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Sarah Murray's New-Year's Gift.
OTHER, I wish you a happy new year; please will you give me a new year's gift ?" said Will Murray, coming with a bright face into the little kitchen. where his mother was preparing breakfast. Snow had fallen heavily through the night, and Will had been out betimes to clear a path in front of the house; and as he did so, he had so often heard these words from the groups of boys who were besieging almost every house in the street with their clamorous greeting, that it was natural for him to repeat them merrily to his mother when he came in. But he was sorry he had done so when he saw what a cloud came over her care-lined face.
"I only wish I had a new year's gift for you, William," she said; "I can put up with pinching for myself, but it's hard to see your jacket so thin this cold weather, and to have nothing better for your breakfast on new-year's morning than dry bread, and this drop of warmed tea. I've been planning for weeks back how to buy you some new clothes for a new-year's gift, but when father don't bring home scarce any of his wages, and I've only your small earnings to depend on, I can't manage it anyhow."
"Oh, mother, don't trouble yourself," William said, eagerly; "you know I never mind as long as I can help you a bit. I wish I was only a man, and got a man's wages, and then you should live like a lady, mother, and have buttered toast and good coffee every morning to breakfast."
The mother smiled for a moment, but the sad look came back again: "We should never have much comfort in the house, William, however much money you might bring home, unless father was to take a turn, and there seems little hope of that."
Sarah Murray did not often speak of her husband's drinking habits, not even to William, who was her only child,
and a great comfort to her; but this morning she was unusually depressed. The social brightness of the season; the thought of so many homes where the father would be a source of joy and blessing to all within the house; the wishing of good wishes, and giving of gifts, and plentiful supply of good cheer that might have been in their house if her husband had been different; all these thoughts filled her heart with a great sorrow as she looked round her little room, so clean and yet so bare, and then glanced at William, and saw how thin he was, and how his threadbare jacket and trowsers scarcely reached to his wrists and ankles. William was an intelligent-looking boy of twelve years; and his mother thought how well he would have got on if he could have had good schooling and good clothes.
Sarah Murray knew and loved the Saviour, and many times, in the past years of deep trial which no one knows more surely than the drunkard's wife, she had turned to Him for rest, and had found it; but let no one wonder that sometimes, and on this new-year's day in particular, her faith nearly failed, and she was ready to ask, "Hath God forgotten to be gracious?"
Mother and son sat very quietly at their meagre breakfast ; the cloud on Mrs. Murray's face had overspread William's too, and she reproached herself for having said anything to make him sad on new-year's morning. Suddenly he looked up: Mother," said he, "do you think the Bible's true?"
"I should think I do, William," she said, startled by this question; "why do you ask such a thing?"
"Because, mother, if it's true, shouldn't we go by what it says ?"
"I'm sure I try to do what it says," answered his mother; "but I'm a poor weak woman, and often find it hard work."
"Oh, but mother, I didn't mean doing, but believing. Jesus Christ says, 'If ye ask anything in my name, I will do it.' I know all about it, for teacher made us all learn that verse last Sunday; and then he turned to a good many
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