THE LAST SILVER COIN
Past ten o’clock on a dark night. The raggedly dressed men accompanying him was a complete stranger to nineteen-year-old Hudson Taylor who fingered a silver coin to make sure it was still in this pocket. He looked around him rather apprehensively. He had been along these poor, narrow streets before. Even in broad daylight they were not inviting. Now, with street lamps flickering feebly at the corners of dark alleys, and suspicious-looking people sling into doorways, the neighborhood looked anything but safe and respectable. It was certainly not a place one would choose to talk in with ragged strangers after dark. But, after all, if he was going to China he must get used to it, so he went on.
“Why didn’t you ask a priest to come and pray with your wife?” he asked his companion, rather glad to hear the familiar sound of his own voice! The man had come to young Taylor with the story that his wife was dying. “Will you come and pray for her soul?” Hudson Taylor had readily agreed. Now, however, he was beginning to wonder. The man was evidently a Roman Catholic. If his wife were indeed dying, why had he not obtained the services of a priest in this Irish quarter of Hull? Why come to a Protestant?
The man explained. He had been to the priest. The priest, however, had demanded money before rendering his services. And as he and his family had no money left at all, money for a prayer was quite out of the question.
Starving! Hudson fingered the coin uneasily. It was all that he had; apart of two bowls of porridge in his lodging he had neither food nor money. He could scarcely be expected to part with the one remaining coin. He felt unreasonably annoyed with the man, and reprimanded him for having allowed things to come to such a pass. Why had he not gone and asked for help? A dying wife and a starving family, and doing nothing about it, indeed?
“I went,” replied the man dismally. “They told me to come back tomorrow at eleven. But my wife, she’ll be gone before morning, I’m fearing...”
Hudson’s heart was touched. His own position had seemed precarious enough, but how much worse was the lot of his companion. If only he had two coins, he thought to himself, he gladly would he have given him one!
The man turned suddenly out of the street, and into a dark courtyard. Hudson had been there before; he remembered the last occasion very distinctly. He had been buffeted and pummeled by the indignant slum-dwellers who had torn up the tracts he gave them. If ever he showed his face again, let him beware! The priest with his crucifix and prayers to Mary was welcome, but not a young English protestant preacher. Hudson had departed with what dignity he could muster, little thinking he would ever be invited to return. And as he felt his way up a rickety flight of stairs in one of the tenement house, he sincerely hoped that his presence would not become widely known! He was quite relieved when they reached the top of the stairs and he heard his companion open a door. They had reached their destination.
What a sight met his eyes! The dim light from a cheap candle revealed bare boards, curtainless window, and a room almost without furniture. On the floor in a corner, lying on a straw mattress was a thin, exhausted woman, and beside her a baby not two days old. Standing or lying on the floor, were four or five other people—children in ill-fitting clothes, without shoes or stocking, who looked toward their father and the stranger he had brought, with large, listless, hungry eyes.
Hudson stood silentlyin the room, conscious of his one coin. Oh, if only it were in two separate pieces he thought. Certainly he would immediately produce one and give it to these poor people. It was no use wishing. He pulled himself together, remembered that he was a preacher and intended being a missionary, and decided he must tell these people about God.
“You know, things are very bad for you just now,” he faltered. “But you must not be cast down. We have a Father in Heaven who loves us and cares for us if we trust Him—”
The words seemed to stick in his throat. “Hypocrite!” something inside him seemed to say. “Telling people about a kind and loving Father in Heaven—and not prepared to trust Him yourself, without your money!”
Hudson gave up trying to preach. The family looked at him in silence, as he stood there before them in his long-tailed coat and wearing real leather shoes and with a top hat! What if his clothes were getting threadbare, and his shoes needed mending? Compared with them he appeared wealthy. How were they to know he only had one coin left in the world? Hudson felt very depressed indeed. Oh, if only he had more, he would give them, he really would.
He turned to the man, and said: “You asked me to come and pray with your wife. Let us pray now.” It would be easy to pray, he thought, as he knelt down the bare floor. But it was not. No sooner had he commenced “Our Father who is in Heaven,” than that accusing voice within said again, “...that coin in your pocket.” He pressed through his prayer, feeling more and more miserable, and then rose to his feet.
As he did so, the man said to him in desperation: “You can see what a terrible state we’re in, sir. For God’s sake, help us!”
Poor Hudson! There was nothing else to do now. He remembered suddenly something he had read often enough in the Sermon on the Mount. “Give to him that asks...” Give...
Slowly he put his hand in his pocket. The coin, all of it, would have to go.
“You may thing I’m well off,” he said to the man, as he handed him the money. “But as a matter of fact, that’s all the money I’ve got in the world.” Surprisingly, he began to feel quite cheerful. “But what I’ve just been telling you is true, you know. God really is a Father, and we can trust Him. I can trust Him...” And he realized he could. He found himself speaking with great assurance and confidence about trusting God, now that the money was out of his pocket and in the man’s! He was amazed at the difference it made to his feelings. He was positively buoyant. He and the family parted with mutual expressions of good will. He made his way down the rickety stairs and out into the courtyard, walking home with his head in the air, coat tails flapping jauntily, singing at the top of his voice, without a care in the world! And when he reached the small room in Drainside where he was lodging, and prepared to eat his last but one bowl of porridge, he felt as happy as a king.
An interesting thought occurred to him as he sat there. He remembered that he had read somewhere that “he who gives to the poor lends to the Lord.” It put that money in quite a different light to feel that, having given it to poor people, he had lent it to God. The idea of lending God money might seem rather startling, but it was in the Bible he knew it was all right. So when he knelt to pray before going to bed, he mentioned the matter of the loan, requesting that it might be replaced soon, otherwise he would have no dinner the next day!
The following morning he arose as usual, and looked at his last bowl of porridge. A hard day’s work lay before him, and while one bowl of porridge was enough to start on, it was scarcely enough to continue on. When would God repay that loan?
He sat down and commenced eating. The postman’s rat-tat-tat was heard on the front door, but he paid little attention, since he rarely received letters on Monday mornings. Within a few seconds his landlady appeared at his door.
“Here’s a little package for you, Mr. Taylor,” she said cheerfully, holding it toward him in her apron, for her hands were wet.
“Oh—thank you!” replied Hudson, rather surprised. He took it from her, and looked at it. It was addressed to him all right but he did not recognize the writing. The postmark was blurred, so that did not help him, either. He decided to open it. Slitting the envelope, he drew out a sheet of paper. Inside was a pair of kid gloves.
“Whoever is sending me kid gloves?” he thought, mystified. Something fell out. It was a very small object, and it gleamed. He stooped to pick it up—it was a gold coin.
He stared at it in amazement; looked through the paper wrapping for a letter; scanned the handwriting and the postmark for a clue as to who had sent it. All in vain. He never discovered where it came from. At that moment he did not really care. As far was he was concerned, it had come straight from Heaven! It dawned on him that not only had his silver coin been returned, but ten times more! Suddenly he laughed aloud.
“That’s good interest!” he exclaimed
jubilantly. “Ha! Ha! Invested in God’s bank for twelve hours and it brings me this! This is the bank for me!”