My Mother’s Prayers Have Followed Me

You may not be­lieve in pray­er. You may not be­lieve that pray­er is an­swered. May­be, you have not learned how to pray.

This is the re­cord of pray­ers that were of­fered ap­par­ent­ly in vain, that fell back, month after month, up­on the lips that ut­tered them, un­til at the last— but let me give you the cur­i­ous facts in the life of Jack Nor­ton, the pro­di­gal, in the or­der in which they led up to the great cri­sis of his ca­reer.

Jack was a fair­ly de­cent sort of a young fe­llow, for the on­ly son of fond and dot­ing par­ents, who ex­pect­ed him to go through life on ball bear­ings.

Following his grad­u­a­tion from the lo­cal High School, they sent him, af­ter ma­ny con­sul­ta­tions and ar­gu­ments to one of the larg­est Eas­tern col­leg­es.

It wasn’t long be­fore Jack be­gan pick­ing up more things on the side than he found in the col­lege cur­ri­cu­lum. He was just a big, ov­er­grown, spoiled boy, and he looked on the new world around him as a boy— not as a man.

One of the clos­est friends that he found at the un­i­ver­si­ty was a youth of about his own age, by the name of Dick Ran­dolph. But there the re­sem­blance ceased. Dick’s fa­ther owned three or four hun­dred miles of rail­roads, and Dick tried to make the world be­lieve that he was the orig­in­al Kid Broad­way.

Under his su­per­vi­sion Jack be­came more fa­mil­iar with pok­er chips, and cock­tails, and mu­sical co­me­dy ac­tress­es than with Greek and La­tin verbs, or Trig­o­no­me­try. And his ed­u­ca­tion pro­gressed amaz­ing­ly along those lines.

When he fin­al­ly returned to Home­burg, with his sheep­skin in his pock­et, and a cig­a­rette in the cor­ner of his mouth, he was al­rea­dy be­gin­ning to feel a man of the world, and had his fu­ture paint­ed in bright and glow­ing col­ors.

His fa­ther’s am­bi­tion had been to add the words And Son to the part­ner­ship sign ov­er at the paint fac­to­ry that he had start­ed for­ty years ago in one room, and he had con­fi­dent­ly ex­pect­ed Jack to be­come one of the sol­id bus­iness men of the com­mun­i­ty.

The boy’s fa­mi­ly, and a girl in the next block, by the name of Ma­ry Brad­ford, who had kept Jack’s pic­ture on the bu­reau in her bed room ev­er since the sum­mer be­fore he went away to col­lege, had the same ideas about his bus­i­ness ca­reer. But he prompt­ly showed them all that he had oth­er plans.

This is no place for me, he con­fid­ed to his fa­ther. I’m go­ing to New York, where a man of my tal­ents has a pro­per chance. I think I’ll be an ar­ch­itect. So if you’ll let me have what is com­ing to me I’ll use it to start at my new ca­reer. Take it from me— be­fore long you won’t know your son!

His fa­ther glanced at Jack’s col­lege-boy hat, and rain­bow shirt, and white trou­sers, flirt­ing with a la­ven­der ex­panse of silk socks, and shook his head, but he fin­al­ly gave in and drew a check for ten thou­sand to start his son and heir in the bat­tle with the world.

I won’t give you any ad­vice, he said, grim­ly, but when the mo­ney is gone, you won’t get any more. That’s all I can say to you— but it ought to be enough!

Even a fond and dot­ing par­ent some­times has mo­ments of san­i­ty— gen­er­al­ly when it is too late.

I won’t need any more, an­swered Jack con­fi­dent­ly.

I didn’t mean ad­vice, said his fa­ther curt­ly, I mean mo­ney!

Mary Brad­ford tried to smile when she heard of Jack’s plans, but it wasn’t much of a suc­cess, and she locked her­self in her room, and cried her­self to sleep. She had a wo­man’s in­tu­i­tions of the prob­a­ble re­sult.

His mo­ther stole up­stairs to her own pri­vate lit­tle nook, and when she came down she tim­id­ly held out a frayed, old fa­shioned Bi­ble, with a book-mark that she had em­broi­dered when she was a girl.

It has been mine since I was a child, she said. When you read it, re­mem­ber your mo­ther at home is pray­ing that her boy will make the best, and brav­est, and big­gest man in the whole world.

Jack smiled pa­tro­niz­ing­ly. She is a bit out of date, he said to him­self, and hasn’t had the chance to see life that I have, and know that people who amount to an­y­thing have out­grown that non­sense— but I may as well hu­mor her.

So he slipped the Bi­ble in­to the bot­tom of his trunk, where it would be out of sight, waved his hand to the folks on the porch, and swung out of the front gate.

At last he was on his way to the great ci­ty, where a man with brains could find a ca­reer wor­thy of his great­ness.

He didn’t know that New York was a good deal like Home­burg, ex­cept in size, and that the on­ly dif­fer­ence was that it had more va­ri­e­ties of hu­man na­ture, and fail­ure, and suc­cess, and more op­por­tun­i­ties for get­ting the best, or the worst out of a man.

His old col­lege chum, Dick Ran­dolph, se­cured him a berth in an ar­chi­tect’s of­fice but Jack was more in­ter­est­ed in that part of the day af­ter five o’clock in the af­te­rnoon.

He fell in­to the ha­bit of tell­ing those out­side the of­fice that he was on­ly work­ing to please his fa­ther out in In­di­a­na, who owned half a do­zen town­ships, but had old-fa­shioned ideas.

Dick Ran­dolph prid­ed him­self that he was one of the star pa­trons of Broad­way, and, through his in­tro­duc­tions, Jack found him­self gen­er­ous­ly re­ceived in a cer­tain type of res­taur­ants and ca­fes. But he was not de­ser­ving them as much as he was him­self. As long as he had mon­ey to pay his way, they would make that way al­lur­ing to him. That is the cus­tom of Broad­way, and Jack, not be­ing wise in the ways of the world, saw the ea­sy things of life be­ing hand­ed to him simp­ly by stretch­ing out his hand for them.

It was about this time that his scheme of life was fur­ther com­pl­icat­ed, when he met a gol­den-haired, soul­ful-eyed girl in a Forty-se­cond Street mu­sic­al com­e­dy, called Floss­ie Bran­don. Her hair and soul­ful eyes were man­u­fac­tured by dif­fer­ent pro­cess­es, but Jack didn’t know it.

Before he real­ized it he was hope­less­ly, blind­ly in­fa­tu­at­ed.

Letters con­tinu­ed to come to him re­gu­lar­ly with the Home­burg pos­tmark, al­though he sel­dom bo­thered to an­swer them now. He didn’t have to. A mo­ther has an ex­tra sense— where her boy is con­cerned. God gave her an es­pe­cial wire­less te­le­gra­phy for her own ex­clu­sive use.

His mo­ther add­ed al­ways to her let­ters the words, You will know that I am pray­ing for you, ev­ery night at eight o’clock, win­ter or sum­mer. She ne­ver for­got to write that post­script. It was a part of her life.

Broadway was a closed book to her, but she didn’t need to op­en it. She had a mo­ther’s con­vic­tion that the man out in the world, once the boy at her knees, and still the boy in her heart, need­ed her pray­ers. That was enough for her.

One ev­en­ing Jack en­ter­tained at a din­ner in his apart­ment.

It was Floss­ie Bran­don who found his mo­ther’s frayed Bi­ble, that she di­scov­ered on the bot­tom shelf of a stand in the cor­ner. Jack faced the crowd with a flushed, em­bar­rassed face, as the girl held it up, and called the at­ten­tion of the oth­ers to her find.

As he stared at it, the door of the cuck­oo clock in the cor­ner opened. One— two— three— four— five— six— seven— eight times came the shrill note of the toy bird. Eight o’clock!

It might have been co­in­ci­dence, of course. But Jack Nor­ton doesn’t think so— now.

Suddenly through the frayed co­ver of the Bi­ble he seemed to catch a vi­sion— his mo­ther in her room at home on her knees, and the post­scripts of her let­ters flashed back to him:—At eight o’clock ev­ery ev­en­ing I shall be pray­ing for you. The next mo­ment he swept the vis­ion from him, and laughed as he point­ed to the Bi­ble.

Oh, that’s a rel­ic! Quite a cur­i­os­i­ty, isn’t it? he stam­mered.

And whose pic­ture is this, may I ask? de­mand­ed Floss­ie cold­ly, stop­ping be­fore a pho­to of Ma­ry Brad­ford on the wall.

Jack flushed.

Oh, that’s an­oth­er rel­ic! he laughed again.

Flossie was a dif­fi­cult young wo­man to please. She mea­sured men on­ly by one stan­dard, the amount of mo­ney they would spend on her. The boy found his bank ac­count gone, and his debts grow­ing like a snow-ball, in his fran­tic ef­fort to live up to her ex­tra­va­gant ex­pec­ta­tions.

One day Jack saw the ca­shier drop the com­bin­a­tion of the of­fice safe. The boy, on a su­dden im­pulse, put his foot ov­er it, and when he went home to din­ner it was in his pock­et.

His cred­it­ors were be­gin­ning to be in­sult­ing, and here was a chance to pay his debts, per­haps with mo­ney ov­er, and no risk, to him­self. If the safe were robbed, it would be im­pos­si­ble for an­y­one to sus­pect that he had a hand in it.

He slipped back to the of­fice that ev­en­ing. The safe was an old fa­shioned type, and the com­bin­a­tion made it ab­surd­ly sim­ple for him to open it.

Jack was twirl­ing the last of the tum­blers when a low, whir­ring sound back of him made him jump with a face like a sheet. But it was on­ly the of­fice clock pre­par­ing to strike.

One— two— three— four— five— six— seven— eight!

Jack stared at the safe like a man sud­den­ly par­a­lyzed.

It could not be co­in­ci­dence again— and yet it must be! Jack pushed his hand ov­er his face. It was sud­den­ly drip­ping with per­spir­a­tion. Per­haps you can find a sa­tis­fac­to­ry ex­pla­na­tion. Jack has ceased to try.

Burning his brain, as he stood there, were the words of his mo­ther’s let­ters, Re­mem­ber, ev­ery ev­en­ing at eight o’clock I shall be pray­ing for you— win­ter or sum­mer!

In the mir­ror-like sil­ver han­dle of the safe he seemed to see re­flect­ed the fig­ure of a kneel­ing wo­man— his mo­ther by her bed-side in her room at home.

A mo­ther ne­ver for­gets her pro­mise to her boy.

Brace up! You are let­ting your nerves get way with you! he taunt­ed him­self.

With an oath he swung op­en the safe door, and stuffed a bun­dle of the yel­low bills in the cash draw­er in­to his pock­et. The pic­ture of his mo­ther had gone.

When he re­turned to his rooms he found that he had sto­len two thou­sand dol­lars.

The next morn­ing the head of the firm had him on the carpet with the rest of the staff. Jack didn’t like the look in his eyes, but he told him­self that it was im­pos­si­ble to con­nect him with the rob­be­ry.

A week lat­er he was called in­to the pri­vate of­fice again.

You’re through, Norton, his em­ploy­er said. You can get your time on your way out.

The boy be­gan to blu­ster. What do you mean?

I mean that a young fellow who has as many out­side in­ter­ests as we find you have is of no fur­ther use to us!

Jack went out with his head high.

Jobs were ea­sy, he told him­self. He found Dick Ran­dolph, and ap­proached him on the sub­ject of an­oth­er con­nec­tion.

I had to tell the of­fice I couldn’t stand their old fa­shioned me­thods any lon­ger, he said. In­tro­duce me to some­bo­dy who can ap­pre­ci­ate real brains.

But Dick shook his head. You’ll have to dig for your­self, I’m af­raid. I have all that I can at­tend to just now! he said cold­ly.

Then let me have a hun­dred un­til Tues­day.

Dick shook his head again. I’m ov­er­drawn at the bank, and my fa­ther is threat­en­ing to stop my al­low­ance. Wish you luck, old man!

Jack changed to his ev­en­ing clothes, and hunt­ed up Floss­ie Bran­don. Here at least he would find some one who un­der­stood him.

She looked at him with a sneer when he had fin­ished his sto­ry.

I don’t see how that af­fects me, she said, put­ting on her hat.

But I did it all for you, cried Jack.

That’s what they all say, Floss­ie yawned. If they won’t send you any more mo­ney from home, pawn what you can, and go to work in ear­nest! I have an en­gage­ment, my dear boy!

Jack stag­gered out in­to the street. His world had come to an end.

He thought that he was a ve­ry much de­ceived and wronged young man, and he hired all of the bar­ten­ders he could find to help him for­get his trou­bles.

They were do­ing their best af­ter thir­ty days in­ter­val, but they hadn’t suc­ceed­ed, al­though he had pawned ev­ery­thing that a pawn shop would take, and had bor­rowed all the mon­ey his friends would loan him.

The on­ly thing that whis­key can make a man for­get, whe­ther it is poured from a cut glass de­can­ter on a ma­hog­a­ny bar, or from a black bot­tle on a tramp’s hip, is his man­hood.

Jack drift­ed from For­ty-Se­cond Street down to Four­teenth Street, and then with short steps to the Bow­ery.

The far­ther a man gets on the to­bog­gan the fast­er he shoots.

The one-time tan­go idol of the Broad­way lob­ster pal­ac­es de­gen­er­at­ed in­to a street cor­ner beg­gar, and an ob­ject of po­lice sus­pi­cion. One ev­en­ing he slouched out from a door­way over to a tax­i­cab, where a par­ty of men and wo­men in Fifth Av­e­nue togs were step­ping gin­ger­ly out on­to the walk for a slum­ming trip.

Please, can you give me the price of a cup of cof­fee and a bed, he whined.

The man near­est him turned im­pa­tient­ly. It was Dick Ran­dolph.

Jack saw the look of re­cog­ni­tion in the oth­er’s eyes, and then Dick tossed him a two dol­lar bill.

Take this, and beat it, you bum!

Jack stuffed the bill in­to his pock­et and shuf­fled off. His hands were clenched, and some­thing in­side of him was burn­ing like a hot coal.

He stopped a block away, hes­i­tat­ing be­tween a Childs res­tau­rant and a cor­ner sa­loon. Should he get a steak, or an­oth­er drink?

He turned sud­den­ly from both res­tau­rant and sa­loon with a wild look like fe­ver in his eyes. Dick Ran­dolph had called him a bum— and Dick Ran­dolph was right.

Why con­tin­ue a hope­less fight?

He pushed in­to a dis­mal lit­tle pawn shop, hea­vy with the at­mo­sphere of lost hopes, and for his two dol­lar bill he re­ceived a se­cond hand re­vol­ver, a box of car­tridg­es, and fif­teen cents in change.

He stopped again in small park, scowled at a spoony cou­ple on a bench be­fore him, and load­ed his rev­ol­ver be­hind them.

He was rais­ing the weapon to his head when an­oth­er voice checked him.

It was of a girl on the street cor­ner, sing­ing to the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of a bass drum and a cor­net.

The re­vol­ver fell to his side.

Clear and high the girl’s voice was ring­ing as she reached the cho­rus of her song:

I’m coming home,
I’m coming home to live my wasted life anew.
For mother’s prayers have followed me,
Have followed me the whole world through.

And then the se­cond verse in the same ar­rest­ing, pen­e­trat­ing key:—

O’er desert wild, o’er mountain high,
A wanderer I chose to be,
A wretched soul condemned to die,
Still mother’s prayers have followed me.

Jack dropped the re­volv­er in­to his pock­et, and stum­bled out in­to the street. He was walk­ing like a man in his sleep.

The girl reached the song’s con­clud­ing verse:

He turned my darkness into light,
This blessed Christ of Calvary,
I’ll praise His name both day and night,
That mother’s prayers have followed me.

As the words died away, she turned to­ward the doors of a cor­ner mis­sion hall.

Jack slouched af­ter the two men with her who were car­ry­ing the bass drum and the cor­net.

The words of the song kept danc­ing in the air be­fore him, and through them he seemed to see vague­ly, as at a great dist­ance, his mo­ther on her knees, with her hands ov­er her eyes. A strange mist cov­ered her face, and he couldn’t see it plain­ly, but he knew it was there. And he knew that he was weak, and diz­zy, and sick, and that some­thing was hap­pen­ing to him that he couldn’t un­der­stand.

He dropped on­to a pine bench in the rear of the mis­sion hall, and fum­bled with his hat.

There were oth­er men on the bench­es, and two or three wo­men— most of them bat­tered wrecks from the streets— who looked as though they had lost their way and didn’t know whe­ther they could ev­er find it again, or not.

An aisle in the cen­ter led up to a pla­tform, on which stood a man with a beam­ing smile, that seemed to take in ev­ery­one in the hall.

Jack’s eyes fixed them­selves sud­den­ly on a clock on the wall ov­er the man’s head. Its hands pointed ex­act­ly to eight.

He tried to re­mem­ber some­thing that kept slip­ping away from him, and then like a flash it came to him, the for­got­ten post­scripts of his mo­ther’s let­ters—Re­mem­ber, I shall al­ways be pray­ing for you at eight o’clock, win­ter or sum­mer.

Coincidence a third time! Or men­tal tel­e­pa­thy? Or the spir­it of God? Jack gives the facts. He can’t give the rea­son for them.

All he knows was that he was stag­ger­ing to his feet, and stum­bling down the aisle.

Suddenly the mist fad­ed from the pic­ture of his mo­ther that had been danc­ing in the air be­fore him. He saw her face dis­tinct­ly now, as dis­tinct­ly as though she were in the room with him. And through her tears she was smil­ing. At the plat­form he dropped to his knees weak­ly.

He knew that for the first time since he had fal­len out of the ap­ple tree, and brok­en his arm, when he was a boy, there was some­thing sal­ty in his eyes that didn’t be­long there.

The man on the plat­form reached ov­er, and gave him a thump on the shoul­ders, and led him to a front bench. After the ser­vice he sat down at his side. He didn’t ask ques­tions. He was too good a judge of hu­man na­ture. Be­fore Jack knew it, he was giv­ing the oth­er the sto­ry of his life.

God hasn’t any use for man with a ske­le­ton in his clo­set, or for a quit­ter, said the su­per­in­ten­dent when the boy had fin­ished. You can’t get right with God un­less you’re right with men. You must go back to your firm and tell them it was you who robbed their safe.

But they will send me to pri­son if I do!

That’s up to them. You sinned de­lib­er­ate­ly, and you must pay— as they de­cide, not you. You’ve got to stand on your own feet, or not at all.

Jack’s glance fell to the floor, and his hands clenched as he fought out the bat­tle with him­self. He raised his eyes stea­di­ly.

I’ll— I’ll go through with it.

You un­der­stand what it means?

I un­der­stand! the boy said qui­et­ly. You’re right. God can’t have any use for a qui­tter!

The su­per­in­tendent put Jack to bed, and then sent off a long tel­e­gram, which he read ov­er care­ful­ly be­fore he gave it to the mes­sen­ger boy.

The next af­ter­noon the ex-Broad­way Kid and the su­per­in­ten­dent of the mis­sion were us­hered into the pri­vate of­fice of Jack’s for­mer em­ploy­er.

There was queer taste in the boy’s mouth, and a queer light in his eyes, but he faced the head of the firm with­out a qui­ver, and told the sto­ry.

Is it the pen­i­ten­ti­ary? he asked when he had fin­ished.

I’ve got to do my du­ty! he said grim­ly, and pushed a but­ton be­fore him.

Jack caught his breath. Above him he saw again the pic­ture of his mo­ther on her knees and he closed his eyes to blot it out. If they could on­ly keep it from her!

Go to it! he said hus­ki­ly. I’m rea­dy.

Behind him the door opened. It must be the de­tec­tives. For an in­stant he stood ri­gid, and then, with­out tur­ning, he held his wrists out be­hind him, for the hand­cuffs.

But it was not the grip of steel that caught them. It was some­thing soft, and moist, and warm. With a gasp he whirled. It was his mo­ther’s hands.

And be­hind her stood his fa­ther. It was his fa­ther who spoke first.

We’ve come to take you home, he said. We need a new firm sign at the old fac­to­ry!

Jack stared dumb­ly. The room was whirl­ing ov­er his head.

But what about the mon­ey I owe here, the mon­ey I stole, he stam­mered.

I’ll pay it back, and give you a chance to work it out for me! If you tell me the pro­di­gal has learned his les­son we’ll all try to for­get it! What do you say?

A month lat­er, in the dusk of a sum­mer ev­en­ing, Jack stole up on the porch of the old home co­ttage, sweet with the scent of hon­ey­suc­kle and li­lacs. He was hold­ing the hand of a girl be­side him, a girl with shin­ing eyes.

His mo­ther rose from her ea­sy chair, and dropped her knit­ting.

I’ve brought you home a new daugh­ter, he said. Ma­ry Brad­ford has pro­mised to take a chance with me, in spite of the past!

A few min­utes af­ter­ward he pulled Ma­ry across to the pi­a­no.

Play for me, he begged.

What shall it be?

My fa­vo­rite song, of course! And he added soft­ly, The song that brought me back to my­self, and to you and to God.

The girl smiled, and her hands ran light­ly ov­er the keys, as, through the room, there float­ed the strains of Mo­ther’s Pray­ers Have Fol­lowed Me!

Homer Ro­de­hea­ver
Song Stor­ies of the Saw­dust Trail (New York: Chris­tian Her­ald, 1917), pp. 163–81