I looked after Tom to a certain extent, but I wanted him to learn his lesson. There were times when he walked the streets and went hungry. I corresponded with his father and told him how his son was getting along. I got Tom a job washing dishes in a restaurant—the Bowery’s main employment—at $2.50 per week, and he stuck.
I watched him closely. He would come to the Mission nearly every night and would stand up and testify to God’s goodness. He was coming on finely. Many’s the talk we would have together about home. The tears would come to his eyes and he would say, “Oh, if I ever go home I’ll be such a different boy! Do you think father will forgive me, Mr. Ranney?”
Well, eight months went on, and I thought it was time to get him off the Bowery—he had had his lesson. So I wrote his father, and he sent the necessary cash for clothes, railroad ticket, etc. And one night I said, “Tom, would you like to go home?” You can imagine Tom’s answer! I took him out and bought him clothes, got back his watch and chain from the pawnbroker, and went with him to the Grand Central Station. I got his ticket, put him on the train, said “Good-by and God bless you!” and Tom was bound for home.
I receive a letter from him every month or so. I have visited his home and have been entertained right royally by his father and mother. I visited Tom last summer, and we did have a grand time fishing, boating, driving, etc. I asked him, “Do you want to go back to New York, Tom?” and he smiled and said, “Not for mine!” If any one comes from New York and happens to say it’s a grand place to make your fortune, Tom says, “New York is a grand place to keep away from.” You couldn’t pull him away from home with a team of oxen.
“He arose and went to his father.” Tom fed on husks. He learned his lesson—not too dearly learned, because it was a lasting one. He is now a man; he goes to church and Sunday-school, where he teaches a class of boys. Once in a while he rings in his own experience when he was a prodigal on the Bowery and far from God, and God’s loving-kindness to him.
There are other boys on the Bowery from just as good families as Tom’s—college men some of them—who are without hope and without God’s friendship or man’s. What can you and I do for them?
I have married again, and have a good sweet Christian as companion, and we have a little girl just beginning to walk. I’m younger, happier, and a better man in mind and body than I was twenty years ago. I’ve a good home and know that all good things are for those that trust.
I remember one night, when I was going home with my wife, I met a policeman who had arrested me once. He had caught me dead to rights—with the goods. After awaiting trial I got off on a technical point. I said, “Helen, let me introduce you to the policeman that arrested me one time.” He had changed some; his hair was getting gray. He knew me, and when I told him I was a missionary, he said, “God bless you, Reilly” (that’s the name I went under), “and keep you straight! You did cause us fellows a lot of trouble in those days.”