little girl won’t suffer. I’ll take her home with me and see what my wife can do for her.’
“‘God bless you,’ sobbed Galson.
I took the girl to my home. She remained with us a number of years and became a true Christian by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
God’s Book shows man’s need and God’s remedy. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“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).
Tom Galson also became a Christian, and then he gave the prison authorities no more trouble.
Several years later I visited the prison again. The governor asked me, “Kain, would you like to see Tom Galson, whose story I told you a few years ago?”
“Yes, I would,” I answered.
The governor took me down a quiet street and, stopping at a neat home, knocked at the door. The door was opened by a cheerful woman, who greeted the governor cordially.
We went in, and then the governor introduced me to Nellie and her father, who, because of the governor’s information, had received a pardon and was now living an upright Christian life with his daughter, whose little gift had broken his hard heart.
“Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). And He died for YOU! Won’t you, too, trust Him?
“When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).