Thursday, August 20, 2009

Supposing it was water

Call me a cynic if you like, but I can't help wondering whether there wasn't more to the following story, which can be found in Samuel H. Hadley's Down in Water Street, Fleming H. Revell, 1902.
James D. Underwood had been a drunkard for years. He came from Providence, R. I., and was arrested many times there. He then located here. At one time he had been a successful jewelry salesman for a large house in Maiden Lane, but finally became so addicted to drink he could not secure employment.

Many times in the early missionary labours of the writer along the Bowery, long after midnight, he has been approached by "Jim" with a request for a nickel, or "Won't you buy some court-plaster so I can get my lodging?" He had often been to Water Street, and had been helped repeatedly.

One night, when the invitation hymn was being sung, the writer was passing down the aisle, asking the poor drunkards here and there to come up to our mercy-seat, when on the last seat near the door sat Jim Underwood. He had come down from the Island that evening for the sixteenth time, having been committed for drunkenness and vagrancy. I took him by the hand and said:

"Jim, aren't you tired of this life? Won't you come ?"

"Yes," he said, "I will come;" and picking up his old cap, he walked up the aisle. He was saved that very night. He worked one week in a restaurant. We helped him to clothing, lodging and food when he needed it, and before long he found employment at his old business, selling jewelry.

When his first anniversary rolled around, he went up and down Maiden Lane, John Street and all over the jewelry district and told everybody, Christian, Heathen, Turk and Jew, that he was going to celebrate his first year in the Christian life. He not only invited them to come, but said he wanted to raise a good sum for the Mission. Nearly all of these people had been pestered sorely by Jim in his old life for nickels and dimes, which always went for whiskey: but how different now! Some well-known Jews said:

"Yes, I'll gladly give to any cause that can make a man of such a drunkard as Jim Underwood."

After Jim had read the lesson and given his testimony, he presented the superintendent with a large envelope containing three hundred and ten dollars for the Mission. The largest gift was ten dollars, and the smallest, one dollar. About one hundred jewelers contributed, probably two-thirds of whom were not professors of Christ.

He traveled for a large house in Maiden Lane, the Champenois Jewelry Manufacturing Company, for about ten years, and supported his aged mother and sister. He laid up a snug sum of money also.

One hot day, May 21, 1898, he went into the jewelry store of F. H. Niehaus and Company, No. 312 North 6th Street, St. Louis, Mo., and in some unaccountable manner plunged a glass into a two-gallon crock of cyanide potassium, supposing it was water, and was dead in fifteen minutes.

We present his picture here to show how this handsome, smart business man was changed from a tramp and a nuisance to a useful Christian gentleman.

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