The Half-Crown

 •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 5
IT was a cold winter's afternoon, when the snow was lying in patches on the ground, and more snow seemed just ready to fall. A girl called Effie had, nevertheless, started on a long walk to the nearest town. A narrow, winding lane led to the town, and about half-a-mile before the town was reached, the lane took a sudden turn, and passed in front of a row of wretched cottages. They were not the pretty, old thatched cottages of country villages, but they were like a row of dirty houses from the worst part of London, moved just as they were to the side of this country lane. The people who lived in them, too, were not like the country people we see here, with clean smock-frocks and sun bonnets, but they were dressed in the grimy, ragged clothes that the poor wear in the London back streets, with bits of dirty finery here and there stuck on the bonnets of the women and girls. But some had no bonnets and no caps, and their long, rough hair hung about their faces.
As Effie turned the sharp corner at the end of this row of cottages she found herself in a crowd of these people, men, women, and children all huddled together, some laughing and some shouting. To her great relief a policeman, whom she knew, forced his way through the crowd, and said to her, “I will see you safe past, miss. There's a fight going on, and I shall have to stop it, but I will see you safe through the gate into the field path, first." The policeman then made a way for Effie to cross the road to the wicket gate, and as they passed through the crowd she saw the horrible sight of a man and woman fighting furiously. Their sleeves were tucked up, and their fists doubled. They were just making a violent rush at one another, when the policeman, who had seen Effie safe the other side of the gate, seized the man and led him off to the door of his wretched house. He then shut the door upon him, and ordered the crowd to disperse. The woman remained standing in the road. She was quite young, scarcely grown up. She had a coarse, but not altogether ugly face. Her old straw bonnet was torn to tatters, and her rough black hair streamed in the bitter wind.
The policeman came back to Effie and said, "I hope it has not frightened you.”
“No," replied Effie, "but it was a dreadful sight.”
“And the most dreadful part of it," said the policeman, "is that the man and the girl who were fighting are a father and daughter!”
As the policeman spoke these words a window was thrown open in the top story of the house, and the father's enraged face appeared there. Shaking his fist, he shouted to the girl below, "Get you gone! You will never put your foot inside this door again. Be off with you, you wicked, good-for-nothing hussy.”
“If I'm wicked and good for nothing," replied the girl, in a loud, sullen voice, "it's your fault for bringing me up as you did.”
The father made no answer. He shut down the window with a bang, and disappeared. The girl stood for a moment looking at the window. Then she turned towards the town, and walked slowly on, dragging her ragged, slipshod shoes along through the half-thawed snow. Her gown hung in tatters, and she had only an old, thin shawl, in tatters also.
Effie walked on, following this wretched girl, and soon overtook her. "Where are you going?" she said.
“I don't know," said the girl. "I haven't nowhere to go.”
“Where will you sleep to-night?”
“I don't know; I haven't no place to, sleep in.”
“Have you no friends or relations in the town?”
“No, I don't know any one nearer than St. Albans, and that's ten miles on.”
“Do you think you can get there tonight?”
“No, I couldn't walk so far; and it'll be dark in an hour or two.”
Effie was perplexed. She, too, knew no one in the town to whom she could apply for a shelter for the girl. But she did not think that the Lord Jesus would like her to leave the girl wandering about in the snow without a home. Dad as she was, Effie knew that He cared about her. Suddenly she remembered that there were five good old ladies, all unmarried sisters, who lived together in the town, and who were very kind to the poor for the love of the Lord Jesus. Effie did not know them, but she determined to go and ask them what was to be done.
“What is your name?" she said to the girl. "Anne.”
“Very well, Anne, now come with me. Tell me when you last had anything to eat?
The girl thought for a minute, and said, "It must have been this time yesterday.”
“You have had nothing to-day? How hungry you must be! You see that baker's shop. Take this twopence, and go in there, and buy some bread, and wait there till I come back.”
Anne looked pleased. I am not sure whether she had the manners to say "Thank you.”
Effie meanwhile hurried off to the pleasant old brick house of the five old ladies. But alas! even on that cold afternoon they were one and all out, and not likely to be home for some time. Effie walked back slowly in the direction of the baker's shop. She knew not what to do next. As she passed the shoemaker's, she remarked in the shop two ladies who were trying on shoes. She knew them only by sight, but she had often heard that they were people who loved the Lord Jesus. She felt sure that for His sake they would help her. So she went into the shop, and told them the sad story of Anne, and that she was now eating her bread at the baker's shop down the street.
The kind ladies went immediately with Effie to see what could be done, It was now beginning to get dark. "You must go home," they said to Effie, "for you have a long way to go. Leave the girl to us. We will take her to a safe lodging, and think what is the best thing to do with her afterward. We will let you know tomorrow, when we have inquired more about her, what seems to be the right plan.”
Effie thanked them warmly for their kindness, and Anne looked quite softened at finding that there were really people in the world who cared what became of her.
The next day the kind ladies sent Effie a note. They said that the town missionary had been down to see Anne's father, and had persuaded him to take her back, and to treat her well for a few days; but he would not allow her to go on living at home, and it would be a pity if he did wish it, for the whole family were such low, bad people—the only hope for Anne would be to take her away, and put her somewhere amongst kind Christian friends who would care for her, and try to train her into the ways of a tidy servant girl. As she was, nobody would take her as a servant, nor would she be fit to do any of the work required in a decent house. "There are nice homes in London," the lady went on to say, "where girls are trained and taught, and we will inquire about them, and let you know when we have found the right place.”
A few days later the direction was sent to Effie of a training home, where Anne could be taken in at once, and kept for some months till she was fit to be a servant. The payment would be five shillings a week. Effie at that time had no money, but she knew there was no time to be lost, and that God would provide all that was wanted, so she went to the wretched house at the corner of the lane, and asked to see Anne's mother. A tall, gaunt, hard-faced woman, with frizzly hair, made her appearance. Effie told her the plan that had been made for Anne, and asked her if she was willing to let her go to the home.
“I'm willing enough," replied Mrs. B. "She's only going to the bad here at home, and I don't know what to do with her.”
“Very well," said Effie. "They will have room for her next week, on Thursday, so I will tell them to expect her.”
“It's no use for them to expect her," replied Mrs. B., "unless I go with her every step of the way, for, as sure as she gets to London, she'll be off tramping about the streets, and just keeping away from every place where she'd be put to work at anything.”
“You shall take her, then," said Effie. "Will you promise me to take her on Thursday, next week?”
“Well, I will if I can," said Mrs. B. "But you see, miss, I haven't a penny for the railway ticket, and I shall want a return-ticket for myself, too. Half-a-crown that will be altogether, and how am I to get it?”
“I will send you the half-crown by Thursday," replied Effie. So the matter was settled.
Effie had no half-crown. Her last penny had been spent at the baker's shop. She knew no one to whom she would like to go for help. Most of her friends were shocked at her for having anything to do with the people who lived in the disreputable cottages. But I do not think the idea ever came into her mind of asking anyone for half-a-crown. God is always able to provide us with everything that is really needful. She told no one therefore what she wanted.
So day after day passed on. Monday evening came; a relation asked Effie to go with her to London the next morning, to spend a few hours there. They were to go by train, and the station was two or three miles off. Effie preferred walking there, and promised to be at the station by the time the carriage arrived with her relation. The snow had now completely thawed, and the roads were in a terrible condition. Effie reflected that her muddy country boots would be an unwelcome sight in the London drawing-rooms; she therefore put on some thin house boots, with high india-rubber goloshes over them. On reaching the station she took off the goloshes, and asked the ticket man if he would kindly take care of them till her return. In the afternoon, when she came back, he returned her the goloshes, and she walked home in them. She was taking them off in her room when something fell out of one of them. It was half-a-crown.
“That is for Anne," was her first thought.
Her second was, "The half-crown belongs to the railway company. The ticket man will find his accounts wrong this evening; he must have dropped it into the golosh.”
She remembered that the gardener, who would be just starting to go home, lived near the station. She ran down to him, and gave him the half-crown, desiring him to explain to the ticket man where she had found it.
Had Effie known all that she found out later on, namely, that the gardener was both a thief and a drunkard, she would certainly not have trusted him on such an errand. But a power greater than the love of drink directed the gardener's steps that evening. He walked past two public-houses, and delivered his message honestly.
The next morning he brought back the half-crown. "The ticket man found his accounts all right," he said, "and he wished me to say he had no right to the half-crown, and that it would be impossible to find the owner, as no doubt some traveler dropped it who may be far in the north by this time.”
So Effie had no scruples about sending the half-crown to Mrs. B. She felt now the more sure that she need not trouble herself about the five shillings which would be due each week that Anne remained at the home. She therefore left the whole matter in the hands of Him to whom all the silver and gold belongs, on the earth and under it.
A few days later she received a letter from the matron of the home. Anne was going on well and happily. But the reason of the matron's writing was to ask whether Effie would allow a gentleman who had called at the home to pay for Anne. This gentleman had been brought by a friend to see the home. He had been very much pleased with it, and had said that he would like to pay for a girl. The girls were then all sitting at their work, and the gentleman, looking all along the row, had pointed to Anne, and had said, "That is the girl I would like to pay for.”
So now all was settled, and Effie had nothing to do but to thank the Lord for thus providing all that was needed. What became of Anne? This is a sad part of the history. She went on well for a time, and learned enough to be able to take a place as servant. Bat she did not remain long in her place; she came back to her old home. Effie then saw her again. She was wonderfully altered. She looked 'neat and respectable, and her hard, coarse face was softened, and had even a kind and almost sweet expression. A short time after her return, she came to tell Effie that her little sister, who was nine or ten years old, was very ill.
“I believe she's going to die," said Anne;” but she is quite happy. She says she wants to die and go to Jesus. It was a little hymn-book that I brought from the home that has made her feel like that. She makes me read it and sing it to her, and she says Jesus loves her, and has washed all her sins away. It's beautiful to see her, and to hear all she says.”
A day or two later the little girl left her wretched home to go to the Good Shepherd who had come to seek and to save her. But poor Anne gave no proof that she, too, had been saved. She was a very different girl from the rude, wild Anne of former days; but she owned she could not feel as her little sister did, just for the reason that she had never believed, as the little girl had done, in the love of Jesus to her. She had not taken God at His word, that He laid upon His blessed Son the iniquities of lost sinners, and that by Him all who believe are justified from all things.
“Christ died for our sins." Five little words! Yet to believe them is to be saved.
Anne went away soon after, and, I believe, married an ungodly man. It may be that some of the texts and hymns she learned in the home have come back to her since, and that the bread cast on the waters has been found again after many days; or it may have been for the sake of the little sister that Anne was taken for a time where she could hear of Jesus, and become the owner of the hymn-book which led the little girl to the Saviour. We shall know some day. Meanwhile, let us learn from all that the Lord does how He can and will provide for every real need, and let us go to Him in perfect trust to tell Him all our wants, even if it be but the need of half-a-crown. F. B.