The Shoemaker and the Little White Shoes
One morning during the Crusade, a drunkard’s wife came to my door. She carried in her arms a baby six weeks old. Her pale, pinched face was sad to see, and she told me this sorrowful story: “My husband is drinking himself to death; he is lost to all human feeling; our rent is unpaid, and we are liable to be put into the street, and there is no food in the house for me and the children. He has a good trade, but his earnings all go into the saloon on the corner near us; he is becoming more and more brutal and abusive. We seem to be on the verge of ruin. How can I, feeble as I am, with a babe in my arms, earn bread for myself an children?”
Quick as thought the question came to me, and I asked it: “Why not have that husband of yours converted?”
But she answered hopelessly, “Oh, there’s no hope of such a thing. He cares for nothing but strong drink.”
“I’ll come and see hi this afternoon,” said I.
“He’ll insult you,” she replied.
“No matter,” said I: “my Saviour was insulted, and the servant is not above the Lord.”
That very afternoon I called at the little tenement house. The husband was at work at his trade in a back room, and his little girl was sent to tell him that a lady wished to see him. The child, however, soon returned with the message: “My pa says he won’t see anyone.”
But I sent hi a message proving that I was indeed in earnest. I said, “Go back and tell your pa that a lady wishes to see him on important business, and she must see him if she has to stay til after supper.”
I knew very well that there was nothing in the house to eat. A moment afterward a poor, bloated, besotted wreck of a man stood before me.
“What do you want?” he demanded as he came shuffling into the room.
“Please be seated and look at this paper,” I answered, pointing to a vacant chair at the other end of the table where I was sitting, and handing a printed pledge to him.
He read it slowly, and then, throwing it down upon the table, broke out violently: “Do you think I’m a fool? I drink when I please, and let it alone when I please. I’m not going to sign away my personal liberty.”
“Do you think you can stop drinking?”
“Yes, I could if I wanted to.”
“On the contrary, I think you’re a slave to the rum-shop down on the corner.”
“No, I ain’t any such thing.”
“I think, too, that you love the saloon-keeper’s daughter better than you do your own little girl.”
“No, I don’t, either.”
“Well, let us see about that. When I passed the saloon-keeper’s house I saw his little girl coming down the steps, and she had on white shoes, and a white dress, and a blue sash. Your money helped to buy them. I come here, and your little girl, more beautiful than she, has on a faded, ragged dress, and her feet are bare.”
“That’s so, madam.”
“And you love the saloon-keeper’s wife better than you love your own wife.”
“Never; no, never!”
“When I passed the saloon-keeper’s house, I saw his wife come out with the little girl, and she was dressed in silks and laces, and a carriage waited for her. Your money helped to buy the silks and laces, and the horses and the carriage. I work here and I find your wife in a faded calico gown, doing her own work; if she goes any where, she must walk.”
“You speak the truth, madam.
“You love the saloon-keeper better than you love yourself. You can keep from drinking if you choose; but you helped the saloon-keeper to build himself a fine brick house, and you live in this poor, tumble-down old house yourself.
“I never say it in that light before.” Then, holding out his hand, that shook like an aspen leaf, he continued, “You speak the truth, madam — I am a slave of beer to steady my nerves, or I cannot do it; but to-morrow, if you’ll call, I’ll sign the pledge.”
“That’s a temptation of the devil; I did not ask you to sign the pledge. You are a slave, and I cannot help it. But I do want to tell you this: There is One who can break your chains and set you free.”
“I want to be free.”
“Well, Christ can set you free, if you’ll submit to Him, and let him break the chains of sin and appetite that bind you.”
“It’s been many a long year since I prayed.”
“No matter; the sooner you begin the better for you.”
He threw himself at once upon his knees, and while I prayed I heard him sobbing out the cry of his soul to God.
His wife knelt beside me and followed me in earnest prayer. The words were simple and broken with sobs, but somehow they went straight up from her crushed heart to God, and the poor man began to cry in earnest for mercy.
“O God! break these chains that are burning into my soul!” Pity me, and pity my wife and children, and break the chains that are dragging me down to hell. O God! be merciful to me a sinner.” And thus out of the depths he cried to God, and He heard him and had compassion upon him, and broke every chain and lifted every burden; and he arose a free, redeemed man.
When he arose from his knees he said: “Now I will sign the pledge, and keep it.”
And he did. A family altar was established, the comforts of life were soon secured — for he had a good trade — and two wees after this scene his little girl came into my husband’s Sunday-school with white shoes and white dress and blue sash on, as a token that her father’s money no longer went into the saloon-keeper’s till.
But what struck me most of all was that it took less than two hours of my time thus to be an ambassador for Christ in declaring the terms of heaven’s great treaty whereby a soul was saved from death, a multitude of sins were covered, and a home restored to purity and peace.
Source: Women and Temperance, or the Work and Workers of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Frances E. Willard (Hartford, CT: Park Publishing Co.) 1888, pp. 95-98.
Also: Early American Women: A Documentary History, 1600-1900, ed. Nancy Woloch (New York McGraw-Hill Education) 2002, pp. 372-374.