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Chapter XXXIX New Ambitions

MY stone-breaking job did not keep me from the Salvation Army meetings. They were a great delight to me, for I found there fellowship as well as encouragement.

We always gathered at the barracks previous to our regular evening parade.

One night the captain of the corps called for a volunteer to beat the drum during the march on the streets. At the same time he stated that the drummer would surely be imprisoned, for the city authorities had made a law prohibiting Army noises on the street.

“I’m your man, Cap,” I shouted. “I want to do something for Him.”

I got the drum and the drum never got a harder beating.

I headed the procession of more than a hundred enthusiastic Salvationists while we sang:

“We beat our drums for Jesus because we love Him so.”

A policeman confronted us with the order to disperse.

“Where do you get your orders?” demanded our captain.

“In the name of the Queen, I command you,” he replied.

“We get our orders from the King of Kings,” retorted our doughty leader. “Get out of the way or we’ll march over you.”

At this the policeman arrested us and ordered us to follow him to the station-house.

He faced about with a flourish of his club and headed the procession. We all kept step to my drumming while we sang:

“See the mighty host advancing, Satan leading on.”

As I was the real offender, the judge sentenced me to a term in jail.

At this time I must have been not far from thirty years of age, and I didn’t know A from Z. But I learned the alphabet while in prison. My teacher was an old Irishman awaiting trial for murder.

One day an old man came tottering feebly into my cell. His body was bent and twisted like the oak on the rock-ribbed hillside, when the season is far spent. His head was white, not with the frosts of the years, rather with blossoms from the tree of life. He opened a book and marked a place for me to read.

I told him I couldn’t read, and why.

The aged man prayed for me while I knelt at his feet. His tears rolled down his furrowed face and fell in benediction upon my head.

“Young man,” he said, “you could not be in a better school—in jail for Jesus’ sake.”

He grasped my hand in kindly farewell, and left me. He never came again.

My prison sentence ended, I took my place in the Salvation Army as a soldier, and tried to tell of my redemption.

It was very difficult for me to express myself in the English language, and people often laughed at my attempts. But this made me all the more determined.

When alone I practised pronouncing the words which my tongue refused to manage properly.

I soon became conscious of a new ambition—to put letters of the alphabet together in such relationships to each other that they would stand for the objects I saw around me.

How to get started, that was the question.

The farmer's wife would help me!

I had gone back to her home the day after leaving jail, for my old job of stone-breaking was mine again.

My first lesson, however, was from a little boy. He, with other children, passed me every morning on their way to school. He had his books under his arm, so I stopped him.

“How does your book say 'boy’?” I asked.

The roguish urchin stood and grinned at me a moment, then darted away and ran.

I threw down my stone hammer and went after him.

When I caught the runaway, I threatened him.

“Now make your book say ‘boy,’ ” I thundered.

The little fellow began to whimper and to try to jerk away from me.

I found force wouldn’t work, so I coaxed. This way won him over. He opened his book and showed me the word I wanted to see. It was printed under the picture of a bare-headed boy.

I went back exultant to my stone pile, the letters forming the word clearly before my mind’s eye. That day, as the stones crumbled under the blows of my hammer, I must have spelled the word audibly hundreds of times.

At night I hunted through a newspaper until I found the word.

“B-o-y, boy!” I almost shouted when my eyes fell upon it.

Before I went to my bed in the hayloft, the farmer’s wife helped me spell out several other short words.

I was now on fire to acquire the art of reading, and talked with the farmer at breakfast about it. The man’s education was very limited. He advised me to get a dictionary, explaining that it contained every word in the language.

When I went home from the Army meeting the next night I was the proud possessor of a huge old “Webster’s Unabridged.” I bought it on credit, for one dollar and fifty cents. But alas! I soon discovered that my big book would not talk to me.

Finally a schoolboy, a Salvationist, started me in a primer. After that my progress was much easier.

My enthusiasm was boundless when I had learned to form the a, b, c’s with a pen, and was able to set down my ideas on paper.

The farmer’s good wife let me have a lamp in the kitchen, and sometimes the roosters would be crowing for daylight before I quit my lessons.

So far as learning to speak the English language better was concerned, the Salvation Army meetings proved a good school for me.

I found it difficult to pronounce some of the letters, particularly the letter “r.” It took me more than a year of arduous practice before I could articulate it correctly.

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