Visiting the Poorhouse
I am not old—though time has set
His signet on my brow,
And some faint furrows there have met,
Which care may deepen now—
For in my heart a fountain flows,
And round it pleasant thoughts repose,
And sympathies and feelings high
Spring like the stars on evening sky.
It was evening in the late summer, and Edwin was sitting upon the porch. He had been reading, but the paper had fallen carelessly by his side. In the western sky the beautiful tints of gold were rapidly changing to the deeper shades of lavender and crimson, and as he gazed upward among the drifting clouds, he seemed lost to his earthly surroundings. So enraptured and carried away with his meditation had he become that he did not notice the approach of his faithful wife as she came to take her place beside him.
“Edwin, your thoughts tonight seem to be very far away indeed,” she said. “I hope that you are thinking of things that are pleasant?”
With a smile and a word of welcome, Edwin awoke from his reverie and said:
“Yes, Wife, my thoughts were pleasant. In imagination I was living over again some of my early experiences.”
“If that is the case, my dear, I greatly fear that a part of your thoughts were not as cheerful as they might have been,” his wife said as her chair was drawn closer. Taking the hand that was scarred and disfigured in several places by abuse in his childhood, she continued: “I fear that many things concerning your childhood would be very hard indeed if you were forced to live them over again even in thought.”
“Yes, Wife, that is true. There were many hard and bitter things, which are indeed painful to recall, especially those pertaining to my mother. To know that she has left this life without any hope for the future world, feeling that such was unnecessary, is hard, but it was not of her nor of her attitude toward me that I was thinking altogether. I was meditating upon my life as a whole. You see, more than fifty summers and winters have passed since I left the poorhouse in my boyhood days, and I have passed well over the best part of my life. I am now on the downward slope of life’s mountain of years, and it will not be long until I shall be entering the valley of the shadow of death.”
The soft fingers of the gentle wife closed more tightly over the hand they held, as she said:
“Yes, dear, neither of us is young any more, for the silvery threads are already in our hair; but whether our years on earth are few or many, I believe that we both are ready to enter into the presence of our Lord at any moment that He should call for us.”
“I have no fears on those lines, Wife,” Edwin said, while his eyes were still upon the beautiful horizon; “for I have the sweet assurance within my soul that I am a child of God and that I am on the road that leads to eternal bliss and glory for all who are faithful unto the end. But this evening as I sat here gazing upon the beautiful handiwork of God, I wondered what could be awaiting us in that brighter and better world beyond the grave.”
“That is not for us to know now, Edwin, but some day the curtain will be drawn aside, and I am sure that the scene will be all the brighter for our having had to await God’s time to reveal to us the mysteries that He has for a time thought best to veil.”
The silence that followed seemed too sacred to be broken, and the gathering darkness crept slowly about them. When the last shade of crimson had left the sky, Edwin said:
“I have been thinking of the many good things that have come to me in this life, and the manner in which they have come. It seems that God’s hand has been over me ever since I can remember, and as I look back now I can see that God has always been my Guide ever since I chose to do the right because it was right to do it, and that even in my extreme ignorance, when I knew nothing of God’s existence, He guided my steps and enabled me to live a life that was upright and consistent in the eyes of the world. Then, when I had no earthly friend who was able to unfold the mysteries of the future world to my entire satisfaction, He became my Teacher and taught me how to be born into His heavenly family. Surely it was only through His divine protection that I have been brought through all my perplexities to the present time. Then as I was thinking about my childhood home at the poorhouse, a great desire to visit the place again crept into my heart. It seems to me that it would be a comfort to stand once more upon the same ground and to see the scenes that I beheld at the time when I was a helpless waif.”
“Fifty years, Edwin, have probably made many changes, and nothing would seem the same to you now. It could not be as it was when you were a child.”
“That may all be true,” Edwin replied, “and yet the more I think about it, the greater becomes my desire to go and visit the place again. If you could give your consent, I should be glad to go at once.”
“That you certainly have,” his wife said earnestly, adding, “I will gladly do all in my power. Edwin, to help you to prepare for the journey.”
Three days later Edwin kissed his wife good-by and with his handbag in his hand started for the railway station. After boarding the train he had a long and tiresome journey, but at last it was at an end. Alighting from the train, he stood for a moment upon the platform, trying to think which way to go. Noticing a man standing near, Edwin inquired the way to the poorhouse, and finding that the distance was not too great to walk, he was soon wending his way in that direction.
In that section of the country the land was quite level, and long before Edwin reached the place, he could see the large brick building that, during his stay there, was the quarters of the vicious and insane. He wondered if it was still used for the same purpose and if the same sights and sounds could be seen and heard. In a little while he was in front of the place that was his home half a century before.
Leaving the highway, he passed through the open gateway, and a picture of his uncle in the buggy with the little, forlorn poorhouse waif sitting beside him arose in his mind. Looking about, he wondered if either Mr. Engler or the chore-boy Jim were in sight; but he was not long in discovering that a new manager (or “steward” as he was called) by the name of Blohm had taken Mr. Engler’s place and that no one could tell him the whereabouts of Jim. He was beginning to realize that what his wife had said concerning the changes of fifty years was true, but the greatest surprise was before him.
The room in which he had been left by his heartless mother was still as fresh in his memory as when he had left it to go to his mother’s home. When a moment later he stepped inside the up-to-date office that was in the main building, he could scarcely believe that the apartment was the same that he had known years before. Nothing, not even the couch upon which the cruel-hearted woman had laid her helpless babe, was there, for all the furniture was bright and new.
Here he met Mr. Blohm, and after introducing himself as one who had formerly been an inmate of the home, and relating some of the Lord’s dealings with him, he told a little about his checkered experiences and ended the story by telling of his divine commission to preach the gospel. After all this explanation he was shown every possible favor and looked upon as an honorable guest. In fact, he was taken by Mr. Blohm himself all over the establishment.
A few of the inmates whom Edwin had known in his childhood were still living, and although they were greatly changed in appearance, he recognized them as the same persons. When he passed through the long hall, he thought of the time that he had followed Mr. Engler on his way to meet his uncle in the office, and he took a special look at the very spot where he was standing when the steward gave him the order to come.
Passing outside, he was told to examine a large marble stone that had been placed in the side of the building, and he found that all the names of the different managers, including August Engler’s, were there. In another large building he found the bakery, and in this busy place the greater part of the cooking was still done. As he passed through the large double doors that divided the two apartments, everything seemed for a moment as it had been fifty years before, for just outside he could see the spot where he with other children had stood looking down into the bakery, hoping to receive from someone a crust of bread or a stale biscuit.
At dinner-time he was conducted into the large dining-room. There he found many tables neatly spread with food that was good and wholesome, and it was plain to be seen that the needs of all had been taken into consideration. One special table had been assigned to the management and special workers, and it was there that Edwin was offered the seat of honor. It is needless to say that he greatly enjoyed the good, substantial meal, for he was very hungry after all his exertions.
After dinner he continued his investigations, and as he went about from place to place, he seemed to be living over again a part of the past. He recognized the place in which the old lady had taught him the words, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” and as he remembered the comfort that he had realized while repeating them, his heart throbbed with gratitude to the One who knew and understood his childish desire to live right. At night he was shown to a clean and comfortable bed, and there he fell asleep with the past as a sacred dream.
In the morning Edwin arose feeling greatly refreshed and ready to enjoy another day in the county poorhouse, but before noon he re-entered the main office and wrote a letter home to his beloved wife. It read:
“Dear Wife: Greeting in Jesus’ name. I am sure that you will be anxious to hear from me and of my eventful journey. To me this has been a wonderful experience, and although it is true that everything is greatly changed, there are certain associations with every place that bring a flood of remembrances. The changes are principally in the people, however, and their manner of living, for very few buildings have been added or torn away.
“From the window where I am sitting I can see the old well where we children used to pump the cold water on our dry bread. I can also see the path leading down to the large turnip-patch, and as I watch the waving tops, I can imagine myself a child again eating the round white balls, dirt and all. I have also taken a stroll about the yard, and stood upon the very spot where I used to stand when watching the queer actions of the insane and listening to their horrible sayings. The large brick building for the insane, of which I have told you in the past, is still as I remember it, except that it is no longer needed for the insane, and the gratings from the doors and windows have all been removed. That part of the work is taken care of by the state asylum, and this building is now used for the weak and feeble-minded women. There is also another building where the men of this class are cared for by special workers.
“When it became known that a former inmate of the infirmary was a Christian and a minister of the gospel, it was considered a great honor to the establishment, and I have been requested to take charge of the morning service in the chapel next Sunday. I have already had the privilege of explaining some verses to a few, and some who knew of my early disadvantages confess with shame their own lack and wish for an experience like mine.
“Do pray for me that I may be the greatest blessing possible while I am here, and with the prayer that God will bless and keep you until we meet again, I will close.”
That Edwin’s visit at the poorhouse was profitable, both to himself and to others, it is needless to say. On Sunday he preached to a large audience, and he was privileged also to visit and pray for many who were unable to meet in the chapel. Thus, he who was once a poor waif in this institution was enabled to be a help and a blessing to those who were still unfortunate.
When Edwin returned home, he and his wife stayed in the cozy living-room until a late hour talking over the events of the past few days. Before retiring, he reached for the Bible, and after he had read a chapter, they knelt together in prayer. In earnest, fervent supplication and praise he opened his heart to the One to whom he was so greatly indebted.
“O Lord,” he prayed, “Thou hast been so merciful to me all my days! Thy hand of love and protection hath been over me wherever I have been. Thine eye hath guided my feet past many pitfalls that I could not see. In my weakness Thou hast been my strength. In my ignorance Thou hast been my Wisdom and Teacher. When friends forsook me Thou wast mindful of my needs. When others misunderstood Thou hast been my Comforter. To Thee, O God, I render thanks for all Thy benefits, for Thy saving and keeping grace that hath reached even to one so unfortunate as I. And now, O Lord, grant that all the remainder of my days, be they few or many, may be spent for Thee and for others who have not yet learned to love Thee and to know of Thy great goodness. To Thee we commit ourselves for the night and place our hands in Thine for future service, knowing that when our work on earth is ended, Thou wilt gather us home to live among the faithful forever. Amen.”
There is little else to say of Edwin’s life except that his determination is still on the increase to help men and women to understand their need of a Savior and to instruct them in the ways of the Lord. As we draw the curtain over the life of the once-unfortunate poorhouse waif, we should not rejoice alone because he has been able to rise above his difficulties but also because his divine Teacher will instruct all who will be taught.
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21)