THE LITTLE MATCH BOY

“MATCHES! Matches! Here’s your nice matches!” was heard in a shrill
treble, proceeding from a little boy on Clark Street, in Chicago.

He looked thin and pale, and it was easy to see the poor little fellow
was poorly fed, as well as ill-clad.

“Only five cents a package!” the little fellow continued to cry; and he
looked wistfully in the faces of those who passed him, hoping for a
possible purchaser.

“Clear out of my way there, you brat!” said a rough voice. “Do you want
to take up the whole sidewalk?”

The boy shrank timidly, as the man who had addressed him swaggered by.
He would not have dared to resent the rudeness, but another did. It was
a stout, and healthy-looking woman, with a large basket on her arm,
whose heart warmed towards the poor little match boy, sent out so early
to earn his livelihood.

“You ought to be ashamed to speak to the poor boy that way!” she said,
warmly.

“Mind your business, woman!” retorted Lyman Taylor, for it was he whose
rough speech had been quoted.

“I always do,” said the woman. “It’s my business to speak my mind to
such brutes as you!”

Lyman vented his wrath in a volley of oaths, for his language was by no
means choice, when his anger was excited. He might have been more
prudent, if he had known that a policeman was just behind.

“Stop that, my man, unless you want me to take you in!” said the burly
officer.

Lyman Taylor turned sharply round, but quailed when he saw the officer.

“This woman has insulted me,” he said, sullenly.

“I just spoke to him for abusin’ that poor match boy,” said the good
woman.

“I heard it all,” said the officer. “Move on, my man, and behave
yourself, if you don’t want to get into trouble.”

Such a scene was sure to attract a small crowd. One kind-hearted man
drew out a dime from his pocket and handed it to the match boy.

“Here, my lad,” he said; “take this, and I hope it’ll do you good.”

“Here are two boxes of matches for you, sir.”

“No, keep them. I give you the money.”

“Here’s another dime,” said a young man, of literary aspect. He was a
reporter on one of the Chicago daily papers, who, in spite of the cases
of poverty and privation that came under his notice every day, still
preserved a warm and sympathetic heart.

Then a lady followed his example, and in the end, the match boy had
received a sum much larger than the value of his small stock-in-trade.

Lyman Taylor’s rudeness had proved to him a piece of good luck, in
opening the hearts of those who would otherwise have passed him by
without notice.

Smiling with pleasure at the child’s good fortune, the good woman who
had resented Lyman’s rudeness so warmly, went on her way. If all had
hearts as warm, there would be little misery or suffering in the world.
It is often those who have little, that are most ready to help others
poorer than themselves. I must not omit to add, that among the
contributors to the little match boy’s fund was the policeman, who
placed a nickel in his hands, with the admonition to “brace up and be a
good boy!” This was true charity, for out of his salary the officer had
to support a large family of his own, and therefore had very few nickels
to spare. He was bluff of aspect, but kind of heart.

“It’s a shame to send out such a child on the streets,” he said to
himself. “Think of my Rob having to lead such a life!”

The policeman looked sober, for, should anything happen to him, as in
his exposed life might very well happen, he knew not what would be the
fate of his little ones. They might be as badly off as the poor match
boy.

The little match boy’s thin face showed signs of satisfaction as he
looked at the collection of small coins which had been given him by the
pitying crowd. He turned into an alleyway and counted it. It amounted to
seventy-six cents. This was a phenomenal sum for the small merchant. And
the best of it was, he had his stock of merchandise left.

A thought entered the little boy’s mind, prompted by his craving for
food.

“Would it be wrong for me to take a little of this money and buy me some
dinner?” he said to himself. “I am _so_ hungry. Aunt Peggy only gave me
a slice of bread for breakfast, and it’s most two o’clock now.”

Only a slice of bread, and he had been walking about for hours, trying
to sell matches. The fruit of all his labor was the sale of two boxes at
five cents each. But he had seventy-six cents besides, and they were
his. They had not been given to Aunt Peggy, but to him. So, at least, he
reasoned. Not that he meant to keep it all himself. He intended to give
the greater part to the woman who was the only guardian he knew, but he
thought he had a right to use fifteen cents for himself. It wasn’t much,
but he knew a place—a cheap place—where for this sum he could get a cup
of coffee and a plate of beefsteak. At the thought of this delicious
repast the match boy’s mouth watered. When had he eaten meat? Three days
ago Peggy had given him a bone to pick. There was not much on it, but
when he had got through with it there was none at all.




Johnny could not resist the temptation. He suspended sales, and made his
way to a cheap restaurant on a side street. With eager steps he entered,
and sat down at a wooden table from which nearly all the paint had been
worn off, and scanned the bill of fare.

It seemed to him that there was nothing better than the dish he had
already mentally selected.

A greasy looking waiter approached, and said sharply, “What’ll you have,
kid?”

“Cup o’ coffee an’ plate of beefsteak!” answered Johnny.

“Sure yer got money enough to pay for it?”

“I wouldn’t have asked for it if I hadn’t,” said Johnny, emboldened by
his unusual wealth.

“All right, then! Sometimes chaps come in and order their dinner, and
skip off before it comes time to pay.”

The greasy looking waiter went to the back of the room, and soon
returned with the banquet Johnny ordered.

He set it down with a jerk.