'Father, It's To Keep You Warm'
Phoebe Turner was not, I think, a very clever child, but she was a loving little girl, and liked to help her mother with the housework and the mending. Phoebe's father was a gasfitter, and he had been very comfortably off until he fell from a ladder and broke his right arm, and he was not able to work for many months. Mrs. Turner having both her husband and baby to nurse, could not earn anything, and so the family had to go into poor lodgings, and little Phoebe, who was then ten years old, had no time to play, for after school hours she was always busy.
When Joseph Turner's arm got strong enough, he went to work, but as he had many debts to pay, and winter was coming on, the family had to live hard and work hard; and the smile went out of Phoebe's eyes, and the tears came in them very often. But she tried to be cheerful for her mother's sake, and Mrs. Turner had some trouble that she did not speak of to her child. But Phoebe, like most other thoughtful little girls, did not require to be told when her mother was sad. She used to notice that Mrs. Turner went out of an evening just before the time that her husband came home from work: and sometimes Phoebe thought that her father looked and spoke -crossly to her mother when they came in together, as if he was not pleased at her meeting him. Gasfitters' hours of work do not end in the daytime they often have to work long after dark, and so, when the nights grew long, Mrs. Turner did not go out; but as she put her baby to bed, and then heard Phoebe read a Psalm or a chapter, and pray her evening prayer, there would be tears in her eyes which, when Phoebe noticed, she would wipe hastily away. Often the little girl kissed her dear mother's wet cheek, and laying her head close, would whisper, "Don't fret, mother."
You see Mrs. Turner was a good woman. She prayed with and for her family. But sometimes God in His love tries His people's faith by troubles, which in the end often make them wiser and better; just as hard lessons repeated over and over at school strengthen the memory and improve the mind.
It came into Phoebe's thoughts that somehow her father's accident, when he broke his arm, had made her mother timid; for Mrs. Turner said to her husband one day, "Oh, dear Joseph, let that be a warning to you, as long as you live; to keep your head clear and your foot steady."
Phoebe had never seen any strong drink in her home. She knew that her mother never took any, and she knew also that strong drink made people foolish, sickly, poor, and often wretched; for that every child knows. She could not go along the street to school without sometimes seeing that sad object a drunkard: and among her school-fellows she knew that some who came late, and who were not neat and clean and well behaved, came from homes made wretched by drink. And she had been taught to pity and pray for, and never to despise the drunkard's poor children.
It happened that Phoebe's baby brother fell ill, and required all his mother's care night and day for some time, and one Saturday, just about four o'clock, when it was getting quite dark, Mrs. Turner said, " You must go and meet father, Phoebe."
Now for once the little girl was not quite willing to go. A young lady who visited Phoebe's school had taught her to knit, and had given her a bag of ends of tangled wools, which Phoebe was drawing out straight, intending to knit them up, if she could, in some way. But Mrs. Turner had taught her child to be obedient, and so, with a little sigh at leaving an employment she liked, away went Phoebe.
"You must not go quite to the workshop, Phoebe your father may not choose that; but if you stand at 'Shaw's Corner' you cannot fail to see him come from work; and just you run to him and say baby has been not much better, and that it will be a comfort if he can come home tonight ; say that but speak cheerfully, child."
I believe Phoebe thought it rather odd that her mother should seem afraid that the father might not be glad to see his little daughter. But she said nothing and went off, having put her treasure wool-bag safely away.
The London streets in winter, when it is not frosty, are often what is called greasy, which is worse than frost, and Phoebe's boots were getting soft and worn, so that she slipped about on the pavement, and could not run as she had meant to do. This made it rather later than the proper time for meeting her father before she got to "Shaw's Corner." Indeed on looking along toward. the workshop she saw it was closed. She wondered she had not met her father in the street, for she had come the nearest way from home.
Now "Shaw's Corner" was a big flaring gin palace, with two great swinging doors that opened with a touch, and led into two streets whose angle made the "Corner." Indeed these doors were so contrived that people could make a cut through the one and out of the other without going round the corner outside. And many men, and I am shocked to write it many women, were pushing in and out at these two doors.
Phoebe stood a moment, as I said, looking at the shut up workshop; and then she gazed round, vexed at having missed her father, when a ragged woman, with a pale baby hanging across her arm, came pushing out of one of the swing-doors, and a decent man who was passing in the street said, "Take care of that child's head, or it will be crushed with the swing of that door," and with a look of disgust on his face at the wretched mother, he held the door open a minute until she got out, and a policeman standing by said, " Go home with that poor child while you can."
But Phoebe, though she heard these words, was intent on something else. As the door had been held open in the glare of the light she saw her father, standing at a sort of a counter, and holding a glass to his lips. In a moment, as the woman passed out, Phoebe brushed by her, and darting amid the throng, ran instantly to her father, and as one of his hands was hanging down she took it in both hers, and being all in a flutter with the strange place, she did not know what else to do, but to put her lips to his hand and give it a kiss.
It was a wonder Turner did not drop the glass he had just drained. He gave such a start, and Phoebe's clasp was so tight, that he actually lifted her from the ground, with the grip of his hand, as he looked down and saw her.
"What, Phoebe, child! how came you here?" he said in a startled, half angry tone.
Then the child, now terribly frightened at the noise and strange people, pressed up still closer to him; and he lifted her up in his arms, as she tried to give her mother's message in a whisper to his ear. " It'll be a comfort, mother says, if you come home to tea."
Turner held his child so close that she could feel his heart beating as she nestled her head on his bosom. He threw some money on the counter, strode out, and did not put Phoebe down, until they were quite out of sight of " Shaw's Corner." Then, though she was but a small child of her age, she began to wish to walk, and not be carried.
As soon as she was at her lather's side, she could not restrain two questions—" Father, dear, why did you go to that dreadful noisy place? and what did you drink out of that glass ?
"I was cold, child, and I drank just a drain to keep me warm. Now be quiet, and ask no more questions, and don't talk about it I hate chattering children."
This was said in a tone that silenced Phoebe she understood that no more was to be said; and when they got home the doctor had just come to see baby, who was worse, and so Mrs. Turner never asked, and therefore did not know what Pheobe knew of the way her father warmed himself.
Phoebe in after years has said that she was very sad that night when she went to bed, and that she thought about the misery that drink brings and wondered if such a little girl as herself could do anything to keep her father from drinking.
I do not know for she never told me whether she prayed for help, but I do know that every loving wish and strong desire to do our duty has God's blessing on it, and that little children have thus often been made ministers of good to those they love.
Owing to baby's illness, Phoebe did not go to school the next week; and when she sat by the cradle watching him, she not only wound up her tangled wools, but found enough, although of different colors, to knit into a chest-warmer, mostly of white wool; and a pair of cuffs of red and black wool in stripes. How busy she was at every spare moment, and by Friday night she had finished them. Mrs. Turner did not take much notice just then of anything but her sick child. So Phoebe said nothing of her plan. But on Saturday morning, as baby was better, Mrs. Turner was resting awhile, and Phoebe was right glad to get up very early and make her father a cup of coffee before he went out. He praised her, and called her "quite a little woman; " and then coming close up to him, she took his hands and began to slip over them the warm woolen cuffs.
"What are these, child?" he asked in a gruff voice.
"Father, dear, it's to keep you warm. You said you were cold, you know; and that made you drink in that bad place. Now these will keep you warm, not for a minute, but ever so-long. They'll last you all winter."
He was silent, and half shy of looking up at him, she added, holding the chest-warmer, " And, father, here's this, too, to put inside your shirt; it's called in my knitting-book "—and here she laughed, a little nervous laugh " it's called a 'bosom friend.'"
Something warm just then fell on her face it was a tear-drop! and so she looked up at her father, and there was the strong man bending over her, and his voice was thick with sobs as he said:
" God—make—me—worthy of you—my child. Lord help me! You've warmed my heart."
He rose up to go, and kissed her; then when he had shut the door, he opened it again, and turning back to her, whispered
I shall need no drink; your loving gift shall warm me, God helping me, from this time." He lifted his cap and stood a moment silent, and then he was gone.
Phoebe was a very happy child that day, for baby began to get well; but she never knew quite, what a good work she had done, until, some few years after, she heard her father relate in a meeting, how his "little girl's tiny fingers" had been the means of arresting him in a down-ward course.
"I had broken my arm through drink, and I was breaking my wife's heart and breaking up my home, when God made my child's hand the means of saving me. To him be all the glory."
I think Phoebe was a very happy girl, and I know she grew up in a loving home, where temperance and piety had, by God's grace, brought into the dwelling " the peace that passeth all understanding .—"
( Originally Published 1887 )
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