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PAGE 4

Old Abe’s Conversion
by [?]

At nine o’clock they went to the police court, and the old minister saw many of his race appear as prisoners, receiving brief attention and long sentences. Finally a boy was arraigned for theft. He was a little, wobegone fellow hardly ten years of age. He was charged with stealing cakes from a bakery. The judge was about to deal with him as quickly as with the others, and Abram’s heart bled for the child, when he saw a negro call the judge’s attention. He turned to find that Robert had left his side. There was a whispered consultation, and then the old preacher heard with joy, “As this is his first offence and a trustworthy person comes forward to take charge of him, sentence upon the prisoner will be suspended.”

Robert came back to his father holding the boy by the hand, and together they made their way from the crowded room.

“I’m so glad! I’m so glad!” said the old man brokenly.

“We often have to do this. We try to save them from the first contact with the prison and all that it means. There is no reformatory for black boys here, and they may not go to the institutions for the white; so for the slightest offence they are sent to jail, where they are placed with the most hardened criminals. When released they are branded forever, and their course is usually downward.”

He spoke in a low voice, that what he said might not reach the ears of the little ragamuffin who trudged by his side.

Abram looked down on the child with a sympathetic heart.

“What made you steal dem cakes?” he asked kindly.

“I was hongry,” was the simple reply.

The old man said no more until he had reached the parsonage, and then when he saw how the little fellow ate and how tenderly his son ministered to him, he murmured to himself, “Feed my lambs”; and then turning to his son, he said, “Robbie, dey’s some’p’n in ‘dis, dey’s some’p’n in it, I tell you.”

That night there was a boy’s class in the lower room of Robert Dixon’s little church. Boys of all sorts and conditions were there, and Abram listened as his son told them the old, sweet stories in the simplest possible manner and talked to them in his cheery, practical way. The old preacher looked into the eyes of the street gamins about him, and he began to wonder. Some of them were fierce, unruly-looking youngsters, inclined to meanness and rowdyism, but one and all, they seemed under the spell of their leader’s voice. At last Robert said, “Boys, this is my father. He’s a preacher, too. I want you to come up and shake hands with him.” Then they crowded round the old man readily and heartily, and when they were outside the church, he heard them pause for a moment, and then three rousing cheers rang out with the vociferated explanation, “Fo’ de minister’s pap!”

Abram held his son’s hand long that night, and looked with tear-dimmed eyes at the boy.

“I didn’t understan’,” he said. “I didn’t understan’.”

“You’ll preach for me Sunday, father?”

“I wouldn’t daih, honey. I wouldn’t daih.”

“Oh, yes, you will, pap.”

He had not used the word for a long time, and at sound of it his father yielded.

It was a strange service that Sunday morning. The son introduced the father, and the father, looking at his son, who seemed so short a time ago unlearned in the ways of the world, gave as his text, “A little child shall lead them.”

He spoke of his own conceit and vainglory, the pride of his age and experience, and then he told of the lesson he had learned. “Why, people,” he said, “I feels like a new convert!”

It was a gentler gospel than he had ever preached before, and in the congregation there were many eyes as wet as his own.

“Robbie,” he said, when the service was over, “I believe I had to come up here to be converted.” And Robbie smiled.