THE ROAD TO HEAVEN
George R. Sims
How is the boy this morning? Why do you shake your head?
Ah! I can see what’s happened—there’s a screen drawn round the bed.
So, poor little Mike is sleeping the last long sleep of all!
I’m sorry—but who could wonder, after that dreadful fall?
Let me look at him, doctor—poor little London waif!
His frail barque’s out of the tempest, and lies in God’s harbour
It’s better he died in the ward here, better a thousand times,
Than have wandered back to the alley, with its squalor and nameless
Too young for the slum to sully, he;s gone to the wonderland
To look on the thousand marvels that he scarce could understand.
Poor little baby outcast, poor little waif of sin!
He has gone, and the pitying angels have carried the cripple in.
Didn’t you know his story?—Ah, you weren’t here, I believe,
When they brought the poor little fellow to the hospital, Christmas
It was I who came here with him, it was I who saw him go
Over the bridge that evening into the Thames below.
’Twas a raw cold air that evening—a biting Christmas frost—
I was looking about for a collie—a favourite dog I’d lost.
Some ragged boys, so they told me, had been seen with one that night
In one of the bridge recesses, so I hunted left and right.
You know the stone recesses—with the long broad bench of stone,
To many a weary outcast as welcome as monarch’s throne;
On the fiercest night you may see them, as crouched in the dark
Like the hunted vermin, striving to hide from the hounds in cry.
The seats that night were empty, for the morrow was Christmas Dauy,
And even the outcast loafers seemed to have slunk away;
They had found a warmer shelter—some casual ward, maybe—
They’d managed a morning’s labour for the sake of the meat and tea.
I fancied the seats were empty, but, as I passed along,
Out of the darkness floated the words of a Christmas song,
Sung in a childish treble—’twas a boy’s voice hoarse with cold,
Quavering out the anthem of angels and harps of gold.
I stood where the shadows hid me, and peered about until
I could see two ragged urchins, blue with the icy chill,
Cuddling close together, crouched on a big stone seat—
Two little homeless arabs, waifs of the London street.
One was singing the carol, when the other, with big round eyes—
It was Mike00looked up in wonder, and said, ”Jack, when we dies,
Is that the place as we goes to—that place where ye’re dressed in
And has golding ’arps to play on, and it’s warm and jolly and bright?
“Is that what they mean by ’eaven, as the misshun coves talks about,
Where the children’s always happy and nobody kicks ’em out?”
Jack nodded his head assenting, and then I listened and heard
The talk of the little arabs—listened to every word.
Jack was a Sinday scholar, so I gathered from what he said,
But he sang in the road for a living—his father and mother were
And he had a drunken granny, who turned him into the street—
She drank what he earned, and often he hadn’t a crust to eat.
He told little Mike of heaven in his rough untutored way,
He made it a land of glory where the children sing all day;
And Mike, he shivered and listened, and told his tale to his friend,
How he was starved and beaten—’twas a tale one’s heart to rend.
He’d a drunken father and mother, who sent him out to beg,
Though he’d just got over a fever, and was lame with a withered
He told how he daren’t crawl homeward, because he had begged in
And his parents’ brutal fury haunted his baby brain.
“I wish I could go to ’eaven,” he cried, as he shook with fright;
“If I thought as they’d only take me, why I’d go this very night.
Which is the way to ’eaven? How d’ye get there, Jack?”—
Jack climbed on the bridge coping, and looked at the water black.
“That there’s one road to ’eaven,” he said as he pointed down
To where the cold Thames water surged muddy and thick and brown.
“If we was to fall in there, Mike, we’d be dead: and right through
Is the place where it’s always sunshine, and the angels has crowns
Mike rose and looked at the water; he peered in the big broad stream,
Perhaps with a childish notion he might catch the golden gleam
Of the far off land of glory. He leaned right over and cried—
“If them are the gates of ’eaven, how I’d like to be inside!”
He stood but a moment looking—how it happened I cannot tell—
When he seemed to lose his balance, gave a short shrill cry, and
Fell over the narrow coping, and I heard his poor head strike
With a thud on the stonework under; then splash in the Thames went
* * * * *
We brought him here that evening. For help I had managed to shout—
A boat put off from the landing, and they dragged his body out;
His forehead was cut and bleeding, but a vestige if life was found;
When they brought him here he was senseless, but slowly the child
I came here on Christmas morning—the ward was all bright and gay
With mistletoe green and holly, in honour of Christmas Day;
And the patients had clean white garments, and a few in the room
Had joined in a Christmas service—they were singing a Christmas
They were singing a Christmas carol when Mike from his stupor woke,
And dim on his wandering senses the strange surroundings broke.
Half dreamily he remembered the tale he had heard from Jack—
The song, and the white-robed angels, the warm bright heaven came
“I’m in heaven,” he whispered faintly, “Yes, Jack must have told
And as he looked about him, came the kind old surgeon through.
Mike gazed at his face a moment, put his hand to his fevered head,
Then to the kind old doctor, “Please, are you God?” he said.
Poor little Mike! ’twas heaven, this hospital ward, to him—
A heaven of warmth and comfort, till the flickering lamp grew dim;
And he lay like a tired baby in a dreamless gentle rest,
And now he is safe for ever where such as he are blest.
This is the day of scoffers, but who shall say that night,
When Mike asked the road to heaven, that Jack didn’t tell him right?
’Twas the children’s Jesus pointed the way to the kingdom come
For the poor little tired arab, the waif of a London slum.