Tim, the Match Boy

TIM had been standing for a long while gazing in at the confectioner’s window. The evening was drawing in, and ever since morning a thick, unbroken cloud had covered the narrow strips of sky lying along the line of roofs on each side of the streets, while every now and then there came down driving showers of rain, wetting him to the skin.

Not that it took much rain to wet Tim to the skin. The three pieces of clothing which formed his dress were all in tatters. His shirt, which looked as if it never could have been whole and white, had more than half the sleeves torn away, and fell open in front for want of a collar, to say nothing of a button and button-hole. The old jacket he wore over it had never had any sleeves at all, but consisted of a front of calf-skin, with all the hair worn away, and a back made with the idea that it would be hidden from sight by a coat, of coarse yellow linen, now fallen into lamentable holes. His trousers were fringed by long wear, and did not reach to his ankles, which were blue with cold,  and bare, like his feet, that had been splashing along the muddy streets all day, until they were pretty nearly the same color as the pavement. His head was covered only by his thick, matted hair, which protected him, far better than his ragged clothes, from the rain and wind, and made him sometimes dimly envious of the dogs that were so far better off, in point of covering, than himself. His hands were tucked, for warmth, in the holes where his pockets should have been; but they had been worn out long ago, and now he had not even accommodation for any little bit of string, or morsel of coal, he might come across in the street.

It was by no means Tim’s habit to stand and stare in at the windows of cake shops. Now and then he glanced at them, and thought how very rich and happy those people must be who lived upon such dainty food. But he was, generally, too busy in earning his own food—by selling matches—to leave him much time for lingering about such tempting places. As for buying his dinner, when he had one, he looked out for the dried-fish stalls, where he could get a slice of brown fish ready cooked, and carry it off to some doorstep, where he could dine upon it heartily and contentedly, provided no policeman interfered with his enjoyment.

But to-day the weather had been altogether too bad for any person to come out of doors, except those who were bent on business; and they hurried along the muddy streets, too anxious to get on quickly to pay any heed to Tim, trotting alongside of them with some damp boxes of matches to sell. The rainy day was hard upon him. His last meal had been his supper the night before—a crust his father had given him, about half as big as it should have been to satisfy him. When he awoke in the morning, he had already a good appetite, and ever since, all the long day through, from hour to hour, his hunger had been growing keener, until now it made him almost sick and faint to stand and stare at the good things displayed in such abundance inside the shop window.

Tim had no idea of going in to beg. It was far too grand a place for that; and the customers going in and out were mostly smart young maid-servants, who were far too fine for him to speak to.

There were bread shops nearer home, where he might have gone, being himself an occasional customer, and asked if they could not find such a thing as an old crust to give him; but this shop was a very different place from those. There was scarcely a thing he knew the name of. At the back of the shop there were some loaves; but even those looked different from what he, and folks like him, bought. His hungry, eager eyes gazed at them, and his teeth and mouth moved now and then, unknown to himself, as if he was eating something ravenously; but he did not venture to go in.

At last Tim gave a great start. A customer, whom he knew very well, was standing at the counter, eating one of the dainty bunns. It could be no one else but his own teacher, who taught him and seven and eight other ragged lads like himself, in a night school not far from his home. His hunger had made him forgetful of it; but this was one of the evenings when the school was open, and he had promised faithfully to be there to-night. At any rate, it would be a shelter from the rain, which was beginning to fall steadily and heavily, now the sun was set; and it was of no use thinking of going home, where he and his father had only a corner of a room, and were not welcome to that if they turned in too soon of an evening. His teacher had finished the bunn, and was having another wrapped up in a neat paper bag, which he put  carefully into his pocket, and then stepped out into the street, and walked along under the shelter of a good umbrella, quite unaware that one of his scholars was pattering along noiselessly behind him with bare feet.

All Tim’s thoughts were fixed upon the bunn in his teacher’s pocket. He wondered what it would taste like, and whether it would be as delicious as that one he had once eaten, when all the ragged school had a treat in Epping Grove—going down in vans, and having real country milk, and slices of cake to eat, finishing up with a bunn, which seemed to him as if it must be like the manna he had heard of at school, that used to come down from heaven every morning before the sun was up. He had never forgotten that lesson; and scarcely a morning came that he did not wish he had lived in those times.

The teacher turned down a dark, narrow street, where the rain had gathered in little pools on the worn pavement, through which Tim splashed carelessly. They soon reached the school door; and Tim watched him take off his great-coat, and hang it up on the nails set apart for the teachers’ coats.

Their desk was at a little distance; and he took his place at it among the other boys, but his head ached, and his eyes felt dim, and there was a hungry gnawing within him, which made it impossible to give his mind to learning his lessons, as he usually did. He felt so stupefied, that the easiest words—words he knew as well as he knew the way to the Mansion House, where he sold his matches—swam before his eyes, and he called them all wrongly. The other lads laughed and jeered at him, and his teacher was displeased; but Tim could do no better. He could think of nothing but the dainty bunn in the teacher’s pocket.

At last the Scripture lesson came; and it was one that came home to Tim’s state. The teacher read aloud first, before hearing them read the lesson, these verses: “And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things. And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him,” etc. Read Mark vi. 34-44.

Tim listened with a swelling heart, and with a feeling of choking in his throat. He could see it all plainly in his mind. It was like their treat in Epping Grove, where the classes had sat down in ranks upon the green grass; and O, how green and soft the grass was! and the teachers had come round, like the disciples, giving to each one of them a can of milk and great pieces of cake; and they had sung a hymn all together before they began to eat and drink. Tim fancied he could see our Saviour as once he had seen him in a beautiful picture, with his hands outstretched, as if ready to give the children surrounding him anything they wanted, or to fold them every one in his loving arms. He thought he saw Jesus, with his loving, gentle face, standing in the midst of the great crowd of people, and asking the disciples if they were sure they had all had enough. Then they would sing, thought Tim, and go home as happy as he had been after that treat in Epping Grove. All at once his hunger became more than he could bear.

“O, I wish He was here!” he cried, bursting into tears, and laying his rough head on the desk before him. “I only wish He was here.”

The other lads looked astonished; for Tim was not given to crying; and the teacher stopped in his reading, and touched him to call his attention.

“Who do you wish was here, Tim?” he asked.

 “Him,” sobbed the hungry boy; “the Lord Jesus. He’d know how bad I feel. I’d look him in the face, and say, ‘Master, what are I to do? I can’t learn nothink when I’ve got nothink but a griping inside of me.’ And he’d think how hungry I was, having nothink to eat all day. He’d be very sorry—he would, I know.”

Tim did not lift up his head; for his tears and sobs were coming too fast, and he was afraid the other lads would laugh at him. But they looked serious enough as the meaning of his words broke upon them. They were sure he was not cheating them. If Tim said he had had nothing to eat all day, it must be true; for he never grumbled, and he always spoke the truth. One boy drew a carrot out of his pocket, and another pulled out a good piece of bread, wrapped in a bit of newspaper, while a third ran off to fetch a cup of water, having nothing else he could give to Tim. The teacher walked away to where his coat was hanging, and came back with the bunn which he had bought in the shop.

“Tim,” he said, laying his hand kindly on the lad’s bowed-down head, “I am very sorry for you; but none of us knew you were starving, my boy, or I should not have scolded you, and the lads would not have laughed at you. Look up, and see what a supper we have found for you.”

It looked like a feast to Tim. One of the boys lent him a pocket knife to cut the bread and carrot into slices, with which he took off the keen edge of his hunger; and then he ate the dainty bunn, which seemed to him more delicious than anything he had ever tasted before. The rest of the class looked on with delight at his evident enjoyment, until the last crumb had disappeared.

“I could learn anything now,” said Tim, with a bright face; “but I couldn’t understand nothink before. Then you began telling about the poor folks being famished with hunger, and how Jesus gave them bread and fishes, just as if he’d been hungry himself some time, and knew all about it. It is bad, it is. And it seemed such a pity he weren’t here in the city, and I couldn’t go to him. But, I dessay, he knows how you’ve all treated me, and I thank you all kindly; and I’ll do the same by you some day, when you’ve had the same bad luck as me.”

“Yes,” said the teacher, “Jesus knew how hungry you were; and he knew how to send you the food you wanted. Tim, and you other lads, I want you to learn this verse, and think of it often when you are grown-up men: ‘Whosoever shall give to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, He shall in no wise lose his reward.’”