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coating of ice, and the east wind made itself felt in keen, cutting blasts. A few of the more healthy might perhaps enjoy the severity of the weather, and, clad in their thick, warm garments, fearlessly face the biting cold. Not so, however, the poor inhabitants of a crowded East-end district . Many of the men were thrown out of employment by the frost, and their wives and children suffered accordingly. The searching winds quickly discovered the thin places in their scanty clothing, and made its way into their homes through the cracks and chinks in the ill-fitting doors and windows. Coals were difficult to get whilst money was so scarce, and many a cherished article had to be "put away" for the sake of the little it would fetch.
Early in the day a lady started out from her home armed with a list of names, and a corresponding number of relief-tickets, the gift of a generous friend of the poor. Quickly she passed from house to house, finding everywhere more or less distress, until at length she stood before a small dwelling in a narrow court. A pleasant, tidy-looking woman appeared at the door in response to her knock.
"Mrs. Fullen, did you say, ma'am? Yes, she lives here; first door up the stairs. But if you'll wait a bit, I'll strike a match, and then you'll see your way. It's black up them steps!" And no wonder they were dark; not a ray of light could reach the staircase except through a long, narrow passage, and only then when the front door stood open.
But the landing above was safely reached, thanks to the friendly light; and tapping at the door indicated by her good-natured guide, the visitor soon found herself standing within Mrs. Fullen's room. It was a sorry sight that met her gaze. The place itself was very small. One half of the room was occupied by the bed; between that" and the fireplace stood a small wooden table and two chairs; no other furniture had been possible; as it was, only squeezing room was left.
But it was the woman herself whose appearance was so miserable. She was kneeling before the grate, coaxing into flame a handful, literally a mere handful, of coals and wood. Her face was pale and drawn, her fingers blue with cold. She rose up as her visitor introduced herself, and apologized for the icy coldness of her room.
"You'll find it chilly, ma'am, but I haven't had no fire till now. My landlady, she brought me up those few coals, and I've been trying to get a bit of heat out of 'em; but its freezing to-day, it is !" and she shivered again.
"But you don't live here all alone, do you?" asked Mrs. Willis. "You have a husband, I think?"
"Yes, ma'am," she said, "but he's out now trying to get something to do. But it's poor work; it is only a wearing of shoe-leather, as I say sometimes. The truth is, he's getting too old for work; people like younger men than him. That's how it is we've been so badly off of late. I've never known anything like it afore."
"And have you no friends to help you?"
Tears came into the woman's eyes. "Never one left now, ma'am; they're all dead and buried, or gone away. I've got two sons, but one's a soldier and can't help me, and the other's got a large family of his own, and it's as much as he can do to keep body and soul together. He'd help me if he could, poor fellow, but you see he can't. No, I've got no friends."
"Then I think I have come just at the right time," said Mrs. Willis cheerily, and she explained her errand.
But the unexpected help was more than the poor woman could bear in her present weak state. She broke into sobs and laid her head on the table. "You must excuse me, ma'am," she presently said, "but you don't know how badly off we've been. We hadn't a thing to eat this morning, and I just made my old man and me a cup of tea, and that was all I'd got in the house. And when he'd gone off on his tramp, I sat down and cried like a baby, for I didn't know what was to come of us. And then I wondered if God Almighty would listen to me if I prayed to Him, and I thought it could do no harm trying. And I did get out a few words, but it seemed bold-like of me to speak to Him. But now you've come; do you think that He sent you? It would hearten me up wonderful to know that He did hear."
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She looked up with her hungry eyes, eager to know what her visitor thought .
"Of course He heard you," said Mrs. Willis, gently. "You must not think of doubting that. He knew your wants and needs, and sent me here this morning to meet it. It was Jesus Himself who taught us to say, 'Give us this day our daily bread.' You asked Him for yours this morning, and now that it has come you will be able to thank Him for it."
"Ay, that I will. I wish I'd thought more about these things," added Mrs. Fullen wistfully. "I used to hear about 'em when I was a girl, but they've almost clean gone out of my head since then. You don't know, ma'am, the worries and cares of poor folk's lives. It's struggle, struggle, struggle, and little comfort for all your work. Look at what I've come to, and I've worked hard in my time, and gone out charing, but I ain't fit for it now. I'd be willing to do it if I could, but there's no strength left in me; and how we're going to live I don't know." And once again, tears filled her eyes.
"Poor thing," said Mrs. Willis kindly, "I can sympathise with you, though, as you say, I do not know your special trials. But one thing I do know, that there is a Friend in heaven who cares for you, and that your trials are the very reason why you should come to Him. See how He has answered you this morning. Just now you said that you had no friends left, but you had forgotten God, and you cannot want a more loving, sympathising friend than He is to all who seek Him. And don't forget that He is Almighty. Your own sons, with all the good-will in the world, are not
able to help you, but'all power belongeth unto Him.' I must go now, for time is pressing, but I should like you to remember this short verse: 'Casting all your care upon God, for He careth for you.'"
It was some time before Mrs. Fullen could fix the words in her memory, but at last the simple text was learnt, and Mrs. Willis took her leave.
More than a month passed rapidly away. Christmas time was drawing near. Many were eagerly looking forward to the special enjoyments of the season, to the happy meetings with their friends, and to the merry games in the dear familiar home. But very different indeed were the anticipations of the anxious, toiling men and women who scarce could keep a roof above their heads. The approaching Christmas time would bring but little cheer to them. The children might buy their penny branches of fir and laugh around their tiny Christmas-trees, but their parents knew that the coming holidays meant less chance of work for them, with still greater stress of poverty. Still, what matter in eternity the roughness of life's short journey, if only it end at length in the glorious home of the heavenly Father.
Once again Mrs. Willis started out to visit as before. She had almost forgotten the circumstance mentioned above, but the dark staircase speedily recalled it. The landlady was not at home, and she was left to grope her way up the winding stairs as best she could; no easy matter! But she found Mrs. Fullen within her room, and the poor woman's memory was fresh. "I am that glad to see you, you can't tell," was her warm greeting, and a chair was dusted many times before it was considered fit for the use of her visitor.
"And how have you been getting on?" inquired the latter.
"Oh, God has been so good to me," she said, "I don't know how I've lived, but somehow it has come. I've never been so badly off as that day you came. I don't mean I've had anything to boast of, but something has always turned up when I wanted it. And I've begun to pray quite regular. I can't say much, I don't know how to, but He do hear the few words I say, I'm quite sure of it. But oh, ma'am, you don't know what a comfort those words have been to me. I lay at night and say 'em over to myself, 'Cast all your care on God, because He cares for you.' That was it, wasn't it? But it do seem so wonderful. He cares for me, for me. Why, at times I can't believe it, it seems too good to be true."
Mrs. Willis thought she would never forget the intensity of feeling put into the words "for me, for me." The poor woman went on: "I'd heard the neighbours speak of a meeting where they go as poor as me, so I tidied myself up a bit and went. And now I've been there twice. It's nothing grand, so I can understand it all. I've been thinking over what the gentleman said last time about Jesus, how He was a poor man, and so He knew our troubles. And to think of His being born in a stable! And the angels told the shepherds, and they was poor men too. it seems like as if it was all written there for folks like us, now don't it? But I haven't told you all; you don't know what a wicked sinner I've been. I hadn't thought much about it, but one night I seemed to see it so plain. My sins all came to mind, and I felt afraid. I shut my eyes and hid 'em up beneath the bed-clothes. And then I seemed to hear you say again, 'Cast all your care on God, because He cares for you.' So I told Him all about it, I didn't keep nothing back, and I asked Him to forgive me. I can't help hoping that He will. I don't think He'd have heard me before, if He didn't mean to."
Gladly, then, Mrs. Willis told her of the full, free salvation offered to every seeking sinner by the Lord Jesus Christ. Mrs. Fullen's sense of sin was not so very deep, may be. Those many years of carelessness had rendered her indifferent to much that was evil and wrong. But at last she had come to see that needed pardon from the God against whom she had sinned, and she was in earnest to get it. She
listened intently to the story of a Saviour's love, of His death