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
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
How to get started, that
was the question.
The farmer's wife would
I had gone back to her
home the day after leaving jail, for my old job of stone-breaking was
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
“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
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
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
Finally a schoolboy, a
Salvationist, started me in a primer. After that my progress was much
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